HC Deb 25 February 1924 vol 170 cc212-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. F. Hall]


I wish to raise the question of London Traffic. The Prime Minister this after noon gave us a reply to a question with regard to amending legislation on this subject, but I thought it was a fitting opportunity to-night to ask the Minister of Transport whether he can elaborate in some detail what the intentions of the Government are in this respect. It will be within the recollection of the House that a Bill upon this subject was undertaken by the late Government. The problem of London traffic, as everybody knows, is an extremely complex one. Although I do not say that the Bill which we possessed was an agreed Bill, yet. I maintain that there was a certain amount of general support which promised that such a Bill would become law. From the answers to the questions which have been put to the Government, it is clear the contents of the late Bill, as we will call it, have not been received with favour by the present Government, and I will not be so impertinent as to ask the Minister what are the provisions of the Bill which the Prime Minister promised to introduce. But I ask that the traffic question should not be used as a lever to force on the ideas possessed by several hon. Members opposite of a Greater London authority. Should that be done, then, of course, resistance to a Bill of that kind would naturally follow. I maintain that the traffic question, urgent, as it is, must be regarded as something quite apart from the reorganisation of the big London authorities. I am convinced that even if the Minister has hopes and ideas as to a Greater London authority, he can invent a Measure capable of being transferred in toto from the Ministry of Transport to such an authority, should he ever have it established.

I know that this problem is a particularly urgent one. Everybody who lives in London knows that. And I also think that, on a question like this, which changes in its difficulties from day to day, any legislation that we may pass to-day may be hopelessly inadequate to-morrow. The problem, as anyone who has gone into it knows, is of extreme complexity. The conditions due to motor traffic are changing from hour to hour, and in that connection I wonder if the Minister can say what are the views of his Department upon what is known as the Yarrow bridge. It is a most astonishing thing that, in this great city, we have no powers of controlling the traffic such as are possessed by any ordinary provincial town. First, we cannot even limit the number of omnibuses, nor have we the power to prescribe their routes; and one of the most distressing things is that we have no power to co-ordinate those undertakings which have the right to pull up the roadways. At any time an authority may build the most perfect road in the world, and a fortnight afterwards other authorities can pull it up quite irrespective of the time of the year at which it is done. These are conditions which I attribute to no particular party. They have grown up, but, none the less, they are a scandal and should be removed as soon as possible. I take this opportunity of congratulating the Minister of Transport upon his appointment, and I doubly congratulate him because he is in the position of Minister of Transport, whereas I think his immediate predecessors have been Parliamentary Secretaries to the Ministry. I hope, when he makes his first statement, he will be able to tell us and all Londoners that he has a Measure in preparation which will be introduced immediately, so that it may become operative in the summer months.


Nobody expects the Minister of Transport, at this juncture in the consideration of the Bill which is probably before the Government, to give any detailed reply as to the nature of the Bill which will be introduced. The hon. and gallant Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) has warned the Minister, or has asked him to recognise that the present is not the time when the ideal of a Greater London scheme can be carried out. It has been suggested by the right hon. and gallant Member for the New Forest (Colonel Ashley) that the only difficulty in the way of the rapid passage of a Transport Bill for London, is the London Labour party. That misrepresentation has been cultivated by the Conservative party and by ex-Ministers who, if they had only handled the question rationally, might have brought about a settlement of the problem. There has been persistent misrepresentations as to the position of hon. Members on these benches, by the Conservative party, by ex-Ministers, I am afraid also by certain officials and by the Conservative Press. It is a gross misrepresentation to suggest that the Labour Members representing Greater London are fighting to the death at this juncture for an ideal re-organisation of London government. We stand in the end, it is true, for a general municipal authority controlling all the essentially large-scale services of a local character over the Greater London area, over the metropolitan police district or something like the proposed electricity district suggested by the Electricity Commissioners under the Act of 1919. In the end that will be the only satisfactory way of dealing with London traffic, which is intimately associated with all the other departments of local government in the Metropolis. You cannot divorce traffic considerations from town-planning; that is why the hon. and gallant Gentleman's predecessor proposed to introduce town-planning in the Bill. If you do that, you are involved in the whole question of where the people are to live. Then you must face the questions of education, of water, of electricity, of main drainage, and the whole field of local government. The danger is the specialist, the man who wants to make roads till the whole world shall consist of roads. The man who was most prominently identified with the Conservative party's policy in this matter was a gentleman who knew a great deal about roads but not a great deal about the philosophy of local government.

Captain Viscount CURZON

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us his name?


I am young, but not quite so young as that. May I appeal to the Government not to make up their minds to follow the policy of the Tory party. The Tory policy is directed against the right of the people of London to control their own affairs. They want not only that the police shall not be under the control of London, but that the traffic—involving the traffic combine, an enormous financial corporation with mysterious finances that have association with not only London but Amsterdam and other Continental places-shall be controlled by the Minister of State whose Department they think they could influence. The mistake previous Governments have made is in thinking that modern London, with its big Labour movement, with its new spirit of public administration is going to allow them to wipe their feet on it as old Tory London allowed to be done.[Laughter.] That laugh comes from the hon. Gentlemen opposite. They used to laugh like that about Ireland. They laughed about various Imperial questions involving certain dependencies of this country. They now laugh about London.


We are laughing at you.


I tell them that within a short time they will realise that they cannot do with London to-day, with its big Labour representation, what they could do with old London dominated by the Tory party. The wise thing for the Government would be to have regard to the declarations of its own party—of the National Executive of the Labour party—apart from the London Labour party, and try and get a settlement on the basis that the people of London should have a right to control their own traffic and settle the lines upon which it is going to be run. We are not trying to obstruct this question being dealt with. We want it dealt with. Nobody appreciates more than do the London Labour Members of Parliament how urgent the question is. It affects the passengers and the workpeople and the convenience of the general travelling public, but we beg the Minister to have regard to the elements of local self-government and to see that the people of London really shall have a decisive voice in London traffic policy and the organisation of London's traffic.

I suggest to hon. Members opposite, that they might have got agreement on this question if they had not ridden roughshod over London, and tried to impose a dictatorship from Whitehall upon it; and I suggest to the present Government that there is plenty of room for agreement provided that that is understood. But I resent the efforts of the Conservative party to try and pitchfork this new Labour Government into the Tory party's policy, and I warn this Government that, if it is going to fall into the policy of the Tory party, if it should think for a moment of introducing their Bill instead of a Labour Bill, there is going to be difficulty. I am sure the Minister of Transport, with his many years of occupation in the work of local government in London, will have some respect for the people of London, and will not submit to the temptations of hon. Members opposite, who would lead him astray. London is a great city, and I do not know that I am particularly anxious that London should be run by the hon. and gallant Member for Chatham. I would much rather that London people should run London for themselves. This is essentially a local question. Nobody would dare to go to Manchester, Glasgow or Edinburgh and impose this kind of thing on them, and say that they shall be run from Whitehall. Although London is on the doorstep of this House, and Whitehall is in London, London has an equal right with Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow to control her own destinies and her own services, and I hope this Government will not disgrace itself, or its party, or its great democratic ideals, or its association with the high principles of local self-government, by falling into the questionable Bill that the Conservative party desire to introduce, a Bill which, first of all, was wrong in handing London in this important respect over to a State Department, and, secondly, which had more regard, I am afraid, to the interests of the traffic combine than it had to the interests of the passenger public of London. I hope Ministers will not fall into the trap which is being so carefully laid for them by the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite and by the capitalistic newspapers outside. This question has been gratuitously raised to-night from the other side, but as it has been raised, I wanted to give a brief indication of the fact that at any rate the Labour Members of Parliament of Greater London on this occasion are going to put up a real fight for the lights of London, and the rights of the people of London to control their own local destinies.

Viscount CURZON

I would invite the Minister to disavow the words of the hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), who spoke last, in referring to a distinguished civil servant, who cannot reply for himself. I think that it is very unfair that he should be attacked in this way by an hon. Member opposite, and I am certain that if he were attacked in that way he would feel about it as I do.


I daresay in the new office that I hold I shall make mistakes, but I am going to try and avoid the first mistake, and not be drawn into a Debate on the Adjournment of the House upon a Bill that is not complete and has yet to be introduced. I think it would be fatal if at this moment I disclosed matters that are not finally decided. After what the Prime Minister told the House to-day, that the matter was still being considered with a view to getting larger and fuller co-operation, it would be a very great mistake on my part to try and pacify my hon. Friend on the left or my hon. Friend on the right. I want to stand between the two of them for a little while and see what can be done to bring them together. This morning I saw a very important deputation on this matter, and since the Prime Minister spoke I have seen others this evening, and I hope to see more to-morrow. If hon. Members will have a little more patience, we shall save time by my not disclosing anything until I am a little more sure of my ground, and I hope to save time upstairs by getting a better measure of agreement before we start. In these circumstances, I am sorry I cannot answer the hon. Member.


The hon. Gentleman then thinks there is a great probability of getting a Measure passed into law by the summer?


I am very anxious it should be done this summer, because of what is going to happen, of which we all know.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-three Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.