HL Deb 22 June 1922 vol 50 cc1140-4

LORD NEWTON rose to ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department—

  1. 1. Whether it is not a fact that the County Councils' Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations, the Urban District Councils' Association, and the Rural District Councils' Association, these being the representative bodies of all local government authorities in England, have passed resolutions in favour of the rule of the footpath being "Keep to the Left." Whether similar resolutions have not been adopted by the Municipal Tramways Association, and by 56 of the local authorities included in the Greater London area, and whether the Ministry of Transport is not also in, sympathy with the proposed change.
  2. 2. Whether it is not a fact that a number of the principal provincial municipalities have passed similar resolutions, and are proposing to put up street notices accordingly; and
  3. 3. Whether, having regard to this unanimity of opinion of the representative bodies of local government, the Government will give active support to the proposal to make the change effective throughout the Metropolitan area on the 1st July next.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the' facts as enumerated in the Question show an extraordinary consensus of opinion that the rules with regard to pedestrians should be changed. Resolutions in favour of the change have been passed by the Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Transport, by the London County Council, by twenty-nine authorities within the Metropolis, and by thirty-one authorities immediately adjoining it. All these authorities are going to put up notices advocating the change after July 1.

Those who have followed this controversy have probably observed that the change is opposed on the ground that it will lead to confusion. The fact is that the confusion obtains owing to the present system. If you are crossing a road you will find on a refuge a notice to keep to the left, but when you have proceeded a few yards you are expected to exercise your own intelligence as to keeping to the right. Nothing, I suggest, could be more confusing than that, and in no other civilised country are there two rules of the road—one for wheeled traffic and the other for pedestrians.

I have already mentioned the number of authorities who have specified themselves as being in favour of the change. In addition to these a large number of tow ns, which I will not enumerate, have adopted the suggestion, and the only opposition to the proposal proceeds from the City Commissioner of Police. This gentleman—whom I suspect to be very averse from change of any kind—obtains no support anywhere so far as I have been able to ascertain. Against the City Commissioner of Police, who has the hardihood to pretend that you are safer with the traffic behind you than when you have it in front of you, I can put the Metropolitan Police, the London County Council, and all the authorities enumerated. It is obvious that the only case in which a pedestrian would be safer by keeping to the right hand side of the road would be in a country lane without a footpath where there is practically no traffic at all. In those circumstances I trust my noble friend is in a position to reply in a favourable sense to the Questions I have placed on the Paper.


My Lords, I will endeavour to be as brief as possible at this late hour. I should like to thank the noble Lord for having brought this matter up again because, until it has been fully discussed on all sides and a very general measure of agreement has been reached, it would be impossible to advocate a general change. In regard to the County Councils' Association, they said they desired to express an opinion that the left-hand side should be adopted, but we have no information as to the result which that suggestion had on the members of the Association. The Association of Municipal Corporations have recommended it to the favourable consideration of their members. The Urban District Councils' Association intimated an approval of the matter last year and are going to rediscuss it at their annual conference, which, I believe, takes place in June. I am not aware that the Rural District Councils' Association have expressed an opinion on the subject yet. I have not had any information in regard to it.


Yes, they have.


The noble Lord has more information than I have. They propose to consider this question at their conference which takes place in July. Then the Municipal Tramways Association, which is the other body to which the noble Lord referred, have recommended this new rule to all tramway authorities. As to the fifty-six local authorities included in the Greater London area, my right honourable friend has no information that they favour the change. Am I to understand front the noble Lord that they are actually going to initiate the change on July 1?


Yes, I understand so—on July 1.


The noble Lord did mention that to me in conversation, before the debate. I have made inquiries and my right honourable friend and the Department have no information, but they have seen in the Press that the matter is going to be recommended to them by the Council. That is what I understand, and I cannot answer the Question any further than that. With reference to the Ministry of Transport, they have brought to the notice of local authorities the recommendations made by the Roads Advisory Committee in 1921.

Now I come to the second part of the noble Lord's Question, as to whether it is not a fact that a number of the principal provincial municipalities have passed similar resolutions and are proposing to, put up street notices accordingly. I understand it is true that a number of them have passed such resolutions and have either put up notices in the streets or are proposing to do so, but I am not at present in a position to say what is the proportion of provincial authorities who have considered the matter and what number are opposed to the change. I do not know whether the noble Lord has that information.


Only four.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for telling me that. In regard to the third Question—whether, having regard to this unanimity of opinion of the representative bodies of local government, the Government will give active support to the proposal to make the change effective on July 1 next—the noble Lord has told us that the 56 local authorities included in Greater London are unanimous on this point. I have already told him that, so far as we are aware, we have no information that they are unanimous, but we understood that it was going to be recommended to them by their Council. The City of London, on the advice of their police, are opposed to this change, and I would point out to the noble Lord that there will be a difficulty if the other authorities of London adopted the change and the City were to retain the old system. There would be inconvenience in changing from one system to another when it became necessary to pass through the City.

I should like to say one thing more on this subject and that is that the people who are very largely concerned in this matter are the police. They are divided into areas, and the Chief Constables of Police hold eight conferences. Three of these conferences have consulted on the subject; two are, I believe, in favour of the change, and one prefers the retention of the old system. The Home Office has referred the matter to all the eight conferences of Chief Constables, and has asked their opinion, which will be valuable, doubtless, in eliciting public opinion throughout the country on the subject. Then, of course, we shall also get the result of the conferences of the Urban District Councils' Association and the Rural District Councils' Association.

I am afraid I have no further information to give my noble friend on the subject; I think he really has more at his disposal than I have. I am grateful for what he has said in regard to the solution of this problem, I and I can assure him that it will be taken into consideration by my right honourable friend.