HL Deb 13 February 1986 vol 471 cc283-5
Lord Boyd-Carpenter

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask the Leader of the House whether the restrictions on traffic proposed by the Greater London Council on the road immediately adjoining the Palace of Westminster are consistent with the sessional order on stoppages in the streets.

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, the sessional order requires the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to take care that: the passages through the streets leading to this House be kept free and open; and that no obstruction be permitted to hinder the passage of the Lords to and from this House". I understand that the experimental bus lanes proposed by the GLC have not yet come into operation, and therefore it is too early to say what their effect will be.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, while I thank my noble friend for that reply, may I ask whether the GLC has had the courtesy to consult the authorities of this House on this matter, and what is the view of the Metropolitan Police?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am informed that the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has expressed reservations and is worried about fulfilling his duties under the sessional order. I understand that there have been discussions, that this House and another place have considered the matter, and that some reservations have been expressed to the GLC about the proposals.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, does the noble Viscount not agree that this is a matter that should be looked at in the light of representations that may be made by the Metropolitan Police, and also of what success may be achieved in traffic regulation? What should not happen, I hope the noble Viscount will agree, is that this matter is determined through any kind of political prejudice against the GLC.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I appreciate what the noble Lord says. I understand that the bus lanes in Millbank have been introduced by experimental orders for a period of 18 months. There is no procedure for objections to such experimental orders. During the period of the experiment objections may be made to the orders being made permanent. Of course, when the GLC finishes on 1st April, this is a matter that will properly come to be considered by the Westminster City Council.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, bearing in mind the fact that Millbank is not a thoroughfare of unlimited capacity, does my noble friend not agree that it seems odd to the point of eccentricity to restrict the use of it in favour of a very limited number of bus routes? Does my noble friend appreciate that, as often as not, the space that is now ruled off, whether legally or otherwise, is completely empty while the rest is congested? It seems daft.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, my noble friend, having been a Minister of Transport, has had considerable responsibility in all these matters. The fact is that this order has been introduced experimentally. Objections can be made if it is seen not to work. I understand that it was supposed to come into effect on 10th February, but the covers on the signs have not yet been removed, so it has not come into effect.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind that even today there were five charabancs parked in the bus lane, which meant that buses had to use the only single lane now open? Is this really necessary? If this is happening in February before tourists and visitors come to London, whatever is going to happen in June, July and August when we are deluged with visitors? Surely, we do not have to wait 18 months to prove that an experiment of this sort is abortive, restrictive and unnecessary.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, clearly, after 1st April this will be a matter for the Westminster City Council to consider, and it is properly its duty so to do.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, would it not solve the problem if there were lights at each corner of the square instead of at two corners only? I am sure that this would solve the whole problem of traffic around the square. It is so obvious that I do not understand why it has not been done.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, many of the points made over the years by the noble Lord have seemed eminently reasonable to me, too. I should have thought that this was one. It is a pity maybe that neither of us has any responsibility in the matter of deciding upon experimental traffic arrangements.

Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon

My Lords, am I to understand from my noble friend that it is the Westminster City Council that will be responsible for reversing this malicious and mischievous nuisance?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I understand that this responsibility falls to that council on 1st April. What it does with that responsibility when that time arrives is a matter for it.

The Earl of Kimberley

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that many of the experimental traffic systems that we have experienced in London, such as the traffic lights at Hyde Park Corner—but not, one hopes, the bus lane outside your Lordships' House—have a habit of becoming permanent?

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

And of working, my Lords.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I have to admit that for a long time I thought that the lights at Hyde Park Corner, which I frequently come round, were crazy. I was always informed by some people that they were a very good idea. I am now bound to say that it does not take me any longer to get round than it did before. But it took a good deal of time before. It may be a good arrangement. I simply do not know.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, have the Metropolitan Police intimated how many hard-pressed traffic police and others will be needed to enforce these bus lanes when they become operative?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, that would of course be a matter for the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. He has two duties if the bus lanes come into effect. First, he has to maintain the law. Secondly, in accordance with the sessional order, he has to ensure access to this House. Knowing the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police as well as I do, I expect that he will be well able to complete both duties at the same time.

Lord Morris

My Lords, on the subject of access to this House, have the authorities considered with great care the position of the island opposite this House, bearing in mind the accommodation in Abbey Gardens opposite for Peers, whose lives and indeed votes are in danger?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, obviously this is a matter which can be discussed with the authorities of the House and particularly with Black Rod.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he is aware that Westminster council has expressed firm opposition to the bus lane outside this House? Does he therefore believe that we can hope for an early reversal of the system?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I have been very careful not to express any views about the Westminster City Council. It is important, I believe, that when a council takes over responsibility it should come to its own judgment. If the question was prejudged by me that would not be very welcome.