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Mr. Gray: My right hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. I very much hope to hold those discussions with the Government when the Bill is being considered in Committee. My right hon. Friend brings me on to another interesting subject.

I had thought that this was a modest, sensible, down-to-earth and rather quiet little Bill, rather than an earth-shattering, front-page news one. It is a decent, normal Bill, which has cross-party support. Indeed, I was encouraged to hear during informal chats with the Whip and the Minister that the Government would be neutral on the Bill. I take great comfort from that. Although it is a matter for all hon. Members, I understand that the Government intend to let the Bill be considered in Committee.

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In that context, I was more than a little surprised to be handed a letter last night from the Leader of the House to the Minister who will be looking after the Bill. It says that they have discussed the Bill and they propose that


I take great comfort from that, but the right hon. Lady then says:


In other words, the Leader of the House is saying, "Here we have a big fat Bill, with lots of stuff in it to help elderly and disabled people, but we shall pretend to be neutral on Second Reading and then we will tell the hon. Member for North Wiltshire what his options are. He can drop all the first-class stuff that would help the elderly and disabled, and just have one tiny clause that would tidy up the law on seat belts"; in other words, "If you don't want to do that, you ain't going to get the Bill."

The Government are trying to appeal to my ego. They seem to suggest that I will chuck all the principles away and do anything, saying, "Please, please, Government, let me have my own little Bill." That seems to be a sort of parliamentary blackmail, and it is perfectly bizarre.

Mr. Maclean: With all my hon. Friend's years of experience as a special adviser to the previous Government and in the House, has he ever come across such a shabby letter or such potentially underhand dealings on a Bill that the Government profess to like?

Mr. Gray: My right hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and no, I have not. It is extraordinarily interesting to hear those on the Government Benches falling about guffawing with laughter when I quote the letter from the Leader of the House. The right hon. Lady does not treat the matter with such levity.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas rose--

Mr. Gray: The hon. Lady should allow me to finish my quotation. No doubt she is very concerned about the fact that the Minister has been given instructions to block most of the Bill in Committee. She is concerned for the good reason that doing so would damage disabled and elderly people and not help to save 1,000 lives a year on the road. All those measures would be blocked by the Labour Government in favour of their little seat-belt provision. The Leader of the House knows that that would be a problem, because her letter continues:


the principles. I am pleased that the letter was copied to the Prime Minister, who is taking a keen interest in the Bill's progress.

The Government are planning to appear to be neutral on the Bill this morning; to let it be considered in Committee; to apply that complicated blackmail; and to block the Bill on Report if necessary. So elderly and disabled people will not be able to use their bus passes in neighbouring local authorities. No gritting will be allowed to continue on ice-covered roads. Speed limit breaches will be allowed to continue unabated until such time as the Government choose to do something about them. They

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say that they are worried about such matters, so of course "a robust handling strategy" will have to be developed to overcome the embarrassment. The newspapers this morning--The Guardian and The Independent--realise how embarrassing the letter is for the Government. They have chosen to pick on a small but worthwhile Bill which has cross-party support and which is backed by Age Concern, many other charities, motoring organisations, PACTS and four Labour Members. The Government have chosen to pick on this innocent little Bill to try to apply complex Machiavellian strategies to get one small clause through.

The Government are ditching the people whom my Bill aims to help. When the Minister replies, he must tell us which of those groups he will face up to in the run-up to the general election. Will it be the disabled, will it be the elderly or will it be those who might be killed and injured on our icy roads? To which of those groups will he explain why he wants to appear neutral about the Bill, when he intends to block it in Committee? He will have to explain the letter, and I very much look forward to his doing so.

This is a modest and sensible little Bill, which will make our roads safer. It has cross-party support. I commend it to the House.

10.21 am

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting): I congratulate the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) on his luck in being successful in the ballot and on the way in which he has presented his case. I wish his Bill every success--I support it. As he said, it does not matter which part of the country we represent. The traffic issues and problems that are dealt with by his Bill are the problems that exist throughout the United Kingdom.

On a Bill's Second Reading, we have the opportunity to raise other interrelated matters. When a Bill goes into Committee, we have the opportunity to table amendments and new clauses. I hope that this Bill receives its Second Reading and goes into Committee.

I am a London Member, and those of us who live in London know that we rarely face severe weather conditions. However, we know from what has happened in recent weeks that many other parts of the country suffer from atrocious weather. I am sure that clause 1 will, therefore, be welcomed in the north of England, Scotland and many other parts of the country. All Members would pay the warmest tribute to the people and local authority employees who, in recent weeks, have had to struggle through atrocious conditions to keep the roads open in their areas. They deserve a great deal of credit.

Clause 2 deals with speed limits. As the hon. Gentleman said, this issue causes concern and confusion to motorists and to residents. The speed limits in an area are often not clear, and motorists often wonder what their purpose is. It is clear that, in some areas, the speed limits should be clearly defined. For example, the roads around schools and play areas and the busy roads in built-up areas need to have clearly defined speed limits. That would not cause any problems. It does not matter whether we are dealing with Tooting or with North Wiltshire, because motorists and the general public readily understand the need for clear speed limits. We need to introduce a system

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that ensures that speed limits are thought through and are clearly understood throughout the country. The chances are that they will then be followed.

I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), and the hon. Member for North Wiltshire will agree that we must do something about the attitude of motorists to the speed at which they drive. In today's Daily Mail, there is a report about Mr. David Beckham, the footballer. This week he has again been charged by the police for speeding. The report says:


It adds:


What kind of example does that set? I imagine that tonight and over the weekend people in our constituencies will say, "Have you read about David Beckham? They've caught him again speeding. What a lad he is--he gets away with it." Therefore, there is a clear need for my hon. Friend and his Department to issue clear instructions. If, as the Daily Mail suggests, Mr. Beckham has had five convictions for speeding in the past three years, the point will come when he should not be allowed to drive on our roads for some time. It is very well to say, "I was only just over the limit", but what would he say if, sadly, someone were knocked down and killed? We know that can happen at a very low speed. My hon. Friend must consider this issue very carefully.

The hon. Member for North Wiltshire said that the views of motoring organisations would be sought. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) referred to the need to involve the general public and, later in my speech, I shall describe how the public can become involved with an another issue. Seeking the views of motoring organisations is important because they represent the views of motorists, and I agree that we should also involve local authorities and the police.

In some large towns, different local authorities adjoin each other, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) made that point in relation to concessionary fares. Cycle lanes are of great benefit and some London boroughs provide them for their residents and the people who cycle through. However, once cyclists leave that borough, they enter another in which there are no cycle lanes. Without doubt, that causes confusion and adds to the danger of cycling.


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