HL Deb 19 August 1907 vol 181 cc9-21

My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government what duties are to be attached to the special branch of the Board of Trade recently constituted for the purpose of dealing with matters relating to London traffic; and whether it is intended that this branch of the Board of Trade is to be entrusted with any and which of the functions which the Report of the Royal Commission on London Traffic recommended should be vested in a Traffic Board; and to move for Papers.

In view of the important Bill to come before your Lordships to-night, I will endeavour to be as short as possible in my observations. But I desire to put certain considerations before your Lordships to show the cramping limits which at present exist on the effectiveness of the new branch of the Board of Trade I and of the new Traffic Commissioner recently appointed to take up the duties which were recommended should be taken up by a Traffic Board in the Report of the Royal Commission on London Traffic. There have been several excellent and well-informed articles on this subject during the last week in the Press, notably inThe Times, theMorning Post, and theDaily Mail; and I think the considerations which have been treated in the Press should be stated in Parliament and Ministers should be pressed for a reply, more especially in view of the exceeding sparse and shadowy Answer given in another place last week to a Question asked on this subject by Sir John Dickson-Poynder.

There is, I believe, general agreement on the importance of the traffic question to the community, and since the Commission sat there has been a growing agreement that the hous- ing question and the traffic question are inextricably bound up. I was delighted the other day to see that, though they have taken some little time to say anything of that sort about it, the Government appear to have come to the same conclusion, because on Saturday, 22nd June, on the occasion of the opening of the Hampstead Tube, the President of the Board of Trade, after observing that some surprise had been expressed that nothing had been done, declared that— The Government were considering the matter with a view to action, and probably immediate action. They were alive, not merely to the importance, but to the urgency of the question. Something would have to be done in order to co-ordinate all the means of coping with the traffic difficulty of London. That is a straightforward, businesslike statement, and all the people who were interested in traffic and in housing were highly pleased. Very soon after that—on 1st July—Mr. Charles Booth introduced a deputation to the London County Council, of which I was a member. We were to see the General Purposes Committee, but we were told, on arrival, that the Press were excluded. Disappointed, but undeterred, we made our speeches just the same to the austere General Purposes Committee, and the outcome was that the London County Council in full session held two debates on the question whether or not the Government should be memorialised by the council to appoint a Traffic Board on the lines of the Report of the Royal Commission. The debate was adjourned on the first night, and when it was resumed the Council by, roughly, seventy votes to thirty, decided to form a deputation to wait upon the Prime Minister and urge the appointment of a Traffic Board on those lines.

We have heard no more of the deputation—at least, I have heard no more of it—but a fortnight ago we saw what the Government's action was to be in view of the urgency upon which so much stress was laid by Mr. Lloyd-George on the breezy uplands of Hampstead Heath. How does it satisfy the Royal Commission's recommendations as to the powers and duties of the Traffic Board? The powers were to be powers of advice, powers of supervision, and powers of mediation. How far can the new Traffic Commissioner—and I may say that I am glad that Sir Herbert Jekyll, who starts with considerable knowledge of the subject, has been appointed to this post—with the best intentions in the world, exercise, under existing conditions, the powers and duties which we proposed should be vested in a Traffic Board? There is evidently to be no legislation. Most of us will appreciate that at this time of the year there can be none, and apparently most of next session is heavily mortgaged. I assume, therefore, there is to be no legislation, and, failing some quite unrevealed powers to reside at present in the Board of Trade, their statutory powers are quite inadequate to enable them to deal with the question of London traffic.

I will assume, first, that the Traffic Commissioner and this new branch are to do something for the public convenience in an advisory capacity. The advisory capacity of the Board recommended by the Royal Commission was to comprise two things. They were to watch private Bills dealing with traffic of all kinds which came before Parliament, and they were also to report to Parliament each year as to the then conditions of traffic. I will take the latter of those first. Consider what the Traffic Commission's Report was. We surveyed the world from New York to Budapest, and from China to Peru, and dealt with traffic conditions all over the universe. If the Commissioner is to bring that up to date and make a Report to Parliament containing the kind of suggestions we gave and the plan we drew, I am at a loss to know how he can do it unless he is furnished with an expert staff.

I will take the concrete case, which is much more important, of Bills before Parliament. At present the Board of Trade have no powers to prosecute Parliamentary inquiries or to exact information from promoters as regards traction schemes, except as to the level crossings of an ordinary railway. Only in the case of railways and tramways are they entitled to plans and sections, but, even then, they have no right to other particulars. Thus the Board of Trade would not be entitled to plans and sections of a new motor road, however much that engine might be out of harmony with the existing conditions of traffic. Therefore in that most important point this new Commissioner and the new branch of the Board of Trade would be absolutely helpless. There is only one way out of that—namely, by the amendment of the Standing Orders. I fancy that if you amended Standing Orders Nos. 27 and 33, and possibly some others which might be consequential, a good deal might be done; but I do not know whether that is contemplated. If it is, I quite admit that it is a leisurely step in advance. But that only gives the new Commissioner alocus in schemes before Parliament.

What about schemes that are not before Parliament? I will take the case of new roads, new streets, new widenings, or, for instance, what was done in Oxford Street after the Commission had reported that it was a mistake to do that sort of thing—namely, the erecting of large electric standards down the middle of a thoroughfare. Those are the sort of things of which it is most essential there should be that co-ordination to which Mr. Lloyd-George referred. At present parties interested in any of these operations can refuse the Board of Trade and the Traffic Commissioner all information, and the Board of Trade, under its present powers, cannot hold an inquiry or form any decision as to the advisability of these proposals. Even if the Traffic Commissioner, through tactics of diplomacy, which I am sure he would exercise, is able to get to know something, let us say, about a future railway or new motor road, how is he to impress his views upon Parliament? That, again, can only be done by an amendment of the Standing Orders so as to entitle him to appear before the Select Committee engaged in considering the proposal and give evidence. At present the powers of the Board of Trade in this respect are quite restricted.

How is this difficulty to be met? I have no doubt we shall hear something on that presently, and on the other points, from the noble Earl in charge of the business of the Board of Trade; but meanwhile a good many people are anxiously awaiting fuller information than we have had up to the present. Let us suppose that the Commissioner reports that a new tube railway scheme is defective. Our Report recommended that, in a case of that kind, there should be an alteration of the Standing Orders to permit of new notices and plans being deposited to meet the defects. If that is in contemplation that, again, is a step in advance; but if it is not in contemplation I am afraid this very important part of what should be the new Commissioner's duties will be absolutely abortive.

Now I come to the point of supervision. The supervision would embrace such things as by-laws to compel slow traffic to go, say, on one side and keep out of the way of fast traffic. Those by-laws at present would be passed by the London County Council, and would have to be affirmed by the Home Office as responsible for the regulation of traffic in London. That at once seems to me to create friction, unless the Home Office and the London County Council are prepared to transfer their powers in this respect to the new Commissioner and the new branch of the Board of Trade. Then you have motor traffic, which no doubt has come to stay, and which plays an important part in all our lives. The regulations concerning motor traffic and motor traction are in the hands of the Local Government Board. Are they, again, going to transfer those powers to the special branch of the Board of Trade? Then there are the motor 'buses, and there is the breaking up of streets, which seems to be nobody's particular business but everybody's concern. Those matters, we thought, ought to be in the hands of the Traffic Board; but, things being as they are, it would be quite impossible to hand the powers of local authorities over to this new branch of the Board of Trade. We should probably have a peaceful revolution if that were attempted.

Finally, there was peaceful mediation, and there was nothing that the Royal Commission were more emphatic upon than that. What we desired particularly to see was that the Traffic Board should be able to step in and settle disputes between parties promoting traffic schemes, and adjust those differences in a manner which they thought would be to the best advantage of the public generally. But the Board of Trade can do nothing of that sort. Under the Arbitrations Act, 1874, they have only powers when they are voluntarily referred to by the parties, or if those arbitration powers are inserted by statute, as has often been done, in clauses in Committee upstairs. I should like to know what is going to be done with regard to mediation. Summed up, the Board of Trade's powers are confined to railways, tramways, and electric lighting as regards the raying of mains, and even then their powers are only general and not in any sense specific or absolute. That leaves out street widening, motor traffic by-laws, and all the things I have referred to. As far as I can see, under this proposal, or, as one newspaper put it, this harbinger of a Traffic Board, all these things are to be left to luck.

A great deal more could be said, but I will not further detain your Lordships in view of the important debate which is to follow. I cannot conceive, after the pronouncement of the London County Council in favour of a Traffic Board and their desire to send a deputation on the subject to the Prime Minister, that there has not been considerable correspondence between the London County Council and the Government, and I think the public, whose convenience, after all, is very much at stake in this matter, should be informed of the nature of that correspondence, and why and how it was this sudden step was taken in the appointment of this peculiarly inoperative special branch of the Board of Trade and this new Traffic Commissioner. I therefore move for Papers.

Moved, "That there be laid before the House papers relating to the recent constitution of the special branch of the Board of Trade for the purpose of dealing with matters relating to London traffic.—(The Lord Ribblesdale.)


My Lords, I rise to support the appeal which has been made to the Government by the noble Lord opposite for full information with regard to the special branch of the Board of Trade recently constituted for the purpose of dealing with matters relating to London traffic. It is now a long time since the Royal Commission reported, and, in my opinion, this appointment of a subordinate Department of the Board of Trade is an attempt by the Government to shelve all the great questions relating to London traffic. At the present moment there is a definite proposal to construct a new exit from London for motor and other traffic not animal drawn. That proposal is a very important one for the future of London and surely ought to be referred to an authority who should be able to say whether it is in harmony with possible future schemes for the making of more trunk roads leading out of London. On page 99 of their Report the Royal Commissioners express the opinion that one of the chief duties of this Traffic Board should be the improvement of the main roads leading out of London; yet here we are face to face with a proposal of an entirely novel character, and no authority seems to have power to exercise any control. There have been innumerable Commissions and Committees on this question ever since 1846, and surely we have arrived at a time when, in the interests of this great metropolis, the Government ought to make up their minds definitely whether or not they intend to carry out the valuable recommendations of the last Royal Commission on this subject. Personally I should much prefer the appointment of a Traffic Board than that these powers should be vested in the London County Council. It is better that there should be a body less permeated by prejudice and political traditions. I sincerely press on His Majesty's Government the necessity, in the interests of London as a whole, of not allowing the appointment of this subordinate department of the Board of Trade to become permanent, and of dealing without delay with the great questions relating to London traffic which were raised by the Report of the Royal Commission.


My Lords, I feel it my duty, as one who is specially connected with London, to say a word or two on this question. The traffic is only one branch of the whole question of the extension of London, which in its relation to the housing of the people weighs heavily on the minds of the community; and we are greatly disappointed by the way in which the Government have dealt with the proposals of the Royal Commission. Those proposals were, it seemed to us, singularly moderate; they certainly involved nothing drastic or revolutionary. The great thing necessary is the bringing together of the various authorities concerned in this question both different Government offices, and different local authorities. It seems to me that at present there is simply a blind ungainly out-thrust of the population, producing the most lamentable results, and the proposals of the Royal Commission deserve most serious consideration on the part of the Government. I watched with surprise the action of the London County Council at the time when it hampered or opposed this scheme. Although I have taken great satisfaction in the increase of the power of the London County Council in every way, and have in some sense wished more power to its elbow, I felt that in this matter it seemed to be acting wrongly and considering only its own interest, when it was obvious that for the proper solution of the problem of London traffic the question should be vested in a board which could deal with questions between the council and the local authorities of the districts adjoining the councils area.


My Lords, the whole question of London traffic, which is most complicated, has received the careful consideration of His Majesty's Government. They have not found themselves able to bring in the Bill that would be necessary to set up the Traffic Board recommended by the Royal Commission; but, being anxious to do something to improve the condition of London in this respect at the present moment, they have considered that this could best be effected by appointing a London traffic branch of the Board of Trade under Sir Herbert Jekyll. The new branch will have to study the whole traffic question of Greater London and report to Parliament yearly on the needs of London traffic. I am sure your Lordships will readily see that this will be a step in the right direction. They will also endeavour to bring into harmony the different schemes of locomotion seeking statutory powers, by means of conferences between the parties concerned.

I have carefully read the Report of the Traffic Commission and was very much struck by the strength of the case for uniformity. We hope to secure uniformity by means of this new branch of the Board of Trade. The noble Lord was anxious to know something of thepersonnel of the new branch. I am afraid I can only tell him at present that Sir Herbert Jekyll is at the head, and that he will have a certain number of people to assist him. We hope very much to have the co-operation in this branch of representatives of the Home Office and the Local Government Board. The Home Office have jurisdiction in some cases, the Local Government Board in others, and the Board of Trade have powers in other cases, and we hope by means of this branch to arrive at some reasonable manner of dealing with all the different interests concerned.

With regard to private Bills, the noble Lord stated that the branch would have no means of dealing with promoters who were presenting private Bills to which objection was taken, but I think that if the branch reported adversely on any private Bill, that circumstance would certainly be taken into account by the Committees of both Houses. I understand that something can be done by way of amending Standing Orders relating to private Bills, so that they would have to go before this branch of the Board of Trade before they came before Parliament. That is a matter requiring great consideration, and I hope that possibly next year something may be done in that way. Private Bills have to be deposited by 30th November, and I think it would be rather hard to ask the various interests to submit their schemes this year. Although this branch has only been working, for a week or so they have already had schemes submitted to them. The noble Lord will recognise how great the improvement has been in the matter of London traffic since the Report of the Royal Commission. The appointment of this branch is in no way a permanent settlement; it is leading up to a larger policy. Whether a permanent settlement of the subject will be by means of a Traffic Board I am not in a position to say. The branch will, at any rate, do a great deal of good in the way of co-ordinating different schemes and interests.


My Lords, if I may venture to say so, I think we are much indebted to the noble Lord who has raised this very important question. It is a question to which the Royal Corn-mission, on which he and I had the honour of sitting, devoted considerable time, and so far as the appointment of a Traffic Board was concerned they presented an unanimous Report. The noble Lord who occupies the Woolsack, and who I regret is not in his place at the moment, was also a member of that Commission and agreed in that unanimous recommendation. What I think we are all anxious to know is not exactly what the Department of the Board of Trade which has just been set up, somewhat unexpectedly, I think, is doing at the present moment; there is a great deal over and above that. I think the right rev. Prelate put the point when he said just now that what we wanted to know was whether we were going to bring together the Government Departments and the local authorities. That constitutes one of the great difficulties of this question.

The noble Lord who brought this matter before your Lordships' notice pointed out, I think with great clearness, that there is not sufficient power at the present time vested in the Government to deal with this matter, and that legislation is necessary. He pointed out that with respect to private Bills further powers were absolutely necessary, that with regard to questions outside private Bills extra powers were also needed, and that the powers with regard to by-laws were insufficient to cope with the evils we have to encounter. In this important question we have to deal with the Home Office, the Local Government Board, the Board of Trade, and with the London County Council and the other local authorities in the me ropolis. It is very desirable that your Lordships should know whether His Majesty's Government, in setting up this new branch of the Board of Trade, are leading up to legislation. We want to know whether this is merely a paving of the way for doing that which the Royal Commission were unanimous in saying was a necessity. The Commission declared that there must be legislation if this problem is to be dealt with at all, and we want to know whether this is leading up to and helping on legislation, or whether it is a sort of sop which will take the place of legislation.

I appeal to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—I should like to appeal to him in his presence, but as he is not here I must appeal to him in his absence—to say, as a member of the Royal Commission and a member of the Cabinet, whether in his view legislation is necessary in order to deal with this traffic problem, or whether it can be dealt with without legislation. I have not the slightest doubt that the noble and learned Lord holds still to the view he expressed as a member of the Royal Commission, that legislation is absolutely necessary in order to cope with this most tangled problem. The noble Earl who replied on behalf of the Board of Trade told us that the great thing we wanted in this matter was uniformity. We agree with him, but you cannot get uniformity of action in dealing with this question, except by legislation. The London County Council are to-day in favour of the establishment of a traffic board. They were formerly opposed to it, I agree, and they had the opportunity of stating their case before the Royal Commission and before my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, but they could not shake the decision of the Royal Commission nor the decision of the noble and learned Lord. It was unanimously agreed that the London County Council of that day were wrong, and that there was a necessity for legislation in order to carry this matter out.

I press upon the Government that this is a matter upon which your Lordships are entitled to have information as to what is going to be done. This new Department of the Board of Trade may be useful, but it is never going to solve the question, and we want to know whether there is to be legislation. The noble Earl who replied on behalf of the Board of Trade said that since the Report of the Royal Commission the condition of London traffic had very much improved. I do not know whether the noble Earl drives much about London, but if he does he will know that, even if there has been improvement, a good deal still remains to be done.


My Lords, I regret very much that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is not here at this moment, and I am sorry to say that I am not in a position to answer the questions of the noble Earl. Not knowing that this debate was likely to take this form, I have not informed myself upon the subject. I will only say that I am sure that the observations which have been made by my noble friend behind me, by the right rev. Prelate, and by the noble Earl who has just sat down, will receive the most careful consideration from my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade. The noble Earl asked whether this appointment of a Traffic Commissioner was likely to lead up to legislation. I understood my noble friend behind me, who replied on behalf of the Board of Trade, to say that it was intended for that purpose. I may have, been mistaken, but that was what I understood my noble friend to say.


I should like to ask whether we are to have the Papers for which I moved. For the rest I have only to thank the noble Earl for his reply. It is true that he had not very much to tell us, but I was glad to hear that the new branch is already doing business, but I am afraid it must be of a restricted order. The noble Earl spoke of an alteration in a Standing Order which would enable this new branch to do big things in connection with private Bills. What he said left a vague impression on my mind, and I wish we had the Chairman of Committees here to tell us exactly what this particular Order is which is to place things in a different position from what they are in at the present moment. I thank the Government for what they have said, although it was remarkably little; and it seems to me that, if their methods of dealing with Scottish land resemble the hare of Æsop's fable, their methods regarding London traffic resemble the tortoise.


If there are any Papers and we can lay them, I shall be pleased to comply with the-noble Lord's request.


There must have been some correspondence between the Board of Trade and the London County Council.


I am told that there has been no correspondence between those two bodies.


who now took his seat upon the Woolsack, said: My Lords, I feel that I owe your Lordships an apology for my absence, but I would explain that it was due to the fact that I was sent for by the Prime Minister upon an urgent matter that did not admit of delay. I hope your Lordships will accept that explanation as satisfactory. I do not suppose I can be of any assistance now that the debate is at an end, but I am ready to answer any questions that any noble Lord may wish to put to me.

On Question, Motion agreed to.