HC Deb 25 November 1960 vol 630 cc1556-68

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

4.9 p.m.

Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)

I am grateful for this opportunity to draw attention to the working of parking regulations and the traffic wardens in your constituency, Mr. Speaker, the constituency in which I have the privilege to live and to vote. Traffic wardens began their duties in Westminster two months ago—on 19th September—and their introduction, with the powers which they possess of ticketing a waiting car—that is, a car waiting where it ought not to be waiting—was an innovation in this country. In the circumstances, and because of widespread criticism, an early review of their activities is desirable, especially as it is intended to extend their work next week to other areas in your constituency, Mr. Speaker, and possibly at an early date in my constituency of St. Marylebone, which is adjacent to your constituency of Westminster, Mr. Speaker.

In my constituency there is a parking meter system operating with parking meter attendants, but, at present, no traffic wardens. When that system was introduced over two years ago there was an immediate improvement in the flow of traffic. I have some personal experience of this because the street in which I live, Upper Brook Street, was one of the first streets in which this experiment took place. There used to be continual stoppages and traffic holdups, but all that has disappeared now. I can now by breaking the law, but without holding up traffic or inconveniencing anybody, wait for a time to load or unload goods, luggage and passengers outside my door. Before parking meters were introduced that was impossible.

I can now wait up to two hours at a parking meter, which is a great convenience. At one time I was of the opinion that a longer period would have been better, but having seen the system operating and with my own personal experience of its working, I think the time allowed is about right. It is possible, however, that when the meter system is extended over a much wider area it will be found in some places that there may be considerable under-use of meters, in which case some meters might be painted a different colour and they could be used for a four hour period. That would be particularly helpful in certain places where there is, and will be, a shortage of off-street parking facilities.

When the parking meter system was introduced it soon became evident that further sanctions were needed. People left their cars in unauthorised places and risked having them towed away or possible prosecution. That risk was worth while because there were too few police and prosecution was a long-drawn-out business and somewhat cumbersome. Hence, the introduction of traffic wardens and the ticket system.

The supplementing of the parking meter system to control unauthorised parking by wardens and by the use of tickets is, in my view, undoubtedly right in principle. What has gone wrong and why has there been this outcry against the activities of traffic wardens, among wham there are some splendid men? It is an outcry which is fully justified.

Numerous examples have been given in the Press, and last week in a debate on this subject in another place information was given which showed that quite an intolerable persecution, together with discrimination of the private motorist, has been taking place. I believe that the first court cases under the new regulations are being heard today.

I remind the House of what the Minister of Transport said during the Third Reading of the Road Traffic and Roads Improvement Bill on 1st June last: It is an experiment. We do not want it to fail. It is important that it should get off on the right foot."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st June. 1960; Vol. 624, c 1588.] It was emphasised that, above all, we did not want to persecute the motorist.

It has got off on the wrong foot and the motorist is being persecuted. The Government have only themselves to blame for the criticism that has quite rightly been made of what has been happening. The regrettable thing is that the traffic wardens have been placed in an impossible position. They have attached to themselves much adverse criticism when they are in no way to blame. It is the Government that should be criticised and not the poor, unfortunate wardens who, with few exceptions, without experience and with inadequate training, have been doing with courtesy and efficiency a job that they should never have been asked to do.

What, then, is this improper job that the traffic wardens are required to do? It is nothing other than to conspire with the motorist to contract out of obeying the law. That has been the cause of all the trouble. Paragraph 3 (c) of Statutory Instrument 594 of 1960 states: No vehicle shall wait in any part of a restricted street specified in the Second Schedule to these Regulations for the purpose of delivering or collecting goods or merchandise or loading or unloading the vehicle. That statement is quite clear and definite. It means that I am not allowed to wait outside my front door in Upper Brook Street for the purpose of setting down or picking up passengers, or for loading or unloading luggage. The loading or unloading of luggage may take some time when, for instance, one is going away on or returning from a holiday. I suggest that that is persecution and is really intolerable, but it is the duty of the wardens to enforce the law, and it is quite wrong that they should be blamed for doing what it is their duty to do.

This morning, all the parking meter spaces in Upper Brook Street were occupied, so I put my car some 200 yards away in Park Street. Having put it in a meter space, I saw three cars waiting in unauthorised places. In one vehicle there was a chauffeur; in another, luggage was being leisurely loaded or unloaded, and people were passing to and from the third car with papers and so on. They were there before I arrived and, after I had been waiting several minutes, they were still there. They were breaking the law. A traffic warden went past but took no notice of them—quite rightly, in my view, but it is quite wrong that the law should be disregarded in this way. With all this ambiguity, it is no wonder that there is confusion, and no wonder that motorists and wardens are at cross-purposes.

In the game of cricket, it is against the law for the bowler to throw the ball. If the bowler throws the ball, the umpire "No balls" him. I understand that the cricketing authorities this coming summer may be toying with the idea of a trial period of allow the umpire to contract out of applying the law. If so, I suggest that before they get committed too far, my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Sir H. Ashton) and his M.C.C. colleagues look carefully at what has happened with the traffic warden scheme. They may save themselves a lot of trouble next summer.

I have here the 1960–61 handbook of the Rugby Football Union. Section (3) of Law 10—Functions of Referee—which is in page 48, reads: He is not entitled to contract out of the Laws of the Game by agreeing with both teams to vary or not to recognise any law. I commend that law to the Government.

There are other good points in these laws which the Government would do well to study. I shall not pass this handbook to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. It is personal to me, and lets one in free on certain grounds on certain occasions—rather like the railway director's free pass golden key—but I also have last year's handbook, now out of date with respect to the free pass.

A point for further study is that Section (8) of the sam Law 10—Functions of Referee—says: He has power to stop a match before time has expired, if in his opinion the full time cannot be played. I suggest that it is a mistake to play full time with these present Regulations, and that they be stopped at once. Therefore, will the Government blow the whistle at once and stop bringing this law into disrepute?

I believe that there is difficulty in getting traffic wardens with the necesary qualification. I know that, in view of the extension of the meter area and the need for adequate supervision, the City of Westminster authorities are concerned about that difficulty. Perhaps the reason has been inadequate remuneration, but I never understood why wardens should be paid less than meter attendants. That has now been put right, and I am glad.

I also hope that in St. Marylebone traffic wardens will be appointed as soon as possible, but that their duties will not include the supervision of parking meters. These duties are being carried out very efficiently at present by parking meter attendants. It is very important that as much information as possible be collected on the working of the Westminster scheme, where traffic wardens look after the meters as well as carry out their traffic warden duties.

At the same time, in this new experiment it would be much more valuable if after, say, a year's working a review could take place, whereby a comparison could be made between the scheme in Westminster and a different scheme in St. Marylebone. That is why I hope that as soon as possible traffic wardens will be appointed in St. Marylebone in addition to meter attendants. Then, of course, there is the additional reason—the difficulty of getting suitable traffic wardens.

For the new system of traffic control to work satisfactorily, the good will of the motorist is needed. I am sure that this can be obtained if, in any new regulations that are laid whether they are for your constituency, Mr. Speaker, or for mine or for any other constituency in London, the present unfortunate mistakes are not repeated and, of course, the present regulations appropriately altered. Because there is no doubt that the meter system, with its attendants, and the traffic wardens have been a great boon, not only to motorists but also to those who travel in taxis and buses, because of the improved flow of traffic.

In my constituency we have a problem which needs special treatment. St. Marylebone is unique in having special streets in which there are consultants, doctors and dentists in large numbers. I refer to the area around Harley Street, Wimpole Street, Devonshire Place and New Cavendish Street. I believe that at an early date the local authority is to have consultations with the Government and with the British Medical Association to see what can be done to improve the conditions of the doctors in these streets. At present it is very difficult for them indeed.

I have net time today to give examples, but anaesthetists, for instance, who have heavy equipment which they have to take in and out of cars to these places have great difficulty in finding places to park their cars as the regulations stand at present. I hope that the Government will sympathetically consider any constructive suggestions which the local authority may put forward.

This special area may in some ways be likened to Covent Garden, or Billingsgate or Smithfield, where special work is also carried on. Just as special areas are laid out for taxis, I propose that a special area might also be laid out for doctors, and that just as taxis are licensed so might certain doctors be licensed who have to use their cars on emergency calls to hospitals or elsewhere. They could have special licences, for which they paid, to use special, private parking areas.

I have not the time to deal with some of the other subjects which are of very great importance, interrelated as they are with the traffic warden and parking meter system, such as off-street parking, but I hope an early opportunity may be given in the new year for this problem, which is of such great importance to us all in Central London, to be debated in this House. In the meantime, however, I hope that today we shall have some assurance from the Government that the present unsatisfactory regulations will be altered.

4.25 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)

Perhaps I should begin what I have to say by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) for having given me and my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department notice of the basic points that he wanted to raise this afternoon. The way in which he put them to us previously was a little more restrained than the way in which he has hit out this afternoon, but, after all, this is a place for debate and I do not complain of that.

I think the background to the problems which my hon. Friend has raised is pretty well-known in the House by now. We spent a lot of time in the last Session debating these matters, not lease in connection with the Road Traffic and Roads Improvement Act. Of course, it is easy for people to complain about parking restrictions and to say that they are too severe or inexact. But by their very nature, parking regulations and restrictions have got to be restrictive. That cannot be avoided. We all know that the car parked for long periods of the day on our roads is the principal cause of traffic congestion, and any kind of cure for traffic jams is quite impossible unless we are prepared to accept certain restrictions on motorists in the interests of the great body of them. Our problem as a Government is to try somehow to achieve a fair balance, to try to make the restrictions effective but not to make them so harsh as seriously to interrupt the business and social life of this city.

My hon. Friend has raised two principal questions. As I understand the way in which he puts them, they are these: the first is that our regulations restricting parking on the streets for short periods at parking meters and in controlled parking meter zones are too restrictive, particularly in connection with the loading and unloading of vehicles, whether they be commercial or private. The second is that he feels that our enforcement is rather too severe at the moment.

I should like to say something about this, but first may I is a word about doctors whom he mentioned? My hon. Friend represents St. Marylebone in which is to be found the medical area around Harley Street and Wimpole Street. The House may like to know that already the local authorities operating parking meter schemes in various parts of London have made a concession to general practitioners who have surgeries in parking meter zones. When they are satisfied that no off-street parking is to be found, either at the surgery or within a reasonable distance of the doctor's surgery, the local authorities have allowed doctors to park outside or near their surgeries free and for longer periods than they would be permitted by the meter system. This has been a scheme brought in with the specific intention of helping those general practitioners who are liable to go out on an emergency call at any time.

With respect to these distinguished gentlemen whom we are talking about, the consultants who live and work in the Harley Street area are not quite in the same position as the general practitioner. I know that a great many of them have to go considerable distances to attend hospitals and so on during the day, but basically they are there in Harley Street and its district to meet their patients who go to their consulting rooms. We are quite willing to listen to any suggestions that the British Medical Association, on behalf of these consultants, have to put forward to deal with the parking problem of doctors in that area.

As we know, from 28th November the southern part of this district is going to be controlled by parking meters. It includes the southern part of Harley Street and the southern part of Wimpole Street. When, twelve months ago, the scheme was promoted by the St. Marylebone Council, I understand that the British Medical Association then decided that it would not oppose the scheme. Now the B.M.A. asks us to give certain concessions for consultants and, as my hon. Friend said, a meeting is to take place shortly between the British Medical Association, the Ministry of Transport, the St. Marylebone Borough Council and representatives of the Metropolitan Police. We will certainly listen to what the B.M.A. has to say, but I hope my hon. Friend will not press me to pre-judge in any way what is liable to come out of those discussions. We shall certainly consider anything it has to put to us with the sympathetic attitude we always try to show to the medical profession.

In the long term, there is no doubt at all that the problem of Harley Street and district must be dealt with by off-street parking. I understand that the St. Marylebone Borough Council has at least one, and possibly two, sites in mind for off-street car parking. It has made a compulsory purchase order for one site in Wells Street, and this is at the moment before my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government for his decision.

I come now to the main point made by my hon. Friend about the loading and unloading regulations. I will try to answer for the House two questions. First, what are rules about parking and loading and unloading in controlled zones? Second, where are these rules in force?

The rules are made under the police experimental regulations which require the consent of the Minister of Transport. The Statutory authority is Section 35 of the Road Traffic Act 1960. In trying to explain the situation to the House, I stress that there is an essential point to grasp, namely, that in a controlled zone, as we call it, that is to say, where there are parking meters and associated waiting restrictions, there is no parking permitted for any purpose at all other than at a parking place. The definition of parking place in this context means the area which is shown by white lines on the carriageways which comprises both parking meter bays and the loading gaps in between the bays. It is most important to have this conception of the parking place in one's mind.

I will deal first with the problem of boarding a vehicle or alighting from a vehicle. The rule here is that any vehicle, including private cars, may wait free of charge anywhere in a parking zone, even at a parking meter, just for the purpose of allowing someone to get on board or alight from it. The only exception to this rule is one which applies throughout the country, that boarding, alighting and stopping are not allowed on the approaches to a pedestrian crossing. That is understood.

As regards loading and unloading, the first point is that under the police experimental regulations private cars and all other vehicles except commercial vehicles are prohibited from waiting for the purposes of loading or unloading anywhere outside the limits of parking places except with the permission of a constable in uniform. Thus, if someone wishes to load or unload his vehicle or to park, he must park at a parking place unless a policeman says that he may go elsewhere.

All vehicles, including private cars, may wait anywhere in a parking place free of charge, without putting money in the meter, to load or to unload for not more than 20 minutes. This exemption applies to both the metered bays and the loading gaps within the parking places. If a driver wants to stay for more than 20 minutes in one of these places, he must first obtain the permission of a constable in uniform. But, of course, for longer than 20 minutes it is almost invariably the case that, if one wishes to load or unload, one goes to a parking meter, puts 6d. in and gets an hour's waiting time.

Outside the limits of parking places, there are special rules relating to commercial vehicles. They may load and unload free of charge and without any time limit up to 11 o'clock in the morning. Between 11 o'clock in the morning and 6.30 in the evening a time limit of 20 minutes is imposed, but this can be extended by permission of a police constable in uniform. The only exception to this particular rule is at certain junctions where complete and absolute bans on loading and unloading have been imposed. These are marked by a continuous yellow line on the carriageway, and, as the House knows, they are adjacent to intersections and junctions. Loading and unloading in such places is permitted only if 24 hours' advance notice has been given to the police and consent has been obtained.

I have tried, as briefly and clearly as I can, to explain what the rules are. I say this in observation upon them that I think they give reasonable protection, particularly to people like householders or those who wish to stop for a few minutes, the genuine cases. But it has been our experience that many people, since the Regulations have been in force, have tried to dodge round the law, as my hon. Friend has said, and take advantage of any little loophole which exists.

Where are these regulations now in force? Since 19th September, they have been in force in Westminster, in the Mayfair area, and in the St. Marylebone area, where parking meters are already in operation. From 28th November, next Monday, when the Pink Zone starts, the regulations will apply in three further areas. The first is the St. James's area of Westminster, where meters are to start next Monday. The second is a South-Eastern area of St. Marylebone, where, again, meters are to start next Monday. The third is in Holborn, where meters are already installed and operating. In the St. James's area, in addition, from next Monday the traffic wardens will be operating and the ticket system will be in force.

The intention is to continue this experiment for four months from 19th September last—that is to say, until 18th January next. The London Traffic Management Unit, which is part of my right hon. Friend's Department, will be carrying out before-and-after studies, as they are called, on what was the position before the regulations were introduced and the position now that they are in operation. In the light of the findings of the Unit, we can then decide whether these rules should be made permanent. In any event, we will bear carefully in mind all suggestions that are made, including those made by my hon. Friend this afternoon. Any hon. Members who want to see fuller details of the rules which I have tried briefly to outline can go to the Library, where we have made available copies of the Press notice which explained the whole thing.

In the few remaining moments, I should like to turn briefly to the points about traffic wardens proper which my hon. Friend has raised. This is a matter which comes under the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and is not strictly speaking for me, although of course tie traffic wardens enforce the regulations of the Minister of Transport, because he is the traffic authority for the Metropolitan area. I have been authorised by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to give my hon. Friend an answer to his question with regard to the position in St. Pancras and whether traffic wardens will be required to take over the task at present performed by the parking meter attendants employed by the council. The answer to the question is simply that this cannot be done unilaterally by the Commissioner of Police. There is no question whatever of the traffic wardens taking over the parking meter attendants' jobs in St. Marylebone unless and until agreement has been reached between the council and the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police. If they are in agreement, it can be done. The powers to do it are available, but there is no intention of doing this unilaterally.

Mr. Fletcher

Is the Home Office in favour of it if the borough council agrees?

Mr. Hay

I am sorry that I cannot say without notice. I am authorised to give that reply because my hon. Friend gave notice that he wished to raise the question. The hon. Gentleman will realise that without proper notice I cannot stand at the Box and say what the Commissioner feels about this matter.

The traffic warden system has been subject to a great deal of public interest. On the whole, this is probably a good thing. I believe, however, that we must have much better enforcement of our traffic regulations than we have had in the past if we are to make any impact on the problem of traffic jams in London. The wardens seem to have settled down. The public now seems largely to have accepted them. I urge those who are somewhat rabid for motorists' rights and who so often attack the wardens, the parking meters and the restrictions to remember that they are themselves so often those people who most fulminate against traffic jams. The parking regulations and enforcement are essential if traffic is to flow freely.

The Question having been proposed after Four o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-one minutes to Five o'clock.