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8.23 pm

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer), who made a telling speech about the excitement that he expects in Manchester over the next few weeks. Many people will watch with great interest as those games unfold, and recognise the tremendous amount of effort that the hon. Gentleman put into securing those games when he was leader of the city council.

This debate often gives us the opportunity to raise a number of issues that concern us and our constituents, the people we represent, before the House rises. This time, it rises for a long summer recess, but if the rumours are right we can rest assured that it will be the last time we have such a long recess. In future, we will be sitting in September. I for one welcome that. I would have welcomed sitting in September this year, but the Leader of the House told us that it was not possible because of works taking place outside the building.

I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House called for us to have extra time to debate a number of important issues that we have not had time to cover before the House rises. A number of hon. Members have said that one of the great sorrows is that we will not have time to talk about the Deputy Prime Minister's proposals for local government finance reorganisation. By the time we come back in October, many fundamental decisions will have been taken and the House will not have had a chance to give its opinion on that important subject. A number of us were led to believe that the proposals would lead to a huge flow of new money into our counties, and it seems on a first reading of the consultation paper that that will not happen.

I want to raise some other matters that are local to my constituency of West Derbyshire. On 31 March 1987, I had an Adjournment debate that started, as they used to in those days, at 2.48 am. I had secured the debate the previous week. I rang some of the parents concerned and said that the Adjournment debate would take place the following Tuesday. They said, "Great. Can we come down to listen to it?" I rang on the Monday night and asked how many were coming, and I was told 170.

I was a new Member at that stage, and I found that I always learned something in this place. I went along to the person who was then sitting in the Serjeant at Arms chair and said, "Can I have some tickets tomorrow night for my Adjournment debate?" He said, "Yes, of course. How many would you like?" I said, "170." He said, "Can you come back in a few minutes?" I did so, and I got the 170 tickets. I learned that one could get 204 people in the Public Gallery. When I spoke to the organisers, I said,

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"You must make sure that you are down at 9 o'clock, because I expect the Adjournment debate to start at 10 and it will not wait for you if you are late."

The three coach loads all arrived at 9 o'clock. I was slightly embarrassed as I went to tell my constituents that the debate was running somewhat late. However, 170 people insisted that they did not want to miss the Adjournment debate and went into the Public Gallery. At the time, my majority was 100. It concentrated the mind somewhat sitting in the Chamber, watching and waiting with eager patience for the Adjournment debate to start. A number of my colleagues kept coming in, looking at the Public Gallery and saying, "Who are all those people?" "It's McLoughlin's Adjournment debate," came the reply. "That'll teach him," they said.

The debate was on an important issue. At that time, the sixth form of a successful school in my constituency, Ecclesbourne school, was threatened with closure. That was eventually rejected by Kenneth Baker. It is a popular and successful school. As I said in that Adjournment debate, Ecclesbourne is

The school has been consistently led for quite a few years by Dr. Robert Dupey, who retires at the end of this term. The problem is that, as a very successful school, it tried to redraw its catchment area, part of which goes into the city of Derby. It tried to make a more sensible arrangement for its future. Both Derbyshire county council and Derby city council agreed that its proposals were sensible, but unfortunately they have now been thrown out by somebody known as the adjudication officer.

Children in the villages of Kirk Langley, Weston Underwood and Mugginton now do not know whether they will be able to go to the school. That is a big problem because the next nearest school for those villages is quite some miles away. It is not just a matter of getting a bus for another five or 10 minutes, as in urban areas. Such a decision in a rural area could add at least 12 to 14 miles to the journey, along some unfortunate country lanes.

A further housing development is now planned for Duffield in the next couple of years, and we can expect a high proportion of the properties sold to go to families with school-age children. Did the adjudicator consider that? No; the adjudicator did not even visit the area. The governors could see the problem looming and undertook a consultation process earlier this year. Sadly, the adjudicator chose to ignore that and told the school that it could not proceed.

The result is real disaster for families in the rural parts of my constituency. Because they live furthest from the school's flagpole, they may not get places when the demand is high. The situation will vary from year to year. The adjudicator has said that the catchment area must be based on the radius from the school's flagpole.

Derbyshire's local education authority is unhappy about that, because it will have to find the children places elsewhere in the county. It will have to provide and pay for transport to another town, quite some distance away. In my part of Derbyshire we have no nice straight dual carriageways with bus routes.

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The school is unhappy, because it spent a lot of time and effort making what was a very difficult decision. I raised the matter a few weeks ago with the Leader of the House. As we have come to expect of him, he was very open and honest. He said that

That is at the heart of the problem. It was not a local decision and did not take into account the local issues, such as transport and communities. The adjudicator listened only to those parents who had complained about the school's decision and did not consider the consequences for those who believed that they were unaffected and were therefore not invited to comment.

Even though there is no right of appeal, the Secretary of State takes no responsibility for the decision, and nor does the Parliamentary Commissioner. The only avenue open to parents is costly and time-consuming legal action. No wonder they are deluging everyone they can think of with desperate letters.

I urge the Government to look at the whole matter again, and with some urgency. I would be naive to think that they could do that within the next two days, but it is their creation of the adjudication office that has brought the problem about, and they should very quickly review the consequences of what has happened in this case.

West Derbyshire is a large rural constituency and we have a huge number of visitors to the national park—it is the most visited national park. I have consistently raised the problem of transport and roads in the area. A new link road, the A50, which runs between the M1 and the M6, has recently been built. It has done a lot to relieve certain traffic congestion, but it has created several traffic problems that were not investigated thoroughly enough when it opened.

The A50 now attracts a huge number of heavy goods vehicles. The section through Doveridge was, unaccountably, given a concrete surface. We were promised that it would be resurfaced in the Government's 10-year plan, but we all know what has happened to the 10-year plan: two years on, we are told that the Secretary of State for Transport is rewriting it. We want to know when that section will be resurfaced, for the sake of the people of Doveridge and Somersal Herbert.

Just a few weeks ago, the A6 in another part of my constituency was de-trunked. There is growing demand from people in the Darley Dale area for more pedestrian crossings. There are two campaigns, which I support. A tremendous number of road deaths occur every year, but because they happen in ones and twos, we tend not to regard them in the same way as accidents in the public transport sector. One way to address that problem, particularly where roads are being de-trunked, is to consider the entire subject of pedestrian crossings.

The A515 comes off the A50, and since the A50 upgrade—the M1-M6 link road—there has been a huge increase in traffic on what are very narrow and winding lanes. I raised the matter two years ago with the then Minister responsible for transport, the hon. Member for Streatham (Keith Hill), whom I now shadow in another position. He said that there would be good news on those

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roads and that he would ask the county council to investigate them as a matter of urgency. Perhaps he did ask them to do so, but nothing has happened since, and I hope that something will happen in the not-too-distant future, for the sake of the people in those areas.

I turn to the final issue that I wish to raise. Last week, the Government published a document entitled "The Review of English National Park Authorities". As I said, the Peak district serves a huge area in my constituency. It receives some 19 million day-visitors a year—a huge number—and covers some 143,000 hectares. Its national park authority comprises some 38 people. In referring to the governance of national parks, the Government document suggests that the number of people who serve on national parks should be reduced. I ask the Government to proceed very carefully in this regard. When I was first elected to the House of Commons, there was great local dissatisfaction at the fact that insufficient local people were being appointed to national parks bodies. When he was Secretary of State for the Environment, my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) introduced what he called parish representatives. Parishes were joined together, and they could have representation in respect of the national parks.

Having read the document, I very much fear that such appointments are under threat. That would be a grave mistake, because they bring a locally elected element to national parks that did not exist before. I urge the Government not to take the view that we need smaller authorities and a smaller decision-making process. The Peak district national park is unusual among national parks. It includes representatives from Cheshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire county councils; Barnsley, High Peak, Kirklees, Macclesfield and Oldham borough councils; Derbyshire Dales, North East Derbyshire and Staffordshire Moorlands district councils; and Sheffield city council. It includes those councillors because it covers their boroughs and areas. I urge the Government not to change that level of representation, and to reject the recommendations—if only in respect of the Peak district. The Peak district is unique: it has the highest number of visitors of all the national parks.

It is said that the Peak district is within an hour's drive of some 60 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom, including the people of Manchester, the west midlands, Nottingham and the Sheffield conurbation. It deserves to have a large governing body, and it is very important that that local element be represented, but such representation is under threat through the document's proposals. I hope that there is plenty of time to consider this issue, and that the Government do not proceed with their plans.

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