HC Deb 13 March 1967 vol 743 cc7-11

10.20 a.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)

I beg to move, That the Parking Places (Transfer of Functions) Order, 1967, dated 14th February, 1967, a copy of which was laid before this House on 23rd February, be approved. At the moment, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport makes and amends designation orders for schemes which charge for street parking over the whole of England, except in Greater London, where the Greater London Council took over the Minister's powers in 1963. In Scotland and Wales, the respective Secretaries of State make these orders. The Minister concerned makes these orders on the application of local authorities.

These powers were first given to the Minister of Transport and the Secretary of State for Scotland under Section 19 of the Road Traffic Act, 1956. They were re-enacted in the Road Traffic Act, 1960. In 1965, a Statutory Instrument transferred similar powers to the Secretary of State for Wales when the Minister of Transport ceased to be responsible for highways in Wales.

In 1960, parking meters were still something of a novelty in this country, and it was felt that orders introducing meter schemes should still be made by the Minister and approved by Parliament, even though all other orders to control parking, both on and off the street, are made by local authorities. But Parliament clearly regarded this as an interim arrangement only, because in the same year a provision was built into Section 5(7) of the Road Traffic and Roads Improvement Act to enable the Minister to make an order transferring her functions at any time to local authorities.

Charging for street parking is now much more widespread. It has become a recognised means of controlling parking where demand is very high. My right hon. Friend considers that it is no longer necessary for her to go on making these local orders. It involves the Department in a great deal of detailed preparatory work, to no real advantage to central or local government or to persons affected by the scheme.

My right hon. Friend therefore proposes to make use of Section 5(7) of the Road Traffic and Roads Improvement Act, 1960, to make this Order. Its effect is to transfer to local parking authorities in England, Wales and Scotland the Ministers' powers to make orders creating or amending schemes involving charging for street parking. In England and Wales, the local authorities to have this power would be county boroughs and county districts and in Scotland county councils and town councils.

My right hon. Friend would, however, keep control of the essentials. She would retain her powers to approve the type and design of meters, to receive objections and to hold public inquiries where necessary. She would have new powers to consent to orders before they are made and to vary or revoke orders. Where the parking authority was not also the highway authority for a road to which an order related, it would have to obtain the highway authority's consent before making the order.

This is a step towards getting a better balance between central and local government. Except for orders relating to trunk roads, these parking meter orders are the only ones actually made now by the Minister. Local authorities already make all other orders dealing with parking and loading, including the provision of off-street parking places where charges are made. They are only required to submit orders to the Minister that affect a trunk road or if an objector claims that they deny reasonable access to premises. These safeguards will not be affected by this Order.

The proposals should save a good deal of time and work for both central and local government without prejudicing individual rights. At the moment, the Minister prepares the details of each scheme, advertises it, receives all objections, and finally lays the order before Parliament. All this involves a great deal of time and effort on the part of the Department. Many of these objections could be resolved satisfactorily by the local authority itself.

It is the remoteness of the present system from the individuals concerned that often gives rise to quite unnecessary difficulties and delays. In many cases, a simple explanation of the effect of the scheme is all that is required to satisfy an objection, and this can be done much more effectively at the local level.

Under the new proposals, unresolved objections would still be put to the Minister. The difference will be that the local authority would prepare and advertise the scheme and receive all objections in the first instance. The local authority would revise the scheme if necessary in the light of objections, and only then would refer the order and any unresolved objections to the Minister. Having considered the objections—and held a public inquiry if necessary—my right hon. Friend could then consent to the scheme, subject to any variations she might think fit.

In her speech of November last year to the Town and Country Planning Association, my right hon. Friend said that she would get rid of her control over the details of traffic regulation orders if in return local authorities produced effective traffic plans. If they need wider powers to enable them to do this", she said, I will seek to get them in my new Transport Bill. Much of this requires legislation, long-term planning, administrative change. Is there anything we can do now? This is something which we can do now, within existing legislation.

Under Section 5(1) of the Road Traffic and Roads Improvement Act, 1960, parking meter orders may include comprehensive controls on parking, waiting, loading and unloading. By transferring her powers to make these orders to local authorities, my right hon. Friend is, therefore, making it easier for them to plan and carry out comprehensive parking policies. I hope, therefore, that the House will now approve the Order.

10.26 a.m.

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

The whole House will, I think, agree with the essential basis of what the Parliamentary Secretary, with considerable clarity, has told us is the intention behind the Order. It looks much more clear than the introduction to the Order, which refers to about five different Statutes, including the London Government Act, 1963, and the Minister of Land and Natural Resources Order, 1965, which takes us back to a little bit of history which was rather brief.

We come back to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples), when Minister of Transport, said on Second Reading of the Road Traffic and Road Improvement Bill when discussing the Clause in question. My right hon. Friend said: At present, I can authorise only certain selected towns to be what I call parking-meter authorities and, when I do that, each scheme that they put forward has to be approved by the Minister. Frankly, I do not see why a Minister of Transport should approve a scheme in, say, Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester or Birmingham; he has not the necessary local knowledge. Therefore, by Clause 5, I am taking the power, at any rate, to push the whole business of parking on to the local authority."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th April, 1960; Vol. 621, c. 899.] That being the intention of my right hon. Friend, it would be unlike me to disagree with him about this.

I am glad to see that one of the first consequences of the efforts at nationalism in Scotland and Wales that we saw last week is a step of devolution on to the local authorities. It is perfectly right that they should be the people who, knowing the local conditions, should ask the Minister for the right to proceed with an order.

The Minister's reserve power—the right to refuse or to vary according to whether she thinks fit—is reasonable enough. The right to hold a public inquiry if the Minister thinks fit seems to me to give the right to hold a public inquiry only to the Minister. I wonder whether it is possible for a local authority to ask for a public inquiry and whether—I am glad to see the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland present—there is any difference in the Scottish enactment, as there often is of a minor kind, in this respect.

We are simply extending what has existed for six years in London to the rest of the country, and this seems to me reasonable. There has not been a great deal of objection to the way in which this procedure has been carried out in London, although there are people who by instinct regret the taking away of another right of Parliament to scrutinise a charge on the citizen. In this case, however, the process being the speeding up of traffic, we feel that it is necessary to take this course.

On the other hand, one comes back to the anxieties that were referred to in Standing Committee on the Road Traffic and Roads Improvement Bill when the former Mr. Ede moved an Amendment to ensure that when a local authority was not a highway authority, consultation should take place. This anxiety was dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary of that time, and it has been referred to by the present Parliamentary Secretary today, who has said that it is essential for consultation to take place. That is the matter about which one would have the greatest anxiety. However, the House being content on that subject, I would thank the Parliamentary Secretary for his explanation.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Parking Places (Transfer of Functions) Order, 1967, dated 14th February, 1967, a copy of which was laid before this House on 23rd February, be approved.