HC Deb 29 March 1956 vol 550 cc2371-90

12.59 p.m.

Mr. John Foster (Northwich)

I am grateful for the opportunity of raising a problem which is at the heart of all Londoners. The fact that I was to have the opportunity of addressing the House on the problem of London's traffic congestion was received with enthusiasm by my friends, and many of my colleagues have said, "If only I could get hold of London's traffic for a week I would improve the position." We all feel, when we get annoyed, vexed and frustrated by the congestion in London streets, that on the face of it the congestion could be alleviated, if not eradicated, by certain measures.

I should like, first, to deal with some provisions which would not cost any money and so could not be met by the economic argument that it is very difficult to find extra money for road widening schemes, parking facilities, and so on. It is very important that the two problems of parking and traffic flow should be considered closely together. It is obviously a truism that one depends upon the other. In dealing with the problem of traffic congestion in London, it is important to lay down a rule so that motorists and other users of the highways will know exactly where they stand.

At present, a motorist may be summoned for causing obstruction if his car is standing anywhere for any length of time. The first thing to do is to make the law definite. The first aspect of the problem of parking congestion with which I want to deal is that motorists should know definitely where they are allowed to park and where not. A certain rule should be made. To get order out of chaos, the principle should be to give as wide a latitude as possible. If measures are brought in to keep cars out of London, a great hardship will be caused to a section of the population which depends on its cars during hours of work.

An instance is professional men, estate agents, salesmen, doctors, solicitors, and, maybe, barristers. They need a car to "keep appointments with clients. If we forbid private cars to come into the centre 'of London, and those men have to travel by public transport, there may be an estate agent who has to go to a housing site, say, in East London and then back to his office for ten minutes and then on to another housing site in Norwood and then from Norwood to Richmond. We must not forget that sort of problem when people write to the newspapers and say that it is disgraceful that cars should come to the middle of London and that they should be banned. That would create great diffi;culties for a man who has to park his car in, say, East Ham, and who has a business at Notting Hill, Stanmore, or some other part of London.

There should be strict rules against the motorist once he has broken the parking laws, but there should be different degrees of severity. I believe that there is an offence called "dangerous parking" and it should be enforced more strictly. We have all seen somebody so completely careless of the rights of other road users that he has parked his car dangerously on a corner, where it is liable to cause an accident. Yet, as far as I know, prosecutions for this offence, if it does exist, are very rare.

The next category would be gross obstruction, where the parking does not cause actual danger, but where it is extremely thoughtless of other road users. The third kind would be disciplinary parking, where a man has broken a rule of parking by being too near an intersection, but where, if discipline were enforced, it would not be nearly as serious. I have referred to parking within so many feet of an intersection, because, as far as I know, there is no general rule in England about that parking, as there ought to be. There should be a rule to prevent parking within so many feet of a crossroads.

When a driver comes out of a side street where there is parking right up to the corner, he cannot tell what traffic is coming from his right side until he gets right into the street, and if his car has a bonnet of any length he is obviously hazarding traffic coming towards him and hazarding himself. There is nothing he can do, except poke out his nose at very slow speed. We should follow the Canadian example of forbidding parking within so many feet of an intersection. An offence against that rule might constitute dangerous parking, gross obstruction, or disciplinary parking, depending on the circumstances of the offence.

Then there is the problem of providing more parking room on the streets. In most countries that I know parking on the pavements is allowed. Sometimes there is room on the pavement to park cars completely on the pavement, as in the Avenue des Champs Elysées, in Paris. Sometimes there is room to park a car only partly on the pavement, as in certain streets in The Hague. The Dutch have a very convenient method of marking out the pavement on which a car may be parked to show how much of the car is permitted on the pavement. Sometimes the car is parked with its two front wheels on the pavement, and at other times it is the side of the car and so a longer piece is marked out.

In many streets in London today there is unofficial parking on the pavements, especially in very narrow streets where it is essential for vans to stop. We could go out now and see hundreds of cars parked on the pavements—quite rightly—but like the law of obstruction, everybody who puts the wheels of his vehicle on the pavement is committing an offence. That is a very undesirable state of affairs.

I understand that the Minister does not propose to stop people parking at night where it is safe to do so. However, I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the rules about parking without lights at night. As I understand the law, a man can park his car without lights where there is street lighting, but not on a bus route and not in the provinces. That does not seem to make sense. In all other civilised countries, if there is street lighting, parking without lights is permitted. Whether or not it is a bus route makes no difference because bus drivers are careful, and in any towns with street lighting cars are visible to them. There may be some conflict in common law about unallowed obstruction, but I assume that the Ministry's legal advisers have got over that difficulty. To prevent that kind of parking in the provinces seems to be carrying local autonomy far too far, because traffic is a national problem.

If we had those simple rules about parking, we could allow parking in every place, irrespective of outside whose front door it was. We could make it absolutely clear where parking was allowed, because it would be allowed everywhere, except where prohibited by signs. My hon. Friend should ask the London police not to put "no parking" signs in the road. They take up almost as much room as a car and merely diminish the flow of traffic. It is a first essential of a "no parking" sign that it should be on the pavement and not on the road blocking traffic.

Outside places like embassies, and where goods vehicles are loading and unloading. we should follow the Canadian system and have a series of posts, authorised by the Police Commissioner of the Metropolis, which would allow the space to be kept free of parking. I do not propose that people should be able to buy those spaces, but where it is obviously essential that a place should be kept free where parking is otherwise allowed, a couple of posts on the pavement would prevent parking.

I am very much in favour of parking meters. Experience in Canada and America and in other places has shown that they are well worth while. To avoid excessive control and the time of the police being too much occupied, I would suggest to my hon. Friend that there should not be a time limit for parking meters if the requisite coin has been put in afterwards. One of the objections raised to parking meters is that if there is only an hour's parking, a man comes out from his office and puts in another coin. That needs tremendous control by the police who mark time and have the curious system of waiting for the driver to return, with consequent tremendous waste of time for the police. When the Minister introduces parking meters, he should have a rule that if the meter is not on red—that is. if the coin is still operating the time—the car should be regarded as lawfully parked.

That brings me again to the question of the waste of time of the police. It is a well-known device that when one sees one's car watched by a policeman one waits until the middle of the night, because he is not going to watch it all night, and hopes that he will not ask the L.C.C. to trace one's name from the number of the car so that the police can chase one up at home. This also leads to difficulties about the principle of particulars of licences, and so on.

I would suggest that a system such as exists in Canada should be instituted in this country. The parking system there works very simply. A ticket is put on the windscreen and the owner is responsible. If he lends the car to a member of his family or a friend who takes no notice of the time, then the owner has to sort out with his friend who is responsible. That works very well there, and if introduced in this country would save the police an enormous amount of time.

It is all part of a package deal that the motorist must know that in a particular position he is entitled to park. In certain places there will have to be a restriction of time, although I am personally not so much in favour of this time restriction for the reason, which has been found in Canada and America, that it is very difficult to enforce a time restriction. Therefore, my personal opinion is not so much against the man who comes into London and leaves his car in a street all day. I can see that that is a debatable matter, but it does not affect the main lines of my argument.

One of the most important rules is that the police should be allowed to tow away cars which are infringing the parking regulations in a serious manner. There again, we can save the time of the police. There is no question of a fine, a summons or wasted time in finding out the particulars. The car is towed away to a pound, and the driver pays his £5 for taking it out of the pound. He is automatically guilty because if he had been in the car it could not have been towed away. He has no defence. In rare cases it may be said that he had a fit and was taken into a nearby shop, but I think that the police should have discretion to deal with these rare cases.

Even then, he would be technically guilty. The car is towed away and the police say, "No offence; we are not summoning you. Here is the car—pay £5 and you get the car back." This should only be enforced where it is absolutely essential that the streets should be kept clear. I understand that towing away provisions are being made for the police, but I regard this as part of the whole scheme for keeping the streets comparatively clear. Experience down-town in Los Angeles and San Francisco is that if a car is towed away from a street, the street is cleared like magic. It should be enforced only where it is absolutely essential that the street should be kept clear.

I have said this about the parking provisions in order to see what the effect of my suggestions would be. I think that they would make parking more orderly. It would be definite and motorists would know exactly where they were. I would beg the Ministry of Transport not to start off with too sweeping an idea of getting the traffic off the streets. What I am going to say about the flow of traffic will do very much to alleviate congestion. A great deal of latitude could be given to parking and it is better to tighten it up gradually than to bring in Draconian measures which might cause hardship to some sections of the community.

The important thing in London is to make all but a few streets one-way streets. All of us have had experience of quite unimportant streets where it is desirable that people should be allowed to park their cars on both sides of the street, but which are so narrow that only one line of traffic can go down the middle. There is often an obstruction in the middle of the street and sometimes traffic coming in from both ends. Tufton Street, in Westminster, is not used very much, but it gets blocked the moment two cars approach from opposite ends because it is only wide enough for cars to be parked on one side, leaving a single lane for traffic. It is essential that it should be a one-way street.

On one day I counted 150 streets in London which, in my view, ought to be one-way streets. Smith Square is another place which gets easily blocked, and it is very fully parked. I believe that if the Minister looked at Smith Square he would merely say, "Look how blocked it is. We are going to have parking on one side or the other instead of cluttering up the whole square." The reform I have suggested would do a great deal to relieve traffic congestion in London. It would be an enormous help if all the streets in London except the main ones were made one-way streets.

The problem of the main streets is a technical one. I do not know how far it is possible to make Oxford Street and Piccadilly one-way streets. There is the difficulty of bus stops. It is obviously a very difficult problem and I have not the knowledge, experience or capability of discussing it in detail. I do emphasise the importance of turning as many streets as possible into one-way streets.

There are various other traffic rules. It is the experience of other countries that certain concessions to our present rules and certain disciplinary provisions are essential. I think that it would make a tremendous difference to London traffic if we followed the North American and Canadian example of making the blocking of intersections an offence. How often have we seen in London an intersection where one cannot get across? Cars tend to shift to the middle of the crossroad and try to cross on the green light even though the exit for the crossing is blocked. When the lights change, traffic from the other direction cannot cross because other traffic is still on the crossing. The whole thing is jammed.

It is an offence in North America to block an intersection. It is an offence for anyone to cross over a crossroad unless he can see his way clear. It is a matter of thoughtfulness and self-discipline. One notices here that a minority of drivers are unselfish enough and imaginative enough to see that if they cross in certain circumstances they would be harming other people, and they leave the cross section clear, but these drivers are in the minority. On the North American continent this is done automatically.

Another rule which would be beneficial would be to forbid parking across streets. It is not allowed in other countries. This holds up the traffic. It is dangerous when people drive out from the pavements and have to meet traffic on the wrong side of the road.

There are various other rules which I submit to the Minister of Transport for consideration, such as the right to filter on a red light not only to the left, but also to the right if it is a one-way street. With a red light, one can always allow filtering to the left unless there is heavy traffic congestion, and filtering to the right might also be allowed in the circumstances I have mentioned. In order to facilitate the flow of traffic in London we should also have extra policemen at special bottlenecks. St. Giles' Circus is an example, and also Parliament Square, on occasions. When I came in this morning, Parliament Square was jammed because the traffic from Victoria Street was so heavy that it had cluttered up the traffic from the Embankment. It is necessary to employ special policemen at these points at certain times. I know that there is a shortage of police, but time could be saved if my other suggestions were adopted, because police would no longer have to wait about to take particulars of offending motorists.

Special traffic police could be put on at certain times, as they are when an emergency arises or when a special festival is taking place. One very often notices that when the traffic is heaviest in London it goes faster than usual, because all the police are on their toes, trying to expedite its progress. One sometimes thinks, "This is a day when traffic will be seized up," instead of which one finds that it is flowing much better than usual.

Police should be more inclined to work against the lights where the traffic requires them to do so. I very often notice, when a policeman is standing at the top of St. James's Street—it may be that he is on his beat and is not a traffic policeman—that he does nothing to clear the traffic jam which has occurred because the lights are working against the flow of traffic. There may be a rule that a man on the beat cannot go into the middle of the road to clear a traffic jam, but that has happened three times in the last few weeks at that point. When there is a traffic jam in Paris the policemen get on with the job of waving people on against the lights if necessary, using their imagination.

A surprising thing is that where traffic police are regularly used, the traffic seems to run less smoothly than at those places where traffic lights operate. The reason for that is that the lights work absolutely automatically, at fixed intervals of time, whereas a policeman always tries to get the last fellow across. The whole secret of traffic control is to hold the traffic up in one direction when a sufficient volume has accumulated in the crossing direction. The policeman very often waves on a fellow who is 100 yards down the road, before letting the other traffic across. Traffic policemen should be trained to act automatically, like the lights. A policeman who changed his arm signals quickly, like the lights, would be even better than lights. When we are held up at a crossing which is not usually troublesome we often assume that the lights have failed. and that the police have been put on to control the traffic—and usually, when we arrive at the crossing, we find that a policeman is on duty, and that he is waving the last few people across, as usual.

I am grateful for this opportunity of raising this question which my hon. Friend's Department is now working on. I regret that the Minister of Transport has set up a Departmental committee to study matters which seem to me to have been obvious for the last 30 years. The things which I have suggested should be put into effect before the committee reports. I have held office in the Government, and I know the way in which it is said, "This matter is under consideration. We have a committee on it. Let us wait until it reports." In traffic matters, however, we have always been behind technical advance, lessons which we should have learnt from other countries, and common sense. Many of the suggestions which I have made should be implemented immediately.

I hope that this Departmental committee will be flexible in its outlook, and quite ruthless about advocating changes in the law or the use of such things as parking meters and the issuing of tickets by the police, even though they may raise a certain amount of opposition from certain sections of the community. It is a very important problem, and any Minister of Transport who tackles it resolutely and with confidence will earn the thanks of the whole community in London.

1.25 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

The House will be indebted to the hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) for the very good use he has made of this opportunity provided to him in raising the subject of traffic congestion in London. It may sound platitudinous to say so, but the cause of traffic congestion in London is the fact that too many cars and vehicles of various kinds are coming into a small area. In those circumstances, we have to consider what kind of traffic priority should be given.

A little while ago the head of London Transport suggested that private cars should keep out of London. He was severely criticised for saying so. A few weeks ago I suggested that it might be necessary to ban the use of private cars in London during rush hours, and I also encountered a certain amount of criticism. I know that this is a very revolutionary suggestion, and that we must use every other possible method to prevent this suggestion ever becoming a necessity.

This business of keeping private cars out of Central London is being tackled by the parties concerned. Only yesterday it was announced that bigger 'car parks are now being provided at various tube stations in the outer suburbs of London. They will provide parking space for another 650 cars. That is a contribution to the problem, but when we relate 650 cars to the total number of private cars coming into London each day we realise that it is really only a very small one. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction.

If we have to decide what kind of traffic priorities should be given, I think that we must inevitably conclude that we must give priority to the needs of those people who use London buses to go to and from their work.

Mr. Foster

What about doctors?

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

About 10 million people a day use London buses. A private car occupies about eighty square feet of road space and carries, at the most, four passengers, whereas a bus, which occupies 195 square feet, can carry 61 passengers. If we have to choose between one section of the community and another, we must seek to create a situation in which buses can move and enable people to get to and from their work. London Transport has stated that the outer London bus services can be planned to operate at an average speed of twelve miles an hour, but that in Central London the speed has to be reduced to 7½ miles an hour. That means that the efficiency of the bus as a means of public transport is halved when it reaches the central area.

In those circumstances, we are justified in asking private motorists to leave their cars, whenever possible, at one of the outer London underground stations, and to rely upon public transport for entering the London area itself, especially during the rush hours, when London Transport has the vast problem of moving a huge mass of people within a limited time.

I know that the problem can be alleviated to a certain extent by staggering, but people do not like being pushed about more than is absolutely necessary. Certain trades, industries and shops may be accustomed to working from a certain time in the morning until a certain time at night, and the point of view of the workers has to be considered. I hope that the time will never be reached when the authorities have to consider the banning of private cars from Central London altogether. Anything that we can do to persuade the private car user not to come into London ought to be encouraged.

That would enable people to get to and from their work with the least possible inconvenience. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the greatest happiness of the greatest number ought to be the principle. If that test is applied, we shall need a campaign to persuade private-car owners to keep out of London, particularly during rush hours, and that will be to the advantage of the public as a whole.

1.31 p.m.

Mr. J. Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)

There are four methods by which the Ministry and the Government can deal with this traffic problem. The first is major road construction, the second minor alteration, the third planning action, and the fourth administrative action.

I will not say anything about major road construction, because that is somewhat outside our purview at the moment. On the second point, I have hardly seen one parking building in London such as I have seen in Germany and other parts of the world since the war. These are skeleton buildings built with the sole purpose of parking vehicles.

What has happened to the Hyde Park boulevard scheme? When the present Minister of Pensions was Minister of Transport, he told me that the Royal Fine Art Commission were considering the scheme. They have been doing so for many months. May I ask when they will reach a conclusion? While we are waiting for the result, cannot we get a one-way system in the park by enlarging its exits and entrances?

Virtually all the pavements in London are constructed for horse-drawn traffic, because they come out to a point at corners. This means that a ten-foot pavement reaches sixteen feet width at the point. The result is that cars, especially large cars, have to go right out to the middle of the road, often just missing an island, in order to turn the corner, instead of being able to drive round. The Minister may say that my suggestion would be bad for pedestrians; in that case we must put a small railing on the corner. We do not want pedestrians jumping off the corners of pavements. A railing would guide them to the zebra crossing, usually only a short distance away.

Could we not experiment with terracing of corner premises? It has been done at the Westbury Hotel at the bottom of Conduit Street. The pavement was withdrawn considerably merely by making terracing. We can often do that at corners so that abrupt, sharp corners can be avoided.

On the planning angle, I am sorry to say that, however hard one tries, one never finds who is responsible for what happens in transport matters. I tried to do so on an Adjournment debate, and the only way I could make the Home Office reply was to raise the subject of who enforced traffic regulations. The reply was that it was the Metropolitan Police. It is not the Ministry of Transport, the town planning authority or the local authority. It is time the Minister of Transport decided who is ultimately to give orders and take the responsibility.

Is the Ministry of Transport informing itself whether there are parking places underneath the large blocks of offices now going up in many places in this country? No large block, whether of offices, warehouses or flats, should go up without parking space underneath to accommodate the vehicles, goods or cars that will come to the building. These blocks should be rounded off at corners and taken back, but many of them are being built on exactly the same sites as the previous buildings of 50 or 60 years ago.

On the subject of parking in the middle of London, I would point out that at the Westbury Hotel, for example, there is no parking accommodation except a space outside the front door. The same is true in Arlington Street, where a large building is going up next to the office of the National Coal Board. Will there be parking accommodation there? Large blocks of buildings are going up in Fen-church Street, in the centre of the City of London; will they have parking space? One cannot help asking these questions, because as the result of all this building we may have many more cars bunching up in the City of London.

The Ministry of Transport has to make up its mind whether to use Hyde Park or not. At the moment there is an astonishing situation. I use Hyde Park three or four times a day, going to and from Westminster. It is appalling even to the extent of being a menace. Going in from Hyde Park Corner one cannot see the policeman standing just inside the gate, and two or three times during the past year I have nearly knocked him over. I must tell my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that I shall not accept responsibility if I do so, because the policeman is quite invisible.

It is astonishing for how long these things are allowed to happen. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) mentioned the jamming at corners. About four years ago I went to the Ministry of Transport and made a suggestion about that and was almost laughed at. I was told, "It is quite impossible. It would not work here." We are always told that a suggestion will not work, but many suggestions could work. What we have to do is to decide who is responsible and then to get on with the job.

1.38 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

The hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) put forward a large number of palliatives to deal with the traffic congestion in London, and with most of them I do not think that hon. Members will disagree. But he did not attempt to give a final answer to the problem, which is, of course, the construction of new roads and major improvements. Unfortunately, the Government have not found it possible to undertake them up to the present time.

Traffic conditions in London are deteriorating so fast that unless bold, constructive measures are taken to stop or curb the private motorist from obstructing public transport we shall reach the stage where the public service will be in danger. Traffic will be reduced to such a slow speed that the provision of an efficient public service will no longer be possible.

Surface traffic is already reduced frequently to a mere crawl. I have great fears about the effect of this upon London Transport because it is clear that the slower the traffic flows the more costly it is to operate the public service. If traffic is reduced in volume, travellers desert public transport for private transport, whereupon the financial position of the public service becomes very difficult.

My own approach would be somewhat different from that of the hon. and learned Member, who was speaking largely in the interests of the private motorists and wished to protect them. Too little attention is paid to the protection of the public service. The private motorist may have to be sacrificed to some extent in order that the public service may be preserved. I suggest that because every hon. Member has said that the greatest obstacle to the free flow of traffic is the excessive piling up of cars in the streets of London.

The provision of more parking places is no answer, because the motorist will come into the centre of London and park his car as long as he is able to find parking space. The key to the problem is the enforcement of the parking restrictions. At present, however many restrictions are imposed on parking, however many new regulations are made and new unilateral streets created, in a matter of days or weeks they are ignored by the motoring public. It is a common sight to see motor cars parked close to police signs stating "no parking," and to see them on the wrong side of unilateral streets.

The only deterrent to illegal parking is strict enforcement. I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. and learned Gentleman for Northwich that the ticket system as used in America and Canada is the only way by which there can be strict enforcement.

Mr. J. Foster

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that parking abuses would only impede public transport on bus routes?

Mr. Davies

It is not quite as simple as that, because if side streets are already cluttered up with parked vehicles, private vehicles will use the main highways which are used by public services.

The ticket system, with the assurance of enforcement that it provides, is the only way in which the parking problem can be overcome. As long as the parker feels that he can get away with leaving his vehicle indefinitely—and, as has been said, avoiding the police by waiting until they have left the beat—there will be this excessive parking. Once he is aware of the likelihood that he will be summoned for parking where he is not supposed to park that will be sufficient deterrent to make it worth while for the Government to impose strict parking restrictions.

The parking meter which is to be introduced is not the answer to the parking problem. In itself, it is no solution, but it is an asset inasmuch as it makes enforcement easier. The use of the parking meter as a measure of time is very simple indeed. Once the parking meter shows that the permitted time has been exceeded the police can easily summon the owner of the car. The parking meter should be combined with the ticket system.

I think that the private motorist is endangering his own future and his own welfare by ignoring the regulations which are there for his own protection. Those regulations are imposed in order to assist the free flow of traffic through London. By ignoring them, the private motorist will bring upon himself restrictions of a far severer nature.

If the parking problem is not overcome there will inevitably have to be a banning of private motors from certain streets of Central London at certain times. That must be avoided, if possible, but if it is found necessary to introduce such a plan it will be the private motorist's own fault for refusing to observe the law, as he is doing now. Again, strict enforcement is the answer—not only the suffering of a fine but the knowledge of the motorist that if he does not observe the law the consequences will adversely affect his own future freedom as a private motorist.

I know that the Parliamentary Secretary wishes to reply and I do not wish to encroach upon the time of other hon. Members who have Adjournment debates today, so I would just add that there are a number of other aids to improving the free flow of traffic in London. Some have been mentioned already. Reference has been made to the essential elimina- tion of a very large number of right-hand turns.

There is also the matter of intersections. The number of times we motorists, driving here to Westminster, for instance, are held up at intersections simply because the car in front of us is waiting to turn right is simply ridiculous. It is always happening and could easily be overcome by a little intelligent assessment as to where the right-hand turns should be eliminated and traffic diverted.

Another palliative is to allow a greater amount of filtering at lights for the left-hand turns. This is permitted in Trafalgar Square and a few other places, and there should be a great increase in permitted filtering. Another improvement would be better direction of traffic at Hyde Park Corner going towards Piccadilly—a clear direction as to the lane in which traffic should get into order to go in its desired direction.

It is regrettable that for a debate on such an important subject we should have such a short time. A number of suggestions have been put forward which I feel sure the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will take into account, but I suggest that none of them provides a final answer to this tremendous problem which, so far, has proved intractable. The Government have to revise their ideas about traffic in London. The only answer is to engage in bold and imaginative measures such as have been pursued in Continental cities—major construction works, flyovers, under-passes and the like. In spite of our financial situation, they can be afforded, because we cannot afford to allow the traffic to pile up as it is doing at present.

1.47 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)

There have been a number of very interesting and practical suggestions made during the course of this debate. I shall try to deal with them all before I sit down, but if I cannot do so I promise that I will go carefully over all the suggestions that have been made and will write to my hon. Friends and to hon. Gentlemen opposite about them.

I think that I should begin by dealing with the matter on rather broader and more general lines. The Government look forward to the time when it will be possible to carry out large measures of road construction in London. We have already authorised large-scale works at Notting Hill Gate, which is one of the worst bottlenecks. I must, however, say to the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) that to make it possible for everyone who comes into London to work to travel in his own car in the morning and to return in the evening is something which we can never attain. Even something less than that would involve the demolition and reconstruction of a very large part of London. I must say that I think it will always be necessary to take measures to discourage many of those who would like to use their private cars for coming into London.

I am glad that there was a desire on both sides to avoid a ban on private cars coming into the centre of London. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) wrote to the Press the other day and advocated something of that kind. I hope that the proposals which my right hon. Friend made on 21st March will prevent it from ever becoming necessary. His proposals have been criticised on the ground that they are going to impose further heavy charges upon motorists. The Conservative Government are not afraid of saying that they believe in the price mechanism and that they intend to apply it to parking in London. We do not admit that a motorist has any greater right to use the Queen's highway for the permanent accommodation of his vehicle than someone who chooses to put up a stall there and occupy it without paying any rent for it.

There was a cartoon in one of the daily papers the other day of someone saying, "We can afford to buy a car but we cannot afford to park it." I see no reason why anyone should expect to own and use a car and certainly to bring it into London who cannot afford to find a place for it. I suppose that before the motor car age many people could have afforded to buy a horse and cart if the horse did not need a stable and the carriage did not need a coach house. I maintain that those who wish to use cars, and especially to bring them into London, must be prepared to pay a proper economic rent for the amount of space that their vehicle occupies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt) referred to the fact that very little off-the-street parking accommodation has been provided in London since the war. That is very natural. So long as people can park free on the highway, there is no inducement to them to use garages or even the car parks which exist at the present time. In preparation for this debate I went from the Ministry yesterday to visit some car parks. I am bound to say that when I started to look for car parks in London and saw the state of the streets I was reminded—I hope that no exception will be taken to this story—of the lady who went to the Tower of London and said to a member of the garrison there, "Which part of this is the Bloody Tower?" The answer was "The whole of it."

The sight of the streets of London is extraordinary, but when I went to some of these car parks, including some where no charge is made for parking, they were not full between 11 o'clock and 1 o'clock. Therefore, the only way in which it will be possible to induce private enterprise or local authorities to provide additional accommodation for long-term parkers is to prevent under-cutting by parking for the whole day free on the streets.

I want to make it quite plain that the Government have no intention whatsoever of subsidising off-the-street car parks. At a time when we are reducing subsidies for food and houses, it would be difficult to justify subsidising car parks for those people who choose to come to London and leave their cars here. Therefore, it is necessary that the motorists shall provide the money for the accommodation of their cars, and by means of the parking meters and, it may be, of the provision of parking places with attendants where a charge will be made, the money will accumulate and can be used for this purpose. As the House is aware, under the Road Traffic Bill the whole of the proceeds of the parking meters will be used for that purpose.

While I am referring to the Road Traffic Bill, I should like to say that that Measure when on the Statute Book will deal with two of the most valuable points that were raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster). It is one of the anomalies of the law that in the Metropolitan area it is not possible for the police to take steps against offenders against parking regulations without waiting until the driver comes back. Under that Bill it will be possible for the police to take the number of the car and the registered owner of the car will be held responsible for it unless he can show that someone else was responsible for the offence.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Does that imply the use of the ticket system to which reference has been made? Will the police be able to leave a ticket on the car as the equivalent of a summons?

Mr. Molson

No. I think the Home Office has already made a statement to the effect that it is the intention of the Government to introduce legislation to give effect to the recommendations of the Sharpe Committee on these offences. It will enable a person who pleads guilty to an offence of that kind to be convicted without the need for the attendance of policemen in court. I understand that the ticket system is, in fact, a fining system which works without the procedure of the courts. The Committee advised against that and the Government are not prepared to adopt it at present. The reason why it has been so difficult for the police to enforce the regulations that exist is this unfortunate anomaly in the law which I have mentioned and which will be rectified by the Road Traffic Bill.

Reference was also made to the desirability of the police being able to tow away vehicles which are causing obstruction. That also is provided for in the Bill, in Clause 5. Under the law as it is at present they may only tow away cars that have been abandoned or are dangerously placed. Under the Bill they will be able to do the same to those which create obstruction.

I entirely agree with much that has been said about the inconsiderate driving which is largely responsible for much of the traffic delay. I believe that with an increase in consideration and courtesy there could be a very great improvement in its flow. If we could deal with the problem of the long-term parked car there would be an even greater improvement. We wish to treat fairly all those who use the highway. I have made it plain that in the proposals of my right hon. Friend we believe that the private motorist, although he will have to accept further burdens of payment and of restriction, will also obtain that certainty of where he can park which my hon. and learned Friend advocated.

I wholly accept also what has been said about the desirability of speeding up public transport. If the speed of buses could be increased by one mile an hour the saving to the London Transport Executive would be £2 million a year.

I think I can conclude from what has been said in this debate that the House as a whole is broadly sympathetic to the proposals that were put forward on 21st March by my right hon. Friend. We do not claim in any way that they are a final solution to the problem, and I am sure that he would wish me to thank all hon. Members on both sides of the House who have contributed to this debate for the constructive and helpful speeches that they have made.