HL Deb 29 June 1909 vol 2 cc60-7

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in asking your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading I am afraid I must detain you for a few moments, owing to the Amendment standing on the Paper in the name of Lord Montagu for the rejection of the Bill. The object of the Bill, in the words of the Preamble, is to— regulate the traffic in the streets of the City of London so as to prevent obstruction and to enable the increasing traffic of the City to be conducted with less delay and in a safer manner. The Bill passed its Second Reading in the other House without opposition. It then went to the Local Legislation Committee of that House, and passed through that Committee with a few Amendments. The only serious opposition, I understand, came from omnibus owners, and the part of the Bill to which they objected was this provision in subsection (2) of Clause 2— The Court of Mayor and Aldermen with the approval of the said Secretary of State may from time to time make regulations to be observed by all persons within the City with respect to the following matters namely:— (a) The route to be taken by all vehicles or any particular class or description of vehicles with power to prohibit or to permit on certain specified conditions either generally or during particular hours the passing of all vehicles or any particular class or description of vehicles into or along any street or part of a street. I understand that the noble Lord who will move the rejection of the Bill shares the views which were expressed by the omnibus owners when the Bill was before the Committee in the other House. On the other hand, the promoters of the Bill maintain that by this provision the Bill will give effect to certain recommendations contained in the Report of the Royal Commission on London Traffic. In their Report the Commissioners attached great importance to the proposed power of regulating traffic, and stated that omnibuses formed such a large part of the traffic of London that some regulations as to routes in their case were essential.

The promoters of the Bill contend that the interests of the public generally, and of omnibus owners in particular, are fully safeguarded by the provision requiring the approval of the Secretary of State before any regulations can be put in force, and, further, by the proviso in subsection (2)— Provided that the Court of Mayor and Aldermen shall hold a public inquiry before making any regulation with reference to any of the matters aforesaid. I know that the opponents of the Bill argue that it would enable the City authorities to exclude any particular kind of traffic from the streets, such as motor omnibuses; but it cannot be supposed that, even if the authorities wished to do anything of the kind, the Secretary of State would give his approval. The promoters of the Bill do not wish to exclude any traffic at all. Their object is to regulate the traffic, and when I tell your Lordships that between the hours of eight in the morning and eight in the evening over 7,000 omnibuses pass the Mansion House I think it will be admitted that it is highly desirable they should be regulated. Many of these omnibuses follow the same line along streets which are congested by traffic, and I submit that it would be much to the convenience not only of the public, but of the omnibus proprietors themselves, that certain of these vehicles should be diverted along parallel streets, so that those going in one direction should pass along one street and those going in the opposite direction along another. Those are the objects which the promoters of this Bill have in view. They do not for a moment wish to exclude any particular traffic. I hope that with these assurances the noble Lord may see his way to withdraw his Amendment for the rejection of the Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Ritchie of Dundee.)

LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU, who had given notice, on the Motion for the Second Reading, to move that the Bill be read 2a this day six months, said: My Lords, the observations of the noble Lord in explaining the objects of this Bill were so moderate in tone that I confess I am to a certain extent disarmed. But I think the House should realise that if this Bill passes in the form in which it is presented to-day it will be introducing a very important new principle in our legislation. For the first time it is proposed in the regulation of traffic to allow a preference to be given to some vehicles as compared with others.

If the Traffic Board recommended by the Royal Commission were to-day in existence, I for one would be quite content to refer this and other matters of a highly contentious nature which have to do with London traffic to that Board; but owing to reasons too long to discuss to-day that Traffic Board is not in existence. I regret it very much. The result is that we see in this Bill an attempt of one part of London to legislate for traffic without any reference to the remaining parts. That is rather a serious principle to introduce without very careful consideration. I maintain that, as a general rule, the traffic of a great city should be interdependent and should be regulated by the various authorities acting together. It seems to me that to give the City of London power to stop any particular class of traffic within its area will be introducing a dangerous principle. I admit that the Lord Mayor and Aldermen are people of common sense who would be likely to do their best to act with justice, but if the powers sought are granted to them they must be extended to others. The power of excluding traffic from streets, if placed in the hands of such a body as the London County Council, which owns tramways, might lead to a very difficult and contentious position. Interference of this kind has hitherto only taken place in the Royal parks, but there is a provision that the regulations have to be laid on the Tables of both Houses of Parliament for forty days, which gives an opportunity, if necessary, for protest to be made and for Parliament to interfere. There is no such safeguard provided by the present Bill.

My noble friend referred to the recommendations of the Royal Commission on London Traffic. I have again read the passages in the Report which refer to this particular point. First of all, with regard to routes for vehicles, they recount that in the Metropolitan Streets Act, 1867, there was a proviso that the number of metropolitan stage coaches that might pass down any street should not be limited. That is a very important point, because it shows that as long ago as 1867 Parliament realised that the number of services plying for public use on the streets must not be limited. In paragraph 167 of their Report the Commissioners say that if mitigation of existing evils is to be carried out and if traffic is to be controlled in any way, this should be combined with street improvements providing alternative routes. With that we shall all be in agreement. In Paragraph 168 the Commissioners say— It is obvious that in prescribing routes for vehicles, the case of omnibuses plying for hire requires special consideration. It would inflict loss on the owners of such omnibuses, and be an inconvenience to the public, if omnibuses were excluded from streets where they had to set down, or were expected to pick up, any considerable number of passengers. That is so strong that I think I hardly need argue it further.

It is obvious that, after hearing all the evidence, the Royal Commission came to the conclusion that it would be dangerous to interfere with omnibus traffic using certain streets. They suggested that a method of overcoming the difficulty would be by— leaving the making of regulations in the hands of the Commissioners of Police and providing that the London County Council, the Corporation of the City of London, and the Metropolitan Borough Councils should be authorised to suggest to the Commissioners of Police routes for vehicles which, after examination by the proposed Traffic Board, might be approved or rejected, or approved on conditions, by the Secretary of State for the Home Department. Unfortunately we have not yet got a Traffic Board. I do think the powers which the City is asking for in this Bill are very dangerous powers, and I am rather inclined to the opinion that we ought to object to this Bill unless we can get concessions in Committee to meet the objections I have stated. The danger of the provision in subsection (2) of Clause 2 which the noble Lord in charge of the Bill read to your Lordships was recognised in the other House, and the proviso to which Lord Ritchie also referred was inserted. My Amendment for the rejection of the Bill was prepared prior to the insertion of that proviso, which only shows how strong my case would have been had the Bill not been so amended.

I have in my hand one of the plans which the City authorities have drawn up showing how the proposed alternative routes might be worked. It is proposed not to allow omnibuses which come from certain parts of London to go in front of the Mansion House, but to divert them. The Mansion House is one of the great places for the exchange of traffic, and if omnibuses coming from certain parts of London are no longer allowed to go in front of it, as is proposed, much inconvenience may be caused to passengers. It may be said that the fact that the approval of the Home Office is necessary before the regulations could come into force would be a sufficient safeguard against injustice; but the Home Office are not really experts in this matter. The provision would be, no doubt, a great safeguard, but the question is whether it would be a sufficient safeguard. I do not wish to detain the House longer. I shall be content if the promoters can suggest between now and the Committee stage some means of further safeguarding paragraph (a) of subsection (2) of Clause 2; and I suggest that it might be done by the machinery of the Parks Act requiring that the regulations should be laid on the Tables of both Houses for forty clays. I regard the clause as it stands as a dangerous one, and I therefore move the Amendment standing in my name.

Amendment moved— To leave out the word 'now' and to add at the end of the Motion the words 'this day six months.'"—(Lord Montagu of Beaulieu.)


My Lords, I only rise on behalf of the Home Office to state what their attitude is with regard to the Amendment just moved by the noble Lord opposite. As in the case of all private Bills, the Government Department concerned are entirely neutral; and I can only say, on their behalf, that they think this a very proper subject to go before a Committee of your Lordships' House. We have had a useful discussion, and I think those of your Lordships who have listened to it will agree that this is just the kind of subject which will be best discussed by a Committee of the House, before whom the parties may argue their case. We submit that the Committee will be better able to decide the matters put before it than your Lordships on such an occasion as this. In these circumstances I would venture, especially as there is an important debate coming on this afternoon, to suggest that your Lordships should agree to this Bill being sent to a Committee in the usual way; and if the noble Lord is dissatisfied with the conclusions of the Committee he will have an opportunity of raising the matter at a subsequent stage of the Bill in your Lordships' House.


My Lords, perhaps I might say a word or two on this Bill. The noble Lord who moved its rejection made a great point that the Bill contained a new principle. I venture to say that the principle is not really a new one at all. Parliament for many years past has given powers for the regulation of traffic to local authorities both inside and outside the City. It is quite true that the Bill contains one proposal which is to some extent novel—namely, that the City authorities should be enabled to place a limit on the number of vehicles that may use a particular street. That in itself is new; but I think the noble Lord will find that the promoters of the Bill have adhered as closely as possible to the recommendations of the London Traffic Commission, and that in effect the object of the Bill is to carry out the recommendations made to Parliament by that Commission.

The noble Lord is afraid of what I suppose he would call the "thin end of the wedge." He is afraid that if you allow the Corporation of the City of London to regulate traffic within their area you may not be able to refuse similar facilities to the body governing the metropolis outside the City, who are themselves owners of a form of traffic which would compete with motor-omnibuses, in which, I think, the noble Lord is interested. I do not attach much importance to that, because, after all, the City is a very peculiar portion of the metropolis. It is by far the most crowded area except certain isolated parts, and I would venture to say that the neighbourhood of the Mansion House is probably the most crowded spot in the whole of the metropolis. I think we may safely leave it to the good sense and the good feeling of the Corporation of the City of London, whose only desire would be to meet the public convenience.

I think there need be no fear that the Corporation of the City of London will seek to stop the passage of all motor-omnibuses or motors through the City; they will only regulate them so as to cause the least inconvenience, and so that the use of the streets may be secured for the greatest number of His Majesty's subjects. The noble Lord's objection is confined, I think, to one single point. He desires that Parliament should be able to exercise control over any regulations made by the City Corporation. But no regulations can take effect until they have the sanction of the Secretary of State. The noble Earl who has just spoken, like the poor, we have always with us, and if at any time regulations are made which do not commend themselves to my noble friend who has moved the rejection of this Bill he has every opportunity of putting a Question to the representative of the Home Office and of discussing the matter in your Lordships' House. In these circumstances I hope your Lordships will allow the Bill to be read a second time and to go to a Committee, where the matter can be discussed at greater length and at greater leisure.


My Lords, when I saw the Amendment on the Paper I came down to the House prepared to extend to my noble friend a rather qualified support. I hope he will not think that support so qualified as not to be worth having. But on the general question of the regulation of traffic I take a very strong view that in a town traffic cannot be too closely or minutely regulated, and in a paper which I read on the "Scientific Regulation of Traffic" some two years ago I advocated a far more minute and strict regulation of traffic than does take place in towns. I think that by careful regulation of traffic the capacity of our existing streets could be enormously increased, and that if we gave our minds to scientific regulation we should be able to do without a great many of the street improvements now forced upon us. Therefore, so far as regulation goes, I am not sure that I am a supporter of the noble Lord in his opposition to the Bill.

I do not think the noble Earl who spoke on behalf of the Home Office quite sufficiently appreciated the point made by Lord Montagu. It was hardly a point of detail for Committee, but rather a point of principle as to the regulation of traffic, not by a town for itself, but by a particular small area in a town, which would affect the traffic of the whole of that town. The City is a very important area of London, and while personally very much in sympathy with the desire of that authority to regulate their traffic—and I admire the way in which the traffic is now regulated in the City, though it is by no means perfect—I suggest that it is rather a dangerous principle to give a small spot like that, in the centre of a large metropolis, power to control, without much check, traffic that goes through from all sides. There is a check—an important one—in the requirement of the sanction of the Secretary of State. I attach more importance to that almost than to the laying of the regulations on the Table of your Lordships' House, because in the case, to which my noble friend referred, of the Royal parks, I think some of the regulations were made by a species of device, which was held, it is true, by the Divisional Court to be a legal device, but which had the effect of withdrawing the regulations from the Table of Parliament. Consequently Parliament never had an opportunity of discussing, among other regulations, the one prescribing ten miles an hour for motorcars. Therefore I attach more importance to the sanction of the Secretary of State being required than to the laying of the regulations on the Table of Parliament.

I agree that it is not likely that regulations would be made by the City authorities to which in themselves objection could be taken, but I do not wish to see this principle extended and every borough council in London asking for similar powers over their particular area. If the power sought for is allowed in this instance, I hope it will be regarded as special to the City and not as a power which it is desirable to extend to any other part of London.


My Lords, after what has been said I do not think it necessary to press my Amendment at this stage. I have made a protest which I hope will have its effect, and I trust that when the Bill goes to a Committee it will be fully considered. I shall, of course, have an opportunity on the Report stage of making any further protest I may think desirable.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Then the original Motion agreed to: Bill read 2a and committed: The Committee to be proposed by the Committee of Selection.