HL Deb 15 January 1986 vol 469 cc1072-4

2.55 p.m.

Lord Orr-Ewing

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied that the GLC's recent road restrictions outside Parliament which reduce traffic from Millbank from three lanes to one are in the public interest.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, the GLC is solely and entirely responsible for these experimental bus lanes, which are not yet in operation. I understand that the GLC considered that the benefits to London from the scheme would be considerable. We do not necessarily agree.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that on returning to Parliament after the Recess we observe that white lines have been scattered all along the roadway? We get the impression that these were painted by the GLC particularly to snarl up traffic approaching Parliament Square along the Embankment. Were the police consulted about this scheme? If so, what were the findings of the police, and have these been incorporated in the scheme which has been devised?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, it is a duty of the GLC to consult the police, but I think that in this instance it did not take the police's advice. The police expressed the view that the lanes would cause congestion for general traffic and make it difficult for them to ensure free access to Parliament, and the GLC thought differently. As to whether this was a deliberate attempt to snarl up traffic, I think we are all entitled to our own opinion on that.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is very unfortunate that on yet another occasion we have Questions in this House on road traffic schemes before there has been an opportunity for them to be experimented upon and judged? We have had that sort of criticism before about schemes which eventually have proved to be highly beneficial to all the people in London. Is it not a fact that the bus lanes in this case follow strictly the guidelines laid down by the Department of Transport? Is it not also the case that some 10 per cent. of London Transport's bus fleet goes round Parliament Square and that there is vast congestion which needs to be looked at? Are these not important questions? Is there not also the question—

Lord Denham

My Lords—

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I beg the Chief Whip's pardon. The Chief Whip should not endeavour to interrupt when noble Lords have not quite finished their speeches. Is it not also the case that the Government believe in cost-effectiveness and that previous bus priority schemes have been cost-effective to London Regional Transport?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as to whether it is unfortunate to have Questions, that is not in my hands. Noble Lords are entitled to put down any Question, and we shall do our best to answer them. As to whether this will relieve congestion, one of the reasons we do not think that it is necessarily a good idea is that Westminster City Council has recently announced a comprehensive review of traffic and environmental conditions in the Parliament Square area which my department is jointly sponsoring, and it would be better to await the outcome of this before proceeding.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that Westminster council is actually opposed to these present markings which have been placed on the road?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, that is my understanding, and we look forward to 1st April when Westminster City Council takes on this responsibility.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Minister whether he said that these particular signs were temporary? If they are temporary, how long does he expect them to last?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, on 1st April these bus lanes and these signs—in fact, they should be covered up, but apparently the wind has taken the blacking-out markings off the signs—will be the responsibility of Westminster City Council, and I hope that it will make a decision fairly speedily.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, can anything be done during the death throes of the GLC to stop it initiating schemes which are considerable in terms of expenditure, at the expense of the hard-pressed ratepayers? What can be done to stop it carrying out expensive schemes of this kind, which in fact are devised to snarl up the traffic? Is it not true that there is no need to have an experiment? Less traffic will travel down one lane than travels down three lanes, and that is very obvious from looking at the layout of the white lines which are now in front of Parliament.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, there is a restriction on what the GLC can do. Parliament agreed that the limit of any scheme should be £15,000, and that if it were above £15,000 the permission of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment would have to be sought.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, is the noble Lord possibly aware that some of the white lines might be an overflow of whitewash from No. 10 Downing Street?