HC Deb 30 November 1936 vol 318 cc901-11

6.20 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE

I beg to move, in page 10, leave out Sub-section (3).

The proviso appears to limit the obligation of maintenance and repair to bridge approaches, although it is not clear that the language is sufficient to require the Minister to repair the bridge. Where a side road is constructed over trunk roads further doubts exist. As the Minister is aware, there are certain parallels with the obligations that are put upon railway companies for the repair of bridges and approaches. Will the Minister be good enough to state his intentions with regard to the proviso, as there is a certain amount of apprehension in the minds of local authorities charged will this duty?

6.21 p.m.


I should be very sorry to see the extinction of this part of the Bill, which enables junctions to be built. This is part of the Clause which enables us to build a bridge over the road or underneath the road. If that power is exercised we are responsible for the cost and for the maintenance of the portion of the road which is a trunk road. The railway company hitherto has been responsible for its own approach to the road, and I do not think that any objection could be taken to such a course. My hon. and gallant Friend referred to railway undertakings, but, of course, they are profit-earning undertakings. The State is going to construct something at the public expense which is a definite amenity and advantage, and the county council would only be left, by agreement, with bearing its share of the cost as far as the maintenance of the approach roads are concerned.

Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.23 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 10, line 17, after "that," to insert: (a) The Minister shall not construct any such bridge, connection or approach except after consultation with the council of the county in which the road across the trunk road is situated, and, where that road is vested in some other council, also with that council; and (b). This Clause gives power to the Minister for the making of bridges either over or under a trunk road to carry a road which is in existence and which will remain the responsibility of the local authority. This Amendment is to ensure that the Minister will consult with the local authorities before he takes action in making a road over a particular bridge. We think that the question of the need for the bridge, the method of constructing the approach to the road, and also the communications between the existing road and the new trunk road are all points upon which the local authorities consider that they should have the right of being approached and consulted by the Minister. The Amendment has been put down with that object.

Captain HUDSON

As my hon. Friend has said, the Amendment is designed to secure that before the Minister constructs a new bridge he shall consult the county council or highway authority, and in these circumstances we will accept it.

Amendment agreed to.

The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)

I understand that the hon. Member has some further consequential Amendments.


They are consequential upon the last Amendment.

Further Amendments made: In page 10, line 19, leave out "highway authority for," and insert council in whom."

In line 20, after the second "road," insert "is vested and shall be deemed to be part of that road."

In line 20 leave out "authority," and insert "council."—[Sir J. Lamb.]

6.26 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 10, line 23, to leave out Sub-section (4).

I shall be glad if the Minister can give some explanation of the form in which he seeks to take these powers. Prior to the Road Traffic Act, 1934, there was no power given to the county council to engage in the lighting of the highways. Although they were the highway authority they were not the lighting authority. That gave rise to a good many anomalies and a considerable amount of ill-feeling as between some county councils and the local lighting authorities who rather objected to the county council bringing a new road through their rural parish and then expecting the rural parish to pay for the lighting. Anyone who has had experience of trying to persuade a rural parish at a parish meeting to adopt the lighting of the roads will imagine the kind of reception the county council had on those occasions. Section 23 was inserted in the Act of 1924 in order to give the county council power in certain circumstances to pay for the lighting of the roads. If I read Sub-section (1) of that Section it will give the Committee some idea of the limitations and provisos which were inserted so as to make quite sure that the county council consulted local opinion before it acted: Notwithstanding the powers conferred upon the councils of non-county boroughs and urban and rural districts … the council of a county may, if they consider that any county road or part thereof should he illuminated or better illuminated, enter into and carry into effect an agreement for the supply for that purpose of gas, electricity, or other means of illumination, with the road lighting authority, or with any other authority or person having power in that behalf, and may provide such lamps, lamp-posts, and other materials and apparatus as they may think necessary for the purposes of this section. The Minister has considerably shortened that, and in the form now in the Bill he does not appear to have had any regard to this Sub-section, which says: Before exercising the power conferred on them by this section, a county council shall give notice to the road lighting authority specifying the road, or part of a road, which in the opinion of the county council should be illuminated or better illuminated and any particular requirement in that behalf. If it were right to impose these steps upon a county council before they could proceed to light a highway, the Committee is entitled to know why, when the Minister now proposes to take over these duties, he should be able to act whether he gets the consent or not of a local lighting authority. If a parish council is so proud of its system of lighting that it would rather carry it on itself than at the expense of the Minister, I cannot see why the right hon. Gentleman should curb local patriotism to that extent. I hope the Minister will have some regard to local feeling in these matters. My own view is that many of our rural roads are better left unlit. When you are going through a town or a. village I agree that the Minister may very well decide that the road ought to be better lighted, but there are many villages which are so poor as to be unable to afford the better type of illumination. The Minister has ample powers to make recalcitrant electricity authorities bring their mains along these roads, but where the road is constructed through what may be a sweep of farming land it may be better to leave the road unilluminated. The Minister has adopted a form of words different from those in the Act of 1934, and I think the Committee should have some explanation.


May I express a hope that the Minister will pay attention to what the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has said on the two points, first, that local opinion should be regarded in the lighting of these roads, and, secondly, that the larger rural stretches should be left dark? We all agree that the ideal from the point of view of road safety is that a road should be very well lighted or not at all, and I trust that is the combination which, in fact, the Minister will adopt.

6.35 p.m.


I referred to the question of lighting on the Second Reading of the Bill and the Parliamentary Secretary said that it was a matter which would be dealt with from time to time. He was not very definite. There are certain sections of our roads which should be tackled at once. There is a section on what is called the East Lancashire Road, the new road. At each end the road is lit by the municipalities, but there are from 20 to 23 miles between which have not been tackled at all. The various local authorities have not been able to come to any agreement and users of the road are at once plunged into darkness. It is no man's land. I want to know what steps will be taken in regard to this stretch of road. Will the authorities make the approach or will the Department make an inspection of the road and determine what wants doing? Unless the Minister is determined to have these roads lit quickly we shall have to wait a long time before the matter is settled, because so far the people whose duty it is have neglected it. Probably it has been a matter of expense. I contend that the lighting arrangements should have been made when the road was being made. It would have saved a lot of expense now. Previously the right hon. Gentleman has told me that he was not in charge, he said that he wan not the authority, but would use what influence he had with the Lancashire County Council to get them to see the wisdom of having this road lit. Now, the right hon. Gentleman is to be the authority and I warn him that he will get no rest from me until he attends to this matter. In my opinion the accident rate would be brought down if the lighting of our roads were taken under control and dealt with.

6.39 p.m.


I want to speak chiefly about the roads in Scotland. Nothing has so far been said about the system of lighting which should be adopted, and, in my opinion, that is a matter which should receive immediate and close consideration. There are various methods by which one can test which is the best system of lighting. You may have a light in the middle of the street, overhung, or you may have a light coming from the sides. When you pass from one system of lighting to the other there is an immediate change on the eye, and in my opinion it is the cause of many accidents. I should like to know what system is in the minds of the technicians of the Department. Are they thinking of a system of road lighting coming from the middle of the road, of something in the nature of flood lighting in the direction in which the car is travelling, or are they thinking of something in the nature of what is called a direct upward light for a certain distance in order to get the eye accustomed to the change from lights in the towns to the new conditions which will prevail in rural areas? This is a matter which will have to be dealt with accurately if you want to avoid accidents. In Scotland we are suffering from the Electricity Act of 1926. We have great wires travelling all over our best main roads but there is no possibility of our having a good system of lighting unless the Minister is prepared to face the building of sub-stations, which is going to be a big expenditure. I realise that we are discussing military roads. Everything said on the Bill has shown that military considerations come into the matter. There is the question of having to darken down quickly, in which case you would have to get a system of switches which would be interchangeable. All these things have to be considered and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us whether the Department has considered them.

6.41 p.m.


The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has put forward two points which were reiterated by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman). It is true that there is an abridgment of the wording in this Sub-section as compared with the Sub-section in the Act of 1934. The Act of 1934 gave the county council power to enter into agreements with lighting authorities, and we take a similar power here as we are becoming the highway authority. It is true that in the 1934 Act the county council is enjoined to have regard to local opinion. We have not put those words in here, but I was asked to give an assurance that we would not act in defiance of local opinion except in very good cases. I can give that assurance. It is our intention to operate the Bill with the co-operation of local authorities, indeed, that we intend to work with and where possible through local authorities who are accustomed to exercising this power. That will mean that local opinion is regarded, and if it is desirable that particular stretches of road for some particular reason should not he lit it will be possible to have regard to any representation made in that sense.

The speech of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) was in a somewhat different tone. He said that he was going to give me no rest. I hope there will be no cause for him to keep awake to keep me awake. I hope his desires will be met. It is our intention to achieve the best possible standard of lighting in all appropriate places by agreement with the appropriate authority. I hope there will be an improvement not only generally but in the particular direction in which he is interested, and in regard to which he has pressed me in this House. I know that I have been able to disclaim responsibility. I shall not be able to do so in the future and, therefore, it will be a greater inducement to me to do my best to obtain agreement in regard to that matter.

The hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) was interested in the system of lighting, a subject on which he shed much illumination and on which I am completely in the dark; but because of my ignorance, a committee of experts was appointed to inquire into and report upon the best system of lighting. That Committee is now in session, as the hon. Member knows, and its recommendations will naturally have a great influence on the future standard of lighting on the roads. I would not like to be dogmatic as to which is the best system, and even if I knew, I would not dare to say, because there are so many rival claims made on behalf of rival forms of lighting. I shall take the very best advice. I hope I have discharged my duty in answering the questions that were put to me.


In view of the assurances given by the right hon. Gentleman, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.47 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 11, line 15, after the second "of," to insert "such construction or improvement or in respect of."

The following Amendment, in page 11, line 16, has the same object as the one which I have moved, and I would like to speak on both of them. The object of the Amendments is to extend the powers of local authorities to enable them to make a contribution towards the expenditure which eventually will be incurred. The Sub-section as it stands limits their expenditure to improvements to the amenities of land abutting on or adjacent to the road. The county councils wish to have that power extended so as to enable them to make a contribution not for the amenities of the land only, but for the construction and improvement of the road. County councils do not usually want power to increase their contribution to the Ministry's expenditure, but the object in the present case is the following. It is conceivable that a road might pass through a village or a built-up area, and that the Minister might consider that a very much better way to deal with the matter would be to construct a by-pass. That by-pass might be delayed for some considerable time, and during that period the Ministry would confine itself purely to the construction and maintenance of the existing road. That would naturally prevent the local authority, to which the road would be re-transferred after the by-pass had been made, from making any improvements to the road in the meantime. We think that would be a hardship to the users of the road in that particular place, and would cause unreasonable and unnecessary delay. The county councils think that if they had the power to contribute to the expenses incurred while the Ministry was responsible for the roads, it would facilitate matters very much, to the general advantage of the public.

6.50 p.m.

Captain HUDSON

As the hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) said, it is not often that the county councils ask for power to contribute towards the Ministry's expenses, and I think the hon. Member has put forward very clearly the reasons for which they ask for that power in this case. Unless this Amendment were accepted, the effect of the Clause would be that the county, having no power to contribute, might find that some village improvement would be delayed until the by-pass had been constructed and the road had reverted to the former highway authority. I would point out to the Committee that the power to contribute is purely optional, and in those circumstances I am very pleased to accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 11, line 16, after "amenities," insert "of the road or."—[Sir J. Lamb.]

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

6.52 p.m.


I rise to ask whether it is possible for the right hon. Gentleman to shed a little more illumination on Sub-section (9) of this Clause. Under that Sub-section, it would appear that the Minister has power to contribute to a drainage board part of the expenses winch the board would be called upon to incur in connection with the improvement of a trunk road. I would like to know what that means in respect of the instructions to the drainage board to carry out these improvements. Does it mean that the Minister may call upon a drainage board to carry out certain improvements in order to protect or improve trunk roads, and if so, will the board be called upon to incur expenditure which may be heavy and to which the Minister will only contribute in part? In my own constituency—and I have no doubt in certain other constituencies—the present drainage rate is very high, and it bears hardly on a certain section of the corn-inanity to pay that rate for what I may call the legitimate purposes under the Drainage Acts. If they are to be called upon by the Minister to incur heavy expenditure for the purposes of improving or buttressing the trunk roads, I think the Minister should bear the whole cost of those improvements, and not throw part of the expense on to the drainage boards by virtue of the fact that under this Sub-section he proposes only to contribute a certain part.

6.53 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE

I would like to raise again a point to which I referred on Clause 1. At a certain date the Minister will take over from local authorities and others the roads, buildings, bridges, cut-off corners, and so on. It is possible that there are many laws governing this subject, and some cases have to be published in the Press. There have been some cases of public decisions. Speaking generally, I think that at the present time there would be pretty wide consultation before any alteration could be made. The right hon. Gentleman has already said, with reference to an Amendment to delete Sub-section (3), and in the case of lighting, that he would consult with anybody likely to be affected. There is, however, a new point, and it is that after this Bill is passed there will be no appeal. The Minister will be his own court of law. I understand that in the past, if it was considered that justice was not done, whether in the case of a private individual or a local authority, there was in practically every case an appeal to the Minister. I would like to know whether the Minister is prepared to give an assurance that, as far as possible, he will continue on the old line of general consultation with everybody concerned, and whether he will give an indication that there will be a certain amount of latitude in the case, where there is no appeal?

6.55 p.m.


The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) asked a question concerning Sub-section (9). The words in that Sub-section are taken from Section 32 of the Land Drainage Act, 1930, which gives similar power to a local authority. We have simply taken the same powers as the local authorities now enjoy of contributing, as we think fit, towards the expenses of the boards in the execution or maintenance of works which will conduce to the better enjoyment of the trunk road. No obligation is placed upon either side. It is left as a matter of arrangement. We take powers which are in every way analogous to those now possessed by the local authorities, and we shall exercise them in exactly the same manner.


Might I remind the right hon. Gentleman that when the Land Drainage Act was passed the power to take over the whole of the 4,500 miles of trunk roads was not vested in the Minister, and possibly the local authorities might have used this power which the Minister is now going to take in a much more lenient manner towards the drainage authorities. I hope the Minister does not envisage any large demand on the drainage authorities.


No, Sir. I think everybody will be better off as the result of the passage of this Bill, and I do not think the drainage authorities fear dealing with the Ministry. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage)—I do not know that he was referring to any particular Sub-section — asked me generally whether, when I exercise, as supreme authority, the function previously exercised by highway authorities, over whom I had some supervision by virtue of the fact that I was responsible for the grant, I would exercise those functions on the old lines, after proceeding by agreement, rather than by summarily refusing to consider what was put before me. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that I fully recognise that the object of this Bill is to provide the country with better trunk roads than it now possesses. Everything will be done to secure greater facilities for traffic, having due regard to the wishes of the local inhabitants. I do not intend to proceed callously or carelessly—and I am sure my successors will not—in the discharge of this important function which I hope the Committee is about to entrust to me.

Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill" put, and agreed to.