HC Deb 17 July 1962 vol 663 cc345-57

The Minister shall not exercise any of his powers (under this Act or under the principal Act or under the Road Traffic and Roads Improvement Act, 1960) for the regulation of traffic, either in direction or speed, so as injuriously to affect any interest in land abutting upon a road which is intended to be the subject of such a regulation until the draft of an order exercising such power has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.—Mr. Graham Page.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The intention of this Clause would be to oblige my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport to bring before the House certain traffic regulations which he wishes to make, namely, the kind of regulations which would be injurious to property, to the amenities of the neighbourhood and to the value of property in the neighbourhood. Frequently, when the Minister desires to make new roads or road improvements, he has to acquire land to do so. In those cases, compensation is paid to the owners of the land taken. This is not the sort of case with which I wish to deal in this new Clause.

I wish to deal with those cases where there is no compensation, but in which some new traffic regulations have been made and have injured those whose property abuts on the road and there is no compensation for it whatsoever. In the Bill, as in recent Road Traffic Bills, powers have been given to the Minister to make traffic regulations without any veto from the local authority or from individuals who may be injured by them —regulations which may entirely alter the character of a road, and, therefore, the character of the neighbourhood through which that road runs.

My right hon. Friend rightly deems it his duty to improve the flow of transport. He is the Minister of Transport, and I well appreciate that it is his job to provide for the speedy carriage of both goods and persons on the roads. He is anxious to do that unhampered by objections from any particular locality, and to achieve that uniformity in the flow of traffic perhaps through a number of localities. I submit that that should not take priority over every other consideration.

Those people who have to cross the roads on foot have rights, and, frequently, when new traffic regulations, such as one-way regulations, clearway streets, higher speed limits, and so on, are imposed, they may turn a shopping district into a fast one-way traffic lane without any adequate provision for maintaining the rights and amenities of the shops, the commercial buildings, the offices and the residences which abut on that street. Such regulations may cut a community in halves, with serious results to businesses and residences. That may happen not only by the one-way restrictions which my right hon. Friend can impose, but also by removal of speed limits, and so on.

We have had recent examples which have been mentioned in the House. I see the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) in his place. He has an example of this in his own constituency, in which long-distance traffic—heavy lorries— have been routed through a narrow residential street of terraced houses, entirely altering the character of that street and creating a terrible result. In that street, which was a quiet residential street, ceilings are falling, there is the stink of diesel fumes, there is the vibration and the noise of all the heavy traffic, and the ruin of radio and television sets and all the normal household amenities, to say nothing of the terror to mothers who would allow their young children out on that road, which is now a main lorry route and was once a quiet residential road. There is no compensation whatever for this. That we allow this and sometimes even praise it as being such a great improvement in the traffic flow is a callous disregard of the home lives of many individuals.

If the local authorities are to be deprived of the right of comment on this matter, as they are under the Clauses of the Bill, the House of Commons should reserve for itself the right at least to debate the matter and to consider regulations of this sort which my right hon. Friend has power to make, because they harm not only the property of individuals—residential, shopping and offices—but, in many cases, they are a great danger to buildings which are providing social services and in which other Government Departments are involved.

My right hon. Friend would hardly expect me to make a speech of this sort without bringing Highgate into it. His proposed lorry-way through High-gate is a good example of the sort of case I am trying to put. There, other Government Departments and the social services are concerned. To reroute heavy lorries up Highgate Hill one-way will be running them through a very large hospital, past several nursing homes and past seven schools. In all these things, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Education and other Government Departments are concerned. I might even mention the Postmaster-General, too, because old people have to cross roads to get to post offices to get their pensions. If a lorry-way of this nature is routed through a village, the community on one side of the road will be cut off from that on the other.

One Department so affecting another should come to the House if traffic regulations of that sort are to be made. Such powers vested in one Minister can be oppressive when they can be made without reference to the House of Commons, without the local authority having any right of audience to make its voice heard about such regulations and without any appeal by the individuals, who may suffer, either to the courts or to any ministerial tribunal. An individual's property may well be seriously devalued and his life made hell by some of these traffic regulations.

This is, perhaps, the first opportunity for the newly-shaped Government to create a good image by showing their concern for the individual and for the ordinary man in a case of this sort as against the big, commercial interests, the road transport interests and transport union interests. I am sure that any Government which considered the individual interests in cases of this sort and which recognised the real priorities would quickly gain the great confidence of the nation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am seriously putting my argument as high as that because when these traffic routes are created there is a lack of sense of value and a lack of sense of the rights of the individual to his amenities, his comforts and his home life.

In many cases where there have been traffic regulations of this sort, homes have become uninhabitable—quite apart from the reduction in value of the property— and that is putting our values all wrong.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Cole

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) for a number of reasons other than those which he mentioned.

I know that my right hon. Friend will ask—and I do not blame him for doing so—"Who will define 'injuriously'?" However, this at least gives hon. Members an opportunity to point out to the Minister the curious effect of some of his regulations and will open the possibility of an Order being laid before the House.

I am entirely with my right hon. Friend in his desire to make traffic move more quickly and more safely. That is one of the main objects of his life, and I commend him for it. But we must remember that half the people of this country, if not more, have no private motor vehicles in their possession. Also motorists who are at home are not motoring, and they have a right to peaceful enjoyment of their houses. I think that we are sometimes in danger—I know I am, because I am as keen as anyone—in putting too much emphasis on movement and speed of road traffic and too little emphasis on people enjoying the peace and quiet to which they are entitled in the houses which they have bought. The Clause should do something to redress the position.

We have a precedent for this. My night hon. Friend knows to his cost that when one lays down a line of route one opens the field, legally and statutorily, 10 objections, and they take a long time to deal with in view of the public inquiries and the rest. There is very little difference between the present case and that one. It is a matter of taking an ordinary private road or commercial road and turning it more or less into a lorry or vehicle highway of a quite different character.

The two cases are very similar. If my right hon. Friend objects to bringing something before the House in this respect, I cannot see the logic of the argument. Why should it be regarded as an arbitrary act in respect of existing roads if it is not considered arbitrary in the case of a line of route? I am pleased to know that in this democratic country it is not done arbitrarily in the latter case. I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept the Clause, and not regard it as an arbitrary act in this respect.

I know that my right hon. Friend will point out that this is not "a regulation". It is a suggested route—one-way northwards and one-way southwards. I am aware of that. But what will happen if the proposal works from the point of view of traffic? It may well work; I agree that it is a good idea. The only thing to do then is to turn it into a regulation. The best way to make the route work is to ensure that a few cafes are provided along it; it will work then. The responsibility for this rests on my right hon. Friend, because he has been entirely responsible for the suggestion. No one else in the House officially has had anything at all to do with it.

I know that we give the Executive powers to carry out things itself. But why should not the Executive at times accept a little assistance from the House and let our shoulders also bear a little of the brunt of what is done? If my right hon. Friend wants to do something which will be unpopular at the moment, but which will, in the long run, be for the good of the community, even the motoring community, and industry, why should he refuse assistance which will enable him to point to the fact that the House of Commons, either unanimously or after a Division, passed a law? I can see no objection to it.

I presume that my right hon. Friend will turn the Clause down. He seems to have that look about him. I hope that I am wrong. However, it seems to me that it need not hold up his plans in the slightest. We deal with many Orders in the House from time to time during the day, generally after 10 p.m. Why should we not have this sort of thing also in an Order or Motion in one form or another to be brought before the House? I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept what is suggested. There are good precedents for it. It is something to which we ought to give serious consideration.

Mr. Marples

I am grateful to my two hon. Friends for raising this matter. I start by dealing with the Highgate Hill problem which, I think, was the reason for this Clause being moved. I do not blame my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), because he lives in Highgate Hill and has an interest in this, but I live on the South Circular Road, close to traffic lights, and I have as much traffic going past my house as my hon. Friend will have on Highgate Hill. The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) has as much trouble in his constituency with trucks going into residential streets and starting up in the early hours of the morning and making a noise by slamming doors, and so on, as any other hon. Member in this House.

The real point is that once we have the internal combustion engine developed to the degree to which it has been developed in this country somebody somewhere is bound to get hurt. Everyone says to the Minister of Transport, "Make the traffic flow smoothly and swiftly, but not in my street. That is reserved for me." This goes on all the time. The Minister of Transport cannot win. He is doomed to failure. I assure the House of that.

By the 1960 Act, the House gave me powers to run London's traffic instead of it being run by 28 Metropolitan boroughs, three county councils and four county boroughs. The hon. Member for Bermondsey will remember that I had a default Clause in the Bill. I hope that I shall never use it. I have tried my best not to use it, and so far I have not done so. I prepared and initiated a scheme and put it forward as a proposal. I kept an open mind. I listened to objections and to alternative suggestions. I considered every one most carefully before making a decision about what to do with the traffic. I then experimented for six months and at the end of that time, I altered it if I thought that I was wrong.

I do not think that in a democracy there can be any more safeguards or better procedure than that. That is what I propose to do in Highgate and in Oxford Street, and what I did in Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street where they told me that traffic would go so fast that more pedestrians would be injured and killed. The traffic went twice as fast and accidents to pedestrians were 30 per cent. less, and I am grateful for that.

Every scheme that I have put forward under that Act I have given first to the local authorities, the London Transport Executive, the traffic commissioner, the various trade and transport organisations, namely, the A.A., the R.A.C., the Trades' Road Transport Association, the Road Haulage Association, the National Chamber of Trade, the Joint Committee of the Cab Trade and the Pedestrians' Association, and it has been in the local and national Press. I have seen deputations of schoolteachers and headmasters of various schools. They have made alternative proposals and I have examined every single one exhaustively.

At the end of the day somebody, somewhere, has to make a decision, and it must be from the centre, and that is the Minister of Transport. If my hon. Friend has any alternative suggestion to make about Highgate, perhaps he will let me have it quickly. If it will do the job I shall be glad to accept it. I merely want to keep the traffic moving. That is all. I want to help wherever it is necessary, be it Highgate or Oxford Street, or anywhere else.

I hope that I can convince the House that there has been an honest attempt to keep traffic moving and to reconcile it with the rights of property owners. As I said, I live on the South Circular Road, with lots of traffic going by, and my ceiling has not fallen in. As a builder my hon. Friend cannot tell me that a ceiling falls down because traffic goes by on the road. There is something wrong with the ceiling, not with the traffic. I am prepared to look at any of the houses to which my hon. Friend referred. It is a rottenly-built house if that happens. I have great affection for my hon. Friend, although the House might not think so.

The Clause would have the effect of making any of my schemes for the control of traffic subject to the affirmative Resolution procedure if it was held that it would injuriously affect any interest in land abutting upon a road which is intended to be the subject of such a regulation … No definition of "injuriously affect" is given. It would be difficult to define.

The Clause would enable any objector having an interest in affected land to force the Minister to go through the affirmative Resolution procedure in respect of any traffic regulations which he might make affecting land abutting upon that road. I am surprised at my hon. Friend in one respect. The Clause is designed to secure property rights but, knowing his interest as I do, I am astonished to find that it makes no corresponding provision for objectors who believe that a proposed measure would prejudice road safety.

The Clause would affect only the exercise of the Minister's powers, but not those of local authorities. They could do what they liked, although they control a far greater number of roads than I do.

Mr. Graham Page

But local authorities have to hold public inquiries before carrying out schemes of this sort.

Mr. Marples

But the schemes of local authorities are not subject to an affirmative Resolution of this House. My hon. Friend is saying that we should go through the affirmative Resolution procedure in respect of the Minister's schemes and of nobody else's.

Mr. Page

But my right hon. Friend does not have to hold a public inquiry. By a stroke of the pen he can put his scheme into effect.

Mr. Marples

If my hon. Friend believes that there will not be a public examination in respect of Highgate he should read his newspapers. It will be examined exhaustively in every respect.

The Clause would affect speed limit orders, because my consent is required, but it would not apply to one-way traffic orders made by a local authority. All I am saying is that I do not think that the Legislature is the appropriate body to consider objections made, whether on private grounds or other grounds, to measures for the regulation of traffic on certain roads. The orders to be dealt with are very numerous. Outside London, in 1959–60 we had three oneway orders on trunk roads; 38 orders for speed limits on trunk roads, and 123 other speed limit orders. Inside London, we had 52 one-way traffic regulations, 18 right or left turn regulations and 16 speed limit orders and regulations.

Nearly every one of those would come within the scope of my hon. Friend's new Clause. The number of speed limit orders alone now runs at over 400 per annum, and this would mean that we would have to make several affirmative Resolutions on every sitting day. This would be quite impracticable, as well as being constitutionally unsound.

I am sure that my hon. Friend knows that the whole of London's traffic—and the idea of the Ministry is to try to keep the traffic going—would grind to a halt, because on every sitting day of the House we would have to deal with two, three or four affirmative Resolutions for different schemes. We would wreck the machine, and nothing would happen. Cinder the circumstances I hope that my hon. Friend will not press his Clause.

I know how deeply he feels about Highgate, but I have promised every person I have seen from Highgate that every alternative suggestion will be gone into with a fine tooth-comb. It is a very difficult job to try to balance the needs of traffic against the needs of private persons. Whatever I do will be wrong, but I shall do the best I can. I can assure my hon. Friend that if we accepted the Clause it would mean that London's traffic would grind to a halt.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)

I can understand and sympathise with the opposition of the right hon. Gentleman to this Motion on the grounds of administrative difficulties and the fact that the legislative machine would be blocked. One of the problems of Parliament is to decide when it is no longer physically possible to deal with all the detail which comes before us. But Parliament refuses to accept a degree of delegation of legislation which I consider essential and inevitable.

The thing that worries me is that the right hon. Gentleman appears to take the attitude that there is no problem. I disagree entirely. One can understand the ebullience and happiness of the right hon. Gentleman this evening. His head is firmly fixed on his shoulders. He goes from Ministry to Ministry—

Mr. Marples

Oh, no. I stay.

Mr. Marsh

I suppose it would be wrong to describe him as one of the untouchables but when he is touched it is not to his disadvantage.

Here we have a very serious human problem. The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) mentioned the situation in my constituency. The Minister should consider this and see whether there is something which could be done to give a greater degree of protection than there is at present to those ordinary people whose entire capital and life savings have been invested in their homes. I do not desire to make a party issue of this matter, but it is no use talking about a property-owning democracy when people who have saved all their lives to purchase a small home find themselves in such a situation. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot appreciate the difference between his home and some of the homes in my constituency, I will willingly show him and he will discover that ceilings in houses in the back streets of Greenwich are less secure than those in his own house. I do not know what his house is like—

Mr. Steele

It is all-electric.

Mr. Marsh

My hon. Friend says that it is all-electric. I do not know, but I imagine that it is an interesting house, containing a lot of little side rooms in which to meet people, several back doors and a number of cupboards full of tooth-combs. I am quite certain that the structural solidarity of the Minister's house is exceeded only by his personal and political stability.

That sort of thing does not exist in a lot of the tiny two-roomed slum and semi-slum properties in London and other parts of the country; and suddenly to have eight-wheeler diesel lorries running past these houses within two yards of the front door, because there are no front gardens, means eventually the virtual destruction of the value of the property without the owner having any redress at all.

There are people in my constituency whose houses are untenable. They do not want to live there any longer. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was prepared to examine the houses referred to by the hon. Member for Crosby. But he has a long-standing invitation to spend a night with one of my constituents—[Interruption.]—who is a gentleman of impeccable character. The Minister has a long-standing invitation to spend a night in the house of this gentleman, whose wife will be there too, and she is a lady whose character is also impeccable. There is no reason why the right hon. Gentleman should not accept the invitation, apart from the fact that he does not want to.

One cannot sleep soundly at night in that house. It is impossible, with eight-wheeler lorries changing gear in the short roadway outside. The people living in this sort of property want to get out, but they find that they cannot sell their houses because no one wants them. One old-age pensioner in my constituency has been offered £1,600 for his house, which he bought for £2,200. He asks where he can get another house for £1,600. He has no mortgage because no one will give him one. He has no savings because after the years under this Government no one has savings left. He has no compensation for what to him is the destruction—although I fully accept that it is in the public interest— of his amenity.

I do not want to develop this further, Mr. Speaker—I have a horrible suspicion that you probably would not allow me to do so—but I feed that while this may not be the best way of dealing with the matter, there is a serious problem here. It is one to which the Minister and the Ministry ought to give attention in the near future. Of course there are objections every time the character of a road is charged, but there are some schemes where not only the character is changed but where the loss of amenity value is not debateable because the properties cannot be sold.

If people have to make that sacrifice for the public good a responsibility rests on the right hon. Gentleman to ensure Chat in some way they are compensated and difficulties are made less for them. One thing about this House has always been that if a man has a house it is sacred to him and if his property has to be destroyed in the national interest the State has a duty to do something about it.

Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)

I intervene briefly because I feel it necessary to say a word or two after the part of the Minister's speech that dealt with the Highgate scheme. The proposal made by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Paige) is quite impracticable. I think he will acknowledge that it is impossible for every traffic order to come before this House to receive approval. The Minister made it clear that we could mot deal with the volume of work which that would entail. Nevertheless, the hon. Member has raised an important matter and my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) has underlined it. The hon. Member for Crosby raised a problem which will be increasingly with us as the years go by.

The Highgate scheme seems to have brought the dictatorial power of the Minister very much into the public eye. Part of that scheme runs through my constituency. The Minister will receive a volume of evidence and opinion from large numbers of people and many important representative bodies. He will receive representations from all the affected parties. Having some knowledge of the local circumstances, I predict that the overwhelming amount of that evidence and those representations will be opposed to his scheme. Almost every person concerned, because the scheme affects his street or locality, will oppose it. However, the Minister has the power and will use it. He will over-ride all that volume of opposition.

There is the weakness in the present position. The Minister has such power vested in him as one person to over-ride a very large volume of representation. I suggest that as the Minister goes ahead with his important work he will have to bring in many schemes such as the Highgate one before he has cleared up London. London five years ahead will be quite different from What it is today. Many schemes (have to be introduced and changes have to be made. As the Minister goes along he may find it necessary with major schemes to allow this House to come into the picture so that those who protest and are turned down by the Minister will know that the House of Commons has finally sanctioned a scheme introduced by the Minister.

Question put and negatived.