HC Deb 13 March 1975 vol 888 cc887-90

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

Before calling the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) to move Second Reading, I should inform the House that I have not selected the amendment in the names of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) and other hon. Members.

7.14 p.m.

Mr. Bryan Davies (Enfield, North)

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

The Bill seeks to confer further powers on the Greater London Council and other authorities in Greater London. Many of the powers proposed in the Bill are being sought at the request of the London Boroughs Association, and the whole of Part IV is being promoted on behalf of the London Borough of Southwark.

In introducing the Bill I am mindful of two considerations—first, that such a Bill covering a wide range of issues, although asking for limited and specific powers in each area, provides one of those all too rare opportunities vouchsafed to London Members to air the grievances of their constituents and to discuss important matters relating to the capital city and its government.

I should be less than frank with the House if I did not confess that, were I not charged with the valued responsibility of ensuring that this Bill gains safe passage through what I hope, perhaps forlornly, will be calm and serene waters, I should welcome the debate tonight as an opportunity to express particular constituency problems of my own relating to the governance of London. However, I express the hope that, however widely the debate ranges, however keen, for example, hon. Members are to rebut the criticism, for instance, emanating from quarters not too far distant from County Hall—criticism which in my opinion is ill-judged and ill-founded, suggesting as it does than London Members have been remiss in advancing the interests of the capital city—the House will view the Bill as raising no major issue of principle and no matters of acute controversy to hinder its Second Reading. I express the view that any defects—to myself as the presenter, glorying in my partiality, they appear quite miniscule—can be rigorously considered in Committee after Second Reading.

My second major consideration in presenting a Bill containing so many disparate provisions is that this speech could readily assume Miltonic proportions with a cataloguing of the angels as in "Paradise Lost". That would be boring in the extreme to hon. Members for whom the details of the Bill are precisely fixed in their minds after many hours of diligent study. I propose, therefore, to reserve my comments for those parts of the Bill which suggest themselves as raising minor and, I know, readily assuage-able fears in the minds of hon. Members so that subsequent speeches can be sweetly affirmative rather than sharply critical.

The Bill in Part II, Clause 3, is an attempt to reduce the hazards presented to that most highly respected section of the public service, the Fire Brigade. Firemen face increasing hazards in tackling blazes in which new chemical and chemical substances are involved. These dangers will be readily appreciated by hon. Members.

For my part, I had a most forcible reminder of this problem only a few weeks ago when a bomb had been placed in a chemical works in my constituency. Fortunately, on that occasion the fire was readily controllable. The firm has the highest safety standards and the danger was minimised. That this is not everywhere the case is readily appreciated when it is recognised that 169 members of the London Fire Brigade have been injured in fires involving hazardous substances in the period July 1973 to July 1974.

Accordingly, Clause 3 seeks to empower the council to specify warning signs relating to substances likely to prove hazardous to firemen and to require that the signs be displayed as appropriate. The clause would also enable the council, subject to a right of appeal, to regulate the storage of hazardous substances and to make provision for the enforcement of requirements relating to the display of warning signs and to storage. The clause empowers the Secretary of State to give directions to the council as to warning signs. This will ensure that the council keeps in step with any national regulations which may be introduced in this context.

Clause 4 seeks to extend the time limited by earlier enactments for the compulsory purchase of land by the council for the provision of pedestrian subways under the Strand and for the Thames Barrier. The extension sought is for a further three years until December 1978.

Clause 5 seeks to amend Section 25 of the Thames Barrier and Flood Prevention Act 1972 on the lines agreed with the interests concerned.

Clause 6 introduces an element of perhaps greater innovation and concern, because it contains provision to extend the powers of the council to introduce bus lanes. The council is the leading bus lane authority in the country, with more bus lanes than any other traffic authority and consequently with greater experience of their performance and the problems which they present. Bus lanes serve a useful purpose in assisting bus operation without serious disbenefit to other traffic. They present an opportunity for improving public transport services and for securing the most efficient use of available road space.

In particular, Clause 6 relates to the problem of with-flow bus lanes. As the council has readily identified to hon. Members, the problem of traffic observing contra-flow bus lanes is minimal. I imagine that that statement has made hon. Members smile. One is not surprised if motorists hesitate to cross four-feet-wide concrete obstructions to enjoy the doubtful privilege of a head-on collision with a carefully driven but enormously heavy London bus. The council wishes to reduce the degree to which motorists intrude upon with-flow bus lanes and to maximise the flexibility of bus lane designation so that access to adjacent property is appropriately safeguarded. These objectives can be achieved by the council assuming powers to segregate physically with-flow lanes by mountable, and in some restricted cases non-mountable, barriers. In the majority of cases, it is proposed to use mountable dividers con- structed of raised rubber strips or rubber posts, readily traversable in any emergency or when the lane is not in use.

Bus lanes are the subject of member-level decision, not administrative action, and permanent designation is subject to an order being made under Section 6 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967, offering substantial protection to the public by dint of the consultation or objection procedures outlined in the procedure regulations. Bus lanes contribute to efficiency in the use of road space and on the basis of present reviews make a contribution to road safety. A recent review, for example, showed a reduction of 16 per cent. in the total number of accidents after the introduction of bus lanes covered by the review.

Clause 7 seeks to consolidate and marginally extend the current available powers to buy, publish, produce and sell books, pamphlets and other articles relating to local government in London. A particularly valuable facility which is being sought in this respect refers to publications on the contents and historical significance of local-authority-controlled museums and historic buildings. The capacity to extend public appreciation of these treasured possessions by the compiling and publication of pamphlets and books is something which hon. Members will, I am sure, be prepared to extend to the appropriate local authorities.

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