HC Deb 15 November 1934 vol 293 cc2133-6
33. Mr. LEWIS

asked the Minister of Transport what communications have passed between him and the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee with regard to delaying the erection of additional beacons at crossings until further experience has been gained of their advantages and disadvantages?


On Friday, 9th November, I read statements in the Press to the effect that the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee had passed a resolution asking me to call upon local authorities to stop all work in connection with the provision of pedestrian crossing places in London. In these unusual circumstances, I thought it necessary to write that evening to the chairman of the committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Central Wandsworth, and to issue the letter for publication. He replied, expressing his deep regret that there had been a breach of the rule that the proceedings of the committee should be treated as confidential and this letter also was published. I have now received a resolution from the committee endorsing the action of their chairman. So far as I am concerned, the matter is disposed of, and I feel sure that I shall receive the co-operation and advice of the committee in the same way as my predecessors and myself have done in the past.


Does that mean that my hon. Friend intends to proceed with a. great extension of these crossings before those best qualified to judge have come to the conclusion that the existing experiment has been a success?


My hon. Friend is under a misapprehension if he thinks that that view represents the view of those best qualified to judge. I have announced my programme, and, as this matter has been given publicity, I may say that the London and Home Counties Advisory Committee itself, about three weeks ago, approved the regulations now in force for the use of these crossings and the principles upon which the crossings are laid down. I hope no effort will be made to draw a distinction between myself and my advisers. I have my responsibility to Parliament, and I cannot abrogate it to anyone else.


In proceeding with this programme, will the Minister have special regard to the visibility of these beacons at night, and does he not agree that the placing of many of them renders them invisible to the motorist, and creates a most dangerous set of circumstances in which both the motorist and the pedestrian believe that they have a right of way?


I would like to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the hon. Member's question to make this matter plain. In almost every civilised, city in the world there is a system of pedestrian crossings arid the marking is in steel studs alone. In order to meet the criticism that these steel studs might not be sufficiently visible, I, in conjunction with my engineers, whom I asked to examine this question, sought to find the most visible indication on the roadway that I could possibly put there. The result was that the beacons were discovered. They are an addition to the marking, and do not exist in any other city in the world. I regret very much that they are not totally visible, although much of the criticism I receive would indicate that they are too visible. I regret that they are not visible to everybody, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that there is no marking which in all circumstances and from all angles can be visible to everyone. I have done my very best in the circumstances.


As to these particular beacons, can tenders be obtained for them independently by each local authority or do they all have to come from one contractor through one central authority? Must they be of one particular design or can local authorities make alterations according to their need?


I am glad to make that plain too. Every highway authority in this country is autonomous and independent. Every highway authority in whose area crossings have been put down has put those crossings down of its own volition. There has been no compulsion, and every single authority in London has agreed by a majority resolution of its council to have these crossings. It can place its own orders for the beacons and the steel studs, and, although my Ministry took the precaution in order to assist local authorities of trying to make special prices with the firms concerned, there is no compulsion upon any local authority to buy the beacons or the crossings from any particular firm.


May I ask the Minister whether, in view of the fact that the Advisory Committee has been put in an invidious position owing to the half revelation of the facts which has recently taken place, a position which may be made worse by his announcement to-day, he does not consider it fair to the committee that there should be a full and accurate revelation of the recent history of events in regard to this matter?


If the Advisory Committee has been put into an invidious position, it has been put into that position by the improper action of certain of its members. It was in those circumstances that the exchange of letters took place between myself and the chairman of the committee, and the committee itself yesterday unanimously endorsed the action of the chairman. I hope that the matter may rest there and that in the future our relations will be cordial and on a proper basis.


asked the Minister of Transport the estimated cost of the beacons so far estimated to be required to mark pedestrian crossing-places in London and the provinces; and how the cost will be divided between local and national funds?


The estimated cost of providing beacons for the full experiment in London is about £20,000. The initial cost will be borne by the Road Fund and the cost of any permanent works divided between the Road Fund and the local authorities in the proportion of 60 per cent. and 40 per cent. respectively. I am not at present in a position to give any figure for the provinces.

36. Mr. WILMOT

asked the Minister of Transport what financial liability has been incurred by the local authorities, the Ministry of Transport, and otherwise, in the erection of signs or the preparation of plans for road crossings which have subsequently been adandoned; and how is the cost being met?


I am not aware that any pedestrian crossing, laid down under recent schemes in London, has been abandoned?


Will the Minister take note of the position in regard to several of them, if I send him details—some located within half a mile of this House?


Yes, Sir, I shall be much obliged for the assistance of the hon. Member or anybody else who will approach this matter in a helpful spirit.


Can the Minister say whether the Ministry of Transport has not under consideration the construction of illuminated pedestrian crossings which would make the illumination of these beacons unnecessary?


That question does not arise.


asked the Minister of Transport whether, in view of the fact that many large borough authorities strongly object to disfiguring their streets with the type of beacon used in London for pedestrian crossings, he will give an assurance that it is not intended to enforce upon municipal authorities in the country any particular form of beacon?


I have had no such objection made to me by any highway authority. The weight of opinion on this matter is that some form of special indication, in addition to markings in the road-bed itself, is necessary in present circumstances to give warning to drivers when they are approaching a pedestrian crossing. I think my hon. Friend will agree that, if these crossings are to achieve their object, the signs used in connection with them must be substantially uniform throughout the country.


Can my hon. Friend say if the highway authorities have to supply the money to buy these beacons nut of their own funds?


In London the Road Fund pays 100 per cent., subject to a refund by the local authorities of 40 per cent. No arrangement has been made for the rest of the country.