HL Deb 18 July 1946 vol 142 cc640-6

6.30 p.m.

THE EARL OF CRAVEN rose to ask His Majesty's Government when it is intended to restore street lighting in side streets in order to relieve the fears of women who live alone or have to return home after dark. The noble Earl said: My Lords, the Question which I have put down on the Paper is, I think, an extremely important one. I will ask some of your Lordships, if you return home after dark to-night, if you will take the trouble to look at street lights as you go. You will then get an impression of what the lighting in this city is like. What it is like in other towns or cities in England I cannot say. I will be as brief as I can in trying to explain the reasons for my Motion.

There are a number of deserters from all the Services wandering around this country at the moment. I will not say that all those men are bad men, because many of them are good, but there are a number of them who have no work to do. They are out of a job and they cannot go to a firm and take on a job in a normal manner because they always stand a chance of being caught as deserters. What are those men going to do, and what are they doing now? I am told that there are something between 18,000 and 19,000 deserters from the Army alone who cannot be found, and how many there are in the other Services I do not know. There are many women who have to return home late because their jobs keep them working, and if they have to come home after dark under present conditions they are naturally extremely nervous.

I think I am right in saying that the police are overworked, and they are not able to keep a watch on all the small side streets. There is very little protection. The noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, will put me right on this, if I am wrong, but I think it is not the job of the police to protect people against what might happen; it is their job to protect them after it has happened, or words to that effect. I feel that there is as much danger now for women as ever there was during the war, except for bombing. There is not much more lighting. Many people, not only women, live in cul-de-sacs, mews or side streets where there is no lighting at the moment, and those people are open to robbery under those conditions.

There is the example of a girl who goes to a party. She goes from the suburbs up to London, and her father gives her permission to go. That father has probably been working extremely late—there are many occasions when men have to work at night, and I can think of one in particular—but that girl has to be met at the station. The station may be some way from the man's house and it is not much fun for him to have to come out of the house and go and meet his daughter and bring her home. There is another danger from what is termed "sounding the drum." A body of men probably directed by a criminal—they may be deserters and in one case I know they were—go round telephoning houses. They keep a list of likely people who might be into these side streets where there is very living alone, usually women or people who might be out and whom they can rob with ease. These people often live in side streets and mews and places like that. There have been instances of people having been robbed in this manner. As I say, these men ring up on the telephone; if the occupier is out they can easily force an entrance. On the other hand they may ring up and find that the woman is at home and that there is nobody with her. They tell her they are coming round, making an excuse such- as wanting to attend to the telephone or something like that. Once they get the door open there is nothing easier than to walk in and then demand money. That has happened on many occasions.

Street lights have been turned off I believe in most of the side streets since the V.E. Day celebrations. It was said they would be put on again after the V.E. Day celebrations, and it seems to me extraordinary that this has not been done. I know the noble Lord who is going to reply for the Government will have many answers to all these questions and I think I am right in saying that one of them is economy of fuel, because that naturally comes to one's mind straight away. But I would ask the noble Lord if economy of fuel is such an important thing, to look at the number of lights burning on the lamp standards on any main street in London. I ask him to consider whether it might not be possible for some of those lights to be put out and the supply of electricity transferred to some of the side streets. There is too much light on the main streets in my opinion—more than is necessary, anyway. There are a lot of other instances I would like to put but I will not trouble your Lordships with them now. Cases of housebreaking, violence and murder are reported every day in the papers. I ask the noble Lord what steps are being taken to deal with these problems.


My Lords, before the spokesman for the Government replies I want to reinforce what my noble friend the Earl of Craven has put before the House on this matter of "Let there be light." The noble Earl has mentioned that there are a certain number of deserters from the Army, and of course we all know that. There was an Army Council Instruction directing me to go little light in order to prepare a welcome for strangers who were coming from a country which is called a co-operative country, and these were Italian brides and not Austrian.


My Lords, the hour is late, but I cannot refrain from supporting my noble friend the Earl of Craven as to the justification for the question. I happen to live in a part of London where other members of your Lordships' House reside, and where there are a number of houses requisitioned by Government Departments. We have women's Catholic clubs and other clubs for women's Services. I can assure your Lordships that as recently as last Saturday night in that darkened square the chaos and the shouting and the language was so bad that the constituency represented by the Prime Minister, which is supposed to have a language of its own, would blush if they heard the language used there not only in English but in Dutch. There are places run by the Young Men's Christian Association and Young Women's Christian Association and if any girl had failed to return home and, to quote the words of the song, said to her parents— I sit alone in the Y.M.C.A. Singing just like a lark, There's no place like home, dear, But I'm afraid to go home in the dark she would have been justified. It is quite time that we had this street lighting restored. I have to send my own secretary home in a car if she works late, because I do not consider it is fair to ask a young girl to go through the blackness—a blackness which I do not think is really necessary.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, the trouble which has been described so eloquently by the noble Earl, Lord Craven, and the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, is one of the many troubles which we are having to endure as an aftermath of the war. The shooting has stopped, but the difficulties involved in clearing up after the war are not yet at an end. One of our greatest troubles arises by reason of the deficiency in our supplies of coal. Coal was used in enormous quantities for war purposes and we have a very small margin left as compared with the abundant reserves which we had before the war. In fact, our stocks are down to a very low level indeed. The authorities concerned in this matter—I refer not only to the Minister of Fuel and Power for others have been consulted, including the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Ministers of Health and Transport—have co-operated in endeavouring to save as much fuel as they possibly can. It was as part of the measures adopted to avoid unnecessary consumption of fuel during the summer and to help build up our reserves for the coming winter that this reduction in street lighting was brought about. It will, of course, be a lot darker in the winter than it is now, and lighting authorities have been asked to discontinue their lighting, with certain exceptions, during the period from June 2 to August 17. It will be open to the authorities to restore street lighting in the streets affected after the latter date—August 17.

I think that gives a specific answer to part of the question which has been asked. So in four or five weeks' time, lighting in these streets will be fully restored. During the intervening period, however, it will not be getting dark until about ten o'clock, and prudent young persons generally try to get home by that hour. There used to be a song when I was young, a part of which ran something like this: Do not be after ten, Do not be after ten. It is late enough for married men So do not be after ten. That was supposed to be a wife's injunction to her husband. We live now in more free and easy times, but if any young person is nervous, she had better try to get home before it gets dark, if her journey home lies through any of these streets which are now unlighted. I have every sympathy with any young person who is nervous, but we have to endure a lot of things nowadays and the need for saving fuel is really urgent.

The remarks of noble Lords who have spoken have ranged over a wide variety of topics. I am not sure that things are altogether quite so bad as they have been represented here. We have done all we could to cause as little inconvenience as possible with these lighting restrictions. Reference has been made to the lighting of the main streets as compared with the side streets. The stipulations affecting main streets seem to be to me pretty sensible. As I have said, lighting authorities have been asked to discontinue their lighting, with certain exceptions, until August 17. The exceptions to that include the following: lighting of main traffic routes and road junctions; lighting of all bollards and other obstructions, and illuminated traffic signs (that, I think, is very important); lighting of streets largely used by night workers (for example, in the neighbourhood of docks and markets—that I think would meet points raised by my noble friend Lord Mountevans); lighting of important shopping centres and other crowded places when lighting is essential for adequate police supervision, and lighting of streets elsewhere during victory celebrations.

That last, of course, is only a small matter. The victory celebrations are over. The request made to the lighting authorities affects the whole country, not merely this town or that town. The local authorities were asked to do their utmost to economise in fuel consumption by restricting their lighting. I suggest that the step which has been taken is a very sensible one. It seems to me that this is one of the measures which are necessary, but we may take consolation from the fact that it will soon come to an end. There is some improvement, I am informed, in the production of coal, and there is certainly nothing like the consumption on the roaring scale that had to go on during the war. We will hope that when August 17 arrives this trouble will be greatly minimized.




Report from the Committee of Selection that the following Lords be proposed to the House to form the Select Committee for the consideration of the said Bill:

Agreed to, and the said Lords appointed accordingly.