HC Deb 20 July 1973 vol 860 cc1067-81

Lords Amendment: No. 3, in page 5, line 10, at end insert: or (c) that it was parked in contravention of this section but the conditions specified in subsection (2A) below were satisfied. (2A) The conditions mentioned in subsection (2)(c) above are— (a) that the vehicle was parked on the verge of a road or on a footway for the purpose of loading or unloading; and (b) that the loading or unloading of the vehicle could not have been satisfactorily performed if it had not been parked on the footway or verge; and (c) that the vehicle was not left unattended at any time while it was so parked.

Mr. Dykes

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

One inevitably repeats the theme that 1 set out earlier and again I commend the amendment. This amendment shows how useful is the process of scrutinising Bills in both Houses. The work in the upper House has been tremendously useful.

The Bill deals with the parking of heavy commercial vehicles on pavements. It will remove the curious anomaly—put in simple terms and without too many complications—that it is an offence to drive on a pavement but not to park on a pavement. The clause has widespread support in and outside Parliament.

Their Lordships have introduced a measure of common sense by making a necessary exception. It is a perfectly understandable exception that arises, because without the amendment, if a lorry were parked in a narrow road and legally unable to be driven on the pavement to be parked there, if the street were narrow, traffic would be literally brought to a halt.

There is another and related theme that their Lordships took upon themselves. Their Lordships also sought, as I think correctly, to deal effectively by amendment with the question of parking on the verge in the country. There are many informal operations performed by farmers, agriculturists and others in which such parking is, at the most, unavoidable, or, at the least, highly desirable, and therefore necessary in relevant terms.

The amendment would mean that under closely controlled conditions the established exceptions such as loading and unloading of a vehicle, could mean activities in a wider sense than the narrow definition such words suggest and could not be undertaken properly if the vehicle were obliged to remain on the roadway. The provision that the vehicle must not be left unattended is important, because if the amendment were drafted too widely it would, without difficulty, remove the force of the new prohibition of parking on pavements which has been widely welcomed.

In other debates here and in another place we have had many examples cited of the enormous damage in all senses which can be caused by parking on pavements. Under the clause as amended, it would be clear that the offence of parking on pavements remained a grave offence, and people would find it difficult to commit it without penalty, but that the necessary exceptions in closely controlled circumstances would be permitted in a clearly defined way.

I believe that the amendment goes all the way to meeting the legitimate objections of traders, operators of fleets, users of delivery vehicles in towns, and operators of commercial vehicles in the countryside. For that reason, I commend it to the House.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

I have listened closely to the reasons advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) for inviting the House to agree with the Lords in this amendment and for myself I would certainly be prepared to follow his recommendation and have these words added to Clause 2, amending Section 36 of the Road Traffic Act 1972.

I do so, however, with some qualified enthusiasm. The clause as originally drafted—that is to say, as it enacted a new subsection (2) for the new Section 36A of the 1972 Act—was very tightly drafted to prohibit the nuisance or mischief at which the clause is aimed, which is that of the parking of heavy vehicles on verges or footways. The only exceptions in the original draft of the Bill certainly merited my hon. Friend's description as exceptions under strictly controlled conditions. First, the vehicle had to be parked in accordance with permission given by a constable in uniform. There can be no debate about that: it is a matter of simple fact. The other condition related to such emergencies as fire, and so on. Those are already statutory words, being taken from the text of the Road Traffic Act 1972.

What we are now adding to the Bill is a provision of somewhat wide and looser drafting, and that is important in this context. My hon. Friend in moving an earlier amendment very properly said that in this sort of legislation the key factor is enforcement and the efficacy of enforcement. As those of us who practise in the law well know—my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) well knows—or perhaps, in accordance with the technical usages of the House, I should not refer to him as my hon. and learned Friend, though he is so in every other sense, but as the hon. and learned Gentleman—the efficacy of enforcement has a very direct relationship with the precision of draftsmanship in the legislation. Therefore, we look at this amendment and see that it considerably enlarges the tightly controlled exceptions given in subsection (2) in the present draft of the Bill.

Looking at the three conditions which have to be met according to this amendment, we first of all see, and this is a fortunate circumstance, that they are cumulative, not alternative. All these conditions have to be satisfied. The conditions contained in paragraphs (a) and (c) are reasonably simple of factual assessment, but (b) is a good deal less so. That paragraph states … that the loading or unloading of the vehicle could not have been satisfactorily performed if it had not been parked on the footway or verge …". Those words lend themselves to subjective judgment and are obviously the sort of words that can give rise to debate and discussion both on the site where the offence has been committed and thereafter, indeed, as a defence in a prosecution brought under this provision. That being so, I cannot help feeling some measure of regret that the clear and precise language of my hon. Friend's original draft is being to that extent broadened and made less imprecise by the introduction of this condition. Having said that, I must in all fairness concede that members of the other place were dealing with a practical and actual problem, and that some provision had to be made for this circumstance of loading and unloading in these narrow streets. It may well be that this is the best draft that could be devised to deal with that situation.

I think, however, that this new provision which we are in process of adding to this very important clause should be watched pretty carefully in its implementation and effect when on the statute book. Again, all of us who practise in the law and are familiar with its processes, know that when legislation leaves the House, however much and however carefully it has been debated in Parliament, the practical difficulties can be seen only with the unfolding of time and the canvassing of interpretation of statutes in the courts according to the cases that arise under them.

2.0 p.m.

I therefore hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will keep this provision, and indeed all the provisions of this interesting and useful measure, under close and vigilant observation so as to ensure that if the exceptions seem to defeat the admirable social purposes of the Bill it will be strengthened.

I trust that I am in order in saying this. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East, with characteristic generosity, began his remarks on the Bill by expressing congratulations to the sponsors of the Hallmarking Bill. I hope that it will be thought appropriate that I should be allowed to congratulate him on his initiative in bringing forward this admirable and useful Bill and on the skill with which he has piloted it through the House.

Mr. Sydney Chapman (Birmingham, Handsworth)

I agree with the qualified support which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) has given to the amendment. I do not quarrel with its intention or purpose, and I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) said. The amendment is fair and reasonable. However, I do not agree with it for a number of reasons.

First, it opens the interpretation of the Bill to abuse. It provides that the vehicle must not be left unattended at any time while it was so parked". I question the interpretation of the word "unattended". When I park my car on a yellow line and go into a shop to buy something, when I come out must I say to the policeman that I was loading or unloading? Equally paragraph (b) of the amendment can be open to abuse. However, I do not press those points, because they are self-evident.

The main reason that 1 am against the amendment, although I would not press my opposition because I want the Bill to reach the statute book at the earliest possible moment, is that it is unnecessary as it is covered by Clause 2(2)(a). It is far better to leave the matter to the discretion of the constable in uniform.

I concede that the amendment clears up two points. First, there may not be a policeman in the vicinity and, therefore, an offence can be committed without its being detected. Secondly, it specifically provides that the parked vehicle should not be left unattended. That is a good thing. I am prepared to accept the amendment, but I must make those qualifications about it.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)

I take part in this debate partly because, representing an industrial constituency, I feel that I have a particular experience of the matters directly relevant to the amendment.

The prosperity of my city is very much involved with the question of road transport. We have a number of estates, such as the Euroway estate, which have been built because of the potential of road transport. However, I am deeply conscious of the factors to which reference has been made which can broadly be described as interpretational or environmental factors. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hands-worth (Mr. Sydney Chapman) has particularly valuable experience in these matters as the sponsor of the "Plant a Tree 1973" movement. Perhaps he is as apprehensive as I am about juggernauts mounting the pavements and squashing the young saplings. The question of the state of the pavements is of political significance, certainly since the Sutton and Cheam by-election. We are therefore debating important matters.

The city of Bradford is largely dependent on the wool trade. As with many other northern industrial cities, and particularly textile towns, it was laid out in the middle of the last century and the design of the industrial and business premises and mills is antiquated. The street layout in particular is antiquated. There are some exceedingly narrow streets and there is little room for large commercial vehicles to park. The wool textile industry is particularly dependent on road transport for the delivery of bales of raw wool and for the removal of the waste and noils and the delivery of the tops and cloth at the end of the process. Therefore, at every manufacturing stage, the wool textile industry depends on road transport.

We have a word for the narrow streets —snickets. They do not lend themselves easily to road transport, and in order to reach the mills big lorries must often park on the pavements and infringe the pathways in order to deliver their loads. The apertures through which the wool bales must be delivered are special. The bales must be delivered by crane. They are hoisted up to the top floor because it is only from that floor that the sorting process of the raw wool can be completed. It is there that the light is adequate for this procedure.

Therefore, although I realise the environmental arguments, and, coming from an inner city, I value them, and although I am appreciative of the learned legal arguments about the question of interpretation adduced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), from the practical point of view of the industrialist in cities such as Bradford, without the flexibility which the amendment affords, grave damage could be done to our industry. I am aware that it is impossible always to get a policeman to give permission. The flexibility which the amendment affords will obviate what would otherwise be a serious difficulty.

The amendment provides that a vehicle should not be left unattended at any time. If the snickets become blocked or if inconvenience is caused to pedestrians, the driver will always be at hand to move his vehicle and to ensure that no inconvenience is caused.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) for not being present at the start of the debate. I have been in the building all morning since the sitting started but did not realise that the debates on the Hallmarking Bill had ended.

We studied this problem in Committee. I am interested to observe that it has arisen again. I am not a lawyer, and I am grateful that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) has contributed to the debate. The amendment opens the door to the possible commission of offences. We are encouraging the lorry driver to take his vehicle off the highway and on to the pavement or verge and in so doing to damage the pavement or verge. I hope that my hon. Friend will take note of my reservation and my concern that we do not open the door to offences which result in physical damage to pavements and verges in a way that is detrimental to our towns and villages.

Much more important than damage to the pavement is the danger to persons on that pavement or in houses bordering it. In Committee it was explained that vehicles are sometimes parked on the pavement—in the East End of London, for example—where the streets are very narrow. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) called them snickets. I used to live and work around Bradford and I know the situation which my hon. Friend has described. In Committee it was said that vehicles parked so close to houses could be a danger to people in the houses and people trying to walk past the vehicles.

I am not seeking to defeat the amendment so long as it introduces into the Bill an element of reality, pragmatism and common sense. But, at the same time, we must protect those who use the verges and pavements and those who live alongside them. Vehicles which are loading or unloading goods cause inconvenience, distress and even danger to those who use the pavements or live in the houses alongside. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will take note of my slight reservation.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

I do not like the amendment. We must have it, because we want the Bill, and we are indebted to the sponsors for having produced the Bill and carried it through Committee.

The main trouble is with the parking of heavy lorries on pavements rather than on verges. Whenever vehicles are parked on pavements they are always in the narrowest part of the most crowded roads. The police do nothing about it because the drivers claim that they must park there to load or unload the vehicle. They say that the job cannot be satisfactorily performed unless the lorry is parked where it is, by which they mean that they are not prepared to carry any part of their load even for a distance of 3 ft. if they can avoid it.

I have had many years' experience of motor cases—at one time my experience was almost excusively of motor cases. This is a penal clause, that is to say, a clause in which the burden of proof is upon the complainant or prosecutor, who has to show that the loading or unloading could not have been satisfactorily performed without the vehicle being parked in that particular place. The lorry driver will say, "Well, guv'nor, I parked it there because it was immediately opposite the warehouse at which I had to deliver my load. I have parked the lorry on the pavement because the road is narrow and it is better to park it on the pavement than on the road." The result will be parking not only on the roads but on the pavements as well. The amendment will render the Bill nugatory in its effect and will positively encourage lorry drivers to park on the verges and footways.

Every morning the area off Bond Street is completely blocked by lorries parked between Hanover Square and Bond Street. The police do nothing about it. The lorries are either loading or unloading at immediately adjacent premises. The Bill will enable a lorry driver, instead of parking on the narrow street, to park on the pavement and to cause obstruction to passers-by and inherent danger to those who try to dodge the vehicle. I mention that part of London because it is easily accessible to anyone who wishes to check the accuracy of what I say. The Bill does not apply to London, but I am sure that hon. Members will confirm this illustration from their experience in other towns—for instance, Canterbury, which has extremely narrow entrances and many areas in which lorry drivers would prefer to park on the pavement rather than on the road.

It is a pity that this provision is not governed by the words in Clause 2: A person shall not be convicted of an offence under this section with respect to a vehicle if he proves to the satisfaction of the court: (a) that it was parked in accordance with permission given by a constable in uniform; I would add to that— or a duly accredited traffic warden who has had proper directions. This is a job that should be done by traffic wardens.

2.15 p.m.

In this year of 1973 we should not allow heavy lorries, juggernauts or delivery vans to load or unload during the working day unless the drivers obtain permission to do so from the police. It is not an arduous requirement. Lorry drivers usually go to premises to which they have been before. If they must deliver during the working day—by which I mean between 8.30 a.m. and 5 p.m.—surely it is not unreasonable to ask them to make arrangements with the police. The permission could be given for a limited period of 10 minutes between certain hours. This matter will have to be considered shortly by the Greater London Council, and I invite the Minister to make representations to the GLC that juggernaut lorries passing through London should not park on the verges as they go through. If they are to be allowed to go through London at all, they should go through without parking and follow a specified route at a specified time. Even delivery vans should not be parked on the verge in major cities without the permission of the police.

The Bill is, generally, a useful one. I should have voted against the amendment but it hardly lies in my mouth, or in the mouth of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker Smith) to do so because we should be open to the obvious criticism—"Why did not you join us in Committee?" I regret that I did not do so but I was doing other work in connection with the House, as was my right hon. and learned Friend. He was working in a place to which he was supposed to have a great aversion, but we have not heard so much about that recently.

This is a useful Bill, and I am sorry that in this respect I am seeking to throw a certain amount of cold water on it. I invite the Minister to carefully consider whether he wants lorries to park on roads and verges and whether he thinks that whatever decision is taken should be taken with the full co-operation of the police.

Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)

I do not intend to take up much time of the House because there are other important Bills to follow. Conservative Members have at least advanced a case for saying that the amendment is not wholly satisfactory. That applies to all three paragraphs of the amendment, bearing in mind that magistrates frequently have to construe in a common sense way the wording of Acts of Parliament which are not always as precise and unambiguous as one would like.

I feel that subsection 2(a) would not have been an adequate alternative to what is now proposed. I assume that the permission of a constable cannot be retrospective and, if that is right, it is not very practical to insist on all occasions that permission should be given in advance. I agree that something on these lines is necessary. The only question is whether what has been inserted in the Bill is as satisfactory as it should be.

I shall not tread paths which have already been trodden in this discussion by Conservative Members, but I can visualise circumstances in which there would be a question of doubt. For example, there is the question whether if a vehicle were parked 25 yards away it would not need to go on to the verge, but if it were parked directly opposite the building, where loading or unloading is to take place, it has to go on to the verge. This is the kind of problem magistrates are likely to face.

However, I am unable to follow how paragraph (c) helps in the context of the mischief which is being dealt with. Perhaps the Minister will be able to advise the House about that matter. I agree that it would not be right to press this matter to a Division for it is important that this valuable Bill should go through the House this Session so that no time shall be lost. Nevertheless, I hope that the Department will consider whether the wording is ideal and, if they feel that an improvement could be made, will return to the House at a later stage with another piece of legislation containing their amendments.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Reginald Eyre)

Like the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), I wish to intervene only briefly for I know that the House wants to move on to other important business.

This amendment was discussed and agreed between my Department and the Bill's sponsor to meet strong support in another place for an amendment tabled in Committee which proposed an exemption to Clause 2 in relation to loading and unloading of heavy commercial vehicles in rural areas. In preparing a suitable amendment to meet their Lordships' wishes, it was considered necessary that a special exemption should be made for loading and unloading in rural areas. There were genuine problems in terms of delivery vehicles in many town centres.

I carefully noted the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) on problems within his knowledge and experience within that city. There is not only the difficulty in law to be considered, because these areas have to be defined rather unsatisfactorily by reference to speed limits. It seemed to be sensible and reasonable that such an exemption should apply equally to urban and rural areas.

I must admit that I am very sensitive to the reservations so firmly expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) who appears to have left the Chamber for a moment or two. I assure my hon. Friend that my colleague the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment who deals with transport matters will carefully consider his request that the attention of the Greater London Council should be drawn to the difficulties which he specified.

In the amendment drafted and agreed in another place the provision was included that the vehicle should not be left unattended at any time while so parked. This has the effect of retaining the force of Clause 2 in restricting indiscriminate parking on pavements and verges. We are concerned about this matter and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) will be reassured on the important point he raised. A person remaining in charge of a vehicle should be able to prevent the blind, the old or the handicapped from inadvertently walking into it. He can also move it quickly or arrange for this to be done if he is not the driver, should a policeman or traffic warden arrive on the scene and decide that this may cause danger or inconvenience even if only temporarily.

I carefully note the reservations and fears expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Sydney Chapman). He appeared to fear that the effect of the provision will be that vehicles will need two drivers or at least an extra person to keep attendance in those circumstances. This should not be the case. If somebody is working on loading or unloading the vehicle, it is thought that the vehicle should not be regarded as being left unattended. It is only where such work is interrupted for an interval of some duration when the driver is absent from the vehicle that the vehicle could reasonably be regarded as being left unattended. If the work is so interrupted and the vehicle has to be left parked in this manner for some time, permission for it to be left unattended can be obtained from a police officer under Clause 2(2)(a).

The House may recall that there was some support for an amendment of this kind during our previous discussions on the Bill. The Government believe that the amendment would do little practical harm to the main aim of the clause which is to prevent the damage and danger caused by indiscriminate parking of heavy lorries on verges and pavements. Undoubtedly there are many situations, for example, in narrow streets and in country lanes, where for the purposes of loading and unloading it makes sense for vehicles to park temporarily in this manner. This point was referred to with special emphasis by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East, to whom I offer my congratulations on the skill with which he has piloted his Bill through its earlier stages.

As for the caution delivered in such elegant style by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), of course we shall heed his advice in this matter. I assure him that my Department will watch carefully the operation of this legislation once it gets on to the statute book.

I offer the same assurance to the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich, who raised a similar point.

On that basis, I ask the House to agree to this amendment.

2.30 p.m.

Mr. John H. Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)

I intervene at the end of this debate with some trepidation. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) has piloted through his Bill very skilfully, and I have no doubt that there will be opportunities to review this and many other matters when we consider road traffic legislation next Session.

When we debated these subjects the other Monday, the problem turned on the loading and unloading of heavy vehicles outside commercial and retail premises. Like many other hon. Members I am conscious of the number of complaints from citizens about the damage done o pavements and concrete kerbs when private vehicles let alone heavy vehicles mount them and come off them again.

The fact that we have made this easier is necessary in the commercial sense of cutting down the cost of distribution of the goods that we need for our high standard of living. However, the price in terms of the damage done to kerbs and pavements is considerable. There is an additional danger involved when pedestrians are directed off the pavement on to the road, perhaps in narrow streets where there is not room for pedestrians to move both ways. That may be a hazard that we shall regret.

The Committee was in a dilemma, and this is the solution which has been evolved. I hope that there will be further opportunities to reconsider whether the content of the amendment is one that we ought to welcome. Obviously it is desirable from the point of view of those engaged in trade or business. It is not so good from the point of view of the pedestrian.

It occurs to me to question whether our town planners are insisting sufficiently forcibly that commercial premises should have proper access for loading and unloading not on main roads but behind them. In my view, this clause ought not to be allowed to go through without more attention being given to town and country planning aspects in order to achieve this end. To do otherwise will be to allow the Bill to go by default. However, we all want the Bill. All that we can do is accept the amendment until we find other ways of dealing with what is a very difficult problem.

Mr. Dykes

With the leave of the House, perhaps I might come back to express my own gratitude for the response of the Minister and his Department to the very understandable anxieties raised by hon. Members, especially my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies).

After so much effort and travail going into solving this very important problem of the damage done to pavements by heavy vehicles, it would be totally unacceptable if hon. Members felt that an exception was to be made by way of this amendment allowing drivers and owners to continue a practice which has existed for some time.

I am also grateful for what the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) said in expressing the feelings of the Opposition about the Bill as a whole, especially about this clause.

With the advice and encouragement of the Department, I feel that their Lordships have selected a form of words which provides tight exceptions. The rôle of the police is not changed. I believe that the exceptions are tight enough for no significant abuses to take place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet, in my view rightly, grumbled about this "grotesque abuse". However, I believe that it can be dealt with in consequential ways arising from the legislation itself. These are matters for enforcement by an alert police force. They are matters for the courts to deal with strictly if offences are committed. It is very difficult for this House to devise suitable words to guarantee the essential coverage of all the many possibilities in a very complicated area of traffic movement and parking. But I feel that we shall cover the vast majority of potential abuses. I believe that their Lordships' amendment brings home to drivers, operators and owners the fact that from now on parking on pavements will be a very serious offence.

Question put and agreed to.

Back to
Forward to