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Mr. Dismore: All the reports on all the train crashes of the past few years that I have read point to a lack of investment by Railtrack--a privatised company--a lack of enforcement and fragmentation of the railways. That is a consequence of privatisation. The hon. Gentleman's argument is nonsense.

Mr. Greenway: I do not agree. The lack of investment occurred when the railways were in the public sector, not after it was transferred to the private sector. When the railways were in the public sector, after a train crash, the action that has in recent months been taken against the rail infrastructure companies was not taken.

Mr. Dismore: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Greenway: No. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman does not agree. However, the public can see that the legal position of Railtrack and the existing enforcement structure enable the Rail Regulator and Ministers to take out their big stick and force the company to act. The fact that people are launching legal challenges against some of the private companies makes my case.

Mr. Dismore: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Greenway: No. The hon. Gentleman will have the chance to make his own speech later. My point is that the rail infrastructure has been repaired and brought up to date in record time because of the--

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I have allowed a fairly lengthy exchange of views on that topic, but we should now return to the Bill.

Mr. Greenway: I am grateful for your intervention, Madam Deputy Speaker, because the hon. Member for Hendon--

Mr. Dismore: When you are in a hole, stop digging.

Mr. Greenway: I am not in a hole. If four people had been killed in the hon. Gentleman's constituency on a bend in the road that Ministers said was dangerous and it took six months to rectify the problem, he would not regard that as acceptable. It is not acceptable. We have to do something: people pay their road and fuel duties and they expect their Member of Parliament to argue their corner, which is what I am doing. I am grateful for

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Ministers' agreement that the road has to be changed, but that changing it will take six months is not justified. There have already been several more serious accidents at the same spot; thankfully, no one has been killed, but it has been close on two occasions.

Driver error is a major problem. People drive too fast for the condition of the road. The hon. Member for Tooting spoke about people driving at or just above the speed limit, and he mentioned David Beckham. I am told by police officers that if people drive above the speed limit on certain bends in the road, an accident is likely. The problem is not necessarily people driving well in excess of the speed limit, but people driving at or just above it on a road whose alignment means that an accident is possible.

Maria Eagle: Given the difficulty that would be involved in changing the alignment of roads on a grand scale, does the hon. Gentleman agree that lowering speed limits might be another way in which the number of accidents could be reduced?

Mr. Greenway: Yes. I am coming to precisely that point. My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire was right to question the appropriateness of existing speed limits. In some cases, the speed limit is inappropriate because it is too high, in others because it is too low. We need to review and debate the issue. Appropriate speed limits are important if they are to command the respect and confidence of motorists. Whatever speed limits we establish, enforcement is an issue--there is no point setting speed limits that cannot be enforced.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: Has the hon. Gentleman read the excellent document "Tomorrow's Roads: Safer for Everyone", which was published in March 2000 by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions? I refer him to page 49, paragraph 6.16, in which the Government state:


Will he confirm whether his local authority has engaged in that activity? Mine has.

Mr. Greenway: I am sure that North Yorkshire county council, which is Conservative controlled, and City of York council, which is Labour controlled, will co-operate on these matters, but how long will the process take? The Bill requires local authorities to undertake an immediate review in their areas. If the hon. Lady is saying that she believes that that fits hand in glove with what the Government are saying in their White Paper, no doubt the Minister will tell us how much he welcomes my hon. Friend's Bill, and particularly the clause that I am addressing. There must be a re-examination. We must ensure that we have appropriate speed limits.

Motorists are driving too fast on country roads, especially through or near villages. For many country lanes, the 60 mph speed limit is now inappropriate. What we should do to deal with the problem does not permit an easy answer. If we begin to impose a lower speed limit, signs must clearly demonstrate it, whether it is 40 or 50 mph.

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We have made great progress with speed limits in recent years. Countless villages in my constituency had no speed limit when I was first elected. They now have a 30 or 40 mph speed limit, traffic-calming measures and much improved road signs. Those features have made a huge difference to road safety in terms of reduced accidents and a feeling of greater safety and protection among families and children who live in the villages when, for example, children are going to school.

We must have also regard to the motorist, who is not always sure what the speed limit might be. We need to spend on signs as well as cameras. There needs to be uniformity, and speed limits need to be easily understood. However, I am in favour of more restrictions in rural communities, and especially near schools. In the York suburbs of my constituency, there are 20 mph speed limits and speed bumps outside school gates. The speed limit outside some rural schools is 60 mph. That cannot be right. We must ensure that there is the same protection for children going to schools in rural areas as in urban areas.

I am not sure that it is necessary for 20 mph limits to operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, if there are speed bumps it is not possible to travel at more than 20 mph anyway.

We must redress the balance and local authorities must undertake reviews, with the support and guidance of Government. As has been said, I believe that there must be local consultation. In my constituency, local views are generally well known. Rural residents are already making their views clear to me on speed and on the volumes of heavy traffic on country lanes, which are being used as rat runs. These are not easy matters to resolve, but we should air people's concerns at every opportunity and find some way of dealing with the issue.

There should be a review of speed limits. All the matters that my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire has raised in his Bill seek to address issues of concern to our constituents, whether as road users, pedestrians or parents worried about their children. I believe that these issues will return to us, whether or not the Bill reaches the statute book. I entirely agree with what the hon. Member for Tooting said about that.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing these matters before the House. He has one simple aim, it seems, and that is to save lives. There is no more important matter for the House than that.

11.14 am

Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston): First, I congratulate the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), even though it seems that he got out of bed this morning on the wrong side. I think that he was in a slightly ratty mood. He suggested persistently that everyone in the House breaks the law when it comes to speed and mobile phones. None the less, I congratulate him most warmly on his luck in coming second in the ballot. I, too, have managed to do that during this Parliament, so I know the feeling. As I recall, it is a combination of great elation and then great trepidation as one wonders how one's staff will deal with the deluge--I am sure that the hon. Gentleman recognises the word--of correspondence and suggestions that follows, setting out the most appropriate changes in the law. The additional work can put a strain on any Member's office. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and his staff have had that experience.

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I congratulate the hon. Gentleman also on preparing a good-looking Bill. It is well written and it has obviously been drafted by those who have some knowledge of the issues. Many Members who have not had our luck in securing second place in the ballot do not necessarily realise that everything is down to the Member who is in charge of the Bill. One cannot use the parliamentary draftsmen and it is necessary to prepare and produce the Bill and get it into the Vote Office in a short time. All that happens after having had relevant consultations with those who have an interest in the chosen subject. It is by no means easy, especially when the Member is also an Opposition Whip. On top of that there is the constituency work to deal with. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman most warmly on managing to produce a good-looking Bill in the short time that he has had.

I have much sympathy with many of the aims in what the hon. Gentleman described as his Christmas-tree Bill. I am not sure whether he meant that it has coloured lights that flash. I suspect that he meant that it deals with a number of disparate but slightly related subjects. I shall concentrate my remarks on some of them.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not be offended--I shall try to do this as gently as possible--when I say that I shall raise some issues about the wording of the Bill and some concerns about whether the clauses will achieve what they have set out to do. If the Bill gets into Committee--I know that I will regret saying this--I shall be happy to serve on it. I have said it now, and it will be in Hansard tomorrow. I shall be happy to assist the hon. Gentleman in any way that I can in Committee. The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind when deciding who to suggest to the Committee of Selection should be appointed as members of the Committee that I do not agree with everything that is in the Bill.

The long title is about as long as my arm, and will therefore allow many amendments and changes. That is a good thing in many ways, but for the Member in charge it can be a double-edged sword. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who is no longer in his place, did not try our patience but he was ingenious in introducing many other subjects that he thought should be in the Bill. Perhaps he, too, should be a member of the Committee. Other matters will have to be fitted into the long title and the hon. Gentleman may find that he has one or two problems in keeping his Bill under control once he gets it into Committee, particularly if he has Members on it who have an interest in these matters. There is quite some scope for amendment. The Bill may come back on Report containing about 2,000 clauses. The hon. Gentleman needs to be careful about that.

Clause 1 deals with snow and ice. It is an important subject and local authorities do not always give it the consideration that it deserves. They take the view that it does not snow that often in Britain. It certainly does not snow that often in Liverpool. Local authority policy rests on fingers being crossed and hope. Whether that is a reasonable policy would, under the Bill, be a matter for the courts to consider. Given the pressures on resources to which every authority will always be subject, no matter how many resources they have, there will always be the question of how much should be done.

The House of Lords decision in Goodes v. East Sussex County Council was most unwelcome. For many years many of us had thought that a local authority had a statutory duty, at least in respect of its main roads and the

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main trunk roads that are used through cities. In my case the local authority has responsibility for a city. I accept that many Opposition Members represent rural areas and the problems are slightly different in those areas. As the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) explained, it is not easy to grit 700 miles of country lanes. However, there are similar problems in cities, not least because their higher populations mean that there are a lot more road users. The road network may be smaller in terms of the miles travelled, but the potential for accidents and problems in snowy conditions is just as great--in some cases, in fact, it is greater.


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