Orders of the Day — Traffic Congestion (Large Cities)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th May 1959.

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Photo of Mr Frank McLeavy Mr Frank McLeavy , Bradford East 12:00 am, 7th May 1959

I entirely agree with the closing remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) when he said that the problem needs far-reaching remedies. All hon. Members, on both sides, will agree with that summary of the position. This is not a problem that is peculiar to London. It is a vast national problem that must be solved by the decision of Parliament and in a way that will provide for the community at large a means of travel which is both convenient and suitable for society as a whole.

The Minister is to be congratulated on having started the motor roads. On all sides, we congratulate him upon being the first Minister of Transport in the fortunate position of being able to introduce this far-reaching change in our road system.

I believe that we agreed also with the Minister when he spoke of the need for greater funds to be made available to extend the road system. Sooner or later, Parliament must make up its mind whether or not we are to have an efficient road system or whether we are to carry on with the old system of maintaining existing roads and making improvements here and there. Whilst I do not suggest that motor roads or ring roads are the absolute solution to the problem, I am perfectly satisfied that they would go a long way towards helping to solve it.

I know that the Minister, like all Ministers of Transport, is limited in what he can do by the amount of money which the Government make available for road construction and improvement. We must try to create in the minds of Ministers and of Members of Parliament generally a feeling that some way must be found whereby adequate money can be made available for carrying out very large schemes throughout the country of motor roads and ring roads and improvements of other roads in the urban areas.

I wonder whether we have exhausted all the ideas on how the money for this purpose could be raised. I should like to feel that the Minister and the Government would re-examine the question of how we can finance an even larger road programme than the Government have embarked upon at present. It is vital to industry that we should 'have roads capable of carrying the amount of traffic which modern circumstances demand. At the same time, apart from all the essential road work, we must also examine the question of the co-ordination of available public services. It is important that we should bring about a greater measure of co-ordination between rail and road in order to take full advantage of the facilities which are available in both sectors of the transport industry.

I agree entirely with the point made in the debate that many loads could very properly be taken off the roads and carried by the railway system. We must consider how far we can create a system which would provide for more co-operation between road and rail in an effort to solve this traffic problem. Reference has been made in the debate to the provision of parking facilities. I know that from time to time in debates of this kind we have considered all kinds of suggestions about the best way to provide adequate parking for vehicles. Has the Minister given a reasonable amount of consideration to the suggestion that at the Underground and railway stations outside the large cities and towns some form of garages or parking accommodation should be provided so that car users might be tempted to travel to the station by car and then travel to the city by train or tube? There is a tremendous opportunity today to create an atmosphere in which facilities of that kind would be used by the motorist.

Reference has also been made to making full use of bus services. I do not want to trespass too far on the subject of bus facilities, but the gradual reduction of bus services and their greater infrequency are playing a part in creating further traffic difficulties. People who have been accustomed to use the bus services from the country areas find them less convenient nowadays because of their infrequency. I find that many people are being driven to join together and take a taxi from one of the tube stations in order to get home because of the infrequency of the bus services.

We ought to look at this problem of the reduction, limitation and discontinuance of bus services from the point of view of the interests of the travelling public. We are running into serious danger of losing sight of the fact that the idea of a public service is to provide proper facilities for the community. It may well be that the financial problems confronting the Underground railways and the London and provincial bus undertakings are problems which would not arise if their financial position were taken more seriously by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If we continue to tax fuel oil to such an extent as 2s. 6d. a gallon we are bound to create a position in which the transport undertakings cannot possibly meet their obligations to the travelling public. In the consideration of all these matters I hope that the Minister will ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what contribution he can make towards the solving of these problems.

Reference has also been made in the debate to the provision of subways. I believe them to be very desirable. They would be used far more extensively by the public if they were modern and if they were equipped with escalators. There is an example outside the Palace of Westminster where there is a subway under one section of the roadway which few people use because it is necessary first to walk down steps and then to walk up steps.

Would the Minister consider making an experiment? What could be better than to do so outside this building? Would he consider providing a new subway from Whitehall to New Palace Yard, fitted with escalators, which Members of Parliament could use when coming from Westminster or Whitehall? Then we could see exactly how much the public would use it. I am sure that older people are deterred from using subways because of the steps.

I agree with the points made about traffic warnings. It is a waste to have so many policemen on point duty when there is so much crime which needs their attention. I would like to see a corps of wardens, with sufficient limited authority to direct the traffic at given points. I believe that would be economical, because it is important to use policemen on the beat. Therefore, I hope the Minister will consider this suggestion also.

I do not pretend that the vast problem of traffic congestion can be solved in a few years. It is a problem which is growing because of the ever-increasing amount of road transport. I would not support any policy which would result in the limitation of its use because I feel that the duty of Parliament is to try to find a way whereby we can make the roads suitable for the purpose for which they were intended. If limitation has to be applied it should be for only a very short period, because in the long run it is not in the best interests of the community. I hope that the problem will be approached in the spirit of this debate, namely, that it is not a political question but a vast national problem on which we require the best advice we can get from any source, political or otherwise.

I conclude by saying that although I have congratulated the Minister upon the fact that he has been able to do so much during the last few months for the building of motor roads and the planning of further roads, I think that he has been fortunate in the economic climate he has enjoyed. I say candidly that I hope we shall go on with this work and that the next Labour Government will also carry it on, in order to bring to our people the system of transport which is essential to the communal life of the nation.