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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): Currently, there are about 880 variable message signs on the English motorway and trunk road network. As part of our commitment to providing motorists with better information about traffic conditions, we plan to increase that number to 1,400 by spring 2005.
Paul Flynn: Last Friday afternoon, there were two accidents on the M4one near Reading and one near Swindon. Because there are hardly any variable message signs between the outskirts of London and the Severn crossing, drivers approaching those hold-ups had no advance warning. The Minister will be aware of how distressing it isespecially for young families and the vulnerable elderlyto be stuck in traffic jams with no idea of their likely duration. Can he confirm that the acceleration in the provision of variable message signs that he just mentioned will include that section of the M4?
Mr. Jamieson: Like my hon. Friend, we, too, are distressed to hear about such jams. We realise that they not only cause people inconvenience, but create a greater road safety risk. Handling traffic after major incidents on motorways is something that we can and will do better during the next few years, especially as the new national traffic control centre comes into being. That will provide motorists with information so that they can, where
The Minister will be aware of the value of variable speed limits on motorways such as the M25. Associated with them are, of course, speed cameras. Can the Minister confirm that the Government have no plans to introduce speed cameras on the rest of Britain's motorways?
Mr. Jamieson: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on sliding from signs to speed cameras. I can assure him that we shall be using the variable signs to give motorists up-to-date information that will help them to take avoiding action where appropriate, especially where traffic is blocking part of the motorway. As Transport Direct unfolds, motorists will also have good-quality information about road conditions before they set out, so that they can decide whether to switch to public transport if appropriate.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn), I recognise the value of variable motorway signs. Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree, however, that the confidence in those signs is proportional to the timeliness of the information that they provide? Will he ensure that when that information is out of time it is revised or the signs are switched off?
Mr. Jamieson: My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. That is why the new national information system will give contemporary information to motorists. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing signs that warn of a lower speed limit or of an incident ahead that does not exist. We will make sure that the new information system gives up-to-date contemporary information that is of genuine help and use to motorists.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): Road improvements are important. Some £59 billion has been set aside to be spent on roads, and 55 schemesincluding 6 motorway schemesare currently in the programme of improvements, one of which has been completed.
Mr. Gray: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that informative answer. He will know of the proposals of the south west area region multi-modal study, which include substantial work at junction 16 at Wootton Bassett in my constituency. The study cost some £1.5 million, and, I think, a total of some £30 million was paid to
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): When my right hon. Friend is considering future investment in motorways, will he examine carefully the balance between spending on motorways and spending on public transport schemes? I am thinking in particular of the proposed project to provide a guided bus between Cambridge and Huntingdon, which could be very effective in taking traffic off motorways and main trunk roads and putting people on public transport.
Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend raises an important point. It is important to strike the right balance between transport by carroad transportand public transport, whether guided bus, rail or light rail. I have said on many occasions in the last month that it is important that we invest in both forms of transport. For some people, particularly those living in rural areas, a car is a necessity, and there are other people who need to use their cars to go to work. At the same time, it is important that, where we can encourage people to use public transport, we put in the investment to do so. The scheme to which my hon. Friend refersthe Cambridge to Huntingdon proposalis one that we will consider, but it is important that we have a balanced approach.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): I have not received any direct representations. Aviation safety is critical and is the direct responsibility of the Civil Aviation Authority.
Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman is no doubt referring to the three failures this year. Two of them were in the old computer system at West Drayton, and one was at Swanwick. I visited Swanwick last week, as I know that hon. Members have expressed concern about it. It is striking that the two biggest problems occurred in the old
Sandra Osborne (Ayr): Will my right hon. Friend report on progress on the new Scottish centre at Prestwick and, in his new role, visit Atlantic house in my constituency to address the work force on the future of NATS?
Mr. Darling: I am very happy to visit my hon. Friend's constituency and hope that something can be arranged over the coming months. The air traffic control system in this country, including the two centres at Swanwick and Prestwick, has received a great deal of investment. As I said to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), that is absolutely essential, if not very long overdue. I will be happy to visit the centre at Prestwick as I have already visited the one at Swanwick.
The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Government Departments have delegated responsibility for most recruitment. However, the Government are strongly committed to equality of opportunity and to creating an open and modern civil service that fully reflects the society it serves. Government Departments have set themselves challenging diversity targets for their people at all levels of the service, nationally and regionally. Each year heads of Department account personally to Ministers on their progress and on their future plans.
Mr. Chapman: Given that the Government have set a doubling target of 3.2 per cent. for the representation of ethnic minorities in the senior civil service by 2005, and accepting for the moment that that is sufficiently ambitious, how near are we to achieving that target? What measures are we taking to recruit people mid-career from both within and without the civil service to fill that deficit?
Mr. Alexander: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important point. The senior civil service target is indeed 3.2 per cent. The level at present is 2.4 per cent., which is up from the 1.6 per cent. achieved previously in April. However, further work needs to be undertaken to
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): Does the Minister agree that there is a huge pool of talent within the ethnic minorities in this country, so talk of quotas, targets and positive discrimination is insulting? What the Government should do is reach out to those communities and explain why a career in the civil service is worth while.
Mr. Alexander: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point and I can tell him exactly what we are doing. In conjunction with the Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector Organisations, the civil service has piloted seminars to do what he describes in Bristol, Leeds, Birmingham and Reading to raise awareness among regional ethnic minority community leaders of the career opportunities available in a modern civil service.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): Have the Government any plans to review the citizenship requirements for the civil service? Under present rules, one in six Londoners who are not United Kingdom or Commonwealth citizens are precluded from applying for the job of even the most lowly benefit clerk even if they speak perfect English and have lived here most of their lives. If we are serious about serving the communities we represent, should not we look at reviewing and reforming those requirements so that those Londoners are entitled to serve the people of London?
Mr. Alexander: I can assure my hon. Friend that we are sincere in wanting to create both a more open and a more modern civil service. On that basis, I will be happy to write to him on the particular point that he raises in relation to London.