§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Mr. SALT
I beg to move, to leave out from "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:having regard to the number of road accidents that occur after dark and to the desirability of affording adequate illumination for the convenience and safety of the public and for the prevention of crime, it is expedient that the lighting of highways should be dealt with on a national basis.I count myself fortunate in having this opportunity to move this Amendment. I hope that the opportunity will not be entirely wasted, and that my Amendment may be of interest to the House. It is well known to us all that the lighting of the roads is not satisfactory. A great change has taken place in transport conditions during the last generation, and there are now about 10,000,000 cycles and more than 2,000,000 motor vehicles on the highways, as against a comparatively small number of horse-drawn vehicles. The pace on the road used to be never higher than 10 or 12 miles per hour. I well remember when residing in France the first motor omnibuses appeared on the streets of Paris, with considerable clatter and noise and at an apparent fast pace but actually not more than 15 or 20 miles per hour, which was considered so dangerous that they were called juggernauts. To-day, motor omnibuses go everywhere at 30 miles per hour, and motoring critics quite frequently mention that a new car has a comfortable cruising speed of 60 miles per hour.
Bad lighting is due to the fact that lighting is controlled by 1,400 local authorities. In the interim report of the Departmental Committee it is stated that there is an arterial road near London which is 13 miles in length and has 27 variations of lighting standards. If you travel at 30 miles per hour along that 922 road you can therefore expect a change of lighting every 60 seconds, good, bad and indifferent. Anyone who drives knows that constant changes of that kind are dangerous, and conduce to accidents. Such results cannot be rightly ascribed to the crass stupidity of local authorities; it is due to the impossibility of their carrying out the work that is now allotted to them. The report mentions also that the cost to a small local authority of lighting a highway which goes through their district might be a 10-shilling rate, whereas the same work done by the county council would cost.65d. It is obvious that until this work is taken out of the hands of local authorities and put under the central control of the Ministry of Transport, such a state of affairs will continue.
I realise that the same applies generally to the roads, but there are questions affecting light which form a problem of their own and the need for central control is dominant. The reason why I am glad to have this opportunity of speaking on the matter is that I believe a serious proportion of the accidents which take place could be prevented by better lighting. Not expecting to have this opportunity, I spoke on 4th March when the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) addressed the House on road safety, and I brought forward certain statistics to show the number of accidents which might have been prevented. This is one of the most serious aspects of the lighting problem. I specially wish to mention it because it is dealt with in the interim report, and because accidents are undoubtedly due to bad lighting. The Committee state that they cannot find actual data to prove to what degree accidents are due solely to poor lighting. If hon. Members will refer to the Home Office Report on Fatal Road Accidents, 1933, they will find a detailed statement showing the fatal accidents hour by hour for the whole 24 hours of the day, and month by month.
I would ask the House to consider the accidents which occur between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. That is one of the busiest times of the day, and affords the best comparison I can find between light hours and dark hours. In May, June and July, that part of the day is entirely light, and in November, December and January, it is dark. The accidents in the latter months are 25 per cent. greater than in 923 the summer, despite the fact that the number of vehicles on the roads is much smaller in the winter. In the Home Office Report on Accidents for last year one finds other equally interesting data. Public vehicles are used to approximately the same extent in both winter and summer, and, comparing the deaths taking place in May, June and July of last year with those in the three dark winter months, one finds that the increase in November, December and January was 50 per cent. Another important comparison affects light commercial vehicles. These, again, run to about the same extent in summer and winter, and in this case there are no fewer than 66 per cent. more deaths in the winter than in the summer, while the accidents show a very similar state of affairs.
What would it cost to light the roads adequately? In the Interim Report it is suggested that some 10,000 miles of roads could be lit by what is now called flood lighting, with lamps suspended 25 feet high, for £3,500,000 to £4,000,000 per annum. In the course of the important review on the subject of lighting which took place at the Public Works and Transport Congress last November, the extent of the roads necessary to be lit was given as 8,000 miles, and the cost as £2,500,000 per annum. This sum may strike the House as very considerable until they consider the saving that can be effected on the other side. If, as I believe to be the case, the figures I have quoted to-day and on previous occasions are correct—they are vouched for by official documents—they show that there would be a saving of some 700 deaths and 19,000 injuries per year, and personally I think that that in itself is sufficient to warrant the cost, apart from other factors; but actually I believe that the economic saving to the country would balance the cost. In the United States of America that claim is made without any doubt at all.
I base my suggestion as to the saving that would take place on the following grounds. In the first place, motor insurance companies pay in claims no less than £25,000,000 per year, and a 10 per cent. saving would be £2,500,000. I realise that that would not go to the Treasury, but it does affect the country as a whole, 924 and it does give some indication of the extent of the present problem. Beyond, however, the saving to the insurance companies and ultimately to the public, the suffering that has to be undergone is very great and the cost that is entailed upon everyone concerned, in addition to what is paid by insurance companies, is very heavy. The possible saving to hospitals, ambulances and police cannot be ignored. There is no doubt, therefore, that the total economic saving would be very great.
I should like to put another point to the House as to the manner in which I consider the suggestion could be carried out without affecting the Chancellor's Budget. At present, rather more than 2,000,000 motor users pay something over £70,000,000 a year, or an average of £35 each. An increase of 100,000 in the number of motor vehicles on the roads would mean an increased payment of £3,500,000 per year. I believe I am correct in saying that during the past year the increase has been 136,000, which would bring in approximately £5,000,000 of extra revenue. I think, also, I am correct in saying that that revenue has not been allotted to the Exchequer, and, if Parliament decided that this extra revenue should be used for lighting the roads, it would be sufficient to continue to do so as long as the present rate of taxation on road vehicles was applied.
Another very vital matter that I wish to bring to the attention of the House is the provision of employment. If we spent £4,000,000 on lighting our roads, it is obvious that most of that money would be spent in wages. A sum of £4,000,000 would find wages for 28,000 men at something like £3 a week, so that certainly 20,000 men might anticipate obtaining employment by this scheme. Many of these would be unemployed miners, and it would provide work for unskilled and semi-skilled men. Consequently, there would be a reduction in the sum now paid for public assistance and unemployment benefit, and, while I could not give any figures as to what that would amount to, it cannot be negligible.
The type of lighting that seems necessary for such roads is, I believe, well known to Members of the House. We see it in most of our great cities. They use either gas or electricity. In Liverpool, I believe, they use a sodium lamp, and I 925 am told that in the case of the new Mersey Tunnel some 7,000,000 vehicles have passed through without a single accident due to defective lighting. Croydon, I understand, is now lighting the new by-pass at Purley for 6,000 yards by a similar method. In Birmingham we have the electric discharge lamp, which is entirely satisfactory. I know that that light is capable of penetrating mist and fog. I myself, on occasions of dense fog have had the experience of being able to proceed quite normally until I got out of the range of this lighting. I remember that on one occasion it took me three hours to cover the next 10 miles, whereas I had previously been able to travel at 30 miles an hour. The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) last night mentioned his experience in going up the Great North Road, where he said that for some 60 miles there was mist and fog, and anyone who has driven under those conditions will realise the danger, anxiety and strain that it involves. This question specially affects lorry drivers, who drive every day of the week throughout the year. Consequently, I think that a system such as we are now able to supply in some places might well be used on the roads that carry the heavy traffic.
The roads which I have particularly in mind as being roads where adequate lighting is necessary are those which link up busy commercial towns, such as London and Southampton, Birmingham and London, Liverpool and Manchester, and so on; but it is equally important that in all our great cities the roads that connect the centre of the city with the suburbs, and usually have numbers of public vehicles running along them, should be properly lit, while the side roads that enter these highways should be lit at their corners, because those are places where accidents might be expected and where they often occur. I believe that, with such lighting as that, you could not fail to bring about an enormous decrease in accidents. I believe that if this social service is brought up to date, which can be done only if Parliament gives authority to the Ministry of Transport, it will be a great step forward.
§ 3. 51 p.m.
§ Mr. LYONS
I beg to second the Amendent.
926 My hon. Friend has put a strong case with great force, and I am sure I am expressing the feeling of the whole House when I say we are indebted to him for this opportunity for the discussion of this matter of prime public importance. The functions of street lighting may be conveniently discussed under four headings:—(1) the convenience and safety of road users; (2) police purposes; (3) convenience of residents; (4) special purposes in shopping areas and important urban centres. The convenience and safety of traffic should be the primary considerations in determining the form and character of the lighting of traffic routes—which term includes all roads which form the main approaches to or from important centres of population, or which pass through detached built-up areas and on which there is, or may be, appreciable pedestrian traffic. There are many factors that make for road safety or road danger, as the case may be. We have great highways, dual carriage-ways, cycle tracks, safety lanes and pedestrian crossings, and the whole country is grateful for the courage and imagination which have been displayed by the Minister in dealing with this important problem. Whatever has been done on these lines is all to the good, but it is not in itself complete. The danger of bad lighting remains, and, in. my view, in the interest of public safety, the question of street lighting demands immediate and far-reaching attention. Something like a third of the fatal accidents on the roads occur during the hours of darkness, and this is a tremendous proportion when one considers the decrease of traffic that must take place during those hours. The general inefficiency of the lighting of the roads is very largely to blame for that state of affairs. The existing system of lighting control of roads on which heavy traffic goes is chaotic. In the case of a very unfortunate disaster some time ago where two people were killed on a large main road within two or three miles of the centre of an important provincial town, it was found that one side of the road was lighted because it was administered by one authority and the other side, administered by another authority, had no lighting at all.
§ Mr. LYONS
On the lighted side, largely owing to the fact that on the other side there was no light: there is the danger of "a. pool of darkness." The lighting system has not progressed anything like the other systems that govern our traffic. In the construction of important roads, the Minister of Transport can make a grant to local authorities and is able to use his influence towards securing standards of construction, and in the direction of unifying the standards that are employed by the authorities through whose territory the roads pass, but in the case of lighting there is no grant of any sort or kind that the Minister is empowered to make, and the local or urban authority concerned, can only deal with the portion of the road that passes through its own territory and adopts its own standard according to its own ideas of efficiency and its capacity for expenditure. The result, as one would expect, is that there is endless variation and a good deal of confusion throughout the country. It is true that the problem of road surfacing is yet unsolved, and it may very well be that you cannot divorce it from the question of road lighting. A strong committee was set up in 1934 to consider the question of street lighting from all angles, and I should like to know what action has been or will be taken on the interim report that was issued at the end of last year, and when the final report is likely to be issued.
One instance is given in the interim report where, on a stretch of 13 miles on a main arterial road on the outskirts of London, there are 27 varying standards of lighting, ranging from reasonable efficiency to lighting which is not real lighting at all. There is another case of a road popularly used as an exit from central London where there are five authorities controlling a stretch of four miles. The lamp standards on those four miles vary in height from 10 to 22 feet, the distance of space varies from 15 to 130 yards, some posts are upright and others are "staggered," some sections have lights on one side only, and the standard of light varies from splendid to shocking. That is a state of affairs which I hope the Minister will not hesitate to take authority to stop in the interests of the general public safety. There must be in a matter of this nature some reasonable uniformity. Frequent variations in lighting are bound to make for public danger. They cause fatigue, they cause 928 misjudgment of distances, they cause embarrassment and they interfere with proper appreciation of spaces, speeds, and distances. They are things which could be avoided and should be avoided. Let me say one or two sentences on a matter to which I referred just now. It is extremely well summed up in paragraph 17 of the interim report, which reads as follows:Our own observations lead us to the opinion that the 'pools of darkness' resulting from uneven distribution of light on the road surface, more especially in the case of inadequately lighted roads, render it difficult for the motorist to judge distances and for other road users to estimate the speed of approaching vehicles, and that marked variation of lighting in any one thoroughfare may also cause uncertainty in the mind of the motorist regarding the necessity for using his headlights. On the whole we agree with the opinion which has been advanced by more than one witness that street lighting which may be described as patchy may be worse from the point of view of public safety than no lighting at all.It is this very patchiness that some of us want to see ended at once. The House will remember that Section 23 of the Road Traffic Act, 1934, does give certain powers to county councils in connection with the lighting of roadways, but these powers are such that the county council cannot act as a lighting authority without the sanction of the existing authorities, and the existing authorities may be nothing greater than parish councils, which are entirely opposed to the control of the county council. The position is that although a county council is not prevented from proceeding with a scheme in a main arterial roadway, it is so placed that agreement to dual control is unlikely. Certainly it is not sufficient to bring about the street lighting that we want to see.
Recent road development has been swift. With the advance in transportation have come the wide arteries of today. Our road system has a function for which its local-thinking builders did not provide. An enormous amount of commercial long-haulage and tourist traffic uses the roads. Transport is hindered by a system unqualified for its service.
Public safety is placed in jeopardy by the present shocking system of lighting throughout our main roads. Upon any trunk road to-day, with the vast transport of all kinds, we see a hotchpotch of surfaces, of widths of lighting, of gradient 929 and of foundation. I hope the Minister of Transport will tell the House that he is at last going to take action which will put an end to that state of affairs. The reasonable uniformity which is wanted may not be possible so long as a number of local authorities—I believe they number more than a thousand—are administering to the needs of the roads.
I appeal to the Minister to say whether he cannot establish some kind of central authority in the form of a national centralised highways board which will tackle the whole question of street lighting. I would like to see the roads of this country, where the public safety has not been sufficiently considered, flood-lighted from one end to another. I would like to see the Minister experiment at once on one road, say the road from here to Brighton, to light it with flood lights, to try the centre light and the side light. This is not the time to argue the respective merits of gas and electricity. We have made enormous strides in recent years in the generation and use of electricity, and it may provide the solution. On the other hand, it may be advisable to use both kinds of illuminant. But let us try with flood-lighting on the road, and in that way stop the present heavy toll of human life. The figures of road accidents are appalling. Whatever can be done to put an end to the present terrible tragedy of the roads should be done and done at once.
My hon. Friend has spoken about the cost. It would be a trifle in comparison with the greater safety of the public. If we go along any 100 miles of road we know that it is under the control of numerous authorities, and we see the lighting that is essential for safe transport and for the safety of the public using the road, neglected by almost every local authority in the country. Let us not delay with the mass lighting of our roadways. I beg the Minister to come to the conclusion that this is a grave and pressing problem, that there must be a centralised system of reasonably uniform street lighting that will give safety to the public, and that he will flood-light roadways from end to end.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
This is a subject which, I should imagine, all Members of the House will agree to support. We are grateful to the hon. Member who has 930 brought it forward. It is only on an occasion like this that we can get such a matter fully debated, and get an expression of opinion from the Minister in control. All legislation must first of all have some thought behind it. This House never enters lightly on any big change. There must first be full consideration of it and an expression of the opinion of the House. This is one of the questions that arrest the attention of all road users, which means in effect that every citizen is concerned with it. The figures which have been quoted to-day have startled me. I am not very good at statistics; I always leave some one else to quote them. The figures that have been read out have been amazing to me. The hon. Member who moved the Motion dealt with accidents in the three dark months between five and eight o'clock in comparison with the three light months between five and eight o'clock, and the vast difference proved that it must be lighting which is causing a great number of accidents.
I have in mind one stretch of road which I have mentioned in this House many times. It is the Liverpool to Manchester East Lancashire road, a new road. It is one of the most beautiful roads in the country. If any hon. Member who is in Lancashire will visit that road he will come away with a better impression of Lancashire than he has now. That road is in large measure not lit at all. On a portion of it at each end, the Manchester end and the Liverpool end, attempts have been made to light it, but we cannot get the remainder lighted for reasons which have been mentioned by the hon. Member, who stated that although a county council can advise it cannot force an urban council to bear its share of the cost of lighting. On this unlighted section of the road we have all kinds of urban authorities with a share in the road. They say that the cost of the lighting of their portion of the road would be too great.
I have put a question repeatedly to the Minister of Transport, asking him whether he would use his influence with the Lancashire County Council to get them to do something with this unlighted length of road, and his reply has been invariably to this effect: "I sympathise with the hon. Member. I will use my influence with the Lancashire County Council, but he must remember that I 931 have no power to force them and can only advise them what they should do." They have done nothing. To my mind they are not a progressive county council, for they are composed largely of members who do not belong to my party. Consequently they do not see this matter in the light in which I see it, and the urge that has come from the Minister has had no effect up to now. In walking along this road in the dark hours it is amazing to see vehicles rushing up with big headlights on and then passing into darkness. There has been a large number of accidents on the road. In one place, on the borders of St. Helens, there was a serious accident, as a result of which St. Helens decided to put a roundabout there and to light it. But for miles there are stretches of road in darkness.
These things must arrest the attention of this House. Of all things in which we have made progress in recent years there is none in which we have made more progress than in lighting—from the rushlight to the candle light, then the gas light and now the electric light. In London, theatres and other places are lit up beautifully. Yet from London we pass out into the darkness of the long roads and we wonder why the authorities are not dealing with the matter. They ought to be under central guidance. Some kind of uniformity in the matter is essential. It is not right to have one part of a road badly lit and another well lit. This kind of thing cannot be allowed to go on. The last speaker said that he would like to see the flood lighting of a test road, and he mentioned the road from London to Brighton. I suggest that the Minister might use the East Lancashire road I have mentioned as a test road.
§ Mr. TINKER
I agree to that suggestion. The proposition might be taken up seriously. The Minister may tell us presently what he told us about the Forth Bridge, that the matter must be examined thoroughly. Before dealing with lighting as a whole the right hon. Gentleman might experiment with a test road, as has been suggested. There is a point which has not been mentioned so far. Improved lighting of the roads would 932 provide useful work for the unemployed apart from being of value to the community, for it would ensure the greater safety of the citizens of the country. I welcome the proposal and I think that the House will be unanimous regarding it. When the House expresses unanimity no Government can stand idly by and do nothing.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. DENMAN
I should not have risen at this moment in this Debate, in which I had no intention of taking part, had not the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) ended his remarks by saying, that he was sure that the House would welcome this Amendment. It, therefore, seems to me that this is the moment when there should be the strongest protest that one could make against the Amendment. [An HON. MEMBER: "Surely not."]. Yes, against the spending of £3,500,000 of valuable and very necessary money upon an object which I should put extremely low in the queue of objects deserving national expenditure. If we had satisfied all the claims of poverty, and of our defences, and all the major needs of the country, and had £3,500,000 to throw about, I should very reluctantly agree to its being wasted on elaborate systems of lighting decent country roads that many of us have learnt to know in the dark. What countryman has not experienced the special interests of night, and of being able to walk about and find his way in the dark? This was one of the interesting experiences of War time. Hon. Members who recollect War time will remember that London was unlighted when air raids were on and that you could at last see the shape of buildings outlined against the sky and you could once more realise that God, who made day and night, knew what he was doing. This mania for destroying nature and producing light where it is not needed and is extremely ugly is a mania against which I, personally, desire to protest.
What are the grounds for this object of strewing the country about with lights? Safety! I deny absolutely that light is a cause of safety for motorists. On the contrary, it is one of the great dangers. We have been given excellent examples that lighting is in fact an evil, and anybody who drives a motor knows that in the 933 present inefficiently lit areas, you are far less safe than in the dark. If you drive at night, as I do sometimes, on a long country road, say the Great North Road, your danger points are not where there are no lights at all, but where you enter lighted areas, where there are widely spaced and inefficient lights and where the lighting of the motors themselves is masked by the effect of inefficient public lighting. I feel perfectly certain that, as between the present system of lighting and complete darkness, motoring would be safer in complete darkness. I am really certain of that, if the motor itself is a reasonably lighted vehicle and is being driven within the limit of safety appropropriate to its own lighting. I have been on very heavily occupied roads at night, when it has been completely dark —the Great North Road is an example—where there is much industrial traffic. The motors are themselves nowadays decently lighted. The anti-dazzle devices are reasonably effective, and they ought to be made more effective. In this instance, driving is as safe as your light will make it.
What will happen if you have this elaborate system of lighting? It simply means that people will drive rather faster. They will again go up to the limit of safety, and you will have increased accidents, just as you have had increased accidents upon the magnificent new roads on which it is easy to go 60 or 70 miles an hour. Yesterday I heard an hon. Member from the benches opposite accuse the Chancellor of the Exchequer of being an assassin, because he was not making every road a 60 or 70 miles an hour road. Everybody knows that it is just that improvement in road quality, without corresponding improvement in wisdom in driving, that has been the cause of increased accidents. Before the roads were improved—and I look back 30 years—driving was safer than it is now, simply because people could not attain modern speeds. Of course, the old roads would not have held the traffic of to-day, and the problem is an entirely different one, but merely from the point of view of safety, the modern devices of enabling cars to go excessive speeds, so far from producing safety, produce greater danger, and I prefer to assert with great confidence that wider lighting would not necessarily mean any increase in safety. The Amendment begins by saying: 934Having regard to the number of road accidents that occur after dark.Do those accidents occur in the lighted areas or in the unlighted areas? Can the hon. Gentleman the Member for Yardley (Mr. Salt) give me the figures of accidents in those areas?
§ Mr. SALT
These are in the detailed report, and the numbers in the dark areas are greater than in the lighted areas. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that in poorly lighted districts it is worse than having no lighting at all, but the suggestion in the Amendment is for good lighting, which would do away with existing headlights, which are the main cause of accidents.
§ Mr. DENMAN
I entirely agree with the Mover of the Amendment in wanting standardised lighting, but where places are lit, it should be on a standardised basis, so that drivers would be accustomed to one general system of lighting, but I protest that there are great areas of country roads where I should be ashamed to introduce lighting. It would spoil the native pleasantness of this country to have these glaring avenues of light which nobody wants. But my main objection is one of finance. I am really amazed that the Labour party should wish to throw away £3,500,000 upon an expenditure of that kind.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
While I think that, everybody in the House welcomes the Amendment which has been so ably moved by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Yardley (Mr. Salt), I am sure that, on the other hand, nearly everyone will regret the attitude taken up by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman). It seems to be so directly opposite to progress, that one wonders in what age the hon. Member is living when he says that he would rather walk in the dark lanes of the country than in the lighted ones. I have been wondering whether he was referring to the passage in the old Book which says:Man loveth darkness rather than light because"—I will not conclude the sentence.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
I would not like to attribute that to the hon. Member, but when are living in a modern age we 935 cannot be content to live in the backwoods and the dark. We must live in the avenues of light in which we can serve our day and generation.
§ Mr. DENMAN
May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he thinks that Paradise is illuminated with avenues of electric light?
§ Mr. PARKINSON
I am not quite sure about that, and must wait until I get there. [An HON. MEMBER: "Talk it over when you get there."] The hon. Member for Yardley moved his Amendment very fairly. I believe that there has been rather too much stress put upon the local authorities rather than upon the Government. The Government will have to find some money in order to meet the requirements of the country on the question of lighting. Although the hon. Member for Central Leeds objects to the throwing away of £3,500,000 upon lighting, I could very easily point out to him where I believe that the Government are throwing away many more times that amount, and they will not do any good by so doing. The Mover of the Amendment suggested that it would cost about £4,000,000, and by taking the two statements of £3,500,000 and £4,000,000 one should not be very far from the actual amount required. The hon. Member also pointed out that the cost in life was heaviest among pedestrians and cyclists where the lighting of the roads was not of the very best. The hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) pointed out that a great deal of money had been spent by the Department in experimental and research work in the construction of roads containing the best non-skid surface, and in the strength of the roads and in other ways. Lighting has been but a secondary consideration, and the Government are now called upon to meet what is an essential requirement of the whole community. I did not listen with surprise to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), because I know the exact circumstances relating to the road to which he called attention, and that there has been a heavy casualty rate upon that road, much greater than was warranted or to be expected by anyone who knows the road.
936 My purpose this afternoon is not oppose the Amendment but to try and bring home to the Government the need for this work to be done. Not only must it be done by the Government finding the money, but they will have to accommodate themselves to meeting the local authorities throughout the whole of the country before the work can be done. I believe that the work will have to be done under a standardised system of lighting undertaken and laid down by the Minister of Transport or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whoever may be the managing director of the business. There is a definite percentage of deaths among cyclists at night owing to inadequate lighting, and no Member of the House can gainsay that statement. Some people blame the cyclist, others the motorists and others the lighting of the roads, but whatever the cause maybe, we should, if possible, endeavour to diminish the deaths due to accidents in this direction without considering any question of money. Money can be computed in figures, but death cannot be compensated by the payment of money.
I saw in the Press the other morning that the Government were accused by Mr. Rees Jeffreys, of the Roads Improvement Association, of a 90 per cent. responsibility for deaths on the roads by the appropriation of millions from the Road Fund, which has starved road improvement. That was a very startling and grave statement to be made by the individual in charge of an organisation of that kind. Nevertheless, I think that the statement is true. If we had not starved the roads of money which ought to have been spent upon them, or if the moneys paid into the Road Fund had been utilised for the purposes of the roads, a large number of lives might have been saved. What steps do the Government propose to take to rectify the matter as far as the lighting of roads is concerned? It is a question of great importance and affects, practically speaking, every citizen in Great Britain. We all go on the roads more or less, either inside a car or in some other way, and we are all liable to accidents as the result of being there. Accidents would be reduced very considerably if we had a different method of lighting.
The Government ought to move in the matter. What are they doing to secure uniformity of lighting from district to 937 district. To have different methods of lighting in nearly every district is undesirable, and does not tend to safety. On the East Lancashire road mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh we find that at the Liverpool and Manchester ends of the road there is a good system of lighting, simply because they connect directly with the two cities, where the system of lighting applies very well throughout the whole of their area, but immediately we leave one or other end of the road and pass into roads in the areas of other urban or rural authorities we find different conditions prevailing. Many of those authorities cannot afford to pay for better lighting, and do not undertake it because it would be too big a burden. I understand that one authority near Manchester, Swinton, are instituting a very good system through their length of road. To have a patchily-lit road, dark in some places and light in others, is a greater danger than having the whole road unlit.
The question of lighting is one of great difficulty. It is a greater difficulty in some areas than in others, and I do not see how it will be overcome except by the Government taking the matter in hand and providing a definite amount of money in order to equalise the burdens of the local authorities, or to place them all in a position whereby they can secure the lighting of their roads in a proper manner without imposing upon them too heavy a, financial responsibility. Greater help from the Road Fund is an absolute necessity. This is one feature of the work of the Road Fund which has not received adequate consideration. I would ask the Minister of Transport to do something practical to reduce the road slaughter. Will he consider sanctioning 100 per cent. grants for Class I roads towards the annual charges on the necessary loans for lighting purposes? This would show a desire to help towards solving the problem of road lighting. It is, of course, only one way, and there are other ways. Has the Minister any data with regard to the loan charges for lighting the roads throughout the country? If so, it would be very interesting to know what it is.
If the right hon. Gentleman cannot give 100 per cent. will he consider giving 75 per cent. or even 50 per cent. in order to help the local authorities, boroughs and urban, into the position of being able to meet the expenditure 938 required in order to put proper lights on Class I roads? In mentioning Class I roads I am not leaving out of consideration the other roads, but Class I roads are the best roads we have, and they are the roads on which any experiments ought to be carried out. The hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) suggested an experiment on the London-Brighton road. The hon. Member for Leigh suggested that the experiment should be on the Manchester-Liverpool road. It matters not to me where the experiment is carried out. A good long stretch of road ought to be taken over by the Government, and they ought to experiment with lighting in such a manner as will give the greatest protection to the people on the road during the period of lighting.
Another matter has been mentioned, and that is the question of the illuminant. Gas and sodium lamps have been mentioned. It has been said that it is a common practice to use electricity for lighting the roads. Has the Minister ever thought of approaching the Electricity Commissioners with the suggestion that they might supply electric current for road lighting at night time at a much cheaper rate than at the present time? During the dark parts of the night some arrangement might be made, through co-operation between the Government and the Electricity Commissioners whereby consumers might be supplied in the off-peak periods with a cheaper commodity. If such cheap rates could be secured, it would undoubtedly assist in solving this problem, and it would certainly solve many of the difficulties of the local authorities. The road mentioned by the hon. Member for Leigh is a high speed road with little or no lighting. I do not think one-fourth of the road is lit. Seventy or 75 per cent. of the road is in complete darkness, except for the islands or roundabouts. Has the Minister any statistics of the number of deaths of cyclists and others in the night time due to accidents on roads, particularly on the Liverpool-Manchester road? Roads are lighted in patches by various local authorities. Why not make road lighting uniform? Running out of a light portion of a road into a dark portion is likely to tend to accidents. There have been many accidents on the Liverpool-Manchester road already, which is one of the largest and best roads in the north.
939 A further question for consideration is the surfacing of the roads. A great deal of money has been spent in research work and much consideration has been given to the surface of the roads. I have come to the conclusion that lighter-coloured road surfaces, would be an advantage. I understand that we have now a good non-skid material. Is it possible to colour that non-skid material and make it much lighter-coloured in order to help people who are driving in the dark? I do not see why we should not also have white kerb stones. The kerb stones might be whitened by some means or other, because they are a good guide to a person who is driving a car at night. I had an experience in a car recently. We had been out in the afternoon and a fog developed in the evening when we were three miles from home, with the result that we could not see the kerb stone. Cars were coming slowly one after the other and we were only just able to see the tail lights, probably six feet distant. We were all there stranded in a. patch of road and not a motorist could see the kerb, because the kerb was as black as the road, and the road itself was too dark. The dark surfaces on the roads ought to be replaced when possible, and the dark kerb ought to be replaced. That would not be a very expensive thing to do.
The main solution of the problem, however, rests with the Minister of Transport in adopting a standard system of lighting. He might pick out certain Class I roads as an experiment during the present summer-time period, so that the improved system might be put into operation immediately we enter next winter. It may be said that we cannot meet the increased cost. If the Treasury cannot meet the whole of the increased cost, could they find the cost which would be imposed on the local authorities over and above the amount that they are now spending on lighting? Could we not carry out, with the consent of the local authorities, experiments to determine the best methods of road lighting? The local authorities cannot continue to be overburdened by having too much financial responsibility imposed upon them year after year. They are at present overburdened with the cost of roads, and they ought not to be asked to bear any 940 increased cost. It should be borne by the Treasury or the Road Fund.
The good lighting of roads is always preferable to strong lights on vehicles. It is all very well for motorists to say that they must have powerful lamps on their cars, but it all depends on how the driver uses the powerful lamps on the road. Dazzle is a very great cause of accident. I would very much rather have a road well lit than a vehicle well lit. The practice of abruptly switching off lights, without stopping or slowing down, is obviously dangerous. I am not a motorist, although I sometimes ride in a motor car, and I cannot drive, but it is obvious to me on the roads that many people disregard the dropping of lights or slowing down when passing other vehicles. Less powerful lights on vehicles and more uniform and more powerful lighting of roads would be a great advantage to the whole community. The Government should meet these costs out of the money collected from the motorists. The motorists provide the money, which could he used for experiments in methods of safety lighting. It is not right to expect the motorists to go on finding money year after year when the money is appropriated by the Treasury without it being allocated to the purpose for which it was contributed. It is not fair that the Chancellor of the Exchequer every two or three years should raid the roost. On this occasion he has not only raided the roost but has taken the roost.
Every step possible ought to be taken to provide for safety on the roads. Let the Minister of Transport see that roads built of lighter-coloured materials are provided. Let the roads be illuminated by a national standard power of lighting on all Class I roads, and other roads where possible. Let the Treasury make larger grants to local authorities for this purpose, or meet the cost from the Road Fund. If the safety of our people on the roads is to be safeguarded every effort must be made to eliminate the causes of accidents. No time should be lost in making the necessary experiments in lighting on the roads during the summer period, and all possible encouragement should be given to the local authorities, without fail. That would in some measure assist in relieving unemployment. The hon. Member for Yardley said that it 941 would cost from £3,000,000 to £4,000,000 to introduce proper lighting on the roads, and that it would find employment for 20,000 men. I do not mind what the cost will be, or how many people may be given employment as a result as long as the work is useful and necessary.
I am satisfied that if the money for the purposes I have mentioned was provided by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the workers would be found in any part of the country to carry out the work during the present summer. Why delay? Money is cheap. There is plenty of surplus labour, and we have the best opportunity available in summer time. If we do what I suggest, it would help to solve one of the most difficult road problems with which we are faced, and would give greater security to our people on the roads. The safety of life and limb is surely one of the most important questions that we can consider. Every hon. Member would make any sacrifice that might be necessary if by doing so we could render the roads of the country more safe for our people, and reduce the appalling number of fatal and non-fatal accidents which occur every year.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Captain Sir WILLIAM BRASS
I should like to make a few remarks on the speech of the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman). With a great deal of what he said I agree. For instance, when the new Cambridge bypass was made, the lighting was made extremely dangerous at certain points by a big are lamp stuck in the middle of the cross roads. At night considerable difficulty was thereby caused. When the car came along with its headlights on, the lights from the side road and in the main road could not be seen because in the centre of the cross roads there was this big light which prevented a driver seeing other cars coming in an opposite direction. There is some confusion of thought on this matter. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) is right in saying that our roads should be properly lighted, but I think that only main roads in certain areas should be lighted. Where there is confusion of thought is as to the sort of lighting which should be installed. There should be an efficient system of lighting on roads in built-up areas, and here the Ministry of Transport can help. I am glad to think that 942 for the first time in my 14 years' experience in this House we have a Parliamentary Secretary who I know can drive a motor car; I have been out with him and I know that he drives very well—
Lieut.-Colonel SAND EMAN ALLEN
There is the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon).
§ Sir W. BRASS
I must apologise if I have made a mistake. It is most important that we should have a uniform system of lighting in built-up areas. There are experts at the Ministry of Transport who can tell us the sort of lighting which ought to be used on our main roads, the standard of lighting which would be the best for the country generally. I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that his experts should go out at night not only on fine nights but on rainy nights, and see the sort of lighting which exists now. When you have rain on your windscreen there is great difficulty in seeing. They will be able to realise the sort of lighting which ought to obtain generally. I think also that the experts at the Ministry should be consulted by all local authorities so that the improvement will be done on a national basis, not piecemeal, one authority putting in one kind of lighting and another authority putting in another kind. Indeed, I think that money from the Road Fund should be withheld until local authorities comply with the advice which they can get from the experts at the Ministry in connection with lighting, and also in regard to the light surface of the roads. I agree with the hon. Member for Wigan. Great danger exists to-day because of the dark surface of the roads. If the surface was light it would reflect the lights of the car, and the driver would be able to see much farther. You would not need to have anything like such a bright light on the car as you need to have now with the dark surface of the roads.
I also agree that the kerb should be whitened wherever possible, and on roads 943 which are sufficiently wide two white lines should be laid down, dividing the road into three, not only for the purpose of segregating the traffic, but in order to make the roads clearer at night, and especially in foggy weather. I make that suggestion to the Parliamentary Secretary, who is in communication with local authorities on this matter and has only to tell them what his experts think about these things to get them done. If we do adopt this system and increase the number of lights on our roads I hope we shall not adopt the stupid law which exists to-day, that because there is a system of street lighting we must have a speed limit of 30 miles an hour regardless of whether there are any houses on the road or not. If we have lights farther into the country I hope it will not mean that we shall have the speed reduced on these open pieces of road.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. W. ROBERTS
I agree with much that the hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) has said in his admirable speech. The only advocate of darkness to-day is the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman). I have had a great deal of experience of driving not only of private cars but lorries, and from the point of view of the driver a badly lighted street in wet weather is worse than a dark road. But there is another danger on an indifferently lighted road, and that is the light from other headlights. In bad weather it is difficult to see cyclists or pedestrians. I would suggest that if we are going to have lighting that it should be good. If you have a road which is constantly used at night, as so many roads are now by commercial traffic and private cars, then the ideal is undoubtedly to have it properly lighted.
We like to think that we lead the world in most matters, but in this matter we do not, and there is a considerable experience on the Continent, in Italy and in Germany, where considerable stretches of roads are lighted. I would like to know whether the Parliamentary Secretary has any information as to whether there has been any appreciable reduction in the number of accidents as a result. I think that will be found to be the case. That, however, is a possible line of fruitful inquiry. I agree that to light all the 944 main roads in country districts would be unnecessary, but I would ask the Minister to make a start in this matter, especially in the built-up areas, in order that the lighting may be standardised. Perhaps the simplest way would be to give a grant. I should prefer that the lighting on all our main roads was taken over from the local authority. That would be most desirable, but, short of that, I think the Ministry should take power to make grants for this purpose. I cannot refrain from saying that I wish this Debate had taken place before yesterday's discussion. This is clearly a case where the funds which have been appropriated from the Road Fund might well have been used for the safety of pedestrians and cyclists and for the general convenience and advantage of the whole motoring community.
§ 4.58 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel SAND EMAN ALLEN
I do not want to add much to what has been so well said by other hon. Members, but there are one or two points which I should like to bring forward. The object of road lighting is to give information to the road user, and that is why a plea for a standardised system is so strong. May I make a plea that false information should wherever possible be removed? By that I mean the many advertisement lights and signs, red and green, which are so often confused with traffic signals. When they exist on the edge of the road they convey false information. I hope the Minister will bear this matter in mind and see what powers he can take to remove or alter these signs, in order to make the roads safer and thus reduce the number of accidents. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) suggested that the kerb should be whitened. I would like the Minister to bear in mind that this would mean constant renewal and, therefore, extra expense. There is a system in vogue in many parts of putting in a glass reflector, showing red on one side and white on the other, which is much more helpful in showing the side of the road. I do not want him to plump for one system, but to try any system which will indicate the side of the road to the motor driver. I also want to emphasise the necessity of a standard system of lighting, particularly on main roads, and finally to urge that before any anti-dazzle 945 regulations are brought in the system of lighting should be thoroughly overhauled.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. EDE
I would like to approach this subject from a point of view which has not been mentioned by any previous speaker I have heard. It is the way in which this problem is affected by the extraordinary tangle of local government administration. Borough councils are lighting authorities and at the same time highway authorities, but county councils, although in a great part of the country they are responsible as highway authorities for the type of road we have been discussing, are not lighting authorities at all, and cannot spend a penny of their funds upon the lighting of the great high- ways they construct. The rural district councils are not lighting authorities, and in the rural districts the parish councils are responsible. Any hon. Member who has had occasion to try to persuade a parish meeting to agree that the parish shall be rated 3d. in the pound in order to provide lights on one of the great arterial roads that run through the parish, knows how hopeless a task it is.
I suggest to the Minister that, in conjunction with the Minister of Health, he might pay some attention to that side of the problem. It is quite intolerable that along any main road as it passes through a county there should be several urban and borough councils concerned with lighting, and that there should be intervening patches which are in a rural district where the parish council is the authority responsible for providing lighting for that particular highway. It is not to be wondered that they very much resent having that duty placed upon them and that it is exceedingly difficult to persuade them to undertake the task.
I also think it would probably be wise to make the county councils the lighting authorities for the great arterial roads which they construct. An example was given by the hon. Member who moved the Amendment of a case where the lighting for a particular road caused the authority responsible to have a rate of 10s. in the pound, whereas if the lighting had been carried out by the county council, the authority which constructed the road and was responsible for its maintenance, the rate would have been 0.65d. That 946 seems to me to be an unnecessary tangle and one which would not be tolerated anywhere except in the extraordinary jungle of English local government law.
There is also another reason why the county council ought to be the authority responsible for the lighting. Let me give an illustration in support of my argument. The road from London to Brighton, south of Reigate, runs through the parishes of Honey and Charlwood for little stretches of about 200 yards each. King Alfred the Great or somebody else must, have been in a somewhat peculiar condition when he drew the boundary between those two parishes, because it is a wavy line. Some engineer subsequently planned the road in such a way that it runs across all the waves. The parish of Horley, which is a comparatively rich parish, has no objection to lighting the road, but Charlwood, which is an extremely poor parish, declines to carry out any lighting, the result being that there are patches which are comparatively well lighted, according to the standards of the district, and other patches where there is no lighting at all. That is an indefensible position which would be remedied if the county council were the lighting authority.
I notice with some regret that a campaign is growing up to transfer these roads from the control of the local authorities to that of the Minister of Transport, and I have gathered that the Minister of Transport himself is not without some feeling that he could do the job better than the local authorities. May I say that I think this problem is very much aggravated by the double working of the Local Government Act of 1929, which increased the number of claiming authorities which are able to become responsible for main roads, and by the way in which county councils, rightly for other purposes. increased the area of certain non-claiming authorities until the population became big enough for them to become claiming authorities, with the result that the number of comparatively small urban authorities responsible for the great main roads was unjustifiably increased?
In conclusion, I believe that the main roads should be the responsibility of the county and borough councils and that urban and rural councils should not be responsible for them. If that arrange- 947 ment could be brought about it would be far easier for the Minister to impose a national standard. I sincerely hope that in giving consideration to the many excellent technical suggestions that have been made to-day—and with the majority of which I wholeheartedly agree—the Minister will not lose sight of the law which is involved and that he will, at least so far as main roads are concerned, make the county council and not the rural parish the lighting authority.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Mr. GUY
The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has undoubtedly indicated one of the difficulties of administration in this matter. As hon. Members may see from paragraphs 6 and 7 of the interim report of the Departmental Committee on Street Lighting, the position in Scotland in that connection is not quite as serious as it is in England, but as far as I can discover, the standard of lighting is no better in Scotland than it is in England. I think the hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) adequately dealt with the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman), but I think there would have been more force in the objection which' the hon. Member for Central Leeds put forward to this lighting improvement if there were only motor cars on the highways. The hon. Member seemed to ignore the fact that there are cyclists and pedestrians, and that if the motorists are to rely upon their own lights there is inevitably introduced the element of dazzle, which makes it more likely that the pedestrian or the cyclist may be run over.
Most of the points I intended to raise have already been dealt with by hon. Members, and there is only one other contribution I would like to make to the Debate. I would utter a word of warning to the Parliamentary Secretary, who I understand is to reply, in connection with the suggestion that there should be a revolution in the lighting system, and that responsibility should even be taken away from the local authorities and given to a central board. Undoubtedly there is some force in that argument, but I think it might be wiser to proceed carefully and slowly in co-operation with the local authorities who, after all, know the local conditions. If a standard 948 system were suddenly adopted, the result might be that in two or three years' time the system so adopted would be discovered to be obsolete. For instance, if the overhead system of lighting were adopted, it might eventually be found that the concealed system of lighting was far better. I hope that no large-scale remedy will be attempted, but that rather there will be small-scale experiments. All sorts of experiments have been tried not only on the Continent but in America, as the Mover of the Amendment explained. I believe that the Ministry also have an experimental section, and it would be interesting to know what experiments have been carried out. When the experiments have been made and when the improvement is being carried into effect, I do hope that the Ministry and the local authorities will not be carried away by the idea of having to adopt a standardised system of lighting throughout the country.
I agree that patchy and inadequate lighting is highly dangerous. What is wanted more than anything else is the provision of adequate and safe lighting in appropriate places, for instance, at corners and in built-up areas. Another instance which comes to my mind is the place where the ordinary street lights end, and the motorist goes into darkness. At that very point it often happens that the footpath ends and the pedestrian has to walk on the roadway. There ought in such places to be special lighting. I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport will be encouraged by the speeches which have been made in the course of the Debate, and that he will be able to frame his Estimates next year in such a way that there will be little doubt that he will be able to spend all the money that he can obtain.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of TRANSPORT (Captain Austin Hudson)
I cannot help being rather glad that the unfortunate event which prevented Mr. Speaker from leaving the Chair before Easter has now given my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley (Mr. Salt) an opportunity of so ably moving this Amendment. I was rather struck by the opening observation of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) when he said that a big change of the kind which is suggested in the 949 Amendment would require the full backing of the House before it could be brought into effect. I think that is obvious. If the Government did intend to take over the lighting of the Class 1 roads of this country, before they thought of bringing such a scheme before the House they would need to be fairly certain that it had fairly universal approval.
Any discussion which may have the effect of reducing road casualties is always of great interest to this House, and I think I may say that, with one slight dissenting voice, there has been almost universal approval of the principle of the Amendment. I can assure the House that I shall not be a dissenting voice. The subject matter of the Amendment is also of particular interest because of the publication in September last of the Interim Report of the Departmental Committee on Street Lighting. I hope that if any hon. Members who take an interest in this subject have not read that report they will do so, because it covers practically every point which has been raised. I would add that copies of the report have been sent to all the local authorities concerned. The main part of the report is technical Paragraphs 16 to 37 discuss the standard of lighting which the Committee consider should be adopted, and I strongly recommend my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) to read those paragraphs. It is understood that the final report of the committee—and this is rather important—will in the main be an amplification of these technical recommendations. We hope to have the full report next year. The production of the final report is taking some time owing to the carrying out of a number of experiments with a view to ascertaining the exact type of lighting that is required.
For that reason we want to give time for the experiments to be completed before the report is finally presented, but I understand that the final report will be an amplification of these recommendations and therefore the lighting authorities have definite recommendations in outline on which they can consider the provision of new or improved lighting systems. I think we can say that the ideal at which we should aim in the lighting of our roads is to achieve a standard of lighting that will be adequate for police purposes and will allow motor vehicles to 950 proceed at a reasonable speed without headlights. We can sum up in that sentence what we are aiming at, and if hon. Members read the interim report they will see that what the Committee regard as a reasonable speed is 30 miles an hour. Originally street lighting was for police purposes only and for the safety of pedestrians. Later it was also in order to avoid the use of glaring headlights. The ideal would be the achievement of both those purposes.
There is one very interesting point in the report which was dealt with by the Mover of the Amendment. Paragraph 16 states that representatives of the motoring organisations, while regarding efficient street lighting as directly contributory to road safety, were unable to point to any but occasional accidents caused by bad lighting. That view is confirmed by the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police. That is a very extraordinary thing. We are endeavouring by the use of statistics to find what truth there is in that statement. The committee add that lighting which is patchy may be worse than no lighting at all and I think that is a view which is generally held in the House.
The only figures which we have at present with which we can test the theory which I have just mentioned are those contained in the Report on Fatal Road Accidents, made in 1933. During 1935 there was a fresh report but the figures have not yet been collated and the report is not yet available. That is a pity, because 1933 now seems to us to be a considerable time ago. But I would like to give the figures which are available because they were asked for by the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman). There were, in 1933, in round figures, 7,000 fatal accidents. Of these the number that occurred in daylight was 4,500 and the number that occurred at night was 2,500. Of the last-mentioned number, 368 occurred in dusk or semi-darkness; 696 occurred where there was no street lighting; 373 occurred where there was poor street lighting, and 1,040 occurred in what is described as good street lighting. I would like to emphasise the fact that, in practice, what is called good street lighting would not come up to the standard recommended by the Departmental Committee. There was one case in which the street lighting had been extinguished, but we need not consider that at the moment.
Could the House be given the comparative volumes of traffic in relation to these figures.
§ Captain HUDSON
There are further figures which I shall give later, but what I am endeavouring to find out and what the House is endeavouring to find out is the effect of bad lighting on accidents and I think these figures are significant. We see that 35 per cent. of the accidents happened at night and of these, 1,040, or 40 per cent. of the accidents which happened at night, were in places described as having good street lighting whereas 60 per cent. were in places where the lighting was poor or non-existent. Those figures are very interesting.
There is one other table, which will help us in arriving at a conclusion, to be found on pages 22 to 25 of the report. It shows the percentage of accidents occurring at different times, and from it we find that from midnight to 6 a.m. the percentage was 2.5; from 6 a.m. to noon it was 19.4; from noon to 6 p.m. it was 41.9 and from 6 p.m. to midnight it was 36.2. I think those figures show that an undue proportion of accidents happen at night and it has to be remembered that during that time there is much less traffic on the road, in proportion to the whole 24 hours of the day, than there is in the day time. There is a comparatively small amount of commercial traffic and there are also fewer private cars. We must also recognise that in the hours after dark there is the factor of the fatigue of the driver, but we need not go into that question now. The hon. Member for Yardley had some interesting figures which pointed to the same conclusion, and I think it will be agreed generally that the number of accidents which occur after dark is too high, and that if we can do so we ought to improve the lighting of our roads.
That is our problem. Now we must see how best we can deal with it. The Amendment suggests a national scheme of lighting. Neither the Minister of Transport nor any other Minister of a Department has power to make grants, whether out of the Road Fund or from the Treasury. Therefore legislation will be required. The Departmental Committee estimate that lighting of the high standard which they suggest would cost from £300 to £400 per mile per annum. If we accept 952 their estimate, and if lighting to this standard were provided on all classified roads in county boroughs and on 20 per cent. of the classified roads in counties, the cost would be about £3,500,000 a year. An hon. Member asked me whether I could give the cost of lighting all the Class I roads of the country. I am afraid I cannot do so, but the figure of £3,500,000 a year covers, I think, all roads which are generally considered to be trunk roads and all the roads which I think every Member who has spoken has had in mind. The Ministry of Transport agree that the creation of a national standard of lighting over the whole country, for what may be called the most important roads, is the goal to be attained, and we are trying our best to move towards it. In view of the already generals grants to the maintenance of roads the Government do not feel at the present moment and in existing circumstances that they can contemplate the necessary legislation to that end.
I do not want the House, however, to think that that means that the question of a national standard of lighting is indefinitely shelved. What I have said does not rule out the possibility of future action. In the meantime we have to await the final report of the Departmental Committee and certain experiments which we are making. It merely means that I cannot stand at this Box now and promise to the House that an immediate grant will be made. Incidentally, I would refer to the impression which seems to be held by some hon. Members that the fact that the Road Fund is to reuse makes a tremendous difference in regard to the making of grants in cases like this. I do not think they realise that every grant from the Road Fund has to be approved by the Treasury. The Minister himself cannot, as some Members seem to think, make a big grant to any new road scheme which he thinks desirable. He cannot do so without Treasury approval, Road Fund or no Road Fund. Therefore the fact that the Government do not feel at the moment that they can pass legislation dealing with this subject has nothing to do with the question of the existence or non-existence of the Road Fund.
I do not want the House to think that we consider the present position satisfactory. It is thoroughly unsatisfactory. 953 What happens now is that in boroughs and urban districts the respective councils are the lighting authorities and in rural districts the rural district council or parish council may be the lighting authority. In the more populous areas—and this point was made by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede)—the unit is large enough and wealthy enough to provide a unified lighting system and nobody can contend that all over the country the lighting of the roads is bad. On the other hand, the smaller authorities are often unable to provide anything more than a thoroughly unsatisfactory system, perhaps a few lamps in a village or something of that kind. Therefore there is a definite recommendation in the interim report showing that the committee consider that it might be desirable for street lighting to be confined to large administrative units, following the model of the Local Government Act of 1929 which transferred road powers to the county councils and the larger urban districts. That, in effect, was the case made by the hon. Member for South Shields.
Mr. E D E
No, I object to urban districts in a county being highway authorities and I would abolish the claiming authorities as well.
§ Captain HUDSON
I would point out that Parliament has already given thought to this matter. Under the Road Traffic Act of 1934, Section 23, county councils are enabled, where they consider that roads should be lit or better lit and in default of action by the appropriate lighting authority, themselves to exercise lighting powers and charge the cost to the county rate. This Section was inserted, I am told, at the request of the County Councils Association. It may be said that the county councils have not used this power to any great extent. They have only had the power since 1934 and we still hope that they may make greater use of it. In order to encourage them to do so we have sent them a letter, as recently as 27th April, calling their attention to the report and urging them to use their powers under the Act in suitable cases. We do hope that the county 954 councils will use this power and will set up within their areas a really adequate system of lighting.
I do not think there is any other point which was raised, though there were certain detailed points raised by the hon. Member for Wigan and certain suggestions which he made which, I can only tell him, we shall consider. As regards road surfaces, he will find a very interesting paragraph in the interim report on that subject, which is one which we at the Ministry are considering very carefully. The hon. and gallant Member for West Birkenhead (Lieut.-Colonel Sandeman Allen) raised the point of extraneous lighting signs and advertisements which get mixed up with traffic signals. That point also is dealt with under paragraph 35, and I agree with what he said on the subject. I can only assure the House that the Ministry of Transport is fully alive to the problem of street lighting and is studying the whole subject with great care. The return which is now being made of all accidents involving personal injury will give us a much better indication, we think—and I think the House will agree—as to the exact effects of bad lighting than the two fatal accident returns to which reference has been made in the Debate.
As I have said, while we cannot promise immediate national action to set up a national lighting system for the whole country, we are endeavouring to enlarge the areas as suggested by the committee and thus to ensure greater uniformity. We are experimenting, but we are not prepared at the moment to come forward with a complete scheme to put before the House. If this Debate has done nothing else, I hope the publicity given to the subject will have drawn the attention of the more backward authorities to the inadequacy of their lighting arrangements and will determine them to make an improvement; that would strengthen the hands of the Government, should they decide to take action at some future date. I believe that by our rules if Mr. Speaker is to leave the Chair, this Amendment has either to be negatived or withdrawn. I hope we shall not have to negative it, because I think every hon. Member is in favour of it. Perhaps therefore the hon. Member for the Yardley division will be prepared to withdraw the Amendment, in view of the fact that we have had this interesting discussion on it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.