HC Deb 26 February 1991 vol 186 cc813-21

'(1) The Metropolitan Police may apply to the Secretary of State to make regulations to designate a trunk road or a designated road as a principal route.

(2) Before making an application to the Secretary of State the Metropolitan Police shall consult—

  1. (a) the London authorities through which the road passes; and
  2. (b) London Regional Transport.'.—[Mr. Tracey.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Tracey

I beg to move, That the new clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments. No. 1, in clause 56, page 50, line 27, after 'it', insert 'makes any regulations as to waiting or loading (except where these are on a priority route as designated under section 35 of this Act or are on a road designated as a Principal Route) or'. No. 2, in line 33, after 'it', insert 'makes any regulations as to waiting or loading (except where these are on a priority route as designated under section 35 of this Act or are on a road designated as a Principal Route) or'. No. 3, in clause 57, line 35, after 'vehicle', insert 'in a road subject to waiting and loading regulations (except where these are on a road designated as a priority route under section 35 of this Act or are on a road designated as a Principal Route) or is'. No. 4, in line 45, after 'to', insert 'waiting or loading or to'.

Mr. Tracey

The new clause represents a further stage of the discussions that took place in Committee. Both sides of the Committee were in total agreement and I assume that, this afternoon, both sides of the House will agree that the question of parking enforcement—particularly on single and double yellow lines—has raised many problems in London. The London boroughs, represented by the London Boroughs Association and the Association of London Authorities, feel that enforcement is not being adequately carried out.

The Bill makes various changes and proposes new powers of enforcement in areas covered by parking meters and residents' parking permits. As we said in Committee, Londoners are concerned about the further issue of enforcing parking restrictions on yellow lines. At present, enforcement is dealt with by the Metropolitan police and traffic wardens. It is widely accepted—not only by local authorities and Members of the House but also by many police officers, from the rank of superintendent downwards—that an inadequate job is being done.

Police officers and those who control traffic wardens recognise that their numbers are inadequate. They enforce the law and protect the citizen in relation to matters that are certainly much graver and weightier than the infringement of parking regulations. It is to the benefit of all of us—whether we work in commerce or transport authorities or are private citizens—that parking should be controlled and enforced. We do not want people to park illegally or illicitly in our streets, preventing buses and private cars from passing freely through the streets.

4.30 pm

In Committee, my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic began to say that the Government would be prepared to accept some amendments to the proposed legislation in relation to London. Following that undertaking a number of us thought that it would be sensible to seek further amendments. The new clause specifically calls for the Metropolitan police to apply to the Secretary of State for regulations allowing them to enforce parking on the main trunk roads and those which, under the Bill, will be designated as principal, or red, routes.

We understand perfectly well that the police require the power to enforce regulations on main roads, so that they retain major powers over the movement of traffic in the capital city, but we believe, and we made it clear in Committee, that on side roads and more minor roads it makes sense for the enforcement powers of the police to be transferred to local authorities. The local authority associations have told the Government that they are prepared to take on enforcement powers across the board for parking on yellow lines and parking meters and where residents' parking permits apply.

The new clause meets the desire of the police to retain powers on main roads, but provides the sensible solution of transferring the rest of the enforcement powers to local authorities. That would also remove the frustration felt by London borough authorities and the public's inevitable confusion. It is ridiculous that districts in our capital should be controlled by double or single yellow lines yet we all see that those regulations are constantly not enforced, whether for good reasons or not.

Will my hon. Friend the Minister give further consideration to the new clause, and the amendments associated with it? Will he agree to the sensible suggestion of allowing reason to prevail, so that the powers for controlling most of the capital's roads are transferred to local authorities?

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

I support the spirit of the new clause, but shall wait to see whether its exact wording is the best way forward. I am sure that the intention behind it is right. I entirely agree on the need for the Metropolitan police to have responsibility for enforcing red routes and strategic routes. Equally, I entirely agree that something has gone sadly astray in the enforcing of other parking regulations, both permitted parking and illegal parking.

My constituents are frustrated for two reasons—first, because cars wrongly parked outside their homes are not moved. Secondly, they become frustrated when they are penalised, because their own cars, which are perhaps illegally but not obstructively parked, are towed away. The new clause seeks to put right such inadequacies of enforcement and promote greater sensitivity among the enforcers. When I received many complaints from my constituents about the way in which parking regulations and tow-away vehicles were operated, I went out with my tow-away crew. While I was with the crew that was organised by the local police station, I saw a degree of sensitivity and understanding in the way that parking was enforced. But we soon started to receive calls asking why we had towed away vehicles from outside, for example, the doctor's surgery. The crew were immediately able to say, "That was not us. It was the team that came out, on spec, from Scotland Yard."

That was an example of the police operating without local knowledge and causing aggravation to local residents. The new clause would put that right and would stop the nonsense that occurs when one authority enforces parking regulations on a parking bay, on a parking meter or on residents' parking places, which are next to yellow lines that are enforced by a different authority. In such circumstances, the vehicle can move from one to the other and escape whichever authority happens to be monitoring that strip of road at the time.

I hope that the Minister will accept the new clause, which would put some sense onto the parking regulations in London. That idea is supported by just about every London borough, and certainly by Wandsworth.

Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

At the moment, there are a mere 1,400 traffic wardens in London, and they will be needed to concentrate on the red routes and on the main routes. The London boroughs must be given powers to enforce yellow line and parking restrictions. I am sure that the Government will respond to that issue but, when they do, we may be left in a curious position. The London boroughs will be responsible for yellow lines, but local authorities outside London will not be responsible for parking issues. It would be sensible to include in the Bill powers to give local authorities outside London the power to handle parking.

Dr. Ian Twinn (Edmonton)

I agree with the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), and I add my support to that given by other hon. Friends who represent London boroughs. I have no doubt that the Minister has listened carefully. He and his officials also listened carefully in Committee and gave us some encouragement to believe that the proposals which are all-party proposals, would be seriously considered. We shall look forward to what he has to say.

If the Bill were passed unamended, we should be in the ludicrous position of having traffic wardens to police yellow lines, the police to police moving traffic offences and local authority traffic attendants to look after parking bays. That would increase the cost of regulating traffic and parking in London, which would be foolish. The new clause would overcome that and would provide local control of parking which was sensitive to local needs but still allowed the police to keep traffic moving on our major roads.

Careful thought must be given to what is a major road and to whether, in the future, boroughs should also be allowed to control parking on the principal red routes. In view of the way in which the boroughs operate, it may be worth while for the Government to consider adding powers to the Bill when it goes to another place to enable Ministers to make changes in the future without having to introduce primary legislation.

There is also concern about who should police parking on the pavements in London. Perhaps the Minister could consider that issue as well as the problem of parking on cycleways. As an occasional cyclist, I find that it is a problem when cars are parked there and one has to pull out into the main carriageway. There is some confusion about who should be enforcing the cycleways.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

In principle, many people in London will see merit in the new clause. I may be the only hon. Member present who was not a member of the Committee, so I was not entirely privy to the discussions there.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

That applies to me as well.

Mr. Spearing

Yes, that may be true of other colleagues.

I hope that the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) will ensure that the proposals are comprehensive and complete when he—or the Minister—replies. In principle, all London boroughs favour the proposal. However, I am not clear about some points, and it may be as well to make clear, in the few columns of Hansard that this short debate will fill, any changes in the responsibility for the funding and running of traffic wardens.

Local authorities deal with meters and with residential parking. I know that traffic wardens are centrally organised, as a sub-organisation, by the Metropolitan police and that the Metropolitan police operate the tow-aways in some areas. That has recently been extended. It would be ridiculous to have a triple-tiered structure. Perhaps we shall hear more about cost, and about the recruitment and running of traffic wardens. Although there would be some merit in the control of and discretion given to traffic wardens being in the hands of the boroughs, the central organisation, making available the training and organising, might not be a Londonwide service under borough control.

The hon. Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) made a suggestion about the control of red routes. I do not want to trespass on further debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I must say that there may be some merit in that. The red routes will be controversial, as are some of the restrictions on the principal roads. Newham way in my constituency is at least a three-lane fast road in each direction. In one place, there is a fourth lane with a single yellow line. There is a doctor's surgery there, and residents have also been in the habit of parking there. They do not cause an obstruction or any change in the flow of traffic, they do not provide a hazard for most of the length, yet they are subject to raids by traffic wardens or by the police. I get letters about that. It is nonsense.

There is one power for operating enforcement and another for the designation of a yellow line, a double yellow line or a red route. We shall discuss the designation of red routes later. Under the new clause, would the responsibility for the designation and distinction between single and double yellow lines be in the hands of the borough or of a wider authority?

Mr. Chope

It is obvious that there is much common sense behind the contributions in this short debate. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends for the constructive way in which they addressed the issues in Committee and for the way in which they have carried forward the debate. As I said in Committee, I have considerable sympathy with the principles underlying the new clause and the associated amendments. I told the Committee that the Government were considering what provisions would be needed to allow for a wider measure of local authority responsibility for enforcing parking controls beyond those already provided for in the Bill. I also said that I had it in mind that local authority parking attendants could be responsible for enforcing almost all parking regulations within particular designated areas within controlled parking zones. I am able to tell the House that we have developed the outline of a suitable scheme and will be bringing forward Government amendments in the other place.

The principles of the scheme are that there will be a further rationalisation of the distinction between illegal or "prohibited" parking controls and "permitted" parking controls and the arrangements for enforcing them. This further rationalisation acknowledges the strategic importance of traffic flow on main roads and the responsibilities of the local authorities to their residents.

The fundamental underlying point is that, in London, the police are responsible for the day-to-day management of traffic flow and have specific responsibilities for security control, emergencies and ceremonial occasions. To fulfil those responsibilities, it is important that they are able to control strategic traffic flows on the main arteries and certain roads serving them. It is, therefore, proposed that illegal parking on and adjacent to those arteries will continue to attract criminal sanctions and will be enforced by the police and their traffic wardens. Off the main arteries, traffic and parking has fewer strategic implications, but raises heightened environmental and residential issues, so it is proposed that most illegal parking in those areas—except for endorsable offences—will be decriminalised and enforced by the local authorities.

4.45 pm

It will be for the local authorities to apply to the Secretary of State for Transport to establish "designated" parking areas in their boroughs. In those areas, most non-endorsable illegal parking offences will be decriminalised. The offences to he decriminalised will include waiting, loading, unloading and delivery prohibitions and restrictions, parking controls at bus stops, pavement parking and breaches of the commercial vehicle overnight waiting ban. The new system of penalty charges will be applied to those breaches and they will be enforced by the local authorities, which will have extended powers to wheel-clamp and remove vehicles contravening the new controls.

It will also be for the local authorities to propose the extent of the "designated" parking areas. The areas might begin in controlled parking zones, but they could also cover other areas. The Secretary of State will need to be satisfied with the proposals because there will be traffic and safety implications. He will need to be sure that local authorities are able to take on the new responsibilities and to arrange a smooth transition to avoid any major problems or disruption. He will consult the police about the proposals. When he is satisfied with them, he will make orders bringing the "designated" parking areas into force and subsequently extending them as required. In practice, there will be a link between the introduction of the new system of "permitted" parking and the designation of "designated" parking areas.

Further consideration will be given to the way in which the former illegal parking controls are marked and signed in the "designated" parking areas. For example, yellow lines have a specific force in law under the Traffic Signs Regulations 1981, and it may be necessary for the waiting and loading prohibitions to be marked in a different colour where the offences are decriminalised.

The police will retain overriding powers for use against parked vehicles anywhere in London where security or other policing issues are involved. They will be responsible for enforcing all parking controls on the main arteries other than those associated with "permitted" parking. Contravention of those controls will remain criminal offences. The main arteries will include priority routes and some other roads as well. The precise selection of roads will be a matter for discussion between the local authorities, the police and the Secretary of State.

In "designated" parking areas off the main arteries, the police will continue to enforce endorsable parking offences, such as parking on a pedestrian crossing and dangerous parking, and will retain the power to deal with vehicles causing an obstruction.

The aim of the scheme is to improve the arrangements for enforcing parking controls in London in a way which reflects the prime nature of the controls and the primary traffic interests of the police and the local authorities. I hope that that will satisfy my hon. Friends and, indeed, the whole House to the extent that my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) will feel able to withdraw the new clause, which puts the onus on the police to apply to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I have said that, in the Government's view, the presumption should be that the police would be responsible for enforcement on main routes and that local authorities will be able to apply if they wish to take over the burden of enforcement on the other routes. Our open debate on the issue shows the value of a constructive Committee.

Mr. Spearing

Will the Minister clarify the matters of cost and of traffic wardens? Do I take it that the cost of policing the new local authority-controlled areas will he borne by the local authorities in a manner that they can best achieve? Obviously the cost cannot be met from parking meters. Will the Metropolitan police traffic warden service be confined to the functions of the Metropolitan police, or will that service be made available—with or without a fee—to the local authorities?

Mr. Chope

The cost of enforcing the local authority-controlled areas will be borne by the local authorities. The local authorities have assured us that they can generate sufficient income from the penalties associated with enforcement to cover their costs. The zeal with which local authority parking attendants in Westminster carry out their responsibilities is clear. Westminster has a healthy surplus on its account.

The traffic warden service will continue to be the responsibility of, and funded by, the Metropolitan police. I have heard no suggestion that local authorities want to use traffic wardens on a contractual basis. There is more than enough work for traffic wardens on the main routes under the control of the Metropolitan police.

Mr. Fearn

The new clause is welcome, although I hope that we can have some clarification in another place if the new clause is withdrawn. Although the local authority and the police are involved, will the Secretary of State take the ultimate decision?

Mr. Chope

Yes indeed—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take the ultimate decision on applications.

Ms. Ruddock

We tabled amendments in Standing Committee to give boroughs powers to enforce yellow lines. We also tabled a new clause to create permitted parking zones. Therefore, we believe that we have contributed to the constructive discussion to which the Minister has referred.

We referred in Committee to the duplication of powers that would have to exist if the local authorities are to be responsible, as is made possible in the Bill, for the parking bays and meters, but cannot enforce the areas with yellow lines which so frequently occur between those bays.

We also referred to the fact that decriminalisation of certain offences already occurs in the Bill, and we therefore thought that the argument that those yellow lines had to be enforced by the police did not hold up. The Minister said in response to our argument in Committee that enforcement of prohibited parking offences must, as a matter of policy, remain with the police and the traffic warden service. However, he raised our hopes when he said that he would try to find some way to bring forward controlled parking zones and the designation of special parking areas.

We are more than delighted by the fact that the Minister seems to have listened to our pleas. The Association of London Authorities will also be delighted that at last the measure for which it has pressed for so long will, one hopes, find its way on to the statute book.

In Committee we referred to the fact that there are considerable problems of enforcement due primarily to attitudes within the police and to the scarcity of traffic wardens. We recorded that although traffic flows had increased dramatically in the past five years, the traffic warden service had decreased by 15 per cent. We are more than aware that effective enforcement requires transfer to the local authorities, which have such vested interests in enforcement that they will do it well. The Minister said that the authorities would propose the extent of designated areas within the control zones under their influence and I am sure that those designated areas will be extensive.

We agree with the Minister and hope very much that there will be no proposal to reduce the present level of person power within the traffic warden service. We believe that much stricter enforcement is necessary. A reduction in numbers in the traffic warden service would have a deleterious effect on enforcement on the major routes and main arteries.

We are cheered by the fact that the measure will make progress. We support it and we congratulate the Minister on being so co-operative. However, it has been suggested that the yellow lines should adopt another hue—I believe that purple and blue have been suggested. I hope that the Minister will not make up his mind about that. Such a change might appear to be an unnecessary concession to opinions expressed by the police and the idea that they must hold on to control of yellow lines. Perhaps it would be more helpful to maintain yellow lines for all purposes so as to give a clear message to the public that yellow lines mean that they may not park at certain times in particular areas. I urge the Minister not to have a set mind about the colour of those lines under the new arrangements.

Mr. Tracey

My hon. Friend the Minister must surely believe that he has got off to rather a good start in terms of the unanimous approval of the new clause.

Ms. Ruddock

Not for long.

Mr. Tracey

Well, he has it at this stage anyway.

My hon. Friend the Minister has closely met the spirit of the new clause and the associated amendments. We will read my hon. Friend's detailed comments when we receive the Official Report tomorrow. The Association of London Authorities and the London Boroughs Association will also examine his comments closely before the Bill moves to another place. Naturally we want to consider the details that my hon. Friend has given us today and other details that presumably we will be given in another place. Obviously, the details of the amendment to the legislation will have to be scrutinised closely.

I am particularly interested in the definition of a main road or route that will still be controlled by the police and traffic wardens. I will also be interested to examine my hon. Friend the Minister's wording with regard to enforcement in relation to parking on footways. A number of my colleagues and I raised in Committee the serious problem of inadequate enforcement of controls on parking on footways which can be very dangerous. There is an additional anomaly in that, until now, only the police have been able properly to enforce controls on heavy vehicles parked on footways—a practice that is completely unacceptable to all citizens in London.

I will be very interested to learn how far the Government are prepared to develop the idea of orders giving the local London authorities the power to enforce things other than yellow line parking and parking bays. My hon. Friends the Members for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) and for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), also referred to boroughs enforcing rules on parking on red routes.

We have made considerable progress today towards good reason and common sense prevailing over what was previously apparent bureaucratic intransigence. That spirit has been welcomed by hon. Members of all parties. I give thanks for the co-operation that we and the London authorities have received from officials at the Department of Transport and at the Home Office as this issue also involves the police.

I look forward to the Government's proposals being introduced in another place. In the light of all that we have heard, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the new clause.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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