HC Deb 15 July 1914 vol 64 cc1941-4

I beg to move, "That leave be given to introduce a Bill to provide for the regulation of Street Traffic in London."

In the few minutes at my disposal I hope that I may be able to show that this is a matter of more than local importance, one that has been continually before the consideration of this House, and is now pressing for solution. There have now been many Acts of Parliament dealing with the question of traffic in London. None of them have been satisfactory, and that has been largely due to the fact that the administration of local government in London and the surrounding districts has been of so chaotic a character that the ordinary solution as would have been applied in other parts of the country, namely, one based upon our well-organised municipal system, has never been applicable to London. Not long ago, about the year 1902 or 1903, a Royal Commission was appointed for the purpose of reporting upon the general question of the traffic in London, and this Commission was composed of very distinguished men. The Chairman was Sir David Barber. These gentlemen gave their attention to the question during a period of not less than three years. They visited Europe and America, and produced a Report of eight very bulky volumes; they made very important suggestions dealing with a great multiplicity of subjects; they suggested the establishment of a new body of experts, to be called a Traffic Board, which in due course was to make a new heaven and a new earth of our Metropolis in England. What has come of it? Of these distinguished gentlemen we may very well use the phrase, parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. The only thing which has emanated from all that bustle and consideration has been the establishment of a traffic branch of the Board of Trade, which issues once a year a Report, which I doubt is read by twenty people, and it has done, so far as I have been able to discover, very little else.

The reason why these proposals have failed to be taken up is, in my opinion, that they were not based sufficiently upon the principle of municipal administration, and this explanation was evidently the one that was accepted by a Select Committee of this House, which was appointed in 1912 to consider once again this particular subject. In 1912 circumstances and facts had brought it about that it was absolutely essential some further investigation should take place. What appeared to be a question merely of public inconvenience had become one of public danger. The fatal accidents in the streets of London in 1904 numbered 155; in 1912 they had risen to 537; in 1913 the number had gone up to 612, and in all probability the number this year will be something approaching to 700—that is to say, there are thirteen people killed in London every week, almost two persons every day in the year, owing to the improper consideration of the question of the regulation of the traffic. This Committee was appointed by this House in 1912, and the hon. Member for Bury (Sir G. Toulmin) presided. It consisted of Members of all parties in this House, and it included those well acquainted with municipal affairs outside London, and several gentlemen whose knowledge of London was particularly complete, and this Committee reported upon the reference that was made to them. The spirit of that Report appears in a few words in paragraph 14, which I will venture to read to the House. They say:— The control of the streets is essentially a municipal function, and the same minds should have before them the question of the adequacy of the street, the facilities for traffic and its regulation, and the safety and convenience of pedestrians. These duties cannot, consistently with the principles upon which local self-government has developed in England, be assumed by Government, whether directly or by devolution to a body not responsible municipally and not endued with financial powers. In that spirit they examined the suggestions made for a Traffic Board, and they reported against that proposal, and in doing so they stated:— Your Committee are of opinion that what is required is a new arrangement of the functions of Government Departments; and for all matters of a municipal nature the concentration of power and responsibility upon existing central authorities. The latter must eventually be the paymasters, they are in contact with the ratepayers, and are in daily touch with changing conditions. The duty of originating and accommodating traffic schemes and regulations is in the opinion of your Committee a municipal duty. It is the prime duty; and co-ordination, however necessary and important, is an adjunct. Co-ordination can be secured by consultation between adjoining municipal authorities under the direction and advice of a Government Department which is itself properly constituted to meet the special conditions. And upon these lines they based their recommendations, and these recommendations have formed the basis entirely of the Bill which my colleagues and I have prepared and have now presented to the House. These lines can be stated in a very few words. All of them place the duty of initiation of by-laws and regulations and licences, and such like, upon the municipal authority. In order to discover what municipal authorities should be responsible, we have the Committee recommending and we propose that the municipal authority should be the County Council of London and the counties immediately surrounding London, and the councils of the county boroughs in the neighbourhood of London. Then the Bill proposes to transfer to these councils the duties of the Home Office, which in every other part of England are performed by the municipal authorities, such for instance as the licensing of public vehicles, and the making of general regulations affecting traffic. These powers can be, we believe, be transferred to the municipal authorities without interfering in the slightest degree with the proper functions of the police force, these functions being, as I understand, to execute the law and enforce police regulations when made by the public authorities. This Bill confers upon these councils powers to make by laws, to regulate the traffic, and especially to regulate the rates and speeds and time of stage carriages; but in order to prevent any conflict of administration between the different local authorities, and also to provide against any possible injustice, we propose that the action of these authorities should be subject in every case to the veto of the Government Department; and further, in dealing with all these matters with which, of course, the police are very closely concerned, the authorities should take into consultation the Commissioner of Police, and that he also should have a right to appear, if necessary, before the Government Department dealing with these proposals. In every respect, except one, the Bill follows the recommendations of the Select Committee, but there is one point where we have departed from it. The Committee recommends that the Government Department to be charged with these duties should be the Board of Trade, and that a traffic branch of the Board of Trade should be established for that purpose. After consideration we think it wiser to substitute the Local Government Board instead of the Board of Trade. These are the main lines of the Bill which I ask leave to introduce.

4.0 P.M.


With regard to this Bill I am convinced that it is absolutely necessary that there should be a rearrangement of the traffic of London. There is no doubt that a rearrangement is badly needed. The present system which is partly controlled by the Local Government Board, the Board of Trade, and the Road Board, is quite out of date, and a new Board is absolutely essential. The only objection I have to make is in regard to the Board which this Bill proposes. As far as I can understand it the proposal of this measure is that there should be a Traffic Board composed of representatives, of the County Councils of London, Middlesex, and Surrey. I think it is perfectly obvious that it would be unfair to put the whole traffic of London under the control of a body which has itself a competing system of traffic. The London County Council control and run the tramway system of London. On the other hand, there is a large traffic system which I frankly tell the House I am personally connected, though not financially, I mean that large motor omnibus traffic system which carries an enormous number of the people of London. I believe some 700,000,000 passengers are carried every year by the omnibuses of London, and I think that shows that they supply a public want. The only point I desire to make is that it would be absolutely unfair to put the whole organisation of the traffic of London, both tramways and omnibuses, under the control of one body which is personally interested in one branch of that traffic. I entirely agree with the proposal that there should be a Traffic Board. I do not know that I am giving away any secret when I say it is very largely imagined that the Government is considering proposals for dealing with the traffic question in London, and I am glad they are. The traffic of London has got into such a condition that it is most essential that it should be dealt with fairly by all parties for the good of the community and those who use the traffic.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Dickinson, Mr. Shirley Benn, Mr. Carr-Gomm, Sir Stephen Collins, Mr. Goldsmith, Mr. Kellaway, Mr. Morison, Mr. Pearce, Sir Albert Spicer, and Mr. Wiles. Presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill 325.]