HL Deb 10 June 1964 vol 258 cc904-11

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, I hope it will now be convenient for me to make a Statement, in the words of my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport in another place:

"In Traffic in Towns, Professor Buchanan drew attention to the tremendous impact of the motor vehicle on our way of life. I wish to announce two further developments.

"First, the future of the motor vehicle. We all accept that it has come to stay, but, just as the towns of the future must be rebuilt to come to terms with the motor vehicle, so the vehicle must be designed to come to terms with those towns. For example, can we not design vehicles whose size, power and manœuvrability make them more suitable for town use? And can we not reduce such things as noise and fumes?

"After consultation with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, I am arranging for a study to be made of future trends in design. The study will follow the same pattern as that of Traffic in Towns, and the bulk of the work will be done by a Working Group which will include engineers from the motor industry and the Ministry and representatives from research organisations. They will work under the general direction of a high-level Steering Group with Sir Harold Roxbee Cox as Chairman. I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT the names of the other members and its terms of reference.

"Second, Buchanan and Crowther demonstrated that, no matter on what scale we rebuild, our largest cities cannot physically accommodate all the traffic that will want to use them. In the shorter term comprehensive and effective parking policies will ease our problem. But in the longer run, as Buchanan and Crowther showed, wider measures of restraint of traffic may be unavoidable. No country has yet solved this problem. It is more difficult for us than for most, because we are a small, densely populated country.

"As one step we commissioned an independent study on the technical feasibility of road pricing. The report of the panel under the chairmanship of Dr. Smeed, of the Road Research Laboratory, will be on sale to the public to-morrow, and advance copies are now available in the Printed Paper Office. I am grateful to the panel for their work, which shows that a system under which road users pay directly for the use they make of congested roads is technically feasible. But no one can yet say whether such a system would be desirable. We need to know a good deal more about the much more important social, town planning, economic and administrative issues. We are now examining the need for further studies of these wide-ranging problems."

That, my Lords, is the statement.

Following are the details referred to:

Terms of reference of the Steering Group:

"To advise the Minister of Transport on future trends in the design of power driven road vehicles, with particular reference to their use in towns."


The Secretary of the Steering Group and of the Working Group is Mr. J. W. Furness of the Ministry of Transport.


My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Lord for that Statement, and it is gratifying to learn that the Government are doing some fundamental thinking into what is one of the greatest of our physical problems of the age. It is difficult to comment, off the cuff, on the Statement, but first of all I must say (I hope the gentleman in question will forgive me) that I am afraid I have never heard of Sir Harold Roxbee Cox. Perhaps the noble Lord could tell us a little about the proposed Chairman of this Inquiry. Then, on the long-term Inquiry that is being made, it will, I presume, apply not only to the ordinary motor car but to lorries, buses and other heavy vehicles, as well as to motor-cycles—of course, the greatest offenders as regards noise. It would be gratifying if we could hear that something was to be done, even in advance of the findings of this Committee, to deal with the noise of motor-cycles.

I see that the Report on what is popularly known as "road pricing" is now available. Of course, we have not had an opportunity of seeing it, and I suppose one ought to read it before one makes any final comments on it; but, in a preliminary way, I think the noble Lord himself indicated that there might be social difficulties about road pricing. One of them that occurs to me straight away is that it is pricing by the purse—that is, it is the poor man, the small man, who will suffer very much more as a result of road pricing than the big man. To plutocrats such as we have in this House, it does not matter very much whether they have to pay for the use of a vehicle, but to the small men, the small traders—delivery vans, and so on—it may be a very serious factor. However, I do not want to comment more on that. I presume that we shall have the opportunity of considering the Smeed Report, and possibly of discussing it in this House at some time. But all this is going to take a long time before we can get any results, and, as to the short term, we should like to have a much clearer indication of what the Government propose.

It seems to me that two things could be done. One is that we could provide far more parking facilities. The parking problem is a nightmare and, as every noble Lord knows who tries to do a bit of shopping, or who stops outside his office to collect a document, before he reaches his room a policeman is there to tell him to go away. Generally, one cannot conduct one's affairs in that way. The motor car is a necessity in business, and if one is being harassed all the time about where one is going to leave a car, then it makes life impossible. One would like to be assured that the Government are seriously considering the problem of providing far more parking facilities within easy reach than they are at the present time. I know that this is a difficult problem, and I realise that it may not necessarily be an economic proposition, but I think, in the interests of the life of the community as a whole, we may have to face the possibility of this being a subsidised service.

Secondly, we ought to have far more inspectors examining cars which are liable to be a cause of danger and a general nuisance than we have at the present time. That, it seems to me, is a very urgent problem and is one that could be dealt with pretty shortly. The men could be made available and I think an increase in the inspectorate would greatly help at the present time.


My Lords, may I join the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in thanking my noble friend for his Statement, which at least shows that the Buchanan Report, far from being shelved, is, I hope, going to be followed up. I should also like to join the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in asking that thought should not go towards restrictions on motorists until such time as all possible parking facilities have been provided. By that, in particular, I mean parking facilities at stations and bus termini, and at entrances to towns and cities where motorists can be persuaded—in fact, invited—to park their cars and then to use public transport to the town. At the moment it is the hardest thing in the world to park a car at a railway station, at an underground station or at a bus terminus and to take public transport into town. The railway lines are there and there is in fact, empty land over which garages could be built at the least possible cost. If this were done, it would go a long way to stopping a large percentage of the cars that come into our towns and cities to-day, carrying only people coming to work who park their cars all day.


My Lords, in view of the Statement made by my noble friend, could he say, as far as London is concerned, whether the Government are yet in a position to announce plans for the extension of the Underground service, having regard to the fact that this would undoubtedly help to relieve the roads? Also, in view of the fact that all over the world there is great activity in developing Underground services in many great cities, would not this be one way of helping to solve this difficult problem so far as London is concerned?


My Lords, I think I must try to give the answers for which I have been asked, as briefly as I may. I should like to tell the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that Sir Harold Roxbee Cox is chairman of the Metal Box Company; he was the chief scientist of the Ministry of Fuel and Power from 1948 to 1954, has been associated with a wide range of scientific developments and is, indeed, present Chairman of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. I think that will give the noble Lord the information he wanted. It is the intention that this Study of Cars for Cities, as no doubt it will be known, will extend to all forms of vehicles and not just to private cars. As to where the emphasis may come we can only wait and see what the Group concerned find: but there is certainly no inhibition on it and it is intended to cover them all.

I agree with the noble Lord in what he says about the social impact of such a measure if ever it came to pass, and, indeed, that was why I said in the Statement that there were many important factors yet to consider, including the social ones. The noble Lord ended, as did my noble friend Lord Gosford, by switching from the long term, to which the Statement just made applies, back to the short term. Tempting as it may be, I do not think I ought to extend this into a debate on present conditions. I will sum up, if I may, by saying that the Statement read: In the shorter term comprehensive and effective parking policies will ease our problem. My Lords, that is true, and to that extent agree with both noble Lords in what they say; but really we are talking of the time that Buchanan and Crowther foresaw, when much parking has been provided and cities have been redeveloped yet would still be unable to cope with the flood of traffic that we can anticipate in the slightly more distant future. It is in those terms that this Statement was made. I am grateful to noble Lords for the way in which they have received it.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend, whether this study of pricing in relation to road space should not be done on a dynamic rather than on a static basis, so that the young man travelling at 100 m.p.h. in a sports car pays as much as or more than an Archbishop in an old car moving at hardly any speed at all?


My Lords, this is a most interesting concept which perhaps I shall leave for comment at some more suitable stage, perhaps from the Episcopal Benches on my left. But I would say to the noble Earl that this Study was in connection with congested urban conditions and did not attempt to take in the rarer philosophies of road space.


My Lords, I think we can be much obliged to the noble Lord for his answers; but we are, as my noble friend Lord Silkin said, keen on trying to get from the Government something more urgent in the short period. After all, off-street paring in garages has been with us in part—and is growing—for over thirty years, whereas there is now a development—more in the provincial cities than here—in garages which cost very little in administration once they are built. You can have them of many storeys but with only one exit at which there is simply a machine for inserting the coin required for payment. One cannot get out until the coin is in and the barrier raised. A great deal of progress can be made in that way with off-street parking in garages. I think the same thing applies to the suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Gosford. If there were garages of that type as well as parking space available, so that it would cost very little in administrative staff to work it, you would, in the end, do very well for the railways and for their wider use by people in the country, who have difficulty in going by car the whole way and have difficulty in parking at stations.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend to clear up one matter? I hope that when he states his general agreement with the observations that have been expressed, that does not mean that he is saying that the provision of garages in cities ought to be subsidised. Is he aware that many of those who have thought most deeply on this question have come to the conclusion that it is vitally important that an economic price should be paid by those who garage in towns?


My Lords, I do not think that anything I said, either in my statement or in answer to supplementaries, can possibly be construed as meaning anything of the kind. I expressed a broad measure of agreement, as I still do, with what the noble Earl said, that a comprehensive and effective parking policy will help us in the short run. My statement was about the longer run. Perhaps the noble Earl thinks that we should have a debate on this subject in due course, and he will act, if he so wishes; but, with great respect, I do not think that we ought to go into it at length now.


My Lords, may I ask one or two questions? Am I right in assuming that the terms of reference of this Study Group will include the study of the size of vehicles for towns, of giving off less fumes or making less noise, of traffic flow and of the question of the parking of vehicles? In other words, could my noble friend develop a little the terms of reference of the Study Group?


My Lords, I had hoped to save a few minutes of your Lordships' time by not reading out the terms of reference of the study group, but I think I had better do so. The terms of reference are: To advise the Minister of Transport on future trends in the design of power-driven road vehicles with particular reference to their use in towns".