HL Deb 11 May 1961 vol 231 cc358-70

3.57 p.m.

Debate on Second Reading resumed.


My Lords, I should like to say at the outset that I very much welcome the concept of this scheme, but I wonder whether I could, for one moment, touch upon the question of charges. I have an impression from remarks in another place that these charges are likely to be pretty high. In fact, I believe I have heard a figure as high as fifteen shillings a day. I am just wondering, with that sort of figure—if that is the intention, it would seem to indicate a fairly lucrative revenue—whether the right place it should go is to the local authority (as I believe it may) and also to the Treasury. The reason I say that is because it seems to me that this is a further levy on the motorist, which I think at the present time is not entirely desirable.

I was wondering whether a more economical method of working could conceivably be devised, whereby the charges were related to the normal running of the garage, and what profit there might be could be turned over to develop other off-street accommodation, in rather the same way, I believe, as the meter parking scheme is worked. It seems to me that, in view of the many burdens the motorist has to bear to-day. to introduce one more levy and charge against him, for what I agree is an entirely desirable scheme, is not entirely fair, if he cannot have additional accommodation in the centre of London, which a profit arising from a charge as high as that would probably help to provide. I do not wish to pursue other aspects, because I find that the whole scheme, in concept, is exactly what is required; but I would just ask the Minister whether those particular aspects could be given consideration.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, this Bill marks a further and important step toward the solution, or, at any rate, the alleviation, of London's increasing traffic problem, which is, as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, has indicated, largely due to the fact that the commuter is using his private car on the principle of, "one car, one man to work." If the noble Lord had recently been at the Ministry of Transport, I am sure that he would have given consideration, as has been done, to the possibility of the compulsory restriction of cars coming into the middle of London. But in point of fact, from a practical point of view, it represents an almost insuperable difficulty—or, at any rate, that has been our view down to the present time.

The problem of exempted people—doctors, for instance; the question of those living in the middle of London, of offices and of bogus addresses and so on—all these would arise. And I do not believe that it will ever be possible to ban the entry of private cars into the middle of London. At the same time, it is possible, and I am sure desirable, to make it extremely expensive for the individual commuter to use his private car for coming into London. It is not only the immense cost of providing parking accommodation during his hours of work in London; it is also the congestion in the rush hour coming into London in the morning and the congestion going out again in the evening. At the present time, of the vast number of commuters coming in and going out, only some 7 per cent. travel by motor car. With a doubling of that proportion—say up to 15 per cent.—what is already an appalling problem would result in an almost complete standstill of London traffic. And I am glad that the present Minister of Transport has said, openly and boldly, on a number of occasions that he intends to make it extremely costly and inconvenient for people who choose to abstain from using public transport and come, one man, one car, into central London.

In the Act of 1956, which introduced parking meters, it was provided that any profits which arose from parking meters, after payment of expenses, should all be used for the provision of off-the-street parking, and I am glad indeed to know that parking meters are becoming increasingly accepted by the motoring public, as well as having been found extremely satisfactory and convenient by the public. Of course they do not in themselves provide additional space, but it means that eight people can park for one hour a day instead of one person parking for eight hours and obviously that is in the general interest.

It is a provision of the Act of 1956 that payment could be made to private individuals to provide off-the-street parking, but at the time we were drafting, the Bill we thought it very unlikely that public opinion would ever agree to that. Therefore I am glad to hear that during the Committee stage in the House of Commons, the Minister was able to announce that there was every reason to hope, and to expect, that the Westminster City Council would be prepared to undertake the provision of this garage in Hyde Park.

There are only two ways of providing the necessary accommodation. One is in multi-storey garages going up into the air. That, I think, is very unsightly. The other is in an underground garage. Although there are great difficulties, I am sure that that is much the more promising direction in which we should be going. As long ago as 1953–54, when my noble friend Lord Boyd of Merton was Minister of Transport, we employed several firms of civil engineers to work out schemes for underground garages in Grosvenor Square, Cavendish Square and Finsbury Square. Only the last of these has, in fact, been adopted and is now being put into operation by private enterprise under legislation promoted by the Finsbury Borough Council. At that time we were not able to overcome the great problem of ensuring that the amenities on the surface were not unduly interfered with by an underground garage; but at that time it was also thought, from the financial point of view, that not more than about 3s. a day could be charged. Experience has shown that much more will be paid by the motorist in order to obtain off-the-street parking accommodation. I understand that the Lex Garage, at Selfridge's, is charging 10s. a day.

In addition, as I have already mentioned, there is considerable and increasing profit being made from parking meters. That all has to be applied as a subsidy for the provision of long-term off-the-street parking. I am sure that that is fair and reasonable, because it means that the short-term parker is paying, but is getting very much improved opportunity of parking; and that is being done for his benefit by driving the long-term parker off the road. We must realise that although, in many cases, the long-term parker is a person with whom, as I have suggested, we should have no sympathy—for example, the man who drives up from the country and tries parking his car just outside his office—there are other people, like those living in London or doing certain kinds of work, who may find it necessary to park their cars for a long time. An ordinary doctor is a good example of a short-term parker, as he goes round visiting his various patients; but a doctor attending a hospital may be there for the whole day, and he may be a perfectly legitimate example of the long-term parker. Therefore, I am glad that assistance is being given at the expense of the short-term parker, who enjoys the advantage of the parking meters, and that the profits from these, which last year amounted in the City of Westminster to £50,000, will go to the provision of off-the-street parking.

When I was Minister of Works, I agreed to this scheme in principle. We looked at it very carefully from the point of view of amenities, and I am glad to say that, as the result of the discussions that have taken place between the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Works, your Lordships can feel reasonably assured (and I have examined the map carefully) that there is not going to be any undue interference with the amenities of the Park. The provision in Clause 2, that the Minister of Works must be satisfied that the works have been carried to a successful conclusion and are not interfering with amenities, will be, I think, sufficient guarantee of that. Although normally I should regard the description of a Department as being "sticky" as rather an offensive one, I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, describing the Ministry of Works as being "sticky", when it is a question of any invasion of the rights of the public and their enjoyment of the Royal Parks.


My Lords, the noble Lord has mentioned amenities, and I rather thought that in 1954 it was considered impossible to preserve the amenities. So far as Finsbury Square is concerned, the amenities are going to be enhanced, because all the trees worth preserving will be preserved by the special means of putting earth round the roots. I am sure that there is no reason why all the trees worth preserving in Hyde Park should not be preserved in the same way.


I was really referring to Grosvenor Square and Cavendish Square. The Ministry of Works were then "sticky" about this aspect. At that time I was in the Ministry of Transport, on the other side of the argument, and the Ministry of Works did not consider that it was possible to preserve the necessary amenities of Grosvenor Square and Cavendish Square. I think that further progress has been made since, and I am satisfied that the amenities in this respect are being preserved in Hyde Park.

I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary for an assurance upon one extremely important matter. When my right honourable friend Mr. Birch was Minister of Works he agreed to the longterm parking of cars in Hyde Park. That was at the request of the Minister of Transport at the time, and I am not for one moment criticising the decision that he took. That was, to some extent, extended at Christmas time when the Pink Zone was introduced. But I think we should all be jealous of the invasion of the Parks by parked motor cars. They are Royal Parks, and they should not become car parks. I think that this Bill provides an opportunity for obtaining some assurance that when accommodation is provided underground the Minister of Works will no longer continue to allow cars to be parked on the surface. I hope that the Minister of Works of that day will be adamant. But I see no reason why he should not obtain the concurrence, support and approval of the Minister of Transport, who has similar interests in this matter.

The present Minister has been quite outspoken in saying what the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, was asking for to-day: that he desires to discourage the "one man, one car" type of "commuters" from coming into London. Therefore, it should be no part of the Government's policy, or of his, to provide an unlimited amount of space available for long-term parkers of that kind. The Minister will find that if he wants the underground car park to be used at a charge of 10s, a day he will have to be careful that there is no free parking on the surface nearby: otherwise, he will find what I saw in Storey's Gate as I came here to-day—namely, a number of cars parked to the general obstruction of traffic, while at the same time there were empty spaces in the car park which has been put on the old site of Westminster Hospital.

There is power under Section 96 of the Road Traffic Act, 1960, enabling charges to be made for parking in the Royal Parks; but neither my noble friend Lord Hailes, when he was Minister of Works, nor I, thought it suitable to use that power. There is something rather distasteful in the idea of using for the production of revenue parking in the Royal Parks. I am sure that the right thing to do is to bury it as soon as this new underground car park has been provided. I hope that your Lordships will welcome this Bill. I wish it well, and I congratulate my noble friend and his right honourable friend on introducing it. But I hope that my noble friend will give me some assurance on what I think is the important matter of the amenities of the parks which I have taken this opportunity of raising.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not detain the House for long, and I rise only to welcome the fact that some of the major considerations have been raised by my noble friend Lord Molson, who has just resumed his seat, and by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth. Let me tell my noble friend in charge of the Bill that I am not rising to oppose it. I know that the bulk of opinion in another place and here favours this Bill, and I certainly will not delay its Second Reading. But I cannot pretend that I share the optimism regarding its results which has been expressed in certain quarters. I agree with a great deal that was said by my noble friend Lord Molson. After all, this Bill is, according to the Minister's own figures, to provide parking places for 1,000 cars. What will that do to relieve congestion? We are at present, by what I regard as absurdly bad planning, displacing living accommodation in Central London by office building, with the quite certain result of increasing, and constantly increasing, the numbers of those who will travel into and out of London, morning and evening. More than 1.000 cars, in addition to those now coming in, will in a very short time come in as a direct result of some of our failures in town planning.

The real question we have to ask is: if these additional parking spaces under the Park for 1,000 cars are to be provided, for what cars are they going to be provided? Is it for those which are at present parking elsewhere in London (if they were to be removed from the streets and this garage used there would be something to be said for it), or for additional cars which will come into London in the mornings and go out in the evenings? If the latter, then the contribution that will be made by this new garage under the Park will be of short utility.

I believe that if we are to make a serious contribution to the problem of traffic in London we must concern ourselves with three things, and nothing less than those three things will solve the problem. The first is planning. We really must stop diminishing the accommodation available for those living in the centre of London in order to create office buildings certain to attract people travelling into and out of London daily. The second requirement is absolutely to prohibit motorists from obstructing the highway by parking in the streets, except in those places which are considered suitable and where parking meters have been provided. Generally, in Central London, the motorist must not think he is entitled to park his motor car in the street. The third requirement is that the garages that are then available for parking shall charge an economic price. I am certain that the economic price in the centre of London is destined to be fairly high; and unless it is, the number of additional cars that will come in eventually seeking parking accommodation, which, in spite of these increases, will not be sufficient, will be very great. Those three things must be done if any serious contribution is to be made to the problem of traffic in Central London.

A good deal has been said both by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and by my noble friend Lord Molson about the private motorist who brings in a car which perhaps contains only one passenger. But when it is suggested that all those who come in by motor car might use public transport, I wonder if those who make that statement have any recent experience of using public transport in London at the rush hour. I thought seriously of introducing a Motion in Parliament prohibiting Cabinet Ministers, for a period, from driving in private cars at all in order to compel them to learn how the ordinary public live. I do not believe that most Members of the Government have any conception of what it is like to try to enter a tube station in Central London during the rush hour, or to stand in a bus queue. There are no doubt exceptions. In fact, I am much too friendly to the members of Her Majesty's Government to put down any such Motion, or even to ask them embarrassing questions.

But the point, I am sure, is a sound one. It is quite vain to think that simply giving an additional 1,000 places under Hyde Park is going to be any use whatever in a year or two, unless some of these other steps are also taken. I therefore repeat that the three steps which must be taken, the absence of any one of which will ruin the scheme, is that we must stop this uncontrolled office building—or almost uncontrolled—in Central London, destined enormously to increase the number who have to travel into and out of London daily; we must stop parking on the highways, and we must make an economic charge for such parking places as are available, in order that only those who really need that parking space shall use it.

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, the first thing I should like to do at this stage is to thank all noble Lords who have spoken on this Bill and to welcome in a very sincere way the support that they have been good enough to give to it. I know that, here and there, it has been to a certain extent qualified by certain queries and certain ideas, with which I will endeavour to deal in a moment. But it is certainly gratifying and cheering that your Lordships have been good enough to support us to the extent you have. I value greatly, of course, the support of my noble friend Lord Molson, who has almost had experience of batting and bowling on this subject at the same time, and of my noble friend Lord Conesford, because I know so well, if I may put it that way, how sensitive he is to any threat to the amenity of the parks. I feel that if we have his overall, if not unqualified, approval, we must have got a fair proportion of the proposal reasonably right.

The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said that this proposal formed an important precedent. I would agree with that, and that is precisely why my noble friends and the Government have gone so far to handle the matter so very carefully. It is our belief that that is the way to handle matters of this sort, and, therefore, I do not think there is any harm in establishing the manner as a precedent as well. I think that what I said to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, on the subject of the open space is proof enough of what I have said. The noble Lord is not here, but may I say that I am sorry he thought I was cross with him, because I was not cross at all. I merely wanted to make the point clear at the time, because I thought it would make it easier for him. I am sorry if he thought I was cross, and I trust he will accept my apology. I ought, I suppose, to have been cross with myself that I had not made the matter clear. But I think the matter is now clear, particularly on the subject of trees—that there will be very little damage or detriment in that respect. I am glad to find my noble friend Lord Mancroft has such an acute interest in trees. I always thought that he walked his dog in Montagu Square, but it may be that his interest in trees in the Park is of a different nature. I think that the number I quoted in my speech of about fifteen is what we can expect to lose.

The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, indulged in some very interesting ideas. I think your Lordships will understand if I do not follow him, because he went into realms which seemed to me a little wider of the Bill than I could afford to go at this time. Therefore, I should like to pass on and touch a little on the question of the traffic coming into London. My noble friends, Lord Mancroft and Lord Conesford, have both mentioned this point. Of course, it is a fact that an increasing number of new office buildings are being provided with their own garages in the basement. The L.C.C. have definite regulations about that, and it is coming about. So also are the other measures, in a slow way, which my noble friend Lord Conesford asked us to consider. The parking control and the economic factors, if you like to call them that, which he brought in, are all beginning to have their effect, and as the control of parking and the off-street parking continue, then so the picture will begin to build up in the manner that he wishes.


My Lords, I do not suppose my noble friend means to suggest that the amount of parking accommodation that has to be provided for a new office building provides for more than a tiny fraction of the additional cars that will be involved in the people coming in and out of London.


I know that is true and, therefore, I did not say that this problem is shortly to be solved. I said that it was moving in the direction my noble friend is recommending. I thought my noble friend cast a little too much doubt upon the efficacy of this particular car park. He would have been right if one took the view that this was a "once-and-for-all" effort by the Government, and that we thought this was going to solve the problem, or something like it. But it is only part of the solution.

My noble friend Lord Mancroft recommended that car parks should be built in other places, and I can certainly tell him that long-term possibilities for further projects on lines like these are at the present time being considered by my right honourable friends, the Ministers of Transport and of Works. At the moment, I think it is too early for me to be able to point with any confidence at any specific project, but they are definitely considering these matters, and of course your Lordships would have the chance of considering them, because any such similar schemes would require further legislation. Therefore, it is not right to consider this one car park as as isolated effort, but only as part of a pattern.

My noble friend Lord Mancroft criticised the timing that my right honourable friend in another place forecast. It may well be that he is right to do so. My right honourable friend mentioned a figure of 1½ to 2 years, which can be deduced from what I have said, in any case. He is not building this garage himself. By the time a lease is drawn up, tenders obtained and accepted, and work carried out, that does not seem a very unreasonable time before the garage comes into operation. I think we can definitely envisage that Westminster City Council, if they do take the head lease, or the Ministry if they do not, will certainly invite competitive tenders for the project, and the tenderers themselves will be asked to state the period of construction they envisage. If quicker modern methods are available, the contractors can take advantage of them, and the job can be speeded up.

The noble Lord, Lord Terrington—who shares with me the distinction of being the only noble Lord who has taken part whose name does not begin with "M"; we are the only ones connected with this project in that position—mentioned the charges, which he thought might be high. Of course, my right honourable friend would not control the charges, but the Westminster City Council, in the sub-lease they granted to the operator, could, if they thought it desirable, impose, a control on the charges. I think it will be necessary to allow these charges to follow a commercial pattern, so to speak, and to line up with charges in the locality. I rather think, like my noble friend Lord Conesford, that it must go that way. I should like to devote some thought to what the noble Lord, Lord Terrington, suggested should be done with the money, and I can tell him I shall think about it in general from now on.

I think I should just say a word on the point raised by my noble friend, Lord Molson, on parking on the carriageway in Hyde Park when the garage is completed. Of course, my noble friend is completely right, and I remember my noble friend, Lord Mancroft, saying on more than one occasion that it is perfectly true that as long as people can park for an indefinite period free on the carriageway they will do so and will not use a car park of any sort or kind. When this garage is completed we certainly and obviously would not want surface parking to undercut it. That would be ridiculous. When the garage is completed we shall at that stage either prohibit parking or charge within a certain range of it. The choice between the two will rather be dictated by the need for parking facilities that is obtaining at the time. It is that need, the pressure on parking facilities, which will dictate that decision and which prevents me from producing the positive assurance for which my noble friend asks.

I do not think I could give that, but I should like to tell him that on the longer-term aspect the Government's attitude to parking in the Royal Parks remains basically the same, either in Hyde Park or in the other Royal Parks where large-scale parking is said to be a detriment to amenity. In the long run, the policy is that this parking will be stopped unless there is some arrangement that can be made for genuine visitors to the park. In the long run it will be stopped; but how soon we can get to the stage that we can stop it it is not easy to see. In Hyde Park, for instance, it may be some time yet. What we are proposing to do under this Bill brings that day certainly, I should have thought, a bit nearer. We shall no doubt have other discussions in the future. Meanwhile we can help to do this desirable thing with this Bill, and I should like once more to thank your Lordships for your help and your support.

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