HC Deb 30 July 1956 vol 557 cc1079-88

Lords Amendment: In page 24, line 5, at end insert new Clause F: —(1) The powers conferred by subsection (2) of section forty-six of the Act of 1930 (which authorises the making of orders regulating traffic on roads) shall be exercisable as respects any road where it appears to the council or Minister exercising the power that it is expedient so to do—

  1. (a) for avoiding danger to persons or other traffic using the road or any other road, or
  2. (b) for preventing damage to the road or to any building on or near the road, or
  3. (c) for facilitating the passage of vehicular traffic on the road or any other road, or
  4. (d) for preventing the use of the road by vehicular traffic of a kind which, or the use thereof by such traffic in a manner which, 1080 is unsuitable having regard to the existing character of the road or adjoining property, or
  5. (e) without prejudice to the generality of the last foregoing paragraph, for preserving the character of the road in a case where it is specially suitable for use by persons on horseback or on foot.
and subsection (1) of the said section forty-six (which makes provision for prohibiting or restricting the driving of vehicles in the interests of safety) shall cease to have effect; but the repeal of that subsection shall not affect any order in force at the coming into operation of this section, and any such order so far as made, or having effect as if made, under the said subsection (1) shall have effect as if made under subsection (2) of the said section forty-six by virtue of this section. (2) The provision which may be made by order under the said subsection (2) shall be any provision prohibiting, restricting or regulating the use of a road or any part of the width thereof by vehicular traffic or by such traffic of any class or description specified in the order, either generally or subject to exceptions so specified, and either at all times or at times, on days or during periods so specified, and, without prejudice to the generality of this subsection, any provision—
  1. (a) requiring such traffic to proceed in a specified direction or prohibit its so proceeding,
  2. (b) specifying the part of the carriageway to be used by such traffic proceeding in a specified direction,
  3. (c) prohibiting or restricting the waiting of vehicles or the loading and unloading of vehicles,
  4. (d) prohibiting the use of roads by through traffic,
  5. (e) prohibiting or restricting overtaking,
  6. (f) regulating the speed of vehicles.
Provided that no prohibition or restriction on waiting imposed under the powers conferred by the said subsection (2) shall apply to any stage carriage or express carriage. (3) An order made in the exercise of the said powers by any council to which the said section forty-six applies which contains no provision other than provision—
  1. (a) imposing any such requirement, prohibition or restriction as is specified in paragraph (a), (b) or (c) of the last foregoing subsection, or
  2. (b) prohibiting or restricting the use of footpaths or bridleways by bicycles and tricycles, or
  3. (c) revoking or varying any such requirement, prohibition or restriction,
shall not require confirmation by the Minister except where the next following subsection has effect: Provided that—
  1. (i) this subsection shall not apply to any trunk road; and
  2. (ii) where before the coming into operation of this section an order has been submitted to the Minister for confirmation but 1081 the Minister has neither confirmed the order nor determined not to confirm it, the order may be proceeded with as if this subsection had not been passed.
(4) Where the Minister revokes, varies or amends an order made by virtue of the last foregoing subsection relating to any length of road, any order imposing or varying, as respects that length of road, any such requirement, prohibition or restriction as is specified in that subsection and made within twelve months after the revocation, variation or amendment by the Minister shall be subject to confirmation by the Minister to the like extent as if the last foregoing subsection had not been passed. (5) The following provisions shall have effect as respects the proviso to subsection (2) of the said section forty-six (under which no order may be made with respect to a road which would have the effect of preventing reasonable access for vehicles of any class or description to premises on or adjacent to the road):—
  1. (a) for the purposes of the application of the said proviso to vehicles of any class or description premises shall be treated as adjacent to a road, whatever their distance therefrom, if they are accessible for vehicles of that class or description from, and only from, that road;
  2. (b) the said proviso shall not have effect in relation to an order confirmed or made by the Minister in so far as the authority making the order is satisfied that, for avoiding danger to persons or other traffic using the road to which the order relates or any other road, or for preventing damage to the road or buildings on or near it, it is requisite that the said proviso should not apply, and it is stated in the order that the said authority is satisfied as aforesaid;
  3. (c) a restriction on the loading or unloading of goods shall in no circumstances be treated as preventing such access as may be reasonably required if the restriction does not prevent loading or unloading for more than six hours in all in any consecutive period of twenty-four hours.
(6) In subsection (8) of the said section forty-six (which specifies the councils to which that section applies) the reference to urban districts shall (but subject to subsection (7) of this section) include, and be deemed always to have included, a reference to boroughs, not being county boroughs. (7) The power conferred by subsection (6) of section twenty-nine of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, of making regulations for prescribing procedure shall include power to make regulations for prescribing the procedure to be followed in connection with the making by a council of an order which by reason of subsection (3) of this section does not require confirmation and the holding of enquiries in connection therewith. (8) The said section forty-six, and subsections (4) to (6) of the said section twenty-nine, shall cease to apply as respects the London Traffic Area, without prejudice, however, to any order made, or having effect as if made, thereunder before the coming into operation of this section, and any such order in so far as it relates to the London Traffic Area may be varied or revoked by regulations under section ten of the London Traffic Act, 1924. (9) In subsection (2) of section forty-six of the Act of 1930 for the words from 'for any' to 'of traffic' there shall be substituted the words 'containing any such provision as is specified in subsection (2) of section (Amendment of s. 46 of Act of 1930) of the Road Traffic Act, 1956', and in subsection (4) of section twenty-nine of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933 for the words from 'restricting' to '1930' there shall be substituted the words 'under subsection (2) of section forty-six of the Road Traffic Act, 1930 which'. (10) In the application of this section to Scotland for references to the Minister there shall be substituted references to the Secretary of State.

Read a Second time.

Mr. G. Wilson

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Lords Amendment, in subsection (3), at the end, to insert: and (iii) no order imposing any requirement, prohibition or restriction specified in paragraphs (a) or (b) of the last foregoing subsection shall be made in respect of any road used by stage carriages or express carriages without the consent in writing of the appropriate Traffic Commissioners. I do not propose to detain the House long on this Amendment, which I have put down at the suggestion of two of the trade organisations concerned with bus services which were rather anxious to get on record in the OFFICIAL REPORT an explanation from the Minister on a point which, they felt, had not been fully explained in another place.

As hon. Members will be aware, before 1930 buses were operated subject to a whole host of licensing authorities, some 1,300 in number, among different local authorities. It was as a result of the difficulties which arose from that situation that in 1930 the Road Traffic Act was passed which greatly reduced the number of licensing authorities, which are now concentrated in some eleven traffic areas.

In the 1930 Act, however, Section 46 (2) enabled local authorities in certain prescribed circumstances to make regulations, subject to confirmation by the Minister, affecting traffic on roads which would be used by buses. The new Clause modifies the provisions of that Section and to some extent restores the powers of local authorities to those which they held before 1930 by enabling them in certain circumstances to make regulations without the confirmation of the Minister.

When the Clause was introduced in another place, it caused apprehension amongst those concerned with these services and they were somewhat worried about it. They were quite prepared to leave this matter in the hands of the licensing authorities because over a period of years a great body of experience has been built up, and everybody knows the kind of line which is likely to be taken by licensing authorities in this matter. Those concerned, however, were not quite so sure what would be the position with regard to local authorities who had not had the same experience and who might in some cases not act in quite such a reasonable manner.

11.15 p.m.

It will be appreciated that while unreasonable regulations may cause nuisance and annoyance to a private motorist, or may cause some inconvenience to somebody running a lorry service, in practice, if the regulations are found to be unsatisfactory, the matter can probably be put right after some time and no serious damage will be done to the road users; but that is not quite the same in the case of a bus company. A bus company depends for its good will upon being able to pick up and set down passengers on roads which the passengers want to use. If once the existing pattern of use is disturbed in an unreasonable way, it is much more difficult to put matters right for a bus company. Therefore, bus companies were much more apprehensive about this matter than were other road users.

Some of the apprehension has been met already by Amendments made in another place in subsection (2) of the Lords new Clause, but there remain the restrictions, which do not appear to be covered, in paragraphs (a) and (b) of the subsection. Unless my Amendment to the Lords Amendment is made, it would seem, as the Clause is at present drafted, that a local authority could restrict the use of roads, one-way streets, and so on, without any confirmation by the Minister, and without taking notice of the opinion of the licensing authorities. That would be a very unsatisfactory position, and that is why I move the Amendment to the Lords Amendment, to provide that at least the written consent of the licensing commissioners should be obtained.

Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes)

I beg to second the Amendment to the Lords Amendment.

Mr. Watkinson

I hope that I shall be able quite shortly to deal with both the Lords Amendment and the Amendment proposed to it by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson.) The position is this. In case the House should think this is something quite new in the Bill—

Mr. Ernest Davies

The right hon. Gentleman is discussing the Lords Amendment now, is he not?

Mr. Watkinson

I am sorry if I did not make that clear. Yes, I am speaking of the new Clause.

I want the House to remember that in Committee on the Bill certain Amendments were put down of which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said we could not go forward with them then: but he said that we would consider them with a view to introducing Amendments in another place. We are now implementing a promise.

My hon. Friend feels anxious about what we are doing in some respects. I have power under subsection (7) of the Clause to make regulations governing the procedure to be adopted by local authorities about orders which they make on their own initiative, and I shall carefully look at them, and I shall certainly insist on adequate public notice being given, and of full opportunity being given for objections to be lodged, etc., so that associations representing bus operators and so on may have a proper chance to make their case. I still retain power to revoke those orders, and my revocation of orders made by local authorities on their own initiative can be brought into action quickly.

My noble Friend in another place said that I would treat local authorities as responsible bodies, and of course I shall, but I want to emphasise that his remarks were intended to be only a general statement of future policy, and in no way prejudice my powers under the new provisions to act, if necessary. I believe that his statement caused some alarm amongst bus companies and other interested parties. It in no way alters my view that I have power to revoke, and will use it if necessary. It in no way alters my power to see that right regulations are made, and, of course, it in no way alters the fact that the traffic commissioners have to come into the matter. There are adequate safeguards, and I hope my hon. Friend will withdraw his Amendment to the Lords Amendment.

Mr. G. Wilson

My right hon. Friend mentioned the licensing commissioners. Do I understand that there will be consultations with them and that that will be made clear in the regulations?

Mr. Watkinson

indicated assent.

Mr. Wilson

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment to the Lords Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Watkinson

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

Mr. Ernest Davies

The appearance of this new Clause confirms the protest which we on this side of the House have been making all evening. It is true that certain of its principles were introduced in Committee, but it is most regrettable that a new Clause of this kind, covering an important matter, should be brought forward at this late hour, when so few hon. Members are able to be present to give it adequate discussion.

The Clause writes into the Bill a completely new code of traffic requirements outside London, and transfers most important powers from the Minister to the local authorities. This devolution of responsibility from the centre to the municipalities meets with favour on this side of the House, provided that there is ample protection, as there is in this case. The Minister said that he has power of revocation. Presumably, where orders are made by the local authority he can revoke them if he so desires. I presume that is provided for in subsection (4) but I am not quite clear whether there will be a gap between the making of the orders by the local authority and the receipt of objections by the Minister.

Will the orders first come into operation and then, if he receives objections, the Minister will make an inquiry and then decide to revoke them? There are many matters about which we are not clear. It would help to clarify them if the House were disposed to debate them.

Again I am not clear, but it is probably the case that the Minister cannot take any initiative now concerning the local authorities. It is left entirely to them to take the initiative, and even if the Minister thought that some action should be taken he is not in a position to take it. I am not necessarily criticising that, but I want the position to be made quite clear. Is there provision for public inquiries in relation to regulations made by local authorities?

The Clause provides that the Minister, will prescribe the manner in which the local authorities will make the regulations. I trust, therefore, that the regulations will provide for objections to be made to the local authorities and for those objections to be heard at a public inquiry, if necessary. I ask only that these protections, which were provided when the Minister had the power, should be preserved when the local authorities have it.

I repeat, with these few queries, that the general principle of the Clause is correct. Some of its features have received substantial but misplaced criticism outside the House. The main criticism has been levelled against loading and unloading. There is a limit that in every twenty-four hours there can be only six hours of restriction on loading and unloading. I should have thought that any local authority, quite clearly aware of local conditions and desires, would be able to arrange for the six hours to be at reasonable periods when they would least interfere with business. Efficient firms should be able to fix delivery times in accordance with the provisions made. I believe the most reasonable firms take the view that as long as they know the hours they can adjust the deliveries accordingly. Certainly with the increasing congestion which is so evident in those areas where there is heavy loading and unloading there has to be some restriction if we are to have a free flow of traffic.

With those observations, I would add only that my hon. Friends and I support the new Clause.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I think that my right hon. Friend ought to know, and it ought to be put on record, that there is a good deal of opposition to the Clause among traders. They are rather alarmed that local authorities can impose waiting bans or loading bans up to about six hours. Traders would also prefer that the Minister should conduct the local inquiries instead of the local authorities. They have a feeling that the Minister might have to over-rule a number of local authorities after bans have been imposed. The Earl of Selkirk said in another place that if the ban extended beyond three hours the Minister might have to review it. I do not see that written into the Measure.

In face of these doubts about the Clause, I should be glad if my right hon. Friend could say a little more about it.

Mr. C. Pannell

I hope that the Minister will not feel nervous, because of words used in another place, about treating local authorities as responsible bodies. I very much deprecate Members of Parliament considering themselves senior partners in public administration and local authorities the junior partners.

Take, for example, a great city like Leeds. Its local authority consist of 100 members who give a great deal of time voluntarily in the public service. We really must assume that they act in a disinterested way for what they consider to be the good of their citizens. There is a high degree of altruism in local Government.

I regard with disgust the representations which have been quoted. There is a smugness on the part of trading bodies in assuming that the local chamber of commerce knows better than the city council does what is good for the city. It is better that local authorities should be able to be masters in their own cities, in the democratic sense, subject only to the over-riding will of the Minister when he feels that they have not acted in the public interest.

I should have thought that six hours was not too long. This morning I was at the junction of the Lewisham road with the road coming over Blackheath, by the "Marquess of Granby." There was one removal van there. If anyone could imagine the degree of chaos there at the time, he would see the case for the Clause.

Mr. Watkinson

I think that the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) put his finger on the spot when he said that this has to be a sensible compromise between the local authorities and the Government, with the local authorities, as the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) has said, playing their full and responsible part.

In answer to my hon. Friends who feel alarmed, I would say that the arrangement in the Clause is that the local authorities have full autonomy, with my over-riding check in case any of them—which I do not think is very likely—act in such a way as appears to be completely contrary to general policy. Therefore, it is a workable compromise, and in that sense I put it to the House.