§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Lord MOLSON rose to ask Her Majesty's Government: Whether they are satisfied with the present allocation of responsibility for the control of London traffic. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a genuine request for information, although, as is often customary when an Unstarred Question is asked, I shall express some opinions as to what should be done. I originally put this subject on the Order Paper many weeks ago, largely as a result of the appalling congestion in Covent Garden at the conclusion of a performance of the Royal Opera Company. Since then the subject has received considerable prominence. First, the Prime Minister was held up in a traffic jam, which prevented him from arriving by car at one of his official engagements. He arrived on foot. It is a fortunate event that this should have happened, for when he has the problem of London's transport borne so forcefully to his attention, it is likely that something will be done. I believe that that traffic jam was due to a juggernaut breaking down in Parliament Square. Secondly—and this may be in part as a consequence of the first event—the Greater London Council have banned all lorries from travelling into Central London, except those which are going to a London destination. Thirdly, there was Mr. Peyton's successful resistance to the proposal of the Common Market countries that heavier lorries should be allowed on our roads. Fourthly, only last week there was published the Expenditure Committee's Report on Urban Transport Planning. That is a most remarkable and important Report by a Select Committee from another place.
§ When I was at the Ministry of Transport, the Minister of Transport was the London traffic authority. Remembering the difficulties that he had, I am glad to know that this responsibility has been transferred to the Greater London Council. I feel the utmost sympathy with them in the heavy responsibility they have undertaken. When my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter became Minister of Transport I warned him that at any moment there might be a serious traffic jam holding up the whole of London's traffic for many hours; and that he would be in great difficulties. I said that the 1110 Minister's head would probably be demanded on a charger. We just got by at that time.
§ Legislators, whether they are in Parliament or at County Hall across the river, are not as blind to problems of traffic and the like as outsiders sometimes think. But they cannot go very far ahead of public opinion. Politics, as has often been said, is the art of the possible. All Ministers of Transport have tried to keep up with public opinion, and even to push it a little further ahead. During the past 20 years I am glad to think that immense progress has been made in the regulation of traffic, and still more in the thinking that is applied to it. This is due in considerable measure to the remarkable Report on that subject by Professor Colin Buchanan. It is worth while considering how great is the progress there has been in the past 20 years.
§ Noble Lords will be surprised to hear that when, by the Road Traffic Act 1956, we introduced parking meters we were thought to be ahead of public opinion at that time. I remember those wise and experienced judges of Parliamentary opinion, the Whips, telling us that we must not nail the flag of parking meters to the mast because it was quite likely that there would be a revolt against our proposal and we should have to drop it. We were threatened at that time by direct action from the motorists, some of whom said that they would invade London in a great flood as soon as parking meters were introduced in order to demonstrate how completely unworkable our ideas were. Parking meters are now accepted with practically no criticism as a valuable contribution to the regulation of traffic. In just the same way we should have liked to introduce a great many more one-way streets than we were able to do; but there was every indication that anything like the one-way system that we have now would not at that time have been acceptable to public opinion.
§ My Lords, whoever is the traffic authority for London, there is an inevitable dichotomy between the traffic authority which legislates and the police who have to enforce the legislation. I very well remember that sometimes the Metropolitan Police—the traffic assistant commissioner—would ask for additional 1111 no-parking orders. On more than one occasion we replied, "Well, really that is not a reasonable request because you are not enforcing the no-parking orders that exist at the present time." To that the police replied, perfectly reasonably, "It is impossible for us to enforce when motorists quite politely and civilly ask: 'Well, if I may not park here, where can I go to park?'" The answer at that time was that there was not a sufficiency of off-the-street parking accommodation. Everybody has to recognise that the police have to maintain good relations with the public, otherwise they could not discharge their duties efficiently and satisfactorily. We certainly understood the difficulties of the police. I think that at the present time there is a sufficiency of off-the-street parking space in London. Certainly the great garage under Hyde Park is, as far as I know, never full. But, admittedly, much of the off-the-street parking accommodation is quite a considerable distance from where the motorist wishes to park.
§ We were also at that time confronted by the great difficulty the police had in enforcing no-parking orders. At that time it was necessary for a police constable to wait until the driver of the car who had parked appeared. After wasting a great deal of time in standing near the illegally parked car, the police constable would see somebody who looked like the driver of the car come along, and, seeing a police constable standing there, at once go away and remain away until the police constable himself had gone. In the Road Traffic Act 1956 we improved that position and made the liability that of the owner of the car. But I believe that the position is still not satisfactory and something more will have to be done to facilitate proceedings against illegal parkers. Since my time there has been legislation which has facilitated what I might call selective traffic regulations. There were the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 and the London Authorities Traffic Order Regulations 1972. The most interesting, and I think promising, experiment which is being conducted at the present time in banning private cars from part of Oxford Street has been carried out under this legislation.
§ I should like to ask my noble friend whether regulation of this kind could not 1112 be selectively applied in the Covent Garden area, especially in the evening. At the present time it really is nothing less than a national disgrace. On one side of Bow Street is the Royal Opera House; on the other side is Bow Street police station. As, apparently, there are no adequate regulations applying to traffic there, despite the fact that the police are present in force in Bow Street police station nothing effective is ever done to control the traffic. When a performance at the Opera House is over, traffic comes from both sides. Cars have frequently been parked outside for hours; and the police, having no plan, occasionally spasmodically instruct all waiting cars to do a circle round the neighbouring buildings and come back again—which of course is no solution to the problem. Vegetable lorries, which (I am not sure of this) I believe are not supposed to come into that part of London before 11 o'clock at night, frequently appear, causing great obstruction; and Long Acre, which is the normal way for traffic from the Opera House to go to the West End, is frequently completely blocked. I hope the Government will not reply that as the Market is likely to be removed in another 18 months or two years it is not necessary for anything to be done until then.
My Lords, my Parliamentary Question relates to London traffic, but I have ventured, with the indulgence of your Lordships, to refer to this extremely important Report of the Expenditure Committee on Urban Transport Planning. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give an assurance that the customary reply which the Government produce to reports of this kind will not be long delayed. There are a great many recommendations with which I will not weary your Lordships, but the two objectives are quite brief and indicate how forward-looking this Committee have been. Probably most of your Lordships would agree that the objectives they lay down can be regarded as necessary and wise. The first is:
National policy should be directed towards promoting public transport and discouraging the use of cars for the journey to work in city areas.
The Department of the Environment should have a positive policy for urban transport laying down a broad approach which should ensure that local authorities follow.
This Unstarred Question of mine and this brief debate only just refer to the outlines of a problem in so far as it affects London. But I believe that, whether or not the Government produce in the near future a complete statement of their attitude upon this Report, this House will probably want a full debate upon this matter. It clearly is of the utmost importance for the urban environment, which was so fully and well debated in this House last week, and also it is essential for the economy of the country.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I am sure we are most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for asking this Question. It is an extremely important one. Most of us who spend some time in London are bound to know something about it. I cannot restrict myself too narrowly or strictly to the confines of the Question but must expand a little into what is a very complex subject. So far as I can see, there are at least four parties involved in every major decision affecting London's traffic. They are the Greater London Council, the police, the borough councils or the Common Council, and the Minister of the Environment or the Minister for Transport Industries under him. The G.L.C. have the primary duty in the control of London traffic and have to take the initiative in all matters affecting it. What do the G.L.C. think about all this? To find out, I turned to the most authoritative statement of their position made in evidence given to the Environment and Home Office Sub-Committee of the Commons Select Committee on Expenditure, whose Report was published in December last, and I must say that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Molson, in his statement about the excellence of that Report and its importance. It is one that will be studied—or ought to be studied by everyone who has anything at all to do with urban traffic.
Clearly, the general duty laid upon the G.L.C. tosecure the expeditious, convenient and safe movement of vehicular and other traffic and the provision of suitable parking facilities on and off the highway"—to quote the 1963 Act, can be carried out satisfactorily only within an overall plan for development, such as the Greater London Development Plan which has now emerged from the Layfield Panel of 1114 Inquiry, the report of which Inquiry I understand the Secretary of State is to publish shortly, and also a Government Statement on it. That Greater London Development Plan resulted from the requirement of the 1963 Act to produce such a plan which would lay down,considerations of general policy with respect to the use of land in various parts of Greater London, including, in particular, guidance as to the future road system.Just what has been involved in all this preparation of a Plan by way of consultation with borough councils, traffic studies and consultation with the Police is set out in the Memorandum of Evidence submitted to the sub-committee by the Greater London Council, and it is printed in Volume II of the Report. In particular the memorandum says:it is the lengthy process of consultations with every possible interest which restricts progress and not finance".Later in the same Memorandum the G.L.C. draw attention to the fact that the "way ahead lies with the central Government" because,progress cannot be made in many instances until decisions on the Greater London Development Plan issues have been taken by the Secretary of State for the Environment.On the point of consultation between the G.L.C. and the borough councils, Sir Desmond Plummer said:I think that the London Government Act 1963 did not sufficiently clearly define the areas between the two parties. I think that if these had been more clearly defined it would have simplified the process and made less opportunity for argument.The first questions that I have to put to the Government are therefore these. First, do the Government agree with the Greater London Council in the matter of inevitable delays on the major aspects of London planning, particularly as it affects the Government itself; and, secondly, would the Government also agree that the allocation of responsibility between the G.L.C. and the London boroughs is in need of a clearer definition than is contained in the London Government Act? The second duty laid on the Greater London Council by Part II of that Act was the responsibility for making an Order for controlling vehicular and other traffic, and also in this connection there is the obligation before making the Order to consult the Commissioner for the Police and the boroughs and the Common Council where it is 1115 appropriate. The Council must always take into consideration the Minister's reserve power to give a direction to make such an Order, or a direction prohibiting the making of such an Order. The consultation with the police is very important for, after all, they are the enforcing authority.
What is the police attitude to the making of an Order and its enforcement, and also to the general problem of London's traffic? In this connection, I propose to quote at some length from a report that appeared in The Times on January 25 headed, "Keeping London Traffic Moving", in which Mr. Henry Hunt, the Assistant Commissioner in charge of traffic, dealt with this matter, The report says:Generally speaking, Mr. Hunt said, his association with the G.L.C. was not a difficult one and they had really the same objectives in view.He continued: 'What I am concerned about from time to time is as a traffic authority they are anxious to implement many of their schemes which they think will benefit London.Everything that I have to consider when certain schemes are put forward is: is this for the benefit of the free circulation of London's traffic as a general principle? I can safely leave out the question of protecting the Londoner, as that is always in our minds. No one I have ever worked with has suggested that that should be a secondary consideration.Any scheme that is introduced for traffic in London must have some teeth to it and be capable of enforcement and those that are charged with the enforcement of the law must be armed with the necessary powers to enforce it. I mean powers for the benefit of the community as a whole. Therefore I should like all schemes that are to the benefit of the community and for the free circulation of London's traffic to be designed as far as possible to be self-enforcing. That is because we have only limited numbers from which to draw manpower'."—that is, manpower for enforcement.
After remarking that London over the past 37 years has been toying with the problem but has not really got down to it—and here he was speaking about the necessity for circular roads—he then spoke about the problem of enforcement, and especially enforcement of the law on parking, saying:We have not got teeth in relation to the laws on parking…We are unable to enforce the law for some reason or another against 40 to 45 per cent. of the drivers who receive parking tickets.But, my Lords, car parking is not the only police problem: there is the problem 1116 of lorry parking, the routing of heavy lorries and the enforcement of the law on bus lanes. On car parking, the tale is a sorry one. It is the old tale of the law falling into disrepute if it is not enforced. On the matter of the penalties enforced for meter infringements the deterioration over the past few years is indeed frightening. The House will of course be aware of the fixed penalty system under which you pay up or risk prosecution. In 1966, fixed penalty notices were issued in 271,000 cases, and of these some 92,000 were non-payers—they did not pay up. In 1971, 1,018,507 notices were served and non-payers had increased to the amazing total of 580.000—nearly 50 per cent. of those upon whom these notices were served.
Why did they get away with it? In the main they got away with it because of the difficulty of finding the drivers of the vehicles, and it is no wonder that the Hall Expenditure Committee recommended the adoption of the police suggestion of "keeper liability", which is a technical term covering the liability of the owner of the vehicle, under which he would be liable to conviction under the fixed penalty procedure if the penalty was not paid by the driver of the vehicle.
The noble Lord, Lord Molson, talked of what happened when the meters were brought in initially. He said there was talk then of a revolt against the parking meter. I do not know that there is so much of a revolt against the meter to-day as a revolt against paying, judging from the figures I have quoted and which are in my opinion quite frightening.
On the routing of lorries, the subcommittee recommended that local authorities should be further required to lay down specific routes for heavy lorries to follow, and be encouraged to establish special parks for the overnight garaging of heavy vehicles in their areas. In this connection Mr. Hunt, the Traffic Commissioner whom I mentioned, said:Because there are no circular roads, and the M.4 is already open and the M.3 and the M.11 will be open soon, lorry drivers, transporters and containers and heavy tankers have found it easier to drive in through the west London area and through the central London area than go round the outskirts.The noble Lord, Lord Molson, said that something had been done about this matter but I confess that I was not aware of that fact. I shall be glad to receive 1117 confirmation when the Minister replies that something has been done. The duty of the Greater London Council, the borough councils and the Common Council on routing seems to be clear, for it would fall within the order-making powers of the G.L.C.
One could go on about London's traffic problems for a long time. I must say how much I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Molson, when he said that eventually we must have a full-scale day's debate on this important matter. We must of course also consider the commuter and the public transport solutions that might be possible. In this connection, I welcome the joint statement of the Minister for Transport Industries and the G.L.C. announcing the setting up of the London Rail Study. The only comment I would make on this issue is that I should have thought that most of the factors which will enter into such a study are already very well known and that what is really required, rather than another time-consuming study, is a decision on improving the facilities for what has become known as "Park and ride". When in Government one always tends to go in for studies, Royal Commissions and all sorts of other things which only put off taking decisions. It is an old tactic which Governments of all complexions, including my own, have followed. However, eventually decisions will have to be made, and I rather suspect that the factors on which decisions could be based are in this instance already known.
I can best sum up by saying that the trouble with London, as with most large towns and cities, is too much traffic for too little road space. There is too little enforcement of the orders made by the G.L.C., partly because of the need for amendment of the law to bring in "keeper liability" in relation to parking offences and partly because there are too few police and wardens for the job that has to be done. There are also too lengthy delays in completing and then implementing development plans, partly because of excessive consultations and partly because of delays on the part of central Government.
Given the acceptance of the necessity for democratic control by local government, I cannot honestly find much wrong 1118 with the present allocation of responsibility for the control of London's traffic. I do not know what I could put in its place. What is required is action on some of the points I have mentioned, as well as action—here I strongly agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Molson—on many of the recommendations made by the Expenditure Sub-Committee on Urban Planning. I heartily agree about the importance of these recommendations, the need to consider them carefully and particularly the need to implement them as soon as is humanly possible.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, I welcome my noble friend's Question. An indication of the great value to your Lordships' House of the device of the Unstarred Question is that it enables us to raise important matters of topical interest. I should have liked to hear the Government reply before I spoke, but I know that a Peer who speaks after a Minister has replied to a debate is not always popular, particularly when an Unstarred Question is under consideration. I therefore hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I speak for a few minutes to reinforce what my noble friend said and what was said in support of his remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, about the need for a full-dress debate on this matter. I suggest that such a debate is necessary in relation not only to the traffic problem of London but to the problem of traffic generally because it is one that affects all large towns and cities, not least my own native city of Edinburgh.
Curiously enough, I was turning up the OFFICIAL REPORT of the debate which took place in 1967 on the Third London Airport. I found that at that time I produced a bee which I have had in my bonnet ever since—namely, that the reclamation required for a London Airport on the Maplin Sands and a barrage across the Thames could be used as an opportunity for making an additional orbital highway to connect the Midlands with the Channel Ports, thereby relieving London's traffic of a great many heavy vehicles which at present must come into the city. After all, they have to come into it in order to get through it.
There are two important factors which have so far not been mentioned. One is the fact that by law drivers are not 1119 allowed to drive for more than a certain number of hours each day, and then they must stop. The trouble is that there is sometimes nowhere for them to stop. In this connection, one's mind goes back to Sir Colin Buchanan's Report, to which my noble friend referred, in which the phrase "orbital highway" appeared for the first time, certainly in this country. Since that Report was published the concept of the orbital highway has been broadly accepted and is now regarded as meaning a road on which provision must be made for drivers to be able to drive off the highway, have security for their loads and be given provision for refreshment and rest. I am looking forward with interest to the Minister's reply, because this is a very wide-ranging subject and concerns the whole problem of providing space. For only by providing additional space for an orbital highway shall we begin to solve our traffic problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Molson, said, if there is nowhere for people to park, they are justified in asking, "Where may we stop?"
I read with great interest the Report of the debate last week on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and I was particularly struck by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, in which he drew attention to the electric car. To what extent is the environmental view, as it were, of London's traffic problem taken into account? The development of the electric car is inevitable. What assistance are the Government giving to the technical development of a suitable battery, in which respect I believe great advances have recently been made? The second point I might mention (in the absence of my noble friend Lord Conesford) is containerisation. That is another aspect of environmental, overall planning that will have to be taken into account, not in years to come but as from now. If lorries are to get any bigger, and even if they remain the size they are to-day, they will not be allowed to come into the centres of towns. There will have to be containerisation; and on orbital systems, or elsewhere, there will have to be stations at which transfers can be made of containers on to vehicles which will be acceptable in the centres of cities. I should like to repeat what I said; that I 1120 hope, with the noble Lord, Lord Molson, that we may have a debate on a larger scale on this matter in the very near future.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ LORD CAMOYS
My Lords, I did not put my name down on the list of speakers, but with your permission I should like to say a few words. I disagree to a great extent with the noble Lord, Lord Molson, and other noble Peers. First of all, on the question of parking in London, we must bear in mind that the private motorist is probably the most heavily taxed person that there is. The taxes on a motorcar are enormous and there is also the cost of insurance; therefore he should be allowed to park in London. Secondly, I object very strongly to the system by which the police tow away from places such as, let us say, St. James's Square or Berkeley Square, cars which have been parked too long. They are employing a very expensive system as it needs two police officers, a driver and someone else. I am not talking about cars which are parked in dangerous places—that is another matter—but I am talking about cars which are parked in safe places. This action adds to the traffic congestion, as there is the stoppage when they pull the car out and drive it to wherever they take it. I suggest to your Lordships that it would be much better to put a parking notice of £10 or even £20 on the car that stays there too long, rather than employ our very sparse police force in such a ridiculous operation. I feel most strongly about that. I believe also that we must try to provide in the centre of London, instead of the unused huge office blocks, proper motor parking buildings. With your Lordships' leave I make that suggestion to the House.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, I apologise also for not having put my name down, but I should like to say a word or two about this extremely important problem, which well merits the Question which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has put down. The suggestion has been made in the past that motorists should be excluded from London altogether. A preliminary experiment has been made in Oxford Street, as noble Lords know. I am not sure whether that is the solution: but one thing to me is quite certain, and that is 1121 that if it were to be done then something would have to be done about public transport. During rush hours public transport is running to full capacity now, and if it is asked to take any more it will find it quite impossible. So far as the Underground is concerned, trains are running practically nose to tail. What are you going to do? Are you going to build an extra pair of lines? If so, it will cost a fortune. Therefore it seems to me that some other solution must be found. Buses, too, are running to absolutely full capacity during rush hours.
My Lords, I do not know that I can go all the way with the noble Lord, Lord Molson, in his praise for what the parking meter has done. It certainly has shown where one may park and where one may not park, but, on the other hand, it has not made it any easier to park, because when one finds a line of parking meters they are invariably full and one cannot wait there for a quarter of an hour, hoping that one of the cars may move out. I remember some years ago—it must have been about ten years ago—when I was still driving, I drove in a complete circle around Grosvenor Square which was absolutely packed, hoping that one of the cars would move out so that I could leave my car there. But none did, and so I gave it up and had to find somewhere else.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt, may I say that the purpose of the parking meter is to limit the time which any individual may occupy part of the limited space? It is not thought of as being a way of providing additional parking space; it means that the parking space on the roads is divided among the various people who want to park there and the profits, if any, from the parking meters are used for providing off-street parking accommodation.
§ LORD SOMERS
Yes, my Lords, I understand that. But on the other hand, I do not think that that is the real solution, because the traffic is not eased whether your car or somebody else's car is opposite a parking meter. How are you to know where there is going to be a space where you can put your car? I do not really believe that that is the solution.
1122 I was very interested to notice last week that opposite the Albert Hall, on the eastbound side of Kensington Gore, a special lane for buses had been made. I regret to say that a great deal of commercial and private traffic uses that lane when the buses are not there—which certainly implies that we need a great deal more in the way of lane discipline in our driving tests. But it is a very interesting experiment, because buses are without doubt one of the greatest causes of holdups in London traffic. I shall never forget the day when we had a one-day bus strike and I was driving through London. My Lords, it was like driving through open country. There was practically no opposition whatsoever. Buses, naturally, are always stopping and very often in great numbers, and they cause a great deal of obstruction. Possibly some system by which one could allocate certain roads to buses and others to private cars may be possible, but it is very difficult in a city so complicated as London where no two streets run in the same direction.
I have every sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said about the division of authorities in making rules about traffic, because if there is one thing that is notable about local governments it is the fact that they can never agree with one another and therefore, as the noble Lord said, I believe that the police should most certainly be consulted. Apart from that, there should be one single authority which makes rules for the whole of London. The private motorist is blamed for a good deal that is not really his fault. I know that a great deal is his fault. As regards the matter of parking, for instance, parking meters have removed parking from the main roads altogether, with the exception of course of commercial vehicles, which can park where they like. How often does one; find a commercial vehicle standing by the curb around which all the buses have to manoeuvre! That makes for a great deal of traffic congestion. If only there could be some system by which we could provide special parking bays for commercial traffic; it would be an expensive procedure certainly, but something, I should have thought, must be done to get these commercial vehicles off the main roads. This is something that must be 1123 done, because, as other noble Lords have said, if it is not then before very long the traffic in London will come to an absolute standstill.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ LORD ARDWICK
My Lords, may I call attention to what I think is a fallacy in the speech of the noble Lord who has just spoken? He spoke about buses being full to capacity in the rush hour. This is of course perfectly true. But the capacity of a bus is not to be judged by the number of people in it but by the number of passenger-miles it can travel in a given time, and that number of passenger-miles would be enormously increased if there were no private traffic and commercial traffic hindering the flow of the buses. I am not sure, too, that when the noble Lord talked about the nuisance of the buses he was conveying a very good image of this House: it sounded as though it was a terrible thing that the motorist should be incommoded by the common people riding in buses. But of course it is the private cars, carrying a relatively small number of people, that are incommoding the vast number of people who have to travel in buses, who have no other transport and cannot have any other transport—and, indeed, whom this city could not accommodate once they all found themselves in possession of the means to run a private car. The private car has to be dealt with in some radical way, as has the commercial vehicle, before we can get the real flow of traffic that we need. I am quite sure that if this were done we could have an extremely efficient and cheap public transport system.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON
My Lords, as noble Lords have said, the House, and, I would add, not least the Government, should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for raising this very important subject of the control of traffic in this our capital city. In these days, at the end of the third quarter of the 20th century, it seemed to me somewhat ironic yesterday when we had no less a figure than Queen Boadicea being paid homage to and invoked as part of an effort to draw attention to a local road problem. At least I am glad that in this House to-night no one has suggested what Caractacus might have done about London's 1124 traffic problems. Because we are living in a situation which has changed considerably since those days, is changing, and is changing fast every day we live. The main change in this context is, of course, the enormous increase in the ownership of private cars which has led to the greatly increased density of traffic in London.
This traffic, as your Lordships know, is properly the concern of the Greater London Council. They are the traffic regulating authority. On the other hand, law and order in London are the responsibility of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and this responsibility includes the enforcement of the road traffic law and the day-to-day direction and control of traffic flow. Problems of traffic management are essentially local, and it is therefore appropriate that they should be dealt with at a local level. But it is important that traffic should not be considered in isolation; it must be looked at as part of the whole transport situation in an area. I have already said that the G.L.C. is the traffic authority for London. This Council is also responsible for preparing transport plans for the whole of Greater London and for the activities of the London Transport Executive.
It is unfortunate that public attention tends to be drawn to the problem of traffic congestion only when the system temporarily fails to cope with some unfortunate and unpredictable combination of circumstances. And we must get this into perspective. Every so often there is bound to be a totally unusual conjunction of events which results in the sort of snarl-up about which we all like to complain. But rather than looking for someone to blame on these occasions, I think it would be fairer to remember how well the Greater London Council and the Metropolitan Police cope most of the time. Although the volume of traffic has grown steadily at about 5 per cent. a year for the last 20 years, the roads in London are to-day safer and the vehicle speeds are higher than ever before. That this has been achieved reflects greatly to the credit of the responsible authorities. I should particularly like to pay tribute to London's police and traffic wardens. Keeping the traffic moving on our roads is a thankless and 1125 difficult task which makes great and constant demands on them, and for the most part goes unsung. Certainly the individual motorist is rarely to be heard praising traffic wardens or the police. Yet it is mainly thanks to their unending and untiring efforts that so many traffic jams are prevented.
It is very easy for the public—and even, as the noble Lord has reminded us, the Prime Minister—to have the impression that there are very few police operating in the centre of a traffic jam. The reason for this, of course, is quite simple. But before I go on I should like to say, concerning the Prime Minister and the famous walk on November 29, that I think the fact that he was able to complete his journey on foot did arouse his concern for those who he knew would not be able to do this. Hence his famous telephone call to Sir Desmond Plummer. The reason why he and other people do not see police at the centre of a traffic jam is understandable from the analogy of a log jam. If you have a log jam, no lumberjack starts to unscramble it at the centre of the jam. What does he do? He goes to the periphery. That is what the police did on that evening of November 29, and what they do on any other occasion on which there is a jam; they start to release the jam from the outside.
Admittedly the Covent Garden/Bow Street area, to which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, referred in particular, and indeed the whole part of the West End which we know as theatreland, do have very real traffic congestion problems in the evenings. It is largely caused by people driving in and trying to park. If public transport were used by more people this would undoubtedly ease the problem. London Transport have tried to help by running a Star Bus service to cater for this traffic, but unfortunately the service is not being patronised sufficiently. I am sure that the traffic authorities will note the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, of a one-way traffic lane there, and I will leave it at that.
Although we have achieved much in London by traffic management and control, there is not much further scope for improvement of this kind at the moment, because if things are not to get very much worse some more drastic action is needed, and soon. The G.L.C., of course, are well aware of this, and last July they 1126 published that excellent discussion paper Traffic and the Environment, which set out their ideas as to what might be done over the next decade. I would draw the attention of the House to the G.L.C.s paper as evidence of what they are doing, and how they are doing it, to find the best way of enabling, encouraging and persuading road users to come to terms with all the rest of London's traffic problems. I understand that their decisions on the measures described in their paper are due to be announced very shortly.
The noble Lords, Lord Molson, Lord Champion and Lord Ferrier, drew attention to the problems of heavy lorries in our capital city. We often express concern on this matter, because the congestion these lorries cause is obvious, and so is the resulting ill effect on our environment. We know that the G.L.C. are considering this matter in several ways, and you will have seen in the Press that they are to ban, except for access, so-called "juggernaut lorries" from parts of Central London. This will cover an area of six square miles North of the Thames. The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, raised the point that the parking of these lorries in residential streets is going to be a very big problem, because the G.L.C. have already banned overnight parking of lorries in places such as Tower Hamlets and they intend within the next two years to extend this ban to over 60 square miles of Inner London. This is going to be a problem, because the lorries must park somewhere, and the G.L.C. have set up a working party to consider the question and look for sites to form lorry parks as part of the national network of strategic lorry parks. Of course, we must realise that there is a risk that in solving one problem of this sort we may create another; but only by experiment can we go further, and only by experiment can we find out what the final solution is going to be.
On road pricing of vehicles, I do not think I can add to what my noble friend Lord Gowrie said in the debate last week on the urban environment, so I should like to leave that alone. The noble Lords, Lord Camoys and Lord Somers, asked about the parking problem. I do not want to go further into the matter of parking than the G.L.C. paper, Traffic and the Environment. Your Lordships can see from that which way 1127 the thinking is going. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, said that the non-payment of fines in connection with meter parking and illegal parking where there are no meters is "frightening"—that I think was the word he used. The effective enforcement of these regulations has been made very difficult by the number of drivers who evaded the fixed penalty by saying that they were not the driver.
The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and the G.L.C. both favour legislating for owner liability, which would make the owner rather than the driver of a vehicle liable for certain minor road traffic offences. The Government are fully aware of these views and, as stated in an Answer on January 24 in another place, we are considering the possibility of legislation on this particular subject. I do not think that I can add any more to that. My noble friend Lord Ferrier asked me about electric transport, and what we were doing about it. This is not really germane to traffic control, but the Department of Trade and Industry is at the moment underwriting a project for an electric bus which is being tried out in Leeds and other cities. Of course this has important implications, as he will see.
My Lords, although I have stressed the important role of local authorities in dealing with traffic and other transport matters, this does not mean that the Government are trying to avoid playing a part in transport matters, in London or elsewhere. Quite the reverse. We believe that the solution to the problems of traffic congestion lies, at least in part, in improving public transport services so that they offer a reasonable alternative to the private car—especially for the journey to work. Many noble Lords have mentioned this, and we agree with what they have said. The sort of reduction in traffic congestion that would be achieved if commuters used public transport instead of their cars is well illustrated by the fact that 700 people coming into London use 500 cars. The same number of people could travel in 14 buses, or in just one train. I agree so much with what the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, said here.
For these reasons, the Government are giving the highest priority to improvements 1128 in public transport. Since June, 1970, we have committed over £66 million to improving the Underground. In addition to investing in London Transport, the Government have committed a further £50 million to improving British Railways London and South-East commuter network, as well as subsidising fares to the tune of £10 million a year. Although this stretches far beyond London, it is an essential element in the transport system which enables the capital to function effectively. Nor have the Government forgotten the London bus. We now pay half the cost of London's new buses and up to three-quarters of the cost of creating bus lanes like the one in Oxford Street. These grants are now running at the rate of a further £3 million to £4 million a year. So, although no single action by the Government can solve London's transport problems, the very large sums which are being invested in the public transport system should in due course help to alleviate them.
With regard to the Expenditure Committee's report, to which the noble Lord, Lord Molson—and other noble Lords—referred, and his wish for an undertaking that the Government would make money available for the suggested projects, the noble Lord will know, from his own experience as a Minister in the Ministry of Transport, that the Government will need to look very carefully at the proposals.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, I did not go so far as to ask the Government to commit themselves to any financial expenditure on this; I asked merely that the Government would speedily announce their views regarding the recommendations that have been made by the Select Committee.
§ LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I hope that perhaps we shall have examined the main parts of their advice within the next three to four months. Obviously, those which we consider necessary we shall wish to do everything possible to implement, within the financial limits at the time. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Molson used the words, "the art of the possible". I think that this is what we feel too.
1129 The noble Lord, Lord Champion, referred to the Greater London Development Report and the Inquiry under the chairmanship of Mr. Frank Layfield, Q.C., which was set up not only to examine objections to the Plan but also the Plan itself. This Inquiry has lasted two years, and during that period there have been important developments in thinking about traffic in London, which have been collected both in the revised draft of the transport section of the Plan put forward now by the G.L.C., and also in their discussion paper, to which we have referred. The Report of the Inquiry was submitted to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, as the noble Lord knows, last December, and he has announced that it will be published as soon as possible. I regret that at this stage I cannot comment on the merits of any of the solutions to London's traffic problems proposed either by the G.L.C. or by the various groups set up to oppose the Plan. But I must emphasise that we recognise the need for urgent decisions and that there will be no avoidable delay in reaching them. Public consultation is necessary but, as the noble Lord, Lord Champion, rightly said, we do not want excessive consultation. I do not suppose that when the G.L.C. originally started consulting they realised the delay that would be imposed upon them.
I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, whether the Government agree that the G.L.C.'s responsibilities vis-à-vis the boroughs need modifying. The simple answer is, No. We think that the present arrangements are working 1130 well, although inevitably there are minor disagreements between the G.L.C. and the boroughs. The large sums which are being invested in the public transport system should help to alleviate many of our problems in due course.
We have this evening discussed most of the problems in regard to traffic in London, but I must remind noble Lords that London is not the only city in the world where traffic congestion is a problem. Every major city has its own traffic problems, to a greater or lesser extent. This is true all over the world and much effort is being exerted on a search for solutions. This is one of the major problems of modern urban life. I would remind the House how the daily achievements of the police alleviate the problem; and I think it would be fair to say that in many ways London has given, and is continuing to give, a lead to the world in dealing with the problem of movement in cities. It only remains for me to repeat that Her Majesty's Government are open at all times to new ideas and would certainly welcome all noble Lords' suggestions, or a further debate on this problem. Finally, I should again like to thank my noble friend Lord Molson and other noble Lords for their most helpful and constructive speeches.