HL Deb 26 July 1985 vol 466 cc1463-6

11.19 a.m.

Lord Boothby

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have given further consideration to the problem presented by the density of traffic in central London; and if so, what conclusions they have reached, and what action they propose to take.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, traffic congestion in central London is at present primarily a matter for the GLC as traffic authority. However, the Government are discussing the many aspects of the problem with representatives of the London borough councils and with the police and other bodies concerned.

Lord Boothby

My Lords, arising out of that Answer, does the noble Lord not recollect that when I asked this question about a month ago he said that the traffic authority for central London was the GLC, and he went on to say that good progress was being made? Since then, the only progress that I can see made by the GLC has been towards the grave. I want to ask the noble Lord for an assurance that Her Majesty's Government now intend to set up some kind of effective traffic authority in London that will do a good job and have adequate powers and that will not just sit by and watch London traffic invaded from all sides by heavy vehicles, especially coaches, to the extent that it is being steadily reduced to chaos. That is what is happening at the present time.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, as I hope I indicated in my original Answer to the noble Lord, the Government are concerned about the problem. We have several proposals in hand. The White Paper on Pleasure, Leisure and Jobs, published earlier this week by my noble friend the Minister Without Portfolio, proposes Government action on coach parking in central London and the possible use of sites owned by the nationalised industries. We also intend next year to bring in the improved fixed penalty system under which unpaid penalties will be enforceable as a fine with a 50 per cent. premium. That should considerably improve their deterrent effect. We are also studying how new technology can best be used to aid enforcement and lead to better traffic flow. Furthermore, we have commissioned assessment studies of the problems in four of London's main traffic corridors in order to identify the problems and assess the options for improvements. The consultants' reports on the first stage of that exercise are due later this year, and they will be published for comment.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, do the Government recognise the contribution made towards solving this problem by the Greater London Council's fares policy, which it is generally recognised increased the number of passengers travelling on the bus and Underground services and which thus helped to relieve the transport problem? Also, in the light of the problem revealed in the Question, why are the Government so critical of the GLC's ban on lorries at certain times? I believe this ban was reached after some two years of inquiry.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the Government are critical of the GLC for the obvious reason that traffic conditions in London are bad, and traffic has been the GLC's responsibility for a number of years. As regards the GLC lorry ban, the noble Lord will be aware that my right honourable friend has lodged an appeal against the High Court ruling. Therefore the matter is sub judice and it is not appropriate for me to discuss it at present. However, the Government have made clear all along that the current issue is not whether lorries should be uncontrolled—and we have encouraged local authorities to apply sensible local policies—but whether a blanket ban is the right approach.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, did not the Minister find it surprising that, when the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, called for a comprehensive traffic authority for London, the noble Lord's friends sitting behind him said, "Hear, hear"? I say this bearing in mind that they have consistently trouped through the lobbies against that proposal over the past few weeks.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, Lord Boothby's Question specifically relates to the density of traffic in central London, and that will be of concern mainly to the Westminster City Council and the surrounding boroughs. I hardly think that any input from the outlying boroughs, such as perhaps Hillingdon or Hounslow, can help in the present situation to alleviate the problem in central London.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, arising out of what the noble Lord said about the Westminster City Council, is he aware of the chaotic conditions prevailing around the Victoria Coach Station and that one of the reasons for those conditions is the number of long-distance coaches—such as the Green Line and the express lines—going to distant parts of the country, combined with the tourist coaches? Will the Government take steps to allow the Westminster City Council to control the routes which those coaches can take rather than diluting their powers through the present legislation?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, first, I do not accept that the present legislation dilutes their powers. We have had several meetings with Westminster City Council and one took place as recently as yesterday. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State and my honourable friend the Minister of State intend to meet the leader of Westminster City Council next Tuesday to discuss these matters and to point out to the council the very real powers that they currently possess under the Road Traffic Regulations Act, under Section 6 of which they can prescribe routes to be used; ban coaches from particular streets; establish bus or coach lanes; exempt buses and coaches from no right turn bans; allow or ban waiting; and regulate the queues of people waiting in the streets. Those powers are fairly considerable.

Lord Morris

My Lords, would not my noble friend agree that the day when we should really start worrying is the day when the overseas and long-distance coaches cease visiting London?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, overseas tourism to London is a very important part of London's economy and a major provider of jobs. I very much hope that we can find a satisfactory solution to this problem which does not stop these coaches coming into London but which will, hopefully, find—as I indicated earlier in our discussion—somewhere better to put them.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, does the noble Lord not agree that the routes out of London to the South are a sheer disgrace for a capital city and that the routes out to the North and the East are very little better? Does he not agree that the situation requires two things—first, overall traffic planning for London, and secondly, a great deal of capital investment?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I have already indicated that the department has initiated four traffic assessment studies and I hope that something positive will come out of them. I would not agree entirely with the noble Lord that all the routes out of London are unsatisfactory, particularly those which I know of to the West and the South-West. In my view, they are reasonably satisfactory.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, will the noble Lord accept that not all the problems mentioned in the Question as being presented by the density of traffic in London occur above ground? A great number of the problems occur underneath the roads in London, especially those roads onto which heavy traffic is being funnelled in order to alleviate some of the problems in the centre. I point to the recent tragic result of heavy traffic in Putney, where the gas explosion was attributed directly to heavy traffic which should not have been going over that road at all and which fractured the gas main. There are sewers and mains of all descriptions being damaged daily in London because of the density of traffic. Are the Government doing anything about it?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am aware of the report to which the noble Lord has referred, which I think came out only today and therefore I have not had time to study it myself. The noble Lord will also be aware that we have not gone ahead with the Common Market proposals to raise the weight of heavy lorries and I hope that he will be pleased with that decision.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, notwithstanding the traffic jam of proposals which the noble Lord has announced, does he agree that it would be very worthwhile if the Government were prepared to consider—and perhaps he could refer this matter to the top source available—examining the results (and the statistics are available) of the GLC's programme of Fares Fair, which caused a considerable reduction of traffic on the London roads and increased the profits of the London Underground and London Transport? It was a very sensible idea which was knocked on the head by the judges. Should it not be reinstated as it made a real contribution?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am aware of the Fares Fair controversy which took place some years ago. I point out that, under the current management of LRT, traffic is still increasing and in our view at the moment, the balance between ratepayer and passenger is the correct one.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that one of the problems is the lack of co-ordination between municipal authorities and the police in London which makes it quite distinct from other capitals and from other towns? Is it not the case that one of the consequences is the growth of on-street parking, which is now becoming worse instead of improving in London and is actually filling-out traffic routes? Will the noble Lord discuss the matter with his right honourable friends and see whether something cannot be done about it?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

Yes, my Lords.

Lord Annan

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that, despite the fact that there are many ways in which to improve traffic in London, the situation in our capital city is far better than that in Rome, New York and very often Paris?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am afraid that I have not visited the first two cities which the noble Lord mentioned, but I have visited Paris. However, I am grateful for what the noble Lord has said.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, perhaps I may inform the noble Lord that most people in London do not live in the places which he has indicated.