HC Deb 15 April 1958 vol 586 cc117-29

(By Order)

Read a Second time and committed.

7.1 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clauses 48 and 49. I move this Instruction for two main reasons, which I think will be understood by the House. First, Clause 48 of the Bill proposes that the Wallasey Corporation shall have power to charge for parking on certain of the promenades used by the public for their normal purposes, and Clause 49 proposes that these promenades shall be closed upon certain occasions.

I oppose the Clauses and ask the House to agree to the Instruction because, in my view, they would create a precedent. By allowing the Corporation to charge for parking on these promenades the Bill would be incorporating a power which local authorities do not normally have, and a precedent would thereby be created which might well be followed by other municipalities. If we are going to create a precedent, I submit that it must be shown that it is clearly justified and necessary.

It is especially undesirable that this new precedent should be created because, where similar power has previously been sought, it has heretofore been denied. In fact, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, in its model byelaws, has made it quite clear that in the past it has been opposed to corporations obtaining this power. This was because Section 68 of the Public Health Act, 1925, provided that charges should not be made for such purposes. In the byelaws circulated to local authorities it is stated that it is important for the Local Authority to remember that Parliament expressly framed the section"— that is, Section 68— so as to preclude their charging for the use of a parking place in a street. Later, in explanation, the byelaw states: There was general reluctance to allow a charge for the use of space in a street, but at a late stage in the Bill the House of Lords inserted an Amendment providing for charges for the services of an attendant. The House of Commons, however, resolved that it was 'inexpedient to authorise the making of a charge direct or indirect for the use of the highway'—thus indicating that a charge for 'services' was. in their view, indistinguishable in this context from the charge for use of the highway to which objection had previously been taken. That is the first reason why this power has not been given to local authorities heretofore. A precedent would be created, and it is incumbent upon the Corporation to prove that the power should be given it.

The second reason is that a principle is being put forward which Parliament has conferred only very reluctantly—and it is a principle which has been conferred not upon individual municipalities, but upon the Minister himself. Under the 1956 Road Traffic Act, power is given to the Minister, by regulation, to make schemes under which charges may be made for parking on the highway, and it was only with reluctance that Parliament agreed to that.

The reason why it did so is that it was considered that, where traffic needs demanded it, it would be desirable to have parking meters or other devices for collecting revenue—which revenue was to be devoted to purposes incorporated in the Act. After paying expenses of carrying through the scheme, the money had to be used for providing off-street parking accommodation. The conditions and safeguards were laid down in the Sections of the 1956 Act which refer to the making of parking schemes.

These safeguards and conditions are not incorporated in the two Clauses to which I have referred and which I wish to see deleted from the Bill. Power is sought to make charges for parking on the highway. No provision is made as to what those charges will be, or as to the conditions under which the power shall be exercised. In other words, carte blanche is given by the Corporation. If, in passing the 1956 Act, the House and another place incorporated certain conditions and provisions therein, those provisions should at least be incorporated in these Clauses if Parliament is to give this power to the Corporation.

At the same time, it would seem to be incumbent upon the Corporation to show that its needs meet those which were considered to be required before a parking scheme of this nature could be instituted, and charges made for parking upon the highway. The 1956 Act made it quite clear that the purpose of charging motorists for parking on streets was not to obtain revenue but to improve traffic flow and to meet the needs of motorists. In the Bill, however, it appears that the only reason why the Corporation has made the proposal is that it wishes to use the promenades for the purpose of collecting revenue from motorists. Parliament has not accepted that principle so far, and I consider that in this case it would not be desirable to confer this power.

There is a further justification for moving the Instruction. The 1956 Act made it clear that parking schemes could be authorised by the Minister in any part of England and Wales. Although the provision of parking places was to be only in the Metropolitan Police area and the City of London, it was made clear that the Minister, upon the application of a local authority, could extend the system and provide parking places in any area in England or Wales, in addition to the Metropolitan Police area and the City of London.

Under Section 19 (7) of the Act: The Minister may by order provide that subsection (1) of this section"— which provides that he may make regulations regarding the provision of parking places— shall apply to any such area in England or Wales, in addition to the Metropolitan Police District and the City of London, as may be specified by the order. It is quite clear, therefore, that the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation has the power to make or to extend regulations for the provision of parking areas for which a charge can be made anywhere in England or Wales. I do not understand why the Wallasey Corporation is seeking powers to institute parking schemes on the highway and make charges when it has been decided by Parliament that it is within the power of the Minister to do that. I do not understand why the Corporation does not make use of the 1956 Act and ask the Minister to make regulations so that the safeguards and conditions which Parliament considers necessary can be provided before any such parking schemes are introduced. Those are the main reasons why I suggest that this Motion should be accepted.

I am opposed to the principle of charging for parking on the highway, unless it is clear that any revenue derived from the charges shall go to the provision of off-street parking facilities, and that the purposes of the 1956 Act in this respect shall be carried out. I understand that a petition by members of motoring organisations will come before the Committee which will deal with this Bill. If the Wallasey Corporation were able to give an undertaking that revenue derived from parking charges would be used to provide off-street parking facilities, the Committee would have an opportunity to consider that and to amend the Bill so as to ensure that the money was used for that purpose. If such an undertaking could be given in this debate, perhaps I might obtain the leave of the House to withdraw this Motion.

Such a procedure would not, however, meet my reason for moving this Motion. I am opposed to the two Clauses on principle, because they establish a precedent and because the power to create these parking schemes already exists. During our debates on the 1956 Act a number of Amendments were moved because it was considered desirable that there should be ample safeguards provided, and the final provisions met the wishes expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It would be helpful if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary could say that, in view of the existing powers, his right hon. Friend does not consider it necessary for these powers to be given to the Wallasey Corporation, but that the Corporation should proceed under the provisions of the 1956 Act.

I do not wish to deal with Clause 49, where the question of principle which is raised is not so serious. It is undesirable that highways should be closed. Powers exist for the closure of highways in certain circumstances and I consider them adequate, as are the existing powers for the provision of parking places on public highways for which a charge is made. I move this Motion to obtain the view of the Ministry and to ask those who speak for the Wallasey Corporation whether they would be willing to meet the desires of those of us who oppose these two Clauses.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

I beg to second the Motion.

I consider that two important principles are involved. First, Clause 48 relates to charging for parking on certain promenades. Clause 49 is almost as important and there power is sought to close the promenades on special occasions for up to twelve days in the year. As has been said, the setting up of parking spaces was governed by the Public Health Act, 1925, which laid down that if there were parking spaces on the road, they should be free. Parliament always upheld that principle and never authorised charges for parking on the road until 1956, when provision was made for such charges by Section 19 of the Road Traffic Act, 1956.

During the Committee stage debates on that Measure we had hours of discussion about the granting of power for charges for parking on the highway, and as a result it was agreed that parking schemes, with parking meters, should be set up on the highway. There were three conditions. First, a scheme had to be part of a proper scheme for parking, including parking meters; secondly, it had to be under the control of the Ministry; and, thirdly, surplus funds should be applied to the provision of off-street parking. To show some of the conditions, which have to be fulfilled, and the sort of considerations which the Minister had to take into account, I will read Section 19 (2) of the 1956 Act: In determining what parking places are to be designated under this section the Minister shall consider both the interests of traffic and those of the owners and occupiers of adjoining property, and in particular the matters to which he shall have regard shall include—(a) the need for maintaining the free movement of traffic, and (b) the need for maintaining reasonable access to premises, and (c) the extent to which parking accommodation (whether open or covered) otherwise than on highways is available in the neighbourhood or the provision thereof is likely to be encouraged there by the designation of parking places under this section. The Minister has to consider whether he is satisfied that the free movement of traffic is maintained and that there is reasonable access to premises, and so on. Under Clause 49 of this Bill, where the Corporation seeks powers to close promenades altogether for a period of up to twelve days a year, there would not be any free movement of traffic at all. That indicates that this is an important matter.

This scheme of the Corporation is unprecedented. I regard it as a money-raising stunt. I do not think it has a great deal of support locally. The other day I was favoured with a letter from an inhabitant of Wallasey who writes: I am very pleased to read that with"— the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies)— you are opposing the Wallasey Corporation Bill. That is regarding the two Clauses. I hope you will continue to stand out for the abolition of this Clause as it is a sheer imposition on motorists in general that they should be expected to pay more for the use of a public highway. No doubt the writer had in mind that motorists already pay for the highway through taxation and rates, and so on. Should this Clause go through, one can well imagine the rush there would be for all authorities to find excuses to make charges to motorists all over the country. That is a quite reasonable fear. The letter goes on: For your information, there are two miles of promenade prohibited to motorists, so the free use of King's Parade is not causing hardship to people objecting to motors parking on the prom. I can assure you your efforts have a lot of support in Wallasey and outside districts, where people come in cars to spend a few hours at the seaside with their families. Your efforts are without doubt of national importance. That is what somebody in Wallasey says.

Even if the Corporation were willing to set aside the profits from charges in this parking scheme for off-street parking, the scheme should still be controlled by the Minister under the Road Traffic Act. The Minister has to take account of the requirements of traffic, which the Corporation does not seem to have done.

Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)

The hon. Member said that he regarded this scheme as a stunt. Why does he regard a serious proposition put forward by a Conservative administration as a stunt?

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Because it does not seem to take into account the requirements of traffic by making more parking facilities. The only reason for Clause 48 seems to be to enable the Corporation to make money.

Mr. Collick

And therefore it is a stunt?

Mr. Gresham Cooke

For a local authority to enter into a commercial enterprise of that kind——

Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)

Does the hon. Member say that it is wrong for any local authority to conduct any public enterprise?

Mr. Gresham Cooke

My view is that the fewer enterprises of a commercial nature conducted by local authorities the better. I do not think that the matter was better put than by the Earl of Selkirk, who stated, in the debate in another place on the Road Traffic Bill, 1955, when the question of parking places on the highway was being considered: I feel that it is not possible to overestimate the degree to which the closing of the Queen's highway constitutes an invasion of personal liberty. It is really making a public road into a private road, and no one should in any way misconceive the significance of doing so. It would become a statutory offence to walk on the road or to drive a motor car on it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. House of Lords, 22nd February, 1955; Vol. 191, c. 352.] I know that there are representatives of the promotors present. Now that they have heard what the hon. Member for Enfield, East and myself have said, I hope that they will show their good sense by giving an undertaking that the offending Clauses will be withdrawn.

7.22 p.m.

Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)

In the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples), who, as a Minister, is prohibited, by custom, from taking part in this discussion, it falls to me to put the point of view of the Wallasey Corporation. A statement is available outside for hon. Members who would like to read it.

Although the Corporation has already met the objections of a great many people there are still objections to Clauses 48 and 49. The Corporation does not wish to discourage motorists from coming to Wallasey and parking their cars on King's Parade. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), or my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), have visited Wallasey or have seen that great parade, which was reclaimed in large part from the sea and which cost, before the war, £1 million, at pre-war money values. Motorists such as myself were able to go there last year and park our cars. The Corporation has to pick up the litter left by motorists who eat meals there.

The problem is a very different one from that which was put to the House by the hon. Member for Enfield, East, and which the House debated in 1956 on the Bill to which my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham has referred. It is easy, even at the height of the summer, to motor along the parade even with cars parked along it. The Corporation has provided a large number of parking places near-by.

It may be that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary may never be able to use his power under the 1956 Act to enable a charge to be made for parking, yet it seems fair, considering the large expenditure of money needed for the upkeep of that parade, that a charge should be made. The Corporation has no intention of charging for parking all along the parade, but only at some of the more popular spots. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary may object to the problem being dealt with on the somewhat piecemeal basis of a Private Bill, but I am empowered by the Corporation to make an offer. It is that an account will be kept of income and expenditure in respect of parking places on the promenade mentioned in Clause 44, and that any surplus of income over expenditure in any year will be applied in the next year, first, to making good any deficit on the account in the previous four years and, secondly, towards the provision and maintenance by the Corporation of off-street parking places. I hope that that offer will go a long way towards meeting the objections of the hon. Member and of my hon. Friend.

Clause 49 is quite different in principle. The Corporation wishes to close from time to time the free parade mentioned in the Bill and to provide extra amenities that Wallasey, and particularly New Brighton, which is a part of Wallasey, offers to visiting tourists, for such things as car races, motor-cycle races, pedal-cycle races, soapbox "Derbies", carnivals and sports of different kinds. Such powers have already been given by this House to Brighton and Blackpool; the Corporation of Wallasey is asking for powers somewhat less than those.

This is a long Bill. Arguments on its various Clauses will be conducted before the Committee. I hope that the same consideration will apply to the two Clauses that we are now discussing and that the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend will be prepared to withdraw their Motion for an Instruction.

7.30 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

It may be for the assistance of the House if I offer a comment on the point of view of the Ministry of Transport on these two Clauses and the Instruction which the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) and my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) have moved and seconded, and which has now been replied to.

I am afraid I must advise the House that the Instruction, at any rate on Clause 48, has substance in principle, as I shall briefly show. It is not for me, of course, to go into detail, and I fully accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) has told us of the excellence of the motives of Wallasey Corporation in all it has done, but the difficulty is as follows. The law as it stood until 1956 was correctly recited by the hon. Member for Enfield, East and my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham. The 1925 Act specifically prohibited charges for parking on the highways. The 1956 Act, passed after very lengthy discussion, as the hon. Member for Enfield, East rightly said, authorised the Minister of Transport to approve parking schemes in which charges can be made for parking on the highway, subject to certain conditions.

At present the authority of the Minister runs only in the London Traffic Area. Those conditions were very carefully drawn by the House after lengthy argument. Parliament decided that those powers could not be extended outside the Greater London area except subject to an affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament, which, naturally, would be preceded by consideration of how the scheme had worked in London and whether it was suitable then to be extended to the Provinces. Parliament has considered this matter very carefully indeed and decided that it would be right to have parking schemes where charges are made for parking vehicles in the highway in certain circumstances, but safeguards for the interests of motorists, for road users generally and private interests of all kinds were very carefully designed after lengthy discussion.

There has to be public inquiry, and so on, if there are objections and, at the end of that procedure, the Minister has to approve the order proposed by the local authority. That, of course, is subject to negative procedure in this House. So the most detailed, careful safeguards, ensure that these schemes are approved only if they are really justified in the interests of traffic movement and are consonant with the private interests affected. I think it quite clear in those circumstances that it could not be right in principle for any local authority to come forward with a scheme outside London which in effect purported to give it authority to start parking schemes, so to speak, before the flag has fallen.

The Westminster scheme is getting under way No doubt an Order will soon be coming before this House, if it is thought fit to pray against it, and it may be that that scheme will be introduced in the summer. We shall then have a chance to see how it works. If such schemes work as I hope they will, in due course Parliament might feel that they should be extended to the rest of the country, but I am certain that in principle it would be wrong for the House to approve of a local authority Bill taking power in advance and without all the safeguards which have been so carefully written into the 1956 Act.

My advice is that Clause 48 is really not appropriate. It derogates from national legislation which this House has already approved and if, as the hon. Member for Enfield, East indicated, it is his intention to withdraw the Instruction, I hope that what I have said will be taken note of in Committee.

Mr. Collick

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, may I ask if one would be right in understanding that the Minister has no intention whatever of making or approving of a parking scheme in the Provinces until experience of the London schemes has been obtained?

Mr. Nugent

That is so. My right hon. Friend cannot approve a scheme in the Provinces until Parliament, by an Order subject to the affirmative Resolution procedure, has approved the extension of the parking scheme project to the Provinces. Quite clearly, the House would not wish to consider such an extension until we have had experience in London. In effect the answer to the hon. Member's question is "Yes".

Turning to Clause 49, I feel there is no difficulty in principle from our point of view. It seems to me entirely a matter for the Committee to decide on its merits. Clause 49 provides for the closing or limiting of traffic on promenades during fetes and other functions. There are precedents for that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree said, and it is entirely a matter for the Committee to decide whether local circumstances warrant that. I do not think there is any difficulty there, but my advice on Clause 48 must be that in principle the Clause is not really acceptable.

7.38 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Davies

I speak again by leave of the House. Before I ask leave to withdraw the Instruction, I wish to say how much I appreciate the offer which has been made by the Corporation to meet those who oppose these two Clauses. I appreciate what the hon. Member for Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) has said. I feel sure that, in the circumstances, it will be far better for the Committee to make the decision on these two Clauses than for the House to take a decision tonight. I am sure that the Committee will take into account not only the petition which will be before it, but also the remarks made by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary tonight, which have been most helpful and which bear out exactly the point of view taken by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) and myself.

7.39 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Nicolson (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)

Before the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) asks leave to withdraw the Instruction, would it be possible, Mr. Speaker, for me to express a point of view which has not yet been put?

Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) asks leave to withdraw the Instruction, I must put the matter to the House.

Mr. Nicolson

I thought that the hon. Member had not yet asked leave to withdraw the Motion, but was about to do so.

Mr. Davies

In the circumstances, if it is in order, I will give way to the hon. Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) before I actually ask leave to withdraw the Motion, Sir.

Mr. Nicolson

I intended to make a short speech, rather more than an intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Enfield, East. If I speak for five minutes, I hope that the hon. Member will not think that an impertinence. I have no brief for the Wallasey Corporation and the only reason I intervene is to put the point of view of the resort towns on these two suggested Clauses. They affect the 150 towns scattered around our coasts, which depend largely or entirely upon revenue from holiday visitors.

I was rather disappointed when I heard my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary advise the House to endorse this Instruction, because I felt that the freeing of main arteries in the Metropolis and large provincial cities from congestion by the parking of cars is quite different from the circumstances which arise on promenades at seaside resorts. In the latter case, the promenade is intended both as a highway and as a parking place, and I do not think that there is any other category of street which exactly fulfils both these conditions.

The corporations of these resorts are providing at their own expense—and even at very great expense—a highway along the seafront which adds to the amenities of the town and to the pleasure which it affords to the visitors. These places are to be compared with the drive-in cinema so popular in the United States; you sit in your car and from the driving seat enjoy the passing show. Since it is, therefore, an amenity, and gives added pleasure, I do not see why it should be objectionable for a corporation to make a small charge for making use of it.

Seaside resorts are notoriously hard-up. They may give the appearance of prosperity, but frequently they find it difficult to extract any money at all from the casual day visitor. It seems to me reasonable that when a man brings his family to towns like Wallasey, Bournemouth, or Brighton for the day, he should make his contribution to what otherwise the ratepayers of these towns will be providing for him free of charge.

Further, many of these promenades are built on the top of highly expensive coast protection works. This is the case in my own borough. The public expect them, but as taxpayers and ratepayers they contribute very little towards these works, and I think it is perfectly fitting that when a corporation uses the top of such a sea wall for the parking of cars the visitors should be asked to pay 1s. for an hour or two for the pleasure which they derive from it.

The hon. Member for Enfield, East, who moved the Motion, and his seconder on this side of the House, said very little indeed about Clause 49, but there, too, it strikes me as only reasonable that a corporation like Wallasey should ask the House for permission to incorporate a Clause allowing it to close a certain section of the promenade for the reasons which my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) outlined. Indeed, it is sometimes essential to do so.

I was surprised to see that the Wallasey Corporation intends only to close a section of the promenade for no more than 12 days in any year, because in my constituency there is a promenade which runs under the cliff which is open to traffic for the entire winter but is closed for the entire summer. It constitutes a danger to the public, when the beaches are crowded with people passing backwards and forwards across this broad promenade from the beach to the beach huts on the other side, if cars are allowed to be driven freely along it.

For that reason—the reason of public safety—as well as for the reason specifically given—the reason of public enjoyment—I think that Clause 49 is as much justified as Clause 48.

Mr. Ernest Davies

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.