HC Deb 05 June 1924 vol 174 cc1564-92

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Captain Viscount CURZON

There are many points in this Bill which are of the greatest possible interest to those Members who sit for London constituencies, of whom I happen to be one, and I would like at the outset to say that, whatever observations I may have to make on this Bill, I want it to be clearly understood that they are not really to be construed in any hostile sense, for, though I may wish to criticise in some respects the London County Council, I am a great believer in criticism. I believe that criticism may sometimes, even if Somewhat distasteful to those who have to endure it, in the end be quite useful. As I have no connection whatever with the London County Council, merely representing a large London constituency in this House, I feel able thereby to take the point of view, to a certain extent, of the man in the street. Hon. Members who now have studied the Bill will have seen the many and varied items which are in it, and I would refer them particularly to Part I of the Schedule to the Bill, in going through which hon. Members will notice that there are two columns, Column (7) and Column (9). The first is up to the 31st March, 1925, and the second column is for the succeeding six months, and if you want to get a correct version of the expenditure of the County Council in respect of the various items set forth, you have apparently to add those two columns together.

The first item in Part I of the Schedule refers to the "provision of stations and other works for the London Fire Brigade," and it amounts in all, adding the two columns together, to something over £25,000. I should like to hear something from the hon. Member for West Fulham (Sir Cyril Cobb), who, I think, is going to reply for the Council, exactly what is being done with this £25,000. Are the Council going in for additional fire stations? I understood it was the policy of the Council to do away with a good many subsidiary stations and, as far as possible, to centralise their fire brigade services. If that be so, I should imagine there would be a set off against this expenditure in respect of stations no longer required, and possibly the sites of these stations may be very valuable, and the Council may be able to show something on the credit side in respect of them. Then we come to Item 3, which is in respect of "open spaces, parks, gardens, public walks and pleasure grounds. "That item is for £39,000, which strikes me as being a very large expenditure of money for the period under review, namely, up to 30th September, 1925, and I hope the hon. Member, when he replies, will be able to tell us what really is the policy of the Council with reference to the "acquisition, laying-out and improvement of open spaces, parks, gardens, public walks and pleasure grounds." Are we to understand that the Council are, as far as possible, encouraging the provision of parks and open spaces, and, not only so, but that they are making due provision for games and amusements?

Representing, as I do, a large and very crowded London constituency, I am extremely keen that the poorer sections of the community should have every possible chance to indulge in games. The question of Sunday games, I am sure, every hon. Member representing a London constituency will agree, is a very debateable point and a burning point. There is no more pathetic spectacle to be obtained in London anywhere you like, where the week-end traffic proceeds along the highway, than the spectacle of the poorer members of the community looking at the motor cars that pass them on the road, carrying people with their golf clubs and tennis racquets, and wearing their flannels, going out to enjoy themselves for the week-end. I think that it is up to the county council—and I am sure we shall not look to them in vain—to see that they make every possible effort to provide the maximum opportunity for the poorer section of the community to indulge in games. Sunday games, of course, are a very debateable point, and, as representing a London constituency, I do not wish here and now to declare myself in favour of or against Sunday games, but I do say that it is very hard for the poorer sections of the community to watch this procession of people going, out to amuse themselves, and then, when they themselves go out to a public park or open space, to be warned off by the park keeper and told that Sunday games are not permitted. I do not take any sides in the matter, but I quite understand the point of view of the fellow who is met with a flat refusal and told to go home with his cricket bat and wickets or whatever he has brought with him. I hope the council will make every provision they can in respect of Sunday games.

The next item is in regard to expenditure in connection with housing. I am sorry the Minister of Health has so hurriedly gone off to dinner, or wherever he has gone, because here, apparently, is one of the legacies which he has left to the London County Council, amongst other bodies. If you add the two items here set forth together, they come to about £5,000,000 expenditure, which the London County Council has to face. I hope that that burden will not be unduly increased owing to the new Housing Bill, but I would like to know whether the Council have formed any estimate as to what that figure is likely to arrive at if the Housing Bill now under consideration is passed. I do not know whether the hon. Member for West Fulham will be able to give us any idea as to what additional expenditure the Council expect to have to take in respect of it, but it would be extraordinarily interesting to the House if he could give us some official figure on behalf of the County Council. Another question in regard to housing is this: This, apparently, is for "carrying out schemes, acquisition of lands, erection of dwellings, and other expenditure." A large part of the new housing schemes seem to me to suffer from one particular defect. It may not be a defect, but I have seen the view expressed, and I would like to express it to-night, and to obtain the views of the members of the County Council upon it.

New housing schemes are often undertaken as more or less glorified suburbs to existing great cities. I should like to ask the hon. Member for West Fulham, seeing the County Council have got, as I understand, a new housing scheme in the vicinity of Ilford—which is really a London suburb—are they taking steps for the future which suggest a great vision? Are they taking steps to transplant our population that requires new housing not to the suburbs but further afield, right out in the country, where the Council can have a chance, too, with the services? It will he a good thing if only we can take the new housing schemes further out, and not erect houses in the suburbs of a great city, so that in a few years afterwards we shall require another housing scheme. Take the people still further out. Have the Council the longer vision? Do they propose to go further afield, where cheaper land can be obtained, and where you can instal the population under much more pleasant conditions?

The London County Council is probably the most important local authority in the whole of these islands, and one would like to know what really is their view in regard to these matters. There is, again, the question of transport. We have a Minister of Transport. After all this is largely a question of transport. The question of transport is a very important one. The Ministry of Transport is spending large sums of money, but I should like to know if the London County Council are in close touch—doubtless after the London Traffic Bill has gone through they will be in closer touch—with the Ministry, and whether as in this matter as in others they are looking ahead with real vision and a bread view of the future—not to to-morrow, or next week, or next year, but for 10, 15 or 20 years ahead.

Again, there is an item in respect of the Tramways and Improvement Acts, 1914-20, which is concerned with street widenings — Eltham Road and High Street; Old Street and Kingsland Road; Cable Street and Brook Street. That brings up the question of street widening. What is the London County Council policy in regard to street widening? We all know what the traffic congestion is today. What the state of affairs is going to be in two or three years' time baffles the imagination! As lately as last Monday there was a traffic block which extended from the Albert Gate to Piccadilly Circus. There was an absolutely solid, stationary, immobile mass of traffic. The taximeters on the taxi-cabs were speeding up, the people on the omnibuses were tearing their hair out in handfuls, and everybody was getting the wind up. I was looking at the matter from the point of view of the man in the street. What is the County Council's view in regard to the widening of the streets and other great arteries for traffic? It is all important. What really is the policy under which these widening schemes are to be undertaken, assuming that they are part and parcel of a great scheme? Presumably the County Council have a policy in regard to street widening.

The next item, No. 8, refers to the provision of asylums. Hon. Members will perhaps know that there is a very large sum—about £400,000—put down for mental hospitals and other purposes. I should like the hon. Member for West Fulham to say what the policy of the council is in regard to asylums? We have sought to find out from various Government Departments some of this information, but the Government Departments have a way when they do not want to give an answer to questions to accomplish that end. The hon. Member for West Fulham can possibly answer some of these queries which we have put. What is really going on in these asylums to-day Are there ex-service men there, men suffering as a result of the War? Are they in London County Council asylums cheek-by-jowl with other patients? I should like to hear exactly what is being clone there, and this information will help us when we have our periodical encounters with the Ministry of Pensions and other Departments.

Item 12 deals with the new County Hall. Apparently, from what we read here in this Bill, we are going back to the foundations. It may be that next year there will be a very large item put down for continuing to deal with the foundations. I know what these foundations are! Some of us have been inside the County Hall and some of us have looked at it from the outside. Some think it is very magnificent; others who have been inside think it is a very wonderful building. What I want to know is, when are we really going to reach finality in relation to the County Hall? Perhaps the hon. Member for West Fulham or some other spokesman of the council can give us some sort of an idea. Also what has been the expenditure up to date and how much is going to be spent in the future? We have here a sum of —90,000 for the period ending 5th September, 1925. I trust the hon. Member will be able to reassure us that we are not to be let in for another vast expenditure of money, and, if we are, to let us know something as to the amount. Let us know to-night exactly! what expenditure we have to face, or what increase of rates, if any, for we should like to know.

The next item is in respect of Acts relating to tramways. The sum of —570,000 is estimated to be required for the year ending March, 1925, for construction, reconstruction and equipment of tramways, provision of buildings, power stations and other purposes. Accompanying the Bill there is a table in which the London County Council set forth their outstanding debt as being practically £55,000,000. Could we have a short and clear statement as to what is the financial position of the tramway undertakings of the London County Council? I do not ask for this in any hostile sense. I take the view that the London tramways, however inconvenient they may be, are indispensable to our great city, and I do not believe we could possibly get on without them. I do not believe it is practical to suggest the instantaneous uprooting of all our tramways, but I would like to know what is the financial position of the London tramway undertakings. Are they really making money? I know we were assured last year that they were reducing the debt, but the figures do not show that the debt has been materially reduced. We want to be told quite distinctly whether the tramway undertakings are really making money or losing it.

Probably we shall be told that it is very unfair that the London County Council have to pay for the maintenance of the road for a certain space on either side of the rails, but those who use that argument should remember the extraordinary inconvenience they inflict upon other traffic using the streets, and that must be taken as a set off. I think it is true to say that the great bulk of the traffic, apart from trams, is motor driven. The trams are undoubtedly a great obstruction to motor traffic, and this should be got over in some way. I should like to know definitely what is the policy of the London County Council in reference to tramways. Are they definitely committed to further tramway extension, and is it their policy to extend the tramway system to their new housing scheme at Eltham. I want to know whether the Council contemplate an indefinite extension of the tramway system, or will they do what most of our great municipalities are doing, that is, make use of the more recent invention of the trackless trolley. Could they not supplement their present system by the adoption of such a scheme?

There is one other point I would like to put to the hon. Member for West Fulham. The tramway undertakings are only users of the streets in common with other users, and I think they should show the same consideration to other users as they expect to be shown towards them. Has it ever been considered that when a tram is going along the street it is impossible to tell whether it is going to stop or not, and the only indication given is when you see people coming down the staircase, or when the conductor goes to collect the tickets, or passengers are on the step ready to get off while the car is moving. Hon. Members will realise that this is not only in the interests of motors, but also of lorry drivers, far whom, I am sure, they have every sympathy, because their job is much harder than the driving of any motor car or taxicab.

I would like those who manage the County Council tramways to bear in mind the difficulties of other traffic. A tramcar can stop quicker than other traffic, and it can stop whether the rails are wet or dry, and under all weather conditions it can stop more quickly than other traffic. Have the Tramways Committee ever considered the feasibility of having some sort of indicator to show what the tramcar is going to do, and to indicate whether it is going to stop or turn off? Two things which it is difficult to know about a tramcar are whether it is going straight on or whether it is going to turn, and it is difficult to know whether it is going to pull up or not. I would like to know if the County Council could consider fitting some sort of indicator which would give an indication to other traffic what the movements of the tramcars are likely to be. The next item I wish to deal with is Item 17 which is the reconstruction of Waterloo Bridge and the provision of a temporary bridge.


May I point out that the Noble Lord appears to have omitted the item which deals with the provision of meter-testing plant.

Viscount CURZON

I do not intend to touch upon all the items, and, no doubt, the hon. Member opposite, being more interested in meter testing plant, will be able to put many questions to my hon. Friend the Member for West Fulham on that point and thus satisfy his thirst for information. The item I wish to deal with is one which must demand the consideration of every London Member, I mean the reconstruction of Waterloo Bridge. Most hon. Members who have studied this question will agree that the state of many of the bridges in London is almost one of complete chaos. There seems to be no sort of bridge policy for London. This is a matter which I should like to bring particularly to the notice of the Minister of Transport, who probably knows more about London traffic than any other hon. Member in this House. The bridge question of London is obviously thrown into chaos by the closing of Waterloo Bridge. I should not like to criticise the London County Council, who, perhaps have been the unfortunate victims of fate, but I do think their engineers and expert advisers might have given a little more warning to London generally of what was likely to happen to Waterloo Bridge. It seems to me extraordinary that the failure of this bridge can have come about so suddenly as it has without the engineers having been able to know something about it and to give due warning. Forty years ago this bridge was known to be defective, but things were allowed to go on, and, apparently, nothing was done, so far as the ordinary individual can see, until one fine day someone discovers that there is crack in the bridge, which is getting larger, and a sort of switchback in the road, and we read paragraphs about omnibuses going for a trip over the switchback.

All of a sudden, in the dead of night, the minions of the County Council come along armed with red lamps and poles and trestles, and one finds oneself faced by an impassable barrier, not only to vehicular, but also to pedestrian traffic, which is, perhaps, the more important of the two. I do not offer any observations on that comparison, but this might almost be described as a mine sprung upon the citizens. We knew very little about it, but those of us who have been accustomed to use this artery of traffic are now compelled to suffer considerable inconvenience and discomfort. More than that, the tradespeople who own the small shops on the approaches of Waterloo Bridge on the South side have informed me that their business has gone, and that, in the one bumper year which they expected to have, when, on account of the British Empire Exhibition, it was hoped that numbers of oversea visitors and others would be arriving at Waterloo Station, amongst others, and naturally would gravitate from there over the bridge to the Strand, they are doing no business at all. They have laid in large stocks, and there is nothing doing. I should like to ask the council, and also the Minister of Transport, have we a bridge policy for London? I have heard it said that it was proposed to construct a bridge in the neighbourhood of St, Paul's Cathedral, but could any more extraordinary proposition be put before the citizens of London? We have the Minister of Transport making circular roads to take all the north and south traffic outside—



Viscount CURZON

That must be asked of the Minister. He can tell us where, but I am told that there are items on his Vote for circular roads, and yet here is the City Corporation coming along and positively seriously putting forward a proposal which, if successful, could only have the effect of attracting more traffic, and heavy and unwieldy traffic at that, through the heart of the most congested area in our great city, and which, furthermore, would take that traffic out over the river and land it somewhere by the Elephant and Castle. Anyone who knows anything about London traffic—and the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. B. Smith) will bear me out in this—knows that we do not want any complications by the Elephant and Castle. It is quite bad enough already. It is essential that the Government should step in here, in co-operation with all the authorities concerned, and examine the whole bridge question of London, with the idea of putting bridges across the river where they are really necessary. Southwark Bridge, which has been reconstructed within the last few years, is no sort of use to the citizens of London. If anyone doubts that, they have only to look at it. The traffic of London does not use it.


Is the Noble Lord in order in discussing these provisions, which are not in this Bill at all? There is no reference to other bridges.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Robert Young)

The Noble Lord is entitled to draw comparisons.

Viscount CURZON

I can understand that the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Short) is not interested in this question of bridges, but it is a very important one to London, and I am sure the hon. Member will allow me to proceed, because I am coming back to Waterloo Bridge in a minute. I am sure hon. Members will agree that, if we are going to spend money on bridges, we should be clear before we start as to what exactly our bridge policy is going to be. We know that a bridge is very much wanted at Lambeth; and hon. Members who travel along the river to that much more pleasant spot, Battersea., know that one of the things wanted is a bridge between Battersea and Fulham. Others who go a little further up the river will come to Wandsworth Bridge, which they will know wants strengthening and reconstructing to suit the present traffic. A little further up they will come to Putney Bridge, which is quite inadequate for the two lines of tramways, the several lines of motor omnibuses, and the huge amount of other traffic that goes over it.

Then we come to Hammersmith Bridge, which is now taking a strain that it was never designed to bear, and in that case it is quite obvious that a very grave risk is being run. The hon. Member for West Fulham (Sir C. Cobb) will be able to say whether I am right or wrong, but I understand that this bridge is now taking a far greater weight than it, was designed to bear when it was first constructed. If it fails what is going to happen to all the traffic? I want to plead with the Minister, but I am sorry to see that he is now leaving the House. I hope, however, that all the authorities concerned—and I am sure that any hon. Member who has studied London traffic will agree with me—will consider this question. My hon. Friend the Member for West Fulham assures me that Hammersmith Bridge is all right, but I do hope that the various Members of Parliament and the local authorities who are responsible for these bridges of ours, including the City Corporation, which is responsible for the idea of a St Paul's Bridge, will go into the whole question on the broadest lines and will come to a general concensus of agreement with a view to. benefiting London traffic as a whole, and not any particular pet scheme. Let us take a large view, and think what is best for this great city, I hope that if that is done the county council will be able to go ahead with Waterloo Bridge. I should like, however, to know exactly upon what they are going to spend this sum of £400,000. I think it will be of great interest to the House to know that. Let us also be told that we have a real bridge policy for London, and that they are going to contruct proper bridges at Charing Cross and Lambeth amongst other places.

There is only one other matter that I want to raise. This is the only time at which I can raise it, and I am sure I shall receive the sympathy of hon. Members opposite in doing so. It is in connection with the issue of motor licences. The London County Council is the authority which issues motor licences, but they take, relatively speaking, no trouble whatever to make their issue of licences as convenient as possible for those who wish to get them. Those who wish to get licences from the London County Council have to form up in a series of queues. You have to go through two or three queues in the course of the day to get a motor licence, and most, motor licences are, of course, renewed on the same day in the year. You form up in the morning, go to one pigeon-hole and get one sort of licence, and in the afternoon you go to another. You waste hours on it.


What about endorsed licences?

Viscount CURZON

I will tell you about those later. Could not better arrangements be made for the issue of licences, in order to try and avoid the extraordinary waste of time which is entailed upon those who have to apply for them, and in order to make it as convenient for them as possible. We all have to go on the same day every year for our carriage licences, and not only that, but I am sure hon. Members opposite will be shocked to hear that I was positively threatened by the police because. the county council had supplied me with a licence which had not their proper stamp upon it. I found a police officer looking at my car one day, and he suddenly found that the licence had not the postmark on it that it ought to have had, showing that it was issued by the council. All that happened was that I was threatened with a summons till I could explain the matter and convince the officer that I was telling the truth. I then had to appeal to the council, who had sent the officer along, to change the licence. All these things cost money and it is a waste of time and very inconvenient. I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman if he could do something to overhaul the Motor Licence Issue Department, and see they do not make the same mistake again. These questions are of great importance to London Members and to the public generally, and I hope we shall get a reasoned reply on behalf of the council to some of the points I have raised.

9.0 P.M.


My hon. and gallant Friend has reviewed at considerable detail several items in the Bill. I should like to refer to Item 20, in which the county council seeks powers ultimately to expend a large sum of money on Lambeth Bridge. I congratulate them on their decision to rebuild the bridge. We have had to put up for far too many years with the miserable, unsightly relic which suspends its ugly form between the banks of the Thames near the Palace of Westminster and the Palace of Lambeth. When it comes to street improvements, which are included in the total item of £68,000, on looking at the matter I have some misgivings as to the adequacy of the street improvements contemplated on the south side of the river, on the further side of Lambeth Bridge. I think better means of communication will be required, as this is the point at which the new bridge will cross the Thames. On that point I should like my hon. Friend to enlighten the House. On the large subject of bridges generally, there can be no sort of doubt that a consistent and all-embracing policy is required. In regard to that, I understand that the county council have recently considered and approved proposals for the setting up of a Commission which shall review this important subject. I understand that an invitation has been sent from the London County Council to the City Corporation inviting their co-operation, and even proposing that the City Corporation shall appoint half the members of the proposed Commission. Under all the circumstances I think that invitation is on a generous scale. Up to now unfortunately, if my information be correct, the City Corporation have not seen their way to return any answer to that invitation. They have, I believe, followed the example of other distinguished people and referred the question to three Committees. I trust that will not be the end of the invitation, and I hope the county council, with the assistance of the Ministry of Transport, will secure the appointment of that Commission, to which this great question may with considerable advantage be referred for undoubtedly the problem of the bridges over the Thames is a big enough question to engage the attention of the county council and the City Corporation. At present our bridge authorities are two. We have the county council in charge of most of the bridges and the City Corporation in charge of some of them. It is said that two heads are better than one, and it used to be said, "Two minds with but a single thought." However, in this instance that does not apply, because, although the respective projects of the county council and the City Corporation are not necessarily rival projects, they emanate from two separate aspects of the same question. I hope the county council will succeed in bringing the City Corporation to take part in this Commission and that thetwo bodies, joined together in that way, will be able to bring to bear their united knowledge on this great question. The dual Commission set up on that basis may also, we hope, have the additional advantage of persuading the City Corporation to put at the disposal of London as a whole its very substantial financial resources. There is an idea—I do not know what truth there is in it—that the Bridge House Estates, who enjoy a very substantial income if I am correctly informed, do not view with invariable favour the idea of spending their money on any bridge project which does not start from some point within the City boundaries. If they can be brought to view the matter from the joint standpoint of this Commission it may greatly facilitate and enlarge their view on a matter of that kind. If the invitation which has been extended to them does not shortly achieve success I would suggest that some other effort might be made to coax Gog and Magog from their fastness and they might be persuaded to embark on their state barge and make a visit to Lambeth. They might be persuaded to discover Belvedere Road and to view the problem of the Thames from that foundation raft of which we have heard so much. I know the county council could not possibly emulate the Guildhall in its sumptuous hospitality and its dignified pageantry, but it would be an interesting experience for Gog and Magog to discover Belvedere Road and have a dish of tea with the county council. If something of that kind could be brought about it would be a very great advantage.

There are a variety of projects and possibly two aspects of this question of bridges. We have heard about St. Paul's Bridge and we know the county council is going to carry through Lambeth Bridge, but there are other questions also. I think there can be no doubt that London at present is severely under-bridged. We have not got nearly enough bridges, and that results in our over-working those we have. We see the present situation at Waterloo Bridge. Even Westminster Bridge, I am given to understand by those in a position to pronounce upon it with some authority, may not last very long. It will require attention if it goes on having to submit to its present severe strain. I believe when it was originally built it was designed to carry vehicles not exceeding seven tons. When the county council became the bridge authority they increased the weight to 15 tons, and I believe that weight is considerably exceeded many times every day, and possibly the life of Westminster Bridge itself will not be so very long unless something can be done to relieve it. It is not difficult to see where the means of relieving it should be constructed. What we want is a reconstructed Charing Cross Bridge first of all. Paul's Bridge can wait till we have half-a-dozen other bridges. Let us have a reconstructed Charing Cross Bridge to carry general traffic, even if we have to put up with trains being allowed to go across too, until such time as we can get rid of Charing Cross Station and rebuild it somewhere else nearer to our heart's desire, if further from where we are now.

There really is a need for a bridge to take the traffic from the eastern end of Aldwych. That also ought to ante-date any idea of Paul's Bridge, which I do not think anyone wants. Let us see that it is postponed until far more important things have received the consideration they deserve. He also alluded to the question of bridges further west.

Here I want to enter a protest, and I hope the Minister of Transport will back me up. We really do want an early reconstruction of Wandsworth Bridge. The county council have decided, in their wisdom, that this should not be taken in hand until some day in the remote future, when their other bridge problems are nearer a solution, and when Putney Bridge has been widened. Since that decision, they have had to tackle the question of Waterloo Bridge. If we have to wait until all these things are dealt with, Wandsworth Bridge will go on deteriorating until it falls into the Thames. It does not stand much chance at the present time of falling into the river, because nothing heavier than five tons is allowed to go over it. Heavy motor cars, motor lorries or omnibuses do not pass over it. It is different to-day from the old days, when we had not so many factories. At the present time, the traffic which those factories require has to go round by Putney Bridge or by Battersea Bridge. That brings about congestion. Even Battersea Bridge is not regarded as safe. I do urge the county council that they should widen their view and adopt a more generous policy in regard to bridges, it particularly those that I have mentioned. I trust the Minister of Transport will back us up in that, because he knows the great necessity there is for bridges of the sort I have suggested, to take traffic and relieve the congestion on other arteries of traffic.


I will try to answer the various questions put to me by the Noble Lord the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon). I thank him for the considerate way in which he delivered his speech. He made one point as to the two columns in which our Money Bill is divided, columns 7 and 9, and asked for an explanation. It is not accurate to take the total sum arrived at by adding those two columns as representing what the county council wants for capital expenditure during the year. The Noble Lord will realise that by Statute we have to present this Bill to the House every year, and the Bill always runs from year to year up to the 31st March. Any powers that we may get under this Money Bill which are due to end on the 31st March do actually end on that day, and if that money has not been spent it is no longer available for any purposes in a Money Bill of the London County Council. Inasmuch as this Bill does not come on yearly in this House until May or June, it is obvious that our powers of spending capital sums on various works actually in progress might come to an end by our having expended all the money in one particular item by the 31st March of any particular year. It is, therefore, essential that we should provide for an extra six months, extending from the 1st April to the 30th September in the same year in order that we may have sufficient money to carry on the actual work begun by the county council during the preceding twelve months. We never use up anything like the whole of the capital sums for which we get leave in this House every year on the occasion on which we present our Money Bill. I think that explains the position in regard to the two columns.

Viscount CURZON

What becomes of the unexpended balances?


The unexpended balances are carried on for the same purposes to the next 12 months, subject to being re-voted by this House. I could give the figures to the Noble Lord for two or three years, but it is hardly worth while. The House will see, for instance, that if £2,000,000 out of £4,500,000 was not used in a particular year—that is, the monies sanctioned by this House for this particular purpose—the sanction for the use of that money has expired, and that money is carried on to the suceeding year. Further, I may say that it will not be necessary for us to go to the money market and borrow money this year for any purpose connected with our capital expenditure.


What would be the position if you did not get this Bill?


If we did not get our Bill by September we should not have any money to spend, that is, if we had exhausted all the money which is available to the 30th September and we had no other leave from this House for the purpose of capital expenditure, we should have no further power to spend. That has never happened. The Noble Lord referred to the fire brigade stations. It is true that we have concentrated our fire brigade stations. Since we abandoned horse vehicles and adopted motor vehicles we have been able to concentrate our fire stations, and many former stations have been disused, with the result that credits have come in against the new expenditure for the motor stations. The capital expenditure in the Money Bill this year on this item will be devoted to the equipment of workshops for the motor vehicles which are now used in place of the old horse vehicles. The headquarters extension of workshops absorb £8,000 up to the 31st March, and another £6,000 up to September. We are also rebuilding and extending two very important stations, Euston Road station and Peckham Road station. Peckham Road station is a large one, but in the case of Euston Road station there is only a small capital expenditure. That accounts for the whole of the money with the exception of a small item of £1,500 for a motor-driven wagon.

The next point raised was in connection with the parks. I was asked, what is the policy with regard to the parks. I can only assure the Noble Lord that we are very anxious, and have been very anxious all the years that I have been connected with the London County Council, to obtain all the possible open spaces we can for the amusement and recreation of the people, and especially for the young people, and I think that everybody will admit that we have done a great deal in laying out our parks. I do not think the criticism against our Parks Committee is at all justified. We have done everything we can to encourage amusements, and wherever possible we have acquired parks and open spaces. The Noble Lord will be interested to hear that in Battersea, for instance—we are very anxious to please the children—we have now put in an item for completing a paddling pond. We have also been providing paddling ponds in other parks. We have got no fewer than three paddling ponds. We have several open-air swimming baths at Peckham Rye and Southwark Park. We have hard tennis courts in various places. We have a new refreshment place and we have the provision of dressing accommodation on Hampstead Heath. All those items show that we are carrying out the principles which are laid down for us by the Noble Lord.

I come now to the much more important point of housing. This year we are asking for £2,000,000 of new money for the purpose of housing. That sum is not meant to meet any new provision which may be brought forward in this House and passed at the instance of the present Government, because it is impossible for us to provide for that until we know a great deal more about the future of the projects of the Minister of Health. We are now simply developing the existing housing estates. We put aside a considerable amount of money for the purpose of slum clearance, and building houses to take the place, of the slum houses which are cleared off. We put aside £1,250,000 for the purpose of acquiring and developing new sites. The Noble Lord has raised an interesting point as to how far we should carry out people who want rehousing outside the County of London.

We have had no scheme which carries the London people very far outside the existing administrative County of London, and I think that the Noble Lord himself will admit the great difficulty which there is there, principally in connection with the transit question. It is not reasonable to ask people who have been in the habit of living in London near their work, and who have to move because of slum clearances, to move 20 or 25 miles out of London and have to come into London every day for their work, and occupy a long time in doing so. Our policy therefore has been rather to confine the purchase of housing estates to somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Administrative County of London, so that it may be possible for those who have to live on them to reach them in a reasonable time without, too much expenditure of their leisure in going to and returnin4 from work.

On the question of street widening, the Piccadilly improvement is the main item. We have been obliged to put aside £126,000 every year for some four years for the falling in of certain properties. We shall have to provide that sum every year in order to hand it over to the Office of Woods when the time comes. The total amount that has been set aside for contribution to local improvements is £400,000, and another £300,000 for miscellaneous improvements, making an additional £700,000. Then there is the Eltham Road, and the High Street, Eltham, if that is finished during the coming year, as we are very hopeful it will be. There is another £8,000 there, so that we are not leaving this part of our work in arrears.

The question of the County Hall is raised every year. The exact position is that the expenditure up to date has been £3,060,000, and the estimated total cost of the building when fully finished, including furniture, is £4,083,000. We are asking this year for £88,000. Some of that is for the completion of the raft which is necessary, I am told by the engineers, for the future completion of the new wing. The other portion of the £88,000 is to go towards the actual payment for the completion of the County Hall as it stands now. Whether when we come to this House next year we shall actually ask for the money to build the new block remains to be seen. The County Council election next March may have a considerable effect upon the policy of the council. It may be found necessary, in view of the increase, if that happens, of unemployment that we should find work in this way. It will be economical for us if we are able to build our new block in order to house our whole staff. At present we are housing something like 800 people outside the existing Hall, on the other side of Westminister Bridge. Two hundred of those are housed in the old County Hall and 600 in the old Education Office on the Embankment.

The House will be interested to hear that we have just disposed of the old County Hall, so that within a short time we shall have to find accommodation which probably we shall be able to get in the existing County Hall. We have got quite a decent rent for the old County Hall, a very much better one than the Government offered when they were biting at it. The actual charge to the Council of the old education offices at the present moment is £9,000, but it is only a book transaction. The actual cost of running the new County Hall is £100,000 a year, including everything except capital charges, but since we have been in the new County Hall we have saved £60,000 in rents from various offices all over London, where we had formerly to house our staff. That £60,000 is £60,000 pre-War, and the £100,000 is post-War. So that, really, we have saved a considerable amount of money by getting rid of the old odds and ends of buildings, where we were obliged in the old days to house our staff.


Is that after allowing for interest on the cost of the new County Hall?


I should not like to state there is actually a saving. I am comparing the cost of the old County Hall and the r old buildings on a pre-War basis, with what it actually costs now to run the new County Hall. The figures, of course, are not really comparable. I only give them as an instance, because it is often brought up against us that the new County Hall is very much more expensive to run than the old arrangement. You have in the figures to take into account the difference between pre-War and post-War cost in order to arrive at a comparable figure. The tramway question is a complicated one, but I assure the House that this year, at any rate, if it is any consolation, we are not going to have any new tramway schemes, because they have all failed to get through. There is only one, namely, £45,000, in order to run our trams over Southwark Bridge, when it is completed. That will enable the workers on the South side of London to be deposited on the North side, which will be of great convenience to them. The actual expenditure this year on capital account is to meet the charger for the new turbo-generator at Greenwich, for the new coal-bunkers at the Greenwich station, and the reconstruction of the Elephant and Castle sub-station.

We want a good many new tramcars built. I have received a good many complaints from my constituents about the ricketty nature of the tramcars, and the great noise they make as they run past their houses. Those defects can, to some extent, be obviated by replacing the old cars by new ones. I think the House will agree it is a good thing that the London County Council should scrap its old and inefficient cars for new ones. That brings me to the very important point, of how far it is true to say that tramways are a paying concern. That entirely depends upon whether you want to take the tramcar system of the London County Council and treat it as you would treat an ordinary business undertaking. You cannot do that. The tramcar system of the London County Council is obliged to pay interest and a considerable amount of money towards debt redemption every year. An ordinary business company does not do that. If you invest your money in a company, you do not get part of your capital back every year; but in the way in which the London County Council tramways are managed they are paying off capital, and they are paying interest on the borrowed capital, every year.

The amount of money which they might have paid from the beginning if they had been an ordinary commercial company would have been very considerable—something like £7,000,000 would have been paid by way of dividends, which has actually gone to the redemption of debt and in the payment of interest, but very largely the redemption of debt. This would not have happened if it had been a private company. Therefore, though it is true to say that during three years a considerable sum of money had to be provided out of the rates for the payment of the deficit on tramway accounts, that deficit would never have occurred in those three years, and dividends would have been paid, though smaller ones, if the tramway system had been run as an ordinary commercial company. Therefore, it is true to say that the tramways are paying their way, and by 1938 there will be only £2,000,000 left to pay off. Some people say we should scrap them, though I have not heard that said to-night. If we did scrap them, we should still have to go on paying off our debt, but without any income from the tramways to do it with, and therefore the burden would fail on the ratepayers. Moreover, if we scrap the tramways something would have to be put in their place.

The next point was the question of Waterloo Bridge. This morning I had an opportunity of looking at the position of Waterloo Bridge as it is to-day. The Noble. Lord the Member for South Battersea is quite right in saying, that for a great number of years Waterloo Bridge has been considered to be in a somewhat unsafe condition. In 1880, when the Metropolitan Board of Works took over a good many of the bridges of London, they made an examination of Waterloo Bridge, especially of its foundations, and it was then ascertained that the bridge, as a matter of fact, rises and falls with the tide. That is owing to the nature of its foundations. In 1880 the Metropolitan Board of Works strengthened the bridge by putting concrete blocks around the basic piers at a cost of £62,000, and for a time there was no further danger in connection with the bridge. It was not until late last autumn that the engineers, who were looking after the bridge, detected a tendency in some of the piers to sink, particularly in one pier, the fourth pier of the Surrey side. This developed very distinct symptoms of sinking into the bed of the river. It has been suggested that we were too slow in warning the public about the danger of this bridge. It is no earthly use warning the public about the danger of a bridge unless you are going promptly to do something, and our engineer, having consulted with the engineers who are au fait with the bridges of the Thames, came to the conclusion that it was better for the time being to try what might be called a minor surgical operation on the bridge before they definitely declared the bridge was unsafe for traffic. It has also to be remembered that it is not the weight of the traffic on the bridge or, indeed, the, general weight of traffic on all bridges that wears them out. It is the actual weight of the bridge itself. The actual weight on one of the piers of Waterloo Bridge is 11,000 tons. The actual weight of the traffic at the maximum is only 500 tons. Therefore it was the actual weight of the bridge that was causing the trouble. The weight of the bridge was getting too heavy for the foundations, and the effective life of the foundations of the bridge was coming to an end. The engineers therefore decided that the best way to doctor the bridge was to pump concrete into the foundations and see if that would stop the particular pier gradually dropping into the bed of the river. Unfortunately it was found, after that had been tried, that the pier was still sinking. We had a further consultation, and it was decided then to drive piles into the basis of the arches of the bridge to see whether that would stop the gradualsinking of this particular pier. That again proved to be a failure and the bridge continued to sink. There was only one thing to do when that event happened. It was to relieve the actual weight on the bridge itself. We had to take something off the 11,000 tons which was weighing on this particular pier. In order to do that it was essential to close the bridge. If we had taken this matter to the Highways Committee of the London County Council and asked what was to be done we should have had a very great controversy, not only in the council itself but outside, as to what ought to be done and probably there would have been a great deal more delay in closing the bridge than there was actually in connection with the procedure adopted by the council. When we knew what was the real cause of the particular pier sinking we immediately closed the bridge. Since then something like 1,450 tons have been taken off the pressure on that particular pier. As soon as 500 or 600 tons had been taken off the pier ceased to sink, thus proving that the engineers were right in their surmise. After having performed two minor operations—the pumping of concrete and the driving in of piles—their third effort proved that it was the actual weight of the pier itself that was causing the trouble.

To-day I went over the side of the bridge to see the condition of the enormous stones which formed part of the arch near the pier, and one could see that these huge stones—part of the bridge be it remembered—were themselves being crushed by the actual weight, and large pieces of the stone had fallen. In order to prevent any accident happening to barges below, where the bridge was being shored up, the bridge has been actually tied together so as to prevent the stones being driven down by the actual weight of the bridge and falling into the river. With regard to the possibility of reopening the bridge, the engineers have informed us that within three or four weeks it will be possible to reconstruct the 140 feet taken out of the centre of the bridge and then a temporary roadway for pedestrian traffic will be provided. Two months after that it may be possible to reopen the bridge for the purposes of vehicular traffic. Meanwhile the actual archway will be shored up and piles are being driven down into the river right in the centre of the archway. After that has been propped up it will be possible for traffic to be resumed, pending the construction of a temporary bridge.

With regard to the other bridges in London, I can only say that I entirely agree with hon. Members who have spoken on this subject. We must have a general commission of some kind, on which everybody interested sits, to consider the whole question of the bridges across the Thames. It is no good talking about Putney, or Wandsworth, or Lambeth, or St. Paul's or Charing Cross bridges. The whole thing must be treated as one problem. It is the problem of the London traffic, and that problem will have to be considered in connection with the whole question of the roads and streets of London. I hope we shall get the City, the Minister for Transport and others interested to come together and hammer out a proper scheme for the bridges of London.


Is anything to be done with regard to Lambeth Bridge and its approaches?


We have put in our Money Bill this year a certain amount for Lambeth Bridge. The work will be carried out I hope during the year, and next year we shall come to this House for money for the approaches. We do not propose this year to make any new approaches in connection with that bridge, and, therefore, we have not asked for any money for the purpose.


The hon. Member for West Fulham (Sir C. Cobb) will forgive me if I ask one or two questions with regard to housing. It states in Part I of the Schedule there is to be expenditure for carrying out schemes for the acquisition of land and the erection of dwellings. In Column 7 the amount is put down as £3,689,900. In Column 9 there is an item of £1,412,500. I understood the hon. Member to say that the extra expenditure this year will be £2,000,000. I should like to ask where the acquisition of this land is to take place, and if it is to be extra land in the Ilford and Becontree areas. If so, I should like to know whether he will carefully consider the new Housing Bill and what number of new houses is going to be put in this new area. We have a tremendous area there already with a very large number of London County Council houses, and I feel, if the Housing Bill goes through, the rents will be on a much lower scale than the rent which is being paid for the houses already built. Therefore you will have to bring down the rent of the present houses to a rent in comparison with that of the new houses to be built, and that will mean a very large depreciation of house property in that area. I also desire to know who are to live in these houses? Are ex-service men to get a preference, or are any special persons to get a preference? Further, if the new houses are to be in this area, as I anticipate, I hope careful consideration will be given to the problem of the traffic between Ilford and Liverpool Street or between Becontree and Liverpool Street. We have the peak load between 8 and 9.30 in the morning and again between 6 and 8 at night, and in those periods we find from 18 to 20 people in a carriage. If more houses are to be erected in that area this problem requires careful consideration. I know the Minister of Transport realises the seriousness of the situation and at present the overcrowding is such that it is more than the ordinary person can bear.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir FREDERICK HALL

I should like to say how grateful we are to the hon. Member for West Fulham (Sir C. Cobb) for the very explicit manner in which he has answered the questions gut by the Noble Lord the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon). Those who have any knowledge of the work of the London County Council know how carefully everything is gone through by its committees in regard to estimates before they are brought up. Notwithstanding that, fact, there are certain points upon which some of us do not see eye to eye with the London County Council. First of all there is the proposal for increasing the tramways of London. I am glad to find that Parliament in its wisdom decided that it was inadvisable to allow extensions of tramways through London. I am all for linking up, provided the nearest possible way is taken for linking up and that it does not interfere with the general traffic, but I am opposed to running tramways along Holborn because I am certain it would further congest traffic in London as a whole. The hon. Member referred to the financial position of the tramways and indicated that there has been a profit or a return on capital up to the present of £7,000,000. When the hon. Gentleman says that in the event of it being a private undertaking this money would not be utilised in the maner in which it is utilised, I quite agree, but he must not overlook the fact that you have to borrow the money to construct your tramways just the same as if it were a private undertaking. Furthermore, this is debenture stock—trustee stock—and if you are using up your principal you must do one of two things. You must either replace your principal or you must cancel the amount of the debenture stock which is not required.

I do not wish my hon. Friend to think that we are to be misled into the idea that the tramways themselves at the present day are a paying proposition. The money for the construction of the tramways is borrowed on the 25-year basis. If the life of that tramway is 25 years the proportion of 4 per cent. which has to be reduced, according to the manner in which the money is borrowed, has no principal to show in return unless it is utilised for the construction of new tramways. I think we are all agreed that the time has passed when the tramways should be further increased in London. The hon. Gentleman said in the near future the tramways were to be taken over Southwark Bridge. If one goes to the Surrey side of Southwark Bridge at the present time one finds during the rush hours a big queue waiting even in the most inclement weather and no shelter provided for them. I cannot help thinking that the County Council might take cognisance of that fact and make a temporary shelter.


It is not a question of the London County Council, but of the Commissioner of Police. We have not permission.


I am perfectly aware of the fact. At one time I knew as much about the tramway authority as my hon. Friend opposite, and, for his information, may I tell him that we had these difficulties with regard to providing shelters on the Embankment, and it was only by a great deal of trouble and perseverance that we were enabled to get them. I hope the London County Council will make every endeavour to provide that accommodation which I am sure will be appreciated. I was glad to learn from the hon. Member for West Fulham that he is in favour of a Commission with regard to the bridges to go fully into the matter. I hope it is not a question of spending the money first and making inquiries afterwards or of committing themselves to large expenditure on approaches to a contemplated bridge—I mean the St. Paul's Bridge.


I do not think that has anything to do with this Bill. It is a matter for the City Corporation, not the London County Council.


It is a question for the Bridges Committee of the City Corporation but nevertheless, the London County Council have agreed to expend a considerable sum, in the event of the bridge being constructed, towards the approaches for the bridge. If that be the case, I venture to suggest that all considerations should be carefully weighed before the County Council agree to any contribution towards that bridge, because I am of opinion that, instead of helping the traffic in the way that is required, it would, in many cases, dislocate that traffic.

Then, with regard to Waterloo Bridge, the hon. Gentleman has told us that examinations were made, and it was found in the fall of last year that there was something wrong with the bridge. I am glad to hear the explanations that have been given to-night, because there have been many statemnts made intimating that the surgical operation, to which my hon. Friend referred, that was carried out by the engineers of the London County Council did not meet with the approval of many eminent engineers. But we can all understand that, never mind how eminent an engineer or engineers may happen to be, they may not always agree one with another. It has been stated that if there had been alterations made with regard to the foundation in a different manner from those that have been carried put by the engineers who had it in charge, a very considerable saving would have been made in the large amount that will have to be expended.

With regard to Westminster Bridge, I am glad to hear that the feeling of danger is allayed, because, if one pier can carry 11,000 tons, we need not be worried by seeing a larger number of trams crossing the bridge at one time. I am one of those who appreciate entirely the enormous amount of work that is carried out by the London County Council. I know the attention they give to all minute points that come before them, and I think London, as a whole, should congratulate itself on the excellent work that is put in hand, and, as far as we are concerned, I am sure this House will do their best to assist the London County Council in carrying out the enormous tasks with which they are faced.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

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