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19 Nov 2002 : Column 564—continued

Mr. Dawson : I agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend is saying, but is not the argument about regional government an argument about quality? Would not north-west regional government be more palatable to

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the people of Carlisle if they felt that their region would be able to engage the whole of the north-west rather than being dominated by areas to the south?

Mr. Martlew: My hon. Friend is wrong. I have nothing against the north-west region; my family originate from there. It just so happens, however, that the people from north Cumbria have always gone down the Tyne valley and never over Shap. Historically, that is where we should be.

I am delighted that we are to have a Bill on hunting. As long as we can amend the Bill, I see no objection to it. I know that it will be argued in my area that fell paths should be retained, but in those areas they breed foxes to hunt, so it is not a matter of pest control.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Is my hon. Friend not a little disappointed, as I am, that the Government have not had the guts to put to the House the abolition of hunting with hounds, rather than the proposed gimmick of licensing or whatever?

Mr. Martlew: I understand my hon. Friend's frustration, but we should not prejudge the Government. They have not come forward with a Bill at all yet. Perhaps they will surprise us—although perhaps not.

The antisocial behaviour Bill will also be greeted with tremendous enthusiasm in my constituency. We must consider air weapons and fireworks, as both create considerable problems throughout the country. Recently, four swans were killed on the River Eden by somebody with an air weapon. The firework season now starts in September and goes well into January. Air weapons and fireworks have become far more powerful than they were when I was young. If we do not get legislation right this time and stop the antisocial behaviour of some, we will have to put the banning of fireworks and air weapons in the next Queen's Speech.

Angus Robertson (Moray): The hon. Gentleman mentioned the risk of abuse of fireworks and air weapons. Does he concede that the Government should look into the sale of BB guns, as a large number of injuries have been reported recently in my constituency resulting from the misuse of such so-called toys, which are sold to very young children?

Mr. Martlew: New technology has taken over from the old spud gun that I remember well.

The antisocial behaviour Bill will be excellent. My concern is that the police might not implement the law. In October, I wrote to my local police force pointing out that it is of course illegal to throw fireworks in the street. It is illegal to let them off in a public place. I accept the police's argument that the law is difficult to implement, but I want a clear law—if people misuse fireworks they should be brought to court or, even better perhaps, subject to a fixed fine. Without doubt, my elderly constituents are worried. I recently received a letter from a lady with a guide dog. She was concerned that she could not leave the house because the guide dog was terrified. I received—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Gentleman's time is up, I am afraid. I call the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous).

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7 pm

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is a great privilege to speak in this debate on the Queen's Speech, particularly given the quality of the contributions.

Like the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), I very much welcome the transport safety Bill. I commute into London from my constituency in common with many of my constituents, who travel from Leighton Buzzard station or elsewhere and will certainly welcome the Bill. Part 2 of the Bill may cover certain aspects of transport safety, but I am anxious that there is no mention at all of safety measures covering car drivers using mobile phones. I was a signatory to early-day motion 1108, which was signed by 128 Members. Our early-day motion stated that 17 deaths have been caused by drivers using mobile phones. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents says that using a mobile phone while driving is at least as dangerous as being over the limit. I therefore hope that the Government will consider including that in part 2.

The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar): May I ease the hon. Gentleman's concerns? The consultation document out at the moment points out that primary legislation is not required, as secondary legislation could cater for the problem if the consultation points to the need for action.

Andrew Selous: I am grateful to the Minister. I am sure that many hon. Members will look to the Government to make sure that that happens.

It is the Opposition's function to point out urgent problems that have not been addressed in the Queen's Speech. The Government tell us that they are pro-business, but many businesses in my constituency have been badly affected or put out of business completely by the actions of the local highways authority and the Highways Agency. There have been roadworks in North street in Leighton Buzzard and in the High street in Houghton Regis. They are currently creating a severe problem in the High street in Dunstable. So far, two businesses have been bankrupted following works by the Highways Agency and, only weeks before Christmas, members of staff, many with children, have been laid off. Other affected businesses say that their weekly takings are down by #1,800 #3,300 and #4,500 respectively. The Highways Agency told us that the roadworks would take 14 weeks, but so far they have taken 23 weeks and will extend into the Christmas period.

Like other hon. Members with similar problems in their constituencies, I am concerned that the highways authority and the Highways Agency are not liable for the loss of business in the locality. There is an inconsistency: under the Water Act 1989, compensation can be paid; under the Gas Act 1986, in which a time limit is specified for roadworks, compensation can be paid; and the same is true of the Land Compensation Act 1973. At the very least, we need an assessment of the impact on businesses of roadworks that can put traders out of business. In my constituency, for example, pubs have not been able to get deliveries of beer. Penalty clauses apply to contractors and only benefit the

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Highways Agency—they should also benefit affected traders. There is a good case for a reduction in business rates where an independent audit clearly shows that businesses are thousands of pounds a week down. I am sure that many hon. Members will have come across similar problems created by major roadworks in their constituencies.

I want an end to the linkage of funds for urgent non-controversial works such as road repairs and basic environmental improvements to the local area's acceptance of other transport spending which is unwelcome, unwanted or extremely controversial. That undermines local democracy—councillors may have stood for election opposing certain schemes only to be told that their area could be denied millions of pounds for desperately needed road improvements unless they accept that funding. In my constituency, for example, the Translink scheme, a light busway between Luton and Dunstable, is bitterly opposed by many people and Dunstable town council. However, we were told that if we did not vote for it locally my constituency would be denied a lot of money.

We have been told that unless we accept the Xgreen wave" works on the A5 through Dunstable, which are putting many traders in my constituency out of business, the much needed bypass to the north of Dunstable and Houghton Regis could be endangered by the Government. That shows no respect for local people—there are no grounds for that linkage of funds, and each case should be judged on its own merits.

As for planning, the removal of county structure plans will create a serious democrat deficit in regions that do not vote for regional assemblies. I listened carefully to the answer that the Deputy Prime Minister gave one of my colleagues, but I was not enlightened. The eastern region, of which my constituency is part, is the least likely in the United Kingdom to vote for a regional assembly. If the county structure plan, for which there is at least accountability through county councillors, is taken away, the regional development agency or some other body in Cambridge will assess our needs through regional spatial strategies—my constituents will not regard that at all favourably. I should be grateful for an assurance that the people of my region will not be blackmailed and told that they will be denied funds unless they vote for a regional assembly, as that would be extremely underhand.

A major review of airport capacity is taking place throughout the country. It is extremely important to acknowledge the quality of life of people who live close to airports. My constituency is much affected by aircraft traffic from Luton airport—it is the dominant issue for people in Studham, Whipsnade and Kensworth. Luton airport currently deals with 6 million passengers a year but under the proposals, that figure could be increased to 31 million—a huge expansion. I have severe doubts that our transport could cope with that, as the area is already extremely congested. The M1 is regularly blocked and the promised rail improvements have not materialised, so there are great concerns. There are also specific concerns about Luton, as it is not a designated airport, so is subject to lighter regulation, especially of night flights.

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The local airport consultative committees are completely unable to influence anything that airports do. That is an affront to local people. The committee is the one body through which they can take the airport to task, yet it is not listened to. We need to give airport consultative committees considerably more teeth to do the job that local people want them to do. We need independent, unannounced audits of the environmental impact of airports if the monitoring of airport noise and nuisance is to be credible. European directive 2002/30 dealing with airport noise seems to continue the distinction between designated and non-designated airports, which is a great concern to people who live in the area around non-designated airports.

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