HC Deb 30 July 1956 vol 557 cc1017-9

Lords Amendment agreed to: In page 6, line 19, after "Minister" insert "or the Secretary of State".

Lords Amendment: In page 6, line 23, at end insert: words 'a road' there shall be inserted the words 'in contravention of any statutory prohibition or restriction or' and after the".

Mr. Molson

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

This is an important Amendment which was moved elsewhere. The House will remember that it was originally included in this Bill that there should be a power to tow away motor cars or other vehicles which were causing obstruction, or, in the original form, were likely to cause an obstruction.

8.15 p.m.

The general principles of that secured general support in a debate on London traffic which has taken place since this Bill was introduced, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) spoke strongly in support of this principle. It was as a result of the initiative of the Opposition in another place that an Amendment was there accepted to widen the powers of towing away vehicles.

As the House will see, it is now to include vehicles which are not actually causing an obstruction but which are at rest on a road in contravention of any statutory prohibition. If this Amendment is accepted by the House, the actual wording of Section 59 (1, c) of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, will be: …for makng provision for the removal from roads, and safe custody …of vehicles which have broken down or which have been permitted to remain at rest on a road in contravention of any statutory prohibition or restriction or in such a position or in such condition or in such circumstances as to be likely to cause danger to other persons using the road or as to cause obstruction to such persons or as to appear to have been abandoned, and of the loads carried thereby. This considerably widens the powers which are given. I believe it is generally in line with the views of all those in this House who are concerned about London traffic and, if the House agrees to it, the Government will be disposed to make full use of these powers in order to deal with the ever-increasing congestion and trouble in London.

Mr. Ernest Davies

I am grateful for the explanation given by the Parliamentary Secretary, because again it is difficult, in the short time at our disposal, fully to understand these Amendments in the way they are presented to us. I am also grateful that the Government took up the suggestion which was made from this side of the House in this connection. An ever-increasing number of cars are abandoned on the streets of London. Most of us in our own residential areas have experience of cars which have obviously been left by their owners with no intention of taking them away, old cars which they leave on the highways and in respect of which, at present, although the police may have certain powers of removal, they do not appear to use them. If, in any way, this Amendment assists in removing such cars, it will be all to the good.

I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to explain how these powers will be used in connection with parking in London. At present, the police have no powers to issue a summons to the person unless they see him on the spot when he comes back to his car, and they certainly have no powers to tow the car away. Does this Amendment mean that it is the intention of the Government that in future, if a driver breaks one of the parking laws and leaves his car for a certain length of time, and the police are unable to find him, the police will be able to tow the car away? If they do that, will the driver have to redeem his car and pay the cost of the towage, or what will be the position? As I understand it, in the United States there are certain zones called "tow away zones", and if a car is left in those zones it is removed to a pound as it were, and there a considerable sum has to be paid by the owner to redeem his car.

Is it proposed that some such system shall operate here? If it is to become the custom of the police to tow away our cars if we exceed the permitted parking time, where parking meters operate or elsewhere, we should be given ample warning and there should be signs to indicate that we are liable to have our cars towed away if we contravene the law.

Very wide powers are being given to the police. I think it is desirable that the police should have them, but it would be helpful if we knew to what extent it is proposed that the powers should be used.

Mr. Molson

We made a promise in Committee that the power would not be used in a vindictive manner. That promise stands. At that time, however, the powers contained in the Clause were strictly limited to cases where it could be shown that obstruction was taking place. As a result of the Amendment, the powers are extended to cases where there is a breach of a statutory prohibition.

The powers will be used reasonably. I stand entirely by the promise that vehicles shall not be towed away and left in some remote place where there will be difficulty in finding them. On the other hand, it is becoming increasingly obvious that there are cases where, if no-waiting restrictions are to be enforced, it is necessary for action to be taken and for cars which are left in flagrant violation of the no-waiting restrictions to be towed away. I believe that is the wish of both Houses.

I cannot say exactly how the power will be applied. I can only say that it will be applied reasonably, but I think that in some cases it will also be applied resolutely. If it is the only way in which it is possible to clear a road where vehicles are in breach of no-waiting restrictions in a line, as is so often the case at present, the police will avail themselves of these powers to tow them away or have them towed away.

Under these proposals, the person whose car is towed away will have to pay the reasonably incurred charges which are involved in doing so. It is extremely probable that certain garages will be employed by the Metropolitan Police for the purpose of removing them, and the reasonable charge incurred in removing them will be payable by the owner of the car.