HL Deb 20 January 1977 vol 379 cc138-43

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the reason for the delay in introducing regulations to give effect to Section 7 of the Road Traffic Act 1974, and on what date such regulations will be introduced.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, it is the Government's intention that Section 7 should be implemented as soon as possible and the procedural parts have already been introduced. However, before footway parking can be banned, work to exempt streets where such parking needs to continue must be completed. With so many pressing calls on their overstretched resources most local authorities feel unable to give this work priority. The position is to be reviewed with the local authority associations later this year.


My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. Is she aware that I asked a similar Question in July 1975, and that on that occasion the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, told me in his reply that his right honourable friend the Minister for Transport intended to make a decision in the near future on the implementation of this section? Is the noble Baroness further aware that the delay gives rise to the criticism that the will of Parliament is being thwarted by a lack of proper administrative action?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I accept that that reply was given by my noble friend a year ago—

Several noble Lords: Two years ago!

Baroness STEDMAN

Yes, my Lords, two years ago. However, a commencement order is required to implement this part of the section. For practical reasons the Department feel that it would not be sensible to impose a national mandatory ban until local authorities have been able to make exemption orders for those streets where parking on footways and verges is sensible and necessary. The local authorities have a lot of work to do before this section can be implemented. They have to make surveys to identify the streets to be exempted; they have to make the necessary orders and erect the signs. And all this work would have to be done at a time when local authorities have constraints on their expenditure. This is an argument which the Treasury press very strongly on all Departments. The Department has consulted the local authority associations: my right honourable friend consulted them last May and also in 1975 and, as I said in my original Answer, we are having further consultations with them later this year to see whether they have the resources to implement the Act.


My Lords, having had correspondence on this subject with the Minister and with the Greater London Council and sharing the views of the right reverend Prelate on this matter, I should like to ask the Minister whether she realises that if this delay continues almost indefinitely people will begin to regard the law as a dead letter, and whether she can give us some indication of when action will be taken?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, not until after we have had further consultations with the local authority associations.


And when will that be, my Lords?


My Lords, may I ask whether it will be possible to introduce these laws council by council? Some councils may well be able to implement them now; there may be others which cannot implement them. Would it be possible perhaps to bring them in as and when this will fit in with the work of the council?

Baroness STEDMAN

No, my Lords, that is not possible. Neither the national nor the special powers of the GLC provide for a partial ban; it must be applied to the whole country; or alternatively, if the GLC want to do it, then it must be applied to the whole of the GLC area and not to part of it. Therefore it is not possible to introduce the ban district by district or county by county.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness agree that the only result of pressing local authorities to complete their investigations urgently would be the undesirable one that they would have to employ more officials at local level—something which this House would frown upon?

Baroness STEDMAN

Exactly, my Lords, The constraints on public expenditure must be paramount in this case.


My Lords, does the noble Baroness remember the speech made by the right reverend Prelate on this subject, in which he complained bitterly that he had difficulty in pushing his pram along the pavements? I live in London and I have never yet seen a pram stopped by a motor car on the pavement. Is this not entirely a matter for the local authorities? Is it really right for Parliament to adjudicate on all the different streets and areas? Surely that can be left to the local authorities, who elect their own members.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, the question of applying the ban and the street exemptions is a matter for the local authorities of the areas concerned and not for Parliament. They are carrying out their preliminary work now and when financial restraints permit they will be able to implement the Act.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that, speaking as a countryman, I would say that she is much to be congratulated on the present delays and would be even more congratulated on even longer delays? This prohibition with regard to parking on verges would be a perfect nuisance in the countryside and we are far better without it.


My Lords, does the Minister's reply mean that these regulations will not be laid until every single local authority throughout the land has made the necessary exemptions?

Baroness STEDMAN

No, my Lords, We are having consultations with the local authorities, and when the majority of them are able to indicate to us that within their present budgetary position they are able to finance the implementation of the scheme, we shall give the instructions for the scheme to be implemented.


My Lords, does my noble friend realise that mankind is collapsing before the gargantuan attack of the vehicles of today, and has she ever seen the pavements of some of our industrial cities, which are cracked and in terrible condition? My noble friend has knowledge of cases brought against the local authority. If Parliament is asking the local authorities to take the burden upon their shoulders why, in the name of heaven and the right reverend Prelate, is it not in an Act of Parliament? Have we gone completely silly, and is the modern Englishman's home no longer a castle but merely a pigsty, rattled by these mighty lorries coming from the Common Market?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I think lorries from the Common Market are a little outside the scope of this Question.

The Lord Bishop of LONDON

My Lords, since the noble Baroness has told us that it is on the grounds of expense that this is not being done, can she tell us what is the cost of implementing this Part of the Act?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I am not able to give the exact costs, but it means that the authorities would need to have the necessary notices printed and erected; there is the work to be done by the staff in carrying out the survey of which streets should be exempted and which should not, and so on. And while the cost may not be excessive in the light of the costs of other services, local authority associations at the moment do not feel that they have the money with which to carry out the job.


My Lords, just to reassure the House and the public at large, can the noble Baroness confirm that if serious obstruction or danger to the public is being caused the police can take action at this moment?

Baroness STEDMAN

Yes, my Lords; and footway parking of heavy lorries which causes concern to people like my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek creates the most damage because of the weight of the vehicles. This is already unlawful under the Heavy Commercial Vehicles (Controls and Regulations) Act 1973, and while the implementation of Section 7 might prevent some of the damage, most local authorities consider that the cost is too great to entertain the idea at the moment.


My Lords, will my noble friend ask the Minister concerned to give some consideration to the problem of extremely heavy vehicles parking on pavements anyway? Since the majority of gas supplies to houses have to go under the pavement there is reason to suspect that many of the recent incidents have in fact been caused by the undue weight of vehicles being put upon pavements.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, damage to gas mains and to other installations lying below the surface of the pavement may be caused by vehicles simply running over the pavement in order to avoid obstruction by vehicles parked on the carriageway. But as to parking on the pavements, the damage is most likely to be caused by heavy vehicles and, as I have already said, the parking of such vehicles on the footways is banned under the Heavy Commercial Vehicles (Controls and Regulations) Act 1973.