HC Deb 07 May 1959 vol 605 cc573-634

3.50 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

As traffic congestion in our large cities is becoming one of our most serious social problems we felt it desirable to have an early discussion on the subject so that the House could hear from the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what plans he has in mind, other than those he has already announced, to deal with the congestion in London and the many other provincial cities where conditions are as bad; and to allow hon. Members representing constituencies which are affected to contribute to the debate and to suggest remedies.

The problem is not so much the seriousness of the congestion in the centres of our big cities today, but what it is likely to be in ten years' time, when the number of vehicles on our roads will more than double, and delays are likely to quadruple. By that time, unless drastic action is taken meanwhile, it will be almost impossible for anyone who has not hours to spare to get into the centre of our cities for work, for shopping, or for social purposes; or to traverse them.

It is one of the strange paradoxes of modern society that as the community gets more prosperous and transport facilities increase, the more difficult does travel become. That is 'happening here and in many other countries. It is 'not merely the increase in the number of vehicles that has caused our trouble. Other outside factors must be taken into account.

In London, in recent years, there has been a material increase, said to be about 10 per cent. between 1948 and 1954, in the number of people working in the centre. That has resulted largely from the building of large blocks of offices which, in my view, should never have been allowed, While Central London office accommodation has increased in that way, the number of people living in the centre 'has decreased.

Many more people have moved to the outskirts, so that the total number of people needing to 'travel into London every day has risen substantially. We are glad that the London County Council, the planning authority, has decided virtually to stop office building in the central areas, or to be precise has said that it needs to revise its town planning provisions in the light of existing traffic conditions.

I will speak mainly of conditions in London, but we all know that the traffic situation in other cities is just as bad, and, in some cases, even worse. Whereas the average speed at which a vehicle can travel in London is about 11 miles an hour, it far lower elsewhere. I understand that in Glasgow it is less than 6 miles an 'hour. This is very serious, and again I ask: what is likely 'to happen in a few years' time, when the number of vehicles has doubled?

We agree at once that there is no simple remedy for this malady. It can be improved or, at least, prevented from getting worse, only by 'the application of a number of remedies of varying importance and expense. Our criticism of the Government is that they have not yet tackled the problem with the urgency it deserves. There has been far too little thinking and research, both of which must precede effective action. The Government's approach has been "bitty "doing a little here and there. There has been no general staff planning—indeed, there has been no general staff.

What we have had has been a number of enthusiastic committees unco-ordinated in their action and inadequately equipped with the necessary information. Above all else, this need for co-ordinated research into the traffic problems of our towns cries out to be satisfied. It is only when we have the information coming from research that effective remedies can be applied.

As many hon. Members may know, a most interesting series of articles on traffic congestion has been written by a distinguished American traffic expert and published in the Daily Telegraph but, in spite of that, I commend them to all hon. Members. The expert is Mr. Burton Marsh, and so important are his comments that I should like to read a sentence or two from what he has written, as he speaks with great authority. He opened his series of articles with these comments: …much British official opinion does not give to road transport anything like the importance we give to it in the United States. You have one third more vehicles per mile of road than we have, yet are spending relatively far less money and training for fewer people to think and research about traffic problems… There seems to be lacking in London the kind of adequately staffed traffic engineering department which has proved essential in our large cities to study the complicated problems of traffic and urban development. Indeed, without the many studies—the continual fact-finding and appraisal—which we do, we would not feel we had an adequate understanding of our traffic problems and needs. Without such understanding isn't there serious danger of wrong policies, unwise decisions, improper actions? He might well have added, "and unnecessary delays."

I am sure that Mr. Marsh's conclusions would be reflected by all the other traffic engineers in the United States. More than anything else we need an expert body to co-ordinate opinion and to find out facts. The activities of such an expert body are essential if we are to tackle this problem properly, and I hope that the Minister will give this aspect very serious consideration.

It is generally admitted that the set-up in London is deplorable. There are many traffic committees, but no central authority. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad there seems to be agreement on both sides of the House about that. The remedy for this state of affairs is not easy to find, but the present situation is ridiculous and intolerable. We have the London County Council as the highway authority and the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation has a financial responsibility. The police authorities, who are great experts in these matters, have, properly, to be consulted there is the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee, another important body, and the London Roads Committee—I think that is the name of the body presided over by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary.

There is also the London Traffic Committee, which is presided over by Mr. Alec Samuels. All these bodies act more or less independently, or else their work overlaps. None of them is a central authority able to make use of a body of traffic experts or engineers, or whatever we like to call them, such as do such effective work in the United States. I hope that some remedy will be found for this problem.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman and I hope that he will carry his argument a stage further. What authority would he suggest should become the central authority? Should it be the Minister or any one of the number of authorities which he has mentioned? This seems to me an important point.

Mr. Strauss

I have admitted that the problem is not easy to solve. I am not at the moment prepared to say where the final responsibility should lie. Probably it should lie with the Minister. His capacity to combine the other interests concerned is greater than that of any of the other bodies involved.

In a debate such as this one can only comment on the various proposals to remedy this serious social evil which have been advanced from time to time. One remedy which has been suggested in some quarters—I do not think that it commands much approval—is that private cars should be banned altogether from the central areas. That solution is not acceptable to me, it is far too simple, and as a large section of the public are now motorists I believe that it would cause as much inconvenience as it would bring benefit. I do not think that it is a solution which we should contemplate at the moment or even, it may be, at all.

That does not mean that it is not desirable to do everything possible to discourage private motorists from coming into the centre of London if they can avoid doing so, by using alternative methods of public transport. The unnecessary journey should be discouraged; and many of the journeys made by private motorists into the city centres are unnecessary. I would not object to a proposal to have certain small sections of the city centre completely free of vehicles, and formed into shopping zones, as has been done in other cities such as Birmingham. But that is a different matter from imposing a complete ban on motorists entering the central zone of a city.

Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that though it may be difficult to ban the entry of cars it would be possible to ban parking in the central area?

Mr. Strauss

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am coming to that point.

Another proposal which has been put forward, one which every Minister of Transport has approached with great enthusiasm and later abandoned in disappointment is the staggering of hours of work. The Labour Government tried that in 1946 and 1947. I went round London addressing various conferences and begging industrialists, shopkeepers and other employers of labour to stagger the hours of their workers, and the present Government have done the same. One gets a polite response, but very little action.

Although we should try to get as much staggering of working hours as possible and continue with propaganda efforts to that end, we must recognise that, for obvious reasons, the results will not be substantial. People do not want to go to work very early in the morning before the rest of the members of their family are up, or before they have been able to enjoy a communal breakfast. They do not want to arrive home long before other members of the family or before the children have come home from school. We must appreciate that there is a limit to what can be done in that direction.

There is the very important problem of parking. I do not think that anyone questions that improper parking causes serious congestion in the centre of London. There is no doubt that the parking meter scheme in Westminster, small as it is, has been a great success, and, if it is repeated elsewhere, is likely to be equally effective. I remember the strong opposition by the Automobile Association and the R.A.C. to the suggestion that the scheme should be introduced. They said that it was wrong in principle and would not work, despite the fact that similar schemes had been proved successful practically all over the world. The Westminster scheme has proved a success. Traffic flows more easily through that area and road accidents have been fewer in number. The question now is: how quickly we can bring parking meter schemes to other areas, or else introduce the alternative blue disc schemes?

I am distressed at the length of time it takes to get a parking meter scheme into operation. There will be a period of about two years between the time when a scheme was initiated for the Marylebone area and its coming into operation. Is it really necessary that such a long period should elapse? Shall we have to wait five or six years before there are effective schemes covering central London? The same problem arises in the provinces. I hope that steps will he taken to expedite these schemes. I shall be interested to hear whether it is still possible for some provincial cities to have disc schemes similar to that operated in Paris, and about which we have had debates in the House. They appear to be an attractive alternative to parking meters and it would be interesting to have an experiment along those lines in some part of the country.

Parking in streets where there is no meter scheme presents a serious problem. We all agree that parking in such streets in the centre of London causes much congestion and that the present oversight of such parking by the police is ineffective. Here, more than in other directions, useful measures could be taken to prevent traffic congestion. Strong action is called for. All over the place one finds, in streets where there should be no parking, or parking only on one side of the road, that the regulations arc ignored every day.

If the answer is that there are not sufficient police to deal with this matter. one asks: what do the Government propose to do about it? Are they satisfied with the present situation, or is it proposed to ask the Home Secretary to appoint mare police, or to employ traffic wardens, or something of that kind? Are the Government prepared to allow this serious parking situation to continue in and around the centre of London?

The permitting of loading and unloading of goods in front of shops during periods when parking is not allowed is another matter which must be dealt with. I hope that the Government will take a stronger line about this than in the past. In many countries loading and unloading of goods in front of shops is prohibited during periods when the streets are full of traffic. That might prove an inconvenience to many shopkeepers, but if it assists the flow of traffic, as I believe it would, I hope that the Government will be firm and impose such a ban. The Minister would have the support of most Londoners in any such action.

I suggest to the Minister that double parking should immediately be made an offence. It is a monstrous thing. Not only does it block up the road, but the car parked on the inside which may have been left only for a short time, is imprisoned by other vehicles and the driver cannot move it. I hope that the Minister will tell us that he proposes to do this.

Then there is the question of the provision of garages for cars. Of course, this is highly desirable, but this is a matter designed not so much for clearing the streets and preventing congestion as providing something highly convenient for motorists. Garages by themselves only attract traffic into the centre of towns and they may attract traffic in streets which are already overcrowded. Any application for the building of a garage in streets which are already congested should be looked at very carefully, and turned down if there is any likelihood that the flow of cars in and out of the garage will cause further serious congestion in the surrounding streets and in what may be an important shopping or business area.

The siting of garages is of importance. I am all in favour of putting garages a little away from the congested streets, as a convenience to motorists, while recognising the fact that they will attract more cars to the area than would otherwise be there. I am, however, doubtful about the value of putting up big garages and parking places right in the centre of congested areas where the streets am already too full.

I see no reason why these garages should be paid for out of public funds. It has been suggested that the building of garages should be subsidised from national funds, or from the rates of local authorities. I cannot see any reason for that. The motorist who wants to bring his car into London, and have the convenience of parking it near the centre, should pay the proper economic rent for that facility.

A way of relieving congestion in or near the centre of our towns which has caused more discussion than anything else is the provision of ordinary new roads, the widening of existing ones, or the building of urban motorways. Plainly, it is not possible to give a general answer and say that this is or is not a desirable solution. In some cities the building of a new road may be the only possible thing to do, but we must recognise that it is expensive and if we say that that is the solution, we must be prepared to see a large amount of money spent in the building of these new roads.

In London, there has been only one really new road for a long time, and that is the Cromwell Road. Speaking of that road reminds me how long it takes to get a new road built. It was when I was chairman of the London County Council Highways Committee, about twenty-five years ago, that the Council promoted a Bill, which was passed in Parliament, for the building of the Cromwell Road extension. It was not a new idea then, it had been seriously considered by experts for many years before. It has lust been completed.

There may be other places where substantial road widening is desirable, such as the Strand. I fully share the doubt whether an inner A-ring road within a radius of one-and-a-half miles of Charing Cross would really be worth while. Not only would the expense be enormous—we are told about £150 million—but I think that such a road would create traffic problems as well as relieve them. I am certain that it would not be possible to build such a road without destroying almost completely the architectural character and general amenities of the area through which it passed. We have to think very carefully before embarking on a scheme of that kind.

On the other hand, there are proposals which appear to me to be far more attractive. I have in mind in particular, the building of a new tube from Victoria to Walthamstow. This is something which has been strongly advocated on traffic grounds by almost every authority for a long time. Again, it will be very expensive. We are told that it will cost about £50 million. But I believe that this would be far cheaper and far better in relieving traffic congestion than a ring road.

We know that the annual cost of such a tube will be heavy and might amount to about £3 million a year. There seems to be justification if the Government are spending substantial sums of money, as they must do, to help relieve road congestion for subsidising a development of this sort which is an alternative way of doing the same thing. This matter is now being considered by the committee over which I think the Joint Parliamentary Secretary presides, or by one of the other committees, possibly the London Traffic Committee. I am, however, doubtful whether the views of that committee will be considered as final or decisive by the Government. Its report will be the opinion of a group of people whose views will be interesting and nothing more.

I hope that a decision about this matter will not be long delayed and that a favourable decision will be taken, because, although I cannot speak with all the expert knowledge which one should have before deciding anything of this sort, it appears, from all the evidence published and the facts that have been before us, that such a development in London would be of the highest importance and do much towards relieving traffic congestion.

As for the proposals of motorways, it is quite impossible to generalise. I think that in many of the provincial cities such developments would be highly desirable and should be proceeded with. If that is so, the local authorities should receive every encouragement from the Government and the Minister should urge them to push ahead and put before him the plans which they think desirable—not with the understanding that the Minister will accept whatever plans are put before him, but as an indication that he is anxious to do what he can and contribute substantial sums of money for that purpose.

There is only one other thing which I want to say on this subject before I sit down and leave it to other hon. Members to make their contributions, and it concerns road safety. About 75 per cent. of the casualties on our roads are in the built-up areas. Although it may be said that the slower the traffic, the fewer the accidents—believe that is true—nevertheless the accident aspect of traffic flowing through our cities is exceedingly important. I want to make a brief comment on it. It concerns the propaganda now being carried on by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, with the help of substantial sums of money from the Treasury.

In my opinion, much of the propaganda displayed on its wayside posters is an absolute waste of money. I cannot think what good anyone thinks it does to have posters saying, "Good driving pays". Everyone believes that he is a good driver, and anodyne and platitudinous statements of that sort are not likely to make anyone drive more carefully.

I have my own view as to the type of propaganda necessary to have any effect on the public and I think that to some extent it must bring the public up with a jerk and shock them about the danger of accidents. [An HON. MEMBER: "The black widow."] That is an example. Posters of the present sort, displayed all over the place outside towns and in the country, are an utter waste of money and, indeed, ridiculous. I wonder what inquiries are made and by whom before it is decided to use slogans of that sort.

There must be many people in the advertising world who would be able to give sound advice as to the kind of poster likely to have effect. Have they been consulted and, if so, who else has been consulted? I imagine that no one has been consulted, or if they have been consulted their advice has not been taken. I hope that we shall have some comment from the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary about the wisdom of spending large sums of public money in carrying out a campaign which is, I think, in the view of everyone in this Committee, incapable of bringing about any results whatsoever.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is not denigrating the idea of better driving, the safety factor and the need to prevent accidents on the roads. Is not anything which brings those before the public good in itself?

Mr. Strauss

Of course better driving is desirable, but to put up posters saying, "Be a better driver", and "Better driving pays" is just as sensible as putting up a poster saying, "Look more handsome". Is it likely that such a poster will make anybody drive better than he did before? The answer, unquestionably, is "No".

Those are the only points I want to raise. The traffic problem cannot be solved by one simple answer. There are approaches to the solution from many directions, and it is only by combination of a number of them that we shall get results. I repeat my belief that unless action is taken on a much more drastic scale in all these ways than has been done, the situation in the country in a few years' time will be so serious as almost to kill the centres of our main cities. They cannot live unless there is a proper flow of traffic through them. It would cause inconvenience to the public beyond anything we know today.

There are many ways by which it can be tackled, but so far the Government have not given a high enough priority to the solution of this problem, the gravity of which is far more severe than they appreciate; or if the Government do appreciate how severe it is they must have been inhibited from taking the necessary action for some reason or another. Perhaps they have not had sufficient public opinion behind them, or Parliament has not been insistent enough, to enable them to do what is needed and which would, admittedly, involve the expenditure of substantial sums of money.

This is a vicious circle. The slower traffic is in the centre of our cities the higher the cost of transport. Up go the bus fares for the people who want to travel by bus, and if bus fares go up fewer people want to travel in buses. They get out their private cars, and the worse the situation becomes. London Transport should take careful thought before they withdraw buses from routes which are uneconomic. Although, from its point of view, and looking at the matter from the financial aspect, it may be desirable for it to withdraw such buses on certain routes, it may well happen that if there is not an alternative underground method by which people living in the area can travel a large number of them will bring out private cars, although they previously preferred to travel by bus. As we know, the space occupied by private cars is much larger than that occupied by buses. Congestion, therefore, gets worse.

The Government, having in view the general state of congestion, and not the economic and financial viewpoints of London Transport, should urge the London Transport Executive not to withdraw buses except where it is clear that that will not create much public disturbance, and that the withdrawal will not result in a large number of private cars going on to the roads and congestion becoming worse. I urge the Government to give serious consideration to these problems and their solution. The longer that action is delayed the more intractable will the problems become and the more intolerable will be their effect on the community.

4.25 p.m.

The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Harold Watkinson)

The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) has asked me, and very rightly, to give the Government's policy, looking towards the future, on the very great and acknowledged problem of traffic congestion in our cities. I shall be very happy to do so as quickly as I can.

First I would say one general thing. It is worth considering that if we did not have a problem of acute traffic congestion in our cities we would probably be a great deal more worried than we are today, because traffic congestion is at least a sign of an expanding and lively economy. It is the same in every advancing country in the world. The sign of material development is a traffic problem. Do not let us regard it, therefore, in too tragic a manner. It is a by-product of an advanced, technological way of life. We have to find a proper solution, and not throw up our hands in horror and say how terrible it all is.

It is no use having the best of all possible plans unless we have some performance. This is not a strictly party matter. I remember with great pleasure the collective wisdom of the House of Commons when we discussed the Road Traffic Bill, and it is the collective wisdom of this Committee that I want to take on this matter now. It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman has just said, that we have been very slow to tackle this problem. For example, Mr. Barnes gave his Government very good advice, but they failed to take it. The present Government are at least taking some of the advice that I have tried to give them and I can talk to the Committee about performance as well as about planning.

Performance falls under four heads, with which I shall try to deal quickly. The first is that we must have more roads. The second is we must have better use of existing roads. The third is that we must have better deployment of public transport, and the fourth is we must have better control and co-ordination.

First, about more urban roads. We do not want to get misled into thinking that there is any particular simple solution. For example, there is a mystique about urban motor roads, but although they are very interesting we do not want to got dazzled by them. We must have our own solution about this. We cannot just pick up a road from America or Germany. plant it down over here and say, "That's right". It is not. We are experimenting with roads, not of the complete motor-road standard but with roads of limited access. A good example is the Cromwell Road extension. It may have taken a long time to come, but it is now practically complete, and should be finished, except for the Hammersmith flyover, in August.

It cannot be classified as a motor road because it is not of motor-road standard. It is a limited access road and will be an immense boon to London. The Birmingham Inner Ring Road is not quite a motor road in the terms understood by the expert, but a limited access road. I am inclined to think that that kind of road fits our city traffic problems better than the motor road. I am not saying that we do not need the motor road solution, but do not let us say that if we cannot build an enormous number of urban motor roads we cannot do anything at all. We shall not get anywhere in that way.

Take the London problem. For his sins, the Minister of Transport is the London traffic authority. I never quite know why. In general, in London, we want not so much ring roads but radial roads to handle the enormous surge in the inflow and outflow of traffic every day. We are making some steps in this direction. As I have said, the Cromwell Road extension, with the Chiswick flyover, will, I hope, be opened in August. Beyond that, we plan a motor road. First, it will be a double-decker road to link the Chiswick flyover to the South Wales radial road, which will be a full-scale motor road.

I return to my theme of giving a face lift to some of our existing roads. By that means we can draw a traffic dividend very quickly. An example of a small face lift is the Hanger Lane flyover, which will be finished in 1960 at a cost of El million and will give much better value to the road network in that area.

I hope to announce in a few days' time some plans for a fairly major face lift for some of the Kingston By-pass. That is an exit from London which I think that we ought to be modernising and thus making more valuable.

The Committee will appreciate that I am giving examples. I hope that the L.C.C. will soon be able to reach a decision about the Kingsway tunnel. It has always been astonishing to me that we have the possibility of an underpass from Waterloo Bridge to Kingsway of which we are not making any use. The London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee may be yet another committee, but it is thanks to it that this problem has been picked up again. I hope that before long the L.C.C. will be able to agree that we can use that tunnel as a flyunder from the end of Waterloo Bridge to Kingsway.

Are we looking ahead? I will give the Committee some idea of the sort of plans on which the planning section of my Ministry is now working. I will give but three examples in London, although I could give many more. First, the London to Birmingham motor road needs a link both into the centre of Birmingham and into the centre of London. The link into the centre of Birmingham is going ahead and will marry in with the extra work on the Inner Ring Road.

We are also examining the possibility of a motor road from Marble Arch to Aldenham, which is the end of the present London to Birmingham motor road. It is a cheap motor road by present-day standards. By "cheap" I mean that it will cost only £30 million. That seems an immense sum of money, but it will save 6 million vehicle hours per year. There will then be a link from Marble Arch right through to the centre of Birmingham.

There are always immense difficulties to be overcome on planning and the displacement of people. To give another example to the Committee, one small section of the Cromwell Road extension was held up for a long time on one ground only, namely, the difficulty of finding alternative housing accommodation for people who would be displaced on the Talgarth Road section. Unless we are willing to throw away an immense number of safeguards for the rights of people and property in this island, we shall find it fairly difficult to do these things, but they will not take as long as the right hon. Gentleman indicated that Cromwell Road took.

Another plan is the new outlet to the east which would comprise our present plans for a dock relief road with the Norwich Radial. There are plans for a link to the south-east to link the Medway motor road into London. I could give many more examples.

One has to face a cost of up to £4 million a mile for an urban motorway. It is a good investment, but, as the right hon. Gentleman said, if we are to carry out a very large number of these urban motor road schemes, the House of Commons and the country will certainly have to provide my Ministry with more money for its road schemes. Otherwise, they will not be possible.

I hope that I have shown that we are thinking well ahead on planning. Although I am using London as an example, every large provincial city is doing the same sort of thing.

It is also necessary to go ahead with some current works. I will give the Committee one or two examples in London. The Dartford—Purfleet tunnel will be finished in 1962 at a cost of £11 million. That will be a new link across the Thames. The new scheme at the Elephant and Castle, costing £1½ million, which will be completed in 1962, will help to cure that South London bottle- neck. The Notting Hill Gate scheme and the reconstruction of the tube station and major road widening will be completed in 1960. The Blackwall Tunnel duplication, which I regard as most important, will cost £8 million and should be finished by 1964. The northern approaches are going on now at a cost of £1½ million. I hope that Route 11 will be opened in the next few weeks in the City of London. This is a most interesting scheme, because it combines with the road a parking space for 250 motor cars. I certainly congratulate the City of London on that type of scheme. I shall return to the parking issue in a moment.

Then there is the widening of Cheap-side, the widening of the Strand, the reconstruction of St. Giles Circus, and the Holborn Kingsway new scheme at a cost of £1¼ million. These are all relatively small schemes, but they will all pay an enormous traffic dividend. Then there is the new Park Lane scheme, on which work has now started. Its four-lane underpass was included in the scheme with some doubts in the House of Commons and elsewhere, but I am sure that it is right. Even though it perhaps slightly over-insures against present traffic I am sure that it will be necessary for future traffic. So at least we are proceeding with some current works. There are plenty of schemes elsewhere. Birmingham has several interesting examples of urban motor roads—over the railways, under the railways, and so on. The whole Birmingham Inner Ring Road scheme is very interesting.

To give one other example, there is a very interesting scheme at Newport of a complete motor road treatment for a medium-sized town. I know that it presents Newport with great difficulties in rehousing, and so on, but I hope that Newport will go ahead with this very imaginative scheme designed by Sir Owen Williams. This scheme shows what can be done to give a medium-sized town full motor road treatment.

I hope that I have said at least enough to show that on the constructional front we are trying to do a great deal of work now in planning for the future, when there will be obviously even more traffic problems.

Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)

Will my right hon. Friend say if he has any plans for utilising space over railways? The sort of thing which I have in mind is the extension of Western Avenue right up through the north side of Bayswater Road to Marble Arch. There is a market for that type of scheme. Has my right hon. Friend any plans for any scheme like that?

Mr. Watkinson

I do not disagree with that. I have mentioned the scheme in Birmingham where we hope to build some 2½ miles of road over the railway as the best way of getting through a congested area. When one considers an inner ring road for London, I think that the A Ring Road is certainly right if one is to build a completely new road, although its cost is enormous, not only in money, but in the displacement of people.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield). I think that we must see whether we can do more of this road-over-rail treatment in our cities. It is expensive, but it has the great attraction and advantage that it does not mean the displacement of thousands of people, the severance of one district from another, and all the difficulties of planning which arise when one has to drive a road through a densely built up area.

My Ministry is examining all these possibilities. There are many difficulties, but we had better let them argue for themselves. We must try to go ahead and make more use of this double-decker principle.

I want now to come to the second problem, how to make better use of existing roads. I, too, have read the very interesting articles in the Daily Telegraph. It is a good thing from time to time for somebody from outsde to look at our problems, and I think that the Daily Telegraph was very enterprising to bring Mr. Burton Marsh over. He represents a little known kind of traffic expert to us—the traffic engineer, trained as an engineer or as an architect, but brought up to deal with traffic problems.

His visit is timely, because of a very interesting development which I think has not received as much notice as it deserves. Thanks to the very generous help of a large number of firms and associations, we hope that there will now be a Chair of Traffic Engineering at Birmingham University, if Birmingham accepts the offer, which will start the training in this country of these essential people. They will be essential in order to solve our traffic problems in the future. Twenty thousand pounds a year have now been offered for this Chair. I should like to express the thanks of the whole House of Commons to those who have supported this imaginative concept. I should like to express my personal thanks to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, because of what he did in all this. He organised it and it was his idea. I am grateful to him. It is a very good job to have done and it will pay a very good dividend in the future.

We also propose to start sending some people from my Ministry and other organisations to Yale and other traffic engineering schools in the United States so that while we are training our own people we can also be learning in America. It can, therefore, be said that we are taking traffic engineering seriously.

I agree that at the moment we have many committees but, as I shall mention before I end, this is because of the absurd fragmentation of responsibility which at present exists. The London Travel Committee has set up a Traffic Sub-Committee which is already doing this job of traffic engineering. It has formed what it calls an attack group," which is staffed by trained engineers from my Ministry. It has the full co-operation of the police, the local authorities and all others concerned. It is trying to study some new ideas on buses, to which I shall return presently, as well as the problem of improving intersections and all the other detailed changes which may make an improvement to traffic if we can carry them out. We have, therefore, not only the chair of engineering, and training in America, for the future but, in addition. something being done now in London—which I hope will be followed in other cities—by this Committee which is trying to get on with the job of traffic engineering.

Of course, that will not be enough, and I want to make plain what is the Government's policy on the question of trying to control parking in London. I agree that the parking meter has more than proved itself in the small pilot scheme which we have tried. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it has reduced accidents and it has increased the traffic speed by no less than 9 per cent. in the area, but, of course, we must start these innovations fairly slowly if we want to carry the public with us. I think we can say quite clearly that this is the right policy, and I therefore hope that we can speed up further schemes which are brought forward. The hearings of the new Westminster scheme will, I hope, start in June. They will be held by the Chairman of the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee, who has promised me that he will conduct the hearings as expeditiously as possible.

Hon. Members will be interested to know that I have signed an Order extending the provisions of the Act on parking meters to ten local authorities outside London. The Order will be laid before the House on Monday, 11th May. It requires an affirmative Resolution of both Houses, and I hope that it will be given this Resolution so that provincial cities which wish to go ahead with parking meters will be able to do so.

I should like to make a few comments about off-street parking, because there is some misunderstanding on this point. I must make it plain that, as was right, the Government have looked at the whole situation again in the light of the decision to extend parking meters. After the most careful thought, I am satisfied that no case has been made for a Government subsidy for off-street parking. I think that it would be a wrong use of my road funds, which are stretched enough already, and that it would lead us in the long run to some very odd conclusions.

I think that the proof is to be found in a piece of great private enterprise. As a major contribution to the solution of London's parking problem, Messrs. Selfridges have erected a garage recently just off Oxford Street which will hold nearly 1,000 motor cars. They are charging, I understand, quite a cheap price for all-day parking. I also understand that that garage has not yet been more than half full. In other words, it has never held more than about 500 motor cars on any one day. Why is this? It is because people can park for nothing outside Selfridges if they are prepared to run the risk of an occasional fine.

Frankly, I do not see that anybody will go ahead and provide a lot more off-street parking unless we show some resolution in pressing on with metering the streets. I hope that I have said enough to show that we will press on with metering the streets. That will bring in its train the growth of off-street parking, produced either by civic enterprise or by private enterprise but not subsidised by the Government. Certainly in the City of London they seem to find no difficulty in facing the parking problem. I have mentioned Route 11 and I could mention other imaginative parking schemes in the City. I am sure that what can be done in the City can also be done elsewhere.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that it is essential for him at this stage to see that the remaining war-damaged sites are not developed for office blocks? They could become the off-street garages for future. If he loses that opportunity he will never get it again.

Mr. Watkinson

My hon. Friend is quite right. I do not want to make a very long speech, but if he is interested I will let him know about a number of sites which the Westminster City Council and my Ministry have picked out, so to speak, so that if a developer comes forward the sites will be available. For instance, I think that the Minister of Works would consider quite a large site in Hyde Park if some suitable developer came forward. We could have a garage there, which would be underground and not seen, to hold over 1,000 motor cars. We have that point well in mind.

There has been one development in policy which I should like to mention. We have been forced to the view that it is absurd to spend large sums of money on building new roads and immediately lose one-third or even half of their capacity because they are turned into car parks. Hon. Members have only to look at the Thames Embankment to see what I mean. I make it plain that in future my Ministry will ask any local authority which brings an urban scheme forward, "What plans do you associate with this scheme, for off-street parking? Can you arrange it under the road or in association with the building of the road or in some other manner?" I make it plain that, in future, schemes which have a car-parking element will undoubtedly receive priority over schemes which have not. I know the difficulties, but I think that it is right that in future we should ensure that study of such a provision has been made for keeping the cars off the street before large sums of public money are spent.

A new development which I hope will be supported in the House of Commons and elsewhere is what I will call clearways. It comes back to my theme of medium-purpose roads. We must have certain trunk roads, both within and without cities, where there is no parking at all. In other words, if someone wants to stop he must get off the road, on the verge or round the corner or somewhere else. We hope to start the first experiment in clearways this summer. We shall probably choose country trunk roads to start the experiment, but we hope to carry out experiments both within cities and out of cities in the hope that in due course the House will agree to some legislation, which may be necessary, establishing this clearway principle on certain important through-routes.

May I say a word about discs? I am not opposed to discs, but I recently had a quick look at the scheme in Paris and I was interested to learn that on 31st March this year 360 enforcement officers had to be employed in Paris to staff the scheme, which is three times as many as would be necessary on a metering scheme. I am bound to say that to my untutored mind the possibilities of evasion seemed to be extremely large. The scheme brings in no revenue and it does not mark out the streets or give room for goods vehicles. Nevertheless, in some provincial cities and outer London areas it may well have a part to play. For example, if Kingston-upon-Thames or some other provincial town made the suggestion that it would like to try the disc scheme, my Ministry would be willing to facilitate it.

I want to turn quickly to the question of the better use of public transport. We delude ourselves if we think that our cities will live if their transport is catered for only by the private motor car and if public transport is thrown on the scrap heap. The proof of that is to be found in the sobering thought that every day British Railways provides for 3.5 million passenger-journeys and buses provide every day for 50 million passenger-journeys. No one should think that the private motor car can possibly be capable of that sort of thing, because it is quite impossible.

What I think we want to do is to try to fit the pattern of our public transport into a slightly new concept in our cities, and I hope that that is one of the things which the London Travel Committee will do. I think there are possibilities in having more "shuttle" bus services in the congested areas, in having buses waiting at certain points where they can be drawn into the stream in order to pick up the queues quickly. All these things are being studied, and I think things like that could give new life to public transport and better services to the public.

On the railways, there must be more electrification. Stage one of the North Kent coast line will start in June, London-Southend will be completed in 1961, and the Metropolitan Line schemes in 1962. London Transport is spending £15 million on new rolling stock for the tubes, and there again modernisation should bring a much better service, and, I hope, enable public transport to carry a greater share of the load.

The Victoria line is not by any means disposed of or buried by being put to the the London Travel Committee. This issue has been before the House of Commons for many years. I think it should be looked at again in the light of the future plans we are trying to make. I hope that the report on it will reach me in June, and I certainly undertake now to give it very serious and early study as soon as I have received it. One cannot dismiss a scheme like this, because of its immense carrying capacity, although I must say that it will almost certainly lose money. However, that is something we may have to face. In any case, I must first be advised whether we could spend £55 million in some better way in order to get a better traffic dividend, and I have asked the London Travel Committee to advise me on that.

Next, I want to say a word or two about this vexed problem of control. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this is indeed responsibility without any power, so far as the London traffic authorities are concerned. I and my Ministry are supposed to be that authority, but we have no power, and we have to work through the police, the L.C.C. or the boroughs. I do not say that the system does not work reasonably well. It does, thanks to the kindness and cooperation of the people on the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee, which, although in theory it should not work at all, in fact works remarkably well.

My Ministry has recommended to the Royal Commission that there should be a radical change in the traffic structure for London. We think that there should be a central traffic authority with real power for the Greater London area, but that means treading on the toes of the L.C.C. and a lot of other interests. All I can say is that we have put our case in writing and we will put it again verbally and very powerfully to the Royal Commission. Although I do not think it is right for me to say to the Royal Commission what we think it should do, I say that this is a very important aspect of its work, because I think that if we continue as we are, we invite the very fair criticism of outside people who come to look at our cities, like Mr. Marsh, for example, that they wonder how we make it work at all.

I should like to say something about other cities. I should like to see more of the conurbation committees set up. Those that have been set up are working extremely well. They do not plan routes in detail, but try to foresee the general future so as to advise us on what are likely to be the future developments in Birmingham, Manchester and other places. I think that the architectural profession is quite wrong in feeling that in some way or another it is being left out of it. It is not. I have written to the chairmen of the existing conurbation committees hoping that they will pay the greatest possible attention to expert advice from architects or from anybody else who can help in their very difficult task.

Better control and co-ordination must await the Report of the Royal Commission. In the meantime, we may have a lot of committees, but they are all trying to work to a common end. I am very grateful for their help. In London we must get on as best we can in the hope that the Royal Commission, in its wisdom, will provide us with a simpler and more powerful authority. In other cities, I hope the conurbation studies will go on so that my Ministry may be clearly warned concerning the plans which they want to make. The London Roads Committee will I hope soon report and give us some guidance for London itself.

To sum up, I would say that at least we are trying to tackle the job. Anybody in my job, if he is honest, must admit that there is an immense amount more to do if we are to solve the traffic problem, but at least we have made a start. We are beginning to learn some of the lessons and trying to see how to solve this problem, not in America or Germany, but in our own country and in our own way. I am rather alarmed that there are some people who seem to regard the motor car and the development of transport as a sort of adverse development. I do not think it is.

If we are to have this technological advance and an expanding economy, we must provide the fruits for every member of the population, and things like motor cars, aeroplanes and new trains are perhaps some of the more obvious end-products of any technological civilisation. It is our job as a Government to try to see that they are freely available and exploited to their full capacity. This is really very much the job of a Minister of Transport—to try to see how this country can live alongside the aeroplane, the motor car, the new diesel engines and all the rest.

I would end by saying that I think we have made a good start, but that if we are to solve the problem, the country must face the fact that in future we shall have to invest a great deal more money in transport than we are doing today. In these middle years of our century, I myself cannot think of any better investment of public money than one which can bring life and vigour and expansion to our country by a modern system, not only of roads, but of railways and airways, if we are to be a prosperous and efficient country.

4.57 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

I am glad to have the opportunity of taking part in this debate. We have listened to two very thoughtful and interesting speeches from my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation. Both have given great thought to this question, and I am quite certain that both their speeches were of vital interest to the House.

This is not a party matter, but a national question. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee are interested in obtaining proper roads for Britain, and, therefore, I am quite sure that the debate will be conducted in that spirit today. I have only a lay knowledge of new road and traffic problems, but I am pleased to have the opportunity of making some observations to the Committee from that point of view. The towns and cities of Britain as we know them today were largely built before motor transport existed. They have developed over the centuries, but were first constructed mainly for horse-drawn traffic. It is in this, the twentieth, century that this problem has become so acute.

In the post-war years, there has been a tremendous increase in transport and in all types of vehicles—industrial lorries, private cars, coaches, public transport and other types of cars used on the roads, and this development is likely to increase in the years ahead. Therefore, it is vital that Parliament should pay immediate attention to the problem.

I feel that there are three aspects of the traffic problem which need to be considered. First, there is the construction of new roads, with road safety measures for all users of the roads. The question of making the roads safe is vital not only for the pedestrian, but also for the motor driver himself. I think that my right hon. Friend criticised the slogan to be displayed on placards on the roads, "Be a Good Driver". I would suggest to him that it should be "Be a Safe Driver". I think that that would be a very good slogan indeed. Secondly, there is the application of traffic engineering techniques to ensure that the maximum use is made of the existing pattern of roads and streets; and, thirdly, there is the provision of parking facilities off the highway.

The construction of new roads in the central areas of large cities is urgent, especially in large shopping areas. We need to construct these roads with pedestrian subways so that the persons can cross the streets in safety. To lessen congestion in the busy shopping and trading areas and during peak hours relief roads should be provided. Not only do we want the new roads in the centres of the cities with pedestrian subways. but also relief roads which would help to lighten the traffic in the busy periods.

Outstanding examples of planned schemes to deal with the traffic problem are now being carried out in Birmingham and Coventry. The new shopping centre in Coventry shows the results which can be achieved by a modern approach to the problem. Coventry's pedestrian shopping centre with provision outside for the parking of motor cars is well worth seeing, and I think that it would be well worth the while of other local authorities to take a look at the work now going on in those two cities. Both these cities are providing parking schemes.

In the construction of new roads or of any new construction in the big cities I think that parking space for cars must be provided near the shopping centres. London is probably the greatest problem that the road experts will have to tackle. More road construction schemes are urgently needed not only in London, but also in the greater London urban areas. True, we have the Hyde Park scheme, with four lines of traffic in the underpass, the Chiswick flyover and the Hammersmith flyover, and in my own constituency we have the widening of the Bath Road and other improvements. There are also the three pedestrian subways which the Minister is going to give to the people of Cranford. But despite all that has been and is being done there is more that needs to be done in the Greater London and Middlesex areas.

In Feltham, we need a new shopping area as well as the long-needed new high street. As a result of the increase in the population since 1945 these arc urgent problems. We should bear in mind that we are now in the fifteenth year of the post-war period. The population in the greater London urban areas has grown and should now be given not only new high streets, but good shopping facilities. I hope also, that the Minister will pay attention to the urban areas' needs in the greater London and Middlesex areas.

I also wish to refer to new roads under construction. I know that this is a difficult problem and, as the Minister explained, some people's rights have to be considered in the matter of rehousing. I have received complaints from constituents about the slow rate at which the work is proceeding. I have received corn-plaints about the Bath Road, the Cromwell Road extension and also about the Chiswick flyover. If the Minister can speed up these schemes I am sure that it will be appreciated not only by the people living in the areas, but also by the road users.

Finally, I trust that the Government will press on with the three aspects of road improvement which I have mentioned. The first is the construction of new roads with safety measures for all road users. On many occasions in the House I have spoken of the appalling number of road casualties. I believe that nearly 6,000 people were killed on the roads last year and well over 200,000 injured. Such a situation is a tragic blight on our civilisation. Therefore, I very much hope that the Minister's schemes will pay very great attention to the needs of the people who use the roads for their every day affairs of life. There should be pedestrian subways and crossings with traffic control lights.

The other two aspects I mentioned were the application of traffic engineering techniques to ensure that maximum use is made of our present roads, and the provision of parking facilities off the highways. The Minister stated that the Government are pushing ahead with these road schemes. I believe that public opinion is now convinced of the urgent necessity for this road construction in our cities and urban areas. The News Chronicle published a Gallup poll some weeks ago. The question was: If the Chancellor of the Exchequer had £50 million to spend, how should he spend it? Old-age pensions came first and new roads came second. That shows that public opinion is strongly in favour of new roads and other measures to deal with traffic congestion.

I trust that this debate will convince the right hon. Gentleman of the urgent need for new road construction to reduce traffic hold ups and delays in our cities and urban areas and to make the highways safe for the pedestrian and motorist.

5.6 p.m.

Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Merton and Morden)

It is always pleasant to participate in a debate in which party feeling does not enter at all and in which everyone who contributes is trying to solve the problem without the differences of party feeling.

I am very glad to find myself in complete agreement with the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) about the three points which he put forward as being essential if we are to solve this difficult problem of traffic congestion in our large cities. A good part of the hon. Gentleman's speech was devoted to road construction and improvement. Of course, he is quite right to say that in many places improved roads are urgently needed. Thanks to my right hon. Friend, they are, of course, being provided.

I do not propose to spend any time on the provision of new roads and the improvement of existing ones, which is a long-term and costly business. I propose to deal with one or two immediate and less costly methods of solving the problem, and, like every other speaker so far this afternoon, I shall be talking about London because I live in London and represent a constituency on its outskirts. Indeed, I do not know very much about any other city.

In his speech my right hon. Friend said that we must make the best use of what we have got. Of course, that is absolutely correct. It is equally correct to say that we do not do so at the moment. Apparently there is still in this country the idea that the roads are there for anybody to use and that anyone can do whatever he likes with them. If people decide to leave a lump of machinery as big as a house in the middle of the road it is all right. It is not all right.

The object of a highway is to enable people to pass and repass on their lawful occasions, and that fact should be in the front of our minds when we are considering traffic congestion. There are still too many roads in our cities, and in London particularly, which have been provided with a carriageway 40 ft. wide on which the effective width for the passage and repassage of people is only about 24 ft. or less. Therefore, I very much welcome what the Government have done in the past two years about the problem of parking, and, in particular, I welcome the initiative which they have taken for the introduction of parking meter schemes.

As my right hon. Friend said, these schemes have proved successful and are now accepted by the public generally. It is interesting to note how the pattern in the experience of other cities abroad has been repeated in London. In whatever part of the world it has been suggested that parking meters should be introduced there has always been an enormous amount of opposition to the proposal and a great outcry raised about it, as was raised here. Then, almost at once, as soon as the scheme is in operation people realise what a good thing it is. Exactly the same kind of thing has happened here as happened everywhere where this system has been adopted as a new thing.

Both my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) said they hoped that the introduction of new schemes would be speeded up. So do I, but I want to point out the danger in speeding them up too much. Meters make it easier for the short-term parker who wants to leave his car for up to two hours but more difficult for the long-term parker who wants to leave his car all day. That is a good thing because it helps to even the flow of traffic and discourages people arriving in the morning rush hour and leaving in the evening rush hour. It encourages people who want to come into the area in the middle of the day to see a dentist, or for a business appointment or for any other reason, but there must always be a large number of people who have to come in during the morning rush hour and have to go out in the evening rush hour.

If we push ahead too quickly with schemes which discourage those people from being able to park their cars and do not at the same time make provision for them to put their cars somewhere they will be forced to use public transport. That would not be a good thing because the public transport system in London is grossly overloaded at peak hours. I have had occasion before to call attention in the House to the appalling conditions on the Underground and the conditions under which my constituents travel daily to and from London. That is not improving very much. I am well aware that the figures published in the Report of the British Transport Commission show a reduction in the total number of passengers travelling, but in that Report the Commission says: A feature which these average figures do not reveal is the intensification of daily peak demands which is due to a worse distribution of passengers. Generally, a decline in off-peak traffics has been accompanied by an intensification in the daily peak. If we go too fast with these schemes and neglect proper provision for people to park their cars all day we shall add to the already difficult conditions in public transport at peak hours, and I do not think we ought to do that. My right hon. Friend said that at the moment the balance seems to be slightly the other way. There are garages available for all-day parking which are not full, but if we go too much the other way, and drive all-day parking off the streets without providing other places for people to leave their cars, we shall have great difficulty in the public transport services. The two developments must go hand in hand.

I wish to make four suggestions about an improvement in the flow of traffic and an improvement in the car parking situation generally. My first suggestion has been made already by everyone who has spoken in the debate, and no doubt will be referred to by every other hon. Member who takes part in it, because it is so well known. That is the provision of off-street parks, particularly directed to all-day parking. Short-term parking can be dealt with, but garages and car parks must be provided off the streets for the all-day parker.

My second suggestion is in line with that. It is not easy to find places in which to build garages. It is not easy to find more places for off-street car parks, but, at the same time, there is a lot of commercial building going on. As commercial buildings are erected I should like to see them provided with space for cars to be parked, probably underneath the buildings, so that those who work there can park their cars. It is obviously not possible to lay down a rule that a new commercial building must contain car-parking space, but I suggest that those seeking permission to erect such a building should be asked to show cause why parking provisions cannot be made.

Another point in connection with commercial buildings is that, as far as possible, they should all have what I might call an access bay where cars can draw up outside the building without remaining in the main stream of traffic. That would assist the general flow of traffic. I illustrate what I mean by referring to the office of my right hon. Friend which has such a bay outside in Berkeley Square where his motor car may wait for him and not obstruct the flow of traffic round the square. It would be a good thing to provide such a bay wherever possible for a new building.

The third point has already been made by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall. There are many streets which at peak traffic hours are extremely busy, but which at other times are very much less busy. Some are affected by a "No Waiting" restriction notice, but that notice permits vehicles to stop for twenty minutes to load or to unload. So we have the state of affairs at the busiest times of the day in which vehicles are stopping to load and unload, and, as a result, the available width of the carriageway is reduced. I know that proposals have been put forward by the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee to prevent this happening in a number of selected streets and there was a public inquiry at the beginning of last year. I think it was shown that the case for this restriction had not been proved in that instance. It seems to me that this should be kept very much in mind because there may be other cases where not such great hardship would be caused to the people with businesses and shops abutting on the streets, but where a considerable contribution could be made to the smooth flow of traffic.

My final suggestion concerns enforcement. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall spoke about this matter. It is quite useless for the Minister to make regulations, or for the House to pass Acts preventing people doing things without seeing that those things are not done. Everyone is familiar with the state of affairs in which there are "No Waiting "restrictions in streets, yet all down those streets, on both sides, cars are parked and three or four lorries are doubly parked. This morning on my way to a Committee I came through Albemarle Street, which, in my judgment, is wide enough for five cars abreast. There is unilateral parking there and cars were parked on both sides with lorries outside the rows of cars. In that street, which is wide enough for five cars abreast, there remained room for only one line of traffic. That is an absurd situation. We must do something drastic about it.

I do not blame the police for not taking stronger measures about that. There are too few of them and they have too much to do. I think it time that we gave serious consideration to the establishment of traffic constabulary, or traffic wardens, a force of men with limited duties and limited powers who would be charged with the duty of seeing that the traffic regulations—particularly the parking regulations—are complied with. I do not see any great objection to haying a force of men with limited responsibility like that. We have park keepers who have limited responsibility, and we have patrols at school crossings with limited powers. All those people do a good job.

In order to relieve the police we ought to consider very seriously the establishment of a body of men such as I have suggested. I do not think that recruitment would be difficult. The hours of work would be much easier than those of the police—the men would not need to be available for 24 hours a day. Nor would the physical standards be so severe. I have in mind a body of men similar to those who join, say, the Corps of Commissionaires. They could provide valuable help in putting an end to this abuse of the law.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the vigour of his approach and on all the work that he is doing. If he continues as he has started, and if he adopts these and other suggestions that will no doubt be put in the course of the debate, it should help to produce more order out of what, too often, is chaos.

5.20 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)

The Committee will be very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) for having initiated this debate in such a very interesting fashion, and for having given the Minister the opportunity to review progress in the intractable problem of congestion in our large cities. It is one of the most serious social problems that all those in public life, in local government, business and commerce have to face. At its best, it is responsible for the loss of thousands of working hours every day in every large city and, at its worst, it is responsible for a good deal of frustration to the human spirit, and bad-temperedness. Indeed, in some cases, it is a cause of accidents.

Despite the hopeful pieces of information that the Minister has given today, the most depressing factor is that, on the whole, the prospects seem to be getting worse rather than better because of the rate of increase in the number of motor vehicles. One realises that when it is remembered that in 1939 there were but 3,148,000 motor vehicles, and that, by the last quarter of 1957—the latest accurate figure I have been able to get—the number had risen to 7,425,000. From 1946, that represents a rate of increase in vehicles of 8 per cent. per annum.

If that rate of increase continues, we shall be faced with what I regard as the frightful and frightening prospect of 14 million motor vehicles on the roads in 1966. I say "frightful and frightening "in relation to smell, noise and mortality. They are all factors associated with petrol engines that we can disregard at our peril. I hope that no one will regard 14 million vehicles by 1966 as a fantastic forecast. Writing in the Westminster Bank Review, in May, 1953, three experts forecast an increase to 6,100,000 in motor cars by 1965. In actual fact, that figure was reached two years after they had made their forecast. In any plans being made during the next ten years we have to contemplate a volume of motor vehicles of about 14 million.

Bearing that in mind, I believe that the plans we know about, and the prospects announced today, are totally inadequate. We have either to recast completely the whole of our road concepts. or take steps to develop much more rapidly than we so far have done alternative forms of transport.

We can express the increase in traffic in another way. In 1911, there was one motor vehicle for each road mile. Today, there are about 30 for each road mile. In this narrow island that means we have —and it is inevitable that we shall have them even if the rate of increase slows down, which I do think not likely to happen unless there is a new policy—the densest traffic conditions of any country in the world.

The Road Research Laboratory has given estimates of what this congestion means in terms of cash. It estimates that at present traffic delays cost the nation about £155 million a year. That is only the crude cost. If we add to that personal time lost in going to work, the petrol consumed when engines are idling, and so on, the cost is even greater. No one, therefore, can have any illusions. We are here considering one of the most serious problems of our civilisation.

I want to say something about London, as I have had a little to do with its problems. Until recently, I was for some years a member of the London County Council, and was glad to hear the Minister congratulate it on the schemes at the Elephant and Castle, Notting Hill, the Cromwell Road, and the duplication of the Blackwall Tunnel and others. Of course, progress has been chequered. Time and time again when action was about to be taken difficulties have arisen, sometimes about getting different interests to agree on the plan, but more often on uncertainty about finance.

It is extremely difficult for any planning authority—however much the work is co-ordinated—to get on with this type of major engineering unless it knows with much more certainty than is the case now what the Government's financial contribution will be. It is still the fact that the Ministry will not commit itself to financial obligations beyond the current financial year. That makes it extremely difficult far planning authorities to plan ahead with any degree of confidence.

In previous debates on this subject, I have given figures of the thousands of hours lost at the main intersections in London, but even since I last spoke the position has got a good deal worse, because more and more people are working in Central London and in the Greater London area. Between 1951 and 1954 the number of people working in the Greater London area—the Metropolitan Police area —rose from 3,841,000 to 5,149,000. In November, 1955, according to a check made by London Transport yin the central area alone—a radius of two miles from the Bank of England —1,142,000 people were brought into that area by public transport.

From time to time the Metropolitan Police take a census of all traffic at various points, from which one can judge the growth of traffic in the London area as a whole. In 1949, a traffic census taken at 78 points showed a total of 1,895,000 vehicles in one day. In 1956, that figure had grown to 2,725,000, an increase, making allowance for the fact that in 1956 there were a few more census points. of 33 per cent.

As my right hon. Friend has said, this has reflected in the vast increase in office accommodation in London, and particularly in the Central London area. Between 1948 and 1955, 36 million additional square feet of new office space were either erected or in course of erection, and a further 6 million square feet were added by office conversions. Bearing in mind the increase both in numbers of people and vehicles, I hope that the Committee will agree that the London County Council was quite right, in order to stop this increasing movement of population, in slowing down, or stopping permissions for, the provision of further office accommodation unless accompanied by some residential building as well.

The private motorists in London bear a tremendous responsibility for much of the chaos. I agree with my right hon. Friend that any scheme for banning the private car is neither practicable nor desirable on many grounds. But I hope that the 70,000 private motorists who come into the Central London area each day —and each car usually carries only one person—will appreciate the cost to the rest of the community as a result of their action. In London, we have now succeeded in bringing transport speeds back to the horse-bus of 1903.

I would very much like to see the motorists' organisations and everybody concerned taking part in a campaign to induce private motorists to use public transport wherever possible. There have been remarkable increases during the last two or three years in the number of private cars coming in. According to some figures from London Transport, the increases over 1939 and between 1952 and 1958 were as follows. There was only a 3 per cent. increase in private cars within the central area in 1952 over 1939, but by 1958 the increase over the 1939 level was 53 per cent.

Taking motor cars entering the central area, there was a 6 per cent. increase by 1952 over 1939, but a 56 per cent. increase in 1958 over 1939. If private motorists feel that they must come into London by car, the cost to the rest of the community is very high indeed.

I freely admit that one of the difficulties is that, just at the time when one would like to induce people to use public transport, public transport in many parts of London is worse than it has ever been. I believe that this is largely due to the financial framework within which London Transport works and the directives it has had from the Government, which have meant that it had to cut its costs. By reducing services, it has driven more people to use the Underground or their private cars.

It might be very much wiser if the Government said that, in all the circumstances, they did not feel that London Transport need make its contribution of £5 or £6 million a year to central finances of the British Transport Commission but should run a better service. If a better service were provided, people certainly would use it. I myself go by public transport whenever I can, but there are occasions when it is extremely inconvenient to do so, particularly when one has a number of calls to make in a limited time. This is especially so in my constituency, Hayes and Harlington, which is not in the Central London area. I would often prefer to go by public transport, but, if I have to make three or four calls in one evening, the bus service is too infrequent for the purpose.

I am not asking for a general subsidy for London Transport. What I say is that the financial contribution which London Transport has to make to the central funds of the British Transport Commission ought to be revised, having regard to the peculiar travel problems of London.

There is no simple solution to London's traffic problem or indeed to the traffic problem in any other city. I have no words of wisdom to offer the Committee, but I should like to advance a few tentative suggestions. Before I come to them, I must say a word about the British Road Federation. I am becoming highly suspicious of the propaganda continually sent to me by the Federation. I may be unfair to the Federation, but it gives me the impression that if only we spent vast sums of money on new roads, in a few years there would be no traffic problem. It is a quite honourable Federation, no doubt, which has members interested in road making, road building and road use, but I cannot help regarding some of its propaganda rather as I should regard evidence in favour of the continuance of capital punishment submitted to a Royal Commission by a professional body of public executioners.

The British Road Federation is misleading a number of people by its suggestion that the problem can easily be tackled. The idea that one could easily have greatly improved road communications between cities and thereby solve the problem without rebuilding the cities completely, is quite futile. We must remember that there may well be 14 million cars on the roads by 1966 if the expansion continues as it is now. To do something of that kind would mean changing the character of many of our cities out of all recognition by making a large number of through roads. The loss of their character, charm and distinction would mean, in many cases, that they would lose their appeal to tourists, and the tourist industry is now one of our most important dollar earners.

I have already mentioned the readjustment in London Transport's financial commitment which I regard as absolutely essential to enable it to provide a better service. Secondly, I should like an appeal to go out from the Minister, backed by the motoring organisations—they seem generally to be quite silent about this—urging motorists not to come particularly to the centre of London unless it is absolutely essential. As I have said, they are largely responsible for our being back to the speed of the horse-bus, and that is a disgrace.

The Ministry's financial undertakings for new schemes should be made more flexible. The Ministry should be able to go beyond the current year and say what the probable contributions would be. It is very difficult for local authorities, especially authorities like the London County Council, to plan ahead when they are uncertain of the amount they will receive in grant from the Ministry. If there were more certainty there, we should be able to move very much more quickly with improvements in dealing with bottlenecks, and those improvements would be the ones to give quickest relief to traffic problems within cities.

I have in mind such things as flyovers, the widening of junctions, turn-offs left and right, and so forth. These improvements are not expensive compared with new road construction, but they could make all the difference to traffic flow, as I tried on a previous occasion to demonstrate to the House, and as the London County Council well knows from evidence in its possession.

I would again make a very strong plea for the Victoria Tube. Much has been said about that, and I will say no more now. I hope that, simultaneously with the appeal made to private motorists, every inducement will be offered to encourage people to put what traffic they can back on the railways, particularly goods traffic. It is extraordinary that the centre of London should be cluttered up with traffic passing through on the roads, a good deal of which could go by rail. There are difficulties on the railways, but I believe that the railways themselves, with their modernisation plans and the special freight services which they are now developing to various parts of the country, are ready and able to take the traffic. It is a public duty for all of us to put everything we can on to the existing railways which are well able to take it.

I am glad that reference has been made to clearways. On some main thoroughfares where police supervision is not good or, perhaps, cannot be made effective, there are as many as 500 cars parked to the mile. The Road Research Laboratory has estimated that in those conditions, particularly with cars coming in and out of parking, traffic is slowed down by something in excess of 3 miles per hour. In another connection, the Laboratory has calculated that, if one could in urban areas achieve an increase of 1 m.p.h. for vehicular traffic, £27 million a year would be saved. Putting it in another way, every hour's waiting time for heavy vehicles adds about 47 per cent. to the cost of running the vehicle.

What we do with the Queen's highway in keeping it free is tremendously important in London, not only in such areas as St. Marylebone and Westminster but on all the thoroughfares in and out of London. There must be greater coordination between traffic authorities if we are to have a quick solution, particularly in the Metropolitan area. I hope that all concerned will lose some of the defeatism which has been apparent in the past. It is no good being too optimistic without great efforts, having regard to the forecasted increase in vehicular traffic, but it is astonishing to think that the Barlow Commission, in 1940, took the view that, despite all the skill and ingenuity exerted it seems impossible for effective action to keep pace with traffic requirements. It almost looks as though the Commission was writing a kind of epigram o motto on London's traffic and the traffic of our other cities today. I hope that it is not so. I trust that everyone who has a responsibility in this matter, such as the Ministry and private motorists, will realise that this is one of the greatest problems which we as a nation have ever had to tackle.

5.40 p.m.

Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)

We are debating an exceedingly complex problem, one which is troubling not only this country but, I think I am right in saying, practically every country which has an advanced economy. This problem was acute in London many years before the motor car was invented. The long-term solution is a matter of such things as town planning, wider and better roads, segregation of traffic and improved parking facilities.

I do not think that anyone questions that for a moment. Those are matters of imagination, time and money. Of these three things, I think that it is the first, imagination, which, in the past, has usually been in the most chronic state of short supply. However, we must hope for the best, and I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister and the Department and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on the number of imaginative schemes which they have set in train.

The practical problem at any given moment is how to make the best use of existing facilities. It is to that problem that I wish to confine my remarks. Before going any further, I think that we must be absolutely clear about what the object is. I submit that the No. 1 priority is safety. The second priority, subject to the first, is the highest practicable speed of circulation for the traffic which has to move about within a town or city. I use the word "within" because it seems to me that the requirement for a swift flow of transit traffic through a town or city should be placed third.

I suggest that there are three basic approaches to the problem. First, to limit and, if possible, to reduce the total number of vehicles which enter a congested city area. Secondly, to keep the number of vehicles that are on the highway at any given moment to a minimum—in other words, the matter of parking. Thirdly, to improve the flow of traffic by keeping it under much stricter control than is the practice at present. I should like to say a word about each of these approaches in turn.

There is a number of ways in which the total volume of traffic can be limited. We can discourage the transit traffic from going through the centres of cities by having clearly marked and carefully chosen scheduled routes through which we want the transit traffic to pass. Of course, the best solution would be to have a by-pass, but I am dealing with the case where there is not a by-pass. How not to solve this problem is to be seen in a number of towns which I dare say hon. Members have had the misfortune to enter, where one is tempted off the main route through the centre of the city by encouraging signs which say that the road leads to Winchester, or wherever it may be, and once one gets into the back roads one is lost.

Five years ago, in a moment of folly, I was persuaded to pass through Birmingham on my motor bicycle, on my way south. Quite apart from the fact that the road appeared to be coated with a slippery composition which made it difficult to keep one's balance, the only direction signs which I saw showed the number of people killed in the area in the preceding month. It was a nightmare for strangers to get out of the city. That sort of thing enormously increases congestion in a city centre.

Surely it is desirable and possible in certain cases to impose strict special local limits on the size of commercial vehicles and public service vehicles that may enter certain areas of a city. By that means it would be possible to force long-distance heavy lorries to go round by some other route. It should also be possible to prevent the giant coaches going through the small streets in the centre.

We must also tackle the problem of the owner-driven car in the case where a person decides to use his car to go to his place of work in the city and to go home every evening. This point has been mentioned before. I must dissent from what my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Atkins) said, namely, that we do not want to do that because we should impose a greater strain on public transport if we stopped such gentlemen from using their private cars. I think that that is a complete fallacy. If 60 young men have to get to the centre of a city, even if they all travel in the same bus, they are less likely to cause a nuisance than if they travel in 60 cars.

The solution to the problem falls under two heads. There is first the negative, repressive approach. Although I do not want to enlarge on this because I would be out of order. I think that my right hon. Friend should ask his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to look into the way in which certain cars are financed. Apart from that, the solution surely is to make it more difficult and expensive for these men to park their cars all day near their place of work. On the other hand, we must be constructive. We have not only to improve the public transport, but we must make it more attractive to that type of potential user.

Nothing has been said about the London taxi or taxis in other cities, hut I have always belonged to the school of thought which favours two sizes of taxi. I have always thought that it should be possible to run a small taxi suitable for one passenger. The advantage of the taxi over the owner-driven car is that it does not have to park at the other end and it is probably very much better driven.

Also, a more frequent motor omnibus service is required, and I should have thought that that could be achieved by having smaller buses. I am prepared to believe that the present London motor omnibus is a technical wonder, but I am equally certain that it is far too large for many of the roads which it uses. A mistake has been made by not concentrating on having smaller buses and running a more frequent services.

Finally, although I am sure that I shall not have unanimous agreement with this proposition, the Government would be well advised to encourage the person who is prepared to go to his place of work on a bicycle or moped. They are certainly the quickest method of transport in London and in many other cities. They are cheap and, except for the moped, they are quiet. In spite of all the criticisms, they do not occupy a tremendous amount of the road because in London cyclists do not ride three or, for that matter, two abreast.

I should like to say a word about the problem of parking. I wish to make only two short points. The first concerns bus stops. Quite unnecessary danger and congestion is caused when buses discharge or embark their passengers well out from the roadway or alternatively when they pull out steeply when going ahead. In nearly every case, this happens because a vehicle has been parked too close to the bus stop. I suggest that the area of the bus stop should be much more clearly marked on the roadway.

I do not know whether this would require legislation, but if it does then we should pass it. It should be made an offence for a vehicle to park or to wait within the studded area. That should be strictly enforced. It would be easy to enforce. Conversely, it is only fair to add that it should be equally an offence for a bus driver to take on or to discharge passengers with any part of his vehicle outside the area. In any case, the area must be established first.

My second point concerns the so-called no-waiting restrictions. They are certainly unpopular in many districts and I am not convinced that they are properly enforced or, indeed, properly enforceable. My feeling is that we must have one of three choices: either unrestricted parking, parking for long enough to shop, or to attend a business meeting—in other words, the kind of parking which can be controlled by the parking meter; or, thirdly, we must have no stopping or waiting at all, a method which my right hon. Friend described as the "clear way". The no-stopping rule is not difficult to enforce and I suggest that it would be acceptable for the main routes in and out of our great cities, at least for certain periods of the day.

Why should we not have a clear way established on the main exit routes for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening? I realise that it would not be the same hour everywhere and that it would change as one moved away from the city centre. This system could be advertised and indicated by lights or some other display and during these periods the roads in question should be devoted to the sole purpose of people entering or leaving the city area.

If, in addition, we could make those roads one-way roads just for those critical hours, so much the better. That would be a much better solution to the great peak hour problem than trying to stagger the working hours. I would like to know from my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary whether this has ever been considered or tried. I do not think that it would be particularly unpopular.

Having said that, I must admit that there are one or two refractory or difficult problems in connection with parking. There is, for example, the problem of the doctor in the great cities. I do not pretend to offer a solution, but I am not at all sure that it should not be on the wholly different lines of asking the Minister of Health to run, if necessary, a subsidised service of drivers which doctors could call upon to avoid their cars having to be parked at whatever point they have to visit.

In turning to the more general question of control, I refer, first, to the greatest and most vital control of all in built-up areas, namely, the 30 m.p.h. speed limit. I have been for five years without a motor car, but I have recently started driving again. After this interval of time, nothing has shocked me more than the extent to which the 30 m.p.h. limit is now disregarded. I would go so far as to say that at least one driver in three cheerfully accelerates to over 40 m.p.h. whenever the way ahead is clear and that one driver in ten accelerates to 50 or 60 m.p.h. whenever the way is clear.

There is the further special case, which, unfortunately, is not so uncommon as we would like to think, of those of our fellow countrymen who make use of motor cars for their getaway after committing crimes. These gentlemen are usually in a particular hurry. They are a menace to the circulation of traffic in the city centres. I very much regret that when we considered the Road Traffic Bill we did not think of adding a Clause making it an additional statutory offence to use a motor car in connection with the commission of a crime. This practice is now sufficiently common to justify a measure of that nature.

To revert to my main theme of the speed limit, not only are these bursts of speed dangerous, but they slow down the flow of the traffic. This point is not sufficiently realised. It takes only a quite small proportion of impatient drivers who indulge in these little bursts of speed to produce what is technically called a state of turbulence, which disturbs the even flow of the traffic and slows it down. For that reason, it is most important that the enforcement of the speed limit should be strictly observed.

I would go further and say that in exceptionally crowded streets, the flow of traffic would be improved if a lower speed limit were imposed. If a 15 m.p.h. speed limit were imposed in a place like Piccadilly, I think that it would be found that the flow of traffic there at busy times of the day would be accelerated and would render possible something which I have always wanted to see tried, namely, the idea of the whole street going "red" or "green". Hon. Members will be familiar with this idea. When the street goes green, all the traffic moves forward. When it goes red, all the traffic, wherever it may be, stops. This would enable us to dispense with pedestrian crossings in these streets. The pedestrian can cross the road when it is "red" and is not allowed to step off the pavement when it is "green." This is a method which should be tried.

That brings me to say a word or two about pedestrians. Like my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, I speak as one who walks about London quite a lot, so I am not antipathetic to the pedestrian. I am, however, sure that in the interests both of pedestrians and of traffic as a whole, they should agree to accept a greater degree of control in city centres. For example, where pedestrian crossings are numerous, it should be unlawful to cross at other points. Where there are traffic lights, the pedestrian should obey them. Where bridges or subways are fitted, surely pedestrians should be obliged to use them.

There are many other ways in which the circulation of traffic could be speeded up without any added danger, simply by enforcing stricter controls. Some of them are so obvious that one wonders why more progress has not been made with them. Time does not permit me, however, to enlarge upon them now.

In conclusion, I pose this final question: what added powers are needed and who should exercise them? This by itself could be the subject of a whole debate. Like my right hon. Friend the Minister, I am convinced that far-reaching changes are necessary. I do not believe that we shall improve traffic conditions in London, or, for that matter, anywhere else, without drastic changes. Reform is necessary just as much in the interests of road safety as in the speeding-up of the circulation of traffic. That was one of the reasons why, when speaking in the House on the subject of road safety three weeks ago, I advocated a Royal Commission. In matters which are so complex and controversial, only the conclusions of a strong and independent body are likely to carry the necessary weight to pave the way for the requisite legislation.

I hope that my right hon. Friend is right and that the Royal Commission dealing with local government in the Greater London area may help us in the special case of London and in the rather restricted There in which it will be able to work. None the less, I still would like to see the appointment of a Royal Commission to deal with traffic problems as a whole and on a national scale.

5.58 p.m.

Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)

I entirely agree with the closing remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) when he said that the problem needs far-reaching remedies. All hon. Members, on both sides, will agree with that summary of the position. This is not a problem that is peculiar to London. It is a vast national problem that must be solved by the decision of Parliament and in a way that will provide for the community at large a means of travel which is both convenient and suitable for society as a whole.

The Minister is to be congratulated on having started the motor roads. On all sides, we congratulate him upon being the first Minister of Transport in the fortunate position of being able to introduce this far-reaching change in our road system.

I believe that we agreed also with the Minister when he spoke of the need for greater funds to be made available to extend the road system. Sooner or later, Parliament must make up its mind whether or not we are to have an efficient road system or whether we are to carry on with the old system of maintaining existing roads and making improvements here and there. Whilst I do not suggest that motor roads or ring roads are the absolute solution to the problem, I am perfectly satisfied that they would go a long way towards helping to solve it.

I know that the Minister, like all Ministers of Transport, is limited in what he can do by the amount of money which the Government make available for road construction and improvement. We must try to create in the minds of Ministers and of Members of Parliament generally a feeling that some way must be found whereby adequate money can be made available for carrying out very large schemes throughout the country of motor roads and ring roads and improvements of other roads in the urban areas.

I wonder whether we have exhausted all the ideas on how the money for this purpose could be raised. I should like to feel that the Minister and the Government would re-examine the question of how we can finance an even larger road programme than the Government have embarked upon at present. It is vital to industry that we should 'have roads capable of carrying the amount of traffic which modern circumstances demand. At the same time, apart from all the essential road work, we must also examine the question of the co-ordination of available public services. It is important that we should bring about a greater measure of co-ordination between rail and road in order to take full advantage of the facilities which are available in both sectors of the transport industry.

I agree entirely with the point made in the debate that many loads could very properly be taken off the roads and carried by the railway system. We must consider how far we can create a system which would provide for more co-operation between road and rail in an effort to solve this traffic problem. Reference has been made in the debate to the provision of parking facilities. I know that from time to time in debates of this kind we have considered all kinds of suggestions about the best way to provide adequate parking for vehicles. Has the Minister given a reasonable amount of consideration to the suggestion that at the Underground and railway stations outside the large cities and towns some form of garages or parking accommodation should be provided so that car users might be tempted to travel to the station by car and then travel to the city by train or tube? There is a tremendous opportunity today to create an atmosphere in which facilities of that kind would be used by the motorist.

Reference has also been made to making full use of bus services. I do not want to trespass too far on the subject of bus facilities, but the gradual reduction of bus services and their greater infrequency are playing a part in creating further traffic difficulties. People who have been accustomed to use the bus services from the country areas find them less convenient nowadays because of their infrequency. I find that many people are being driven to join together and take a taxi from one of the tube stations in order to get home because of the infrequency of the bus services.

We ought to look at this problem of the reduction, limitation and discontinuance of bus services from the point of view of the interests of the travelling public. We are running into serious danger of losing sight of the fact that the idea of a public service is to provide proper facilities for the community. It may well be that the financial problems confronting the Underground railways and the London and provincial bus undertakings are problems which would not arise if their financial position were taken more seriously by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If we continue to tax fuel oil to such an extent as 2s. 6d. a gallon we are bound to create a position in which the transport undertakings cannot possibly meet their obligations to the travelling public. In the consideration of all these matters I hope that the Minister will ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what contribution he can make towards the solving of these problems.

Reference has also been made in the debate to the provision of subways. I believe them to be very desirable. They would be used far more extensively by the public if they were modern and if they were equipped with escalators. There is an example outside the Palace of Westminster where there is a subway under one section of the roadway which few people use because it is necessary first to walk down steps and then to walk up steps.

Would the Minister consider making an experiment? What could be better than to do so outside this building? Would he consider providing a new subway from Whitehall to New Palace Yard, fitted with escalators, which Members of Parliament could use when coming from Westminster or Whitehall? Then we could see exactly how much the public would use it. I am sure that older people are deterred from using subways because of the steps.

I agree with the points made about traffic warnings. It is a waste to have so many policemen on point duty when there is so much crime which needs their attention. I would like to see a corps of wardens, with sufficient limited authority to direct the traffic at given points. I believe that would be economical, because it is important to use policemen on the beat. Therefore, I hope the Minister will consider this suggestion also.

I do not pretend that the vast problem of traffic congestion can be solved in a few years. It is a problem which is growing because of the ever-increasing amount of road transport. I would not support any policy which would result in the limitation of its use because I feel that the duty of Parliament is to try to find a way whereby we can make the roads suitable for the purpose for which they were intended. If limitation has to be applied it should be for only a very short period, because in the long run it is not in the best interests of the community. I hope that the problem will be approached in the spirit of this debate, namely, that it is not a political question but a vast national problem on which we require the best advice we can get from any source, political or otherwise.

I conclude by saying that although I have congratulated the Minister upon the fact that he has been able to do so much during the last few months for the building of motor roads and the planning of further roads, I think that he has been fortunate in the economic climate he has enjoyed. I say candidly that I hope we shall go on with this work and that the next Labour Government will also carry it on, in order to bring to our people the system of transport which is essential to the communal life of the nation.

6.17 p.m.

Sir Patrick Spens (Kensington, South)

I shall not apologise for making what will be a constituency speech, because I happen to represent a constituency through which many roads pass, from east to west and from west to east. Our parking problems are considerable, and so much has been said about the general problem that I will confine my remarks to one or two points.

I start by congratulating my right hon. Friend on the completion of the Cromwell Road. It has made an enormous difference to that part of London, because not only has the road itself been a success, but it has relieved the traffic on all the other roads running parallel with it. We have also had the great advantage of widening schemes both at Kensington High Street and Notting Hill Gate. The result is that the flow east and west of our traffic is infinitely better than it was five years ago. Our problem is not the problem of passing from west to east or from east to west, but everything that is happening off the main roads.

We are fortunate, or unfortunate, in having in that part of London buildings winch attract the greatest crowds from outside. We have Earls Court and Olympia, the Albert Hall and various museums. From time to time there are literally thousands of cars coming in from outside the area whose owners insist on parking reasonably close to where they are going. I represent more hon. Members than any other Member of the House of Commons for instance, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) is one of my distinguished constituents. One has only to see that part of London at the time of the Motor Show, at Earls Court, when there is also a large show on at Olympia, to realise the impossible condition into which the traffic gets. Not only is there not a single place in which to put a car for half a mile on either side of those places, but the traffic going to them blocks for the time being both the traffic east to west and north to south. Therefore, I shall deal primarily with the question of parking.

I heard a word of hope from my right hon. Friend in that he said that there was a possibility of permission being given for garages to be built under Hyde Park. I suggested long ago that the part of Kensington Gardens immediately opposite the Albert Hall, which is shut and never used, should be used as a special parking place for all gatherings at the Albert Hall. This would relieve all the streets in that area of the hundreds of cars that come in whenever there is a big meeting in the Albert Hall.

That suggestion was not approved, but since the road to Knightsbridge runs several feet below the level of the park, there is no reason why large car parks should not be made in that area. This would not only relieve traffic on those occasions, but it might go a long way towards freeing the roads in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield), in Mayfair and St. Marylebone, further east.

Earls Court is a much more difficult problem. There is a tube station alongside Earls Court and there is also one alongside Olympia, but it seems to me, though I may be wrong that no adequate special arrangements are made by London Transport to deal with the huge crowds that go there. Would it not be possible to run more special trains to deal with the crowds? If that were done it might induce people to park further away and come to Earls Court by tube train and return to their cars by the same method.

Olympia Station, in particular, is not used in anything like the way it used to be years ago. The result is that if trains are not run from the station it becomes one of the worst places to clear when there is a big crowd. People have to wait in queues literally hundreds of yards long for buses.

For some reason or another my part of London is used as a parking space by hundreds of people who come into London by day and by people who come in to spend the night in London. If one goes round Kensington at night one finds that practically every side street has cars on both sides of it. The number of complaints I receive in a year from my constituents who, on coming home from the theatre, find that they cannot get near their front doors and have to drive round for half a mile before they can find somewhere to leave their cars, runs into dozens.

Finally, as was mentioned in the Budget debate, this area is also a dumping ground for old cars. Last year, a large number of cars were collected by the police off Camden Hill. We stirred the police to action and they found that there were dozens of cars that had not been used for months and whose licences had expired. The police said that there were so many abandoned cars in London that they had not the space to take them to get rid of them. The parking problem could be relieved if regular measures were taken to examine the streets. If it was found that the licence of a car had expired the car should be removed off the streets, thus enabling those people who want to get to their own front doors to have a better chance of doing so than they have today.

The problem of parking at night will not be solved until garages are built or garage areas are available off the streets. Queen's Gate at night is an unbelievable sight. Right down the middle of the street one sees a double row of cars. Some of these are valuable cars and are left there all night. In addition, there is a single line of cars almost the whole way along near the pavement.

If garages were available, one could tell people to garage their cars. Important as the problem is of getting traffic going in London, the provision of space for garaging is almost as important in many areas of London. It is only when we have the garage space and people can garage their cars off the roads that we will be able to deal with the problem of traffic coming in.

The real problem by day and by night is caused by the thousands of cars that came in carrying only one person and are left parked either for the whole day, or, in some cases, for a week-end in London. I wonder whether the time will not come when we will have to say that from a reasonable distance outside London cars carrying only one person must stop and only cars with a full load will be allowed in. We did this during the bus strike. It was done voluntarily and it made an enormous difference to the flow of traffic. I am not sure that we can go on allowing literally thousands of cars carrying only one person to come into London, because it is these cars that create congestion.

As an old railway director, I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) that far too much traffic goes on the road today that ought to go by rail. More persuasion and, if necessary, legislation to that effect would have my support. On the other hand, I do not think that it is the railway vans or lorries that cause congestion in central London. The problem caused by cars with only one occupant must be solved either by providing garage space, or parking space, or by compelling them to come in fully loaded.

6.27 p.m.

Mr. Christopher Boyd (Bristol, North-West)

One thing about which there is general agreement is the necessity for taking rather drastic action to clear the way through our cities. We want to divert traffic that has no reason to go through the centre of a big city to go round it and avoid it. Another point that has emerged during the debate is that parking is perhaps the biggest cause of congestion and the most urgent problem requiring still more drastic action.

Quite a lot has been done about developing and improving the roads, making motorways and improving inner circle roads, but we still seem to be rather timid about the parking problem. I think that is why so many hon. Members have tended to concentrate their attention on it.

I did not hear the Minister say anything about stopping double parking. If I am wrong, I hope to be corrected. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with it when he winds up the debate. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) said, double parking seems unfair. I hope that every motorist has a social conscience about these things and enough common sense not to park in a place which would be unfair to other traffic. At any rate, that is what most motorists do most of the time, but they get extremely frustrated in their search for a space to park and eventually resort to double parking.

The rules for which we ask are not rules which would be resented, and the majority of motorists are the very people who want stricter rules, so that their cars can get through and so that they can have freer movement. If the rules are carefully worked out, everyone will benefit so much from the clearing of the way that they will be quite willing to accept the limitations. That will also result in many motorists deciding not to bring their cars into the middle of the city and preferring to come in by bus or train and to walk from the station or bus stop, which may be nearer to their destination than the nearest car park.

That would cut down the number of car journeys and would make it easier to keep city bus services running adequately. It would also encourage the shift back to the railways. It is very curious that the railways seem unable to pay their way at the very time that the roads are heavily over-congested. The volume of heavy traffic going by road through the cities and across country—incidentally belching out smoke which must be reaching a quantity were it adds seriously to the health danger in the atmosphere—cannot be economic if everything is taken into account.

I still cannot accept the assurance, which one hears from time to time, that heavy lorries are a more economic way of transporting heavy goods than are the railways. I should have thought that that traffic should go back to the railways. No doubt when we re-nationalise road haulage the railways will have a larger say and will probably take that traffic. That is probably a better way than trying to price the lorries off the road by heavy taxation, which may in practice be more unfair.

Considering the degree of congestion associated with a few extra inches of width of a vehicle, or the danger when a vehicle is so large that it obscures a large amount of road, I wonder whether the tax paid by owners of some of the larger vehicles corresponds to the degree of their nuisance value and congestion-causing capacity on the roads.

One can travel anywhere on the roads today and find that it is a matter of passing not individual vehicles but whole trains of vehicles headed by a heavy, slow-moving vehicle which it is difficult to overtake. Such things cause tremendous delay and the whole train is held up for miles, through cities and across the countryside, by relatively few vehicles. I wonder what the cost is of the resulting hold-ups. It cannot be met by the owners of the vehicles and it may not be feasible to deal with this problem by market mechanism. It may be better to have a co-ordinated transport system and to put the heavy stuff on the railways, because it is common sense to put it on the railways even if under present arrangements it is better to send it by road.

We must be prepared to be rather drastic about no parking on main roads if we are to have clear passage on the motorways. In any case, most motorists do not want to park on main roads because it is obvious that to do so holds up traffic. I cannot help thinking that a large proportion of accidents results from the presence of stationary vehicles on heavily congested roads. The safety factor is only one of many reasons for keeping a clear way along main roads, both in towns and outside.

I hope that we shall push ahead with getting considerable sections of otherwise congested highways totally banned to stationary and slow moving vehicles. The expression "motorway" is presumably intended to imply that unmotorised traffic cannot use the roads. Perhaps we shall have a minimum speed limit somewhat higher than has yet been seen in other countries which have had these motorways for longer than we have had them. Now is the time for us to get ahead of those countries and to provide for a substantial minimum speed limit. It is the slow-moving vehicles which cause congestion, and such a minimum speed limit would be one way of getting some of the lorries off the road and making it not worth while to send so much traffic by lorry.

We are all familiar with particular roads and places, and many hon. Members have pressed the need for spending more money on certain projects. To judge from the Budget, this is a year for spending more money on re-expanding employment, and I should have thought that more might be done on clearing the way around some of the big cities. An instance is provided in Bristol where the remaining section of an inner circle road is held up for want of Government permission to go ahead—I understand on financial grounds. In practice, there is a heavy financial loss resulting from the hold up of his final link in the inner circle road, because developers of the shop sites in the neighbourhood are refusing to go ahead with their plans, so that land lies vacant and unused.

The city council is some way ahead of the Government and has cleared the land and is ready to go ahead with the completion of the circle road. Meanwhile, the land lies vacant and the city council is not getting the rents and rates which it should be drawing for that land. Thus there is a substantial economic loss in the failure of the attempts to be economical. It would be more economical to go ahead more rapidly with developments of this kind. In many cases there might be a danger of other building developments making it more expensive to go ahead later on. I ask the Minister to be willing to put more money into this sort of work. I think that he is looking for the support of the House in his applications to his colleague, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for more money to spend on roads. I am sure that he will have that support, and we look forward to a more rapid rate of permissions for these schemes to go ahead.

I want now to refer to safety. I agree with what has been said about the ineffectiveness of some safety propaganda. Much the most effective of the various forms of road safety propaganda has been the sign boards saying "Accident black spot", or "So many people were killed on this section of road last year". I think that those posters shake people sufficiently, and if that sort of thing were done more widely at places where there have been accidents—and, of course, the facts must be correct—the posters would make people think.

It may be said that following one particular method of propaganda too far will make it lose some of its effectiveness, but as that example applies to particular places and as people do not know why there have been accidents on that stretch of road, they are liable to drive more carefully along that section and perhaps some of their careful driving will overlap along their subsequent route. There may be other and equally effective ways of making people realise the seriousness and the danger of careless or inefficient driving. I commend the further use of that method.

6.40 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

This has been a very interesting debate and we appreciate the opportunity afforded by the Opposition to discuss the very important topic of traffic congestion in our cities. I am sure that every hon. Member could give an account of the traffic troubles in his constituency. We have heard a number of valuable ideas about how to improve the situation, and constructive suggestions have been made. I wish to express the gratitude of the Government for the objective and constructive way in which the debate has been conducted.

I must remind the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Boyd) that Bristol has had the first two stages of its scheme approved and remind him that the third stage, for which he was asking, must take its turn with many other important city schemes. We are well aware of the importance of the Bristol scheme, but it must take its turn.

We accept that we are facing a serious situation regarding city traffic and there is no complacency on the part of my right hon. Friend or myself. On the other hand, we feel that we need not despair. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) started his speech on a slightly despairing note, but I thought that he finished more confidently. A solution can be found although we have to accept that traffic congestion has been worsening over recent years. But there is a sign that various things are being done to improve the situation. The four factors—

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;

Committee counted, and, 40 Members being present

Mr. Nugent

I was about to observe that the four factors that will solve our problem, which were referred to during the debate, are: first, traffic engineering; secondly, highway planning; thirdly, enforcement; and, fourthly, public transport. Each one of these factors must receive the necessary attention if we are to get our traffic moving smoothly and keep the centre of our cities alive.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Atkins) referred to the newspaper articles by Mr. Burton Marsh. He is a great American traffic engineering expert and I think that we can learn something from the experience of America. Although the Americans have not been able to find all the answers, they have been living with the universal motor car for twenty or thirty years longer than we have, and they have had a great deal more experience. Necessity has driven them to learn some lessons. The first lesson, which they learned rather painfully, was that they started off on the wrong foot.

They thought that they would be able to solve their traffic problems in the cities by building vast new urban motorways, freeways, right into the heart of the cities. By doing that they thought that they would make it possible for the motor cars owned by everyone to go to the middle of the cities so that people could reach their place of work, and that then they could allow the public transport systems to become obsolete and fade out. Today, no forward-thinking traffic engineer in America holds that view. It is realised that a public transport system is basic to keeping the centre of a city alive, and that whatever great new roads may be built, they cannot carry more than a fraction of the total commuting traffic in and out of the cities.

Today, authorities in the American cities are making desperate efforts to revive the public transport systems which have been allowed to languish over the last two decades, and they are having a difficult time in doing so. Hon Members will probably know the state that Los Angeles has got into. It is a classic example of a city which built a comprehensive system of freeways and motorways. In the 3,000 acres of the city centre no less than two-thirds are taken up with roads, parking spaces and loading spaces, and only one-third of the city centre is left for building. So that it is not surprising that the "traffic boss" of Los Angeles, Mr. Taylor, says that the business of the city is languishing. It is bound to and, incidentally, the average traffic speed is still no more than that of a horse and buggy. So I think we may learn something from that.

We still have our public transport systems. Anxieties have been expressed about them, and rightly, because not only must they be maintained but we have to do all we can to improve them. The public transport system is the pivot of the life of a big city. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington correctly said that there are 1 million people who go daily to the central area of London and only 70,000 come in motor cars—or, rather, there are only 70,000 cars, which is roughly the same thing. With all the congestion we experience today, only 70,000 cars are involved. That is a marginal figure, less than 10 per cent., and it is evident that the public transport system is the first factor to consider.

That is one reason why we are modernising our whole public transport system, not only London Transport but the suburban and main line railways as well. Several of these have been electrified and others are in the process of being electrified. The first stage of the North Kent coast system is coming into operation next month. This improvement of services will go on progressively and make it possible to carry more commuters in greater comfort and, I hope, with less difficulty during the peak traffic periods.

I know of the troubles experienced by my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden during the peak traffic periods on the line in his constituency, and the consequent discomfort. But I do not despair about the possibility of staggering working hours, or of a solution being found by the London Travel Committee which will result in the staggering of traffic. When one considers the amount of accommodation available in public transport during the off-peak hours, one realises that we cannot give up all thoughts of any scheme based on the staggering of hours.

In some way we must work out a means of using that accommodation so that people may travel in greater comfort; and the fact that fewer people may travel in motor cars will not mean that during the peak hours the numbers using the public transport will be worse than ever. I say straight away, therefore, that our view is that the public transport system is a basic factor and that we shall do everything possible not only to maintain it, but, where possible, to improve it.

Details have been given of road building schemes which are going ahead. The broad picture is that we are devoting a large slice of the total road expenditure, getting up to £60 million a year, to urban schemes. Wherever possible we are improving intersections and removing bottlenecks, not only in London but in other large towns. Urban motorways were mentioned, in, I thought, the right balance, by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall. The provision of such motorways may be right in some circumstances, but the cost is high not only in cash, but also in amenity and severance, and in sociological interference with the life of the community. However, as my right hon. Friend has explained, we are prepared to use them wherever they are justified.

It is quite clear from the American example that this will be only part of the answer and that we have to think of other things as well. We are certainly going in for long-term planning for urban roads. This is being done by the London Roads Committee, of which I am Chairman, and the other conurbation committees which are being set up in the country.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington mentioned the difficulty that the L.C.C. has in planning ahead. We are doing our best to help the Council in this. We have to accept that each year Parliament must vote the money which is needed to assist the L.C.C. in carrying out its schemes. I accept that there is, therefore, a practical problem for the L.C.C., but by consultation at official level we are able to help it put preparations in hand for two or three years ahead.

Traffic engineering, which has been mentioned a good deal today, is a success in America. The Americans have learned a great deal about it and have benefited from it in the movement of traffic in their cities. They have achieved smoother, faster and safer traffic movement. This is particularly so in Chicago and Detroit, where the progressive reduction in accidents over the last twenty years is really impressive. I am certain that there is something we can do here on those lines.

Do not let me leave the impression that nothing is being done here. Many of our highway engineers know a great deal about traffic engineering. But the main picture in our cities is one of piecemeal treatment; intersections are dealt with singly; single streets are made one-way as opposed to what I would wish to see, which is comprehensive traffic schemes for the whole of our cities.

To bring that about, it is necessary for each city to have a team of traffic engineers who can study the movement of traffic by origin and destination surveys, treating a whole city as a single unit, and then advise upon the regulations which will make it possible for the traffic to move smoothly and safely to its destina- tion by eliminating conflicts of traffic, and so on.

When I talk about traffic, I include the movement of pedestrians just as much as vehicles. In all our new road schemes we provide for pedestrian subways. I have taken note of the suggestion of the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) that we might do something about the subway outside the House of Commons and I will see whether it is possible to make it a little more convenient than it is now. It is not a very attractive subway and it might be a useful "guinea pig" to show whether we can set an example in our own neighbourhood.

In this picture of traffic engineering we can no longer think, as we tend to do now, in terms of moving a single vehicle from point A to point B. It is now necessary for somebody, preferably the city authority, to think not about moving individual vehicles but whole streets full of vehicles; whole columns of vehicles, and, indeed, the traffic of the whole city. That to us is a new concept. No longer can we think about moving individual vehicles. We must think about the flow of all the traffic in the city.

One sees in American cities how the traffic is controlled from a central head-quarters by closed circuit radio control or direct electric cable to all the traffic lights at the intersections on the main traffic roads, so that at peak traffic periods morning and evening they can offset the intersections and get the smoothest flow of traffic with the minimum of interference to the fast traffic stream. They can also use the reversible lane system, so that there may be six in-traffic lanes in the morning and two out, and six out-traffic lanes in the evening and two in. They do that by means of traffic lights hung across the road, once again operated from a central headquarters.

It is quite easy to have refinements suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett), such as a clear way on the main urban traffic routes at peak periods. I have seen that done by the closing down of street parking meters at four o'clock, after which no one is allowed to park. Such refinements can be applied provided that there are traffic engineers to study the position. That is a basic necessity. It is impossible to make traffic regulations until the facts are known.

As my right hon. Friend has said, we have been doing a lot about this. We realise that the first step is to get these men trained and, with the help of a generous group of industries and organisations, we now have the encouraging prospect of a chair of traffic engineering arid highway engineering being started at Birmingham. I might mention that there is already a post-graduate course at Imperial College, London, and at Newcastle, but I think that the Birmingham venture will provide an impetus.

I have also recently had consultations with the County Councils Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations and the Urban District Councils Association, whose members are the people who will employ these traffic engineers. We have a traffic engineering section in the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, but it is not our job to look after the traffic of a city, that is a job for the city authorities. We have to sell the idea to city authorities and get them interested in dealing with this problem, and in employing the traffic engineers after they have been trained.

I have asked the local authority associations whether they are willing to advise their constituent members to start developing traffic engineering units. I am hopeful that shortly we shall be able to get them to send out general advice on this subject. The traffic engineers will get the facts and it is up to the authorities to make regulations which will result in better traffic movement in our cities. This is also the way to safer movement and to the elimination of traffic conflicts which in themselves are a serious source of danger.

I noted the comment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall about posters for better driving. This is a matter of personal taste. Some people think that shock tactics are the most effective, others prefer the anodyne approach—and I know that the right hon. Gentleman has a strong stomach because recently he went to see "The Cenci", at the Old Vic. I think that we must leave the choice of posters to the local road safety committees.

In the meantime, on the question of traffic engineering, my right hon. Friend and I are pushing ahead to get more parking meters. A basic feature of traffic engineering is to control kerb space and stop the long-term parking which is cluttering up the streets. That has been accepted on both sides of the Committee, and I am happy to clear up any uncertainty by saying that it is our intention to press ahead with this matter.

Enforcement has also been mentioned. I have no time, in the concluding minutes of this debate, to go into that matter in detail, but I entirely agree that enforcement is a basic requirement. It does not matter how good are the traffic schemes and how well designed are the regulations unless there is proper enforcement. I have been assured by the police that they will be able to enforce the regulations as parking meters spread from one area to another, and I, for my part, would warmly welcome the experiment of using traffic wardens, who, I believe, would be a great help.

We have massive traffic problems before us and in the short time at my disposal I have indicated four factors by which we can solve these problems. We are giving vigorous attention to each one of them. We feel that they will progressively bear fruit, help us to reduce traffic congestion, improve the traffic flow, improve road safety and reduce the number of accidents in our cities. For these reasons, I feel that we can confidently say that the Government have this very difficult problem completely in hand.

Whereupon Motion made, and Question, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.— [Mr. Hughes-Young]— put and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.