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Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): Is my hon. Friend aware that the position is possibly even worse than he suggests? In the glorious outer London borough of Ealing, the cycle lanes are painted red and, in adjoining boroughs, they are painted green. That inspires something approaching cycling schizophrenia in the two-wheeled population. Is he aware of any plans, particularly from the Greater London Authority, to rationalise the system for cycle lanes, particularly with regard to highway markings?
Mr. Cox: I am not aware of any such plans, but my hon. Friend makes a valid point. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take it on board. It illustrates the need to involve local authorities and to take a consistent approach towards speeding.
I have told the hon. Member for North Wiltshire that I support his Bill. However, if it had only contained clause 4, it would still have been welcome. The problem of people using hand-held mobile phones when driving a car is now totally out of control. One sees that happening throughout the country. I have a mobile phone, but I can honestly say that I have never used it when driving, because I see no need for it. I hope that the problem will be tackled, and clause 4 clearly outlines what action should be taken.
At the moment, the police have no clear policy on mobile phone use. I am sure that in some areas they come down hard on people who drive while using their phone, but that is not generally the case. Like the hon. Gentleman, I have asked Transport Ministers when they will introduce legislation, and I have been told that measures already exist in the legislation on dangerous driving and on driving without due care and attention. However, that simply is not working because it is not being used. I do not have the figures--perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister does--for the number of people who, in the past two years, have been charged with, convicted of, and, one assumes, fined for driving while using a mobile phone.
We know that we now live in a society dominated by mobile phones. One sees them being used everywhere, and sometimes we are surprised at their use. In clause 4(1), the hon. Gentleman has clearly said in 29 words what should be done about the problem. We have all seen what I can only describe as the idiots who drive a car while using a phone. Last week, as I was coming to the House, I saw a young man driving a car along Wandsworth road. He had a mobile phone pushed into his shoulder and in his left hand was a plastic cup from which he was drinking, and he was steering the car with his right hand. What control did that driver have over his vehicle? We all know how near one can come to having an accident--it happens in a second. I believe that people want what the hon. Gentleman proposes in clause 4.
I have been in the House for a long time, and looking round the Chamber this morning, I see only Members, including the Minister, who were not present when we were discussing seat belts. I took part in that debate, and I remember some Members saying that they were opposed to the compulsory use of seat belts, despite all the evidence supporting their use, because it infringed human rights.
I listened to the closing remarks by the hon. Member for North Wiltshire, and he must take up the matter that he mentioned with the Leader of the House, which he obviously has the experience to do. I urge him not to give way if he is pressed on clause 4. When hon. Members on both sides of the House meet their constituents, this subject invariably comes up. They ask when something will be done about the idiots who use a mobile phone while driving. One wonders how urgent some of the calls can be. If a call is urgent, the driver should stop the car, as I do when I want to use my phone. It is as simple as that.
On Second Reading, Madam Deputy Speaker, one has the opportunity to raise issues that are related to the Bill, and with your permission I intend to raise three such issues. Two of them are important throughout the country, and the third relates only to my constituency. The first problem occurs throughout London and possibly even in
Now, in winter, it is dark in the mornings and in the evenings, yet many of these cyclists wear no fluorescent clothing and have neither front nor rear lights on their bicycle. I am told that it is against the law to cycle without lights. I am not critical of my local police, indeed I have a very good relationship with them, but when I take up this issue with them, they say, "We know what happens but we are too busy to deal with it. We have other important issues to tackle." A former Member of this House, who is now a Member of the upper House, was knocked down and severely hurt by a cyclist a short time ago--
Mr. Cox: With great respect, Madam Deputy Speaker, I do not dispute that, but as you and I know, if the Bill gets its Second Reading and goes into Committee, we will have the opportunity to introduce new clauses. The Bill deals with broad, interrelated issues of transport and safety. A cycle is a means of transport, and I have commented on cyclists without lights because action needs to be taken against them.
My next point concerns bus lanes. I am a great supporter of bus lanes, which exist throughout London and, I am sure, in many other parts of the country. However, the restrictions on the use of bus lanes in the morning and evening are not being enforced. Why do we have bus lanes if we allow people to drive in them at those times? The vast majority of motorists respect the restrictions, but there are people who completely disregard them, as there are people who disregard speed limits. I shall be interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say about the number of prosecutions that have taken place.
The Bill is fairly wide ranging, and it is not controversial, as its promoter stated. A clause could be added to deal with bus lanes. I hope that the Minister will comment on what thoughts his Department has on the abuse of bus lanes.
Mr. Dismore: Is my hon. Friend aware of the experiment that the Minister sanctioned on route 32 in my constituency which runs down the A5 corridor? There has been a crackdown using cameras in bus lanes and tighter enforcement by traffic wardens. That has made a significant difference to buses' reliability and speed.
Mr. Cox: I welcome my hon. Friend's intervention. I should like to see similar developments elsewhere. It is time to deal with the flagrant disregard of the restrictions which happens in the mornings and the evenings throughout London. Why introduce restrictions if they are not enforced? It would be interesting to know how many people have been charged with driving in a bus lane during restricted hours. We should seriously consider tabling a new clause.
Mention has been made of consulting the general public. We should make consultation with our constituents our top priority. I am concerned about controlled parking zones in my constituency. I have two secretaries who work in the House and they have been inundated with calls from residents bitterly complaining about the lack of consultation on the introduction of the zones in Wandsworth.
My hon. Friend the Minister represents a constituency adjoining mine and we have worked together on many issues. There is absolute uproar in the London borough of Wandsworth about the council's attitude. Local people say that they are not being consulted and that, no matter what they say, the council does not listen. Not only residents but business people say that policies that they do not want are being steamrollered through.
I certainly hope that we can table a new clause--it would be easy to draft--requiring the fullest consultation on the introduction of new controlled parking zones, the results of which must be published. People often tell me that they have not been consulted, yet the council insists that it has consulted everyone.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon would know from his professional background that one presents one argument for the defence and quite another for the prosecution. We know that some people will say that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire is an idiot to try to restrict speeds and curb the use of mobile phones. I am reporting what my constituents tell me. These are interrelated issues.
Hon. Members of all parties often have very good ideas. I was a Government Whip under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan and I have sat on the Front Bench, listened to excellent Bills being introduced and thought that they were something that my constituents would warmly welcome. I hope that the Bill gets its Second Reading.