HC Deb 30 July 1956 vol 557 cc1068-74

Lords Amendment: In page 20, line 8, at end insert: Regulations under section two of the Parks Regulation (Amendment) Act, 1926, may make provision for imposing and recovering charges for the leaving of vehicles, or vehicles of any class or description, in any park to which that Act applies; and regulations made by virtue of this section may make, as respects charges and penalties recoverable under the regulations, provision corresponding with the provisions of subsection (3) of section eighteen of this Act.

Mr. Molson

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

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Works has power to make regulations under Section 2 of the Parks Regulation (Amendment) Act, 1926, for securing the proper management of the Royal Parks. Under those regulations my right hon. Friend has appointed certain areas in St. James's, Green and Hyde Parks to be used as car parks. These areas were announced by my right hon. Friend in this House on 14th December, 1954. There is at present no charge for parking in these appointed places, and the Minister has no power to make a charge.

Clauses 15 to 20 of the Bill have, with general consent, given power to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport to make charges for parking cars in designated parts of the highway, and the Amendment is designed to give to the Minister of Works a similar power to make a charge for parking, should he wish to do so, in the Royal Parks. The acceptance of this Clause in no way implies that parking facilities in the Royal Parks are to be extended. Any revenue collected may be expected to go to appropriations in aid of the Ministry's Vote for the Royal Parks.

There are two main arguments in favour of the Amendment. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Works feels that he should have the same power of making charges for parking in the Royal Parks as my right hon. Friend and local authorities will have under the Bill for allowing parking on the Queen's highway. From a Departmental point of view we also are anxious to see the Amendment carried. If we are trying to restrict parking in parts of London adjoining the Royal Parks, and are making charges for parking there, it may very well prove to be extremely inconvenient to us if, quite nearby, there is an opportunity for people to park free, gratis and for nothing in the Royal Parks.

It is obviously desirable that the two Ministers who are concerned with traffic and with parking should enjoy the same powers—my right hon. Friend and the local authorities on the highway and the Minister of Works in the Royal Parks.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

Can my right hon. Friend inform us whether the parking charges are to be levied by way of parking meters or by attendants? I was not quite sure from his explanation.

Mr. Molson

No provision is made with regard to that. All that is provided for in the Amendment is that it would become legal for the Minister of Works to make charges. It is a matter for consideration in the future as to how that should be done. Once power is obtained to make a charge, it would be competent for the Minister of Works to do it, either by a parking meter or by other means.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. C. Pannell

This principle is completely vicious, and surely the Minister is rather confused when he suggests that he should give the Minister of Works similar powers to the Minister of Transport. I understood that the exercise of these parking charges was, in effect, to go back to the general provision of making parking places and rather improving the amenities for motorists. But that sort of thing will not apply in the Royal Parks. We are told that if any revenues come here they are going back into the appropriation account of the Minister of Works and, in effect, for a completely different purpose.

Therefore, I hope that the Royal Parks will be open for occasional parking. Our problem in this Bill has not been so much to provide revenue but to get over the evil of car parking in London. I do not know whether the Minister quite appreciates the difficulty that we are up against. For some time past he has had the advantage, quite rightly, of the provision of an official car, but when one tries to get around London and to leave a car somewhere it is extraordinarily difficult. If, for instance, one goes anywhere around Grosvenor Square, to the American Embassy, unless one is carrying the Stars and Stripes on the car one cannot get a parking place anywhere. Of course, I do not say that if one asks for Grosvenor Square no policeman knows where it is, but if one asks for the 49th State or the Eisenhower Flats they know where it is. But I should have thought that we want to leave as many occasional parking places as we can. It would seem rather better that one should keep traffic moving, but to create paid parking places in the Royal Parks seems a contradiction in terms of the provisions in this Bill for parking places. We think that this is a distortion of the legislation that the Minister is bringing forward.

Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)

The Minister in referring to this Clause said that one of the justifications given for its support was in reference to the setting up of a kind of equation between the Minister of Transport, the Royal Parks and the local authorities. It is not quite the same equation to invoke the local authorities as an argument in support of this Clause. The fairest argument would be if one had referred to the London County Council, because the L.C.C. is responsible for many more parks than is the Ministry of Works. I want to ask the Minister what is to happen if this Clause is passed. If we are to have parking charges imposed on cars parked in the Royal Parks, does that mean that the L.C.C. can then come to the Minister, responsible as it is for so many parks in London, and ask whether the Minister would agree on the same point of equation, giving the L.C.C. the same rights to obtain revenue from parking meters as is now suggested in respect of the Royal Parks and the Minister of Works?

Mr. Watkinson

I should like to explain, because I know that both hon. Gentlemen took a great interest in this Bill in Committee. This is purely to do one thing only. The Royal Parks, for example, St. James's Park, will be in an area which will be heavily metered. It was felt that it would be quite wrong to leave the Minister of Works with no sanction at all, because obviously the density of people then trying to park in the Royal Parks would be such as to present an enormous problem. They would become a sort of overflow area for everywhere else. There is no intention of restricting parking in the Royal Parks, indeed, I hope more people will be able to park there. On the point about the L.C.C., if they want to come forward and make some similar arrangements, I personally should welcome them, and there would be no difficulty as far as I am concerned.

Mr. Ernest Davies

The Minister has made matters worse. He has said that, far from restricting parking in the Royal Parks, he wants to extend it and to make more parking space available in them. He has also said that if the London County Council puts forward similar schemes for its parks he will, of course, consider them favourably.

I am opposed to parking in the Royal Parks, as I have been from the very beginning. These parks have been provided as amenities for London, and London is proud of its parks. I doubt whether there is another metropolitan city which has such a vast area of open spaces as has London. From where I live in Kensington I can walk to this House through Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Green Park and St. James's Park without crossing any highway except at Hyde Park Corner.

I object to this gradual encroachment on the amenities of London by allowing parking in the Royal Parks. I am afraid that if this power is given to the Minister parking will be extended. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say that he does not intend that parking meters shall be erected in the park.

Mr. Watkinson

indicated assent.

Mr. Davies

At least we have that guarantee. But it is no use saying that a parking charge is only going to be made in order to facilitate the parking meters in the immediate neighbourhood. That may be so, but once this power is in the hands of the Minister of Works it may well be that under another Minister of Works or another Minister of Transport we shall see an extension of parking in the Royal Parks for the purpose of collecting revenue from them. The Chancellor of the Exchequer may urge the Minister of Works to reduce his expenditure on these amenities, and the Minister of Works, in order to increase his appropriation in aid, might then increase the charges or extend the parking facilities.

One can visualise large areas of Hyde Park being turned over to car parks, not only for the sake of raising money, but in order to facilitate parking in the centre of London. Once we allow charges to be made, we are opening the door very dangerously. We must resist the threat to these amenities. I very much regret that this step has been taken.

As my hon. Friend pointed out, this is in contradiction to the reason given for the charges being made elsewhere. The only reason why throughout our discussions on the Bill we supported parking meters was because the revenue from them was to be used for the provision of off-street parking. That is not the case here. The money will go to the Ministry of Works and will not be used for the provision of additional parks.

The argument used by both the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary was that this innovation was for the purpose of facilitating parking in the neighbourhood. But, obviously, every motorist would prefer to park freely in the Royal Parks than pay at a parking meter. I would point out to the Minister that every available space in the Royal Parks is at present occupied all day long, so that this arrangement will not alter the situation in any way.

If one drives along Birdcage Walk, or wherever parking is allowed today, it is very rarely indeed that one can find a space in which to park. Therefore, I do not see how this proposal is going to help if the spaces are already occupied, unless, of course, the Minister's answer is that he is going to insist on short-term parking. In that case we shall have attendants trying to fix a period of time which is simply not observed.

I very much regret that this proposal was introduced in another place. It is a matter of principle which should have been foreseen and we in this House should have been given an opportunity of discussing it earlier, and, possibly, of amending it.

I do not think that the new Clause is necessary. I think that it is an unfortunate Clause, and a dangerous one. I hope that the Minister—I see that he is trying to intervene—will give an undertaking, such as was given in another place, that he has no intention of imposing charges at the present time. I regret that he is taking the power to do so, but, even so. I hope that he will not use it.

Mr. Watkinson

Perhaps I may be allowed to add a few words, and I do apologise for not saying them before. I cannot, of course, commit the Minister of Works. Indeed, if he wants to do this he has to come forward with a regulation which has to lie in front of the House for 40 days, during which time it may be prayed against. I can see the point put forward by the hon. Gentleman, but I do think there is something in the idea that if there are metered streets around St. James's Park, for instance, and there is the knowledge that within the Park there is free parking, it may put those in charge of the Park in serious difficulties. There is no obligation under the Clause for the Minister of Works to do anything, but, if he does anything, he must bring a regulation to the House. This is purely a precautionary measure in order that if the Minister of Works does find that his Parks are being completely swamped he can take action. But he certainly cannot take action without coming to the House.

Captain Duncan

I think that someone on this side should make a protest against the idea of parking meters in the Royal Parks—

Mr. Watkinson

I do not want to interrupt my hon. and gallant Friend, but I' have just said that there cannot be any question of parking meters in the Royal Parks.

Captain Duncan

That is not what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said. He said that it was up to the Minister of Works to produce regulations on the subject. I do not want to cast doubts on the word of my right hon. Friend, but if it is perfectly clear that, on a general amenity ground, there will not be parking meters in the Royal Parks, I will leave the matter there.

Mr. Watkinson

I do not think that there is any difference between my right hon. Friend and myself. I have only recently had the opportunity of discussing this with the Minister of Works, and I know that he is entirely opposed to the idea of parking meters in the Royal Parks, and so am I.

Question put and agreed to.—[Special Entry.]