HC Deb 23 April 1958 vol 586 cc1120-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Bryan.]

11.54 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I wish to draw attention to the danger of vehicles parking outside school exits and to draw the attention of the House to a report which was made on this subject by a road safety committee as long ago as 1936. It was a report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Road Safety among Schoolchildren, and in Recommendation No. 19 it stated that commercial vehicles or motor cars should not stand in the immediate vicinity of school exits. It made that recommendation on a finding which appears in paragraph 53 of chapter 6 of the report. After saying, Anything which tends to obscure the view of the children militates against their safety on the roads the Committee went on to say, For the same reason cars or vans should not habitually be left standing at such points". In short, the Committee, as long ago as 1936, thought that this practice of parking vehicles outside school exits was a dangerous practice which should be stopped. I understand that almost every Continental country takes the same view, and we are about the only country where one can park one's car in front of a school exit. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that this is a dangerous practice. This principle of danger from the obscuring of the vision where people are likely to cross has already been recognised in the regulations about pedestrian crossings. I refer to the studs at the approaches to pedestrian crossings. When vehicles park outside school exits there is the same danger, namely, from the impetuosity of the children in running out into the road between the parked vehicles.

The matter could be dealt with under Section 50 of the Road Traffic Act, 1930. Under that Section it is an offence to leave a vehicle in a dangerous place. But nothing has been done and the practice has greatly increased. I have in my hand a number of photographs of London schools showing cars parked solidly outside the exits and children coming out in between the cars into the traffic. In at least three cases there is a taxicab rank outside a school exit in London. In one case, in Westminster, the parents have taken the matter into their own hands. They secured a "No Parking" Metropolitan Police sign and erected it outside the school. They had a procession outside the school and are endeavouring to prevent the parking of cars there. At another school, this time in Lambeth, after three children had been knocked down outside the school, the local authority had a "No Parking" sign painted on the road. I gather that it has no legal force, but it is proving effective.

The Minister has adequate powers to deal with this sort of thing. We are now familiar with the "No Waiting" signs erected in streets for the purpose of avoiding traffic congestion and easing the flow of traffic. Local authorities have asked for something to be done on the same lines to prevent parking outside school exits. A memorandum was submitted to the London and Home Counties Advisory Committee by a number of local authorities. It came from the Southwark Metropolitan Borough Council and was supported by Bethnal Green, Hammersmith, and Stepney. It asked for some action to be taken to prevent parking outside school exits. The same request was made in memoranda from Kingston-upon-Thames and from Potters Bar.

One would have thought that serious consideration would have given to the subject by the Committee, but on reading its recommendations to my right hon. Friend I cannot feel that it has given this matter the consideration it deserves. In the paragraph of the recommendations dealing with the matter it states: The Sub-Committee gave careful consideration to the Memorandum of which mention has already been made in this Report which has been put forward by the Southwark Metropolitan Borough Council. This Memorandum, which had received the support of the Metropolitan Boroughs' Standing Joint Committee and also of certain other local authorities, suggested that waiting should be generally prohibited near schools. Other local authorities had suggested that there should be similar prohibitions near entrances to hospitals and parks. I would point out to the House that this is the recommendation which comes some twenty-one years after the Road Safety Committee's report had made it—twenty-two years during which the traffic has increased enormously and parking on the roads has become much heavier, with a consequent increase in the danger. In face of all this, the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee's recommendation to the Minister is as follows—and I should like to read this sentence by sentence and interpose my comments. The first is that the Committee appreciated that considerable deliveries had to be made to schools and hospitals and that in any case a ban on loading and unloading would be inappropriate". We know that there is a ban on loading and unloading in streets where the "No Waiting" sign has been erected for the purpose of helping the flow of traffic; little consideration is given by the Committee to the question of inconvenience to the loaders and unloaders of the delivery vans when it has been thought necessary to put "No Waiting" signs in a street in order to avoid congestion. Furthermore, there surely cannot be an enormous number of deliveries to schools, and in any case they could be prevented during the time that the pupils go to and from the school.

Only the other day I noticed that the police readily removed all the cars from outside the school at St. Martin-in-the Fields for the purpose of a memorial service to the late Joshua White. It may seem a cynical comment, perhaps, that they will do it for the dead but not to save children's lives.

The recommendation goes on: They also thought that it might be unjustifiable to impose restrictions all day when they were only needed to deal with difficulties for short periods of the day". Yet, elsewhere in the recommendations, the Committee recommended short periods for different streets affected by peak shopping hours and so on. I should have thought that there might be short "No Waiting" periods for the time when children were going to and from school. Then the report goes on: It was also represented to them that cars frequently had to wait near hospitals when patients were being picked up, and near schools when parents had come to fetch children. It seemed to the Sub-Committee that it would be most inconvenient if this practice were to be restricted and it did not seem that any general rule was possible or desirable". To suggest that parents would like the school exits and entrances kept clear of parked vehicles just so that they could be relieved of walking a few paces to fetch their children from the school gate to a car is something beyond my comprehension. In any case, as the photographs which I have will show, parents could not possibly drive their cars to the exits to these schools except by means of double-bank parking; so that argument of the Committee seems to me to fall to the ground. The Committee then states: The Sub-Committee have decided to recommend that no general restriction should be imposed but that restrictions in individual streets might be considered". Would any of those considerations which the Committee have applied to the parking of vehicles outside school exits be applied in putting "No Waiting" restrictions on the ordinary streets? I can find them nowhere else in the recommendations of this Committee. The Committee use these arguments only in connection with the school exits.

I understand that the Minister has written to local authorities about his acceptance of those recommendations from the Committee, pointing out the arguments which the Committee have used concerning the parking of cars outside school exits. I asked my hon. Friend on 19th March whether "No Waiting" signs could be used for preventing parking of vehicles in the vicinity of school exits, and I received the reply: No, Sir; in our view it is preferable that proposals for waiting restrictions outside schools should be considered on their merits in the same way as waiting restrictions generally."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March. 1958; Vol. 584, c. 1266.] Does that reply, that each case is to be treated on its merits, mean that nothing is being done about it? So far as I know, no school has been considered yet for "No Waiting" signs to be erected. It seems the same story that one frequently gets from this Ministry—that regulations will be imposed if it is a matter of relieving congestion. Relief of congestion seems to be the sacred cow of my right hon. Friend's Department. If one suggests that regulations should be made for the sake of safety, one seems to come up against a blank wall.

I want to stop the parking of vehicles outside school exits, not so that cars can speed past schools, but directly to stop something which, in the words used by the Road Safety Committee in 1936, "militates against the safety of children." In its recommendations, the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee was wholly wrong; it did not consider the matter fully from the point of view of the safety of children. My right hon. Friend was wrong in accepting those recommendations.

12.3 a.m.

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

I must acknowledge the interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) in road safety and the continuous work he puts in to promote this interest. I congratulate him upon securing the Adjournment tonight, even if the debate has taken us into tomorow.

We are debating a subject which is of very great importance. Contrary to my hon. Friend's assertion I assure him that the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee gave very serious consideration to this matter. It had before it a proposal by the Southwark Metropolitan Borough Council, backed by the Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Joint Committee, and gave it very careful consideration indeed.

The proposal was for a general prohibition of waiting outside schools. In the event, it advised against a general regulation which would make a universal restriction against waiting outside schools. It recommended that each case should be considered on its merits, and we have accepted that advice. This means that local authorities and education authorities can apply such restrictions if they think they are needed. In the London traffic area, this application would require our approval. We should then consult the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee and, if there was a good case for it, we should approve the proposal. Outside London, except on trunk roads, these proposals for waiting restrictions are made by local authorities and do not require our approval at all. I accept my hon. Friend's contention that parking may be a danger, and if it is we should like to see a waiting restriction. In the light of what I have said, there really is no difficulty in getting such a waiting restriction imposed where one is needed outside a school. On the other hand, there are good reasons for not making an universal "blanket" regulation to apply outside all schools.

In addition to the reasons which my hon. Friend recited as mentioned by the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee, I should like to mention one or two more which I think he should take into account. First, many schools have patrols to control traffic and to see children safely across the road when they are entering and leaving school. Obviously, where such patrols exist, nothing more is needed to ensure the safety of children when they are crossing the road.

Secondly, many schools are in quiet residential areas with their entrances on side streets where the parking of cars would cause no danger at all. For instance, many of them are in cul-de-sacs, in which case there would be no danger even if cars parked on both sides of the street. Many schools in country areas have entrances on quiet country roads where there is no danger whatever. In my own village, Dunsfold, there is a school on the green, and there is no danger of any kind from cars standing there.

It would be ridiculous to make blanket regulations covering all these schools. The restriction needs to be an individual restriction designed to meet the needs of the particular school and the road concerned. It would be really impossible to design a universal regulation which would correctly define the length of road to be restricted to suit all cases. Where-ever restrictions are applied unreasonably and without sufficient justification, motorists tend to break them and to park their cars on such stretches of road. This increases the strain on the resources of the police in trying to make enforcement effective and generally tends to bring the law into disrepute. It clearly is not desirable to place restrictions on lengths of roads which could in no circumstances need them.

I think these are convincing reasons against a blanket restriction and for the treatment of each case on its merits. I assure my hon. Friend that his allegation that the avoidance of the congestion of traffic is the sacred cow of our Ministry is really quite mistaken. We have, naturally to consider it. Traffic flow is an essential matter for the life of the country, but we consider it equally with road safety.

I would remind my hon. Friend that much bad driving results from congestion, from the sense of sheer frustration of the drivers concerned. Therefore, in the interests of road safety alone, apart altogether from commercial interests, it is of vital importance to give traffic congestion a high priority in our considerations. However, I can assure my hon. Friend that we do not at any time overlook the road safety factor. I should like to leave him in no doubt that I am concerned to do everything possible to improve road safety generally, and, in particular, for our school children. Indeed, some of our most valuable and effective work in road safety is done in the schools.

Parents have a natural and primary concern to teach their children the dangers of the road and how to avoid them. But our schools can do, and are doing, much to bring these lessons home to the children. It rests, of course, with the local education authorities and the schools themselves to decide how and when road safety training shall be included in the curriculum. Most schools are only too glad to accept the help of the police and of our local road safety committees to help them in this direction—teaching the children the simple rules of kerb drill and giving the older children cycling training as well. As my hon. Friend knows, we are about to make this cycle training into a national training scheme all over the country.

I am glad to be able to record that the value of this patient, devoted work is now to be seen in the accident record. Despite the fact that today there is more than double the number of vehicles on the roads over pre-war, the number of fatal accidents among children of from 5 to 14 was last year the lowest ever recorded, and all child casualties show a downward trend. They are still distressingly high. Each one is a tragedy, and we must never relax our efforts to reduce them to vanishing point if we can, but the record does show that the road safety training in schools is giving these young lives a greater protection against the dangers of the roads.

There can be no finer reward for the devoted labours of parents, teachers, police, and road safety workers than the results which these records show, or greater encouragement to them to redouble their efforts. They are not only saving the lives and limbs of these young children, but they are training the coming adult generation to be more aware of the dangers of the roads and better able, therefore, to avoid them; and in their turn to teach their children so that their children will have a better chance in days to come. We find in road safety work that it is a matter of the greatest difficulty to make an impact on the adult mind, but children, whose minds are open, are ready to learn, and thereby get far greater protection against the dangers of the roads.

I can assure my hon. Friend that I will leave nothing undone to help in this work. I can also assure him that no reasonable application for a waiting restriction outside a school is refused, and if at any time he has a case where he thinks a restriction has been wrongly refused, I will gladly and without delay look into it. I do hope, therefore, I have left my hon. Friend in no doubt at all that we take this matter just as seriously as he does—indeed more so, for I have to deal continually with matters of road safety, and no aspect of my work concerns me more.

However, I am convinced that in this matter it would be wrong to put a blanket, universal prohibition on waiting outside schools. In thousands of cases it would make complete nonsense and would do more harm than good, but wherever there is real justification for it we shall not hesitate to back or approve an application, or, on the other hand, bless a local authority which proceeds on its own account to do so. I do very much hope my hon. Friend is reassured.

Mr. Page

I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend for indicating that he will consider applications which may be received from local authorities, but does he not think that the letter which has gone out to local authorities rather prevents them from making applications? Will he consider with the Minister whether a letter may go out to local authorities indicating what he has said here tonight, that the Minister would be willing to consider applications from local authorities for the restrictions to be applied outside schools?

Mr. Nugent

What I have said is on the record. There need be no doubt about that. I have explained that outside London it is for local authorities to make these restrictions themselves. As to within the London traffic area, I will have a further look at this letter to see if further amplification is needed, but the assurance I have given certainly stands.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes past Twelve o'clock.