HL Deb 09 March 1922 vol 49 cc451-5

My Lords, I desire to ask His Majesty's Government if, in order to diminish the danger to pedestrians in crowded thoroughfares, the police authori- ties will consider the advisability of directing them to keep to the left. This Question contains a very simple suggestion which must have occurred to many millions of persons besides myself. I can best illustrate the advantage of what I propose over the present system by citing a crowded street like the Strand. Take the north side of the Strand. The foot passengers, according to the present practice, pass each other to the right. The consequence is that if the pavement is congested they are driven into the roadway, and, therefore, the traffic is behind them, and they are in danger of accident. If a contrary practice were adopted, and they passed each other on the left, the traffic would always be facing them, and therefore the danger would be considerably minimised.

So far as I know there is no law whatever for pedestrians in this country. It is all merely a matter of practice. I am not suggesting that there should be any legislation, but only that directions, or, if you prefer the word, invitations should he issued. I am equally well aware that in certain quarters it would not be of the slightest use to make suggestions or offer invitations. If you take the solid blocks of females of all ages who congregate in certain thoroughfares, and pass hours gazing into shop windows, I can quite imagine that no arguments would have any effect upon them, and that it would be necessary to employ force against them in order to reduce them to some kind of order. I shall probably be told that, in view of the practice that has so long prevailed, it would be useless to issue directions of a contrary character. On the other hand, I have recently noticed directions in the tube inviting people to keep to the left, and, that being so, I imagine there is no intrinsic objection to what I propose. There is no particular reason, so far as I know, why people should not be induced to pass each other in a different manner from that which now prevails. In any case, I presume this is a question which must have exercised many people besides myself, and I shall be interested to hear whether the matter has been considered, and whether it will be further considered in the light of the suggestion that I have put forward.


My Lords, I think it may interest your Lordships to know that this matter has been very deeply and recently considered by the Corporation of the City of London. They referred this question to a committee, with instructions to consult; with the Commissioner of Police. Their report is so recent as February 17, 1922, and was presented to the Court of Common Council on March 2. It answers the noble Lord's question as to whether and how far this matter has been considered. The Commissioner of the City Police reported fully on the matter, but will not weary your Lordships by reading his recommendations. He summed up by saying that he felt bound, on behalf of the City Police, to protest against any such rule being suggested to the City. The unanimous view of every police officer of experience in the City, an experience of traffic conditions probably unequalled, was strongly opposed to it. He also stated that about five years ago 150 traffic authorities in different parts of the country were communicated with on the subject. To this 20 did not reply, 28 were in favour of the change, and 102 opposed it.

Very earnest consideration has been given to the matter by responsible officers of the City Corporation and in their opinion it is essential to the convenience and safety of pedestrians that the custom of keeping to the right should not be altered. The Police Committee in their report to the Common Council say: Having regard to the very strong views advanced by the Commissioner against making any alteration in the existing practice in the City of pedestrians keeping to the right, which has been the established custom from time immemorial, and to the great danger involved in stepping off the kerb into the roadway to meet vehicles corning in the opposite direction, we are of the opinion that no action should be taken in the direction suggested. I have ventured to give your Lordships the experience of the City because it is very much up to date.


My Lords, the Government recognise that this Question is one of some importance and that it would be desirable to have some general custom throughout the country to form a guide to pedestrians, especially in crowded thoroughfares. The custom of keeping to the right dates back, I believe, for 300 years, and originated from the necessity of having your sword free in case you happened to meet some one with whom you had a difference of opinion.

During the war an unofficial body known as the Safety First Council started a crusade in favour of keeping to the left. They were of opinion that a substantial proportion of the accidents to pedestrians were caused by keeping to the right and then stepping off into the roadway. It must, be said, however, that an analysis made by the Metropolitan Police of the number of London accidents did not produce any substantial support of the theory advanced by the Safety First Council. In support of the theory of keeping to the right it was pointed out that there were many roads in the country—this does not apply to crowded thoroughfares—which have no footpath, and on such roads the only safe plan for the pedestrian is to keep to the right and face the traffic.

In 1920 the matter was considered by the Advisory Committee on London Traffic, and they formed the opinion that the institution of a left-hand rule, to be confirmed later by Regulation, would be preferable to the existing custom. They communicated with various councils and other bodies, and I am told that in July, 1921, the Minister of Transport, having received this Report, told the Safety First Council that there would be no objection to their recommending the municipalities to accept notices to "Keep to the left" of the footpath. That was the opinion of the Advisory Committee on London Traffic. To-day we have had the advantage of listening to Lord Bearsted, for the first time I believe, and he tells us that the view of the City of London is different from that of the Advisory Committee. However, the Safety First Council, in accordance with what the Minister of Transport had said, communicated with various districts, and certain of them adopted its advice of keeping to the left whilst others maintained the old custom. This has led to considerable confusion and it is clearly undesirable that the matter should be left in this uncertain state.

The question of a remedy presents very great difficulty. Even if you could arrive at sonic definite opinion in favour either of the right or the left, it would be difficult to establish a rule without enforcing sonic penalty, and, obviously, there are great objections to imposing a penalty in such a matter. As the noble Lord has pointed out, at a place like Swan and Edgar's, in Piccadilly, you meet a large crowd of ladies who would be very averse from accepting any suggestion of this kind. However, I think I can tell the noble Lord that the Home Office recognises that some steps should be taken with a view of securing uniformity of practice and the matter will not be lost sight of.


My Lords, I cannot help remarking that I have never heard a more unconvincing statement than that made by the noble Lord, Lord Bearsted, and I attribute it to the fact that he must indulge very little in pedestrian exercises. If he did, he would realise the dangers I have endeavoured to point out. It is gratifying, however, to learn that the noble Earl who represents the official Department in this matter is not disposed to take the same conservative view of this particular question, and that the Department is prepared to consider the matter in an impartial manner. I cannot see that it is more difficult, or more expensive, to put up a notice exhorting people to keep to the left than it is to put up a notice saying they are to keep to the right.