§ 3 p.m.
§ Lord Monson asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether they are satisfied that present traffic flow arrangements in the vicinity of the Palace of Westminster are consistent with the optimum safety of pedestrians crossing Bridge Street at its junction with Parliament Square, and of motorists emerging from Chancellor's Gate.
My Lords, traffic management in the area is the responsibility of the local highway authority, which is Westminster City Council. I understand that at the Bridge Street junction there have been only three accidents involving pedestrians in the past three years. There have been none involving motorists emerging from Chancellor's Gate.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for that informative reply. Is he aware that pedestrians crossing Bridge Street at the junction with Parliament Square are allocated a mere 12.5 seconds to cross in every minute-and-a-half; that is, eight-and-one-third minutes in every hour? In practice the position is even worse. Pedestrians, many of whom are elderly, infirm or foreign tourists unused to traffic driving on the left, often have less than 10 seconds to cross because of the volume of traffic which continues to emerge from Parliament Square in the direction of Westminster Bridge long after the pedestrian lights have turned green. Will the noble Earl and his department try to persuade the appropriate authority to rephase the traffic lights to give pedestrians an even greater chance of survival?
Is the noble Earl aware also that motorists emerging from Chancellor's Gate towards Parliament Square must negotiate an extremely sharp and dangerous right hand turn because of the presence of a traffic island in the middle of the road?
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, I am trying to help your Lordships. Traffic emerging from Chancellor's Gate must negotiate an extremely sharp right hand turn 777 because of the presence of a traffic island in the middle of the road. Will the noble Earl try to persuade the appropriate authority to move the traffic island two or three yards further north for the sake of road safety?
My Lords, the pedestrian crossing at Bridge Street is a matter for Westminster City Council. I understand that there are no present plans to improve the crossing. The first imperative for any local authority is safety. That is not an unsafe crossing. As I have indicated, it has a good safety record.
As regards rephasing the lights in Parliament Square, one must remember that effective traffic management in Parliament Square and the approach roads depends critically on split second timing in the way that traffic signals are programmed. The effectiveness of the traffic signals has worked well during the past few months since they were installed. The traffic island outside Chancellor's Gate is carefully placed as a marker to vehicles wishing to turn into Chancellor's Gate from the south. To move it could hamper that function.
§ Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone
My Lords, will my noble friend convey to the appropriate local authority that some of us noticed a distinct improvement in safety since the introduction of traffic lights at the junction?
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend. That is a view with which I agree.
§ Lord Grimond
My Lords, is the Minister aware that I agree that there has been an improvement, particularly as regards the traffic stopping at the traffic lights at the pedestrian crossing? Is he aware that I am glad to hear that the matter is under the control of the local authority? I have memories of Lord Winterton stamping with fury on the pavement because he was not allowed to cross the road at any moment he chose. It was his contention that access to this building was within the power of the building and that the local authority had nothing to do with it. I am glad to hear that that is not the case. However, we should make it clear that we have some rights in this building to control access to it for our own purposes.
My Lords, the noble Lord is right. We have the power to make representations and I should be happy to encourage noble Lords, through the department, to make such representations if they have any particular views about access to the Palace of Westminster.
§ Baroness Hylton-Foster
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that I use that crossing several times each week and although I am over 80 I have no difficulty in crossing the road in good time?
My Lords, I am very interested to hear that. In fact, the traffic signals include a pedestrian phase which allows a minimum of 15 and not 12.5 seconds. That meets departmental standards.
§ The Earl of Lauderdale
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that safety might be enhanced if Members 778 of the House of Lords were allowed the same police provision out into the street as is allowed to Members of another place?
My Lords, I believe we all agree that the police in our House are particularly helpful. However, the prime duty of the police is security. The difficulty with the suggestion that they should act also as traffic constables is that that could detract from their security role. I know that both Black Rod and the Chief Superintendent are aware of Peers' worries on the subject. They accept that there are occasions when staff could offer assistance to Peers turning right out of the car park. That matter is being taken up with the staff this week.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, is there not a case for a pedestrian underpass at each of the five roads where they come into Parliament Square, especially in view of the fact that Parliament Square is an enormous tourist attraction?
My Lords, that would be a very expensive option, particularly bearing in mind that pedestrian facilities have been enhanced with the recent installation of the new traffic lights.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that safety would be further improved if the parking of commercial and other vehicles immediately outside your Lordships' car park was prevented? Such parking causes one to be unsighted as regards vehicles approaching from Parliament Square when one wishes to join the traffic.
My Lords, I accept that that can pose a problem. However, parking on the main carriageway outside this House is more of a rarity now in view of security considerations. The police move on cars if they stop outside the barriers. A further point is that if in due course Millbank, Abingdon Street, and St. Margaret's Street become red routes then the enforcement effort will be more concentrated.
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, speaking as one involved in one of the three accidents, would it not help if the people who caused accidents were charged in court and punished? In the case in question a young man smashed up six vehicles and was not charged at all.
My Lords, I am glad to know that the noble Baroness is fully recovered from her injuries. For obvious reasons I cannot comment on what happened to the young man who caused them.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, perhaps I may thank the noble Earl for the exemplary, civil and excellent way in which he has responded to these questions.
§ Lord John-Mackie
My Lords, as somebody who has had an accident on the edge of the car park, perhaps I may say that there has been a tremendous improvement since the introduction of the traffic lights because there is now sufficient time to cross to 779 Parliament Square. However, it would help greatly if a channel could be made for vehicles wishing to get into the line of traffic.
My Lords, I take note of the noble Lord's comments and I shall pass them on to the department.