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Column 843

Wilshire, David

Wolfson, Mark

Wood, Timothy

Yeo, Tim

Tellers for the Ayes :

Mr. David Maclean and

Mr. Stephen Dorrell.


Adams, Allen (Paisley N)

Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)

Beith, A. J.

Bray, Dr Jeremy

Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)

Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)

Buchan, Norman

Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)

Canavan, Dennis

Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)

Clay, Bob

Clelland, David

Cohen, Harry

Cook, Robin (Livingston)

Cryer, Bob

Darling, Alistair

Dewar, Donald

Dixon, Don

Doran, Frank

Douglas, Dick

Eadie, Alexander

Foster, Derek

Galbraith, Sam

Godman, Dr Norman A.

Graham, Thomas

Haynes, Frank

Henderson, Doug

Home Robertson, John

Hood, Jimmy

Hughes, John (Coventry NE)

Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)

Ingram, Adam

Kennedy, Charles

Lamond, James

Lewis, Terry

McAllion, John

Macdonald, Calum A.

McFall, John

McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)

McKelvey, William

McLeish, Henry

McTaggart, Bob

Marshall, David (Shettleston)

Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)

Maxton, John

Meale, Alan

Michael, Alun

Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)

Moonie, Dr Lewis

Morgan, Rhodri

Mowlam, Marjorie

Nellist, Dave

O'Neill, Martin

Pike, Peter L.

Reid, Dr John

Robertson, George

Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)

Skinner, Dennis

Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)

Steel, Rt Hon David

Strang, Gavin

Wallace, James

Wareing, Robert N.

Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)

Wilson, Brian

Wise, Mrs Audrey

Worthington, Tony

Tellers for the Noes :

Mr. Thomas McAvoy and

Mr. Nigel Griffiths.

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 15th December, be approved.

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A1 (Northumberland)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. John M. Taylor.]

1.51 am

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the question of the A1 and the issues surrounding it, and I am grateful to the Minister for his presence at this rather late hour.

The A1, the great north road, has been the country's principal road for so long that it has been left behind in the motorway era. In the 1960s the combined width of the two carriageways at one point in Alnwick was barely 10ft. The years of piecemeal improvements have not produced a safe or adequate road. Indeed, in some places inadequate improvements have made it even more dangerous.

The problems are not confined to Northumberland. The notorious Yorkshire section of the A1 will still not be up to motorway standards by the end of the century, and traffic from local communities will still be dicing with death if underpasses and proper junctions are not built to separate local traffic from fast traffic. The recent improvements at Stannington in Northumberland have cost lives because turning traffic has to wait in the middle of what motorists imagine is a motorway.

The 50 mile or so stretch of the A1 in my constituency stands out for its inadequacy as one of the two main roads between England and Scotland. Virtually none of it is dual carriageway, except for a stretch that was built 40 years ago. New bypasses at Alnwick Berwick and other places are little more than country lanes and, as a result, lives have been lost. Seventeen people have been killed on the Alnwick bypass and its approaches since it was opened in 1970. Three people died in two accidents in the first two months after the Berwick bypass was opened.

Deaths and serious injuries continue. They may not come top of the grim league of national accident statistics, but to many local people they are particularly sickening because they would not have happened if this were a safer road. For most of the length of the A1 in Northumberland, there are few opportunities for safe overtaking, yet long-distance car drivers find themselves stuck behind queues of heavy vehicles crawling up steep banks and around curves. I have argued for many years that an increase in the number of dual carriageway sections would reduce accidents by allowing queues to clear, and I welcome the acceptance of this by the Department of Transport. We look forward to the planned dualling of a section south of Alnwick, but we need much more and the whole road, including the bypasses, ought to be dual carriageway. It is the best, indeed the only, all-weather route to Scotland and should be treated accordingly. I was therefore particularly interested in reports of studies now going on which involve both the Department of Transport and the Scottish Office. On 10 January, The Daily Telegraph claimed that the Department

"is seeking a new route for the A1 across the English-Scottish border".

It is difficult to imagine where that route could be, given the terrain. The Scottish Office is studying,

"all main roads south of Edinburgh"

and an announcement on that is expected.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that this report

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from the Scottish Office about a road south of Edinburgh has been eagerly awaited for months. I have been able to obtain figures which show that 283 injuries and 25 deaths have occurred in accidents over a three-year period on the five-mile stretch of the A1 in Scotland. Does he agree that the time has come to provide a dual carriageway for the missing link all the way from Musselburgh to Morpeth?

Mr. Beith : I agree with the hon. Gentleman. He and I share a great deal of experience of that road on both sides of the border, and that confirms us in the view that we have expressed.

What do these reports and studies by the Department of Transport and the Scottish Office mean to the A1 in Northumberland, which is a vital link between England and Scotland? I hope that the Minister can give some indication what is going on. The A1 is not only an important communication route through Northumberland ; an increasing number of people earn their living from it. The Government and local councils see service industries and tourism as vital elements in creating jobs in the north-east of England and in the borders. Why does the Department of Transport go out of its way to prevent people from doing so? It seems to be running an anti-small business policy that is in direct opposition to what everyone else is trying to do. The most obvious example is in its attitude to signs. It has taken us years of struggle to get official signposting of major local tourist attractions, such as the castles along our coast.

It has taken even longer to get a system of approved signs for main services and major businesses along the road, for the cost of which those businesses are paying. What about the small hotels, craft shops, cafe s and bed and breakfast establishments? The existing schemes for approved signs are simply not tailored to their needs or to what they can reasonably afford, especially when setting up a new business. Often, they resort to a neat, unofficial roadside sign. The reaction of the Department of Transport is to send out its agents, the county council, on a sign swoop in the middle of the tourist season, demanding that signs be removed, and even taking them away themselves. This is not a safety-conscious and helpful exercise, in which officials recommend better positioning of signs and clearer lettering. It is the Big Brother approach--"We run this road from London, and what we say goes." That is the tone that the Department conveys in its attitude to unofficial signs.

If the business man owns the roadside land or is friendly with the farmer who does, he can bypass the Ministry of Transport by putting a sign in the field and getting planning permission from the council. The trouble is that, along a significant section of the A1 in my constituency, the Government own most of the land, through the Greenwich hospital estates and the Ministry of Defence. In other cases, the farmer may not want to be involved, or may even be in competition with other businesses because he has a farm shop or does bed and breakfast himself, as he is not only entitled but encouraged to do under the Government's diversification proposals.

I plead with the Minister to have a more tolerant approach to unofficial signs that are neat, well positioned and useful to the passing motorist. I hope that he will not try to convince us that these signs cause accidents. The signs that do so are almost invariably the Department's

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