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Tourist Coaches In Central London

Volume 476: debated on Friday 13 June 1986

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11.10 a.m.

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 have any plans to restrict the number of tourist coaches coming into the centre of London on the lines adopted in other European capital cities.

My Lords, I am not clear what restrictions the noble Lord has in mind. The Government do not have any plans to restrict the number of tourist coaches coming into the centre of London. We are not aware of any such restrictions being imposed in other European capital cities.

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend for that Answer, but I am afraid that in those circumstances I cannot. It is clear from the literature on tourist coaches in London that the Government are taking this seriously, but I wonder whether they realise the urgency. We are progressively reducing the traffic of London to chaos with more and more coaches coming in. With 10 million overseas visitors London has a greater problem than any other city in the world. Therefore, should not coaches be staggered? At the moment the peak in the morning is considerable, being five times that for the afternoon. Should not coaches be staggered in days? Should not school coaches be allowed to come into London only in the afternoons rather than the mornings? Does not my noble friend agree that those methods should be used in controlling coaches and therefore lessen the problems which currently abound?

My Lords, I am sorry that my noble friend was disappointed with my Answer, but I am most grateful to him for his suggestions. The department produced a report on tourist coaches in March this year which comprehensively sums up the problems. The report has been sent to all interested parties who have been asked to send in their comments by the end of July. A copy of the report has been placed in the Library and I have today arranged for a supply of explanatory leaflets to be available in the Printed Paper Office. We are taking various practical steps this year to endeavour to improve the situation. We are experimenting with a new type of parking meter for coaches and we have commissioned studies of tourist coach activities this summer. We are taking the matter extremely seriously.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of one particular danger that is now arising, particularly outside the Palace of Westminster? Continental vehicles are relieving themselves of their passengers on the right hand side of the vehicle, which means right in front of oncoming traffic. Would it not be sensible for that class of vehicle to be required to disgorge passengers in more suitable places?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. There is no one in your Lordships' House who is not aware of the problem, as we see it on our doorstep every day. The problem of foreign coaches disgorging their travellers into the road is very serious and creates even more congestion.

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that it is the almost unanimous opinion of regular drivers in London, including all taxi drivers, that unless some limits are put upon the number of coaches coming into London from the country and from abroad, and upon the hours they are allowed to use the streets of London, central London traffic will grind remorselessly to a halt, with all the disastrous economic consequences that that will involve?

My Lords, I think that we are all very much aware of the problem. Tourists come to London to see what our forefathers created; the problem is that our forefathers did not have the foresight to see what problems the tourists would bring. We must do our best to reconcile today's economic and social realities with the physical constraints which we have inherited and the need to keep the traffic flowing. That is what we are trying to do.

My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that there is a case for greater police or traffic warden control of the approaches to the Houses of Parliament? Entering or leaving is now a hazardous exercise, as I myself on two or three recent occasions have discovered to my cost.

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware of the continuing undue congestion of coaches in the Victoria area? Are the Government concerned with this problem and, if so, will he kindly indicate what progress is being made in dealing with it?

My Lords, although the Question is in fact concerned only with tourist coaches, I will say to the noble Lord that London Regional Transport is conducting for the department a study of coach terminal needs in London. We are all very aware of the problems associated with Victoria coach station.

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that as tourists spend more and more of their time in London stuck in traffic jams on account of the increasing number of coaches they will become less willing to visit here? Have the Government never thought of having a depot in the outskirts of London where these coaches could stop and their passengers then travel to central London by public transport?

My Lords, the Government have been thinking about all options. Obviously, off-street parking is the ideal solution, but sites are very hard to find. The Covent Garden Market Authority, the London Docklands Development Corporation, London Regional Transport and the National Bus Company are considering the provision of additional off-street parking this summer. In fact, not far from your Lordships' House there is an off-street coach park which is hardly ever used because the coach operators and drivers do not want to go there.

My Lords, is it not a fact that it is very important for us to have a continuing lively tourist industry? Whatever we do, we must take great care not to cause any cut-backs to an extent that would damage the revenue brought in from the tourist industry.

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. Tourism is extremely important and is growing more and more in importance, particularly in London. We have to try to reconcile the needs of tourism with the physical constraints—which I have already mentioned—of London itself.

My Lords, following up the point that my noble friend does not have any evidence or information on what other capital cities are doing, can he perhaps send telexes to our numerous diplomatic representatives in those capital cities to ascertain how other people are tackling this problem? Will he also consider, as he is already using the Mall for coach parking at certain times, the possible use of Horse Guards Parade in the mornings to overcome some of the congestion which is currently self-evident?

My Lords, we have considered Horse Guards Parade and other parts of London in this area. Unfortunately, there are security problems on many of the most obvious sites. As regards ascertaining what is happening in other capital cities in Europe, we have already tried to do so and I will see whether we can obtain more information.

My Lords, although the Question refers specifically to tourist coaches, will the noble Lord agree that part of the current problem is caused by the increase in deregulated commuter coaches coming in and going out at particular peak times? Will he also agree that coaches are the most effective way of moving tourists in groups around London so that they can visit the heritage which they wish to see?

My Lords, I certainly agree with the last part of the noble Lord's question. That is why coaches are used—it is for that purpose. So far as deregulation is concerned I do not think that I have any figures to prove it either way.