HL Deb 21 June 1960 vol 224 cc406-57

2.55 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, as I come to move the Second Reading of this Bill, which I am sorry to say must take me a little time as it is rather complicated, I should like to start quite briefly right at the beginning. There was in another place a general debate on December 10 last year, when it became plain that Members of all Parties were anxious that the Minister of Transport should take any necessary additional powers to deal with traffic congestion in London. The debate was held against the background of the "Pink Zone" experiment, which my right honourable friend had introduced as the first step in his policy to clear up the existing problem. Considerable anxiety was expressed at the time about enforcement, and various suggestions were made about ways in which it could be done, including proposals for traffic wardens and the ticket system. The Government were, at the time, pressed to take vigorous action and it was clear that they would have all-Party support if they introduced legislation of an emergency character to enable them to deal with this crisis.

That was preceded by a general debate in your Lordships' House on November 4, 1959, when a similar kind of support was expressed, and in the course of that debate 105 suggestions were made by various noble Lords. Quite a number of these suggestions were on railways and on road safety, but roughly 30 of them related directly to traffic. Of these, approximately half are met to some degree by this Bill, limited even as it may be. That may not sound very many, but quite a number of the others are in fact in the process of being met by other means, while a few—one or two—are already in full operation.

This Bill came to life only in December of last year when the experience gained during the "Pink Zone" period gave added proof that the Minister must have additional powers to deal with traffic problems, particularly in the London area. I should like to get quite clear what it is that this Bill does and does not do. It does not aim to deal comprehensively with all traffic matters; it seeks only to deal with the immediate problem of improving traffic flow. In the process it concentrates on enforcement and parking and certain measures which are designed to facilitate the wider and speedier use of modern traffic engineering techniques. That is what it seeks to do. There are, we are well aware, many other traffic problems. In particular we have our attention focused on the whole question of safety, and my right honourable friend intends to ask for additional powers in this connection in a later Session of Parliament.

This Bill must also be viewed against the background of the considerably increased expenditure on the roads. It forms a part only of the pattern of the Government's policy and it cannot be taken on its own. It would therefore be quite wrong to treat it in isolation or as an end in itself. As I said, its main purpose is to improve traffic flow, and, obviously, one of the first things we must do is to clear the streets which continue to be clogged and cluttered up with stationary vehicles all over the place. No measures designed to make traffic flow more freely can possibly succeed, as many and various of your Lordships have pointed out in the recent past, unless something is done about the inconsiderate driver who persists in leaving his vehicle where it interferes with the free and safe passage of traffic. It is essential, therefore, to step up the enforcement of parking regulations to a point at which this type of driver will be persuaded that it is both inconvenient and unprofitable to park persistently where he should not. There is no way of doing this by the means at present at our disposal without throwing an impossible burden on both the courts and the police.

I agree—I admit—that there has been some improvement since the Magistrates' Courts Act, 1957, which allowed a driver to plead guilty by post; and the great majority of offenders do so plead and thereby save the time both of the police and of the courts. But this relief is not enough. At this point I should like to say that my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and I are indebted to my right honourable friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland who worked out the two measures which Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill provide. They are measures specifically designed to achieve this higher standard of enforcement. They are not aimed at "getting at" the motorist. They simply aim to achieve a better level of compliance with existing parking regulations in the interests, in the long run, of motorists generally and all other road users, together with a measure of greater safety for all of them.

Under Clause 1 it is proposed to introduce a standard penalty for certain minor offences in which there is no doubt of guilt; and I think that in the majority of parking cases it is fair to say there is no doubt—as I think is shown by what I said about the great majority of offenders pleading guilty. This procedure will not apply to offences with moving vehicles: it is to be limited to certain offences committed in respect of stationary vehicles only—static offences, perhaps, if you like to call them that. As a very brief example, if a motorist parks his car in a "No waiting" area, or leaves it on a road without proper lights or reflectors, that is the moment when he will be liable to get a ticket.

But there are two important points that I want to make about Clause 1, and I do not think I can stress them too much. There has been a good deal of loose talk about fining on the spot, and we all know that that is a method which is used in some parts of the United States and in certain other countries abroad. In the first place, may I make it quite clear that what we propose in Clause 1 is not fining on the spot, and should not be confused with the more summary ticket systems used in some places abroad. No money will pass to the constable or the traffic warden who issues the ticket. He will have no powers to accept it. In any case, in the majority of cases the driver will not be there, and the ticket will be put on the vehicle. Therefore, I do not see how, by any stretch of the imagination, it can be described as "fining on the spot".

The second point I want to emphasise is that the ticket is not a summons requiring the driver to pay the fixed penalty or to appear in court. It is nothing more than an option to pay the fixed penalty to the appropriate clerk to the justices. A ticket will show the nature of the offence which is supposed to have been committed, and it will show to whom the standard penalty should be sent if the driver opts to do so. But he may ignore the ticket completely, and do nothing. His right to go to court is not taken away in any shape or form. If he does ignore it, and if the fixed penalty is not paid, the police will then have to make the usual inquiries to establish the identity, and to take out a summons against him in the normal manner. In this way, while liability for the alleged offence is left to be determined by the court if necessary, the person can, so to speak, acknowledge his guilt, plead guilty, in advance, by payment of the fixed penalty. If he pays within 21 days he is protected against proceedings for the offence; or he is protected from conviction if payment is made later than that but before proceedings are begun. The fixed penalty will be £2 unless the appropriate Secretaries of State so direct, and in no case will it be more than half the maximum fine which a court could impose for a first offence.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary proposes in the first instance to apply the ticket system only to London, where the need for a rather radical experiment of this kind seems to be the most acute. Its working can then be carefully studied before considering its extension elsewhere. It will, of course, be for the Commissioner of Police to decide how to make use of the system within London, but I understand that he intends to use it first in the parking meter areas. The arrangements under the clause are extremely flexible, and allow for later development (within the scope of the Bill, of course) in the light of experience. There cannot be any argument that the better enforcement of parking regulations is desirable in the public interest—and that interest very much includes the interest of drivers, who wish to be able to use the streets for the purpose for which they were intended, and to move through them as well as park in them. At the same time, there should be a useful contribution to road safety.

I should like to come now to Clause 2, which deals with the appointment of traffic wardens. The intention here, of course, is to bring some measure of relief to the police forces, who have had to face the heat and burden of the day presented by the ever-increasing weight of traffic over the last few years. This growing volume has meant that the police have had to devote more and more time to road traffic duties. I should like to quote to your Lordships the example of the Metropolitan Police. The equivalent of 10 per cent. of the Metropolitan Police Force is now engaged on whole-time work relating to road traffic—and that is without counting the time spent by officers who are not on whole-time road traffic duties. It shows, in fact, a substantial and continuing increase; and, as I said, the growing burden of these duties has made it urgent that we should provide some sort of relief for the police.

It has been suggested that the proper course is to have more police, and that is a perfectly proper and perfectly natural suggestion. But, my Lords, even if enough men could be recruited at once, at a time when employment is pretty full, I seriously wonder whether it is in the national interest to employ on this work an ever-increasing number of fit young men who are above average in their physical and mental qualities. There is, after all, in connection with road traffic a great deal of work of a semi-routine nature, work that can be carried out quite adequately by older men—and women, too—or by younger men whose qualifications are not quite up to the standard required by the police. Under the supervision of the regular police, these people can do a perfectly good job. The scheme has the added merit that it will release more police to carry out what we all tend to think of as the normal police duty: catching criminals, maintaining public order, and coping, of course, with the more difficult aspects of traffic work.

I should like to emphasise that the provision in the Bill is not compulsory. What Clause 2 does is to empower police authorities to appoint traffic wardens if they so wish. Therefore, whether they will be appointed outside London in the immediate future I cannot say. But I can say that the Commissioner of Police is determined to make an early start in London. In this he has the full support of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, who regards this as a very valuable and worthwhile experiment. If it is successful in London, I do not think there can be much doubt that, sooner or later, traffic wardens will be appointed in other parts of the country. I want to make it clear, too, that these traffic wardens will act under the wing of the police. The clause specifically provides that they shall carry out their functions "in aid of the police", and that they shall act under the direction of the chief officer of police. They will be trained and supervised by the police, and there is no question of setting up any kind of force independent of the police.

Clause 2 also deals with their functions, and says that these functions shall be prescribed by the Secretary of State by order. In this connection, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will be very interested to hear what is said in your Lordships' House about the duties which the wardens might carry out to begin with, and he will take due account of what your Lordships think about it. He is provisionally of the opinion that the enforcement of the waiting and parking regulations—and, where the local authority agree, the regulations relating to parking meters—is an appropriate starting point. In addition, the wardens will be empowered to make use of the ticket system for these offences. They will not otherwise have the powers of a constable; and, apart from the power to use the ticket system, they will have only the powers of a normal citizen. To begin with, my right honourable friend does not contemplate that the wardens shall carry out duties in connection with moving vehicles. At this stage I do not think that I need trouble your Lordships with any of the other provisions of Clause 2, most of which are concerned with rather detailed matters of administration. Of course, at the Committee stage I shall be glad to try to answer any questions that may arise. I think that the proposal to appoint traffic wardens has met with pretty wide agreement. The general view in another place was that this was an experiment well worth trying, and I hope that your Lordships will come to the same conclusion.

Clauses 3 to 7 deal with parking meters. The success of the first schemes in London is very encouraging. We want more of these schemes, and we want them quickly. The trouble is that the statutory procedures in getting parking meter schemes into action is much too slow. Therefore, the provisions of the Bill are designed to enable local authorities and the Minister to speed up the procedure so far as possible without trampling on the rights of the individual. So far as London is concerned, the most important changes are, first, that for a five-year period, the Minister need not consult the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee about every scheme, although no doubt he will continue to do so on the more difficult cases. Secondly, the procedure for making parking meter orders is simplified. The Minister is also given wider powers, again for five years only, to set up parking meters in London himself, without any application from a local authority, where he thinks this is necessary.

So far as the rest of the country outside London is concerned, the main change is that in future a local authority, when they apply to the Minister for a parking meter designation order, may ask him to make a "composite" order, not only to deal with the parking places themselves but also to cover the ancillary traffic regulations which obviously form an integral part of any controlled parking scheme. At present, these have to be made by the local authority under a separate order or, more probably, separate orders. There is also provision in Clause 5 whereby the Minister, when he judges the time ripe, may give local authorities his powers to make parking meter orders. We see no reason why the Minister should keep the control of parking meters indefinitely, particularly as local authorities now have virtual autonomy over a great many of their own traffic restriction orders. With the rapid expansion of meter schemes, and the experience which comes from them, we hope that Parliament will be ready to accept the autonomy of local authorities fairly soon.

Clauses 8 and 9 extend the Minister's power to deal with London's traffic, and in doing this certain administrative changes are proposed. I am certain that your Lordships will agree that urgent action is necessary to deal with the present congestion. While the Royal Commission on Local Government in London is sitting, we are anxious to avoid upsetting the existing machinery more than necessary, but some changes must be made, if rapid progress is to be possible. Your Lordships will be aware that, in order to reinforce the machinery, my right honourable friend has now set up the London Traffic Management Unit, under Dr. Charlesworth from the Road Research Laboratory. This Unit, which contains traffic engineers, will attempt to apply the most modern techniques of traffic engineering to the problems of traffic in the London area. We hope that this will provide an example to the country as a whole. If the traffic problem can be successfully tackled in London it can certainly be tackled anywhere else.

We shall see that the Unit's various recommendations are discussed with local authorities and other interested bodies, that the fullest publicity is given to them, and that the public have every opportunity to know what is being done and why it is being done. My right honourable friend hopes that the public generally will be behind him in this and that he can rely on their support. At present, the Minister can be held up by the veto of any one of 28 metropolitan boroughs, three county boroughs, six county councils, and numerous urban districts. This can place the Minister in an impossible situation and the Bill therefore provides that, where necessary, the Minister can have the last word. I should like to make it crystal clear that it is his sincere wish to proceed by consultation and not by dictatorship (if you like to call it that); and he equally sincerely hopes that he will not have to use the various default powers in the Bill. He would certainly use them only if he became convinced that there was no other way of dealing with the situation.

These clauses also remove the obligation on the Minister to consult the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee before he makes regulations. At this point I should like to explain why the Minister seeks this power. At present, before making any traffic regulations for London, even if the proposal does no more than increase or reduce a street parking place by a few feet, he must refer it to the Traffic Advisory Committee. This often means an unnecessary delay over the most simple matters, and the purpose of this provision—and this purpose runs throughout the Bill—is to speed the machinery in order to get on with the job. The Minister will, of course, continue to consult the Committee when he desires to do so.

There are in fact only three types of case on which he would not consult them. To begin with, there are the cases in which there is no difference of opinion about the proposal, or where there is no opposition of any kind. Secondly, there are the cases where urgent action is necessary and it is thought right to make temporary experimental regulations, which the Minister would subsequently be prepared to modify in the light of experience and after consultation later with the Committee. Finally, there are those cases where the proposals are entirely minor. As I have said, the Minister retains the right to consult the Committee, and as a matter of general policy he might well wish to consult them often. I am sure that he would do so, for instance, on proposals relating to the permanent introduction of measures containing some new or unorthodox feature. It would then be right for the Minister to fortify himself with the experience and advice of such an experienced Committee. At the same time, there would be nothing to stop the Traffic Advisory Committee from tendering their own advice, whether or not the Minister had made any specific reference to them. This provision, my Lords, in no way reflects upon the value of the Committee's work, or upon the way they have carried it out, and I should like to say now how much we appreciate the useful work they have done in the past. It is not in any way their fault that the situation has altered to such an extent that the whole administrative machine needs overhauling.

Among other things, Clauses 8 and 9 also free from doubt the Minister's power to control pedestrians; provide for "disc" parking experiments in London; and give him additional powers relating to traffic signs and signals. The provision in Clause 8 (4) has given rise to a certain amount of doubt and, indeed, of apprehension.

Under this subsection the Minister's regulations may cover the issue and display of certificates or other means of identification of vehicles which are excepted from restriction. Without such a means of identification enforcement would be impossible. But I must emphasise to your Lordships that it never has been, and is not, as has been feared, the intention to create a privileged class of motorists. We feel that the provision is necessary for conditions where exceptions are required to be made for particular types of persons, such as doctors, rather than for a particular type of vehicle, which is the only classification which can be done at present. A good example of that, and an obvious one perhaps, is Harley Street, where in due course regulations might be made to contain some exceptions of that kind. We are most anxious to avoid creating any form of unnecessary bitterness among road users by giving privileges to any particular class, and I have no hesitation in assuring your Lordships that this power would be used as narrowly and as sparingly as possible.


As the noble Lord is talking about Harley Street perhaps he can say whether he is referring to the practitioners themselves or to those who visit the practitioners. I can assure him that there is great difficulty among people visiting practitioners in finding anywhere to leave their cars.


That would appear to be a good argument for bringing in some regulations in respect of Harley Street. There may or may not be exceptions in the case of Harley Street. But I am not committing myself as to that, and I do not wish it to be held against me that I am attempting to forecast what regulations might be made. I use that case merely as an example of an area where it might be necessary to grant some dispensation to practitioners. But some means of identification must be brought into being: that is the object of the exercise.

Clause 10 derives directly from the "Pink Zone" experiment of last Christmas. At that time it was found that the provision of temporary car parks was an essential feature of the scheme, but we had no power to make financial arrangements for such car parks, and had to rely on the generosity of other Ministers and bodies. Clearly, there will be need for similar schemes for the next few years until sufficient permanent off-street parking provision has been made; and this clause fills that gap. Clauses 11 and 12 deal with the powers of local authorities to provide car parks both off the street and, outside London, on-street. In general these clauses extend the powers of local authorities, give them greater freedom from control by Whitehall, and, in particular, make it possible for them to provide off-street car parks on a more economic basis. They also provide for an experiment with parking discs outside the London Traffic Area.

The general effect of the clauses is to help local authorities, and the provisions have been discussed very fully with the various local authority representative organisations, and are fully acceptable to them. The provision of off-street parking facilities is an essential part of any scheme for dealing with traffic congestion in a built-up area, and it is firm Government policy that the responsibility for providing such parking places should remain with local authorities. At the same time, we know that in many congested areas land is so expensive to buy that a local authority cannot afford to provide a parking place at reasonable charges, except by incurring a substantial loss which would have to be borne on the rates. Clause 12 therefore provides that in such a case a local authority may acquire a site for composite development; that is, they can develop part of the site for a car park and part for other purposes. This type of development would be allowed to the extent that the income from those other more profitable purposes might reduce the loss on the parking place so that it could be run economically. We hope that this power, which should represent a very real help to local authorities, will result in many more of them providing off-street parking places.

Clause 14 allows local authorities and police forces to make a fixed charge for removing vehicles from streets or parking places, and a further charge for any period during which they have to hold the vehicle in safe custody. At present the police have not been able to charge for removing vehicles which are obstructing the streets, and this clause therefore fills a loophole in the existing laws. It turned out at Christmastime that a number of slippery gentlemen discovered that if they left their cars at a place somewhere like Regent Street they got them towed away and parked in a garage for nothing, which was much better than paying to put them in a garage or risking a fine for parking in the wrong place. They did that at a total cost of the tube fare to the place to which the car was taken. I am sure your Lordships will agree that that is a loophole that needed filling. A very real problem is caused by the old, dilapidated and perhaps unserviceable vehicles which are abandoned on streets and, sometimes, in car parks. Clause 15 therefore establishes machinery to enable local authorities and the police to dispose of such vehicles, subject to certain safeguards, in cases where they appear to have been abandoned.

Clauses 16 and 19 deal with road improvements. Traffic congestion in London, we all agree, has reached a crisis stage. In many cases, as is being shown all over the country, relatively small and inexpensive improvements can produce large traffic dividends. There is, however, at present no power to pay a grant towards such minor improvements in the administrative county of London, or in the three county boroughs of East Ham, West Ham and Croydon, and some local authorities might not be prepared to undertake them because they are not of any value to the ratepayers. Clause 16 therefore provides that in such cases the Minister may pay grant, again for a five-year period only, towards minor improvements in the London area which he thinks will be of traffic value. We hope that this grant will be a sufficient inducement to local authorities to co-operate. I think it will, because, after all, even though a small improvement scheme was designed to ease through-traffic, it could not fail in many cases to make life much more pleasant for local people.

Just in case a local authority were to refuse to undertake such an improvement, however we have felt it wise to give the Minister power to do it himself and recover the cost, or part of the cost, from the local authority. We very much hope that this power, too, will never have to be used, but it is necessary to his plans that the Minister should have it in case he is held up by any local authority who insists on putting parochial advantages above those of traffic flow. The difficulties under which local authorities work are fully appreciated, and we are anxious to work with them and co-operate with them as far as possible. The time has now come, however, when remedial action cannot be allowed to be held up indefinitely.

I wish to give your Lordships this assurance. The Minister would be most reluctant to use his default powers under Clause 18, and he would do so only as a last resort, after all other attempts to resolve the problem had failed. I want to make it quite clear, my Lords, that my right honourable friend has no desire to act as a dictator. Your Lordships are, I know, convinced that urgent action is necessary, and we recognise that the machinery of local authorities sometimes makes it difficult for them to act as rapidly as we should wish. We are determined to act in consultation with the local authorities so far as possible, and we are also naturally anxious to move in step with public opinion.

This Bill by itself will not solve London's traffic problem, nor the traffic problem in any other city. Everything will turn on the way in which the powers given by the Bill are used. It is the Government's intention to use them widely but discriminately, and, I hope, wisely. It is not a great Bill, and I do not pretend that it is. But, as I began by saying, it has a positive and progressive part to play to help us to move in the direction that we should go, and it should not be considered in isolation. Although I have spoken at some length, I have had to deal rather tersely with some of the complicated features of the Bill. If I have not been entirely clear in my explanation to your Lordships I apologise, and can only say that I will do my best to clarify any points, either later to-day or at the Committee stage, whichever may be appropriate. Otherwise I am glad to commend this Bill to your Lordships for Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Chesham.)

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, we on this side of your Lordships' House do not intend to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. In making the comments that I venture to address to your Lordships, I do not intend to go over the speeches I have made for the last twelve years on traffic congestion, which is to a major extent the cause of the pathetic toll of the roads. The present situation needs no word from me to impress itself upon your Lordships' minds. To any responsible citizen the chaos of traffic congestion and the mounting toll has become a nightmare. But it is not going to be cured by gimmicks, slogans, or piling Statute upon Statute until the Statute Book of this country is choc-a-bloc with road traffic laws which, if only they were enforced, would cure our problem in a short space of time.

When I first saw this Bill and read the opening of the Long Title: An Act to facilitate the enforcement and administration of the law relating to road traffic and to vehicles on roads … I thought, "At long last intelligence has dawned upon the Government." But having studied this Bill—it is not an easy Bill to study, as the noble Lord quite rightly said; perhaps my hand has lost its cunning, and I am getting rusty—and followed the ministerial statements made in another place during its passage, my heart sank, foot by foot. For all the competence with which the noble Lord—characteristic of him—has used to present this Bill to your Lordships' House, my worst fears have not been allayed at all. In point of fact, if the noble Lord will not mind my saying so—I say this in good part—I thought he was bending over backwards to tell your Lordships, "Don't be afraid; nothing really is going to happen."

No one has raised his voice louder or more continuously than I have upon the enforcement of the law, aided and abetted, if I may be presumptuous enough to say so, by the noble and learned Viscount sitting on the Woolsack, who has at times been my only supporter. So let me come to this point. I do not think that this Bill as drafted will make even a minor contribution to a solution of the problem that is confronting us. On the Committee stage we on this side (and, I hope, with the assistance of your Lordships, because this is no Party matter) will endeavour to make this Bill worthy of the problem it seeks to solve. If your Lordships care to read the Long Title to this Bill, you will see that we have plenty of scope.

Let me come straight away to the first two clauses which contain the major points of principle. The first clause increases the principle of punishment without trial. Have no doubt about that—that is what it does. I expect that the purists in your Lordships' House will baulk at that. But I am not so concerned with that. We took the first bite at this problem in the Magistrates Courts Act, and this is the second bite. I should like to say this to your Lordships. It is my conviction that, whatever the Minister has said in this House or in another place by way of an apologia for the action he should take, this principle is going to expand, and with the passage of time we shall have ticket fines extended to many of the breaches of our road traffic laws. Unless it does that we shall not make any impression on the terrific problem with which we are faced. So I am not so concerned with the principle of ticket fines. I am concerned to a major degree with the calibre of the individual who is going to decide who has committed an offence, and who is or who is not going to get a ticket.

In Clause 1 he can be a constable. In Clause 2 he can be what the Bill is pleased to call a traffic warden. What manner of man is it the intention of the Government to employ? What are his duties to be? Not one word is said in this Bill. All is going to be done by regulation. We hear, and see in this Bill, that this traffic warden can, by decree of the Home Secretary, become a fully-fledged traffic policeman—that is set out in Clause 2—or, at the other end of the scale, can be a mere school-crossing warden or a car park attendant. Those are the two. It is by decree that he can be anything between the two. Let us suppose that he is half-way. He is the man who is going to issue the ticket for these fines which the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, has said will relate to non-moving vehicles.

This duty is set out in Clause 1, which says that it shall apply to any offence created in respect of a vehicle by its being left or parked on a road without the lights or reflectors required by law; or by its obstructing a road, or waiting, or being left or parked, or being loaded or unloaded, in a road". If this traffic warden decides that you have committed an offence you get a ticket. I may be wrong—if I am I hope that the noble Lord or somebody else will correct me—but it seems to me that, as this Bill is worded at the present time, by giving you that ticket he usurps the functions of the Chief of Police, because as the law stands at present, it is only the Chief of Police who can prosecute. I direct your Lordships' attention to these few vital words in subsection (2) of Clause 1: Where a constable finds a person on any occasion and has reason to believe that on that occasion he is committing or has committed an offence to which this section applies, he may give him the prescribed notice in writing offering the option of payment of a fixed penalty under this section without prosecution for that offence … The option of what? The option of paying a fine or of being prosecuted.

I listened carefully to every word the noble Lord said on this subject. Am I right in assuming that that takes away the power of discretion of the Chief of Police to prosecute? I do not expect the noble Lord to answer that question straight away, because I expect he will have to consult his experts. If the constable gives you a ticket and says, "You can go and pay £2 within 21 days or …": that is the option—or what? I can only assume "or be prosecuted". Is this a responsibility to be lightly placed?

The noble Lord says that these traffic wardens will deal with cases only where there is no doubt of guilt. It does not say that here; it does not say that anywhere in the Bill. What the Bill says is that he can give you a ticket if, in the opinion of the warden or the constable, as the case may be, the vehicle is obstructing a road, or waiting, or being left or parked, or being loaded or unloaded. My Lords, if I leave my car right underneath a No waiting "sign I will concede the point that there is no doubt of my guilt. But the Bill does not say that. You see, you cannot leave a motor vehicle on any road at any time for any purpose anywhere without being prone to be prosecuted for obstruction. That is the law. It has been laid down in the Divisional Court that if any one of your Lordships left your car outside your house in the most remote road you could think of, you could be summoned for obstruction. I say this with respect—I think I am right—that it has been laid down in the Divisional Court by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, when he was Lord Chief Justice, that if you use the road for an unreasonable purpose you are guilty of obstruction. So it is not a case where there is no doubt of guilt.

I repeat my question to the noble Lord, Lord Chesham: what manner of man are you going to have to do this job? A constable is trained; but I would hesitate to give a constable the right to usurp the functions of a Chief Constable. Then, again, what is the next task this individual has to perform? In the ticket he writes out and gives you he has to write out the indictment. It says so. He has to write out full particulars of what he alleges is the offence you have committed. Then if, as I take it, the offender is prosecuted, he is the prosecution's chief witness in the court, so he must have some standard of education, some standard of responsibility. But in this Bill it does not say what he is going to do. It does not mention his behaviour, his code of discipline or anything. It is all going to be done at some time in the future by regulation. As I read this at the present time, the whole character of the Bill could be altered by regulation.

Let me say this: that unless in due course these traffic wardens become fully-fledged traffic policemen, we are not going to make any imprint upon our problem. And if they are going to be so degraded as to assume only the duties of school-crossing wardens or car-park attendants, Clause 2 of this Bill is just a waste of time. My advice, if I may say so, is that the Government between now and the next stage of the Bill should produce a Schedule to the Bill, setting out what the qualifications are going to be and what is the code of discipline. The qualifications cannot be very much less than those of a police constable. The code of discipline cannot be any less than that of a police constable. While the physical requirements could be slightly lower, I am sure the pay cannot be.

I hear some fanciful stories uttered by, I think, the Chief Commissioner of Police in London. He is going to recruit men of 25 to 55. He does not say what he is going to pay them. I want to know where he is going to find them, because in the areas of this country where the need for these traffic wardens is greatest the chance of getting labour is least. In Birmingham, Coventry, Luton and Oxford if you can breathe you can walk into one of the automobile factories and get £14 a week. Where is he going to get them? What standard are they going to be? Let me say this with respect: by employing inferior individuals—it is a harsh term—not only are you going irreparably to damage the relationship between the police and the motorist, but, if you are going to blackleg the police by employing a second and third rate force to do their duty, you are going to regret it until your dying day. That is my firm conviction, and I think you must think very carefully about it.

Is not the Government burking the real issue? It is no good the noble Lord trying to play this down. The motorist to-day suffers under the illusion—erroneously, I admit—that he may park his vehicle anywhere except in those places where he is told that he cannot do so. The Government should take powers to ensure that in every one of our thickly populated towns there are clearly marked those places where a motorist may park his car, and where he may not; and there should be some standard. There are 120 chief constables in this country. All of them can interpret as they think fit what is obstruction, and can inflict their interpretations upon 9 million potential victims. There is no standard of judgment at all. Then, if my interpretation is right, obstruction can be interpreted by these traffic wardens. I do not believe that this is the right way to do it.

I agree with Clause 1. I would agree to an extension of Clause 1. What the Government have to do is to face the issue of cost, to organise an auxiliary traffic police force of real policemen and leave car park duties, and also the duties of attending at school crossings, to the present occupants of the posts. Females can do that job, but I understand that they are taboo in regard to the duties of traffic wardens. I repeat: where are we going to get these people? Surely they are not going to be recruited from the present car park attendants, who are scattered over this country and are paid no wages but, I am credibly informed, in a number of cases can earn £15 a week, in areas adjacent to business offices, by way of tips for aiding and abetting motorists to circumvent the regulations. You are not going to recruit poachers as your gamekeepers, are you? I have looked carefully, and not one word is said in the Bill, nor has any word been said by any Minister, upon these three most important things: the calibre of the men, the code of discipline that is going to be imposed, and what they are going to be paid.

On the Committee stage we shall have quite a number of points to raise. Unless the Government do it, we shall try to get into this Bill some indication in regard to those things. Unless we do that we shall come back in the same way as we did on the Road Traffic Bill in 1957, when the Government of the day wanted to move by regulation subject to the Affirmative or Negative Resolution procedure—it does not much matter which. Parliament is faced, even with an Affirmative Resolution, with the fact that it can swallow the lot or reject the lot; but it cannot deal in parts. If my suggestion that the Government should put into this Bill a Schedule setting out the regulations is not accepted, then they should issue a White Paper, so that Parliament may have the opportunity of stating its views upon the details before the regulations are tabled. I repeat what I said just now: that this is a vital matter. We are starting a new era of punishment for wrongdoing. This ticket system, which I agree with—I do not quarrel with it at all—will go on and on; and it will expand. So we must make certain that we start off on the right foot.

I skip to Clause 8, which makes the Minister of Transport the traffic authority for the London Traffic Area. I do not know why the noble Lord wished to apologise about that. I thought he wanted to assure us that of course the Minister would use these powers in a mild kind of way. How can one expect anything other than the traffic chaos in the London traffic area today when the Minister has to consult 127 different highway authorities? But why only London? Is the traffic problem not just as great in all our big cities? Surely the day will come when the Minister will have to be the traffic authority—I do not say the highway authority—over every large town and city in this country where the congestion is just as great. We have clearways, but we cannot allow our national arterial roads and arteries of traffic to be subject to anything other than a national policy; and we cannot expect to get a national policy when there are in London 127 local authorities, and up and down the countryside 580 local authorities.

We have to accept that this traffic movement is one of the burning problems that we have to solve. I congratulate the Minister on taking these powers. I congratulate the Minister on setting up this Management Unit. I advocated this in your Lordships' House months ago, and I am glad that at last we have a Minister who will listen to the Opposition and to the ideas they put forward. As I said then, what we should have is a traffic authority or a traffic manager in every large town or city in this country, preferably, as I also said at that time, the chief constable. But why for only five years? What is going to happen at the end of five years? Are we going back to the present chaos? Perhaps the Minister will tell us.

Let me now come to Clause 12. Here again the Government are burking the issue. Having had some experience of running motor businesses, I cannot but be amused at the sugar plum which the Minister held out to local authorities to persuade them to build off-street garages: that they could then have blocks of offices and garages, with pumps selling petrol; and that the income from all that, together with the surplus they would get from the parking meters, if they had any, would make it an attractive and profitable proposition. If the noble Lord will forgive my saying so, that is just a lot of nonsense. Perhaps the noble Lord will tell me whether I am right, but as Clause 12 is worded it will, I think, allow for off-street parking structure built by a local authority to rank for loan consideration. That is not provided now. Unless a municipal garage or municipal off-street parking is contained in a development plan, they get not a penny.

But I do not think that even loans will help. The central Government have a responsibility. Motorists and vehicle users cannot be pushed off the roads of this country either by parking meters or by prohibition, without somewhere being found for them to put their vehicles. I say to the Government: you cannot do it; you have hedged on this question for long enough. I can assure the noble Lord that we shall return to this matter on the Committee stage in the same way as we did in 1957. It has got to be done by grant, and the minimum grant that a local authority should be given for providing off-street parking is 50 per cent. of the cost. Until that is done we are not going to persuade any local authority to take the risk, especially as it is stipulated in this Bill, and they are then to hand over the profitable side, if any, to somebody who will come and take it at a rent.

I am not going into a lot of Committee points, for we can wait for those. These are the main points—the points of principle—that I wanted to put to your Lordships. Clause 1 we accept unreservedly. Clause 2, as drafted, will not work. On other aspects we shall perhaps raise matters of detail on the Committee stage and shall try to make the Bill face up to the problem. When a responsible organ of the Press, the Daily Telegraph, in a leading article makes the suggestion that there is only one way of overcoming the present traffic chaos and the casualties on the roads, and that is to get one motorist to spy on the other, it indicates the seriousness of the position. I will just read a few lines from the leading article in the Daily Telegraph of June 9: But is there any reason why law-abiding drivers should not take the numbers of cars manifestly breaking the speed limit and report them? The knowledge that individuals were prepared to do this would surely act as some deterrent. When a responsible organ of public opinion puts forward a suggestion like that, it is only indicative of the seriousness with which they view the position. I do not agree with it, but do your Lordships know that not even a traffic warden has that power under this Bill? He has no more power to do anything but give a ticket for parking in the wrong place than noble Lords on both sides of the House have—none whatsoever. How far are we going to get with that? It is toying with the problem.

Then there is the question of the cost of enforcement. I see the noble Lord, Lord Mills, sitting opposite. I remember sitting on this side of the House when the noble Lord was dealing with an Electricity Bill when, quite blandly, with that charm of his and with a smile upon his face, he said that the budget of expenditure for atomic power stations was to be £3,000 million over six years. Not one of your Lordships blinked an eyelid, although one or two of us on this side swallowed hard. Yet we shall be told, in the course of the passage of this Bill through your Lordships' House, that "Of course we cannot afford to pay for policemen to do the job." And so an organ of public opinion has to ask why motorists should not act as spies, one upon the other. This question of enforcement rests wholly and solely on the police force. I lived with this problem when I was at the Ministry of Transport, and, speaking with great respect to an illustrious former Home Secretary on my right—and I had one on my left a little while ago—I say that if we are to wait until the Home Office gathers its Victorian petticoats around its shivering legs and knocking knees we shall have such a problem on our hands that it will be absolutely insoluble.

4.4 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we shall all agree that we have listened to a very entertaining speech from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who has a great deal of experience behind him; but the matters with which I desire to deal are not so extensive and no doubt will come up again in the Committee and other stages. The first point that occurs to me is that on page 1 of the Explanatory Memorandum on the Bill it is stated that: The Minister of Transport need not refer applications or proposals for a designation order in the London Traffic area to the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee. That body has gone on from year to year, for exactly how long I really do not know, and it has done remarkable work. If I were a member of that body I should feel very unhappy to see, in the paragraph relating to Clause 8, that the Minister is not to consult that Advisory Committee before making regulations and so on. Why not? We have been told by the noble Lord the Minister to-day that if it is desired to shift a parking place a foot or two one way or the other it takes the collective wisdom of the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee and Berkeley Square all their time to bring it off, and that they really cannot spare the time Ito do it. But surely, rather than do away with a body like that, which has a great deal of collective wisdom at its back, it would have been wiser to revise the procedure and make it possible for them to carry out their job without an appalling waste of time.

There is a lot in this Bill about parking. Much of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, was addressed to that problem. We all know of the parking difficulties, but surely one of those difficulties is within the Government's own control. When parking meters were first talked about, if I remember rightly, it was recommended that they should be brought in after the provision of off-street parking places. I wonder whether there is any off-street parking place that has been set up as a result of that passage in that particular report? I doubt it. But, as if that were not enough, parking meters have been and are being scattered about the streets of London, and the Minister would like to see lots more of them.

Look what is happening. The Inland Revenue have descended on parking meters and are taking—exactly how much I do not know. Perhaps when the noble Lord the Minister comes to reply he will give us some idea of the amount of receipts from parking meters so far as they go. We shall not get the money to provide our off-street parking unless we get that money from the meters. And we shall certainly not get the money from the meters if the Inland Revenue are to be allowed to take most of the proceeds. I am told that the proceeds that are left when the Inland Revenue have descended are minute.

Like everybody else, I want to see a system of parking regulations which everybody can understand and which will meet the public need. We are rapidly advancing to the time, forecast in the national Press, when there will be one car per family. I believe I am right in saying that at present motor cars are being turned out in this country at the rate of 150,000 to 160,000 a month. If that goes on, where are we going to get to, not only in connection with the parking of cars but also in connection with the provision of roads for them to run on? I tremble to think what may come. And much of the difficulty arises, perhaps, from the Government's well-intentioned action in facilitating hire purchase and applying it to cars. It is a delightful thing for everybody to have a car on the "never, never" system, and that sort of thing; but if we are really going to have that system of hire purchase so far as cars are concerned we ought just to see that the roads are there for them to use. Much of the difficulties we have on the great public holidays now is due to the fact that our roads are hopelessly overcrowded. This is a little beyond the scope of the Bill, but not much, because it deals with the Home Counties and the Metropolitan Police Area which covers quite a large area outside the Metropolis.

The subject to which I really want to address myself for a minute or two (and it will be for only a minute or two) is the question of the ticket system. It is something quite new, I believe I am right in saying, in our legal set-up. I cannot help feeling that Parliament ought to address itself very carefully to it. I know that the motoring organisations consider it would be unjustifiable to apply a ticket system to offences in regard to which the enforcement officer has a discretion whether to prosecute— such as technical obstruction offences. But it seems le me that we are putting a great responsibility upon him. I feel that the Government ought to move very carefully indeed before they go in for a system which entails such a procedure. The motoring organisations are strongly of the opinion that powers should not be granted to enable obstruction offences to be dealt with by the ticket system. The objections in the case of technical offences have been referred to, but for different reasons. It is considered that offences involving serious obstruction should be dealt with by the usual court procedure and not the ticket system. I feel that there is a great deal in that, and I hope, therefore, that when this matter comes to be considered in Committee there will be some alterations.

The motoring organisations also hold the view strongly that stricter enforcement of the parking regulations must be accompanied by constructive action to secure provision of reasonable off-street parking accommodation. When the "Pink Zone" was in force there was practically nowhere that one could find except in Hyde Park to park one's car. I feel that it is really up to the Government, and up to the Minister of Transport particularly, to try to see to it that we get off-street parking accommodation, which is so badly needed. I hope that the introduction of a simplified and quicker system of administering justice will not work against the practice of the police of cautioning motorists. I have noticed during the last few months that the police have been showing, in my humble judgment, an attitude which is a great improvement, in giving cautions to drivers rather than going straight out to get convictions against them. I am sure that if that practice can be extended not only in the great cities in this country but also on the highways, and we can have the "courtesy cop" system, that will pay, and we shall get the willing co-operation of a great many people who would otherwise perhaps be rather against giving it.

There are many more things I should like to say, and will say in the further stages of this Bill, but I do not want to take up the time of your Lordships. Nevertheless, I feel that there is a great deal in what has been said from the other side of the House by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, in criticism of the Bill; and I believe that if the Government can give careful consideration to it, and not be resentful of the criticism which may be brought forward, it will do much to achieve what the Minister has set out to bring about.

4.16 p.m.


My Lords, unlike the noble Lord opposite, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, I welcome this Bill, for two reasons: first, because it is an effort on the Government's part to improve the traffic conditions in our towns and cities; and, secondly, because it gives an opportunity to those Members who are interested to air their views. I think it is quite understandable that the Government should wish to simplify procedure and reduce delays with regard to parking place designation orders and enforcement of parking regulations as well as enforcement of penalties for traffic offences. My remarks, therefore, will mainly refer to parking places controlled by parking meters and traffic wardens and their duties.

While it is a truism that one man's meat is another man's poison, I feel that here is an instance where experience in other countries can be very beneficial to us. I particularly have in mind parking meters and their correct use. On April 11 of this year, in another place, the Minister of Transport said these exact words [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 621 (No. 96), col. 899]: I believe that at present parking meters are the most effective way of seeing that motorists can use that part of the street that can be made available for parking. I am sure of that. If that is the case, I should like to ask the noble Lord why it is that the basic concept with regard to parking meters in this country is so very different from that which is prevalent in so many other countries abroad. I think it can be fairly safely assumed that the United States have the greatest experience of the use of parking meters. By the end of 1954, according to the United States Department of Commerce in their Parking Guide for Cities, well over 100 cities in 35 States had carried out comprehensive surveys. There are now, I believe, about 3,800 communities which have adopted parking meters. I am saying this to stress the considerable experience that they have over there.

I think that Germany also has considerable experience, although they started adopting parking meters only, I believe, in the latter part of 1954. The experience that that country has gained may be beneficial to us. A group of local authorities undertook a parking survey as at November 3, 1958, concerning 65 towns which had adopted the use of parking meters. It is interesting to note, en passant, that in all those towns the standard parking period in no case exceeds one hour—it is mainly 30 minutes and one hour—on metered parking spaces on highways. With regard to turnover, it is interesting to know that since Bremen adopted parking meters the turnover has increased twelve times in the area where parking meters have been placed.

There are one or two points that I should now like to put to the Minister. As it has often been said in your Lordships' House that legislation should be readily enforceable, I should like to ask the Minister whether, although it might involve an amendment of the Bill, he would agree to authorising motorists to park without depositing a coin if there is an unexpired period of time showing on the meter, and for so long as this interval of time has not expired. Even numerous parking attendants or traffic wardens cannot be expected to see each motorist park his car in a metered space and whether he deposits a coin in the meter on arrival. In my view, such a concept, if adopted in this country, would, as in other countries, tend to increase the turnover in the parking meter zones. There seems to me to be no valid reason why a person should not be allowed to park in a parking space if time has already been paid for a vehicle to park there, unless, of course, the whole basic concept of parking meter usage in this country is totally different from that in the United States, where the parking meter is used purely as a device to aid the enforcement of basic parking regulations.

The noble Lord will no doubt reply that, with our present system, the remaining interval of time is added to the amount of time acquired by the parker on inserting his coin. That leads me to the question of excess time. Before going any further, I should like to quote briefly from a letter which was sent on August 5, 1957, by the Assistant Director of the Highway Research Board in Washington to a friend of mine in this country. He states categorically: It is agreed the system of excess time would defeat the purpose of the parking meter, which is installed to increase the turnover of curb parking time. As your Lordships are well aware, in this country a motorist pays 6d. for one hour and 1s. for two hours, and then he can pay another 10s. for a further two hours; in all, four hours, with the meter visually recording the excess time. Although this country has the highest traffic density in the world, we can surely be the only country in which an offence is not committed until two hours after the expiration of the prescribed standard period.

The other day, while I was walking in the West End, it seemed apparent to me that a number of motorists were quite willing to exceed the standard period. In fact, most of the parking meters I saw registered a period of approximately three hours; and those motorists were quite content to remain there in the knowledge that an offence would be committed only after a total of four hours' parking time. On the other hand, in the United States five years ago, in Lower Manhattan in New York City, a number of parking meters were already being converted from a one-hour time limit to a thirty-minute time limit. The article from which I extracted this information went on to say that one-hour meters were not forcing enough turnover. Experience in the United States has shown that there is often a case for reducing parking periods in the centre of a town and extending them in what they call the "fringe areas", though that would not apply in this country yet, of course. It would seem that at the moment our meters are standardised at one-hour or two-hour periods, with a possibility of a further two hours.

I should therefore like to ask the Minister whether, when making or studying designation orders, he could ascertain that the standard time for that particular area has been carefully chosen according to the particular parking demand of the area. It would appear that a number of traffic engineers consider that there is a definite need for a proper evaluation to be made of the purpose of the trip of each individual motorist, so that the appropriate parking charge and parking limit can be assessed. It stands to reason that the standard parking time allowed in the City should not be the same as that allowed around Harrod's, for instance. The requisite information does not seem to be available at the moment, according to a recent statement made by Professor Kolbuszewski, who is Professor of Highways and Traffic Engineering at Birmingham University. Last month he stated that traffic engineers were needed to collect the data without which the traffic engineers could not begin to start solving the traffic problem. His exact: words were: Let us start educating somebody to collect the data. Finally, with regard to traffic wardens, I am glad that there is power in the Bill to employ women. We have a fine, smart and efficient body of women police, and I see no reason why we cannot have an equally smart and efficient body of women traffic wardens. I am quite certain that the police could train them equally well. For instance, as my noble friend on the Front Bench is well aware, 100 "meter maids" (although I cannot say that I particularly like the term) started pacing their beats early this month in New York. Another aspect of this problem which I feel complicates matters in a parking meter zone is the fact that parking attendants can only issue excess charge tickets; they have to call in a policeman (or will have to call in a traffic warden) should an offence be committed—for example, should the motorist park for a period in excess of four hours. Parking attendants can only issue excess charge tickets; they cannot take any action if a motorist has stayed at a parking metered space for longer than four hours. On the other hand, should a motorist stay at a metered space in excess of two hours, a policeman will call a parking attendant.

Then, again, should a motorist park nearby a metered space, as he frequently does, a parking attendant has no authority whatsoever to deal with this matter. Again it is a question for the police. It seems to me that there is a certain duplication of effort, and therefore I would ask the noble Lord to ask his right honourable friend the Secretary of State whether he would consider granting powers to traffic wardens so that they can effectively deal, by means of a caution or by issuing a ticket, with any stationary vehicle—stopped, standing or parked—inside or outside parking meter space in a parking meter zone. This might reduce duplication of effort and facilitate enforcement, though I appreciate the difficulties that might be encountered in extending the authority of parking meter attendants over cars parked outside a meter space, unless Her Majesty's Government were willing to stipulate that parking attendants had to be authorised by the police—in other words, that they had to be in effect traffic wardens.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, with characteristic generosity my noble friend Lord Silkin has allowed me to "gatecrash" this debate. I wish to do so because on May 31 the Corporation of Glasgow sent a letter to the Secretary of State making certain representations. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, has had an opportunity of referring to these representations. If not, it is probably my fault for not having informed the noble Lord that I should raise these matters to-day. They may be mainly points for Committee stage, but I want to refer to them to-day because the Corporation of Glasgow have considered them and have agreed that representations should be made on them.

The first point is a request for clarification of Clause 1, which provides that corroboration need not arise when a person elects to pay a fixed penalty but does arise if he elects to go for trial. I should not have brought up this point but for the fact that during the Second Reading of the Bill in another place, on April 11, more than a month and a half before the Corporation of Glasgow's letter was sent, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said this [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 621 (No. 96), col. 958]: Scottish Members will be interested to know that in Scotland we have consulted bodies such as the judiciary, the local authority associations and the police and that no objection in principle has been made to these proposals. In particular, the judiciary has accepted the proposal that where a constable finds that one of the offences relating to vehicles specified in Clause 1 (1) is being committed, the person in charge of the vehicle should be given the option of paying a fixed penalty instead of appearing before a criminal court. This does not affect the general rule of law in Scotland that corroboration is needed. As I say, had the Corporation's letter not been sent after that statement was made, I should not have raised this matter.

Secondly, at present when a fine is imposed in court and the magistrate awards expenses, the amount of expenses is retained when the fine is remitted to the Law Treasurer's Remembrancer. The retained expenses are credited to the police courts, in which expenditure is non-grant-aided. No provision seems to be made in Clause 1 for such expenses, which may amount to a considerable sum, having regard to the increased amount of administrative duties which will be imposed in connection with these fixed penalties. Therefore the question arises whether some provision should not be made in Clause 1 to deduct appropriate expenditure incurred in connection with increased administrative costs. Then in Clause 14 (2), a fixed charge of £2 is laid down for the removal of a vehicle. The Corporation feel that, while provision is made for increasing this charge, the amount should be approximate to what might be the actual cost, which varies from £8 upwards. They suggest the modest figure of £2 10s. as a flat rate, instead of £2. Finally, the Corporation of Glasgow wish to record their support of what I understand is the Edinburgh position—namely, that more generous financial support should be given to all Scottish cities in connection with this increased responsibility.

Having put forward the matters to which the Corporation of Glasgow hope to receive some answer, I should like to add one point in connection with another clause in the Bill. If my memory serves me aright, the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, in presenting his case, omitted any reference to Clause 13. If I may say so, that clause seems to me to be of sinister implication. It appears to approve of the farming out of certain properties purchased by a corporation in return for a fixed sum to be paid by whoever rents the open space. That seems to me to be a retrograde step in the relations between Government policy and local authority autonomy. If a local authority take upon themselves the responsibility of providing space for car parking, they should be entitled to receive the revenue from the parking of cars instead of renting the space to a private individual or firm who obviously wish to make a profit on what they themselves outlay. I think that this is a question of principle to which the Government ought to give serious consideration, because it deliberately encourages the exploitation of car parkers for private benefit. I think that this ought not to be allowed.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, I certainly did not intend, when I came into the House, to intervene in this debate and I have no general criticism to make of the Bill. Indeed, parts of it, especially those relating to the employment of traffic wardens, I believe to be a most valuable proposal in assisting our already sadly overworked police force. But I was very struck by something that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, with regard to Clause 1 (1) (b) and I want, if I may, for my own elucidation, and probably for that of other noble Lords, to ask the Government two questions.

The first is this. Is it true that anyone who waits, or leaves or parks a car, or loads or unloads the car, in a road is guilty of an offence? The Bill does not seem to connect that with obstructing a road. It says: This section shall apply to any offence created by or under an enactment and punishable on summary conviction, being an offence committed in respect of a vehicle … (b) by its obstructing a road, or waiting, or being left or parked, or being loaded or unloaded … It does not say obstructing a road by leaving or parking a car, or by loading or unloading. Therefore, the first question I want to ask is: is that what the Bill means; and is it a statement of the existing law, or is it something new? In any case, I think we ought to know, because I suppose that any of us who live in the great cities of this country know that the streets are full of cars at all times of the day and night, either being parked or waiting, or being loaded or unloaded. Are all those people committing an offence when they do that?

The second question I want to ask is this. In the opinion of the Government, has there been provided by the Government or by local authorities in parks or garages sufficient space within reasonable reach of every motor car owner to enable him to put his car anywhere that will be of the slightest practical use to him? They may say that there are sufficient car parks or garages in all the great cities. But if they do not say that—and I think it will be difficult for the noble Lord to maintain that it is so—what the Government are doing by this Bill is to say that anybody who does something which in fact he must do is committing an offence; and, though he need not be charged, he will be liable to find a notice posted on his car or sent to his house asking him to pay a fine of £2, or whatever it is. If my interpretation is correct—and I hope it is not—I do not think that is a reasonable proposal to put to Parliament. We all know that Mr. Jorrocks said "The law is a hass"; but it is not our job to make it more of a "hass" than it need be. If it is true that there is not sufficient parking space in our great cities, and if everybody who does not use an official parking place is guilty of an offence if he leaves his car in any circumstances, the Government are really asking the impossible of the ordinary citizen. I hope that the noble Lord, when he comes to reply, will be able to clear up this point by saying that this provision does not mean this at all.

I have one small but what I hope may be constructive suggestion to make. Would it not be sufficient to say under Clause 1 (1) (b) "by its obstructing a road", leaving out all the rest? Could not the wording read: This section shall apply to any offence created by or under an enactment and punishable on summary conviction, being an offence committed in respect of a vehicle … (b) by its obstructing a road"? If, in the opinion of a warden or policeman, a car is obstructing the road, then no doubt the owner is guilty of an offence. But is for the police or the warden to prove it. The rest of the paragraph, which talks about waiting, or being left or parked, or being loaded or unloaded on the road is a question of fact. It is being done every day by every single one of us, and I do not think it should be possible for any policeman or warden, finding a car in that situation, to say that ipso facto the owner is guilty of an offence and should be fined or suffer any penalty of any kind.

I hope, as I say, that I have misinterpreted what the Bill means, but that seems to me to be what it says. I suggest to the noble Lord that if he could get his colleague, the Minister of Transport, to limit paragraph (b) to "by its obstructing a road" that would probably meet the objections of almost every one of us.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, in introducing this Bill, with characteristic modesty described it as "not a great Bill". I think that, if anything, that was an understatement. It is, in my view, a piffling Bill. If you look at the problem with which it is designed to deal, and if you look at the solutions which are put forward, it is astonishing that it should have required months and months of cogitation. The thing that has been conceived is a mouse. The noble Lord said in the course of his remarks that one must not take this Bill by itself but must look at all the other steps that are being taken to deal with this problem, which virtually amounts to the strangulation of traffic in London and the other great cities. What are these other steps that are being taken? I agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that until such time as provision can be made for every car to park within reasonable distance of where its driver wants to go, you cannot pretend that you have taken serious steps to deal with the problem.

It may well be that one of the most effective steps that has been taken recently to deal with the traffic problem is the restriction on hire purchase. This is, to some extent at any rate, reducing the number of new vehicles coming on to the road. But if the normal trend that we can foresee is to take place, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, pointed out, we shall before very long have one car for every family in this country. What are we to do then? We all point to our personal experiences, and perhaps I can mention mine. I normally go to the South, to places like Leatherhead, Dorking, Guildford or Cranleigh. You cannot stop your car at any of these places, even for two minutes to go into a Post Office, without a policeman coming along. He does not necessarily take proceedings, but he asks how long you are going to be, and hints very strongly that you have got to get away. You certainly cannot go shopping in those places.

The noble Lord referred in the course of his speech to the possibility of giving doctors in Harley Street certain priorities, and I asked him about the position of the patients. The other day I had to go to Harley Street to see a consultant. There is no place to stop, and in the end I had to walk the whole length of Harley Street. Fortunately, I was not in such an unfit state as not to be able to do that, and it probably did me good. But a good many people who go to Harley Street to see consultants are not in a fit state to do that. What are they to do with their cars? I ask myself what this Bill does to solve that problem, and I am bound to give the answer, "Exactly nothing".

The noble Lord may say that this Bill gives local authorities in the Greater London area increased powers to provide off-street parking. Let us see what that amounts to. It has been said by a person who is in a position to express an opinion, the chief architect of the London County Council, that we should need something like 30 to 50 multi-storey car parks, each holding 500 vehicles, in the County of London in order to provide for the long-term parker alone. What are the chances of getting those car parks in the County of London? It has been calculated that, in order to make one of these multi-storey car parks pay, the owner has to charge 12s. 6d. per day How many people can afford to pay 12s. 6d. per day for parking their cars?

The alternative, of course, is for motorists not to bring their cars into the centre of London. It is now ten minutes to five. I would advise the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, to go outside now and see the queue of people waiting in Whitehall for a bus to go home. Even worse, let the noble Lord go to Millbank where he will see a queue of people, possibly 200 yards long, waiting for an hour or an hour and a half to get on a bus to get home. Or, if the noble Lord wants a change, he should get on to the District Railway and see if he can squeeze into a compartment there. I do not know what conditions are like on the old South London Railway. I used that years ago. There one had to queue on the stairs to get down to the platform, and there was a terrific crush to get into a compartment.

If people can avoid those conditions at the end or at the beginning of a day's work, who will blame them for using a car to get into London and to work in that way? That is going to be the trend, unless we can radically improve the public transport facilities. What are we doing about that? I was told the other day that a person waited half-an-hour for a No. 24 bus. That is not encouraging them to use public transport. I would suggest, therefore, that if we are going to solve this problem, we have to take far more drastic measures than are contained in this Bill, or in the other measures at which the noble Lord hinted, but of which I have seen no trace in any other legislation or any other Administration.

But, of course, traffic congestion is only one aspect of the problem. The other aspect is road safety. An increasing number of people are killed or injured on the roads. I noticed that we patted ourselves on the back that during the Whitsun holiday traffic manners improved and people were driving more carefully. Nevertheless, at the end of the day there were more casualties this Whitsun than there were last Whitsun, and more than at Easter.


My Lords, would not the correct comparison be between the restricted roads and the non-restricted roads, and not a comparison between one year and another?


That may be; I have not myself made that analysis. When we talk of road casualties, we talk of the total number, and I am only pointing out that the conditions are not improving, and that even with better manners on the road and more careful driving we have had rather more casualties this year than last. The fact remains, of course, that with greater numbers of vehicles it is almost inevitable that we get those casualties. I am rather surprised at the priorities of the Minister. I should have thought that the higher priority, difficult and unsatisfactory as the position is from the point of view of traffic conditions, was the danger to life and limb. I should have expected that that would be given first priority. The noble Lord told us that in a future Session of Parliament it is proposed to deal with that aspect, but if that is the idea of Government priorities in this matter, then I must say that I am shocked to think that we are treating congestion on the roads in priority to the danger on the roads.

I wish to associate myself entirely with the criticisms which have been made by my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth about the details of the Bill. I think that there is an inherent contradiction in the use of the warden. The idea of the traffic warden, as I understand it, is that he should be used for those matters where the offence is selfevident—a stationary vehicle, and so on—and that where there is a discretion to be used, then it is a matter for the police. The noble Marquess has drawn attention to Clause 1 (1) (b), and I am bound to say that how anyone can adjudge that an offence has been committed without exercising considerable discretion, I am at a loss to understand. The responsibility of deciding whether a person who appears to be harmlessly leaving his car on a side road has committed an offence under Clause 1 (1) (b) is one which requires considerable judgment and the use of discretion.

The House will bear in mind that there is virtually no answer to a ticket. It is true that you need not pay and may go to the courts and dispute the case. But you can challenge what? According to this, you challenge the fact that you have waited or parked, or have loaded or unloaded, in a road, not necessarily where it is prohibited. The mere fact that you have done that means that you have nothing to challenge. Obviously, the wise person is going to pay the £2 and call it a day.

My Lords, this is a Bill which will require a great deal of consideration on the Committee stage, and I hope that we shall have adequate time and opportunity for discussing it and that the wisdom and experience of this House will be utilised to the fullest possible extent. This is not a Party matter. The last Election demonstrated that to-day car users are distributed over the whole of the population of this country. We are all affected, and we are going to look at this not from a Party point of view but from the point of view of the public interest. We hope that any Amendments we put forward will receive serious consideration, and that we shall not be put off by the fact that we are coming near to the Summer Recess, that it is desirable to get this Bill through before the Recess, and that if Amendments are accepted they must go back to the other place, and so on. That is the story we are always told towards the end of June. It is most frustrating and destroys the effectiveness of the work of this House. I hope that we shall not be told that in regard to this Bill. I would much rather wait until October and get a good Bill passed than have a Bill which, from the criticisms which have been levelled at it from various parts of the House, will be wholly ineffective and will not serve even the limited purpose which this Bill is designed to achieve.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, talking of the Committee stage, I certainly have every hope that it will be a properly adequate one, because I think it is important, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin said, that this Bill should be properly gone through in the appropriate way at the appropriate time. But, my Lords, if the calculated pessimism of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, about this Bill is in any way intended to soften me up, so to speak, and to get me rocking on the subject and make me lose my nerve and give way to every Amendment that they put down at Committee stage, I can assure them that they have failed most lamentably. Indeed, I was a little surprised—I put it no higher than that—at the opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for the Opposition when he came out with what I thought was such an extremely pessimistic view of this Bill; I was amazed that it should come from one who promised me a rough ride as regards road traffic matters in the future. I was very surprised to find that he thought that the attempt in this Bill to do something about London's traffic, an attempt which I sought to justify in my opening speech, was almost a fatuous one. I can only apologise to your Lordships, because it seems to me that once more I have made a sorry mess of my explanatory speech at the beginning of the afternoon. I am very sorry if that is so.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said I bent over backwards to assure your Lordships that nothing was going to happen in fact. I did not think I had been doing that at all. I thought I had been explaining exactly what was going to happen and how it would happen, and in what way; and if I put a little stress on the fact that where possible we proposed to proceed in consultation and agreement with all the appropriate authorities rather than by "slam-bang" dictatorship, if you like to call it that, I still think I was perfectly justified in trying to do it in that way.

I apologise if I am a little terse and dart from point to point, but a good many points have been raised, some of which are more suitable to the Committee stage, when no doubt we shall discuss them. But I should like briefly to tackle some of the points that have been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, first took exception to what he called punishment without trial.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I did not take exception to anything. I said that I accepted Clause 1, so do not say that I took exception. I accepted it; I said it is inevitable.


I am extremely glad to hear it, because I have the note that I made at the time to inform myself later in case I forgot, and if that is so I am happy to accept it from the noble Lord, say no more and pass on to the next point. The next point, so far as I am concerned, is the duties of traffic wardens, about which he asked and at which I think we ought very quickly to look.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, is he going to say nothing about Clause 1 at all? Because I asked two questions on Clause 1?


I am coming to the noble Marquess's questions in a moment. If he would forgive me, perhaps I might be allowed to take these points in the order they came up rather than in the order in which they appear in the Bill. I hope it will not be confusing. I do not think it will be, except to me.

On the subject of traffic wardens, I really could not make out from what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said whether he was in favour of them or whether he was not. At times he appeared to be and at other times he appeared not to be. Until I have the opportunity to read what he said in Hansard to-morrow, I shall have to reserve my opinion on that point. I shall merely content myself with saying that so far as the duties of the wardens are concerned it is proposed that in the initial stages they should be in connection with static offences—to do with parking and with not leaving lights on when necessary, and, where appropriate, where the local authority agree, with parking meter offences.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, but I want to help. I am quite willing to reserve any questions for a future stage of the Bill. But when the noble Lord says that initially the traffic warden will be concerned only with parking and static offences—a vehicle has to be static to be parked—it does not answer the noble Marquess's question or mine. Anywhere you park a car, even in a remote road, is subject to the jurisdiction and discretion of a traffic warden as to whether you are causing an offence. Do I understand aright?


Not quite. I should have said, if the noble Lord had not got up at that moment, that I will, if I may, come on to the noble Marquess's point on that clause as a separate point. I should like to stick to the traffic warden himself for the moment. His duties will not be broadened beyond what I have said, because I was about to say, when the noble Lord got up, that it is not intended that traffic wardens should deal with offences of obstruction. As I have already said, my right honourable friend will be very interested to hear what your Lordships say about the functions of traffic wardens, and he does not propose, to begin with, at any rate, to include among their duties the dealing with offences of obstruction. That is a point which was also made by my noble friend Lord Salisbury.


My Lords, I am sorry, but I am a little thick-headed. Does that mean that traffic wardens will be used only where there is a proper parking place, such as parking meters or places where you are allowed to park? When my noble friend says that they will not deal with cases of obstruction it means that they will function only where there is an allowed parking place, either for time or something of that kind.


No, it does not, because in a parking meter area it is an offence to park in a place when you may not park, and therefore a traffic warden can perfectly well deal with that offence, which is not one of obstruction at all.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, was a little critical of my right honourable friend's power to vary the duties of traffic wardens by order, which of course he can do. But the noble Lord must remember that that order has to be laid and is subject to Affirmative Resolution. Therefore, I do not think that the proposal to take a modest power, to start with, for traffic wardens is likely to lead to their burgeoning, without anybody knowing anything about it, into fully-fledged traffic police.


My Lords, I think we are getting into a bit of a muddle. Do I understand that a traffic warden will have two duties: first of all, that in a place where parking is allowed he can see that those orders are properly obeyed, and secondly, in places where parking is not allowed he then has power to issue a ticket?


I think my noble friend has got it right. Lord Lucas of Chilworth's next question was about usurping the power of the Chief Officer of Police. I think that that was rather a misconceived way of putting it, because, after all, the power to prosecute somebody is not entirely reserved to a Chief Officer of Police—any constable or any citizen can initiate a prosecution in England and Wales, though not in Scotland. Constables may act under the directions of a Chief Officer of Police, and they will continue to do so. Wardens will also operate under his instructions. But in no sense can this really be interpreted as usurping the powers of the Chief Officer of Police.


My Lords, is the noble Lord really telling the House that an ordinary citizen can initiate a prosecution for obstruction by a motor vehicle in a road which is no concern whatsoever of his? If he says that an ordinary citizen who lives in Piccadilly can initiate a prosecution for obstruction in Pall Mall, I beg leave to doubt that. I also beg leave to doubt that an ordinary constable can issue a summons on his own initiative without reference to a higher authority at all, which would be either the Chief Constable or somebody designated by him.


My Lords, I did not say that he did; I said that he could. That is just what I am telling the noble Lord: that a constable or citizen has the right to initiate proceedings and they are in no way the private preserve of the Chief Officer of Police. I know that the Chief Officer of Police probably frames the arrangements and in that way may take the decision whether to prosecute or not. The only point that I am wishing to make is that there is no question of usurping any powers in the matter.

The noble Lord asked quite seriously: "You pay £2—or what?" He put that in such a way as to suggest that the £2 was being extracted under a sort of process of its being far worse if you did not pay. That is how it struck me. I must pick my words fairly carefully in answering. The answer is that you do not have to pay that £2. You take the risk that you may be prosecuted if you do not. It may well be that you do not have to pay it at all. You may think, "I have committed no offence; I am an injured party, and I certainly will not pay it." You do not even have to write a letter saying that you are not going to pay it; you simply do not pay it. Eventually it is a matter for the discretion of the police whether or not they wish to take proceedings against you.


My Lords, if that is intended, the noble Lord has adequately answered my point. But let us have it in the Bill, because the Bill does not say that.


Could the noble Lord make that point again?


I do not know whether the noble Lord would prefer me to argue this in Committee. I am perfectly willing to do it. I do not want to carry this discussion on as though it were a Committee stage debate. The wording of the Bill is that he has committed an offence to which this section applies, and he—talking about the constable— may give him the prescribed notice in writing offering the option of payment of a fixed penalty under this section without prosecution for the offence. I asked: option to do what? If what the noble Lord has said is the intention, would it not be offering the option of payment of a fixed penalty under this section without prosecution for the offence or having the matter reported to the appropriate authority? That would make it abundantly clear. If it goes to the competent authority the man has two chances of getting away with it: first, the Chief Constable may not issue a prosecution; and secondly, the magistrates may fine him £1.


My Lords, I should prefer to argue this out in Committee. I merely say, without a lot of thought, that the first impact that suggestion would have on me is that it would be all right so long as the man was there. In the majority of cases he certainly is not going to be there.


It can be put in the notice.


It can be put in the notice, but he has nothing to do with the notice except to pay the £2. But I think that perhaps we might go on to that point in Committee.

The noble Lord was most interested to know what manner of men might be traffic wardens. If he looks at Clause 2 (5) he will see the requirement that the appointing police authority shall appoint "only persons adequately qualified", and shall provide suitable training for them. I do not see that we can go further than that in a Bill. I do not see how we can prescribe a specification for a person who is to be used for this work. After all, the qualifications for police officers are not prescribed by Parliament, and I should have thought that this was a matter which could safely and properly be left to the good sense of the police authorities who are to do the appointing. But in London, certainly, I know that the Commissioner is well aware of the necessity for getting the right type of man, and great care will be taken to try to find the right ones.

So far as the disciplinary code is concerned, I think that might be a rather strange thing to find in a Bill. I do not see that there is really a great need for a national code. And again I think that it will be open to the appointing authorities, if they wish, to have their own local code of discipline as part of the conditions of service. So far as I can see, there can be a variation from place to place. So far as pay is concerned, the rate for London has not yet been settled, and consultations are at present proceeding about this matter. In one of the moments when I thought the noble Lord liked traffic wardens less, he said that it would be difficult to get the right sort of people. He then went on to suggest an auxiliary police force, which would be better and of a higher standard than would be traffic wardens. But if you cannot find the people to fulfil the lower standard, of traffic wardens, it is going to be even more difficult to find people to compose the auxiliary police force in similar circumstances.


You would have to pay them police rates, which you do not intend to pay traffic wardens.


I think we can only try and see. All I can say to the noble Lord about it at the moment is that a number of inquiries have been received at the Home Office from people interested in becoming wardens.

Then, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, seemed surprised about the Minister becoming the traffic authority in the London area. He said that I apologised. But I do not feel apologetic.


My Lords, I welcomed the fact, and said there was no need for an apology.


My Lords, I did not think I had apologised. After all, the Minister has been the traffic authority in the London area for a good many years. So why I should start apologising for that now—or be thought to be apologising—I cannot imagine. All I was trying to say was that I could see no reason for him to act in a dictatorial way, and that it would be far better to adopt a sensible procedure so far as possible by having consultations with local authorities, the powers given in the Bill to be held in reserve for when they are really needed.

I should like to come now to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Howe, who, I thought, greatly deplored the fact that power was taken for action without reference to the London Traffic Advisory Committee. I thought I had bent over backwards to explain how valuable their services had been, and no doubt would be in the future. I tried to explain that this proposal was to speed up the procedure; that there was no intention of cutting out that Committee as an advisory committee, but that where, because of the absence of controversy, or for some other reason, it was not necessary to refer matters to that Committee, there was no need to take up their time, and the time of the Minister, in referring to them questions to which the answers would be obvious.

The noble Lord also asked me about receipts from parking meters. So far as I am aware, the average net receipts from parking meter schemes work out at about £15 per meter per year. In certain circumstances they are subject to tax, but the matter is a very complex one. In fact, very few local authorities are likely to be affected because, of course, an authority can set off charges from parking meters against other charges in their accounts, like loan interest.


My Lords, is any of the money derived from parking meters earmarked for building off-street garages? Because we were told, when the Bill concerning parking meters was introduced, that the main purpose of those meters was to provide funds from which off-street garages could be built.


My Lords, so far as I am aware, all of that money is earmarked for that purpose.


All the £15?


All of it. But the noble Lord must not speak as if there was only one meter.

I come now to the question of off-street parking accommodation, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Howe, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and, finally, by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, all of whom brought up the question of reasonable provision of off-street parking. It is not any news to us that there is a requirement for extensive off-street parking or that there is a vast conglomeration of traffic which may get worse or may get better. We can do what we can; we cannot do more. But, as we know, plans have been made—and we have talked about them enough—for off-street parking. The provision of such parking is the most difficult and slowest of all our problems, first because of the difficulty in congested places like London and other cities of finding land. After all, in the past, when planning has taken place, that side of things has been considerably left out, and now there are not the sites left. The planning that we have had since the war (and noble Lords opposite will know a bit about that) does not seem to have left the vacant sites available. Perhaps it is easy to build large garages in Wormwood Scrubs, but what benefit is that to people visiting Berkeley Square? Then, having found the sites, the actual details of physical construction take the longest possible time.

If noble Lords are going to take the view that it is unreasonable to do anything until all this permanent off-street parking is produced, then we shall do nothing. Congestion will continue until finally traffic grinds completely to a halt. If we accept what appears to me to be inherent in the suggestion that nothing should be done until such time as car parks are available, that will happen. It is for that reason that temporary powers to provide temporary car parks are sought in this Bill—to fill the gap until it is possible to produce more and better off-street parking.

My noble friend Lord Merrivale inquired about parking during the unexpired portion of the paid-for time, usually known as "tag-ending". If the noble Lord will look at the Schedule he will find that if any local authority wants to do so, and the Minister approves, it is open to them to do what the noble Lord asks for. There is no magic about the length of time allowed. It can be over any period, as is allowed in the Act. The present period of two hours in the areas concerned was recommended by an expert Committee as being the best suited to the conditions in question. No doubt in other places other periods might be suitable. In fact, it would be a simple matter to switch the meter over to a half-hour or one-hour period. There is no difference at all in the basic concept.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, sent down some rather "fast balls" about matters raised by Glasgow Corporation, which I shall not attempt to hit at the moment; but I should like to deal with what he said about "farming out" arising from Clause 13. Obviously, it must be better that, if there is any money to be made, the authority should have it. But this clause (which, incidentally, was put in at the request of the Association of Municipal Corporations when the Bill went through another place) is intended to cover those cases where car parks are operated by organisations like the British Legion and others who, I believe, pay a fixed sum for the right to operate a car park. Presumably those organisations make a profit or they would not pay a fixed sum for that right. That is the kind of case the provision is intended to cover. It has certain advantages, for some local authorities may not be very well equipped to run a car park directly and they are guaranteed a revenue without any effort.

Now I should like to come back to the knotty problem raised by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury arising from Clause 1 (1) (b). I believe that there is a slight misapprehension about this, if I may say so with respect, because, first of all, Clause 1 is intended to apply when an offence has been committed. It does not create an offence by saying that no car may obstruct, wait, be left parked, or be loaded, or unloaded in a road. It is not the fact, as I thought the noble Marquess surmised, that from now on it will be an offence to do any of these things in any road anywhere. The point is that the words "obstructing a road" would not do, because it is perfectly possible to create an offence by parking your car in a "No waiting" area. You need not necessarily be causing an obstruction. I have already said that obstruction is not one of the things with which, in the early stages, it is anticipated traffic wardens are going to deal.


But it is anticipated that the police will deal with it. The police constable, by Clause 1, can do this. The Secretary of State can empower the traffic wardens to do it, but the police constable has a right to carry out the instructions in Clause 1 of this Bill.


He has the right to do that now.


Certainly he has.


He has now; and all Clause 1 gives him is the power—let us face it basically—to use the ticket system instead of the existing procedure. There is nothing new in this, as I see it, and I do not think there is anything doubtful about it. However, I am prepared to look at it again.


My Lords, my point is that there is great doubt almost everywhere about the meaning of the existing law: about where you may park and where you may not park; where you may unload and where you may not unload. It seems that under the existing law one may park almost anywhere. I do not know whether it is true, but I have been told that once when I complained of cars parked in a narrow lane opposite my house. I was told, "Surely you are not objecting to parking in a back-water of this kind". So the literal wording of the law is not taken. I do not think this wording clears up the position. If it said, "obstructing a road by being parked or by being unloaded or loaded" that would make sense, because a man would be guilty of obstructing. But just to say "To park or to unload"—the word used is "or"—"constitutes an offence" would be utterly bewildering to the public and the police themselves.

I ask that the Government should look at this point before the next stage. I am not trying to be tiresome, but there is a real problem here. It is no use our passing a Bill in a form which we do not ourselves understand, and I do not believe that many noble Lords understand the meaning of Clause 1 (1) (b). I think that when we come to the Committee stage we must have more clarification of the wording in this clause and further explanation of it. I am willing to wait till then. As I read it, it would be under the Bill an offence to load or unload a car, and I still believe that is what it says. It may not be what it means but it is what it says.


My Lords, I do not think there is anything to be gained by my trying to argue it out with the noble Marquess just at this moment.




Right here and now I do not think, frankly, that he is quite right, but I am quite prepared to find out that I am wrong about that; and, as I say, I shall be glad to look into it before the next stage and, if necessary, deal with the matter again then.

If I may have a minute or two longer, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, as he always admirably does from the Opposition Benches, carried out his duty to oppose. And he does it so well.


It seems that it may be useful.


I think it might be, but I could not find a basis for the line he took on several of the points and I really thought that it was an overstatement when he spoke about this Bill having taken months and months to be produced, as if the mountain had given birth to a mouse. It took actually barely four, and I do not think that that is really a tremendous amount of time on which one can justifiably criticise production of a Bill which—although, as I have said, it is limited in its effect—is not exactly a simple one-clause Bill which can be knocked out quickly. The noble Lord himself will know how long it takes to produce a Bill.

I am extremely sorry, in a way, that I ever mentioned Harley Street because the matter has got away from being a general example, as I can see, into a sort of personal aside on the subject of Harley Street. It is the most obvious example to mention. I wish I had thought of another—and just at the moment I cannot. The noble Lord made a point which I should like to fasten on to. He said, "Never mind the doctors in Harley Street. What about the patients and what about the people who take the patients there and what about the patients who want to go on and shop somewhere else?" That is precisely what we do not intend to have. Once we start this kind of thing, it "snowballs"; and that is why I made a considerable point of saying that the powers would be used extremely sparingly and narrowly and would be used only where there seemed to be very good reason. After all, I do not think we have yet reached the stage when things are such that anybody can stop anywhere and leave his car there for as long as he likes. If anyone thinks that is so he has certainly "got another think coming." We feel that there must be this sort of reserve power to be able to make regulations.

The noble Lord said also that he cannot park his car within a mile of his destination. There must be something rather wrong about that, something which may require attending to by parking regulations: and it may be that within those regulations it will be necessary to make some provision for doctors and something similar for other cases.


My Lords, may I interrupt on the question of Harley Street? I should like to quote from Hansard of December 4, 1957, when I asked a Question in this House. It was answered by the noble Lord, Lord Man-croft, who said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 206, col. 729]: … the immediate responsibility for dealing with the parking problem in the Harley Street area is not that of Her Majesty's Government but of the St. Marylebone Borough Council. The Road Traffic Act of 1956 gives that council, in common with other councils … et cetera. The noble Lord has a small sports car and so have I. I try to go down Harley Street when the Borough Council are parking their dust vans there and I cannot get past. It is not the doctors who are parking. People go there at 8.30 a.m., and then on to the shops, John Lewis's and Selfridge's and the other shops, and park their cars there so that doctors cannot get in. That is the answer that was given, and it is in Hansard. Something must be done about it.


My Lords, that seems to support my argument, although it also supports my statement that it is a pity we have got on to Harley Street. Nor have I a small sports car any more.


I am sorry.


It has been said that there is no contribution to road safety in this Bill—at least I think that was said. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said that it was urgent to do things because there were more casualties than ever at Whitsun. That was one thing on which I thought he was a little unjust, perhaps, because the figures, as I know them, I think were one up on the previous Whitsun.

A NOBLE LORD: One down!


The traffic, I think I am right in saying, has increased some 15 per cent.; and 15 per cent. of 8 million vehicles, or 7 million vehicles, is quite a lot. I think, therefore, that it is a little unjust to suggest that there has been a startling increase. After all, as I have said before, something must be having a beneficial effect, because, if we consider the last 30 years, we find that there is not much difference between the rate of deaths during that time and now, though the traffic has increased not by 15 per cent. but by 75 per cent. I mean, there were on the road then about one quarter of the number of the vehicles on the road now, so something has had some effect on road casualties. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Amwell, made a reasonable point there, which we are not yet in a position to answer: that you would not expect an experimental 50 miles per hour limit on 150 miles of road to have had a pronounced effect on the Whitsun casualties as a whole—at least, I hope nobody would have expected that. What we want to know is whether, on those stretches, the relative figures are indicative or whether they are not. I am not in a position to say anything more about it at the moment.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but is it not a fact that the Press and the whole of the country acclaimed the results with regard to the restriction to 50 miles per hour of special stretches of road as a definite proof that it was speed that kills? Now that is suddenly to be forgotten and the thing dropped, and now a false comparison is made—and I cannot understand why the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, should so easily fall for it: the comparison of all roads at one time with all roads at another. That is not the comparison. The proper comparison is between the restricted roads and the non-restricted roads; and the comparison proves that speed kills and that the restriction was a very definite success.


My Lords, I was a little surprised at it, too, I must admit; but I think that I ought perhaps to go quickly on to my final point on road safety. It has been said that there is nothing in the Bill that improves that. My Lords, there is. If you have streets with regulated parking, orderly flowing traffic, visibility improved for drivers, visibility improved for pedestrians—and, indeed, for all other road users—without the sort of jostle and push and tear that takes place, there is undeniably an improvement. I maintain that this Bill, as it comes into effect, will improve road safety in London—outside it as well, probably, but mostly in London. I do not share the pessimism that has been uttered about this Bill's being ineffective. We shall discuss it in great detail at Committee stage, and I look forward to answering further points of detail then. Meanwhile, my Lords, I hope you will give it a Second Reading so that we can get to work, and work effectively, as soon as possible.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.