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House of Lords

Wednesday, 25th April 2001.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells.

M40: Service Stations

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made on the provision of a service station on the M40 between London and the Oxford service station; whether planning permission has been granted; and, if so, what is the projected date of opening.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, there are two current applications for planning permission for motorway service areas both near Junction 2 on the M40: one at Hedgerley, which was the subject of a public inquiry last year, and on which a decision is awaited; and one at Burtley Wood, which we expect to be considered at a public inquiry later this year.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, does he understand the enormous frustration and disappointment that that will cause people who use the M40 every day? Will the Minister confirm that it is the Government's intention to have a motorway service station in the area as soon as is possible and practicable? Will they also consider the possibility of having directional signs, and perhaps distance signs, on some of the roundabouts on the M40 to direct people to where they can buy petrol?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the M40 has three service stations at roughly 30-mile intervals, according to government guidelines. The distance between Oxford and London is slightly further than that; nevertheless, there is not necessarily a case for the development of a motorway service area. We shall, however, consider any proposals that come forward. At present, the inspector considering the Hedgerley proposal has recommended against it. Such matters are also complicated by the fact that planning applications have also been made as regards the M25, some of which have been subject to court procedures. That will also have some influence on the availability of service stations in the area.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that when the High Wycombe bypass was developed in, I believe, the early 1970s, provision was made for a service station in the area? Indeed, some of the slip-roads were constructed at the time and are still there

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today. Can my noble friend say what has happened to that proposal? Thirty years is an awfully long time for the provision of a service station!

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am aware of that situation, principally because my noble friend told me about it roughly four minutes ago. I am afraid that I do not have at my fingertips information regarding the reasons for not proceeding with that development 30 years ago. Indeed, if my arithmetic is right, the party opposite was in power at that time. It is possible that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, knows more about it than I do.

Under the present system, we shall consider any commercial proposals that come forward. There are currently two commercial proposals regarding areas further down the M40, closer to Gerrards Cross. There is currently no proposal to use the site at High Wycombe on the table.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, is the Minister aware how much I appreciate that warm and unsolicited tribute to me?

Lord Whitty: Yes, my Lords. I deeply appreciate, as does the whole House, the noble Lord's participation in these debates.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, the Minister did not respond to the second of the noble Lord's supplementaries with regard to signing. This is a problem in quite a number of different areas in the country. Therefore, in areas where service stations are not situated at fairly frequent intervals, should not the availability of petrol and other services be signed on the motorway or dual carriageway?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the general policy would be against installing such signs. Broadly speaking, service stations are situated at least every 30 miles on motorways. Therefore, installing signs indicating that petrol facilities are available off the motorway would raise issues not only of traffic flow and, potentially, of safety, but also regarding the Highways Agency effectively favouring one garage as against others in the vicinity. Although there are exceptional circumstances in which we sign off-motorway facilities, we do not do so in general. However, I shall bear the point in mind in this case.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, will my noble friend perhaps take a different point of view about the M40; namely, that there is an adequate number of service stations and that, if anything needs to be improved, it is the quality of the food? As for signing, if anyone happens to miss such a sign should not he be prosecuted for driving without due care and attention?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I certainly agree that motorway service areas and facilities are pretty well signed in advance. Indeed, as you approach one sign, you are told how many miles it is to the next one. Drivers should certainly be paying attention to such

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signs. As to the quality of food and service, the contents of my postbag indicate that there is considerable concern in the country about such matters. The OFT recently considered the pricing and the quality of the service available, and wants to increase competition and improve services. Discussions are taking place with both the operators and my officials to ascertain how competition could be increased and the quality of the service thereby improved.

Northern Ireland: Organised Crime

2.41 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have for tackling the increasing level of organised crime and racketeering in Northern Ireland.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, the Government and the operational agencies in Northern Ireland are committed to tackling the organised crime problem. Organised crime is unacceptable in any society but in Northern Ireland the problem is compounded by paramilitary involvement. In September last year the Northern Ireland Office established a multi-agency Organised Crime Task Force which has already published an analysis of the problem and a strategy for tackling it. A copy of these documents can be found in the Library.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that reply. As a result of the Good Friday agreement the paramilitaries are on cease-fire. However, they have not been doing nothing. They have supported the alarming growth in organised crime such as racketeering, drugs and intimidation, bringing untold misery to thousands of people. Does the Minister accept that the RUC has, against all the odds, prevented anarchy for over 30 years? Does he agree with the previous Secretary of State who assured Parliament that the implementation of Patten would proceed only at a pace favourable to maintaining law and order in the Province?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I agree with the statement made by the previous Secretary of State, Mr Peter Mandelson, about the introduction of Patten. I agree with what the noble Baroness said about the relationship between paramilitaries and organised crime. Indeed, that is specifically referred to in the document produced by the task force, The Threat to Northern Ireland Society from Serious and Organised Crime. It is vital that the Government and all the agencies address it with full vigour. That is what they are doing. That is why they have set up the task force and why the task force has analysed the threat and has set out a strategy for dealing with it.

Lord Blease: My Lords, is it not vitally important and in the best interests of the citizens of Northern

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Ireland, of Britain and of the Republic of Ireland to combat the growing destructive evils of powerful local and international organised crime and racketeering with plans to ensure the retention and development of the ongoing, effective and efficient police service in Northern Ireland?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, of course it is and, indeed, the police service has achieved some considerable coups against organised crime in the past year. I should have associated myself with the noble Baroness's comments about the splendid job that the police service is doing. I give one statistic. So far in 2000-01, 51.4 million cigarettes have been seized by Customs in Northern Ireland. Last October a joint police and Customs operation resulted in the recovery of about 7.5 million cigarettes from premises in Northern Ireland. It is vital that the police continue to be so effective.

Lord Rogan: My Lords, of the 78 mafia style organisations mentioned in the report of the task force to which the Minister referred, over half are paramilitary sourced. Gangsterism is flourishing in this potentially transitional period for Northern Ireland as those with expertise in using paramilitary networks for serious criminal purposes are increasingly using their expertise for purely personal rather than part-paramilitary gain. Does the Minister agree that until paramilitary organisations and their criminal networks are either disbanded or destroyed Northern Ireland will be unable to become an organised crime and intimidation free society?

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