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5.19 pm

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Before I touch on some of the other important and wide-ranging issues raised today, let me say something about transport and, in particular, the road and rail network in my constituency.

My constituency contains a length of road stretching from Honiton to Exeter, a dual carriageway opened by the Deputy Prime Minister in August last year. It has a big problem, which causes my constituents great distress: it has a concrete finish. During its construction, both the

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Government and the Highways Agency promised me that something called "whisper concrete" would be used. Nothing could be further from the truth: the noise from the road means that people living in quite a wide catchment area cannot sit in their gardens in the summer, and must keep their windows closed when they are indoors. Following noise-level tests, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Exeter Express and Echo--which conducted the tests--and Exeter university have accepted that the noise on the road is above the permissible level.

On 8 July this year, the Prime Minister arrived in Exeter and was immediately greeted by requests from the local populace and the local newspaper to pledge to do something about the noisy road; and he did. He was attending Labour's national policy forum at Exeter university, and the Home Secretary sped to join him, with great alacrity. At that meeting, under great local pressure to say something about the matter, he promised that the road would be resurfaced with a tarmac finish.

Since then I have raised the issue on several occasions. My constituents have written many letters, both to Ministers and to the Highways Agency. However, we still await a date for the resurfacing of the road. We did not expect the work to be done immediately, but given the promises I have received from Ministers in both letters and written parliamentary answers--I was told that an announcement would be made in the autumn of this year, but, following the announcement of a 10-year plan for road building, there has still been no news--I must tell the Minister that the matter is becoming urgent in my constituency. A promise was delivered personally by the Prime Minister, and we expect it to be honoured. We now want to know the date of the resurfacing. If the Prime Minister had been encouraged to give an early response, it would be a very good Christmas present for my constituents.

I also want to talk about bypasses. My hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) mentioned the Kingskerswell bypass, but there is another bypass on the Devon list--the Crediton bypass, which I realise is below the Kingskerswell bypass.

In 1997, Devon county council said that a start would be made on the Crediton bypass in 2003-04. Because of the council's view that the Barnstaple bypass should be built first--for all the reasons given by my hon. Friend--Crediton has slipped down the list. This year's capital expenditure made no provision for more than one bypass.

We welcome the Government's new-found realisation that bypasses are not wicked horrible things, that those who live in rural areas need to travel in cars, and that when they travel in cars a bypass around a town such as Crediton is very helpful. Nevertheless, this is another matter that urgently needs attention. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge in saying that we should like it to be included in future planning, so that people and businesses in Crediton can have some hope that action will be taken in their lifetime rather than continually being shunted down the list.

During the coming general election campaign, the Prime Minister and other Cabinet Ministers--and, I hope, the Minister who is present tonight--will visit the south-west of England. If they choose not to travel on our noisy roads or visit our rather congested towns, they may come by rail. We have a serious problem in that regard.

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There are two railway bridges in my constituency, Stafford bridge and Cowley bridge--a piece of track on the main Great Western line to the east of Exeter and towards Tiverton Parkway station. That bridge keeps being swept away by the flooding of the River Exe.

We all know about the problems of flooding, which, in this instance, have become more apparent in the last two months. The line between Exeter and Tiverton Parkway has been closed for 22 days in the past two months because of bridges being swept away by the force of the torrent caused by the flooding of the Exe. It is a long-term problem. We are very concerned that there will now have to be a bidding process to fund a major study to determine how to overcome it.

It is the main rail route between Cornwall and London, and we really cannot have such long delays with people being bussed between stations because of an increasingly greater problem with flooding on railway bridges. I hope that the Minister will pass on to the relevant Ministers the concern of people in the west country about the situation on that particular piece of track.

We started today's debate with the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who described his constituents' serious concern about planning permission for housing for people who have served sentences for serious offences. He described the anxiety that that is creating for his local people.

We heard next from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Ms Jones), who rightly flagged up the importance of the city of Wolverhampton. Interestingly, she also raised the issue of urban forests--which one does not always automatically associate with Wolverhampton--based on her local knowledge of her constituency. May I also say that Opposition Members wish her well in whatever career she has chosen to follow after the next general election?

The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) described the very disturbing case of Nichola Stevenson, who is missing from a hospital where she had been subject to a section order under the Mental Health Acts. We all hope and pray that there will be a happy outcome to the case. We also hope that wider lessons will be learned about people who are subject to section orders and in the care of hospitals.

The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) filled his stocking with several goodies. He packed manufacturing, energy, planning, policing and other local issues into his speech.

In his speech, the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer) also raised many issues, particularly transport issues concerning trains and buses that greatly concern his constituents. He demonstrated his great detailed knowledge of those problems in his constituency.

The hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Pollard) raised the issues of staffing pressures in education and transport in his county.

The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) made an interesting speech about the American election. His speech--reading between the lines--gave me great encouragement that some Labour Members are prepared to speak up for the current United Kingdom voting system and to flag up the danger of a politicised judiciary.

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A politicised judiciary is a concern not only for the United States, but for the House and the United Kingdom. He made a very helpful speech in which he made some comparisons from which we can all draw lessons.

The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) again raised the issue of transport, this time in relation to the costs for those who live in rural areas and on very low incomes. He also raised the very important issue of beef exports and the extremely-good quality beef that Scotland can produce. In seeking to further the export of Scottish beef, he sought the Minister's reassurance that every effort will be made to ensure equity in BSE controls across the European Union. We are all concerned about that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) deplored the dumbing down of Parliament, the House and particularly this Chamber, and the failure of Ministers, including the Prime Minister, to be held to account in this Chamber. We have talked about that subject before. I am a relatively new member of the Modernisation Committee. Although I think that it is an appalling Committee, I assure my hon. Friend that I shall continue to sit on it, grit my teeth and make the case that that Committee should not undermine the democratic right of hon. Members in this Chamber.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) yet again raised the issue, as he has on several occasions in recent weeks, of Ministers' failure to allow further debate and answer questions on the now very clear anomalies in planning and strategic control of the European army and its NATO interface. I know that he will persist. I hope that the Minister will grant his wish, as I am sure that he will not let the subject slip after Christmas, given its strategic importance to this country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) gave some appalling examples of bungling bureaucracy. It seems appalling that young people taking their A-levels should be the victims of bureaucracy and the jobsworth mentality. I hope that the Minister has taken that on board.

The prize for the fullest stocking today must go to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess). He had lots of goodies packed in, including asylum seekers, traffic wardens and cloning. At one point, I thought that he was going to suggest cloning traffic wardens, until I realised that that would be totally against his principles.

My hon. Friend ended with a rather serious, cautionary point about pets as presents at Christmas. I agree with the warning that he gave the House. I am very fond of animals, but anyone who has ever house trained a puppy will know that Christmas week is not the week for it. One has to go to bed late, get up early, and arm oneself with lots of newspaper. It is not something to be done at the same time as stuffing the Christmas turkey. My hon. Friend was wise to warn the House of the problems.

My hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge spoke about the Kingskerswell bypass. My constituency is also in Devon, and I am well aware of his assiduity in making that case, to which I have already referred in the general context of bypasses in the county.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) mentioned Dibden bay. I have visited his constituency on several occasions. Regardless of the main subject about which one speaks to my hon. Friend's

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constituents, all the questions afterwards are about Dibden bay. I am glad that he is so well up to speed on that subject that I can always defer to him when I am in his constituency and allow him to answer the probing questions that arise on what is happening in Dibden bay. As he demonstrated this afternoon, he will not let the matter drop. He is representing his constituents in a matter that I know concerns them greatly.

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