HL Deb 21 June 1955 vol 193 cc212-48

3.12 p.m.

LORD WOLVERTON rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider maintaining as permanent features the special schemes which proved so helpful in facilitating the flow of traffic during the recent railway strike; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the Motion which stands in my name to-day, I should like to start by offering your Lordships an apology for the short time that this Motion has been on the Order Paper, and to thank those noble Lords who kindly consented to support me this afternoon. I felt that, while this subject was still fresh in our minds after the railway strike, it should be debated in your Lordships' House at the earliest possible moment. It gives me an opportunity, before I get down to the terms of the Motion, to express my deep gratitude, and I feel that of your Lordships, to all those who helped to make and put into operation the emergency arrangements, which carried us through the difficult times we experienced during the railway strike.

It is always difficult to mention names, but I mention just a few where I think a special word of praise should be recorded. First of all, I should like to mention the Home Secretary and his Emergency Committee of Ministers and officials. Secondly, I would pay our respects to the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police and the whole of the Metropolitan Police Force. Thirdly, I should like to thank the provincial police forces of this country who came so nobly to the rescue of the Metropolitan police by helping them in London. Fourthly, I should like to mention the road transport industry and also the oil industry, because I think they did a magnificent job of work in getting the oil distributed throughout the country. Fifthly, I should like to pay my respects to the public utilities and to all those in industry and commerce who worked so hard to keep the wheels of industry turning. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer said last Thursday, only one industry was reported to him as having closed down, and that was a distillery in the North of Scotland which closed down through lack of water. I should also like to say a word about the excellent work that the motoring organisations did in helping us through this great difficulty, and in particular the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club. Last, but not least, I would mention the travelling public, who so cheerfully bore all their difficulties and carried out their daily tasks very well.

Having said that, I would, for a few moments, try to develop the terms of reference which I have put down for your Lordships to discuss this afternoon. I do so because, as I have said before, I think it is necessary to get an expression of opinion, at any rate in this House, on what has happened in the last three weeks. I have divided my Motion into four main points. I should like to develop those four main points in further detail in a few moments, but, for the benefit of your Lordships, I would give what I think is the priority of importance of those four points. First of all, we should examine extra off-street parking. That is number one. Secondly, we should see whether we can get more multi-storeyed car parks or underground car parks, or both, and extra police on traffic duty, say from eight o'clock to ten o'clock in the mornings and from five o'clock to seven o'clock in the evenings. Thirdly, we should see whether it would not be advisable to keep the middle ring road—of which I have a map here showing what was done in the middle of London—because it played a very important part in stooping from coming into the centre traffic which wanted to traverse London from one side to the other. Fourthly, we should examine the staggering of hours of business from morning to evening in order to alleviate traffic congestion, especially in the centre of London.

These are no new problems to your Lordships we haw discussed them at great length in earlier debates. But the last fortnight has brought home to us the great lesson of the vast amount of traffic which has to be dealt with in the City of London and other cities. I am anxious that this matter should be discussed this afternoon by your Lordships, and we have to remember that traffic in this country is increasing by something in the neighbourhood of 55,000 vehicles (that is, private cars and lorries) per month. In four or five years' time we shall have arrived at the situation at which we arrived in the last fortnight, and in our big cities, especially London, we may have to cope with traffic on the scale that we have had to cope with in the last few weeks. One of our greatest achievements during the last fortnight, in my submission to your Lordships, was the extra facilities which were provided for off-street parking in the Royal Parks and in other places, and also in the inner ring of London, so that people did not have to come quite into the centre in their cars.

I know the great difficulty and the differences of opinion about the Royal Parks. I shall do nothing today beyond inviting your Lordships to consider the matter, and asking Her Majesty's Government, if your Lordships agree with me, to give it careful consideration. I know we have to look at many interests, not only the motoring interests but the interests of people who enjoy the Royal Parks; but Hyde Park especially is a very large park, and parts of it could, without detriment, be further used, as they were in the emergency, for the parking of cars. I believe also that we should utilise more of Regent's Park, round the Rings, as parking space.

But, in addition, we must in the next few years consider the building of multilateral and underground parking places. I shall be asking Her Majesty's Government at the conclusion of my Motion whet her they have yet come to any decision on the excellent recommendations for parking in inner London made in the Report of the Working Party set up by the Minister of Transport.

But to substantiate my first point, I would turn to the Report of the Chief Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis for the year 1954, which has just been issued in the form of Command Paper 9471. With your Lordships' permission, I should like to quote the last paragraph on page 15, where the Chief Commissioner says: Over and over again in their annual reports, my predecessors dwelt on the need for the provision of accommodation off the streets for waiting vehicles. This would help to remedy the state of things I have just described and I can hat urge chat an early attack should be made on the problem. The bus strike in October brought home very forcibly what could be expected if any large influx of private cars into central London were to take place. Many people who ordinarily travel by public trans-port resorted to the use of their ears during the period of the strike, and in the circumstances the police allowed the greatest latitude possible, … A number of drivers continued to use their cars, thus adding to the general congestion and some time elapsed before the police were able to sort matters out. Then come the most important words: The streets in central London just cannot absorb any more vehicles during normal working hours. In the last paragraph of the Report of the Working Party on Car Parking in the Inner Area of London, 1953, the position is summed up to the Minister of Transport on page 3, where the Committee say: We conclude our report by emphasising that one of the major causes of congestion in Inner London is the large number of private cars parked on the streets. Although we fully appreciate that improved facilities are required for London traffic in many directions we can think of no way in which better value could be obtained for a given expenditure than by the removal of these vehicles from the streets which would result from the adoption of our scheme. Our Plan should, we think, be attractive to the local authorities concerned because of their parking and civil defence responsibilities. We suggest too that Her Majesty's Government should be willing to make the small contribution necessary to alleviate this most difficult and growing problem. So much for the first part of the Motion. I think that I have given your Lordships ample evidence that in the next few years something must be done towards trying to speed up off-street parking.

May I now say a word on my second point, which concerns the provision of extra police for traffic duty between 8 and 10 a.m. and 5 and 7 p.m. I ant subject to correction by the spokesman who is to reply for Her Majesty's Government, but I understand that 1,000 extra police were drafted into London from the provinces to help with this problem; and with cadets, reserves and men coming from the schools the authorities were able to provide something like 1,700 extra police. They were, of course, working very long hours, for which we have already paid our respect to them. But the work they did was remarkable. They kept the traffic flowing extremely well. I think that has opened our eyes to the fact that, somehow or other, in the years to come we must have extra police to deal with this traffic problem which cannot be dealt with in any other way.

I understand from those who have been helping me that the emergency ring road round the centre of London was a tremendous success. I have here a copy of the map of the road which was in operation. Roughly, from the east it went through Blackwall Tunnel, to the west across Putney Bridge, and it was well signposted and policed. It stopped from coming into the centre of London a large amount of traffic which really did not want to come there but wanted to go round. I consider that that point ought to be most carefully considered in this debate. Although, of course, we have the outer ring road, which goes from the Great West Road round to the North Circular Road, to Eastern Avenue, that is rather too far out. That is one reason why the police and motoring organisations and the emergency committee set up this ring road. I am told that it is not a very expensive thing to run, although it needs well signposting and well advertising to the people who are going to use it for the saving of time and money, and it also needs a certain number of police to look after its junctions, and so on. It may not be possible to keep in existence the same ring road, but I think we ought seriously to do some fresh thinking on the matter of whether or not we should have some sort of permanent ring road.

The fourth point, which I wish to amplify a little, is the staggering of hours of business in the centre of London. I understand that that was a great success in the recent emergency. Of course, it is nothing new. A number of firms have tried to operate staggering, but on this occasion the staggering was of a much greater extent. I know all the difficulties of trying to run a business when people have their hours staggered, but if some system could be worked out in this connection I think it would help considerably to solve the traffic problem in the centre of London, not only for motor car traffic but also for the overcrowded underground railways. At peak periods our underground railways are extremely crowded, and until the new north to south tube is built, which will, to some extent, alleviate the matter, I think they will continue to be working to maximum capacity at peak hours.

There is one other point which I think I should bring to the notice of your Lordships—namely, the question of the approaches over the Thames. During the emergency the approaches, especially those to the bridges, were the worst bottlenecks. If anything could be done in regard to the approaches to the bridges I think that it would alleviate the bottlenecks over the Thames. As your Lordships have probably seen, an article was written by Mr. Wilfred Andrews, the Chairman of the Royal Automobile Club—he is also chairman of the Joint Standing Committee—last Sunday in the Sunday Times, in which he reminds the nation that there are a large number of new vehicles coming on to the roads every month—he says 55,000 a month. He also says that in the towns themselves there are several other sources of congestion, one of which is undoubtedly street parking. He is of opinion, however, that to suggest the banning of private cars from the central areas is defeatist. He considers that the roads should fit the traffic and the traffic the roads. He concludes by saying that we must beware lest authority seeks to use the experience in the strike as an excuse for further restriction of road users. I absolutely agree with that article. I do not want to see any further restrictions, but I think we have learned some useful lessons towards alleviating the problem in the centre of London. With those few words, my Lords—I am interested to hear what other noble Lords have to say in the debate—I beg to move for Papers.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has moved this Motion certainly need not apologise for so doing, even at such short notice; because if we are to hold an inquest let us do it while the body is warm and not wait until it is stone cold and everybody has forgotten all about the problem we have had to face in these last two or three weeks. I am grateful to the noble Lord also because, although he confined himself to the somewhat narrow points affecting London, his Motion is drawn in sufficiently wide terms to view the position over the whole of the country. I join with him in congratulating the London police upon a marvellous job of sorting order out of chaos—it was almost a pleasure to drive a motor car in central London during the strike; but in other parts of the country the reverse was one's experience. So I will try to examine, with the noble Lord, what were the lessons which we have learned from our experience over this country in the period when the bulk of the country's transport had to be carried by road.

Here let me interpolate a word of thanks to those who did that heroic job. All of us who are in touch with industry were frightened out of our wits three days after the railway strike began, when factory after factory foresaw itself having to shut clown, with thousands of men being made idle and out of work. Yet no such thing happened, and if that is not a tribute to the resilience of a form of transport which successive Governments, ever since I can remember, have done their best to throttle, f do not know what is. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who is to reply for Her Majesty's Government, although he is not quite so interested in transport as in the police, will, as we know from our past experience, give a sympathetic answer and also an assurance that he will make representations to the appropriate quarter. Also, we have one of the senior members of the Cabinet with us this afternoon.

The first lesson that not only Her Majesty's Government but all of us have learned (and in fairness I should say that we have all learned a lesson) is that the road plan of Her Majesty's Government: is totally inadequate for the needs of this country—and not only should an emergency like this arise again. I know that the experts cannot always be relied upon, but they have said that unless the Government's plans for the extensions of our road system are radically altered, and increased four- or five-fold, then our experience during the six or seven days preceding the end of the strike will be the common experience of this country in this next six years—that is, if traffic continues to increase as it has done over the last two or three years.

The first thing that I am going to try to impress upon Her Majesty's Government is that not only must an upward revision of the Government's road plan he made but there must be a more dynamic impetus behind it; because although this road plan of £147 million was showered upon a delighted populace. I do not believe that one pneumatic drill has yet entered the earth to make a start on one of these roads. That does not marry up to urgency. I hope that it is not going to be a case of The devil was sick, The devil a saint would be; The devil was well, The devil a saint was he, because we in this country have a nasty habit: we have a terrible crisis planted upon us, but on the day it is over the sun shines and we forget all about the crisis until the next one.

I want to suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, that Her Majesty's Government should ask the Minister of Transport and the Treasury to re-examine not only the problem of extensions to our road system but whether some of the designs of these projected roads, designs which I believe had their foundations twenty-five years ago (for I think I am right in saying that the Cromwell Road extension came on paper twenty-five or thirty years ago), are not now out of date. I believe that aerial photographs published in the newspapers have shown that some of the worst jams have been in the areas of roundabouts. These roundabouts are out of date; they are old-fashioned. Are we still to go along wasting money building roundabouts? I would beg the noble Lord to make an examination of this matter, for he will then see that many traffic jams are caused by roundabouts built to relieve traffic jams, because they cannot absorb the spillage quickly enough. There is only one answer—that, is, fly-overs.

The second lesson that we have to learn is that which the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, emphasised: that if we can stop the parking of motor vehicles for any purpose on our main traffic arteries, we can move traffic faster and without delay; we know that this holds good not only in the West End and in Central London but also outside. On two occasions I came to your Lordships' House by road during the strike, and I could have come more quickly than on a normal day. I lost time coming up to within twenty miles of London, but as soon as I got within that distance the roads in London were clear. I am not going to bring up the case of parking meters and the Road Traffic Bill, but if Her Majesty's Government are still wedded to the idea of parking meters I am sure they will have to come to the conclusion that there must be no parking or waiting on the main arteries in either the City or the West End of London. As the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, quite rightly said, somewhere else must be found for drivers to park those cars.

The noble Lord quoted the Chairman of the Royal Automobile Club, an eminent authority, I will not disagree. But it is useless and unrealistic for anybody to say that in the West End of London streets must be made to fit the traffic. There is not enough money in the world to pay to the property owners the compensation that would be involved. Let us be realistic about this matter. That idea of making streets fit the traffic is all right when dealing with rural areas, but how can one widen Regent Street, Bond Street or Oxford Street? There must be some kind of restriction. If you are going to face the facts, I cannot see any other way; and you must do what you did during this recent period: you must prohibit waiting, loading and unloading within certain hours. I believe that the police have been eminently sensible in this matter, and it has been a revelation to those of us who have become so used to traffic jams to see the freedom with which every vehicle could move about the West End and the City of London. I hope the noble Lord will take note of that point.

I know that the situation is the same in the provincial cities. Everyone wants to solve this traffic problem so that all the inconvenience is borne by "the other fellow." It is the same in London and in the city of Oxford. In Oxford the authorities are still grappling with one of the biggest traffic problems they have ever had—and it was accentuated by the rail strike. Oxford is a typical provincial city. It is a junction for the South Midlands, and during the railway strike it carried an enormous amount of traffic right from the industrial North to the docks on the South Coast. There was one solid block because there were tradesmen's vehicles and passenger vehicles of all sorts standing on both sides of the four main roads that run into Carfax in the centre of the city of Oxford—they were standing from early morning to late afternoon, taking up fourteen feet of each carriageway.

Now if you suggest that there should be a prohibition on loading and unloading in this street or that street, it may be the High Street or St. Aldate's or the Cornmarket, you have an uproar from the shopkeepers. People say, "You cannot do that." But if you could do the same in the centre of Oxford as the police did in the West End of London, the problem could be solved to a great degree, and you would not be obliged to engage again in the game of "Town v. Gown" and "Gown v. Gown" to decide whether you should have a relief road through Christ Church Meadow. Of course Christ Church will not have that. Then it is suggested: Let us drive a road through the parks. But no; someone else will not have that.

The only way to deal with the problem is to look at it realistically as it is, and to build first the ring road, which would be the salvation of the industrial traffic to the South of England, and put some sense into these people who abuse the rights they think they have. The City authorities, although they have powers to open it, will not do it. I am going to ask the noble Lord who is to speak for the Government this question, and it is the only question to which I want a specific answer. When I raised in your Lordships' House on a previous occasion the question of relieving this bottleneck on our one trunk road through the centre of England, which is carrying so much of the industrial traffic from the Midlands and the industrial North to the South, I was given a definite assurance that the order was going to be signed, that the gun was going to be fired, that the green light was going to be shown and that all this would happen by the early summer. But the summer is nearly over now—I think it is to-day and to-morrow, according to the weather forecast of the B.B.C.—and I understand that the Minister has not signed the order yet. When will he sign it? The only way to remove these bottlenecks up and down this country is to adopt my suggestion; otherwise, we shall never solve the problem outside the City of London. I can give your Lordships this particular example. A race meeting was transferred from Ascot to Newbury, and there was a solid jam of traffic north and south of Oxford for 2½ miles on a Saturday. That was all traffic which could have been by-passed.

That brings me to the other lesson which I think we have learned—and this is especially interesting for the noble Lord who is going to reply, because he and I fiercely debated this point when the Road Traffic Bill was before your Lordships' House. There must he powers to divert traffic to more appropriate roads. That is essential, and that power was one of the factors which proved the salvation of the scheme in London during the rail strike, because traffic was diverted on to the ring roads. What a tragedy it was that the economic circumstances of 1946 caused the abandonment of the project of a real ring road round London! It was abandoned, as the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, well knows, because of the cost, and because of the time factor and the hold-up of industrial development that would have resulted. I suppose that to-day the project would cost three times as much. But we must get on with some of these schemes.

I think that the third, and perhaps most important, lesson we have to learn is this. Do not let us delude ourselves into thinking that we shall never again have to face a situation like that in which we recently found ourselves. I hope there will not be another railway strike, but there may well come upon us—and history bears this out—a situation in which we have to rely more and more on the road transport of this country. I again make this tentative suggestion to Her Majesty's Government. They have reintroduced the Road Traffic Bill in another place, and I admire their wisdom in not subjecting it to the ravages of your Lordships' House a second time. I compliment them on dropping the clause which proved most contentious here, and which was the subject of one of those rare occurrences, a defeat of Her Majesty's Government in the Division Lobby. But that is going off a little at a tangent. The Road Traffic Bill really does nothing to solve this problem which we are now considering: the whole road traffic legislation of this country needs looking at.

One of the Acts that needs especial examination, in my view, is the Road and Rail Traffic Act. That Act, which came into force in 1933, is really a restrictive piece of legislation. It was a most remarkable thing that the Lord Chancellor, when he gave your Lordships that very interesting exposition of the Emergency Powers Regulations, made it clear that the bulk of them had the effect of setting aside provisions of the Road and Rail Traffic Act. The reason was that that Act tied up road traffic so completely that an operator could not carry anything on one class of vehicle because it was deemed appropriate to go on another. I am not going to be dogmatic about this matter, but one of the follies of the Act, in any of its conceptions, was that it was always the view of the Ministry of Transport that it was a restrictive piece of legislation favouring the railways. That was why all these tribunals were set up to hear appeals in connection with the granting of different classes of licences. During the recent emergency anyone was allowed to carry anything or anybody. And the result was that the traffic of the country flowed.

It is interesting to note that some of the most perishable horticultural produce of the West of England arrived in London more quickly and in fresher condition that it has ever done before, because it was brought back as return loads by some of the huge food vans belonging to the big food stores. That is a remarkable thing. It takes an emergency of this kind to enable some sections of industry to get better service than they have ever had before; and I repeat, it is remarkable. Is it not really worth examining this question to see whether, because something was good in 1933, it necessarily follows that it is good in 1955? After all, transport does not stand still, in spite of all these restrictions. In spite of them, not because of them, 80 per cent. of trade is carried by road transport, even in normal times. The increase of traffic on the roads during the rail strike was mainly passenger traffic, and that was enormous. That does not mean that the railways have not a fit and proper place in the transport system of the country, but it does mean that we must be capable of learning something.

I applaud the action of the Government and the lead of the Prime Minister in trying to examine all these new problems in the light of our present requirements. Surely the railway strike has taught us something about the adaptability of our transport system and how it can be best used for the convenience of the public. All I ask is that the Government should look into this matter to see whether something cannot be done, by means of a slight amount of restriction in the right places, to make the whole system more flexible. This is a matter concerning all the towns in the provinces on the main trunk routes, as well as London. We cannot allow these towns to become garages for delivery vans from eight in the morning till ten at night. We cannot afford that. There must be a free flow of traffic. With these observations, I support the Motion. Let us heed the lessons given us during the strike. Let us be sensible enough to learn from them and adapt our lives in future accordingly.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will grant me the usual indulgence given to those who speak for the first time in your Lordships' House; and may I apologise in advance for anything amiss I may say? I will confine myself to the narrower problem that has arisen in London during the railway strike emergency. I have two main points to make.

In the first place, we must treat this as an immediate matter. It is not so much the point of view of general policy that we are discussing as that of putting into immediate action some of the lessons which have been learned and are easily applicable. Of course, it is feasible to retain only some of the arrangements. As your Lordships have heard, the police force was increased by the drafting of 1,000 or so police officers from the country, by stopping the leave of the Metropolitan Police and by the long hours worked by the men on duty, for which they have already been given due credit. It is obvious that such measures as breakdown vans which were organised to take away cars obstructing the traffic, the controlling of queues at bus stops and underground stations and the patrolling of approach roads to the City of London, would require far too much labour for the present and could not be kept up in full operation as during the emergency. In any case, those applied only to the exceptional amount of motor car and private coach traffic flowing in and out of the city, morning and evening, over the strike.

But I think there is one thing that might well be maintained in future—it has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton—and that is, the taking over by the police of traffic light control at bad intersections and road junctions during rush-hour periods. During the emergency that brought a large speedup of traffic. These black spots are obviously well known. I point to one as an example—namely, that at Hanger Lane, where the Oxford-London road crosses the North Circular road and where there were several policemen on duty at rush hours, with the result that the traffic was speeded-up enormously. Such places might well be controlled, with advantage, at rush-hours in the morning and evening, without adding too great a strain on the police forces available. I think that to ask more of the police at the present moment would not be possible.

As has already been said, the success of the emergency regulations was due to the cheerful co-operation of the public on the roads. But it is questionable how much of that could be counted upon in other circumstances than the national emergency through which we have just passed. For instance, it is doubtful whether the residents in the special parking streets would be willing indefinitely to have rows of motor cars parked outside their front doors. It is also doubtful whether motorists who come into the city in the daytime would be prepared in winter or in bad weather to leave their cars at parks on the periphery of central London and then go by other means to their work. They would prefer to go straight into London and leave their cars as near as they could to their places of business. It is also impossible to relax the time limits and the unilateral parking arrangements, as was done during the strike. These restrictions have been made of necessity and must clearly remain.

But where the motoring public's goodwill might still be relied upon is in the use of the ring roads and by-passes which were specially marked during the strike to avoid the most congested areas. These measures were produced with the idea that those motorists passing through London who did not have any business there should go round and not clutter up the middle of the city. It seems that this system worked well. In order to retain this, clearly we must have the signs which were put up and we must have the publicity, so that everybody who does not wish to go through the city knows that he can go round. For this I think we must rely on the great motoring organisations which have done so well already. The signs they displayed were indeed clear. I followed them myself. If they could be maintained, or even increased, they would be of great service in keeping the traffic flowing. There is also the question of the use of the Royal Parks. There has been much criticism, into which I will not go, bet it must be borne in mind that there is a large area in the public parks for putting cars; they are very convenient and they do relieve pressure elsewhere; and that is quite a consideration.

My second point is that anything that might arise from the emergency regulations and might be maintained is only a short-term scheme. If the roads cannot be adapted to fit the traffic, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, suggests, at least the parking should be adapted. This can be done by off-street car parks. There are a lot of them, at present, many on bomb sites, and there could be more. It could be done by underground garages, though where they are to be put still arouses a deal of criticism. Also it could be done by multi-storeyed garages. These are widely spread in the United States of America, and I know of one, in particular, in Düsseldorf, Germany. They provide a great deal of easily available space; they are central; they are compact; and, among other things, if they are designed imaginatively by a good architect, they are not an eyesore. On the other point, the question of through traffic, there is no necessity to say that nothing can be done. These fly-ever crossings, the clover leaf junctions, are obviously a necessity; and if they can be put into London too, well and good. But tunnels and viaducts are also possible, and there are plans in Paris for such schemes to be looked into. It may well be that something can be done for the through traffic by creating thus an arterial road, or several of them, through the city.

Those are long-term policies, and they are expensive. The point at the moment under discussion is not that: it is that in the scheme devised by the authorities during the emergency we achieved something to relieve the congestion in the centre of London. It is an old problem, and it is an expensive one in time lost and delay in collecting and delivery of goods. If anything can be done which will alleviate that problem, I feel that it should be put into operation as soon as possible. We have something to go on, and we know where we are. I would beg that it is net all forgotten at once.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, it is my pleasant task to congratulate the noble Viscount who has just spoken on his maiden speech. I hope that we shall have the opportunity of hearing him often, because, speaking personally—and I am sure all your Lordships will agree—I feel that he not only said what he had to say without too many "ers" and "ums," but he spoke clearly, to the point and briefly. I am sure I speak for all your Lordships when I congratulate him on his maiden speech.

I venture to take a slightly different point of view from that taken by other noble Lords this afternoon. In discussing this traffic problem I feel that people tend to over-emphasise the problem of parking vehicles. No one would deny that a whole series of vehicles left all day in the street impedes the flow of traffic; but from my personal observation, extending over a long period of time—because I drove my first car in 1899 when I was a small boy in a short coat and top hat at Eton—I am reasonably certain that in many cases at the present time nearly 50 per cent. of our roads is wasted by lack of consideration on the part of people who are driving cars. The Commissioner of Police, in his latest report, refers to the fact that a reduction in the number of accidents and an improvement in the flow of traffic would undoubtedly take place if only all people drove more considerately than they do. That, I am certain, is true.

Many drivers of heavy vehicles are extremely good drivers and do their best in relation to overtaking to facilitate the flow of traffic. But there are a number of them, and private motorists as well, who, instead of keeping to the near side of the road, fairly close to the kerb, drive three, five and six feet away from it. The result, in many cases, is that on roads where there is plenty of room for four lines of traffic, properly driven, you find there are only two lines. I have spent a great deal of time lately in "chasing" London Transport over the way buses are driven, and I am glad to say that they have met me, to some extent, and are modifying instructions to their drivers. If any noble Lord goes up Bond Street at almost any hour of the day, he will find that there are only two lines of traffic; but there is plenty of room for four lines. If you go into the City, say, to Cannon Street or Old Jewry, again you find that instead of cars keeping close to the kerb on the left hand side they are driven some distance away from the kerb. In a recent case a bus I was looking at stopped with its offside right against a traffic refuge. I asked the conductor if his driver made a practice of driving on the right hand side of the road, and he said: "What difference does it make? No one can overtake us." That is only too true—and that is so not only in some of the narrow streets. But I am happy to think that London Transport will now revise their instructions to drivers.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said that a solution could be found in some of these by-passes. That would not provide a total solution, because a by-pass becomes just as much obstructed by drivers who do not keep to the nearside as do any other roads. The other day, just after the Oxford Show, I was coming back to London, and after passing the roundabout at Cowley, although there was a reasonable width of road, with room for four cars driven closely together, I found that there was one lorry four feet away from the near-side kerb and another three feet away. The net result was that from the Cowley roundabout until one got to the village of Wheatley it was impossible to pass; and there was a queue of fifty vehicles following these two lorries proceeding at about 25 miles per hour. I was at the head of the queue, and I could not get by without going over the centre line and running the risk of hitting some approaching traffic.

The police are powerless in this matter. I have talked to dozens of men on point duty and to motor patrols, and they do not feel that they have any power to warn drivers to move to the left-hand side when they are flagrantly obstructing. I believe that one of the early solutions of this problem would be to amend the Road Traffic Bill, when it comes to your Lordships' House, and make it an offence to obstruct the flow of traffic by failing to give way and keep to the left. As a result of investigation, I discovered that there is a provision in the Road Plans Police Act, 1847, which would do the trick, but no one has ever heard of that Act because it has fallen into disuetude. When the Road Traffic Bill comes before your Lordships, it might be a good idea to remind people of this provision and then to get chief constables to instruct their motor patrols to enforce it. One can see this state of affairs on the Great West Road and at Heath Row on any clay, with cars coming right out and mobile police standing by, unable or unwilling to interfere simply because they feel that if they prosecute a man or warn him he will ask them what right they have to do it. If we could get that done, I feel that we should go a long way towards solving our long-term traffic problem.

Even supposing that all the road improvements take place, at an expenditure of millions, with an enormous number of vehicles using the roads the same problem will arise. Unless every driver will drive considerately, keep to the near side of the road and allow people to pass, we shall really have spent all this money in vain. According to the Press, Scotland Yard said that while the strike was on they were taking photographs of some of the worst cases of black spots. I have not seen them, but I hope we shall have an opportunity of seeing them, because I am certain that we shall find that a great deal of the congestion was caused by vehicles which were not keeping close to the left-hand side.

A few days ago, at the height of the strike, I went to the Automobile Association and asked them if they would take photographs showing the state of congestion. They kindly agreed, and I have the photographs here if any of your Lordships would like to look at them. They show quite clearly that in various parts of the City the effective width of the street was materially reduced through the failure of people to keep to the left. There is one particular photograph in which a "traffic cop" was driven over the white line, as a result of having no room to pass. I am certain that when we see Scotland Yard's photographs we shall find the same sort of thing. Therefore, although I was delighted to hear the subject raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, I think he was a little inclined, if he will allow me to say so, to pay too much attention to the parking problem as against the problem which I think is so important, of maintaining a steady use of the whole width of our available streets.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, I agree with other speakers that we owe a great debt to the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, for bringing forward this Motion at such short notice. He has had the support of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, who made an excellent maiden speech. I particularly agree with what the latter said about manual control at peak hours at certain important spots. As he has said, I think one could pick out a certain number of these which the police could roan in the normal course of duty.

I wish to join with other noble Lords in praising the police for what they accomplished during the strike, but I feel that at some points they had more police on duty than were necessary. One morning at Albert Gate I noticed that there were no fewer than four policemen and one A.A. man on that one crossing, and one evening six policemen at the north end of Chelsea Bridge. That was about twice as many as were necessary. I should also like to support the noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, in what he said about hugging the middle of the road. I think something could be done in that regard by propaganda. Perhaps it is a relic of the war-time queue habit, but a certain type of driver, if you try to pass him, thinks you are taking an unfair advantage over him, gets angry and pulls out even further. If the motoring organisations and motoring papers could propagand on that subject it would do some good.

I should like to say how much I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said about roundabouts. The greatest congestion I came across during the strike was at two roundabouts on the Kingston by-pass—I think one is generally known as the "Toby Jug" and the other the "Act of Spades." They were the worst bottlenecks of any. Later in the period the police got to work on them and kept them fairly clear; but they were terrible at the beginning of the strike. There are, of course, roundabouts and roundabouts. I suppose the most wonderful roundabout in the world is the Etoile, the one round the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, where seven or eight lines of traffic can flow round at high speed. Believe it or not, almost the smallest roundabout in the world has just been built on the A.3 between Ripley and Guildford, round which hardly two cars can drive abreast. I know that it has replaced a crossroads, and that it was rather a black spot; but if there was not room to build a bigger roundabout, I think the authorities ought to have installed traffic lights. A good deal more could be done, too, by installing green arrows at certain lights, so as to allow traffic to filter, particularly at a "T" junction. There is one clear example at Clapham Common North, where traffic is often held up for a long time when it could filter without danger to pedestrian traffic if a green arrow were fitted. They are used with great success in Central London, but they are seldom used in the suburbs.

I do not want to say too much about the Royal Parks, but there is no doubt that they did help the parking situation a great deal. That wide piece of gravel under the trees, which nobody ever uses, on the Carlton House Terrace side of the Mall, seems to me a most wonderful car park which would interfere with nobody at all. It is used for parking cars when Her Majesty has a garden party, but, so far as I know, not otherwise. Incidentally, I think we ought to be most grateful to Her Majesty for suggesting, as I understand she did, that the North Arch of the Constitution Hill Gate should be opened to relieve the traffic during the peak hours.

I think much more could be done permanently, following the action during the strike, to carry out the principle of what the Americans call "tidal flow." They go much further than, we do. They even shift traffic islands over, so as to have three or four lanes for the outward flow in the evening and on the incoming side for the traffic in the morning. That was done on some of the bridges in London by traffic police, who held up vehicles at one end of the bridge and brought three or four lanes down the bridge from the other direction. I think that some type of tidal flow could be extended as a permanency.

We can all do a lot to help ourselves. For instance, motorists, managers of transport undertakings and transport drivers could do a great deal to avoid congestion on the main routes by working out cross-country routes of their own. I suggest that where transport managers have a number of lorries going regularly, say, from somewhere in South London across to the North-West, they might well work out a route for their vehicles which would keep them very largely clear of the main roads. I try to specialise in doing this, and I used some of my pet routes during the emergency and found them most valuable. As the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, said, now is the time, when what happened during the strike is fresh in our memory, to learn our lessons for the future. We should get down to it and make some of these improvements permanent. I believe that one reason why the Coronation was so successful was that all the complaints and difficulties that arose at the Coronation of King George VI were noted immediately afterwards and provided for at the time of the last Coronation. Let us, therefore, immediately take note of these lessons. In conclusion, I should like to say once again how grateful we are to the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, for bringing up this matter.

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to echo most of what has been said. Especially I should like to associate myself with the praise and compliments to the police and all concerned on the arrangements which were made in the emergency. I would also add my congratulations to those offered to my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross on his maiden speech, and would associate myself with what the noble Viscount and my noble friend Lord Gifford had to say about parking in the Royal Parks. The Report of the Working Party, to which reference has already been made by my noble friend Lord Wolverton and others, supports this view. Paragraph 43 says this: At present parking is permitted on the East Carriage Drive in Hyde Park and elsewhere, and this could be extended. Later, the paragraph says: Against all these proposals, however, is the strong objection of the Ministry of Works to interference with the amenities of the Park. We saw the effect of—I will not say indiscriminate parking, but legitimised parking in the Royal Parks. In my opinion, there was no very great interference with the amenities of the Parks.

I should like to make one more point—I believe that it was hinted at by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, though he did not go very far with it. I refer to the question of whether it might not be possible to exclude from certain main traffic arteries in our larger towns, during certain specified hours, delivery vans and other commercial vehicles. The Report of the Working Party, to which I have already referred, says that the hours during which more cars are parked than any other are those between 10.30 a.m. and 3.30 p.m. I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government to consider whether it might not be convenient to exclude delivery and other commercial vehicles during those hours.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, I will delay your Lordships for only a few moments. I should like to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, who is not here for the moment, on his maiden speech: I thought his remarks admirable and his manner excellent. I hope that we shall hear more from him in the future. I should also like to say how satisfactory it is to the House to have this Motion before it. It seems to me that it has ventilated some useful ideas for the time when we come again to the Road Traffic Bill. Speakers know what difficulty we had with that Bill a little while ago. The debate has also put something into my old head, something that my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth said, when he referred to the fact that perishable foodstuffs arrived at their destination much fresher than they did in the ordinary way. I have an idea that we could have a useful discussion on that aspect.

Noble Lords—and especially the noble Viscount, Lord Wcolton—will remember that during the war there were certain zones where collections were made, and the carriage of perishable foodstuffs was very much curtailed. It did not have to travel all the way from, say, Cornwall to London and then half-way or three-quarters of the way back again. There is a point in which we ought to take a great interest. I believe it would be quite simple in peace time to have zones where the farmers and those who produce perishable foodstuffs, or foodstuffs of any sort, would deliver them to a particular centre; and from that centre it could be distributed locally, if there was a market for it. Where there was not a market for it, it would be sent off to somewhere where there was a shortage. It would obviate these immense journeys that are made every day from all parts of the country, in a great many cases quite unnecessarily. I am glad that the noble Lord raised that question. I think that I shall weary your Lordships, probably in the near future, by puling down a Motion to discuss the whole of this question which I think might benefit not only the traffic but also the health of our people, which is a matter of great concern, as we know from the gracious Speech from the Throne. That is all I have to say. I thank the noble Lord for introducing this debate, which I am sure will help us all in the future.

4.27 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for long. Unfortunately, I was not able to be here for the speech of the noble Lord who moved this Motion. I am not even quite sure that what I am going to say is entirely in order, but I want to refer to just one point—that is, the question of the carriage of mail during the strike. During the strike, mail was carried to Scotland, Northern Ireland and elsewhere, some by the R.A.F. and some by my own Corporation, B.E.A. We took a very large quantity of mail to Northern Ireland, Belfast, Glasgow and Manchester. The result was that the late mail from London arrived at those places a good deal sooner than it arrived there in the normal way: people in those parts found that they were getting by the first delivery their mail which normally comes to them by the second delivery.

All I want to urge is that here is an instance where arrangements similar to the emergency arrangements might be put into effect. I know that the question of cost comes into the matter—very likely the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, will mention that. Of course, that is a serious consideration, but I think that the advantages of getting mail sooner would probably far out-weigh the slight additional cost which would be involved in carrying mail by air, rather than by rail, and especially the mail which goes out late in the evening from London or from the big centres of population in this country, or vice versa. Therefore, I would urge that some further consideration be given to this matter.


Do I understand from the noble and gallant Lord that it has now been stopped?




The mail is not now being carried by air?



4.28 p.m.


My Lords, let me say at once how much the Government welcome the debate and how grateful they are to the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, and other noble Lords who have assisted him, for the advice which they have offered this afternoon. The noble Lord has put a Question on the Order Paper. It is not always customary to answer Questions that are put on the Order Paper, but let me answer this one categorically at once. Let me tell the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, that Her Majesty's Government are most anxious to learn everything they can from what has happened during this strike and to take profit from the lessons that they have learnt, not only from what happened during the strike but also from the suggestions that have been put forward here this afternoon.

During the course of the strike, careful observations were taken by all those concerned. Statistics were compiled, spot checks were made and aerial photographs were taken, and I do not doubt that a great deal of valuable information has been assimilated. At the moment the Department which I have the honour to represent in your Lordships' House—the Home Office—and the Police, the L.C.C., the Road Research Laboratory and the Ministry of Transport, are all anxiously examining the evidence that has so far come to light to see what they can do to profit thereby. So I must apologise in advance if I am not yet able to answer all the questions that have been put to me this afternoon or to draw the full lessons which I should like to, because the evidence is not yet complete; but I will try to answer as far as I can and tell your Lordships what lessons have so far been learned.

Let me say at once that the urgency of this problem is fully in the mind of the Government—not only the problem as it applies to London (here I would agree straight away with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth), although of course that has loomed largest in the public interest, but also the problem throughout the country. Let me tell your Lordships at once that we are re-appraising the situation—I think the cliché now is an "agonising re-appraisal"—of all the road problems in the light of what we have seen during the strike.

Let me straight away point out one or two of the things which have already come to light. The first of them is often entirely overlooked—perhaps it is a compliment to the Government that it is overlooked. It is the fact that the plans for the emergency worked surprisingly smoothly and the inconvenience was so much less than most people would have thought possible. But we tend to overlook the fact that a large number of people suffered considerable inconvenience during the strike, and many of them real hardship. I think that is something which we should keep in mind. The second point is this—and I apologise in advance for uttering what I am afraid will be a classic bromide, but I cannot help it—that one thing that emerged from this strike, the thing that every authority connected with traffic has put at the top of its list, is that most of our problems could be greatly aided, if not wholly overcome, by a greater exercise of tolerance, good temper, patience and give and take. That is the point which the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, made in the course of what I should like to describe as one of the most admirable maiden speeches I have heard in this House. People exercised much greater tolerance and patience and good will during the strike. It is unfortunate that we have to wait for a strike for people to improve their manners and their behaviour towards their neighbours on the roads. That is difficult to understand, but there it is. There was restraint on unnecessary journeys, agreement to fall in with the police wishes, acceptance, without grumbling, of directions not to park here and there, and in many respects compliance with their neighbours' wishes when they wished to park outside the front door; and so on.

The second point which comes out most painfully is that the sheer volume of the strike traffic which we experienced in the last three weeks is probably an accurate forecast of what we shall have to put up with in the future, if cars continue to come on to the roads at the rate they are at present. It will not, however, be an exact parallel, because exceptional circumstances arise in a strike; for example, the tubes were running but not the Southern Region railways, with the result of tremendous congestion on the Edgware-Morden Line. Of course these circumstances are particular to a strike and will not be general in the days to come; but at least it is an unhappy foretaste. Another thing that comes out of the strike period is this—and I am afraid we have also to bear this in mind—that people will tolerate in emergency circumstances and impositions which, quite frankly, will not be acceptable in normal times. That is something which it would be unrealistic not to face. I mention that particularly in connection with the emergency parking schemes, which I will come to in a moment.

May I turn now to the subject which has come up most and which is nearest to my personal interest—namely, that of the police. I think the magnitude of their task has been fully realised; and I am grateful to your Lordships for having stressed this point this afternoon. The volume of traffic With which the police were faced was of course very much heavier than one would normally expect: there was a 35 per cent. overall increase on the daily traffic in London. Unfortunately, that brought with it something else: an increase in the accident rate. The figures rose from 950 in an ordinary week to nearly 1,200. It also produced what is to me a rather curious side light: it produced a sharp decrease in crime, particularly in petty larceny. Whether this is because the Burglars' Union were withholding their labour in sympathy, or whether it was because of the 884,392 hours' overtime worked by the police in the course of the strike does not matter.

I can further illustrate the size of the task undertaken by the police with one other figure which might interest your Lordships. It was as two or three noble Lords have pointed out, on the bridges and the entrances to London that the traffic piled up worse. At Vauxhall, for instance, which is always a tricky place between eight o'clock and ten o'clock in the morning, normally there is a flow on one road coming into London of about 3,000 vehicles. On the same road during the strike during the same period there were nearly 9,500 vehicles coming in. Nevertheless, thanks to the work of the police (to paraphrase Galileo) the traffic moved, and I think we are justified in paying the tribute that we have to-day to thank the police for keeping it moving. I think we can also take comfort from the increase in good will which was created between the public and the police in the course of the strike.

I should like particularly to thank the twenty or more provincial forces who came in to help, as well as the cadets, the specials, and the reserves that we have heard mentioned. Particularly should I like to thank those forces that did without many of their men when they allowed us to borrow the 1,000 or so provincial policemen. Somewhat naturally, the cartoonists and others were occupied in painting pictures of rural constables with their legs in bicycle clips, nervously asking the way to Bow Street. Nothing could have been further from the truth. They fell in with their brothers of the Metropolitan Constabulary with extreme efficiency. I might perhaps give the example of the work of one zealous young constable from a Midland police force, who reported a car that he thought was causing an obstruction, only to find that the car belonged to the chief constable of the next door force.

But, my Lords, this all leads to the point which has been hinted at by several noble Lords, especially the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, that if we want to maintain permanently the force which was operating during the strike, with normal leave and normal hours of business, we should have to increase the police force in London by just about 10,000 men. As your Lordships will realise, this is an absolute impossibility; but I thought I would give your Lordships that figure so that you would realise that we cannot have the luxury of permanent service from a police force of comparable numbers to that which dealt with congestions of traffic, with the admirable results that were achieved, during the strike. The strike served to emphasise, however, the need to continue trying to bring the police up to establishment.

In passing, I would make one point. One or two noble Lords have suggested that we should turn off the traffic lights and turn on the constabulary. I know that that view is held in some circles. I do not think we should consider replacing lights altogether by policemen; but we might combine them with constables. I hope that people will not get the impression that the traffic light does not do a good job. Occasionally there are difficulties; but then we know that there is nothing like a constable for sorting out confusion. We have learnt that there is only one thing better in those conditions than a policeman, and that is two policemen. I can tell your Lordships one thing which I think will be a help. We fully appreciate the need for having a constable on the job during the rush hours, and the Commissioner is doing everything he can to see that extra police will in fact be drafted to the black spots during the rush hours.

I am also happy to tell your Lordships that to-day my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has authorised the establishment of a special central traffic squad for London, specially designed to be able to deal with any particular black spot. This will consist of about 100 all ranks, with four patrol cars and thirty-eight motor cycles centrally placed in a convenient spot and under a central command. I am sure this new central squad will be very useful indeed for getting the police to any danger spot quickly and getting the traffic diverted to an easier path as soon as possible; this will be particularly valuable because, as the strike has shown, more than anything, time is of the essence in moving on traffic before it begins to pile up into a 2½-mile line. I hope that this new squad will be of real advantage in getting over this difficulty.

My Lords, I turn now to the next point which I think aroused most interest—namely, the question of emergency parking.


The noble Lord has made a very important announcement. I think it will be most helpful. But have the police power at the present time to divert that traffic? They may have to divert traffic on to another route. Is the noble Lord going to ask at some time for power to be given to the police?


The noble Lord has a slight advantage over me. I think I am right in saying that we discussed the matter on the Road Traffic Bill, and I thought we put into the Bill something on this point; but I cannot remember.


That is one of the very few blots on the escutcheon of the noble Lord. He promised to do it, but he did not.


I must try again. I thought that that was the situation. We discussed it and I believe we found some curious loophole in the law which we had not realised existed, in that the police had a limitation of power. I will certainly look again, but that was my impression of the position.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, is wrong on this point. I rather fancy that I have often been temporarily diverted for an hour or two, because there was a race meeting or something of that sort going on. I should imagine that that could be done by the local police; they would just divert you round to another road for the tune being.


I think that the point we discussed and had in mind was that we discovered, when the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, and I had a passage at arms over this matter, that the only authority who can close a road—in other words, divert traffic—is a highway authority; and the police act on the authority of the highway authority. The police can do that only in London, under the London Act under which they can divert traffic for Coronations and ceremonial processions. I am wondering whether the noble Lord's very admirable suggestion might not fall down because the police could not act in an emergency but would have to get the consent of the local authority or the highway authority before they could do so.


I want to warn noble Lords that we are treading on very delicate ground. It is perfectly right. I believe we did discover that a number of things which had been happening were not wholly as they should be. I must refresh my memory, but I believe I am right in saying that if a policeman stops you in Oxford Street and says that there is a traffic block or a house on fire and that you must turn into Cavendish Square, he should, in theory, first get the permission of the St. Marylebone Borough Council before he does so. I will look at that point carefully and see that it is cleared up.

May I turn now to another point which has been raised, the question of emergency parking schemes. This is a highly controversial matter which we threshed out in the Road Traffic Bill and no doubt we shall thresh it out again when we come to discuss those other highly controversial topics, underground garages and other schemes for enlarging the parking facilities. I want to make two points. We had emergency parking zones on the periphery and they proved a great success: they drew away a large amount of traffic which otherwise would have been parked nearer central London. The people who live in those zones on the periphery willingly put up with the situation, realising why cars had to use these zones at the time. It would, how-ever, be unrealistic to ask any man to accept as a legal right the practice of a motorist placing his motor car outside a stranger's front door, all day and every day.

The second point which comes to mind is that it is undoubtedly true that what the police did in central London in the way of rearranging the parking facilities in the streets greatly accelerated the flow of traffic; but again I am assured that in order to carry that on as a permanency an enormously increased police force would be needed to supervise the new arrangements and a great deal of hardship would be caused to other frontagers. That is not a final judgment but my first impression, and I think that will be a real difficulty. Everybody has a brilliant idea for solving this problem (I have had several myself) but they are always at somebody else's expense and that is the trouble but we will certainly bear those points in mind.

Two or three things which came out were that many people who would normally come in for a weekly shopping expedition did not come, and they thereby relieved traffic pressure. Many people doubled or trebled up in friends' cars; and there was one interesting change. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, will remember that I have frequently expressed myself strongly against the man who regards his car as a drug and cannot move without it. He lives in St. John's Wood and motors into Berkeley Square every day, and leaves his car there all day, I have no precise figures, but that type of person clearly was much reduced in numbers during the strike. Probably he came in a bit later by public transport, after the rush hour, about a quarter to ten to ten o'clock, instead of using his car. There was clearly a reduction in the numbers of this type of motorist.

This takes me to the question of the Royal Parks which several noble Lords have raised, among them Lord Wolverton, Lord Colville of Culross, Lord Furness and Lord Gifford. Being a Londoner I suppose I am prejudiced, but I believe most Londoners are reluctant to see any further encroachment on the Royal Parks. We Londoners (if I may so class myself) are jealous of the Royal Parks and look with disfavour on this steady encroachment upon them over the years. I must remind your Lordships that my right honourable friend the Minister of Works has recently permitted the parking areas to be extensively increased in the Royal Parks where he thought that their amenities would not thereby be spoiled—the ring road at Hyde Park, the south side of Birdcage Walk and part of the Horse Guards approach road. If noble Lords will look at the map they will see that that is a very considerable increase. There was a great deal of grumbling when my right honourable friend did that. Her Majesty's Government consider that to go further and to allow cars to be parked in The Mall, as the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, suggested, would not be right.


May I interrupt the noble Lord? My suggestion was that there should be parking on the gravel road alongside The Mall.


I fully appreciate that point, but to put cars even there or on the Serpentine Road would seriously interfere with the amenities. This also applies to the area near the Palace, Queen Victoria's gardens and Constitution Hill. I find myself in sympathy with much—but not everything—that was said in a letter in The Times newspaper two or three days ago from the Pedestrians' Association. We have to try to strike a balance here, as one always must between rival interests—a choice between convenience and amenities. It would reduce the pressure a great deal if the Royal Parks were opened further, but Her Majesty's Government have made up their mind that they are not going to have any further encroachment. I must, therefore, I am afraid, give a firm refusal to those who suggest that we should park more cars in the parks. There is one further point where I can add comfort to your Lordships: London Transport Executive, as a result of the strike, propose to consider the construction of further parking space at underground stations on the periphery. The need for such parking spaces has been one of the valuable lessons learned from the strike and I am certain that such an improvement will help a great deal.

The next point with which we are concerned is staggered hours. We have always known of the benefits of staggered hours and have been very pleased for the other man to stagger his hours. It was clearly shown during the strike what an advantage it is to have staggered hours; but people are not too willing to do it. It is noticeable that whereas a large number of people are only too happy to "knock off" and go home an hour earlier, they are not so keen to come to work an hour earlier; and that is where the scheme falls down. Noble Lords will remember that this subject was threshed out in the Chambers Committee of Inquiry into London Transport, whose Report was published early this year. Considerable experiment and investigation is going on and producing tolerably good results, particularly in the Whitehall area, where the Government are setting a good lead in trying to carry out some of these proposals; and in the shopping areas of Holborn and Oxford Street.


An hour earlier for civil servants is very late.


The noble Lord speaks with experience of other Ministries than the Home Office. But whatever staggering there is at the moment is not nearly widespread enough, and the blunt fact is that if we had more staggering it would be an enormous advantage; that has been the clear lesson of the strike. Not only would it relieve the great pressure on those two short periods, in the morning and at about 5.30 p.m., but London Transport would not need to have such a great fleet, not fully employed during much of the time but employed to the uttermost capacity—both tubes and buses—during those two short periods. We are going on with this matter and trying to do more, but you obviously cannot have compulsory staggering—that will not do. It has to be done by precept, and we hope that something more may come of this. The strike has definitely confirmed one thing: that the existing peak hours in London traffic have now reached saturation. There is one small crumb of comfort which I hope I can give your Lordships on this subject. The Ministry of Education are now looking carefully into the question of staggering school hours. This was done during the strike, to the general advantage, and we are going to see whether we cannot learn some of these lessons and apply the results permanently.

May I finish by dealing with one or two smaller points which were raised by noble Lords in the course of the debate. First, as to the Oxford bottleneck and the trunk road which Lord Lucas of Chilworth mentioned. May I say that, while I think we are at some difference as to the date upon which early summer occurs, I can promise the noble Lord that the decision which he wants will be made in the course of the next few weeks. I know that we are a little behind the timetable as originally promised.


Will the noble Lord tell me what is the Government interpretation of "a few weeks."


I do not want to land myself in another dispute such as that which the noble Lord and I had before. Without pinning myself too exactly to a definition, may I tell him that I think he can safely expect a decision before we go away for our holiday in five weeks' time.

The noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, talked about the middle ring road which was set up specially for the strike. It was a success, so far as it went, but it was not as much use as we thought it was going to be. Perhaps it was not publicised or signposted enough. I can assure the noble Lord that we are looking into this question carefully, and if we think there is a need for that middle ring road to be in being permanently, we will consider that carefully. I was glad to hear the noble Lord speak with appreciation of the excellent signposting of the two existing ring roads: I think it was a great help. Certainly during the strike it proved a great advantage to people who were not familiar with London. I will also look into the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Hudson, about cars not keeping properly to the left of the road. I agree about the nuisance which is caused by small, sedate cars which are persistently driven several feet away from the left-hand kerb.


Will the noble Lord forgive me if I interrupt for one moment to say something in this connection? Does he realise the great differences that exist: in the steepness of the camber on the sides of main roads? I have no doubt that the camber is necessary for the purpose of road drainage, but I have reason to travel long distances from time to time, to attend the larger agricultural shows, and I notice that in different counties there is considerable difference in regard to this matter of the steepness of camber on their highways. Where the camber is exceptionally steep, it is impossible to drive on the near-side, close to the margin of the road. I mention that only because I sometimes find myself, very reluctantly, keeping almost to the centre of the road simply because it is impossible, owing to the steepness of the camber, to hug the margin.


The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, is, of course, perfectly correct. The camber varies from road to road. Nevertheless, there are some motorists who quite happily drive in the middle of the road even where there is no camber to speak of. Such people I believe would do the same if they were driving on one of the auto-bahnen in Germany. The technical advice given to me is that the trouble caused by cars failing to keep to the side of the road is nothing like so great as one might think. However, I will look into this point to see whether there is anything which can be done with regard to it.

I am afraid this has been a rather scrappy collection of observations upon your Lordships' comments, and I am afraid that I should clearly have offended the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, had he been here, because I have gone on for longer than would have been tolerated by his patience. Let me end by saying that many of the lessons which have been driven home by the strike were really self-evident and pretty well-known already. But they have certainly been brought home much more forcibly than ever before. It is too early as yet to draw conclusions on some of the matters mentioned, but conclusions certainly have got to be drawn. The Government are as anxious about this matter as your Lordships have shown yourselves to be this afternoon. The real trouble—and one can see it standing out a mile—is the one upon which Lord Lucas of Chilworth put his finger: everyone else is only too ready to say: "Let the other fellow do something about it" without doing anything about it himself.

A second point (and I suppose this comes oddly from a Conservative) is that most road users are too infernally conservative: they will, not change their methods or their ways. Too many people are only too ready to stand back and wait for the Government to solve a problem without intending to make any contribution themselves. It must be understood that someone has got to give way; someone has got to suffer inconvenience. We cannot go on simply saying: "Why do the Government not do something about it?" It is this attitude which make; the Government turn round and say that road users must be prepared to play their part—


My noble friend is advocating a policy of fair shares.


I am always a little suspicious about doctrines of fair shares coming from the Benches opposite, but I think this has slightly more merit than others that I have heard of.

To conclude, let me say that full investigations are being made and will be continued, and this will be done with added urgency as a result of what your Lordships have said to-day. We shall continue our debate when that splendid Road Traffic Bill comes back to us. I feel this afternoon that some of us have been like boxers rubbing their feet in the resin tray before going into the actual battle. I hope that I have convinced your Lordships, although I have not been able to answer every question, that the Government are the opposite of complacent. They are just as worried and as anxious as your Lordships have been, and just as determined to press on with their attempt to find a solution. Not all of these problems are capable of solution. Few of them are capable of easy solutions. If this debate has done anything to bring those solutions a little nearer to accomplishment, then I am sure we shall all have reason to be grateful, as I am, to the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, for having raised this matter to-day.

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to Her Majesty's Government for the full reply which has been given on their behalf by Lord Mancroft, and I also wish to thank those noble Lords who were kind enough to support me. I should like to spend just a few moments running over one or two things which Lord Mancroft has said. I think it is a very important announcement that the Government will now set up these new mobile squads in order to deal with black spots, bridge approaches, junctions and so on.

With regard to the matter of parking, I touched upon that as delicately as I could, because I know all the difficulties. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, that I believe that the experts who advise the Ministry of Works are very perturbed about parking; they are not in favour of parking being permitted permanently on Constitution Hill and in The Mall because of the likelihood of damage to the trees. It is true that parking is permitted there on the occasion of Royal Garden parties and other Royal functions, but the idea of making them permanent parking places is not favoured. I put forward the suggestion that perhaps a little more space could be found in Hyde Park and Regent's Park, because of the expense of building underground car parks and multilateral car parks. I see the difficulties. I am sure that we are all greatly obliged to Her Majesty's Government and the Minister of Works for giving important concessions this year in regard to parking on the perimeters of the Royal Parks, and also around Birdcage Walk.

I think we ought to study further this question of underground parking and multilateral parks. I hope that the Government will study these matters urgently. Something will have to be started on those lines. I do not want to see the adoption of what Lord Howe suggested, in the course of the last debate, might be required as a last resort—that is, a system of permits to allow people to come into the centre of London. Unless in the course of the next few years more parking spaces are made available, the streets will become even more congested than they are to-day. I feel that we need to do a good deal of fresh thinking on these matters. I was glad to hear Lord Mancroft say that the Minister of Education is considering staggering school hours. I hope that perhaps this debate has done some good in that connection. I hope that business firms, too, will consider whether they can stagger their office hours. I think this would be especially of benefit in the centre of London.

I trust that the debate will have had one good effect: that it has once again brought before us the lessons which were made manifest during the strike. I think we must in the future try to put some of the things we have learnt into operation. If we do not do so, we shall fail to overcome this problem. Undoubtedly in recent years there has been great overcrowding in the centre of London. With those few words, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion and to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, including the representatives of Her Majesty's Government.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.