HC Deb 16 June 1953 vol 516 cc740-4
Mr. Callaghan

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware of the concern caused by the present traffic congestion in London, and will state what plans he has to prevent paralysis of road traffic in certain areas during the present circumstances?

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir David Maxwell Fyfe)

This is a problem of irreconcilables. I am sure that no Member of this House would wish to prevent his constituents from coming to London to see the Coronation sights. Yet there is a limit to the traffic that the streets of any city can reasonably carry; and in London that limit has been passed, as we all know. This is in spite of everything the police have been able to do to relieve the congestion, and I am convinced they have done all that is humanly possible.

During Coronation week the Commissioner of Police imposed restrictions on the use of certain streets within the Coronation area, and I think that the House will agree that the police deserve the heartiest congratulations for their successful handling of the traffic problem during that week. The Commissioner decided to relax the restrictions on 7th June in order to allow the public the fullest possible opportunity of seeing the Coronation decorations and illuminations, but the congestion experienced over the last few days, particularly in the neighbourhood of the Houses of Parliament, convinced him that it was necessary to reimpose the ban on coaches carrying private parties from using certain specified roads, if he were to fulfil the obligations imposed on him by the Sessional Order.

As the House will be aware, the Commissioner of Police, after consultation with me, made an Order on Saturday last reimposing the ban on private coaches during Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week. The Commissioner proposes to consider later, in the light of the conditions then prevailing, whether the prohibition needs to be extended for any further period.

As regard streets outside the Coronation area, the Commissioner has issued directions that the power to divert traffic should, as long as the period of public rejoicing lasts, be exercised freely whenever and wherever the occasion demands. It is hoped that these measures will produce a marked improvement in the circulation of traffic, but the Commissioner of Police and I will, of course, keep the matter under close review.

Mr. Callaghan

No doubt the right hon. Gentleman is aware that we share completely his views about the good humour and tolerance of the police, and also of the bus crews, who have behaved with very great courtesy during the recent situation. I want to ask him two questions. While it is clear that stopping coaches corning into the central area will help the situation, nevertheless that is rather discriminating against them. Would it not be possible for the police to consider whether, during this period, and especially during the day-time when essential traffic is being stopped—one does not mind about the evening so much— they could tighten up a little, particularly in regard to parking and waiting in the streets by private motor cars? Secondly, does not this situation reveal that London traffic is completely saturated? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman bring the matter to the notice of his Cabinet colleagues to consider whether there should not be some long-term plan for dealing with London traffic in the future so as to prevent this kind of situation from arising?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the remarks with which he began his question and I shall convey them to the Commissioner of Police. With regard to the first of his two points, I shall of course consult the Commissioner about the question of parking, but the hon. Gentleman knows from his previous experience that this is one of the matters on which I shall have to consult my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. I shall certainly direct attention to that point. With regard to the second point, I shall certainly do what he suggests, bring it to the notice of my colleagues, and especially of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Without casting any reflection on the police in any form, and dealing with the immediate issue and not the long-term, since it is the immediate issue with which we are concerned, may I ask the Home Secretary to bear in mind that all that has taken place in London has stimulated great interest throughout the country, and that the ordinary people who are using motor coaches have as much right to see the centre of London as have relatively well-placed people? Will he be good enough to consider the advisability of meeting London Transport and the Chief of Police to consider some alternative, rather than prevent the ordinary people from seeing the centre of London?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

The hon. Gentleman who has asked me that question has underlined what I have tried to put to the House, the great difficulty of finding a true balance on this point. I shall certainly consider it, and I shall consider it sympathetically, but I want the House to appreciate that there are those two points of view. There are people who are anxious to see the sights, if I may put it in that way, and who deserve to be considered. There is, on the other hand, the ordinary traffic of London, to which I must give attention. It was because I had that point so much in mind that I delayed as long as possible—many people think too long—in applying any ban at all. I shall certainly keep that aspect in mind.

Mr. Snow

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that to call in aid the Sessional Order seems to some of us rather like using a steam hammer to crack a nutshell? Hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent divisions within coaching distance are a little unhappy about our convenience being used to the inconvenience of our constituents.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

The House ought to bear in mind that the Sessional Order of the House, made on 4th November, 1952, contains the words: that no obstruction be permitted to hinder the passage of Members to and from this House. Of course, the Commissioner is bound to bear that in mind and to do his best to carry it out.

Mr. Snow

The access to the House is surely access by foot? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Why not?

Mr. Callaghan

I would ask the Home Secretary to bear in mind that I am not raising the question of the convenience to Members of this House but the essential traffic of London. That is what we are concerned about. May I ask the Home Secretary if he will not rely upon the Sessional Order, which deals with another matter concerning our convenience, in order to promote the flow of essential traffic through London, but will take the necessary steps to ensure that it goes through?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I have been trying to indicate that the movement of traffic in London is one of the main difficulties that I have to face. On the other hand, I appreciate the reluctance of Members to appear to be putting their own convenience too high, but I must remind them that the duty is placed on the Commissioner to carry out that Order. I should not like offhand to say that it was limited as the hon. Gentleman suggested.

Lieut-Colonel Lipton

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the present conditions will continue to be impossible, both for the public and for the police, until the Government make up their mind when the Coronation decorations are to come down? At the present moment, hundreds of thousands of people are trying to squeeze in, within too limited a period of time, and it might ease the situation if the time were extended.

Sir W. Darling

Is it not apparent upon a long-term view that London has become so large and unmanageable that steps will have to be taken to decentralise it into the country?

Mr. P. Roberts

Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider the use of one-way streets to a greater extent than at the moment? In view of what happens in every great city, like Berlin, Paris and New York, may not my right hon. and learned Friend find that therein lies the solution?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I will certainly bear that in mind. I should like the House to know that the question of diversion and of one-way streets was very carefully considered. The schemes are there, but what we are being faced with is that all the streets including those into which the diversions could be made, have been full. Therefore, it has been impossible to apply the schemes.