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1.44 pm

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) is an estimable Member, and I believe that this is an estimable Bill. The hon. Gentleman has conducted today's debate well, and in a spirit calculated to see the Bill through to its next stage.

Anyone who listened to today's speeches could have come up with various captions to sum up what has been said. "The hon. Member for Tooting sends off a speeding Beckham." "The hon. Member for North Wiltshire tightens seat belts around Minister's neck." "The hon. Member for Garston goes bananas over zoo poo" Those are just some of the headlines that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire might be able to use in his local press, which I am sure is following the passage of his Bill carefully.

I turn to the serious aspects of the Bill. I have received a letter from a constituent, Mr. Langley, who lives in Glenwood grove in Kingsbury. He says:

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That is a graphic example of the correspondence that all hon. Members receive about road safety problems in their constituencies, the way in which it affects the lives of their constituents, and the reason why the measures on speed limits in the Bill are so important.

Glenwood grove is surrounded by streets in which traffic-calming measures have been put into effect. In Salmon street and Slough lane there are speed bumps and restricted width barriers. There is limited turning out of Slough lane into Roe green. As a result, vehicles that cannot be bothered to use Church lane take a detour through one of the turnings off Salmon street and Church lane and race at great speed down Glenwood grove. To save what? To save a few seconds, but to render an elderly gentleman unconscious on the roadside bleeding to death.

When I wrote to the local council following that accident, I received a fulsome response. It was a positive response, and the council appreciated the concern that residents in Glenwood grove expressed. It said that the council was working in line with Government proposals and the Government's road safety strategy to reduce the number of road traffic accidents nationally by 40 per cent. by 2010. The council pointed out that it had to work within the constraints of the transport for London plan--the interim plan. There are financial constraints, and the council had to prioritise road safety measures. So yet another street has no prospect of any imminent improvement in traffic safety or reduction in traffic speed.

I could just as easily have taken the example of an elderly gentleman who was run down in Preston road outside the Bnai Brith residential home. He did not survive. His tragic death underlined the clear need for improvements in road safety at that point, where sheltered housing and residential homes are located. Elderly people can be expected to take that bit longer in crossing the road.

A new pedestrian phase is to be installed in the existing traffic signals at the junction of Preston road and East lane, but the scheme will not be implemented until the financial year 2001-02, which means that the minimum delay will be six months, and it is possible that as much as 18 months will elapse until action is taken as a result of that fatality. It is therefore with pleasure that I support the efforts of the hon. Member for North Wiltshire to place an obligation on every local traffic authority to review the speed limits that are appropriate in its locality and to take such other measures as are appropriate to reduce the number of fatalities occurring in its area.

The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) spoke of the shocking number of deaths that had occurred on a stretch of road in his constituency which comes under North Yorkshire county council. All hon. Members know of places where action could and should be taken to improve the safety of their local streets and highways. In Wood lane in my constituency, there lives a lady whose garden wall has been destroyed more than a dozen times in the past 20 years. One might think that measures would be taken in respect of such an accident black spot--that bollards would have been installed or other measures adopted to slow the traffic and ensure that traffic is able

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to pass safely along the road in icy conditions. However, we have yet to hear whether the local council is to implement my suggestion that bollards be installed.

Traffic passes far too swiftly down two streets in my constituency, Grasmere avenue and Windermere avenue; parked cars on either side render those streets tunnels where motorists' vision focuses on the end of the road and they fail to see, for example, a young child coming out into the road, as happened last September on Grasmere avenue. The child was struck down and killed because of the speed the vehicle was travelling. A life was lost to speeding motorists because restrictions had not been put in place, despite the fact that residents had for many years been calling for them. It is essential that there is an obligation on local authorities to review speed limits and safety measures that could save their residents' lives.

I want to be as constructive as possible, because the intention behind the Bill is a fine one. However, I share the doubts that some hon. Members have expressed about clause 1. In an intervention on the hon. Member for North Wiltshire, I stated that I was troubled by his belief that the clause 1 obligation on local highway authorities to

leads to an obligation on them to prepare a plan for gritting the roads.

The hon. Gentleman and I might agree that it is reasonable for highway authorities to prepare such a plan. We might agree also that it would be a good idea were they all to do so. However, I cannot see that the wording of the Bill places that obligation on local highway authorities. The clause says that authorities

not "as are reasonable". If the clause is to have real teeth and if the Bill is to have real effect in this area, the test of reasonableness must be an objective test on which the courts can make a decision. It should not be a subjective test, which might enable any local highway authority to plead that in its view its action was reasonable and ipso facto it is not guilty even if what was done was not done to an objectively reasonable standard.

In considering the clearance of roads and ensuring that highway authorities take steps to ensure safe passage, I shall touch upon a related issue that is critical when we are considering the usage of roads in local areas. I shall use a case history from my constituency. For many months, I have been battling against a local retailer, Capital Ford, the premises of which are at the junction of Hay lane and Edgware road. I have written not only to Capital Ford but to Mr. Ian McAllister, the chairman and managing director of Ford UK. He took just over a month to reply to my letter, after prompting by two telephone calls. In his letter he was finally able to tell me that the management of the dealership was not its affair but down to another company.

The key issue is that transporters are parking in a small, narrow residential road on a hill that happens to border on a commercial area. Transporters are being loaded and unloaded in that road. That is a clear breach of any safety guidelines for local motorists. It is causing huge disruption to the local community.

The positive ending is that this morning I received a letter from Capital Ford, in which it says that it has spoken to its supplier and informed it that its services will no

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longer be used by Capital Ford. The offending company that was engaged in the transportation of vehicles to the site is no longer being used by Capital Ford. That is a good instance of where "working with the local community" measures can eventually be taken by business to ensure that local roads are kept safe, by making it clear to suppliers that infringements of road safety will not be tolerated when deliveries are being made.

The issue of mobile phones has been dealt with at various stages today and with varying degrees of humour. I do not propose to rehearse the sandwich argument or the banana argument. The Bill--this is a textual comment--at lines 40 and 41 refers to

I simply point out to the hon. Member for North Wiltshire that it may well be that if one could show that one was holding the mobile phone with two hands and driving with one's knees that would be a way around the provision. That is not to be light-hearted about the matter, because driving without care and attention is a very serious issue indeed, but one feature of legislation is that Members of Parliament and Parliament as a whole are kept to the words that we pass in legislation. It is therefore important that, perhaps in Committee, attention is paid to tightening the wording of the Bill so that its proper intention can be reasonably debated without Members getting bogged down in semantic debate.

The Association of Chief Police Officers has made its views on that serious issue clearly known. It does not support the clause incorporated in the Bill; it is clear that it has the powers to prosecute any driver who is not driving with due care and attention. Perhaps we need police officers to exercise those powers more forcefully, rather than include a particular proscription about mobile phones in the Bill.

On the question of seat belts, and the clause that deals with the wearing of seat belts by children, I speak from bitter personal experience, as my own niece was a victim of a car crash in the past few years. The driver had not asked or told her to wear her seat belt, and she went through the windscreen, which caused severe facial injuries. I have seen, at rather too close hand, the terrible effect of such stupidity on the part of drivers and adults in charge of children in their vehicles. I have seen the devastating effect that that can have on a child's life, so I give my wholehearted support to the provision, which seeks to raise the penalty for such an offence to level 2 on the standard scale. It should be welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The Bill deals with further issues, many of which are commendable. I simply conclude by once again congratulating the hon. Member for North Wiltshire on introducing the Bill. I wish it safe passage through to Committee, and I hope that its essential elements, which are important, will eventually pass into legislation.

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