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28 Oct 2009 : Column 89WH—continued

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In many parts of the world, simply ensuring that there is a decent prison in which people can serve their sentences is another part of the diplomatic effort that we have to engage in. I was in Peru three weeks ago but unfortunately was unable to visit Callao prison, which I had wanted to do because of the horrific experiences many British people have had there. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North referred to my visit to Thailand and Laos earlier this year to see Samantha Orobator. I am absolutely delighted that we were able to bring her back to serve her sentence in a British prison. I am passionately concerned about another British prisoner in Laos-John Watson-and desperate to ensure that he, too, is able to serve his sentence in this country, because the conditions in Thai and Laos prisons do not allow for a justice that we would want to be proud of.

We use three main vehicles, the first of which is the European Union. As the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) said, it is absolutely vital that we deploy our EU membership to greater effect. I would argue that that is one of the reasons why we need the Lisbon treaty. I hate to enter into difficult territory today, because that is an argument not with the hon. Gentleman but with his party leader, but I will say that we need the EU to be far more effective on a diplomatic and political level around the world. By bringing the roles of the higher representatives together into one figure who would report to the Council and Commission, we could be more effective in that area, particularly in relation to Belarus. Our work to try to persuade Belarus to move towards a moratorium and abandon the death penalty can be done most effectively both bilaterally and through the EU, and that is what we will strive to do.

The second vehicle is the UN. I was delighted that the 2007 resolution was passed and that the 2008 resolution was passed with a bigger majority and included a call for a moratorium. To those who have referred to the US, the matter is still a stain on the American reputation on human rights around the world. I wholly agree with Bill Richardson, the Governor of New Mexico, who said that there is absolutely no reason why the US should be behind the rest of the world on that, as he has abolished the death penalty in his state, and we will continue to make that point. Those in Washington are in absolutely no doubt about the British position on that, not least because the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland went there to tell them so. I was delighted that our embassy was able to facilitate his meetings. He has paid tribute to the support he received from many embassies around the world, and I pay tribute to the sustained campaign that he has run.

In response to the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington)-I was about to call him my hon. Friend, because I think of him as an honourable, friendly person, although he sits on the opposite side of the Chamber. We have the Buckinghamshire mafia here today.

Mr. Lidington: Oxfordshire.

Chris Bryant: Oh, I am sorry-Thames valley.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we need to focus our efforts in the three ways to which he referred. I do not differ with him to any degree in that regard. We also must focus on specific countries, and some of them have been mentioned, such as China,
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Japan, the US and Belarus. There has been scant mention of Caribbean countries, but obviously, we have a particular relationship with the Caribbean, where there are both overseas territories and Commonwealth countries. It is still a problem for us that there are countries that retain the death penalty even though they may not use it. We would prefer them to move to a situation where there was no death penalty.

The first person to hold the post that I now hold was Richard Brinsley Sheridan, who was a playwright among other things, but also Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office. He said:

We in the Foreign Office are absolutely determined to succeed in the campaign to bring an end to the death penalty everywhere in the world.

I will allude as quickly as I can to the specific comments that have been made. We have raised the case of Akmal Shaikh at the highest level. On 14 October a letter from the Prime Minister was presented to the Chinese authorities. The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Bill Rammell), the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis) and Peter Mandelson have all raised that issue directly. In particular, we have raised the issue of Akmal Shaikh's mental health. In fact, the Prime Minister raised the issue again with the Chinese authorities on 19 October. There was an EU démarche last year, and we hope that there will be another one in the very near future.

On the suggestion of an amicus curiae brief, strong legal advice has confirmed that there is no such provision in Chinese law, despite the fact that the Chinese have used it in other countries. However, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is absolutely right that we need to find other means by which we could make effective representations directly to the People's Supreme Court in China.

With regard to Naheem Hussain and Rehan Zaman, I am more than happy to have a meeting and hope that we will be able to put that together as soon as possible. The hon. Gentleman referred to the delay at the beginning of that case. There was a complexity that related to how we used to work in those days, in August 2004. At first
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we did not believe that they wanted us to make representations on their behalf, and we certainly did not have clear instructions from them in the first meeting. Then their lawyer said that they did not want us to act on their behalf. We have changed the way we work, so we would now almost certainly take that as the final statement. We will certainly raise the allegations of torture, because we are always opposed to torture in all cases-full stop.

Several hon. Members mentioned the execution of juveniles in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and there have been six such executions this year. Iran is a signatory to the UN convention on the rights of the child, so there is absolutely no reason why it should not follow its own treaty obligations. There have been 45 juvenile executions in Saudi Arabia since 1990, and we will work as hard as we can to ensure that there are no more.

I have already referred to Belarus in general, and we will continue to call for a moratorium on the death penalty. Spain does not have representation in Belarus, so during the Spanish presidency of the EU, we will take on that responsibility and ensure that it is one of our top four priorities in the first six months of next year. That relates to the two cases the hon. Gentleman raised-those of Andrei Zhuk and Vasily Yuzepchuk.

Several hon. Members mentioned Japan, and exactly the same issues apply. We constantly take up those issues, including the case of Mr. Hakamada. We believe that that is an extraordinary case in which the mental health of that gentleman has never been taken properly into consideration.

I have referred briefly to the issues in the US, which we try to raise regularly. We believe that the treatment of Troy Davis was unusually cruel. We note that 41 people have been executed this year in the US, 18 of them in Texas. I think that it will be difficult for me to win an argument with the politicians in Texas on that point; but none the less, we will continue to keep up the pressure.

The hon. Member for Banbury said that China sometimes sees issues-

Mr. Joe Benton (in the Chair): Order. We must move on to the next debate.

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Wareham Railway Station

11 am

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I am grateful to have secured this debate. The proposed closure of the Wareham station pedestrian level crossing was devastating news for my constituents. The situation is complex, so I shall aim to describe it for the Minister as simply as I possibly can.

Wareham is an attractive small market town in my constituency. The 2001 census figures showed that its population was around 5,600. Sandford to the east, with a population of 2,000, is strongly linked to the town, and obviously the population levels will be higher now.

The town is fortunate in being on the main London to Weymouth line, but, as a consequence, it has a barrier that could split the town in two. The closure would have a disastrous impact on the vitality of the town, the business community, social activities and the whole wider community, so I am pleased to be able to raise the issue directly with the Minister today. There are several players in the decision making that is taking place: Network Rail, the Office of Rail Regulation, Dorset county council, and, I would think, South West Trains, although I have not yet been able to track down its involvement. The people who are affected fall into two categories-my constituents and rail users-which, of course, overlap. Clearly, safety is paramount-I would not argue anything else-but I am not convinced that the full interests of my constituents and public transport users are being taken into account when looking for a solution, which is why I hope that the Minister is in a position to give an overview of the situation.

I believe that the crossing dates back to 1847, since when there has been a road and pedestrian route crossing the railway. There is a footbridge over the railway that reminds me of the old film, "The Railway Children"-it clearly is not compliant with any disability legislation.

The station has two platforms. The London train to Weymouth comes in on the station side, where there is a considerable amount of car parking, which facilitates park-and-train, and taxis are available. Currently, tickets are sold only on this side. Trains to Poole, Bournemouth, Southampton and London depart from the platform to the east. There is access to bus services to Poole and Swanage on that side, but no car parking.

An agreement dated 1 December 1978 was made between the British Railways Board and Dorset county council for the building of a road bridge over the railway. In the lease, clause 3 states that the

over the railway was authorised by the Wareham Bypass Scheme (Side Roads) Order 1973, and that the board was entitled to abolish the road crossing on completion of the bridge, provided that the existing footways were retained. Therefore, the crossing that I am talking about today was retained. It was subject to a lease dated 17 November 1975, which terminated on 24 June 1980. The lease states:

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Clause 24 of the lease states:

That raises an interesting point: does the council have a legal obligation to provide a decent footbridge close to the existing pedestrian crossing?

A further agreement between the board and the council was made on 25 March 1988 which, in effect, permitted the use of the original crossing for 25 years. There is a pedestrian sign by the crossing pointing to the town centre half a mile away.

The lease goes on to state that the council shall have an option to enter into a new agreement for a further period of 25 years, with such option to be exercised within three months of the expiry of the agreement. Terms and conditions were to be agreed between the board and the council. A further passage states that any dispute between the board and the council about the agreement shall be referred to and determined by an arbitrator. Given the way things are going, I am beginning to feel that an arbitrator of some description might be needed.

The lease specifically states:

The only exceptions refer to the passage of trains and for engineering works. Many residents are saying that there must surely be an established right of way over the railway. However, does a permissive use by agreement create a public right of way? I understand that the consent of the Secretary of State is required, in accordance with section 41 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act 1933. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify that point for my constituents.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Chris Mole): May I advise the hon. Lady that there was a communication with the Dorset county council chief executive this year, which outlined that the 25-year legal agreement to which she refers with British Railways, as it then was, also led to the extinguishing of all public rights over the crossing in 1980?

Annette Brooke: I thank the Minister for that, because it provides clarity in the ongoing debate among residents.

Clause 11 of the lease is particularly relevant to the current situation. It states:

The county council is thus potentially facing a big bill, and perhaps that is why we find ourselves in this crisis situation today. There has been no clear planning by the council over the past few years, during which time the problems have been identified.

The Wareham road bridge was built over the railway in the 1980s, and a decision was taken not to provide a footway because the former level crossing was available for pedestrians. It gave an easier route to town and was segregated from the main road. It is easy to be clever
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with hindsight, but it seems absolutely incredible, looking back, that part of the main road network made no provision whatsoever for cyclists.

Problems seem to have surfaced around 2004, and from 2006 there has been pressure to take action to resolve the matter. There have been three campaigns at the crossing, where leaflets were handed out, and there has been press coverage.

Network Rail tells me that, over the years, it has worked with the council to try to address safety issues. It has undertaken work looking at alternatives to the crossing, including options such as an underpass, lifts and ramped bridges, and it has offered to undertake the work to implement a solution. However, it has told me that, thus far,

I feel that it is because a big bill is looming that hard negotiations are taking place.

Network Rail has also independently installed a CCTV camera at the crossing, and there are voice announcements as well as a red light that warns users to stand clear of the crossing when it is in use. Misuse at the crossing received national media coverage after Network Rail released CCTV footage showing a young mother with her baby running across the crossing and ignoring the red light. Network Rail says that there have been 25 incidents at the crossing in the past 12 months when the driver has had to apply brakes, and that there are more than 80 recorded misuses at the crossing over the past four years. It says that that is more than three times the number of incidents at any other crossing in the south-west area and that it represents one of the worst records in the country. I do not believe that my constituents are particularly disregarding of regulations and laws, so this is a strange situation.

The matter has been brought to a head by the Office of Rail Regulation, with the threat of what is known as an improvement notice being issued to both the council and Network Rail. It requires steps to be taken to remove risk at a crossing that is considered to be dangerous, as we have heard. The latest news is that the crossing could be closed at the beginning of December.

Local residents need a presentation from Network Rail to be convinced of the level of abuse. Network Rail has been invited to a public meeting tomorrow night and I can only hope that it turns up, because it really will help to facilitate the discussion. Just imagine how the vast majority are feeling at the prospect of this important route to and from the town being closed. Why should they be punished for the actions of a few? What exactly constitutes a near miss? Network Rail has a duty to my constituents, so I really look forward to its presence at that meeting.

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