HL Deb 03 April 1951 vol 171 cc1-62

2.37 p.m.

LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEUrose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they have considered the recommendations in the Report of the London Traffic Advisory Committee, and what action they propose to take upon them; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have for some time wished to raise in your Lordships' House this important problem of London traffic congestion. I felt it wise, however, to wait until we received the Ministry of Transport's Report, which has recently come out. I should at once like to say that I think this is an excellent Report which deserves high praise. The whole strength of its excellence lies in the balance which has been attained between the recommendations for further restrictions and traffic control on the one hand, and further measures for improvement of roads and parking facilities on the other. Road improvements which are recommended represent, I feel, a very modest expenditure. I hope that noble Lords opposite will not be shocked when I say that—indeed, I should like to repeat that I consider it a very modest expenditure. My only regret is that the Committee did not boldly recommend that these schemes should be completed within five years in-stead of just suggesting that they should be started within that time. As your Lordships are well aware, there have been similar Reports in the last twenty-five years. The habit in the past has generally been to adopt the simpler measures, which have usually entailed restrictions, while shelving any positive recommendations for road improvements and other schemes. For the sake of economy, the easy way out has been taken.

I wish to state emphatically that I consider that London presents a unique problem which cannot in any way be treated together with or mixed up with other road problems in the country. I am amazed and happy to note that the Committee have been able to recommend that it will need an expenditure of only £20,000,000 to cover the urgent road improvement schemes in inner and outer London. In addition, it is estimated that only £5,000,000 will be required to build the necessary off-street car parks which would make such a major contribution to the relief of traffic congestion. The last major road improvement in inner London was the construction of Kingsway in 1905. That was a period when motor cars were looked upon only as novelties. If one looks at the 1951 Estimates, it seems strange that while the Government are willing to spend another £23,000,000 this year on providing London with a good airport—and may I say that I feel that that is quite right, too?—at the same time they are unwilling to spend a similar sum in adapting London streets to the requirements of our modern age. How often has it been said that it takes longer to drive from Piccadilly Circus to Heath Row than it does to fly from Heath Row to Paris? And that is not altogether untrue. Moreover there is no road into London which is worthy of the great city itself. The Government must know that there are many other instances, which I could mention, in which money has been frittered away on wild cat schemes, not only at home, but abroad. I feel that London is worthy of the practical application of the injunction that charity must start at home.

This problem has been further aggravated by the enormous expenditure by the Government on offices within the London area. Not only have they been using men, concrete and steel which are required for making roads, but the mere fact of bringing more working people into inner London is, in itself, going to intensify the congestion. Each year millions of pounds are wasted owing to traffic delays, and unless strong action is taken the time may well come when lack of efficient internal communications in London will detract a great deal from the importance of London as a centre of world commerce. It is vital, therefore, not to destroy the balance of this Report, and I hope that the Government will make up their minds quickly to tackle this problem. Before commenting on certain aspects of the Report, I should like to pay tribute to the work of the Committee, and, in particular, to Mr. Samuels, the Chairman, and Mr. Wright, the Secretary. The Committee's recommendations are, on the whole, excellent, and one can only hope that this Report will not suffer the fate of so many others. The Committee have rightly realised that the end has come to restrictions; they really cannot be further increased. They can never solve this problem. What we want broadly is the putting into action of new ideas, and not more restriction based on old regulations.

For a moment I wish to turn to the question of parking, which is the key to the short-term improvement of London traffic congestion in many areas. It is common knowledge that the car park and garage facilities in central London are entirely inadequate. It is useless to place further restrictions on street parking unless they are preceded by the provision of off-street parking accommodation. The whole policy in the last twenty-five years has been the old one of putting the cart before the horse. I should like to support the recommendation of the Report that local authorities should in certain cases receive financial aid from central funds towards the cost of providing additional parking accommodation. It always seems odd to me that the Minister has been in a position to make to local authorities grants for main roads through the boroughs, but has never been able to make grants for car parks. Therefore, the only way left to local authorities has been to make their roads into car parks.

I should like in particular to examine the working of the yellow band areas. No one will disagree that the yellow band no-waiting areas in central London have in many places been a great success and are entirely necessary. However, I would submit that the application of that ban in many places is absolutely crazy. For example, it is almost impossible to drive through Soho in the middle of the day because of cars parked on both sides of the narrow roads. Again, while Albermarle Street, a one-way street which can take four lines of traffic, has a yellow band on both sides, within 200 yards, about where Charles Street comes into Berkeley Square, where the roadway narrows there is parking on both sides of the street, and that is a place where obstruction daily causes congestion. I shall return to the Ministry's part in these regulations later in my speech, but here I should like to ask the noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry to consider the immediate review of all yellow band areas in order to make this restriction more flexible to local conditions and to provide streets for unilateral parking. Bad application of the ban aggravates the situation, whilst there are hundreds of examples in London where a revisal is needed.

At this point I should like to express my strong disapproval of the suggestion for the introduction of parking meters in the London area. Not only do I view with horror the sheer ugliness of parking meters in a street such as St. James's Street, but the motorist already has a big enough financial burden to bear and the police already have more than they can cope with. There are many places where improvements could be made in the operation of traffic lights, in particular in filtering traffic to the left. I should also like to suggest an idea which has been a great success in many capital cities of the Continent: that is, in the dead periods, when traffic is very little, that the "Stop" and "Go" signs should be replaced by an amber flashing light to warn motorists coining from either direction to slow down, though they do not actually have to stop. A particular example where this would be a great success is Oxford Street at night.

I come now to the question of traffic and other directional signs. These are at best often misleading and at worst they are non-existent. I think this is the right moment to pay tribute to the Royal Automobile Club and to the Automobile Association, whose great work in sign-posting London alone makes it possible for anybody to find his way about. They have produced a comprehensive plan and have put up temporary signs until the Minister can make up his mind about a permanent scheme. I gather that the Minister has set up a Working Party, and in that connection, and in view of the expected influx of visitors from overseas this year, I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, when that Working Party is going to report. And when are we going to see the first permanent signs put up? Here I should like to suggest to many local authorities that the lime has come for them to make a review of all their street plans, as in many places in London no street names are shown and it is impossible to find one's way about. I should like to support most strongly the recommendations about the restriction of horse-drawn traffic in central London and the provision of subways for pedestrians. So much for the recommendations. They are all good ones. I can only hope they will be given a fair chance.

Before I turn finally to the examination of the administration of London traffic, I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I introduce a personal point. I am particularly happy to-day to be able to raise this subject in your Lordships' House, as I feel that I am to some extent carrying on the work started by my father forty-five years ago. Not only did he wish to improve transport facilities in the country as a whole, but he took a particular interest in the subject of alleviating traffic congestion in London. I feel that I am on safe ground in claiming that there is scarcely one suggestion in this Report which was not suggested by him, either in this House or elsewhere, over twenty-five years ago. His great slogan was, "The longer you wait, the more it will cost." I think that that is the case to-day as it was twenty-five years ago. Though I am aware that many of the schemes at this time would be financially impossible, I would ask the noble Lord if he could look up my father's scheme for overhead roads which is lying on some shelf somewhere in his Ministry and which would undoubtedly go a long way towards providing a solution to this problem.

On the other hand, I am depressed, because it is clear that my father was unable to impress his generation with the necessity of taking action. This may have been because his generation was not altogether prepared to accept the motor car as part of modern life, and looked upon it only as a noisy luxury. However, I would suggest another reason—namely, that the present London highway authority, as vested in the Ministry of Trans-port, is not organised, and has not the power, to take the necessary bold far-seeing action. There is at the moment, so far as London is concerned, too great a division of responsibility. Generally speaking, there are few improvements that can be initiated by the Minister. I am sorry for the Minister, who does not seem to have any control over the vital point of where the initiative rests. He can only suggest ideas to local authorities or approve their recommendations. As a result, it seems impossible to obtain any comprehensive scheme for signposting or lighting in the City of London. For example, if the Minister feels that he has these necessary powers, why was it necessary to introduce the yellow band scheme under the Defence Regulations? Since 1946, 532 such orders have been issued. I am sure that the average person would be horrified if he knew that every time he parked his car in a yellow band area he was laying himself open to the maximum penalty of a £100 fine and/or three months' imprisonment. Again, why did it take two years and five months, from May, 1947, for the original 120 feet side street parking restriction to be reduced to forty feet? Surely, this is a question of local conditions. Why, again, has it to be left to private motoring organisations to think out a scheme for signposting in London?

Finally, I should like to know what objection the Ministry of Transport raised when the scheme for the ring road for London was abandoned last year. This road, which was included in the Abercrombie plan for London, was surveyed by the Ministry of Transport at some cost in time and money. It was envisaged that it would relieve central London of 30 per cent, of its traffic. However, when the Ministry of Town and Country Planning were asked to keep this road open for ten years, because it was not anticipated that the building of the road could take place for ten years, they refused. I know that the Minister of Town and Country Planning has a much louder voice, but it was perhaps a pity that he shouted the Minister of Transport down on this occasion.

One can see from these examples that there is something wrong with the administration. If the present administration is incapable of dealing with comparatively minor improvements, such as waiting restrictions and signposts, how can it be expected to execute efficiently the major schemes envisaged in this Report? Perhaps it is not altogether surprising, in view of the fact that since the war the Ministry of Transport, in addition to their normal duties, have had to take on the administration of the railways and road transport. The scope of that task makes the problem of London's traffic a minor one. I would strongly urge on the Government that they should consider the appointment of an overall coordinator of London's traffic. Up to now, there have been too many fingers in the pie. What is needed is one strong man, with a strong body of advisers, to take on the overall responsibility of solving this great problem. I do not suggest for a moment that he should be outside the responsibility of the Minister, but such a man could co-ordinate the efforts of all the local authorities; he could see that repair work is done efficiently, instead of a road being dug up one day for the laying of pipes. and the next day for electricity purposes, and so on. My father used to say that the only use of roads was to lay pipes, but I feel that we must move on from that.

This is an extraordinary problem, and I feel that the Minister should review the powers which are needed to solve it. I believe that everybody will agree that we have here a good Report. The Government claim to be a body of planners. Here is a plan. Let us now see some action. Although I do not deny for a moment that in the past all Parties have neglected this problem, I would say that the solution of London's traffic problem would be a finer memorial to Socialist rule than all their nationalisation projects. We must face the fact that the time has come—in fact, has long passed—when it is necessary to alter London's roads to fit the internal combustion engine. I can only hope that the Government will accept this Report as a whole and put it swiftly into action. I hope that I shall not hear the Minister say that they cannot afford these improvements. Here is a problem which has been crying out for solution for a very long time. Therefore, I urge the Government not to be afraid of spending money in solving a problem which affects our national prestige, our internal efficiency and, above all, our vital communications in the defence of this Island. I beg to move for Papers.

2.52 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to speak on the Motion before your Lordships to-day I must, as is usual in these cases, declare a special interest, in that I am a member of the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee, whose Report on congestion in London we are now considering. That Committee, as I am sure many of your Lordships are aware, was set up under the London Traffic Act, 1924, which was subsequently amended by Section 56 (1) and the Twelfth Schedule of the London Passenger Transport Act, 1933, and by virtue of the Transport Act, 1947. The function of this Committee is to advise and assist the Minister of Transport in his duties in the regulating of London traffic. The Minister is not bound by the advice that he receives from the Committee, but it so happens that there are few occasions when he takes the opposite view. Nor is he bound to consult the Committee; but again, there are few occasions when he does not do so. The Committee consists of some forty members. I do not propose to give your Lordships the whole list, but by way of illustration I would mention that there are six from the London County Council; one from the Corporation and City of London; one from the Council and City of Westminster; six from the councils representing the remaining metropolitan boroughs; five appointed by the Minister of Labour, after consultation with such bodies representative of those interests as he may think fit, to represent the interests of labour engaged in the transport industry within the London traffic area; one appointed by the Minister, after consultation with the interests of the mechanically propelled vehicle users—that is myself: one appointed by the Minister representing users of horse-drawn vehicles; one representing taxicab interests; and there are other members from the Home Counties and county councils.

I do not propose to go through the Report in detail, but I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that it is a unanimous Report. As a member of the Committee, I must pay tribute to the excellent work done by the subcommittee. After the main Committee had received this Report they went through it in detail, and came to the recommendations. They were unanimous in their views. There are no politics about this Report, and I am confident that opinion on all sides of your Lordships' House will endorse it. During the course of the debate it may be suggested that all interests have not been consulted, but I would draw your Lordships' attention to the list of bodies who came and gave their views before the sub-committee. You will find that list at Appendix I, on page 44 of the Report. I suggest that taking this list, together with the experience of the members of the Committee and the organisations which they represent, it would have been impossible to get a wider view of interests considered.

The Committee had very much in mind the difficulties of the times in which we live, and the fact that we have to keep down capital expenditure, so far as we can, always provided that any plan put forward must achieve its aim—that of preventing the growing congestion in London from strangling the very life of our City. I suggest that the estimated costs have been kept well down in this respect, and that the cost of the suggested improvements is small compared with that of some projects which, in my humble opinion, deal with less vital problems than the growing congestion in London. I would draw your Lordships' attention to paragraph 24 of the Report at page 14, and with your Lordships' permission I will quote it. It says: It was with very great concern and some misgiving that we learned of the decision to abandon the project of the 'A' ring road. This high speed road, about eleven miles in length, confined to motor vehicles and circling the central area at a radius of roughly two miles, would have afforded considerable relief to traffic circulation, would have been cheaper to construct than to carry out piecemeal the several improvements necessary within the circle, and would have had a potential value as a means of reducing the heavy toll of road casualties in London The Committee are most disturbed that this plan, even as a long-term plan, has been completely abandoned.

I feel, too, that I should mention the London County Council Draft Development Plan, which only last month the Committee had an opportunity of examining. The Committee have noted the proposed improvements in that part of the plan called the inner circular road. Although the Committee agree with those improvements, they have grave misgivings as to their adequacy; and they fear that the pattern which the plan proposes (and which is largely a loosely connected series of existing streets, as well as improvements to certain road junctions in inner London) will have the effect of drawing into central London more traffic which the 'A' ring road would have taken out. The Committee feel—and I am sure your Lordships will agree—that there must be a very large measure of liaison, co-ordination and co-operation between the Minister of Town and Country Planning and the Minister of Trans-port in this matter, as well as, of course, with the London County Council. In conclusion, I recommend the adoption of this Report as a whole. It is a balanced Report; there is no humbug in it. I think it fairly states the responsibilities of, and the sacrifices which have to be made by, all sections of the community, if we are to relieve traffic congestion and keep the life of this great City of London going.

3.7 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that every Member of this House will be grateful to the noble Lord who has raised this question and for the speech of the noble Lord who followed him, as well as for the interesting and stimulating Report of the sub-committee of the London and Home Counties Advisory Committee. Most of us will agree that there is a problem in London, although I feel that in this respect there is a danger of exaggeration. We have all been victims of traffic hold-ups. I was a victim of a very annoying hold-up yesterday morning in Putney High Street. Traffic was proceeding very slowly, and we came to a stand-still several times. In due course, how-ever, we got going, and I found that the total time we had been held up was under two minutes. When one has been held up in this way and looks up the actual time, one frequently finds that the hold-up has lasted only a matter of seconds. I often ask myself: What is the hurry? What are we going to do with these extra seconds which we gain by speeding-up London traffic?

I would draw the attention of noble Lords to Table C on page 49 of this Report, where the worst cases of traffic hold-ups are given. The worst is St. Giles' Circus where the average stopped time per journey is ninety-nine seconds; and other instances are given in the Table down to that of New Oxford Street-Shaftesbury Avenue, forty seconds. What are we going to do with all these seconds which we might save as a result of vast improvements in road transport? Noble Lords may have views as to what they could do with the time, but until we are satisfied that the time saved will be put to valuable use 1 wonder whether we are not seriously exaggerating the problem? I am not saying that there is not a problem, but I do say that there is a great danger of exaggeration.

There is one other thing I should like to say by way of preliminary, and that is that nobody seems to have worked out scientifically what is the cost of these delays to the community and what it will cost to remedy them. While I cannot pretend that I have worked it out myself, my impression—which, I would submit, is as good as that of anybody else—is that probably the cost of the remedies that are suggested would far exceed the cost to the community of these delays.


May I ask whether the noble Lord has read page 12 of this Report?


Certainly: I have read every word of it.


That is good.


I have read, for instance, the County of London Plan, in which Professor Abercrombie puts forward a vast scheme of road improvements on the basis of information he has obtained from one firm as to the alleged cost of delays to that firm. So far as I know, those costs have not been checked; and equally, so far as I know, it is the only firm that has submitted active information as to what the delays involve. Furthermore, it is very easy indeed to embark on schemes which eventually become abortive. I remember that when I first went on the London County Council, in 1925, there was an elaborate scheme going forward for the widening of Cable Street, in the East End of London—a road which was used for dock traffic. That scheme had been proceeding for many-years, and the Council had been buying property from time to time for the purpose of rewidening; and parts of Cable Street were widened. Eventually, after the scheme had been in operation for some twenty-five years, it was decided that Cable Street was not the best road to widen at all, but that a parallel street, St. George's Street, ought to be widened. I instance that merely as an example of abortive expenditure which can take place through piecemeal street widening such as is suggested in this Report

There is one other point which I should like to put to your Lordships. We do not appear to take into account the fact that, by improving road transport, we do not merely facilitate the travelling of vehicles at higher speeds: we actually attract more vehicles. There are a great many car owners who do not now come into London, because of the difficulty of transport, but who would come in if facilities were provided for them; we should considerably increase our difficulties by improving road transport. I think we ought to take into account what would be the effect (so far, we have not done so in any of these Reports) of widening various thoroughfares in the centre of London, and thereby attracting more traffic to those places—traffic which it is not necessary in the public interest to attract.

It has always seemed to me that we have approached this problem from the wrong angle. I do not think the real objective should necessarily be to enable vehicles to travel more speedily through the streets of London. If we really want to solve this problem we should see how we can ensure that the traffic which has to use London streets is employed in the most efficient manner. Large numbers of unnecessary journeys are made in London, owing to the chaotic way in which London has grown up. For instance, vast numbers of people travel daily to and from their work, making journeys of perhaps three-quarters of an hour to an hour each way. All these people have to use transport of one kind or another, public or private. I feel that we ought to direct our efforts more closely to the problem, to ensure that people are enabled to live nearer their work. In this way we should save a vast amount of transport which is used every day to convey these people. A large part of the congestion in London is caused by this need to convey people daily to and from their work. If only a portion of the expense envisaged in street widening, and on the "A" ring road and so on, were employed in better planning of London, we should prevent not only a great amount of traffic in London but also a great deal of fatigue—which after all has to be taken into account in estimating the efficiency of the people of London.

Let me give one example which has been referred to in the County of London plan. It was there suggested that Pimlico should be redeveloped as a residential area for people working in the West End of London. Most of the houses in Pimlico are coming to the end of their useful lives, and in the process of development it would be possible to house a great many more people in that area than are at present living there. If these people could be housed in Pimlico it would enable people working in the West End of London to live fairly close to their work, instead of having to go home to distant suburbs, as most of them do; and it would do away with a very great amount of traffic. That is merely one example of ways in which transport could be saved by sensible replanning of London. There are many ways in which this could be done. The East End of London is another case in point. There is scope for large-scale redevelopment of the East End of London—which I am happy to say, is beginning—which could house enormous numbers of people working in the City of London. Here again, instead of having to travel very long distances, employing transport for that purpose, they would be readily accessible to their work, and so a great deal of traffic would be saved.

Another way in which we might save transport would be by reconsideration of the location of the central markets. In the County of London plan it was suggested that there was a case for removing Covent Garden Market, Spitalfields, Billingsgate, and so on. I will not presume to judge whether that step would be wise or not, but at any rate it is worthy of serious consideration. It might well be more efficient from the point of view of the industries; whilst from the point of view of transport and traffic the location of these markets on the outskirts of London would save a great deal of traffic in the centre—not, of course all of it, but there is a good deal of cross-traffic going on in connection with these markets. This problem has faced us for many years past. I feel that that proposal is at any rate worthy of serious examination. It is not a new idea, and it is one which I suggest the Ministry of Transport might seriously consider, in an effort to see whether transport cannot be saved in that direction.

Then again there are proposals for thinning out the population of London. I think most of your Lordships will agree that London is too thickly populated. In the various plans which have been put forward, it has been proposed that London should be depopulated, to the extent possibly of 1,500,000 people, by the provision of new towns, or by the expansion of existing old towns. The proposals are not only that populations should be rehoused in these new towns or existing towns, but that industry also should go out from London to these places. The process has been begun—so far successfully; but of course it is very slow. On the other hand, looking ahead ten, fifteen or twenty years, there is no doubt that the effect of the dispersal of London will be substantially to reduce the population of London, and thereby to relieve London traffic. That again is a factor which we ought to take into account before embarking upon these costly schemes.

The last matter to which I want to draw attention is the possibility of a complete change in the character of London traffic. Just as the noble Lord who introduced the debate referred to his father, who accused us, or our predecessors, of lack of imagination in not visualising the future of motor traffic, so I say that we might be guilty of lack of imagination in not appreciating the possibilities of the helicopter, or some other form of transport, for the purpose of the carriage of goods. It would be a most wasteful thing to spend hundreds of millions of pounds —for that is what would be involved—


Twenty million pounds.


—if we found that the combined effects of these various matters to which I have drawn attention would be to reduce the need for traffic on the roads themselves. I mention all these things, not in order to destroy this Report or the case that has been so fairly put up by the noble Lord who moved the Motion, but as reasons for careful, and I submit, scientific, consideration by the Ministry of Transport before they act.

I should like to mention the "A" ring road, since the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, referred to it. I cannot imagine that he was referring to me when he spoke of a "loud voice," because I do not possess one. But I must claim some responsibility for the decision about the "A" ring road. I think it was a wise decision, because the value to the community of the "A" ring road would not have been felt, even had the road been commenced at the earliest possible moment—which in any case was something like twenty years—for some fifty years. It would have taken fifty years to complete that "A" ring road. It seemed to me that any scheme which required fifty years for its completion (I will not enlarge on the reasons for that period, but there were solid reasons for coming to the conclusion that the "A" ring road could not be completed in less time than that) was not one which I thought it was in the interests of the community to embark upon without a much clearer conception of what conditions might be like at the end of the period. Moreover, the cost was enormous, and I am not at all satisfied that the cost of the "A" ring road, with all the interference with transport that it would involve in the meantime, would be justified at the present time.

Incidentally, while the consideration was going on, it was never suggested that development should be held up or that the area should not be sterilised for ten years. The point made was that it was wrong to sterilise an area for a longer period, until it was certain that the "A" ring road would be built within that period. The danger to London would have been that this sterilisation might have taken place for fifteen or twenty years without our being certain, either that the road was ever going to be built, or that it was going to be built on exactly the line along which it was proposed to sterilise. It seemed to me that it was quite wrong to attempt to hold up all development in the City of London for as long a period as that. The case that I want to put to your Lordships is that there is need for much more scientific investigation of the problem. What is involved for the people of London in this delay? I know it is annoying to the motorist, and I imagine that many noble Lords in this House are keen motorists who feel frustrated in trying to get from one point in London to another; but what is the social and economic cost to the people of London of the delay in traffic? What would it cost to remedy it? Can we visualise what will be the ultimate effect on traffic conditions of the various matters to which I have referred—the redevelopment of London, the dispersal, the possible alternative means of transport, and so on? Is there not some alternative to these very costly road schemes which have hitherto been visualised as the ony means of dealing with traffic conditions?

I know that the question of car parks was referred to. I fully agree that something ought to be done about providing facilities for car parks. In that connection I would mention that most people, especially people who use their cars daily in London, are reluctant to pay a charge every time they have to park them. A person who has to park his car two or three times a day and has to pay perhaps Is. a time finds that it mounts up in the course of a week. People are not willing to pay that price for parking their cars. That is the reason why so many of the car parks at present provided on bombed sites, and so on, are not being used to the uttermost.


They are full. Most of the outside car parks are full. If the noble Lord tries to go into the one by Savile Row police station, he will find nine times out of ten during the day a "Full up" sign. It is the same with all of them.


The noble Lord can no doubt direct me to one car park that is full. I can direct him to a great many that are not full.


To a Government car park?


I was not referring to those. I hope that the Ministry will give serious consideration to the whole of this question, and particularly to ways of relieving and reducing the amount of traffic, as well as ways of providing increased facilities for it.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that everyone will agree that the approach the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has adumbrated to us—that we should plan better in the future—may, in fact, alleviate an even worse condition in the future, but it will not relieve the very serious situation that is with us to-day and which will be aggravated when there are more cars than at present on the streets of London. This is a point which the London County Council might indeed consider, for they have been one of the worst offenders in allowing all the theatres to congregate in one part of London, which introduces a quite needless traffic jam at critical peak times in the evenings. In a debate like this, at any rate in another place, there is always a host of speakers all approaching the subject from various interesting angles, because traffic affects us all. One need not be the owner of a motor car to suffer the inconvenience of a traffic jam. The users of the motor bus, tube, taxi-cab and private car all suffer, and having regard to the inconvenience caused, the small amount of irritability which is displayed shows that the ordinary Londoner, I think without exception, is the most good-tempered and long-suffering man in the world. The conditions obtaining in London would not be allowed to occur anywhere else in the world.

I must congratulate the writers of this Report, who have gone into the subject very thoroughly and have introduced, quite early in the Report, a most interesting collection of recommendations, to one or two of which I want to draw your attention. The first is: The possibilities of arcading should be considered as a means of providing additional road space. That is a very old and a very good plan to provide an extra road. A small part of a building is taken off and it provides for the shopkeeper a space on the pavement where people can walk about out of the rain and look at the shops. That is the recommendation, but what is being done about it? Nothing will ever be done about it unless somebody pushes those concerned into doing something. When a new building is to be erected, are you going to insist upon there being an arcade? Unless there is some legal power to insist on this new development being introduced in a new building, we are not going to get anywhere at all. Let us take Recommendation (6): There is a need for more up-to-date factual information on the cost of traffic delays. That would be interesting. We are all conscious of the fact that in that regard there must be a tremendous loss of money to the community. Curiously enough, there was an investigation on a very similar subject about two years ago— namely, into the cost to the country of road accidents. I think the figure arrived at was about £50,000,000. It would be interesting to assess what these delays are costing us, because that cost has to be related to the capital value of the im-provements which are put into being.

Turning over the page to Recommendation (25), one finds: A substantial reduction of indiscriminate parking in the streets is essential. To bring this about, more off-street car parks and parking facilities in new buildings must be provided. I think that is right. As an ordinary, law-abiding citizen, whenever I see a bombed space car park I go into it. But it is not always so good as it might be. If you go to a cinema and put your car in a car park and when you come out find a barrier in front of it and that it is there for the night, it is not funny. The particular car park I refer to was run by the Marylebone Borough Council, and when I complained about it they said, "We are not going to provide for people at night." If car parks of that kind are not going to be used at such times, more cars will be parked on the road at night. I consider that is a very scurvy trick.

Recommendation (28) says: The best solution in some districts may be to construct car parks under squares "; and Recommendation (29) follows with the proposal to build a car park beneath Cavendish Square, and urges that that should be pursued with vigour. Why only Cavendish Square? I should have thought a car park beneath Berkeley Square was just as desirable. In that connection, it is interesting to note that before the war I, together with some other people, contemplated putting underneath Berkeley Square, a very big garage which would not only accommodate traffic but would be a type of bomb shelter. It sounded quite a good proposition. It did not show an enormous profit, but nevertheless it was a very desirable type of thing. We went to the authorities about it, but what did we get? To put it vulgarly, we got nothing else but a "raspberry." They would not move and they would not give us consent or do anything. Yet now, a few years later, we have this recommendation put forward by a sound Committee in the Report that we have here to-day. I do not think enough stress is placed upon the way streets are cluttered up by parking on both sides. If the police would summon people for parking on both sides, instead of extending the yellow sign. then many streets would carry two lines of traffic which at present carry only one. The usual method is for there to be parking on the East side on the odd days of the month and on the West on the even days. That is the sort of thing that has been done abroad. It is done in Paris, and I cannot see why it should not be done here.

I think some blame for traffic congestion should be attributed to the motorist. Somebody in America was once asked what was the shortest time that he could think of. The answer was, "The time between the lights going green and the man behind blowing a horn." That shows how motorists hurry you off when the light goes green. In this country one meets some of the most lazy exhibitions of acceleration ever to be seen, and when you are about tenth in the line, instinctively you know that you are going to miss the light because people in front get off so very gingerly. We have a new Assistant Commissioner of Police in Mr. H. Dalton. As your Lordships know, Assistant Commissioner Tripp did great work for many years. But everything he did was always right, and he would not brook criticism of any sort. I think that some alteration in the timing of lights in the Metropolis might be looked into. There is something to be said for the American system, in which motorists all start and stop together right along the row. In streets which have cross-traffic there are often delays caused through timing. That problem might be investigated. Another question I would ask is whether the police could not alter the timing of the road signals according to the traffic of the day. What is needed in the morning is not what is needed in the middle of the day. nor is it what is needed in the evening. These things should be "schemed out" and arranged, and constables could be stationed to change the timing of this particular apparatus.

There is one point about Recommendation (52) which appeals to me very much. If I am going to be asked to go underneath a road instead of crossing it, I do not want, at my age, to walk down a lot of stairs and then up a lot of stairs. I assure your Lordships that my feelings are shared by thousands. But if you install an escalator you will get everybody to go that way. It will not cost very much. Otherwise, people will wait, and try to push their way across the road. An escalator would be used by everybody. I do not know whether any of your Lordships saw the excellent model of Hyde Park Corner which was exhibited in Westminster Hall. It was a remarkable model. I am not clear whether that was invented and designed by this Committee—


No, it was done by the main Committee.


Everybody ought to see that. I believe it has been sent to the London County Council now but will be back at the Ministry quite shortly. People should see it and be able to criticise it. I should like to have a debate upon the subject somewhere—not necessarily in your Lordships' House—because this sort of thing is going through without the ordinary man in the street criticising it enough. I have the strongest criticisms to make of that particular alteration, affecting, as it does, millions of people. It is first-class on the north side, but on the south side of Hyde Park Corner there will be, and will continue to be, as at present, most frightful congestion.

And now just a word on the parking situation. Everyone who knows anything about traffic in London—or, at any rate, about traffic in the West End of London—knows that the congestion in the vicinity of parks between 5.30 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. is frightful. This is largely owing to the fact that in many instances the park gates allow only one stream of traffic to go out. There has been in operation for years the magnificent idea of closing a piece of road which is opposite the Albert Hall. So far as I can see, there is no justifiable reason for this, but I understand that it is supposed to have the effect of adding to traffic circulation. The idea that closing a road adds to traffic circulation is a glorious one! This closure has been enforced now for about ten years. I have been given to understand that, at last, two lines of traffic are to be allowed to go out of Alexandra Gate at the same time. The policeman did not seem to know about this, but if it is true it is the most revolutionary idea which has been put into practice for a long time. I notice that some rebuilding is going on at Prince's Gate. That gate will still be for only one line of outgoing traffic, however, and instead of the new structure being of iron it will be of concrete. There are to be three pillars. The work has been in progress for about three months and it is not finished yet. That is typical of the sort of thing that happens in this connection. I am not looking at the representative of the Ministry of Transport in your Lordships' House because I feel that he is guilty; I know that he is not. It is largely the fault of the Ministry of Supply. All these different Government offices come into these problems. There are so many of them involved that nothing is ever done.

This is a sad reflection on the present generation. Our grandfathers, at whose top hats and whiskers we now laugh, were able to make roads in every direction where traffic called for them. The present generation are unable to make a pathway in any direction, although traffic is abundant and in many cases is completely stopping up our thoroughfares. If one goes to some of the great cities abroad one finds a different state of affairs. Take New York, for instance: the authorities there have accomplished great things. Their roads, which are constructed on a grid system, are better than ours. They have been laid out on a carefully ordered plan. Of course, the amount of capital which they have used in order to try to free their city from congestion is remarkable. But, as the mover of the Motion to-day said, the only road improvement which has been seen in London in our time was the construction of Kingsway in 1905. I must say that in this matter there is very little of which we can be proud.

3.43 p.m.


My Lords, this problem of traffic congestion affects every great city in the world to-day. Lord Brabazon spoke of London presenting the worst example of traffic congestion to be found anywhere on earth. I am sorry to say that I must differ from him on that point. Several great cities which I know, and which he also knows, are a great deal worse in this respect. He mentioned with great admiration the tremendous work which has been done in New York, and I can bear that out. The construction of Riverside Drive and numerous overhead roads there has been a tremendous feat. And yet New York is being strangled by traffic congestion.


Could not the noble Lord keep his secret; otherwise nothing will be done?


I am coming to that in a moment. Actually, the great city of New York is so congested that there is a movement out, and a very serious movement out, of industry and population. It has passed its peak—that is the opinion of the best-informed New Yorkers—simply because the congestion has become too great for efficiency. Other noble Lords and myself are aware how this problem affects other great cities in the world. Rome affords an extreme example of traffic congestion. Paris, in spite of her wide and magnificent streets, is as bad as London. The only cities that I know which have been built in the motor age are Los Angeles—which the noble Lord knows also—and Canberra. There may be others, but those two are the most modern cities which have been constructed since the motor car came into general use. Los Angeles is nothing but a vast ribbon development along two or three main highways. There traffic can move for a distance of about forty miles from end to end of those highways. People I know have to allow an hour for getting down town to their business offices by car. So there is a problem created by a widely-spread and well-roaded city, which is so vast in area that the time taken in getting from home to business is as great as the time taken over shorter distances in London.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I thought —if he will allow me to say so—was making rather light of this problem. Whether he has some twinges of conscience, because of his former notable activities in the London County Council or in the Government, I do not know. But I am afraid that he has not had the same dreadful experiences which some of your Lordships have had. Does he know what happened in London recently, on the opening night of the musical comedy called Kiss Me Kate? Is he aware that before the first performance of this play opened at the Coliseum, streets stretching to Hyde Park Corner, including all of Piccadilly, were filled with traffic which had been brought to a complete standstill? The police could do nothing; there was a complete jam. Does the noble Lord know that a couple of months ago, in Oxford Street, a bad collision occurred, in which a motor bus was overturned and two cars were involved, and that, as a consequence, the whole of the roadway was blocked and a state of complete congestion was created in Oxford Street and far beyond for miles in every direction before the wreckage could be cleared away? The effects of this congestion were felt all round West London, as far as Tottenham Court Road, right down Park Lane, and almost as far as the Fulham Road. When anything goes wrong with London traffic to-day during a peak hour there is chaos and disaster— disaster because of the loss of time and loss of efficiency which are caused.

I suggest that we have to tackle this matter in a much more vigorous manner even than that suggested in this Report which has been praised by so many speakers to-day, including the noble Lord who opened the debate. Incidentally, I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating Lord Montagu of Beaulieu on his very able marshalling of the facts and arguments. As I say, I think we have to go a great deal further than has so far been suggested—a good deal further than even Lord Brabazon of Tara has suggested. It is true, as the Report declares, that unless very drastic action is taken London will eventually be brought to a standstill. What will happen in May or June, when we have the Festival of Britain going full-bore, I really do not know. The situation will be extremely serious. I hope your Lordships will find it possible to get here somehow in order to perform your Parliamentary duties, but you will certainly meet with considerable difficulties, for you will be in the centre of the stream.

A NOBLE LORD: Better have a General Election!


I do not propose to give an exhaustive list of remedies. I think the suggestions, in paragraph 78 and onwards, about underground garages must be tackled immediately. I entirely agree with Lord Brabazon of Tara on this matter. I see no reason why Cavendish Square should be the only one to be treated in this way. I consider that Grosvenor Square is probably of equal importance, while Hanover Square is also most important. There should be constructed without loss of time under these Squares these underground parks, a combination of air raid shelters and under- ground garages. In spite of the rather pessimistic views expressed in the Report, I think that these parks could be made to pay for themselves. Why should not facilities for supplying petrol and for servicing cars be included in the arrangements, and a small charge be made for cars being kept in safety? I have had my own car stolen three times since the end of the Second World War—once out of a parking place, and twice from out-side my own office. I should be glad to pay a small fee for the privilege of putting my car in a place of real safety.

Similarly, why cannot the proposal to put underground car parks below Royal Parks be put into practice without delay? What is holding up that project? It might have been put in hand years ago. That seems to me to offer one of the best solutions of the parking problem— a problem which, in its turn, causes congestion. As the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, has said, if we allow a street like Wardour Street to have cars parked on both sides, that makes it a single line street; and it is an important artery of traffic in that part of London.


The noble Lord does not seem to realise that Royal Parks are sacred land. For some unearthly reason nothing is allowed to go under them. We tried to put tubes under them. We proposed to put roads under them. Until you can change the attitude of the Commissioner of Works, there is no hope at all of doing anything there.


Sacred or not, the Royal Parks used to be closed to taxicabs until the late George Lansbury became Minister of Works, and by a stroke of the pen allowed taxicabs to go through Hyde Park. And that has relieved traffic congestion to a considerable extent. Hyde Park was not too sacred to have the famous Exhibition there a hundred years ago. And it is not too sacred to have the famous open-air speaking forum inside the Marble Arch. It is time we did away with such inhibitions and prohibitions, and outworn fetishes. Otherwise, the situation will become worse and worse. May I reinforce what was said by the noble Lord. Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, in his interesting opening speech, about the name signs on streets? How many of your Lordships have shared my experience of being completely lost in the outer suburbs, especially in South London, where one hardly ever sees a street name of any kind? The situation is perfectly appalling, compared even with Paris and certainly with New York, Washington and other American cities, which have plain name signs at all street corners. I do not know who is responsible—I imagine the London County Council.


The metropolitan boroughs.


Then cannot something be done to bring pressure to bear there? The cost would not be great, but the saving in time and on temper would be enormous.

I should like now to make a suggestion. I know it is controversial, but nevertheless I am going to stick out my head. I think the Committee has brushed aside far too lightly the proposal to prohibit certain types of vehicles in inner London —I refer to paragraph 54 of the Report. This is an old suggestion. I do not think we can go on tolerating people who live in the outskirts of London bringing their private cars, carrying only one or two people, into central London every morning, parking them anywhere they like, and then travelling back in the evening. Thousands of them do this, and I think that is one of the main causes of traffic congestion in London. It is a problem which will have to be tackled one day. Of course what I suggest would be unpopular, but the Government have to do unpopular things sometimes, and we are bound to hit some vested interest. I see no reason why we should not prohibit motor cars from outside from entering inner London on five days a week between, say, nine in the morning and six at night. We could make exemptions for people who live in the inner area, for doctors and for a limited number of people with essential business.

Unpopular and difficult as the administration might be, I think this proposal should be re-examined. I cannot agree with the light-hearted or easy way in which the Committee dismiss this solution as impracticable. We should remember that the difficulty of getting new motor cars to-day is still acute. Most people have to wait a long time for a new motor car. If the home market becomes easy again, the number of cars will largely increase, because it seems to be the general trend for private cars to increase all the time, and if they are all to be allowed to come into London I do not see how we can solve this problem on a permanent basis. People coming to inner London would have to leave their cars outside the ring, or boundary, and use public vehicles or other means of transport. That would mean more motor buses and hackney carriages, and there are improvements going on all the time to the Underground railways, which, too, would have to provide better facilities. I think this matter will have to be tackled, in spite of its unpopularity and the alleged difficulty of administration. I agree with several noble Lords who have said that this problem affects the prestige and reputation of the greatest city in the world. It should be tackled with the greatest possible urgency. I have great faith in my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth and his chief, the Minister of Transport. But unfortunately they are not the only people concerned. There are too many competing authorities, and too many different Departments have to be brought in. Would it not be possible for the Minister of Transport to be made into a kind of traffic dictator? Why not? Why not have even a separate Traffic Ministry, with wide powers over all matters referred to in this Report? We can no longer afford to tinker with this great problem.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, for once at any rate I find myself in a great measure of agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. I am certain that what we shall have to come to is some form of traffic dictator, somebody who will be able to talk to the Minister of Local Government and Planning, who will be able to talk to the London County Council, and who will even, on occasion, be able to talk severely to the Minister of Transport. Here we have another Report, produced by experts after the most careful scientific investigation that it was possible for them to carry out. Once again I would ask: What is going to happen to this Report? I have already sent the noble Lord who is going to reply notice of one or two questions. I want him to tell us what are the chances of anything being done. On the back of this Report noble Lords will see a list of Government publications in connection with the various Committees that have studied these problems. What has been done to carry out the recommendations of all these Committees? Anything or nothing? It is the same story as the question of traffic accidents. Committee after Committee sit and make recommendations; then absolutely nothing is done. And it seems as if nothing ever will be done.

This afternoon your Lordships have heard a speech from the former Minister of Town and Country Planning, Lord Silkin—a remarkable speech, I thought. He seemed to consider this Report an exaggeration. He wanted to know what we were doing with the seconds that we hoped to save. In the Report there is a table showing how many vehicles pass Hyde Park Corner in twenty-four hours. If the noble Lord would multiply the number of seconds lost by the number of vehicles passing Hyde Park Corner, he will realise what is happening to some of the seconds. But it is not only at Hyde Park Corner that this is happening; they go on to bottlenecks somewhere else. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Latham, who is responsible for London's passenger transport, could supply Lord Silkin with enlightening figures on the seconds that are being lost. The noble Lord said that he had read the Report paragraph by paragraph. He missed one paragraph, apparently, because on page 12 he will see the figures given. I will enlighten the noble Lord by reading them. The Report says: The County of London Plan, 1943, contained a statement (page 48) that in New York the estimated cost of delays to traffic totalled £70,000,000 a year … It goes on to say: … that if a similar estimate were made for London, it would probably be found to be of the same order. The Plan also refers to another estimate of the cost of delays within a three miles radius of Charing Cross as being over £11,000,000 a year. If the noble Lord had read this document. I am sure he would have been aware of that estimate of cost.

It seems to me that there was a striking contrast between the magnificent speech of the mover of this Motion, and the remarkable speech of the late Minister of Town and Country Planning. On the one hand, we have, if he will allow me to say so, a young man with his eye on the future, anxious to be constructive. On the other hand, we have a noble Lord, one who was charged with great responsibility as the Minister of Town and Country Planning, explaining to us that he has turned down one of the principal recommendations for London traffic that has been advocated by most of the experts for years, and saying that we ought not to go in for further expenditure to improve London's traffic conditions because we might be able to have a helicopter or two in a few years' time. When you think of the crowds going home from Charing Cross in the evening, to suggest that they might travel by helicopter in a few years' time seems to me to be ridiculous. One further thing the noble Lord said, to which I should like to refer, was that we might develop Pimlico as against the suburbs. I am sure that that is a grand idea, but does the noble Lord suppose that everybody who lives in the suburbs wants to live in Pimlico? If not, how will he make them do it? Of course, nothing is impossible to our Socialist planners.

Reference has been made to the Festival of Britain? What will happen? I hope the noble Lord who is to reply has a rough idea. I am sure that he must have, but I am told on good authority that the police have no idea how the traffic is going to be managed. It is obvious that if the Festival of Britain is to be the success that we all hope it will be, there will be an enormous influx to London—the people will be coming up for the spree in Battersea Park, and attractions like that. This will inevitably complicate the traffic situation in London—in fact, traffic will obviously come to a complete stop. As to the visitors from overseas, who are coming to see the Capital of one of the greatest countries in the world, they will see the most incredible traffic conditions. There are all sorts of ideas we can get from cities overseas that never seem to be tried out here.

In order to test the sincerity of the Government as to whether they are in earnest in this matter, I should like to refer to one or two recommendations in this Report, and to ask the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, what he feels are the chances of their being implemented. Item (2) under the Summary of Recommendations says: Certain improvement schemes should be put in hand at the earliest possible moment as a first contribution to the betterment of road communications in London. How is the Minister going to deal with that recommendation? Is he going to press ahead with it? Item (3), under the same heading, recommends: The general introduction of double-shift and week-end working when road repairs are undertaken on the most important traffic routes in Inner London. What is going to be done in order to try and carry out that recommendation? It would be most helpful if we could manage to speed up the road repairs; we all know how long they take. Why cannot they be undertaken at week-ends, and in some cases at night? That is done abroad. Why cannot it be done here? Then it is proposed, in recommendation (10), that. The restrictions on horse-drawn vehicles and other slow-moving traffic should be extended. I am sure that most of us will agree with that. But why did the Committee stop short of the cruising taxi? There are few vehicles in the crowded central area of London which cause more difficulty than the cruising taxi. I am sure that the noble Lord, as an experienced driver, mast have come across this problem. It is not an easy one with which to deal. The trouble is that the cruising taxi driver is looking for a fare on the pavement, and is not studying traffic conditions as priority number one. I suggest that it is not much use banning horse-drawn vehicles and other slow-moving traffic if you do not at the same time deal with the cruising taxi.

Recommendation (22) says: All drivers should keep to the nearside of the road whenever practicable and, if travelling slowly, should give way to faster moving traffic. Then there is a recommendation about traffic discipline, and that sort of thing. An appalling amount of congestion is caused at times by traffic not keeping to its proper lanes. This problem is tackled abroad, and it is one respect in which Paris traffic, notably, and American traffic in New York, is so much superior to our own. The traffic there does keep to its own lanes. I cannot help thinking that some improvement could be effected in that respect. Then there is the question of cars that cut across the line of traffic, and draw up against the line of traffic or, alternatively, make right-hand turns in traffic. I suggest that those are matters which could easily be dealt with by regulation. It does not seem to me to be very difficult to prevent people from pulling up in traffic facing the wrong way. One is not allowed to do that in any other city of which I know in the whole of Europe; one has to go round the block to pull up. Why cannot we have the same sort of system here? That really would facilitate matters. Recommendation (24) says: A permanent site for the north London coach station is a pressing need which requires that immediate action should be taken by the Minister of Transport. Will the noble Lord tell us whether the Minister is taking immediate action? That recommendation is contained in this Report and. if the Government are in earnest, perhaps the noble Lord can tell us what is being done about the north London coach station.

Recommendation (29) says: The proposal to build a car park beneath Cavendish Square should be pursued with vigour. Is the Minister going to pursue that scheme with vigour? One would like to know. As other noble Lords have said, I hope he will not stop at Cavendish Square. What are the Government going to do about recommendation No. 32? That says: Planning control should be exercised to ensure the provision of car parking space in any new block of offices or other commercial development that is likely to attract car users. Some of us have been reading with great interest the suggestion in the Press that Carlton House Terrace may become an enormous new Government office. Will provision be made for the cars of the civil servants who will be employed there? What about that enormous new building going up just off Whitehall? Has any provision been made there for the cars of all the various civil servants? Something of that sort must be done, if we are to obtain any improvement, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said, an enormous number of cars are driven up every day from the suburbs to London, and are just left in the streets all day and driven away in the evening. If only Government offices could blaze a trail and make provision for the cars of their civil servants, it is quite certain that other large offices and stores would follow suit. Recommendation No. 41 says: An investigation should be made to see whether certain bombed sites now requisitioned by Government Departments or local authorities could be available for use as car parks. Will the noble Lord tell us what is to be done about that matter, because I think that would do something to help? Recommendation No. 54 says: Pedestrians should be encouraged to cross the road at specified points, and to use subways wherever they are provided…. What about the subway at Whitehall? Traffic is continually held up there. We know what congestion there is at that spot, and it will be far worse while the Festival of Britain is open. That is a lovely subway, but the traffic has to be held up repeatedly, in order to allow the pedestrians to walk across the road. Why cannot they be asked to use that subway?

There are other important questions that I should like to ask the noble Lord. In cities abroad there are traffic tunnels. You find them in Paris, as other noble Lords know as well as I do. I forget how many years ago it was that I advocated in another place a traffic tunnel going down Berkeley Square and coming up on the south side of Piccadilly. But that is not the only place where a traffic tunnel would be of enormous benefit. There is the route from Lower Regent Street to Regent Street proper—I will call it Upper Regent Street to show what I mean—Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road and Euston Road. If you could have a tunnel or bridge at New Cross, just think of the saving which could be made in the way of traffic congestion. For instance, there might be a traffic tunnel from Park Lane to Hyde Park Corner. I know the arguments against that: first of all, that the pipes and electric cables run fairly close to the surface, and, secondly, that the tube railway runs under Piccadilly at a depth of about 90 feet. Surely there might be room between the tube railway and the electric cables for a traffic tunnel. If we could get something of the sort it would be an enormous help. Then again, it is stated in this Report that improvements could be carried out at Alexandra Gate. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, has already referred to that point. I can never understand why Alexandra Gate cannot be used for outgoing traffic, and Queen's Gate, I think it is—just past the Albert Memorial—for traffic coming in to the central area. In that way we should have a system of one-way traffic of a sort. It would mean a certain alteration of roadways, but the land is available and something might be done. Then there is the appalling congestion in Knightsbridge, caused by traffic coming out of Albert Gate. That Gate was closed recently for a time, and conditions were then better. Now it has been reopened, and conditions are as bad as ever. Some of the seconds to which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred are lost at Albert Gate; others at Hyde Park Corner, at the bottom of Park Lane, and so on.

Now with regard to the bus stopping places. Does the noble Lord not agree that it might be a good idea to make some regulation that buses must not pull out at these stopping places in order to pass one another, and that they should proceed in line? I am sure that that has been given a great deal of consideration, and I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Latham, is not here to-day, because I should be interested to hear his views on this point. When such a large vehicle as a bus pulls out from behind another bus, because it is ready to start off before the first, it creates a most appalling block in the traffic, and a delay which travels back along the street. I should like to know whether something could be done there. Again, what is to happen to Kingsway tunnel when the tram tracks are removed? Is that going to be made available for traffic from the Embankment coming up into Kingsway?

I am afraid that I have raised a great many questions, and probably bored your Lordships with them, but all have a great bearing on London traffic. In short, what I plead for is this. I want an assurance from the Minister that this time we shall have something done. In the last few years £625,000,000 have been taken from the motoring world in taxation. We are spending over £11,000,000 on the Festival of Britain. Does it really make sense to say that we cannot afford £5,000,000—which is what the Committee ask for—in order to do something with London transport? If it is a question of more money being required for the Festival of Britain, it is forthcoming at once. Why should we not try to see whether we can gel the £5,000,000 asked for in this Report? It is asked for by some of the greatest experts who have ever considered the question of London traffic, including one of the most distinguished members of the Ministry of Transport. I am sure that he will be able to convey the need to the Minister. Therefore, I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, and I hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to tell us something really concrete for a change.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise to your Lordships and to the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, for the fact that I was not able to be present to hear the opening speech. Unfortunately, like so many of your Lordships, I have to earn my existence, and that necessity kept me away. In any event, what I have to say will be very much like this Report—a re-hash of what has been said in this House time and time again, and what has appeared in innumerable Reports which are no doubt getting very dusty in Ministry pigeon-holes. It is an unfortunate fact, but a true one, that there is hardly anything in this Report which has not appeared in previous Reports, and I think we ought to give the greatest credit to the Committee who compiled this Report for having had the courage once again to spend their time and produce a Report bringing to light what has been said so often before. My only hope is that, as it has been brought to light again, some little part of it may stay in the light and produce some results.

It seems to me that the problem must be sub-divided into what can be started immediately and what can be done eventually but, for one reason or another, cannot be started at once. If it is to be dealt with in that way, it strikes me that the most important of those things that can be done now is the provision of the utmost possible moving road space on the existing road surface. It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that at the present moment there is not one street in which at least one traffic lane is not taken up by stationary vehicles, and very few in which two lanes are not taken up. This Report and every other Report bring out the fact that we have not at the moment sufficient road space; yet we are taking up this enormous proportion of it with parked vehicles. How are we going to overcome this difficulty? The underground car park has already been mentioned this afternoon. My Lords, it was mentioned in this House certainly ten years ago, and much earlier than that—well before the last war. Several noble Lords said then that we ought to have air raid shelters and car parks combined. If the Conservative Government, which was in power at the time, had had the sense and the "guts" to provide them, consider what a difference it would have made. All those unsightly and inefficient air raid shelters that were built in the middle of streets, unpleasant for the people who had to use them, could have been avoided. The people would have been far more comfortable in underground car parks; and it would surely not have hurt if a few pieces of bomb came through the roof and hit some of the cars—far better that than that they should hit a human being.

The present building of new Government offices has also been mentioned. I have one question to ask. There is a fine large building labelled "Ministry of Local Government and Planning." being erected in Savile Row. I should like to know whether the Ministry have thought of pro-viding a car park for their own staff. I ask that question particularly because I raised the point in this House some years ago. I said that no Government office ought to be built that did not provide garage space for the staff of that office and for others using the building. I suggest now that the Ministry of Local Government and Planning should not henceforward pass any plan for an office or for a private building in London which does not include provision for an adequate car park or garage. But until such car parks can be built, how are we going. as a purely temporary measure, to free the existing thoroughfares which are used as car parks? I suggest that there are many cul-de-sacs where parking might be permitted; and there are many minor streets which cannot possibly be used for through traffic of more than a local nature, which might also be used. But great care must be taken in selecting those streets, to ensure that, because they run parallel with an existing main artery which is already congested, they are not misused by cunning drivers. In any event, no street should be allowed to be used for parking, or even for waiting, on both sides of the road on the same day. It is almost a sort of driving competition to make one's way through narrow streets in which cars are parked on both sides.

There are other means of keeping traffic moving though they may not be of the first importance. One is the proper siting of pedestrian crossings. A badly sited pedestrian crossing can create a great deal of congestion. It means that few people use it; and when they do use it the drivers of the traffic approaching it are generally not looking towards the pedestrian and not expecting him; and the result, if a pedestrian steps on to the crossing, is a tremendous jamming-on of brakes, which in itself causes congestion. There is another point concerning pedestrian crossings. They should not be provided at all unless the road leading to them has an adequate non-skid surface. That may-seem to your Lordships a minor point, but I am sure it is not. On a damp day on a wood block surface, traffic going downhill, or even on a level road with a maze of pedestrian crossings on it, is brought almost to a crawling pace because the drivers know that if someone steps off the pavement at a pedestrian crossing they cannot stop. That is a fact which any noble Lord can see for himself. I myself have suffered through this. The back of my own car shows the results of stopping at pedestrian crossings on a wood block road. Sometimes another car has stopped just behind me without necessarily touching my car; but behind it has been a bus which did not stop, and it has been a case of crash, bang—and I happened to receive the second bang.

There were two points mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, which I should like to emphasise. One is the prohibition of right-hand turning at crossings. Traffic cutting across busy crossings in this way holds up the traffic behind it; the drivers wait to go across the stream of traffic coming up behind and hold up that stream. It would save an immense amount of time if they were obliged to go around the block. There is one short passage in the Report with which I thoroughly agree and I gather the noble Earl, Lord Howe, also agrees. It says in paragraph 23: The practice of some drivers of cutting across from the nearside to the offside of the road should be discouraged. I say it should be absolutely forbidden. This is the only country in the world in which it is allowed. An Australian who was over here the other day asked me why on earth we permitted it, and he used those words: "You are the only country in the world that allow it." A bright and cheery Englishman who was standing beside me said: "That is exactly why we do it, We are not going to follow the rest of the world and do as they do, because they do it." That strikes me as a poor reason. We must get our traffic moving and there are little things such as that which can make just the difference between a hopeless traffic jam and traffic which may not move fast but at least will move.

I want to join issue with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who seemed to take this question rather lightly and to think that it is only a matter of motorists' time. I wonder what he means by the term "motorists." Does he mean the drivers of private cars? Because if he does, he means a very small percentage of those persons whom I take to be covered by the meaning of the word "motorists"— that is, those who travel in motor vehicles. Think of the delay and loss caused to businesses through the time spent in buses by employees going from one place to another. The value of time wasted alone must run into millions of pounds a year. If you also realise, as I am sure the noble Lord must do, that there is not one article in your household to-day that had not travelled by road before it reached you, and if you think what the wages of drivers are to-day, what the price of petrol is and what even half-a-minute's delay costs—and there are hundreds of such half minutes in the course of a day—you will appreciate that the delay on the roads, when all that is added up, is reflected in the cost of your food, your clothes and every single thing in your house. On top of that, it is reflected in the cost of everything we export. That is a vital point. We cannot afford to have to charge more for our goods than is absolutely necessary, either at home or in the export countries. Road delay is making us do it. Let us stop road delay.

4.33 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a most interesting debate. At the commencement of the remarks I want to make, I should like to associate myself with those noble Lords who have congratulated the mover of this Motion, the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, first for having raised this most important subject and, secondly, upon the skill and the charming way in which he executed his task. We have had many interesting speeches, but I must straight away comment upon what I think was a most interesting speech by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in that it was reactionary even beyond the Right Wing of the Tory Party. His theme was this: he does not really mind delays in time because he is suspicious that most people do not know how properly to use the time which may be saved through the speeding up of traffic. I wonder if he remembers what was said in the last Election: "The gentleman in Whitehall knows better what is good for you than you know yourself." This is the new version which we have heard to-day: "Bureaucracy, officialdom, knows best for the citizen what he should do with his time, and, if the State is not to decree what should be done with the time, then the man should not be allowed the time at all."


I do not mind the noble Lord enjoying himself, but that is a complete distortion of what I said. By all means let him go on, but I hope he will read to-morrow what I said. He will find that it was not what he has said it is.


I do not think I am being unfair in paraphrasing what the noble Lord has said. What confused me in the theme of the noble Lord's argument was this. If people do not know how to use their time, if the delay we experience to-day does not matter very much—anyhow he said that—why, later on in his speech, did the noble Lord say: "We must undertake great capital works in order to make the people who work in the West End live in Pimlico, so that they shall be near their work"? If the time lost to-day through traffic delays does not matter very much, why worry about all those great works in order to save time? The noble Lord rather confused me and, perhaps, other members of the House in the arguments which he presented in that way.

Then he said: "Do not improve your traffic conditions, because, in speeding up traffic, you attract more traffic on to the roads." He actually said that users of motor cars from outside London would undoubtedly come into London more if there was no congestion. The logical conclusion of the noble Lord's argument was that we must slow up traffic in order to drive traffic off the streets. To prolong the noble Lord's argument to a conclusion, the logical and final outcome would be to close all the streets. Finally, his idea that West End workers should live in a revived Pimlico seemed to me, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said, to neglect the factor—and, if I may say so without offence to the noble Lord, bureaucracy sometimes does neglect this factor—that the people will not always live like sheep, just where the Government or the local authority tell them to. The wicked people who work in the West End may prefer to live outside London or in some other area where there are some people who are so unsocial as to refuse to work in the West End.

I think that this problem of London traffic is acknowledged by all members of this House, except the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to be one of urgency; and it is acknowledged, also, that the country is losing by delays. Contrawise, we shall gain industrial efficiency by speeding up traffic. As the noble Lord who moved the Motion said, it is no new problem. It has been periodically reported on since 1919. Successive Governments—I include all Governments and, therefore, to a little extent, I must plead guilty to sharing some part of the responsibility—have done too little, and any improvements that have been made have always been overtaken by the problem aggravating itself with the growth of traffic. Now we have this new Report with wide recommendations, and we all look for early action by the Government in many directions in which the Report makes recommendations. The Report makes clear that there is no single solution to this problem, but there is a combination of solutions ranging from major reconstruction works right down to easements and improvements which can be done with or without those major reconstruction works.

Here I must temper somewhat the optimism with which some noble Lords, including the noble Lord who moved this Motion, said that at the present time we could embark on large capital expenditure on major reconstruction works. The Report recommends £20,000,000— £10,000,000 for inner London and £10,000,000 for outer London. We are going through a severe period of very limited capital resources. The noble Lord quoted a most attractive argument, with which I agree, that the expenditure of £11,000,000 on the Festival of Britain and £27,000,000 on Government offices surely justifies spending £20,000,000 on what I call useful expenditure for inner and outer London. I would say that two extravagances, one ill-timed and the other of dubious value, do not justify a further degree of un-wisdom in a time of restriction. I should like to see major capital works undertaken—there is not one of us who would not. But as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said, the limiting factor is to be found not only in terms of money.

The noble Earl spoke of tunnelling, which would mean a great amount of labour, some skilled and some unskilled, and a large amount of materials. If we are to carry out a programme of factory construction for aircraft and munitions, and give the Service defence requirements first priority, while regretting all the more that the Festival of Britain has taken so much of our resources, I think it would be unwise for us to delude ourselves that we have them to spare for such works as the noble Lord said he would like to see carried out, and which, I repeat, I too should like to see carried out. I feel that it would be unwise to buoy up people's hopes at the present time. I suggest that we should seek short-term remedies, with a far greater degree of urgency than has been shown hitherto, and at the same time see that in our long-term planning of reconstruction of buildings and squares in London all the preparations are made so that those plans can be adapted to major reconstruction works as and when our capital resources, our labour and materials, become available.

I think that a very good feature of this Report is that it rejects the solution of the traffic problem of restriction. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, advocated a proposal of restriction in various parts of London relating to particular classes of motor car users—I think that puts his argument fairly. This is an ordinary problem of supply and demand. The demand for road space is greater than the supply. There is an economic theory of restricting demand by control and rationing as between various classes of user. That theory is exemplified in the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. In my view, it is all to the good that in this case the Report has rejected that solution, and that the Government have shown no signs of advocating it. This Report has rejected that solution which we have seen far too often in other directions in our economic life. I believe we ought to concentrate upon these immediate short-term proposals. I would take issue with the Report in regard to paragraph 7, where the Committee say that it should be possible to undertake many of these short-term proposals within five years. I cannot see why some of them should not be started tomorrow. They ought to have been started yesterday. Why should they not be started tomorrow? As other noble Lords have said, we are in the Festival of Britain year, and undoubtedly the Festival will not only take much money from the taxpayers, but will attract many visitors, with the result that traffic problems will be enormous.

My Lords, many useful suggestions have been made—one or two of which appear in the Report, and one or two of which do not—upon which I should like to touch. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, spoke about cruising taxis. I would speak for a moment about stationary taxis, and the location of certain taxi stands, which, it seems, were almost selected for the purpose of congesting traffic. I am all for taximen having an adequate number of places where they can park in order to await fares. But why at the bottom of Curzon Street, just where it narrows, should there be a place for two taxis? Towards midday, on any day that one cares to go, one will always find delay there. Why not put those taxis 100 or 150 yards away? Then, why should a bus marked with "L" plates, with three or four officials of the London Transport Executive, drive down Bond Street at the most crowded hour of the day? I know that the bus men have to learn the routes, and that they must learn to drive in the traffic. But why choose almost the narrowest street in full use in London at the most crowded hour of the day, as I saw happening the other day? Then what about the crawling bus? Could not that problem be tackled? One finds buses ahead of schedule crawling along our main roads.

Here may I strike a personal note? The other day I got in a bus at the top of Whitehall to come to your Lordships' House. I paid my 1½d., took my ticket, and sat down with another dozen people in the bus. After we had stood there for four minutes I said to the conductor, "Are we going soon?" He said "Oh, fairly soon," and proceeded to get out of the bus and walked round to have a conversation with the driver. So I went round to the front and said, "Are we going soon?" to which the driver replied, "Oh, fairly soon." I then got on another bus and came down to your Lordships' House. I took the precaution of keeping the 1½d. ticket, which I sent to the noble Lord. Lord Latham, recounting the circumstances. Lord Latham wrote back to me saying that the matter had been investigated—as noble Lords know, a bus ticket has a number, from which one can identify the route and the particular bus. He said that the bus was in front of schedule, that the crew should not have acted as they did, and that their attention had been drawn to their conduct. I will say that he was very generous, because he sent me a l½d. stamp back, and then a 2½d. stamp for my letter, a total of 4d. But his generosity was outdone by mine. I wrote back to him acknowledging his letter and pointing out that my total expenditure had been 6½d., and he had refunded me only 4d. On the other hand, I knew the financial condition of the London Transport Executive, and I said I would accept 4d. in full settlement.

My Lords, from crawling buses I want to come back for a moment to traffic lights. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, and other noble Lords said about traffic lights. Surely we could have a more intelligent use and location of these lights. I believe it must have irritated most of your Lordships to see, year after year, fully trained able young policemen, sitting in small boxes controlling traffic lights, on the Embankment and at Ludgate Circus, and at one or two other places. For years we have had a shortage of Metropolitan Police to deal with crime, and yet we have seen these men sitting up there. I cannot see why, for that purpose, we have not used war reserve police or men who are not fit and able. Furthermore, I cannot see why we have not long ago replaced some of these men with automatic traffic lights. I took the trouble to write to the Home Secretary when this debate was in prospect to ask for some information on this particular point. I learn that on the Embankment since May, 1939, there have been three police officers for a total of seventeen hours per diem engaged in manual operation of the traffic lights. Now that the Kingsway tunnel is to be put to a new use, I understand that that will cease. But I repeat, surely, having regard to the shortage of police to detect crime, it was unnecessary to use no fewer than 75,000 skilled, trained police hours—that is my calculation of what was entailed— in that particular task.

Take the case of the junction of Commercial Road and Whitechapel High Street. There 50,000 trained police hours have been used since 1942. But, the Home Secretary tells me, agreement has just been reached with the Ministry of Transport for permanent automatic signals to be installed. I cannot help wondering— nor, I am sure, can many of your Lordships—why agreement has only now been reached. Perhaps the noble Lord opposite will be able to tell us when he replies on behalf of His Majesty's Government. Surely, if agreement for setting up automatic traffic lights has been reached now, it might have been reached a month ago, six months ago, or even a year ago. Perhaps there is a good reason why it has not, and we shall hear from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, just why this is the great psychological moment when, at last, we can save these police officers' being put on this traffic duty.

One more example—Ludgate Circus. For twenty-one years, for twenty-four hours a day, police officers have been manually operating traffic lights there. This means that over 185,000 trained police hours have been expended on that task. But, oh joy! according to the Home Secretary's letter, work has already started on automatic equipment. So far as I know, there has been no great and sudden development in the technique of automatic signals. If work has now started, I cannot help asking why it did not start last week; why not the week before; why not six months ago; or even a year ago? Perhaps the noble Lord will tell us that when he comes to reply. I cite these cases as examples of lack of urgency in dealing with the problem of which I spoke a few minutes ago.

I want now to say a word or two about parking. I would join issue with the Committee on this most difficult question of parking on the highway. The Committee say, in paragraph 67, that: the parking of vehicles in a public street is a privileged use of the highway…. That may be so in theory, but so long as we lag behind so much in parking facilities, that idea can remain only a theory, because it is not practical to drive motor cars off the roads when there are no places where they can be parked. So long as supply lags so far behind demand, parking on the highway will have to continue. But with regard to this parking problem I believe that a common police area parking policy is needed; and that policy should be based on the liberal standards of some Metropolitan Police areas, not on the restrictive policy followed in certain others. I know one area in which a man can leave his car outside his house without any lights all night. There are other areas where, if any motorist leaves his car at night for a short time in a safe place without lights, he is liable to be summoned. I understand that whether a car may be left with-out lights is a matter within the discretion of the local police authority. I think there ought to be a standard laid down so that motorists will know whether they are, or whether they are not, breaking the law.

There is a little cul-de-sac just off Chesterfield Street, and a short time ago I was foolish enough to leave my car there. It is a well-lit place and, being a cul-de-sac, carries no traffic. Two police officers were waiting when I returned. I understand that they had been waiting for three hours in order to catch me and certain other people who had left cars there. It is interesting to note that two burglaries took place that night within half a mile of this place. So far as I know, the burglars were not detected; nevertheless the motorists were detected. I was transgressing the law. But somewhere else I may do just the same thing —I may, for instance, leave my car outside my house in the St. Marylebone area—without getting into trouble. It does not make sense to me, and I am sure it does not make sense to the public. I believe that motorists are entitled to have some common standard laid down by which they will know whether they do or do not break the law.

I should like next to take the question of parking in squares. Grosvenor Square affords an example of how many cars can be parked in one particular square. If any of your Lordships passes through Grosvenor Square he will see that the roadway is marked out in white triangles, so that those lovely stream-lined American motor cars can be safely parked there. That is a good idea. Why should it not be carried out in other squares? It is either a good idea—as I believe it is—or it is a bad idea. If it is a bad one, it ought not to be allowed. I took this matter up also with the Home Secretary and this is the statement which was made to me from his office: Grosvenor Square is an exceptional case. Its diplomatic traffic (including that of the U.S. Fighting Services) is heavy and continuous, and the obstruction caused has been the subject of discussion with the Embassy Authorities, though unfortunately as yet no really effective solution has been achieved. Either the people responsible for leaving these motor cars are breaking the law, or they are not. Either it is a good scheme or it is not. If it is good let us extend it. If it is not, then it is a new principle that we should have parking by class of user. I always thought that all roads were intended for all users on an equal basis. I am delighted that we have our American friends here, and we must help them all we can. But I would ask the noble Lord opposite to tell me this: if I, or any other English owner of an English car, choose to park a car in Grosvenor Square in one of those places—quickly slipping it in when one of the Americans moves out for a moment—can I leave it day after day, night after night, with the same degree of immunity that these other cars now enjoy? I think it is a point which we might all like to have cleared up. Personally, I should like to see this parking scheme now in force at Grosvenor Square extended to other areas.

I should like to conclude by saying that if this debate has instilled into the Minister and into His Majesty's Government a greater sense of urgency than we have hitherto seen displayed in the tackling of these problems, then it will have been well worth while, and it will have helped greatly to enhance the value of the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee's Report which we have been discussing to-day.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, moved the Motion which stands in his name upon the Order Paper, he mentioned his father. I was one of those who was privileged to know his father, and I respected him as one of the greatest motoring pioneers this country has ever had. Therefore, it was with much interest and pleasure that I listened to his son making such an attractive speech, well thought out, factual and helpful. I congratulate him, and hope he will go on following in his father's footsteps, though my recollection of his father is that he was not perhaps so skilful a politician as his son seems to be.

My first task should be to acknowledge on behalf of His Majesty's Government the debt we owe to the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee, and to the members of the sub-committee and their Chairman, Mr. Samuel, for what I consider to be one of the best Reports which has ever been published on this or on any allied subject. I do not intend to join in the argument between the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, upon whether time is saved or not, and upon what should be done with the time that is saved if we do away with traffic congestion. I thought that my noble friend, Lord Strabolgi, had the best solution, in getting on to "Kiss Me, Kate."

We have to acknowledge that the London traffic problem is the greatest problem of its kind in the world. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and with the Traffic Advisory Committee, that it is no good trying to solve this problem by restriction. As my noble friend, Lord Silkin, has said, if we cure to-day's problem, the problem will arise again, because time will establish a new set of conditions and will create for us another problem. It is only right that we should have these problems. I would be the last to advocate that people should not be allowed to come to London. It is the heart of England, the pride of every Britisher. I 'have never yet found a way of dragooning the British public. It is no good telling them that they must not go to some place, because if they want to go anywhere, they will find a way of going. It is up to those of us who are in authority to solve these problems as they come along. We also have to think of the social life and commerce of Greater London. Many people who look at this problem forget that what is amusement for one is the very bread and butter of another.

I want to take to task the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and other noble Lords, who, it seems to me, seize every opportunity of painting the most lurid picture of what traffic conditions are going to be when the Festival of Britain is open. What is their object? To keep people away from the Festival of Britain? To make it a failure? Is it their object to placard to the world that nobody will ever be able to get to London? How does the noble Earl know that these conditions are going to arise? Let us wait and see. I pin my faith on the ingenuity of the London police as against the lurid speculations of the noble Earl. I hope we shall have an end of this painting of dismal pictures. I hope that noble Lords will still be able to get to your Lordships' House, even though they have to fight their way through such dense masses of traffic as he seemed to expect.

The noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked what was being done, and then answered, "Nothing." I thought he might have allowed me to say that, if that was my intention. I am going to give him a great disappointment, because I propose to tell your Lordships exactly what is going to be done and how it is going to be done. As this Report was published only five weeks ago and I stand here this afternoon to give your Lordships this information, I should think that even to a man so accustomed to violent and fast speeds as the noble Earl, it would seem not a bad record.


As the noble Lord has mentioned me a few times, I should like to say, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that there is a slight distortion of the facts. I did not say that nothing has been done. What I did was to put a number of more or less test questions to the noble Lord, and I asked him to tell us what was being done.


I gather that the noble Earl said that this Report was going to remain in the same pigeon-hole as many others.


No, I particularly said that I hoped it would not. To test the noble Lord's sincerity in the matter, I asked him to say what he was going to do about specific questions of which I had given him notice.


The noble Lord's hopes were expressed in such a manner that I understood him to say that nothing was being done. I acknowledge the courtesy of the noble Earl in sending me notice of his questions. His courtesy is exceeded only by the number of questions he sent me to answer. If I do not answer them all, I know he will forgive me.

I think the best way of telling your Lordships what we propose to do is to say that there are certain of the recommendations which will require new regulations, and certain which can be dealt with administratively. We propose to deal with others in another way, and there are some—a few—which we are unable to accept. The recommendations which can be carried out only under new regulations arc Nos. (9), (10), (15), (16), (19) and (20). We accept these in principle and intend to discuss with the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee how best to bring about the introduction of the necessary regulations. I think your Lordships will agree that some of these will in the first instance have to be of an experimental character. Take No. (9), for example, which suggests the prohibition of loading and unloading in short lengths of certain main thoroughfares during specified hours. We cannot do that at once. We must try experiments in certain areas to see how it works, because commercial interests must be considered. Again, No. (10), which seeks to extend the restriction of horse-drawn and other slow traffic, must be tried out, because slow-moving traffic is one problem and horse-drawn traffic, which is really a dying problem, is another. We intend to discuss with the Traffic Advisory Committee how best to tackle that problem.


Including crawling taxis?


Including all slow traffic. Recommendation No. (15) seeks to prohibit at certain times all forms of waiting for a distance of forty-five feet from the more important controlled intersections. We cannot issue a regulation to put that into operation overnight; we must experiment to see how far it fulfils its objective. No. (16) recommends the possibility of adding to the existing number of prohibited right hand turns. We accept that recommendation in principle, and, in consultation with the Committee, we shall try to implement it. No. (19) recommends the establishment of a system of unilateral waiting in certain additional streets. We accept that, and will consult with the Committee and other authorities as to how and where it can be done.

Recommendation (17) is one which has not been mentioned by any noble Lord this afternoon. That is probably the only recommendation which would call for legislation, and I should have thought that it was one of the most important in the Report. It relates to street trading. I consider that the growth of street trading in the West End of London has proved in some areas to be one of the largest contributing factors to congestion. This would involve an Amendment to Part IV of the London County Council (General Powers) Act, 1947, relating to street trading. We intend to discuss this matter with the London County Council and the Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Joint Committee, to see whether legislation should be considered to give further control over street trading to prevent street congestion. It may well be that the best solution is that which has been found in the City of London, where I understand there are only two street traders left. There every street trader is licensed, and in his lifetime he can renew his licence; but no fresh licences are issued. It is really a system of elimination by prohibition, and the streets of the City of London are now almost clear of street traders.

There are various recommendations which can be dealt with by administrative action. These are recommendations (1), (5), (21), (22). (23), (24), (49), (50), (53), (54), (55) and (56). Again, we accept all these in principle, and as soon as possible —we acknowledge frankly the urgency of some of these matters—we will take administrative action. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, mentioned the possibilities of arcading. That is a subject which has been before various Committees for a long time: it has been advocated by one Committee, turned down by another, advocated by a further Committee and again turned down. We believe there is something to be said for arcading when all the circumstances are right. But we at the Ministry of Transport have not very great powers in this matter. The only power that we possess is that, when a street widening scheme is put before us which involves grant aid, we can then exercise a little influence in that direction. However, I am coming in a moment to the powers of the Ministry in relation to a number of these recommendations. We are already dealing with some of those which I have enumerated as being amenable to administrative action. For example, there is recommendation (49), which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, in his speech. There have been two Working Parties, and they are already working out a scheme for permanent direction signs. This is a very complex problem, involving as it does the whole of the metropolitan boroughs, and it has taken a little longer than we wished. I hope, however, that the Report will be with us before the end of the year, and when the whole scheme is approved the first sign will be put up as soon as may be. I am afraid that I cannot say more on that matter.

We have been in discussion with the Home Office about recommendation (56), which deals with the question of additional traffic police. Chief constables all over the country have also been consulted. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is most sympathetic, and I am optimistic enough to hope that as the result of our joint consultations we shall get a substantial number of additional police. I think it is worth mentioning that, although we have discussed with the Home Office whether we can help solve this problem by having an increase in traffic police of a special constable nature, there are a number of difficulties which we have so far been unable to overcome. However, I think it will interest noble Lords to know, as regards the use of school wardens, that the adult school patrols have been increased in the last few months toy over 100 per cent.—from 500 to 1,050. That is a real contribution.

When I studied the Report I came to the conclusion that one of the most important parts, if not the most important, was that containing recommendations (25) to (42), which deals with the question of parking. This is a matter which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, and it has been under discussion for some considerable time. But we have never been able to get down to a practical scheme. I feel that we have to lift this out of theory into fact, and decide: Is it possible to build garages under the squares of London? Is it possible to build under the Royal Parks? My noble friend Lord Strabolgi says that it should be possible; the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, says that it is not. What is going to be the cost? The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, mentioned a figure of £300,000, and I have heard some fantastic figures. I have heard, also, that these parks could be built by private enterprise. What we intend to do—and my right honourable friend is going to do it immediately—is to set up a Working Party, composed of representatives of the appropriate Government Departments, local authorities, and the outside interests concerned, with the Standing Joint Committee of the A.A. and R.A.C., and various other like bodies. We shall get them to go into this question of parking and put up some practical cut-and-dried scheme, so that we may decide what we can do of a practical nature. It is no good going on talking about these things; we must do something about them. We feel that the best method is to get the experts together and say to them: What is the practical way of doing this? What is it going to cost? How is the money going to be raised? We can then examine the matter and see whether we can go ahead. It is no good talking about these underground car parks —which have been discussed to my knowledge for twenty-five years, and even in the days before the war nobody embarked upon one—without knowing the facts. I do not know whether such parks are possible. I do not know what will be met with when the engineering work is started, or what lies under the parks of London; we may find some very peculiar things. But that is what we propose to do, and we propose to do it straight away, so that they can report to us in the shortest possible time.

When I come to street improvements, which are dealt with in Recommendation (2), all the schemes which are set out on page 16 of the Report (apart from some very minor schemes, and with the important exception of St. Giles' Circus) will be included in the draft London development plan to be submitted to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning by the L.C.C. That is a Plan, as your Lordships know, which covers the period right up to 1960. The L.C.C. are the planning authority, and we shall have to await their recommendations before we can determine our attitude. I would not for one moment rule out the possibility that we might if we were so advised by the L.C.C, go ahead with some of the short-term schemes and some of the schemes which do not involve a heavy expenditure. But I should be foolish if I did not follow the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and I feel that he was wise to say what he did. It is no use thinking there is a bottomless purse; it is no good being enthusiastic about tunnels under Regent Street, and all these fanciful ideas, when we have to meet in the next few years the burden of the expenditure of men, money and materials on defence. I thought that in the last debate I had blown sky-high this myth about the Road Fund, but the noble Earl, Lord Howe, sticks to it almost like a religious conviction.


I never mentioned it.


Yes you did. You said we took out of the Road Fund—


I said the Government had taken £625,000,000 from the motoring world in the last five years.


It is the same thing in different language: "We have taken." Who has taken the money? The Exchequer have taken it for the benefit of the noble Earl in a number of ways other than in his career as a motorist. It is no use arguing the point. We shall do what we can, but I should be foolish if I misled any of your Lordships to think that we could embark upon a lot of expenditure on some of these schemes. As the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, rightly said, we must turn our attention to some of these shortterm schemes to relieve the problem, and not copy the foolish escapade of Atalanta and the golden apples.


Does that apply to schemes under subhead (b)?


I said all the schemes on page 16—that is those under (a) and (b), and also the rest at the bottom of the page.

Recommendations (3) and (4) we cannot accept. They deal with double-shift and week-end working. Although at the present time such working is considerably used when road repairs are undertaken on the more important traffic routes, there are a number of factors which militate against their general introduction, and we cannot accept that there should be a grant from central funds. We hope that local authorities or the highway authorities will do what they can. We accept in principle recommendation (51), which says that traffic lanes should be marked with white lines at intersections. They are useful, and it is hoped that highway authorities will extend their use. But we do not accept the recommendation in favour of advance warning signs; one of our problems is to get rid of some of these signs. We are getting too many, and we cannot agree that these advance warning signs serve any useful purpose. This also applies to recommendation (48). While we are in favour of increasing the use of green arrow signals where circumstances permit, we are not in favour of putting up the extra warning signs.

Now may I come to recommendation (52)? I have to say frankly that we cannot accept the recommendation with regard to subway escalators. They might be useful to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, who finds it difficult to go up and down steps, but again me real trouble is expenditure; I myself do not think that the expenditure would be worth it. I hold the view that none of these things will be any good until we can find a way of enforcing their use, and can prohibit people from crossing the road by any other means. I should like to know how many times those of your Lordships who travel down the Kingston by-pass have ever seen a solitary person crossing one of those bridges. I have not. All that expenditure is wasted, and we cannot undertake the colossal expense of escalators under roads.

There has been an interesting discussion upon recommendation (6)—the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and also the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, mentioned it. That recommendation calls for more up-to-date factual information on the causes of traffic delays. The Economics Committee of the Road Research Board have this matter in hand, and when they publish their figures I can only hope that the people of this country will pay more attention and more respect to them than they seem to have paid to like figures produced from various sources in the years gone by. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, mentioned the figures produced by Professor Jones, of Leeds University, on the cost of road accidents. They are quoted by people who think they prove their case and derided by others when it does not suit them. The trouble is that the basis of these figures can be challenged, and while this is the case, I do not think they will be of any great practical use. At least we have not found a way of convincing the public that they are of any great practical use, and perhaps the Economics Committee of the Road Research Board will succeed where everybody else has failed.

Recommendation (24), which calls for a permanent site for the north London Coach station, was brought to my attention by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. The noble Earl asked what we are doing about it. But it is none of our responsibility; it is the responsibility of private interests. We have no power to build coach stations, or to provide money for building coach stations. We will give all the help we can, and will continue to give it; but do not ask me what we are doing about it. Because the noble Earl reads the recommendation in the Report, it does not mean that it is necessarily correct. No doubt the Committee itself was suffering under the delusion that this station was a responsibility of the Ministry. But it is not.


Will the Government give permits for the work to be carried out by private firms?


That will be determined on the merits of any scheme which is put up. If the noble Earl is interested—I will not bore the House at the present time—I could tell a very interesting story. It is not His Majesty's Government who are responsible for the delay in building the coach station. Responsibility lies in a number of other directions.

Having dealt with the recommendations, perhaps I should add this. I want the House to bear with me, because there are a number of your Lordships, as well as people outside, who seem to think that my right honourable friend and his advisers in the Ministry of Transport have powers which they do not possess. Under the London Traffic Act, 1924, my right honourable friend the Minister has power to make regulations for controlling or regulating vehicular and other traffic within the London area. It appoints him as the dictator, which the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, so much desired. It is a statutory obligation upon my right honourable friend that before he makes any Order under that Act he has to consult the London and Home Counties Advisory Committee; and if the proposed Order lays any burden upon the police, he has also to consult my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. Though there is no statutory obligation on my right honourable friend to advertise what he is going to do, he does, in fact, do so; and he listens to outside objections when there are any. The London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee is a statutory body, formed in 1924. My right honourable friend is not sure that the time has not arrived when its membership should be overhauled. If we are going to put these new and onerous duties, with the burden of implementing this Report, on a Committee, we want to be satisfied that all interests affected are represented. But this may need legislation—and, if that is so, I am not very hopeful that anything can be done. But, at any rate, my right honourable friend is going to review the composition of the Committee and will see whether it meets the requirements of modern times.

It should be borne in mind that the responsibility for the positive action called for by a number of these recommendations falls on the local highway authority. The powers of the Minister and the Ministry are really only persuasive. True, in so far as these recommendations fall into the categories of grant-aided schemes, we can add persuasion, on the principle that he who pays the greater part of the remuneration of the piper has a right to call some of the tune. The noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, rather surprised me, as did the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, in that they seemed to want to have all the control centralised in the hands of the "gentleman from Whitehall." The suggestion was that we have to consult and look to so many authorities and other people before carrying out these schemes that, in fact, the schemes are not carried out at all; and Lord Montagu of Beaulieu expressed great sympathy. Take, for instance, the question of directional sign posting. That is a matter for the metropolitan borough councils, subject to the approval of the signs by the Minister. But the Minister has no power to contribute any money at all. As the noble Lord, Lord Waleran, mentioned, the A.A. and the R.A.C. have undertaken the cost of putting up temporary signs, and we are grateful to them for having done so. But we have no power whatsoever to give local councils any grant towards the cost of putting up directional signs.


I am not quite sure what is in the noble Lord's mind. The only thing I called for was a common police policy throughout the metropolis, so that the motorist may know where he stands.


I was not accusing the noble Lord in any way; I was only borrowing his phrase "The gentleman from Whitehall." I understood that what was required was a dictator.


All I asked for was a co-ordinator. That is a very different thing from a dictator.


The noble Lord wants a co-ordinator, but another noble Lord was more specific: he wanted a dictator. We cannot, of course, have a dictator, because we cannot take away the powers of the local authorities—and I feel certain that noble Lords opposite would have some-thing to say if we tried to do so. What I have said also applies to street nameplates which form the subject of Recommendation (50). All we can do is to issue circulars for guidance, and this we have done. It may be of interest to noble Lords if I say that there is a new street nameplate which has just been devised, the legibility and artistry of which will, I am sure, surprise noble Lords when it comes out. I hope your Lordships will not ask me when that is going to be. for I do not know. However, I hope it will not be long, for I agree that if you go into some of the suburbs of London and rely upon the street nameplates to guide you, you are very likely to get lost.

I do not think I have any other comment to make regarding the recommendations, but I emphasise this again: that while we can, after appropriate consultations, issue regulations, the enforcement of any regulation rests with the police. I pay a tribute to the work of the police: I should not like any word of mine construed as being critical of them. The fact remains, however, that, after we have once issued a regulation, we have no power to enforce it. That is entirely a matter for the police. I sometimes think, as I listen to the criticisms of some noble Lords, that they believe that the Ministry have a magic wand and can do anything and everything. But we cannot; our powers are very limited.

Lord Balfour of Ichrye asked me two specific questions. If the noble Lord will allow me to say so, I was interested in his speech. It was helpful—through it contained some of the usual back-handed political gibes. But those always amuse us, and I do not complain. He asked me whether he could park his car in Grosvenor Square alongside the Americans' cars.


And for as long as the Americans.


I think that that is a case of American enterprise. The noble Lord had better try it and see whether he can park his car as he suggests, and perhaps he will find out. The only advice I can give is that anybody can put a vehicle on the highway if he does not obstruct it. The question, "What is 'obstruction' of a highway?" is a matter for the police to decide and to prove. If the police think that the cars parked in Grosvenor Square within the white triangles are not obstructing the highway, they will not object. If the noble Lord obstructs the highway he must take the consequences.


In that case, will the noble Lord consider recommending to the appropriate Department that the successful experiment in Grosvenor Square should be copied elsewhere? At present, if you park your car in any other square in a similar manner to those parked in Grosvenor Square, you are liable to be summoned.


The experiment may be extended if those responsible think it is appropriate to do so.


May I say a word on behalf of the motorist? It is a fact that the parking places in London are at present, unhappily, inadequate. That is not the fault of the Government or of anybody else. It is a fact, however, that people have to park their cars at the roadside, in suitable or in unsuitable places. As things are administered at present, you can park your car in one street and it is all right, but if you park your car in another street you are immediately prosecuted. I do not think that a law administered in that way is conducive to respect for the law, nor is it likely to encourage a law-abiding community.


I was coming to that point. I was just dealing with this short point of Lord Balfour of Inchrye—his dissatisfaction with what he thought was rather a "favoured nation" clause in police regulations regarding American cars parked in Grosvenor Square. I gather that what the noble Marquess had in mind is the parking of cars without lights at night.


I did not mention lights.


We issued a regulation which gave the police authority, within their discretion, to allow parking without lights in designated parking places. Everybody who parks a vehicle at night without lights on other than a parking place is breaking the law. Some get away with it, some do not.


The point I want to make is this. Like everybody else, I expect, I have had experience of this law. It is not a question whether it is the law; it is a question whether it is a good law. In fact, numbers of people who placed their cars under a street lamp, where it is just as light as in the day-time. have been warned or prosecuted, but the same thing does not happen in the next case. The ordinary citizen is at the moment suffering considerable difficulties from taxation, and to have to run down his batteries where it is unnecessary for him to do so is a great hardship to him. If the noble Lord agrees that this law is a bad law in modern times, it is the Government who should take the responsibility of doing something to amend it.


I would not agree that it is a bad law, because discretion has to be given to the police in this matter. They, in their experience, know where it is dangerous to park cars. We have now issued a regulation whereby, in consultation with the police, we will allow parking at night at certain places, without lights. We are only awaiting preparation of the signs. There will be under-hanging the "P" sign (which is the designation of a parking place) a sign marked "No Lights Required." That will be an authorised place to park at night without lights, and it will be illegal to park without lights anywhere else.


Could not the noble Lord go a stage further? I must support the noble Marquess in his contention that if you are parking your car underneath a lamp, it is unreasonable to expect you to keep your lights on all night. Could not the police be given a certain amount of discretion?


It sounds easy, but suppose, as has happened in many cases lately, the lamps arc turned out: what happens? Your car is no longer underneath a lighted lamp. It is underneath a lamp-post with an unlighted lamp. I agree that this embraces the whole problem of parking, not only during the night but during the day, and we are tackling it as well as we possibly can.


I hope that I have a constructive suggestion to make. Instead of putting a notice where parking is permitted, would it not be better to put the notice where parking is not permitted? In the vast majority of the streets of London, it would be perfectly safe for the ordinary man to park his car, and nobody would suffer by it. On the other hand, there are a limited number of streets where it would not be safe. Therefore, it would be much cheaper to mark those which are not safe, rather than those which are.


I will undertake to discuss this matter, in the light of these observations, to see what can be done. I should like to reply to a number of these other points, but I am afraid that I have overstayed my welcome in taking up your Lordships' time. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, sent me quite a list of questions. I have answered the majority of them. Several noble Lords wanted to know why we have abandoned the "A" ring road. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, gave the answer. These things are never black or white. There is a difference of opinion. Some still do not agree with the abandonment but, on balance, it was thought wrong to sterilise all that property, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin said, for quite a long time, when we could not go ahead with the expenditure—he said for about fifteen years, but I think now he would alter his estimate to far longer.




And the noble Lord was quite right when he said that the benefit of the ring road would not be felt for over fifty years. To sterilise all that property for that length of time was, we thought, a hardship; and, on balance, that is why the scheme was abandoned. Although noble Lords as motorists may disagree with this decision. I feel sure that noble Lords as property owners will have a different opinion. The noble Earl asked me about the Kingsway tunnel. He knows that it is very steep and narrow. What we are going to do with it is under consideration. I think I have answered roughly all the questions—


What about the bus stopping places?


I was going to mention that point, and one or two others. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, must have been in error because most of the lights are traffic operated, and so designed as to take care of the volume of traffic passing through them. They are not static. There are very few static time-regulated traffic signals in London to-day. However, I will have all those points looked into. I think the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, made an excellent point about the siting of taxicab ranks. I am not going into the whole story of how bus stops are controlled, but I will have that matter taken up with the appropriate authorities. There have been so many useful suggestions made that I will undertake to have them all examined. I can assure noble Lords that on this occasion they are pushing at an open door. We are fully seized of the problem. The police and the Home Office are seized of it as well, and we hope that with the action which I propose to take under this Report your Lordships will never again be able to hurl at my head the accusation of "another Report languishing in another pigeon-hole."

5.47 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that everyone will agree with me that this has been a most useful debate. It is rare that we can obtain from the other side such a favourable answer as we have had to-day. I can only hope that all the things which the noble Lord opposite says will be done really will be done. We are patient on this side; in fact, I think we are very patient. I am sure that the noble Lord will not find us lacking in sympathy if he wishes to bring in any new regula- tions on this subject. There is one point that I should like to mention again—that is, the question of appointing an overall supervisor of London traffic. I think noble Lords on all sides of the House agree that this would probably be an extremely good thing. I know perfectly well that the word "dictator" is the wrong word to use, because the powers that the Ministry of Transport could give to this man would not make him eligible for such a title. I believe, however, that there is a great lack of co-ordination among the local authorities, the Ministry of Transport and the police. I feel that if someone were charged with the responsibility of coordinating all those authorities, it would help to simplify the problem. I hope that the noble Lord will consider the point. I welcome the statement that the Minister will consider overhauling the Advisory Committee. I think perhaps when this is done we shall see very much better representation there. There is nothing more for me to say, except to hope earnestly that we shall see some action, and that the noble Lord will keep this House informed of any new regulations on the subject which he wishes to lay. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at ten minutes before six o'clock.