LORD DE ROS,
in rising to call attention to the condition of the streets of London during the recent severe weather, said: My Lords, I think it will hardly be necessary for me to apologise for bringing forward the notice which stands in my name on the Paper, because I think it is a subject of interest to all classes in the community, from the highest down to that very useful individual, the crossing-sweeper. The winter we have just passed through has, I think, most amply illustrated the extremely dangerous condition of the streets of London, more especially during frosty weather. Everybody who has moved about London during the last two or three months must have witnessed the frightful sufferings of the unfortunate horses in consequence of the slippery and unsatisfactory condition of the streets. Severe accidents have happened, and several of them have been fatal. Now, all this 583 cruelty and loss has been occasioned by the inability of most of the Vestries to keep the streets in a proper condition during the very changeable climate which we are subject to in this country. First of all, we had the snow; then we had frost, then a thaw, then snow and frost again; and so it went on alternately. It certainly was very severe weather altogether; but, still, I maintain that the Vestries ought to have been prepared for all those contingencies. The snow ought to have been taken away in the first instance; instead of which it was left to get into a hard mass, and could only be removed with the greatest difficulty; indeed, I saw men with pickaxes working it away from the gutters in the streets. Where it was not so cleared away it was swept from the centre down to the sides of the street; it was there left in heaps, and those heaps, becoming frozen, were extremely dangerous. Then when the thaw arrived they became soft sloughs, and one could not drive up to a shop or dwelling-house without plunging the horses knee-deep into a combination of snow and slush, which, of course, was very injurious to the horses' feet. Direct loss, too, was sustained by tradesmen in consequence. I happened to be in a large establishment in Regent Street about three weeks ago, and, perceiving that part of the street was very slippery, and upon asking the manager whether the business had been affected in consequence during the severe frost, he told me that the coachman of one of his best customers had positively refused to drive to the shop on account of the slippery state of the street; and as the coachman discovered that another street, where a rival establishment was to be found, was in a much better condition, much to their disgust the customer was driven there. Such a state of things is, of course, a great injury to business. About two years ago the Horse Accident Prevention Society was formed, having at its head Mr. Burdett-Coutts, the Duke of Portland and other influential persons patronizing it. On the Committee there are representatives of nearly all the large horse owners in London, the great carrying firms, the Omnibus Companies, and so on. I may say that the Society has no connection whatever with any of the Paving Companies, or horse-shoe in- 584 ventors,or anything of that kind. It is solely actuated by a desire to endeavour to get the authorities to keep the streets in proper condition for the horse traffic under the varying conditions of weather to which, in this climate, we are subject. One of the first things they did was to issue a circular to all the drivers in the employ of the London General Omnibus Company, the London Road Car Company, Messrs. Carter, Paterson, & Co., and Messrs. Tilling, asking which form of roadway they considered the best and which the worst to drive over. The answers showed that 750 of the men considered wood the best, 219 macadam, 197 granite cubes, and 51 asphalte. On the other hand, 122 men considered wood the worst, 1 macadam, 13 granite cubes, 1,045 asphalte. In view of this decided preponderance of opinion in favour of wood, the Society had impressed upon Local Authorities the necessity of putting down wood pavement in preference to asphalte wherever new streets were being laid or existing streets required to be repaired. In many instances these efforts have been crowned with success. What is wanted, however, is uniformity. If there were a uniform pavement, a uniform shoe could be adopted to suit the pavement. At present there are four different kinds of pavement in use, and one great source of danger lies in the sudden passing from one kind to the other. I have received a letter from the Secretary of the United Cab Proprietors' Association, who is also a member of the Vestry of St. Pancras, which shows the patchwork condition of some of our main roads. He says—I desire to call your attention to that portion of the omnibus route which lies between King's Cross and Russell Square, a distance of about half a mile. Starting from King's Cross, the paving is as follows:—Euston Road, partly granite, partly wood; Judd Street, wood; Hunter Street, asphalte, then wood, then asphalte again; Brunswick Square, macadam; Grenville Street, granite; Guildford Street, partly wood, partly asphalte; Russell Square, asphalte. The above-named streets are under the control of the Vestry of St. Pancras and the St. Giles's Board of Works. Both bodies have different opinions as to which is the best kind of silent paving—St. Pancras stands by wood, and the St. Giles's Board of Works asphalte. An attempt was made to arrive at a common agreement respecting the silent paving of Guildford Street, which is in both parishes; but the negotiations fell through, each, authority laying its own kind of paving. 585 With regard to Brunswick Square, which is in the two parishes named, information has just reached me that the St. Giles's Board of Works have agreed to the views of St. Pancras, and I have no doubt that shortly wood paving will be laid down.As I have said, one of the greatest sources of danger is the constant transition from one kind of pavement to the other, and there, again, uniformity is what is principally required. I must say, as a rule, most of the Vestries have been quite willing to listen to suggestions coming to them from without, but others have been quite indifferent, and have proved themselves totally incapable of grappling with the difficult questions which arose during that severe frosty time. I feel certain that unless there is one uniform pavement, with a uniform system of cleaning and sanding the streets, the frightful accidents and the distress to horses will be of frequent occurrence every winter. The County Council has been approached, I believe, but without success. I do not wish to weary your Lordships with the different letters, communications, and suggestions which have come to me in reference to the condition of the streets. The newspapers were teeming with them all through the winter, and particularly with regard to the non-removal of the snow, which, I know, has been one of the most serious difficulties the Vestries have had to contend with. I am sure, nevertheless, that humanely, socially, and commercially speaking this question is of the very greatest importance, and I wish to ask whether it would be possible to establish one distinct uniform authority for regulating the paving and keeping the streets in proper condition?
THE EARL OF MEATH
My Lords, before Her Majesty's Government answer the question, I hope your Lordships will permit me, as a member of the London County Council, to thank the noble Lord for having brought forward the subject to-day. At the same time, I should like to make it perfectly clear to him, as I am sure it is to most of your Lordships, that the London County Council have nothing whatever to do with the matter. The noble Lord said the London County Council had been approached in regard to it, but without success. I was not aware of it; but if they have been applied to and without 586 success, it is, as I say, owing to the fact that the London County Council have no power whatever over the streets. There are only certain portions of London which are under the control of the London County Council—very small portions, such as the Victoria Embankment; the rest are entirely subject to the Vestries, and the London County Council has no power over those Vestries. I hope that one result of the discussion to-day will be to encourage Her Majesty's Government to bring forward the long-promised Bill for forming District Councils, which, I hope, will be placed in some degree under the control of a central body—the London County Council. Until some legislation is passed in this direction your Lordships may be perfectly certain that there will be no improvement whatever in the state of the streets of this Metropolis. It is a marvel to me that it is as good as it is, when we consider that the Metropolitan District, extending 12 miles from north to south and 17 miles from east to west, is under the control of 39 distinct local governments, governments which I believe have hardly been altered in their form since the time of the Heptarchy, which are formed on an ecclesiastical basis and possess a semi-ecclesiastical constitution. I am more or less a Conservative; still, I think it is carrying Conservative principles a little too far to expect that the largest Metropolis in the world should continue to be governed upon such a system. I entirely endorse all the noble Lord has said with regard to the disgraceful state of the London streets, not only during this winter but every winter, and it is a marvel to me that more accidents do not take place. With regard to the paving of the streets, the noble Lord has told you that wood pavement has been voted the best by the drivers of omnibuses and other vehicles; but unless wood pavement is taken care of, unless it is cleansed constantly and care taken to keep it in proper order, it becomes just as bad as asphalte. As a matter of fact, the wood pavement in the Metropolis is at this moment just like ice, and I doubt very much whether there is much difference between the two as regards danger not only to horses, but to pedestrians crossing the streets. I only hope that this discussion will tend to some practical result 587 Some of the Vestries, no doubt, are excellent and useful bodies, but I must say that I do not think the public in general are satisfied with the way in which the majority of the London Vestries are carrying on their work. When we consider what are the constitutions of these Vestries, when we take into consideration the class of men who get into them, when we know how little interest is taken by the public in the Vestry elections, it is a marvel that the management of the Metropolis is carried on as well as it is. There is another point which I do not think the noble Lord drew attention to, and that is, that at the present moment it is almost impossible for any individual who has not studied the question to understand who is responsible for any particular street. Unless we can bring responsibility home to some one body or individual, we know that work is very badly done, and even when we get to know the particular Vestry that is in fault it is a very difficult thing, indeed, to bring any pressure to bear upon that Vestry for which it will care. Public opinion it does not care for very much, from the simple fact that the public will not take an interest in the elections, and will not vote. The members of these Vestries know that though, perhaps, there may be a little excitement raised against them for some particular thing they have done, in the long run it is always some two dozen persons or so who elect the Vestry, and if they can only retain the favour of those two dozen they will be returned. Before we can hope to have our Metropolis put in proper order there must be some central body constituted responsible to the public, and I hope Her Majesty's Government will do something to establish such a central body; for although they have given the London County Council very great powers, they have not—and very justly, I think—given them at once the full powers which they intend to give them. I hope, therefore, Her Majesty's Government will bring forward the Bill they promised us within no very distant period.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I only present myself to answer this question because I am the residuary legatee of all questions which have no 588 other patron. The noble Lord whose duty it is to represent the Local Government Board in this House is unfortunately prevented by illness from attending. This preamble will acquaint your Lordships with the fact, I am afraid, that I am not much acquainted with the subject on which I have undertaken to answer a question, and I must appeal to that benignity which distinguishes the noble Lord, and which I hope he extends to Her Majesty's Government, and exhort him to spare me for any shortcomings I may show in that respect. I must say that his question alarmed me very much, because it took so wide an area. As I understood, the noble Lord was very severe on the weather of this country. I have nothing to say in favour of the weather of this country—I think it is wholly indefensible. Then he attacked all the pavements of the Metropolis and all the Local Bodies to whom those pavements are due; but I do not see what remedy my noble Friend suggested for any of these difficulties. If I am to take the noble Lord who followed him as furnishing an authorised commentary upon his speech——
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Not authorised? Well, a commentary to which we may look for instruction—it would appear that the remedy would be to place everything in the hands of the London County Council. The noble Lord who has just sat down uttered a very spirited criticism upon the Vestries of this Metropolis. He said that they had existed since the Heptarchy; I was not aware of that. And he said that they were eminently ecclesiastical in their constitution. That is not my impression of their present condition. He then proceeded to point out that it was impossible to trust bodies in whose election the public do not take a great interest, and within whose constitution such curious persons were found. I felt, while the noble Earl was speaking, that it was rather hard that there was not a representative of the Vestries in this House. I should have liked to hear a representative of the Vestries give his opinion of the London County Council. I am not sure that the noble Lord might not have found that he had been wielding a two-edged weapon. But I would venture to represent to my noble Friend behind 589 me and to the noble Lord that the remedy of bringing in the District Councils Bill, to which allusion has been made, will not get rid of the variety of pavements of which they complain. It will be quite possible for the District Council of St. Giles in the future to prefer asphalte and for the District Council of St. Pancras to prefer wood. The Bill will not insure an absolute uniformity of opinion on the question of the use of asphalte or wood. Therefore, unless you have an absolute despotism vested in the London County Council you cannot insure that uniformity which is necessary for the purpose of procuring uniformity in the shoeing of your horses. My impression is that there will be some hesitation about intrusting such despotism to the London County Council without a more extended experience than we have hitherto gained of its management of the matters which have already been committed to its charge. I do not wish to say anything derogatory of its business capacities; I believe they are very high, that its energy has been very praiseworthy, and that it has devoted itself to its work in a highly creditable manner. Still, its existence has not extended over a very long period, and it is somewhat early to give it such enormous powers as these at the expense of other bodies that have existed for a long time. There is another difficulty. These various pavements, which have been criticised so severely, represent successive strata that have been deposited by the dominant opinion of the day among the Local Authorities. At one time everybody believed in granite cubes, then they went on to believe in macadam, then there was a perfect millennium of asphalte, and now we have sunk down to prosaic wood. All these were successive stages in the progress of opinion. Do you imagine that the alteration of opinion is stayed for ever, and that we are henceforth to have nothing but wood? My belief really is that if you establish this uniformity and succeed in preventing the various bodies in London from trying in any part any new pavement, you would possibly find that you were bound permanently to some form of pavement which the common sense of the community would universally reject and change in favour of some new Invention. I am afraid variety is in- 590 evitable in human affairs, and that perfect uniformity has not been attained by the most powerful and the most ingenious despots. With the highest respect for the powers of the London County Council, and believing that it is capable of aspiring to most ambitious tasks, I yet doubt that such a blessing would proceed from it if unlimited power was committed to its hands. After all, in these Vestries, which are spoken of so slightingly, the only defect I know of is that every member of them must have an annual rating of £40, otherwise they are absolutely open, and they are elected by the ratepayers of the parish. If the ratepayers of the parish are not fit to elect these men, and if everybody who is rated above £40 a year must be considered as absolutely corrupt and incapable, I am afraid that the chance of obtaining good government in London by any alteration of machinery is small indeed.
§ House adjourned at five minutes before Five o'clock, to Monday next, a quarter before Eleven o'clock.