HL Deb 16 March 1967 vol 281 cc429-34

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Parking Places (Transfer of Functions) Order 1967, dated February 14, 1967, and laid before this House on February 23, 1967, be approved. The purpose of this Order is to transfer to local parking authorities in England, Wales and Scotland the Minister of Transport's powers under the Road Traffic Act 1960 to make orders creating or amending schemes which involve charging for street parking. At present, in England the Minister of Transport makes and amends designation orders for schemes which charge for street parking (except in Greater London, where the Greater London Council took over the Minister's powers in 1963). In Scotland and Wales the respective Secretaries of State make these orders. The Minister concerned makes these orders on the application of local authorities.

These powers were first introduced under Section 19 of the 1956 Road Traffic Act. At that time parking meters were a novelty in this country, and their introduction aroused a good deal of opposition. It was therefore felt that they should be the Minister's responsibility and should be subject to the approval of both Houses. By 1960, however, when the powers were re-enacted in the Road Traffic Act, experience of the first parking meter schemes in London had begun to change the climate of opinion. Parliament felt that it was only a matter of time before local authorities which already made all other orders to control parking, both on and off the street, should make their own designation orders. A provision was therefore built into Section 5(7) of the Road Traffic and Roads Improvement Act of the same year to enable the Minister to make an Order transferring her functions at any time to local authorities.

The Minister considers that the time is now ripe for local authorities to make their own designation orders. Charging for street parking is now much more widespread. It has become a recognised means of controlled parking where demand is very high. Outside London 13 large towns already operate meter schemes and 4 more have applied to introduce them. The Minister therefore proposes to make use of Section 5(7) of the Road Traffic and Road Improvement Act 1960 to make this Order which transfers her powers to make orders creating or amending schemes involving charging for street parking to local parking authorities in England, Wales and Scotland. In England and Wales the local authorities to have this power would be county boroughs and county districts (that is, non-county boroughs and urban and rural districts) and in Scotland, county councils and town councils.

The Minister would, however, keep control of the essentials. She would retain her powers to approve the type and design of meters, to receive objections and to hold public inquiries where necessary. She would have new powers to consent to orders before they are made and to vary or revoke orders. The Minister has retained the safeguard of consent because she still confirms general schemes of traffic and parking control (which give local authorities a certain amount of latitude in the matter of access to premises) under Section 11(8) of the Road Traffic and Roads Improvement Act 1960. So long as she continues to confirm these schemes she considers it would be premature to relinquish all control over designation orders, because they also give local authorities greater discretion about the needs of access than they have under other parking regulation powers which they exercise without reference to the Minister. One other safeguard has been retained. Where the parking authority is not also a highway authority for a road to which an order relates, it must of course obtain the highway authority's consent before making the order.

This is a step towards getting a better balance between central and local government. Except for orders relating to trunk roads, these parking meter orders are the only ones actually made by the Minister. Local authorities already make all other orders dealing with parking and loading, including the provision of off-street parking places where charges are made. They are required only to submit orders to the Minister that affect a trunk road or if an objector claims that they deny reasonable access to premises. These safeguards will not be affected by this Order. The proposals should save a good deal of time and work for both central and local government without prejudicing individual rights. At the moment the Minister prepares the details of each scheme, advertises it, receives all objections, and finally lays the order before Parliament. All this takes a great deal of time and effort, to no real advantage to central or local government, or to those affected by the scheme. Indeed it is the remoteness of the present system from the individuals concerned that often gives rise to quite unnecessary difficulties; many objections could better be resolved locally by those who have a first-hand knowledge of local conditions.

Under the new proposals the local authority would prepare and advertise the scheme, and receive all objections in the first instance. Only after it had considered these objections, and revised the scheme if necessary in the light of them, would it refer the order and any unresolved objections to the Minister. Having considered the objections—and held a public inquiry, if necessary—the Minister could then consent to the scheme, subject to any variations she might think fit. My Lords, I believe this Order raises no important questions of policy or principle but it is something which we can do within existing legislation which will be of benefit to both central and local government. I therefore hope the House will agree with me that it is high time that local authorities should be able to make their own designation orders, and will approve this Order.

Moved, That the Parking Places (Transfer of Functions) Order 1967, be approved.—(Lord Winterbottom.)

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, for kindly explaining to the House the purpose of this Order, and may I say that for myself I welcome it. This is a process of evolution, and to me, in particular, it is good news to hear that parking schemes have gone so well. I had the honour to introduce the first parking meter system in the country, in Grosvenor Square, and it was part of my honour to lend to a distinguished member of the Grosvenor family the necessary 6d. so that he could put 6d. in a meter. It cannot often be that that family is short of 6d. I am quite sure that in normal circumstances parking meters provide the best way of controlling parking. The parking attendants, who enforce the necessary parking regulations, are thus paid for, and it avoids the burden falling direct upon the ratepayer.

I understand that there is flexibility in these schemes, and that the Minister will, in circumstances which warrant it, allow other schemes, as indeed exist in my own home town of Guildford and in Cheltenham. On the whole, parking meters have served extremely well, and I am glad to hear that the Minister considers that the best plan is for local authorities to prepare their own schemes and take their own initiative. I think it would be interesting to hear whether the Minister retains any power herself to take action if a local authority is unprogressive and does not produce a parking scheme when one is obviously needed in a town—whether she can herself take some action which would prod the local authority to do something. I should also be interested to know whether a county council could take the initiative to set up a charging parking scheme, in a county district or in a non-county borough which had not itself taken the initiative. Could the county council then take the initiative?

I am sure your Lordships were glad to hear that the proper safeguards are still maintained, that where objections are not overcome by local discussions and negotiations a local inquiry can still be held, at the Minister's direction, which would of course dispose of any objections that remained. I am sure that a safeguard of that kind is needed, and that the Minister should keep the ultimate consent in her own hands. With those few observations, I am pleased to give my support to this Order.

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, I give a general welcome to this transfer of powers from the centre to local government. I think that this is a step in the right direction. But quite distinctively from the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, I would hope that parking meters are not going to be looked upon as a permanent solution to the parking problem. They are a necessity at the moment, but I sincerely hope that transferring this authority to local authorities will not in any way diminish the zeal of local authorities to clear our streets of parked cars and provide proper parking places near the periphery of business premises, shopping centres and so forth. I hope, too, that local authorities will ensure that the provision of decent, wide streets at vast expense is not offset by cluttering them up with cars as is the case at the moment.

One realises, of course, that this is a most vexed question and quite a lot can be said in connection with it. In my opinion, parking meters have to be provided at a reasonable charge. There must be a differential between the long-term and the short-term parker. But while I wholeheartedly agree with the transfer of these powers, I also hope that it will in no way diminish the zeal of local authorities to provide completely adequate and proper off-street parking.


My Lords, as this Order applies to Scotland, and the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, have referred to the Minister in feminine gender, may I ask whether, in regard to Scotland, the Minister concerned is the Secretary of State?

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, working backwards, I presume that what the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, has suggested must be the case, because this Order is tabled before this House jointly between the Minister of Transport and the Secretary of State for Scotland. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, I am afraid that in both cases my answer must be in the negative. The county councils have no power at present to take initiative in this matter; and, again, the Minister has no default power to act where local authorities have themselves not acted. But the Minister can revoke or vary orders that local authorities have made. As the noble Lord knows, Ministers of Transport are most persuasive people, and I am sure that no local authority would voluntarily argue with them on a subject of this type.

In answer to my noble friend Lord Popplewell, the point he raised is, of course, outside the scope of the Order. But I am certain that we all recognise the fact that parking meters are but one aspet of solving the traffic problem as a whole.

On Question, Motion agreed to.