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A5 (Hinckley)

5. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): What improvements to the A5 in the Hinckley area are proposed. [83851]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): Several improvement schemes are under way on, or proposed for the A5 around Hinckley. They include: safety works at Stretton bends, including new lighting, surfacing and footways; anti-skid surfacing schemes at Nutts lane and Smockington hollow; the signalisation of the junction of the A5 and the M69; a scheme to improve the capacity of the Dodwell’s island junction; improved warning signs at Hinckley rail bridge; improvements to the A5/A444 Red Gate junction, and changes to speed limits and associated signs.

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Additionally, preliminary design work is under way for improvements between Stretton house and the M69 junction.

David Tredinnick: I thank the Minister for that list but, given that the Hinckley and Bosworth area has to build 9,000 houses in the next 20 years, thanks to the local development framework, is not it time to put dualling the A5 between the M69 and the A47 back on the agenda? Although the Minister talks about improvements at Stretton bends, will he confirm that they will not take place in July, as promised, nor will the £5 million improvements at Dodwell’s island, which the Government also promised? Will he confirm that the works to realign the M69 island will take place in January 2007, as promised, or is that another broken promise of the Government’s?

Dr. Ladyman: The Government break no promises. We are delivering sustained improvements in the area around the A5 at Hinckley. There are safety problems on that road—that is why such a list of improvements has been made to it. On a major scheme such as dualling the A5, I advise the hon. Gentleman to work in his region to influence the prioritisation of major schemes when the regional funding allocation is reconsidered in two years.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister has rightly given the House a long list of works scheduled to take place on the A5. However, he did not include the nearby project that has just been announced to bypass Earl Shilton on the A47 on the eastern fringes of Hinckley. Does he agree that this is a demonstration of the success of the tenacity, patience and energy of the people of Earl Shilton, led by the Labour councillors Dennis and John Bown in this Labour enclave in a Conservative and Liberal Democrat area? Does my hon. Friend also agree that, no matter how persuasive and effective the campaign, what was needed in the final analysis was the commitment of the resources to be allocated by the Government to achieve this long-delayed and much-welcomed bypass for Earl Shilton?

Dr. Ladyman: Humility prevented my hon. Friend from mentioning his own role in that campaign. He is absolutely right; it will provide a much-needed improvement. It has been included in the regional funding allocation, and that is because local people made the case locally to ensure that we received the necessary advice about the importance of the scheme. The advice that I would offer to Members on both sides of the House is that, if they want to influence major projects such as these, they should become active in their own region and their own local community to ensure that the regional funding advice that the Government receive reflects the true priorities of the local people.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): The A5, which runs through my constituency south of Hinckley, is horrendously congested. The Comptroller and Auditor General wrote to me recently to say that the Highways Agency intended to put in a new junction, 11A, at the same time as widening the M1 to
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save £10 million. However, I learned from a letter from the Secretary of State yesterday that that is only a possibility. Will the Minister write to me to tell me exactly what the Highways Agency is doing?

Dr. Ladyman: The situation to which the hon. Gentleman refers has arisen because the region did not prioritise that particular piece of work. We want to stick as closely as possible to the advice that we receive from local people, local councils, regional assemblies and regional development agencies—people who know what the priorities are on the ground—and the road scheme to which the hon. Gentleman refers was not prioritised. However, we want to ensure that if the region changes its priorities, the work will be able to go ahead as expeditiously as possible. That is why we will continue with the work around that particular scheme, in case the region changes its mind in two years’ time.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): Closer to Hinckley than the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous)—about five miles to the south-east on the A5—is the hamlet of Wibtoft. To the north and the south is a dual carriageway—the old Watling street—along which very heavy traffic thunders until it gets to Wibtoft, where a single carriageway snakes its way through the village. There is no speed limit; nor is there any proper visible traffic calming. The Highways Agency has refused to contemplate imposing a speed limit or laying a quieter road surface. Will the Minister ask the agency to reconsider its decision, and to impose a speed limit of, say, 30 mph through the residential area of Wibtoft? Many other places along the A5 have exactly that.

Dr. Ladyman: I will certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman’s comments to the Highways Agency. I would also advise him to engage with his local road safety partnership to see whether it can make representations to the agency. If such villages need a speed limit, and if there is evidence of safety concerns, I will certainly do what I can to encourage the agency to be helpful.

Road Humps

6. John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): What advice he has given to local authorities about the use of road humps. [83852]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): Advice on the design and implementation of road humps is given in the Department’s traffic advisory leaflets, and a bibliography of these is available in the Library of the House. The Department also plans to publish a local transport note later this year. This will draw together all previous advice on traffic calming policy, including advice on the use of road humps.

John Mann: The evidence on the use of concrete cushion road humps over the past 10 years is not very good. People can drive motorbikes between them, they fail to take into account on-street parking, and 4x4s
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can straddle them at great speed. Would the Minister care to come to Market Warsop in my constituency to road test the concrete road humps there?

Dr. Ladyman: I am happy that I get to road test many things in my job, but so far a road hump has not been one of them. I am happy to come to my hon. Friend’s constituency at some point, but I would point out to him that certain types of road calming measures are suitable in certain locations. It is for local authorities to decide which type of traffic calming is most appropriate, which type of road cushion is used, and whether it should have gaps in the middle of it for motorcycles. Local people should make decisions about improving those road humps, and I hope that the advisory note that we produce at the end of this year, to which my hon. Friend has contributed, will help them to make those decisions.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): While road humps obviously have an important safety role, is the Minister aware of the study by the London Ambulance Service three years ago, which suggested that if one minute could be saved on ambulance times by removing unnecessary road humps, 500 lives a year would be saved in cases of stroke, heart attack and so on? Another issue is the reluctance of paramedics to fit drips to critically ill patients who must travel over road humps.

Dr. Ladyman: I am, of course, aware of that study. That is why, when local councils decide on traffic calming measures in a particular area, it is important that they consult the emergency services and take into account the advice of the ambulance service, fire brigade and police about what is appropriate. I remind the hon. Gentleman, however, that road safety is the reason why local authorities install traffic calming measures, and that road humps might avoid ambulances having to do quite so much work in future.

Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): Further to the motorcycling Minister’s last response, and in the interest of getting traffic moving, is he aware that the A406 was brought to a complete halt by an accident early this morning? Strong men wept behind the wheels of their cars and toddlers sobbed in the back seats as they saw the school day recede from them. What can the Government do to try to get traffic moving faster after accidents?

Dr. Ladyman: I was not aware of that particular problem this morning. One of the things that we are doing, however, is making available nearly 1,500 highways officers around the country to clear up after accidents, remove debris from the road and keep traffic moving as fast as possible. Those highways officers work with the police, relieving them to perform other more important duties, and concentrate particularly on keeping the traffic moving. That is one practical way in which the Government are keeping the traffic moving on the trunk road network.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): In addition to the Minister’s advice to local authorities on road humps, will he advise them to consider the cost
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and effectiveness of installing equipment that merely flashes the speed rather than taking a picture, as I think that they will find that that is both cheaper and more effective than road humps and speed cameras?

Dr. Ladyman: I entirely agree that those types of speed advisory sign have their place and can be very effective in the right location. I repeat, however, that it is for the local council and local people who know the area best to decide what is the right sort of traffic calming. The sort of signs to which she is referring can be very effective, and I would always ask local councils to consider them.

Reading Railway Station

7. Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): What progress has been made in bringing forward plans to upgrade Reading railway station; and if he will make a statement. [83853]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): A business case for upgrading Reading station has been prepared by the borough council working with the region and rail industry partners. The plans include additional platforms and improved passenger facilities. We are working with the council, its partners and Network Rail to explore how the plans can best be progressed.

Martin Salter: Does the Minister accept that upgrading Reading station to improve track and platform capacity from 23 to 60 trains an hour is vital to removing the bottleneck from the Great Western main line? Does he also acknowledge the importance of the partnership working between Reading borough council, the local business community and other stakeholders in making such a powerful case for a 21st century station for Reading?

Derek Twigg: We do recognise the need for work at Reading station. I praise my hon. Friend again for his help in developing the good partnership working with Reading borough council. As he knows, Network Rail’s progress plans for resignalling work for 2011-2014 include Reading, and its business plan base case submission last week included Reading as part of the high-level output specification.

Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): I hope that the Minister has been made aware that I have been working for some time with all interested parties—both public and private-sector organisations—on the Reading station development. As a result, there is now a major opportunity to bring about a transformation of the entire area which will create jobs, regenerate part of the town centre and give Reading one of the best station developments in Europe. That can be done through a Government contribution of about £80 million to start it off. Will the Minister now offer his support for that further ambitious project and will he meet me and other interested parties to take it forward?

Derek Twigg: A great deal of good work has been done in partnership and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) has been working for some years on taking these
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developments at Reading station forward. It is important that such partnership working takes place. The programme has already been set out by Network Rail in its progress plans, and its business case has been made about what it would like to see included in the high-level output specification. We will consider that. As I have always said, if Members seek a meeting with me, I will do my very best to ensure that it happens.

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP) rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. May I tell the hon. Gentleman that Reading station is some distance from the green hills of Antrim, but I may be able to do something for him when we move on to other questions?

Railways (Vandalism)

8. Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): What action he is taking to combat vandalism on railways and at railway stations. [83854]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): The primary responsibility for combating vandalism on the national rail network lies with Network Rail, which works closely with the British Transport police, train operators, local authorities and, of course, the wider community. The cross-industry national route crime group steers the industry’s efforts to reduce the risks posed by trespass and vandalism.

Ann Winterton: The Government’s 10-year transport plan promised that people would be able to travel safely and feel secure, yet only about a third of stations have CCTV. The Minister may think that I am a big toughie, but I have to tell him that even I do not feel at ease at Congleton station on a cold winter’s night with the wind whistling down a poorly lit platform, with nowhere to shelter because of vandalism, no CCTV and no information to reassure one that the train that is already late is actually coming. Will he knock together the heads of the train operating companies and Network Rail and ensure that passengers indeed feel secure, especially when they are waiting for that train?

Derek Twigg: I of course accept that vandalism and trespass are serious problems on the railways and we need to deal with them in the best way possible. That includes making sure that we have a good partnership approach to finding solutions to deal with those problems. It is also important to deal with the wider community. The British Transport police are also involved and we have seen a significant increase in their number, as well as a significant increase in the number of CCTV cameras on stations. In respect of the south-west franchise, we are looking to improve the accredited secure station status in terms of 80 per cent. of the footfall. There are therefore a number of areas that we can seek to improve. The industry needs to take that forward and address those problems.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): The Minister knows that I am not even a little toughie. I hope that he will agree that the British
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Transport police in the north-west have not only followed the programme that he mentioned, but put forward imaginative schemes to involve children and schoolchildren in protecting non-manned stations. Will he pay tribute to that work and ensure that the specialised knowledge of the British Transport police is not in any way dissipated in the future?

Derek Twigg: I will not comment on her toughness, but my hon. Friend always makes a very important point. She is absolutely right that one of the approaches of Network Rail and others is to work with schools and young people at a variety of community events or to provide information through websites. It is important to get home to young people the dangers of trespass and vandalism on the railways—dangers not only to themselves, but to those who work on the railways and those who use them. It is important for the industry to take that sort of community work forward. It is right to work with schools and young people to reduce the amount of trespass and vandalism on the railways.

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): I am sure that the Minister will agree that combating vandalism on railways and at railway stations is a problem not only in England and Scotland, but throughout the United Kingdom. May I therefore encourage him to speak to his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office, to ensure that the problem is dealt with in Northern Ireland as well, because there is no other forum by which we can deal with the situation and ensure that our passengers feel safe at railway stations?

Derek Twigg: I am happy, of course, to bring the hon. Gentleman’s comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Constitutional Affairs

The Minister of State was asked—


22. Mr. Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): What steps she has taken to ensure that people with mesothelioma are able to claim compensation. [83868]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): I intend to table an amendment to the Compensation Bill, which is due to be debated in the House next Monday, to provide that negligent persons should be jointly and severally liable in mesothelioma cases, so that the claimant can recover full compensation from any relevant person.

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