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Maria Eagle: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. His Bill ranges over many different subjects, so I hope that he will not think that I am being excessive. Would clause 2 require consultation with local people? It is not clear to me that it does.
Mr. Gray: The hon. Lady is quite right: the clause does not require consultation with local people at all because that is precisely the burdensome part of the present procedure. One must presume that the local authority acts because it seeks to get the local people's votes at the forthcoming local council elections. The point of local democracy is for the council to do what it believes local people will like. Plainly, if a local authority introduced speed limits all over the place that local people did not want, the chairman of roads would have difficulty in justifying what he was doing.
Most local people want speed limits sensibly applied in their local area. The Hooray Henrys and general speedsters who do not want speed limits are not people whom we ought to consult. The hon. Lady is right to say that the Bill cuts out consultation with local people.
Mr. Greenway: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that this is a technical matter that could be resolved in Committee, but if a review is undertaken, one assumes that people would get to know about it and would gladly send in their opinions. When the local authority undertakes such a review now, it is usually because there has been significant pressure from local residents, particularly in rural villages.
Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend makes a good point. His experience in Yorkshire is clearly the same as mine in Wiltshire. There is an extra element. Under clause 2, the local authority would be required to produce a review of every speed limit in its area, and to produce a clear plan of the speed limits that it proposed. Under clause 3, it would become significantly easier to put those speed limits in place.
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I am listening with great interest to the hon. Gentleman's comments about consultation and the notion that consultation should end with local authority members. Is he aware that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has introduced community strategies the purpose of which is to do something about the democratic deficit? Under previous Administrations, the views of people whom an authority purported to support were totally ignored. That situation could not go on because people became disenchanted with it. The community strategy implies that people living in the community have a right to express their views on matters such as these he is discussing. Has the hon. Gentleman heard about that, and would he support it in his own constituency?
Mr. Gray: The hon. Lady makes her own point in an interesting way, although I suspect that the quango, and the spinning that she describes, which DETR is so good at, are not quite within the remit of the Bill. I do not support the innovations that she describes. The Government love launches, fancy titles and the fancy leaflets but they do not increase democracy at all.
In my view, democracy means people voting for parish councillors, town councillors, district councillors, county councillors, Members of Parliament and Members of the European Parliament. That is democracy.
If those councillors do not do what local people want, they take the consequences at the next election. To set up some new DETR-run quango with a fancy leaflet to try and overcome what the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) describes as the democratic deficit is the wrong way to go about things. We want to reinforce democracy by strengthening parish councils--not by doing what the Minister for the Environment suggested at a fringe meeting at the Labour party conference two years ago. The right hon. Gentleman said that parish councils
That is what I believe democracy to be. I do not like all the committees, reports and quangos; I like straightforward democracy--people casting their votes for the candidates who they believe will do what they want them to do. That is what will happen in May: we shall see how many Labour-controlled county councils there are then. I suspect that there will be fewer than at present. However, Madam Deputy Speaker, you have been extremely indulgent to the hon. Member for Crosby. Perhaps we have moved away slightly from the purpose of the Bill, so I shall not dwell longer on her comments.
I agree with the CPRE and others who do not want the countryside littered with a million new signs. To that end, I have some reservations about traffic-calming measures; they can often ruin the appearance of a village and do not serve to reduce speeds at all. I also have reservations about the plethora of speed limit signs that appear all over the place. In my own tiny hamlet in Wiltshire, there are signs pointing out that the maximum speed limit is 30 mph. My goodness, you could not even drive at 10 mph along some of the roads in the village. It is absurd to have so many signs. Speaking as a Back Bencher, I support the view of the CPRE; we should adopt the French system--the village sign shows a 30 mph speed limit and at the other end of the village a sign with three lines across it shows that the speed limit has ended. A sensible speed limit operates throughout the village, even though there are no signs. I do not want a huge growth of speed limit signs across the countryside.
The next section of the Bill may be more controversial. We have already had a few interventions on it. It would ban entirely the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving. At present, people can be stopped for dangerous driving or for driving without due care and attention, if the police consider their driving to be less than first class because they are using a mobile phone. However, there is no absolute ban in the United Kingdom--with one honourable exception. Curiously, that is in the Isle of Man; the Manx Parliament introduced a law banning the use of mobile phones while driving--well done to them. My provision is based on that law.
Mr. Gray: My right hon. Friend has only just arrived in the Chamber. I fear that he may not have heard some of the earlier parts of my speech, so he will doubtless forgive me for not taking his intervention. I am sure he will have an opportunity to catch your eye later on, Madam Deputy Speaker, although whether a right hon. Gentleman who misses the opening speeches is then entitled to take part in the debate is a matter that you may have to consider--[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend says that in that case, he will leave now and not bother with the rest of the debate. I am sure my hon. Friends will be happy to wave goodbye as he leaves. He is a close and dear friend; I was his special adviser when he was a
The truth is that we all drive while using mobile phones. I do it. I am the first to admit it. We drive along using our mobile phones. When the phone rings, there is a terrible temptation--[Interruption.] Several self-righteous Labour Members are shaking their heads, I see.
Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman doubtless wants to declare that he does not talk on his mobile phone while he is driving. Let me issue a challenge to the local papers and television companies in the areas of all the Labour Members who are shaking their heads so self-righteously: if they see an hon. Member using a mobile phone while driving, it should appear as front-page news.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): The hon. Gentleman casts an outrageous slur on the driving habits of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I can say categorically that I have never driven and used a mobile phone at the same time, for the simple reason that I have never learned to drive--I am not a car driver.
Mr. Gray: We take the general point. It is useful to know that the Minister does not drive. I thought he was going to say that he does not use a mobile phone because he does not own one. Had he done so, I would have taken my hat off to him.
I cast no slur on anyone, because I have already said that, in the past, I have used my mobile phone while driving. In that context, I am no virtuous character. I have done so and I know that it is bad driving. We only have to look around the streets locally--