HC Deb 26 November 1959 vol 614 cc560-4

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

107. Mr. LIPTON

To ask the Minister of Transport what action he is taking to reduce traffic congestion in London during the Christmas shopping period.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)

With permission, I will answer Question No. 107.

I have decided to introduce an emergency plan to deal with the pressure of Christmas traffic in Central London. It will come into force on Monday next, 30th November, and will continue until approximately 16th January. The object is to keep traffic moving in the West End and to make conditions easier for shoppers and motorists. Special temporary car parks are being provided with places for over 6,000 vehicles. Most will be free. More buses and longer Underground trains will be run, many to connect with the temporary car parks.

A central area, to be known as the rink zone, has been defined and this is bounded by Marylebone Road and Euston Road, Southampton Row, Aldwych, the Strand, Piccadilly, Park Lane and part of Edgware Road.

On the streets in the pink zone parking will still be allowed at authorised places, such as parking meters. Else-where, existing waiting restrictions will be firmly enforced. In the decorated streets and in Piccadilly and Park Lane these restrictions will be extended to 10 p.m. Existing bans on loading and unloading at selected key points in or near the pink zone will run from 1 p.m. instead of 11.30 a.m. and will last until 6.30 p.m. The ban will also extend to some new lengths of road.

Leaflets describing the arrangements will be available through the police and the motoring organisations and local authorities throughout the Home Counties.

This is an experiment and I am most grateful to all those authorities who have helped in its arrangement. Its progress will be kept under daily review, and alterations will, if necessary, be made in the light of experience.

I am placing in the Library of the House full details of the plan, together with copies of the leaflets which will be issued to the public.

Mr. Lipton

Having long ago advocated some kind of ban on cars in Central London, may I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the courage of his proposals? If experience shows it to be necessary, as it probably will, will he continue this restriction after the Christmas shopping period? Further, will it be possible to have a rather fuller discussion of the whole problem in the not too distant future?

Mr. Marples

That last question is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. We will see how this experiment goes. It may well be the shape of things to come if it is a success.

Mr. Benn

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the 6,000 extra car spaces, which he is providing in the parking lots around the pink zone, represent only a two-week increase in the number of cars coming on to the roads in London? Can he explain why his plan does not contain any provision for extra trains or buses at the peak hours, but only between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.? Can he tell the House why this is an emergency plan? Conditions at Christmas and generally have been a predictable problem for many years. Congestion is a permanent aspect of life in our cities today. Will the right hon. Gentleman say when he proposes to make a statement about a permanent solution of the problem?

Mr. Marples

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will wait a little time before a permanent remedy is forthcoming This is a problem which is worldwide. In this case, we have to deal with the streets in London as they now exist. We have tried to do the best we can with what exists on the ground, and I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that it is reasonably satisfactory. When he talks about the parking space representing two weeks' production of motor cars, he should remember that not all the cars will come into the centre of London. Some will be in Manchester, Birmingham, and so on.

Mr. Benn

But is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the London County Council area alone 11,000 new cars a month come on to the roads and that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Service, five years ago, said that this was a problem of immediate urgency and that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence, two and a half years ago, promised a comprehensive plan? So it is not at all correct to describe these as emergency measures thought up by the right hon Gentleman in a new crisis.

Mr. Marples

I am sorry. The hon. Gentleman must not get so angry about this. Faced with a new position, gratitude, and not anger, should be the first thing. I have an advisory committee of 50 million people and I am grateful to the hon. Member for joining it. I shall do my best under the circumstances as they now exist and I am sure that the House as a whole and the country will welcome an attempt to bring discipline and order out of chaos.

Mr. Benn

Will the right hon. Gentleman break through one piece of congestion on Government business to let us have a debate on this whole subject next week?

Mr. Marples

That is a question for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. If he decides that he can find time, and a debate is arranged through the usual channels, which operate very successfully in these cases. I shall be delighted.

Mr. E. Fletcher

Will the right hon. Gentleman say when the Statutory Instrument to give effect to this plan will be laid before the House, since until it has been laid we cannot have an opportunity to discuss it?

Mr. Marples

All the plan can be achieved with the present administrative set-up. It does not need additional Orders. It is merely a question of the existing rights of the police to carry out certain plans.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Is my right hon. Friend aware that anybody who makes a close study of the traffic problem in London knows that a permanent solution is extremely difficult to find, but that those who have to travel in the central area during the next few weeks will be extremely grateful to him for finding a temporary solution?

Mr. Marples

I am positive that nobody will ever be grateful to a Minister of Transport. If he solves the problem, he will be unpopular, and if he does not solve it he will be unpopular. The one thing of which I am reasonably certain is that we must try to avoid a repetition of what happened last Christmas, when everything ground to a halt and people had to wait in stationary buses for as long as an hour.

Mr. Longden

Will there be any special regulations for disabled drivers and passengers?

Mr. Marples

No, there will not be any special regulations for disabled drivers, but it will be possible for people to drive into the centre and deposit an invalid or disabled driver at a store, and collect him later.

Mr. Snow

This is intended as a constructive suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman. Would he consider discouraging certain companies from sending their very gaily decorated advertising vans along main streets in the centre of London—the brewers, for example—since that substantially increases congestion, especially if the vehicles are horse-drawn?

Mr. Marples

At Christmas time, one can discourage the advertising of the brewers, but not the commodity they distribute.

Mr. Leather

Will my right hon. Friend please tell the House, why pink?

Mr. Marples

Because it is a colour not associated with the three principal political parties.

Mr. V. Yates

While the country will receive the right hon. Gentleman's statement with considerable interest, may I ask whether he is aware that traffic congestion is extremely serious in other cities? For example, Birmingham has recently had the worst traffic jam in its history. Is he aware that we cannot ask Questions in the House about this since, we are told, traffic is a matter for the police authority concerned? Will he explain—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member's question does not arise out of the right hon. Gentleman's statement.

Mr. Yates

On a point of order. I was asking the Minister, Sir, whether he could extend this plan for traffic beyond London to the great industrial cities?

Mr. Speaker

My difficulty is that Question No. 107 relates to traffic congestion in London.