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8.40 pm

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), who gave the best advocacy of the Government's proposals that we have heard so far in this debate. I do not know whether he has journeyed towards new Labour, or whether new Labour has journeyed towards him. In any case, the bridge across is there, should he wish to

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continue his journey, following such an informed and articulate analysis of the use of technology. It was most apposite to the debate.

I thank the Secretary of State for his kind suggestion that I sit on the Bill Committee. Unlike some of the more reticent Members who have spoken from the Opposition Benches, I believe that it is always an honour humbly to serve, and I look forward to doing so, should the Whips have taken note of that suggestion. A puff of white smoke will emerge from Worksop town hall to signify that my name has been added to the roll-call of those putting in time working on the detail of the Bill.

The single biggest contribution that the Government have made to tackling congestion is the decision that they made about 18 months ago to get rid of the three roundabouts on the A1 in Nottinghamshire. That decision was not taken by the previous Labour Government—the Callaghan Government—or by any of the five subsequent Conservative Governments since the issue was first debated in 1970. The decision was finally taken following a visit to my constituency by the then Transport Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar). When he saw the situation, he decided to spend the necessary money. The difference that that will make to the local economy in my constituency will be worth more than £10 million a year in terms of the profitability of local businesses.

In terms of the quality of life of the people who can now journey either up and down the A1 or—in the case of many of my constituents—across it, the savings in their average journey times will be astronomical. There will also be a reduction in the pollution currently caused by cars stopping and starting at the roundabouts near the villages of Blyth, Harworth and Bircotes. For those living there, this decision represents a significant and timely change that will reduce congestion significantly.

Just this week, we are witnessing the removal of the second lot of road humps from Manton in my constituency that were unwisely put in by the county council following guidance from the early 1990s, especially the 1994 guidance. The guidance failed to take into account the presence of on-street parking. In its wisdom, the county council, like many others, stuck road humps into areas that had previously had high accident rates, including mining estates. Until the mid-to-late 1990s, those estates had had long roads with not many cars on them, because previous generations of miners had lived and worked in the village and not required cars to get to work. The local Manton pit, at which 2,500 Manton residents worked until it was arbitrarily shut down in 1992, was within walking distance of their homes. There was no car park at the pit for the locals; everyone walked to work. Of course, cars appeared as people had to find work further afield, but we found that the inflection on the road humps did not work when cars were parked each side of them.

There are no garages or drives at most houses in most mining villages, so the presence of the cars, which were newly acquired to allow people to work further afield, meant that the road humps lined the middle of the street. That meant that emergency service vehicles—as I said

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earlier, the ambulance service was not consulted on this—could not traverse the humps in the way that they were designed to do and the humps were a total disaster.

I am pleased to say, however, that that guidance has changed and that, wisely, the vast majority of the road humps, including the second lot, have been dug out this very week, much to the delight of local residents. That is not an anti-road safety issue, but one of pedestrians, residents and motorists coming together to produce a coherent and sensible road management policy. My question to the Minister is this: where in the Bill does it say who will take responsibility locally for the outcome in relation to edicts that come in guidance notes from the Department for Transport, which in this case were implemented wrongly and absurdly and were applied by the county council in circumstances in which they would not work, although I commend the Department and the Government for their well meaning attempt to achieve road safety? If that is not clear, an amendment is required to ensure that someone locally takes precise responsibility.

On speed cameras, although I will not repeat anything from the excellent contribution of the hon. Member for Salisbury, there is an additional point. We in Nottinghamshire have had to wait, but my constituency, following a vigorous campaign, now has speed cameras, although that required seven deaths over about 18 months on the A631 and there was tremendous all-party resistance to it in the county council. One wonders whether declarations of interest should have been made and why some of those people opposed their introduction.

In that context, who should be responsible for saying, "Here is a road that clearly meets the criteria but has no speed cameras"? Having such a person would ensure that my local residents could get what they are crying out for—safer roads. Some contributions on speed cameras sounded rather dated, because the new cameras that we have are digital. Digital cameras do not result in people being fined just because they went 2 mph over the limit when passing a particular camera, although people who brake to slow down and then speed up will get a fine, because the cameras can monitor cars over the length of a road. Also, the stretch of road being monitored between various cameras can be varied so that people do not know they are being filmed.

What is happening has been widely publicised among local residents and we have found that all the locals are going below the speed limit, which has been rightly reduced to 50 mph. We have safer roads. That is popular with the local community and we are making good use of the technology. Who will be responsible for ensuring that no county council can fail fulfil its responsibilities for introducing such speed cameras?

On the A638 at Scrooby and Barnby Moor, the local residents are demanding speed cameras. It seems to me that the right for the local community to say, "We are the ones who are living with the speed, so we should determine what we have outside our front door," is missing from the Bill. If the Minister requires a further example, I invite him to visit me at home. On the A620, my local road in the constituency, there have been four deaths in three separate accidents in the past six months, but because none of the deaths occurred at precisely the same point it would be excluded in terms of the specific requirement that gives the county council a get out—it

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can say, "We'll not be having speed cameras or even a speed camera on this road." However, local residents would rather have safer roads for us to drive on.

Of course, many of those victims were children, who were in the back of cars that cut into large roads as people went about their everyday business. They are all too often the victims of our failure to take appropriate action. I hope that the Minister will provide clarification on that.

Australia was cited as an example. When I was there in the summer, I asked Australian parliamentary colleagues why everyone drove so slowly. The answer was clear: they drive slowly because they do not want to get the very large fines that come automatically when excess speed is recorded. Everybody therefore drives slowly, safely and more sensibly.

I am keen to hear from the Minister about the issue of gas. I fully support many of the details in the Bill relating to an efficient road management system, but there is a dilemma. The Bracebridge estate in my constituency consists of 90 pensioner bungalows. In mining villages, pensioners have tended to stay with solid fuel for two reasons: first, empathy for the product that they mined in their lifetime; and, secondly, the concessionary fuel allowance from the National Coal Board. Therefore, while everyone else has tended to convert to gas, pockets exist—in this case, 90 pensioner properties—that are without gas. It will be necessary to dig under the main road to connect to the gas main. Transco and its competitors may use that as an excuse to charge an exorbitant additional price to connect those pensioners' homes to gas supplies. That is one of the smaller ambiguities that are present in any legislation, but discussions should take place with the Department of Trade and Industry about how we overcome that ambiguity.

On the issue of road surfacing, one of my suggestions, which no doubt is uncontroversial, relates to the adoption of roads. There are several new estates in my constituency. I am always delighted to welcome new residents, and I am obliged to keep doing so because so many problems exist in completing the contracts to get the roads made-up. In the context of re-surfacing, it seems to me that the adoption of roads, and how that ties in with utilities and house builders, could be worked into this Bill. That seems both logical and sensible—it fits with the sprit of the Bill—and it will solve what seems to be an increasing problem, whereby builders, who are making so much money on house sales, are prepared to delay for significant periods the small deposits that they pay to the highway authorities to guarantee the completion of made-up roads.

Similarly, to give a smaller example, Mill street in Worksop has not been adopted in 80 years—the street is shorter in length than this Chamber, yet it has not been made up—which causes tremendous problems for local residents. The county council has repeatedly been unwilling, for no good reason, to make it up. Including in the Bill an obligation for the adoption of such roads, which have existed for a significant period but, for whatever anomalous reason, do not have the tarmac and the service that goes with it, would be a tiny expenditure for local authorities. In terms of equity and quality of life for those in the small pockets concerned,

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however—again, an undue number of them are in mining constituencies—that would be a useful amendment.

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