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Mr. Maples : I believe that my hon. Friend can safely extend the offer of his award into other areas of academic endeavour, because academics have made wrong forecasts on a greater range of matters, not least of which was the performance of the economy. I seem to remember that 365 academics wrote to The Times saying that the British economy would never grow on the policies that the Government were expounding. We then proceeded to enter eight years of continuous and regular growth. I should have thought that my hon. Friend could extend his offer much more widely without any risk of being parted from his bottle of champagne.
Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch) : As my hon. Friend has rightly drawn our attention to the problems of London's traffic relating to road and rail commuting, will he contemplate the following two points? London Regional Transport and British Rail are required to supply their own police forces, while the taxpayers and the ratepayers of London, and, indeed, the rest of the country, pay for policing.
I received a letter only yesterday from the Secretary of State for Transport that indicated that the Department estimates that a mere 7 per cent. of police time is spent on road traffic matters. Will my hon. Friend agree that in London, with its traffic and parking problems, it would be hard to find any policeman who spends only 7 per cent. of his day dealing with matters related to the internal combustion engine?
Secondly, will my hon. Friend contemplate the proposition that British Rail's Snow Hill tunnel that takes commuters through London from north to south cost £1 million, while the M25, primarily designed for stockbroker belt commuters in the rush hour, cost us £2 billion and will cost an indefinite sum for an indefinite future?
Mr. Maples : My hon. Friend has made some good points which he will no doubt develop later. In defence of motorists I would say that I believe that they pay far more in taxation through the road fund licence and tax on petrol than they get back in terms of roads. My hon. Friend made an interesting point about the fact that roads are publicly financed--we accept that--and
Column 479that for other modes of transport we look to the user of the facility to pay more directly. That poses an interesting question. I believe that there are cases where public transport investment warrants a public contribution over and above what the users pay, because it takes pressure off public expenditure in other areas. We should reinforce the trend of discouraging commuters coming into London by car. We appear to have various items built into our system that encourage people to use cars. One is the provision of cars as a fairly standard part of many people's employment ; considerable tax advantage accrues from that. I am glad that in the last two Budgets the Chancellor has begun to remove that advantage by making that car benefit subject to a much fuller tax charge. However, there is still a long way to go.
On the other side of the question, many employers complain that they must provide cars for employees when they would much rather pay them the money to buy their own cars. The sooner we ensure that the car benefit is fully taxed, the less people will be encouraged to use their cars to get to work.
There is also the question of the provision of parking spaces for people when they get to work. I know that that is a touchy subject for us, because we have parking spaces provided. I believe that we can--perhaps not entirely objectively--claim that we are a special case. We are often kept here late at night by the likes of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), when most of us on the Government side would be happy to go home by Tube at 6 o'clock. I believe that the provision of parking spaces in such places as the City and the west end as part of a person's employment package encourages commuting by car, as do meters and car parks.
There are things that we can do to encourage commuters not to use their cars to go to work.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : As it is a question of trying to set examples, would it not be better, for instance, if the Prime Minister--whom the hon. Gentleman knows better than I do--were to use British Rail? I know that she has to gallivant about in one of those posh cars provided by the taxpayer. Yesterday I think she was in a Zil and making herself available to Gorbachev, in the well-chosen words of the Leader of the House. If the right hon. Lady were to use British Rail more often--I do not think she has used it since she has been Prime Minister--
Mr. Skinner : The Minister says that she has used it once. If she were to use British Rail a little more often, that would set an example to others. As the hon. Gentleman's argument will be that he believes in not restricting people to any great degree and he would like to stop London and the other large cities being congested, would it not be a good idea if she were to use public transport more often? Perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer will also make some necessary changes. Why is it, for instance, that Ministers can have all these cars just waiting for them day in and day out? Every hour, one sees the place here full of chauffeurs waiting to drive Ministers from one oak-panelled study to the next. If we want to set examples, let us start from the top.
Mr. Maples : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to talk to his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who I believe has a car and driver provided at Government expense, and encourage him to set that example and start a trend. I suspect that the problem looks slightly different from the Ministers' point of view, as all things do when they affect personally. For some Ministers there will be the problem of security. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, however, that whenever I have to go to Birmingham, Sheffield or anywhere to which there is an Inter-City service, it is much more convenient to take the train than to drive. It is a much more pleasant journey, one can read the newspaper or work and one arrives in a reasonable frame of mind rather than being frazzled. The hon. Gentleman is right that travel by train is to be encouraged.
Another problem in London is through traffic. We really want to keep it out of London altogether. That is what the M25 is for and what I believe the east river crossing will help. [Interruption.] The M25 must be helpful. I do not know exactly what the statistical evidence is, but it is difficult to believe that all the traffic on the M25 was generated by the motorway. It must be helping through-London traffic. If it is not helping, we should perhaps expand it or double-deck it. We are building a new east river crossing presumably to contribute to solving the problem of keeping through traffic out of London.
The new rail links that are suggested from east to west and north to south in the central London rail study will probably help, because people will no longer need to use surface transport to get from Paddington to Liverpool Street. The Department of Transport has recently let it be known that it is looking at other methods of linking up motorways and major roads outside London in an effort to ease congestion on the M25.
We need to get out of London all road traffic that does not need to be in London. Through traffic should never be in inner London.
Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) : Is not the reality that we are inevitably coming inexorably closer to having restrictions of one kind or another on private motor vehicles in city centres? That, therefore, should transcend the political spectrum and not be regarded as an anathema to Conservative Members. Be they electronic devices, number plate systems, day allocation systems, or the various experiments in Italian cities, restrictions are inevitable, especially when one considers how many passengers can be carried by two double-decker buses in comparison with private cars with only one driver in each. That is an absurd situation and we must grasp the nettle.
Mr. Maples : My hon. Friend may be right and certainly some of the experiments in Italian cities have been interesting. Although the concept of road pricing and electronic devices on cars may be intellecutally attractive to my hon. Friends, if not to others, it is fraught with political difficulties. I would prefer that the solutions did not involve telling people that they cannot use their cars in central London. We must strive to make it more convenient for them to use other modes of transport and leave it to them to make the choice.
If we adopted the measures proposed by my hon. Friend we would first need to ensure that we expanded the alternative means of transport available. We would need more park and ride facilities and a better commuter service on Network SouthEast, and the cross-London links
Column 481envisaged by the central London rail study would need to have been built. I hope that further expansion will also be suggested by the east London rail study.
The third problem relates to intra-traffic, which starts and ends its journey within London. Such vehicles are used for commercial purposes and for pleasure. Essentially that traffic is local, whether on road, rail or bus. The London roads should serve such traffic, which represents a great deal of the traffic in London.
The Department of Transport publication "Transport in London" states--I am sorry to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) that there is no date on the statistics--that 67 per cent. of the traffic entering and leaving central London are private cars ; 76 per cent. of the vehicles entering and leaving inner London are private cars and 79 per cent. of the vehicles entering and leaving outer London are private cars. Therefore it is logical to assume that the vast majority of intra-London traffic is represented by private cars. For those drivers there is often no ready alternative means of transport. Most of our rail links are radial and although buses represent a viable alternative, trains do not.
The problems have been brought home to me in my constituency through which the south circular road passes. The majority of traffic on that road is local ; most journeys start and end in south London. We could improve the journey times on the south circular by upgrading the road. An enormous amount of congestion could be relieved if it were turned into something similar to the north circular. The same people who would gain the advantage, however, would suffer the environmental penalty of having a four -lane highway driven through their neighbourhood.
Intra-London traffic represents a local problem and the solutions should suit local people. Where the majority of traffic on a road is local, the solution lies in considering the local difficulties rather than the commuting difficulties in general. The inescapable conclusion is that roads create traffic. That conclusion is mirrored in the "Transport in London" publication which states :
"It is simply not possible to provide sufficient road capacity to handle every journey that could be made to or within central London. Indeed, it seems clear that there is already suppressed demand' for transport by car into central London There is no point in building new roads into central and inner London if their main effect would be to cause commuters to switch from road to rail the Government has consistently stressed that it does not see a case for driving major new roads into central London."
There is a great deal of evidence to support that argument. If we provide more roads or more parking we are likely to produce more commuters and more through-London traffic. If we built more roads we would be in serious danger of ruining London--we have already seen that happen in other cities. The motorways that have been driven through the centre of Birmingham have considerably detracted from that city's attractiveness. For a time I lived in Boston in the United States, which is a lovely old city with some neighbourhoods of great architectural beauty. That city is bisected by two huge motorways, the south-east expressway and the Massachussets turnpike. Those motorways have created a Berlin wall between sectors of the city. We must not let that happen to our cities, particularly to central London. The environmental price for such a road network is not worth it.
We will probably never provide enough road space to satisfy the existing suppressed demand.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : I must leave the Chamber for a short time but before I do, will the hon. Gentleman consider the problem of parking larger vehicles, such as buses and coaches, which bring young people to London to see the House of Commons, Westminster Abbey and the other surrounding historic places? Those young people may come from Liverpool, Birmingham or wherever, and such coach trips are often the only way they can afford to visit London. I do not disagree with most of the hon. Gentleman's arguments, but how does he intend to deal with the parking problems of coaches and buses? Will barriers be erected so that youngsters will be unable to visit the House of Commons? Will there be no place for those vehicles to park? The new clause says that no parking facilities will be provided for coaches or buses :
"carrying more than twelve passengers"
That is absurd. There are problems, but the solutions should not be nonsensical.
I encourage young people to visit the House of Commons and I like them to know about the democratic process and about our history. If the parking of coaches and buses is restricted, young people will be discouraged from visiting this place. Much of what the hon. Gentleman has said is sensible, but he should consider alternatives to new clause 1.
"Local Authority shall provide off-street parking facilities for buses and coaches."
Anyone who travels along the Embankment will know that about 30 per cent. of it is used as a car park for buses and coaches, which is an incredibly uneconomic use of such scarce and valuable road space. Far more people can be carried in a bus--they use less road space than private cars--and it is important that off-street parking is provided. We should encourage the use of buses and coaches as they utilise the roads much better than cars.
I do not want major new highways driven through the centre of our cities, particularly London. We need to reduce the amount of traffic on our roads and make better use of them. The provision of parking space and more sensible parking regulations will help to achieve that goal. It is important to provide alternative means of transport before we start thinking about banning people from using their cars or imposing special pricing to restrict the use of private cars in central London.
A great deal of investment is needed in all forms of public transport--rail and Tube transport are obvious candidates for such necessary investment. Primarily the users should be asked to pay. The financial trade-off to the average commuter would be extremely good. If one's return journey by car is 50 miles a day that costs nearly £4,000 a year, one's employer may pay part of that cost because the car may be provided on a tax break as part of the employment package. The average season ticket to cover that distance costs nothing like that sum. The trade-off for people using private cars would be enough for them to finance at least part of the new investment needed for public transport development. They would pay less to travel, but the revenue accruing to the public transport
Column 483systems would increase and might be sufficient to finance a large part of the extra necessary investment in public transport development.
It is also important that the taxpayer rather than the user also finances investment. We are all affected by the pollution that extra traffic on the roads creates. I am aware of the damage done to neighbourhoods by enormous amounts of traffic. The south circular road damages the environment of those who live close to it and also creates rat-runs through neighbouring residential streets. Public investment in public transport will also mean that it is not necessary to provide so much public investment in roads, and there will be a trade-off there.
There are three factors : the environment, the resistance to traffic taking over residential neighbourhoods and obviating the need for increased investment in roads. Those are three reasons why public investment can properly be made and economically justified in public transport. I agree that, generally, users should pay--the trade-off for the commuter is extremely advantageous.
How can we make better use of existing roads? The answer is parking. Selfish and inadequate parking or parking at inappropriate times can, as the Department of Transport's publication pointed out, reduce four-lane roads to two, and two lanes to one--this always seems to be in the rush hour. I drive to work and am therefore partly guilty but I use the Tube for many of my journeys once I have arrived in London. My drive takes me down one of London's main streets which is normally a six-lane highway but is nearly always reduced to four because vehicles are parked on each side of it. It does not need many cars to block a complete lane of the road through Knightsbridge in the morning--one mail van on one side and a car inconsiderately parked on the other reduces the six-lane road to four lanes and reduces the volume of traffic on that road by one third.
Police and traffic wardens should pay more attention to this problem in the rush hour because better use of existing roads could be made if there were tougher parking regulations and enforcement. My hon. Friend the Minister should consider the point made in one of my new clauses about deliveries. The introduction of a three yellow line offence should be considered. That would be parking on three yellow lines at particular times, notably the morning and evening rush hours. The fines incurred should not be £5 and £10 but should be serious penalties because the costs of the motorist's inconsiderate parking are far in excess of the benefits that he will accrue from delivering or parking at his convenience. The cost of reducing the capacity of major roads by one third or a half is greater than the cost incurred by those who park inconveniently, and that will never be compensated by £10 or £20 fines, as we know from our own experience.
I used to find that the £4 or £5 penalty for leaving my car on the meter for too long in the West End or the City was cheap--probably cheaper than leaving my car in the NCP car park. When the penalty was increased and meant that my car was towed away, causing inevitable inconvenience and costing me £50 to retrieve, or when it was clamped, which was more inconvenient and cost slightly less--£20 or £30 to retrieve--I stopped doing it. I suspect that most people make a cost- benefit analysis of the risks of illegally parking. We need severe penalties to
Column 484stop inconsiderate and selfish parking in the rush hour on main roads. Such penalties might include losing one's licence and should certainly include having one's vehicle towed away instantly. The financial penalties must be heavy. Most of the problems are created by commercial vehicles delivering goods and, at present, the trade- off in their favour--paying a parking ticket and delivering when it is convenient--is overwhelming. We must alter that, so that the trade-off for companies will be better if they delivered outside rush hours, or in ways and at times which did not reduce the capacity of main roads by one third or a half.
Mr. Gow : My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he not think that the very fact that there is still so much illegal parking in London is itself proof positive that the penalties for it are not nearly severe enough?
Mr. Maples : To some extent I agree with my hon. Friend, but not entirely. Penalties for the kind of parking that I am talking about are not severe enough. If we want to discourage commercial vehicles from delivering in Knightsbridge or Piccadilly, or main roads in the City, in rush hours, penalties must be severe. In such cases businesses pay the fines and £10 or £20 is no contest for the convenience. Most of the time the offenders are not caught anyway. Fines must be raised to provide a financial incentive for deliveries to be made outside rush hours.
In other cases, the police merely annoy motorists, as those of us who live in central London in places with residents parking zones, return home at 11 o'clock in the evening, park on a single yellow line and are fined, will know. I live in a square which does not have a main road through it. Only people who live there drive through it. However, often at 8.30 in the morning, traffic wardens give tickets to people with residents parking stickers who have left their vehicles on meters or yellow lines. They would be much better employed on main roads giving tickets to motorists who are disrupting traffic flow. Far more discretion should be exercised by the police and traffic wardens.
Mr. Heffer : I shall underline the hon. Gentleman's point with two examples. I never park illegally but once I returned to my flat from the House of Commons at 2 o'clock in the morning when it was dark and parked within the white lines as I was perfectly entitled. However, apparently there was a little notice on the wall that I did not see at that time of the morning which said that parking was not allowed in that place for a temporary period. I did not notice it. I wrote to the authority and said that I was sorry but I had not seen the notice because I had come home from the House at 2 o'clock in the morning. I was still fined and I was not happy.
On another occasion I came home at about the same time and again parked in the white lines but one third of the car was over the white line. I was fined again, and I wrote to the authority but I was still fined. I was not happy with that because at 1 o'clock or 2 o'clock in the morning I had tried to find an appropriate space in the residents' parking zone, for which we have to pay. Discretion should be used.
I underline the point made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) that it is vital that vehicles should not be illegally parked on main roads and no discretion should be used there. However, in a side road or
Column 485a square, some discretion could be exercised. Sometimes, unnecessary antagonism develops between the motorist and the parking authority and that does not help to ensure strict parking regulations where they are required.
Mr. Maples : The hon. Gentleman is right. I share his experience. I was not fined, but my car was towed away because I did not see one of those little notices. I agree that that is annoying and I am interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Minister will say about police and traffic wardens, who could be more effective if they used greater discretion. Harassing residents at 8.30 in the morning when main roads are blocked by inconsiderate parking is a wholly inappropriate use of their resources. Not only does it fail to remove congestion but it aggravates the average, law- abiding citizen.
Mr. Skinner : I wonder if there is anything to be learnt from the Spanish experience and whether we could check how parking limitations are operated there. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) should have a word with his hon. Friend the Member for
Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) who is well versed in these matters. The incident might be sub judice in Spanish terms so he must be careful how he phrases his remarks.
Mr. Skinner : Is it? It sounds like Subbuteo. The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire may have some valuable experience to relate to the House. It is a pity that he is not here. Has he been fetched back? The Spanish experience may help us.
Mr. Maples : The experiences of other countries are interesting and no doubt the hon. Member for Bolsover in his contribution will bring to bear his vast international experience of parking regulations in other countries.
Reducing congestion on roads would also speed up bus times. I do not wish to exaggerate, as I understand that most bus delays are not caused by traffic jams but many of them are. My hon. Friend the Minister can correct me if I am wrong. One sees buses stuck in jams and they would be a quicker and more effective means of transport if they could be released from jams. The average traffic speed in central London during the day is about 11 mph and the average speed of a bus must be about half that. If buses could be speeded up, they would become a more attractive means of transport.
New clauses 1 and 5 deal with buses and coaches, which should not be parked on roads but in local authority car parks. I have already mentioned the chaos that these vehicles cause on the Embankment. They do not pay for the economic cost of the road space that they use or the congestion that they cause. New clause 1 would reduce their numbers and have a real effect on London traffic.
I am also worried about the vast size of some of the coaches on London's roads--they are becoming as big as the average EEC lorry. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Minister plans to conduct any battles about them in Brussels. Perhaps this is the selfish attitude of a London resident, but I cannot help questioning whether we need to go on promoting tourism in central London in the summer, when London seems to become the preserve of the tourists and their coaches. Perhaps promoting tourism to other parts of the United Kingdom or laying off
Column 486promoting it in London would be good for the tourists and for those of us who live here, and it would relieve a little of the extra congestion that tourism adds. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) has tabled his own new clause, which may provide a better solution than mine to this problem. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say. We must deal with it.
New clause 4 deals with deliveries, which constitute a large part of anti- social parking. They cause many of the major problems on main roads in the rush hour, turning six-lane roads into four lanes and reducing four lanes to two. I have suggested that three yellow line offences might be appropriate for limited periods, with heavy fines to discourage such deliveries.
The combination of new clauses 1, 4 and 5 would substantially increase the sensible use of our road space at virtually negligible cost. The cost to the public sector and the average motorist would be zero ; to the extent that there is a cost, it would be externalised and passed on to buses, coaches and delivery vehicles. It is an appropriate use of public policies in these circumstances to make people bear the costs of the congestion that they cause by using the roads as car parks.
New clause 2 is selected for debate in a separate group. I am not sure why : I should have been happy to discuss it with this group. Perhaps it is House protocol to defer to diplomats, and perhaps we need a Foreign Office Minister to reply to the debate--I know not. New clause 3 is a pet peeve of mine. Perhaps one is allowed a peeve on a Friday morning. I think that commercial vehicles in residents' parking areas are inappropriate. They spoil the environment for the residents and are another encroachment on some of the few remaining pleasant areas of London. Perhaps most importantly, it encourages the use of commercial vehicles for commuting-- they are almost always used to take people to work and back. It is inappropriate that they should be allowed residents' parking spaces ; they take up space and encourage more traffic.
To summarise, we face many serious transport problems in London. We cannot solve them by building more roads, which merely encourage more traffic. We must encourage traffic to come off the roads and we must make better use of the roads. Parking is crucial. We must get coaches off the streets and into special car parks and stop peak hour deliveries in main streets. Then we shall have achieved a low-cost way of obtaining greater utilisation of our roads.
Mr. Adley : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope) on his Bill, on the speed with which he has been able to bring it before the House, and on providing the House with an important and invaluable opportunity to discuss transport and related matters. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) on his perspicacious new clauses. My new clause follows the theme set out by my hon. Friends
The problems of parking in London are well known, but this is a national Bill that does not deal with London alone. It would be wrong to assume that what happens here does not happen elsewhere, too-- [Interruption.] Does my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) want to intervene? He seemed to be talking about
Column 487something, and as his comments are usually so interesting--probably more so than my speech--I tried to catch what he was saying. I want to take up one or two points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West about commuting to London. He said that many people commuted from 25 miles away and had to pay their own substantial costs. What he did not say, and perhaps should have said, was that that is certainly true of those who use some public transport--particularly the railways--but people who use their own cars to commute to central London, and especially those who use the new breed of commuter coaches, pay nothing like the cost. Most of their costs are borne by the taxpayer and by London ratepayers. I shall come on in a moment to explain the relevance of that to the proposition we are debating.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) intervened in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West to make a point about this. On this rare occasion I believe that I can carry the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) with me. It is absolute nonsense to imagine that we can solve the traffic problems in this country without planning. Equally, it is nonsense to pretend that the Government's recent legislation has not been partly responsible for some of the present problems in our towns and cities. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister does not like my saying this, but some of the deregulation measures have undoubtedly exacerbated the problem of congestion. The fact is that public transport and party political dogma are uneasy bedfellows--whether the dogma is of the Left or the Right.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West said that we all paid a great deal of money for our road fund tax and that it should be spent on roads. Hypothecation of that sort has never been followed by any Government. It is a pet theory of the AA and the RAC. Before we allow ourselves to be seduced by such an argument we should realise that hypothecation of this sort is ludicrous. If hypothecation of taxation were seriously considered, the money raised from the betting tax would presumably have to be spent on building more casinos, an idea that would not attract many in the House or in the country. Originally, the Bill's title was the Road Traffic Regulation (Parking) Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East on sensibly reducing the length of the title, but the original title was certainly rather more descriptive of the Bill's contents. Nevertheless, "Parking" makes a nice short title. I turn now to new clause 7 and I want to speak about the Government's deregulation legislation and its effect on some of the traffic and parking problems from which we now suffer. My hon. Friend the Minister did not attend, but I recall a meeting myself, my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General, my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler), the chief executive of the Westminster city council, the Secretary of State for Transport, and the predecessor of my hon. Friend the Minister. It was held well over a year ago and it was to discuss, frankly, the effect of Government legislation on London's traffic problems--
Mr. Skinner : I am referring to Gorby's friend--so-called. That is the flavour of the month. Did the Prime Minister know about this little clandestine arrangement? Was she made aware of what could be called a sort of pseudo-kitchen cabinet which was trying to undermine the free market,. enterprise culture philosphy? I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has come out with this information ; it means that this little group can be the next target. She cannot unseat the Minister--his star has been rising, but it will suddenly wane as a result of what has taken place. The hon. Gentleman should reveal all.
Mr. Adley : I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. The meeting took place in the office of the Secretary of State for Transport and was attended by civil servants. I never made any secret of the meeting and I am delighted again to have the opportunity to emphasise that my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General, in his capacity as a first-class constituency Member, overcame his reticence at being seen in a meeting with one of his ministerial colleagues to discuss a matter that is of concern to his constituents even though that might have implied slight criticism of certain Government policies.
As I am sure the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) knows, the Conservative party is a broad church. When he spoke about a lady he might have been alluding to the fact that Mr. Rodney Brooke, the former chief executive of Westminster city council, might have had more trouble with his erstwhile boss than my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General has had with his boss. Unfortunately, Mr. Rodney Brooke is no longer able to pursue his duties as chief executive of Westminster city council. However, I would be out of order if I were to discuss the fate of certain London cemeteries and I have no intention of so doing.
Government legislation has removed the rights and duties of local authorities, especially London local authorities, to designate coach routes. As a result, coaches are flying hither and thither and parking hither and thither all over London, and that is undoubtedly a significant factor in the creation of London's traffic problems. Vehicles cannot park where they are not allowed to go and, conversely, do park where they do go. If we remove the restrictions on the routes that coaches may take, they will use every route that suits them, regardless of the social consequences and the interests of other road users and residents. In this debate, therefore, we cannot sensibly separate where they park from how they get there. Coach routes are a material factor in the debate and in that context my first quotation is from the leader of the Kensington and Chelsea council when he referred to the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to which this Bill is related. In a letter to me as long ago as 5 January 1987 he said of licences that the council used to be able to issue :
"These licences prescribe the routes which those coaches have to take and coaches can stop only at prescribed stopping places. The positive control which has existed hitherto was carried out by the Metropolitan Police Traffic Commissioner and proved generally effective. Coaches for the most part stuck to the prescribed route as failure to do so could affect the renewal of the licence. Certainly this Council, and I dare say Westminster as well, will certainly use what powers we have. Our complaint is, however, that they simply are not as satisfactory as the form of regulation which applied before."
Column 489The two major central London local authorities, both firmly Conservative-controlled, are frank in their criticism that that legislation has had a serious effect on traffic congestion and parking in London.
The whole question of deregulation causes me concern because at the last general election I occasionally addressed my constituents from an open- topped bus. I used to pass little minibuses that had sprung up as a result of deregulation. They were called "Charlie's cars" and I used to bellow through my loudspeaker, "Charlie's cars, Conservative transport policy in action." I cannot use that phrase in the next general election, because Charlie's cars have gone bankrupt.
The problem with parking is that one man's convenience is another man's pollution. I am prepared to plead guilty to an obsession with matters such as pollution and congestion. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, and perhaps the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East may recall that in 1979 on the Merchant Shipping Bill I persuaded the Committee to accept a new clause that made the owner, rather than the carrier, of oil responsible for pollution at sea. The then Minister, Mr. Stanley Clinton Davis, in the Labour Government resisted my new clause, as did the spokesman for the Conservative party. However, the other members of the Committee accepted it, it was written into the legislation at that stage and the oil companies went berserk. It is a pity that the Americans did not have such legislation on their statute book to cover happenings in the last month.
We are beginning to accept the phrase, "The polluter pays." I do not want to digress but I hope that the National Rivers Authority set up by the Water Bill will take that point on board. Parking is a form of pollution and at the moment the people who cause the problem in London are not paying for it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell) when he was Minister for Public Transport wrote to me on 4 December 1987 about the Transport Act 1985. He said :
"our objective in the Transport Act 1985 was to free operators of local bus services from the dead weight of restrictions imposed by the former route licensing system--in the same way as we deregulated long distance coach services back in 1980."
The quotation from the leader of the Kensington and Chelsea council, and other quotations which I shall use, show that the social and pollution costs of congestion as a result of that deregulation have been far too high for us to allow the situation to continue for much longer.
I want to say one thing firmly and clearly in praise of my hon. Friend the Minister and the Government, and it is about the arrangement in the Budget to increase the road fund tax on coaches. That is directly relevant to what we are discussing. For years, coaches were the only form of transport that was not paying its track costs. If the Minister gets any complaints from coach operators about now having to pay their track costs, he will be perfectly entitled to blame me as much as he likes for obsessively pursuing the matter for years. I am grateful to the Chancellor and to the Ministers at the Department of Transport for accepting my proposals, but there is a great deal more to do. I hope that the Bill will do a little more to restore the balance between people and the environment
Column 490of the cities in which they live, because our cities are adversely affected by pollution, especially coach pollution resulting from some of the deregulation measures.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West allowed me to intervene in his speech. In that intervention I said that the Secretary of State for Transport told me in a letter only yesterday that only 7 per cent. of police time is allocated by the Department in its assessment of the police contribution to the assessed track costs of the internal combustion engine. The police do not just attend accidents and control traffic. We must also consider traffic wardens, court time and the cost of running the driver and vehicle licensing establishment at Swansea. I simply do not believe that a mere 7 per cent. of the cost of police time is an accurate assessment of the real track costs.
In the same letter my right hon. Friend mentioned the costs of accidents. About 5,000 people a year are killed on our roads and my hon. Friend the Minister had made a valuable contribution to reducing that figure. However, we are still talking about 5,000 people being killed and 250,000 being maimed on our roads every year. The costs of hospitalisation, hospital treatment and Department of Social Security payments as a result of accidents are not included in the assessment of track costs when assessing submissions in connection with road versus rail investment.
Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will allow me to make a specific suggestion. In this country we need something which we have never had before : we need a highway patrol. We need a completely separate police force dealing with road traffic matters. It should have a separate budget so that the police can deal with criminal matters while the highway patrol can deal with road traffic problems. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West that London and most of our major cities do not need huge new motorways. We have micro problems that are causing major congestion. These problems will not and should not be solved by driving six -lane motorways through our cities.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : I am grateful for the chance to repeat what I, what the Secretary of State and what my predecessor at the Department of Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker), who is now the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, have said-- that the Government have no plans to drive new motorways into London. The problem is that some people persist in issuing leaflets stating the opposite. Having whispered it now on the Floor of the House, I hope that it will be taken as a leak, rather like a document found on a photocopier. I hope that people will stop saying that we have any proposals for new motorways for London.
Mr. Adley : My hon. Friend has made a very important statement. My elder son Simon, who has a flat in Battersea, an area which is thought to be blighted by the threat of a new road--and I am sure that the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) will share my enthusiasm for my hon. Friend the Minister's comments--will be absolutely delighted. I am sure that my son will not do anything so stupid or so silly as to listen to my speech, let alone read it, so I will tell him at the weekend what my hon. Friend the Minister has said. My estimable secretary, who has been responsible for coping with my obsession with these matters over the years, lives in Barnes and she will also be delighted by my hon. Friend's comments.
Column 491We nearly all agree that the solution to the traffic problems in our major cities is not to drive more roads through them, but to deal with the micro problems. Coaches represent one of the serious micro problems and that is why my new clause concentrates on them. We need tighter controls, not endless motorway construction.
I want to thank the officers of Westminster city council for the time and trouble that they have taken in dealing with my numerous inquiries into these matters over the years. I am sure that they would share my enthusiasm for my new clause which relates to the duties of local authorities and of police forces. In a letter to me dated 1 February this year, Mr. Rodney Brooke, the now sadly former chief executive of the council, said :
"The vexed issue of coaches requires the joint consideration of both the City Council and the Metropolitan Police to achieve a sound strategy."
I hope that that will encourage my hon. Friend the Minister to accept new clause 7.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West referred to the beneficiaries of the Government's deregulation policies. With regard to London's traffic and the coach parking problem, it seems to me that the main beneficiaries have been stockbroker belt commuters from Reading, Oxford and parts of Kent. Coaches carry those commuters roaring into London on roads provided by the taxpayer. Many of the coaches park in the centre of London, often all day long, and they pay nothing for parking. If we look around Parliament square we can easily see what my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West meant when he said that selfish parking often cuts road space by 50 per cent. The Embankment is reduced from two lanes to one. Outside this building in New Palace Yard two lanes are reduced to one and similarly two lanes are reduced to one on Westminster bridge. While tourist coaches are partly responsible for the problem, the commuter coaches which inevitably use the roads during the rush hours because of the very nature of their job, are a major cause of congestion in London.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West referred to the beneficiaries of deregulation. I want to refer to the losers. Road users have lost as a result of added congestion. Pedestrians have lost because of increased fumes and ratepayers are losing through the cost of an endless supply of "No Coach Parking" signs and through the endless supply of new cast iron bollards which the central London local authorities are required to provide.