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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 649: debated on Wednesday 15 November 1961

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Scotland

Fish Exports (Aberdeen)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he is taking to extend the export of Aberdeen-caught fish to Czechoslovakia and other European land-locked 5/9/2007countries; and how successful they have been.

Both the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board are prepared to help merchants to develop an export trade in fish to foreign countries. I am informed, however, that at the present time Aberdeen merchants are experiencing difficulty in obtaining suitable supplies to meet their existing export contracts.

Does the Minister realise that during the last nine months alone Czechoslovakia has imported 900 tons of fish valued at £77,000, besides importing fish from Iceland and Norway, and that the potentialities for Aberdeen and Scotland in general are very great? As negotiations are at present going on between Her Majesty's Board of Trade and Czechoslovakia with a view to enlarging that trade, will he take steps to see that Aberdeen gets a fair share?

I am aware of what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, and, of course, we want to encourage the export of fish, but with the best will in the world, unless we can meet our existing contracts, it is very difficult to expand it.

Valuation Appeal Committees

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will take power to direct valuation appeal committees, sitting in Scottish island areas, to make special arrangements to ensure that people are not forced to abandon appeals by reason of travel and lodging expenses and other factors of difficulty in those areas.

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend regrets that he would not feel justified in asking Parliament to give him power to direct valuation appeal committees on any aspect of their work.

In view of the fact that 90 per cent, of the appeals in the Western Isles had to be abandoned because of exactly these factors which I have mentioned and that that would not have happened had there been decentralisation of the committees, what steps does the Minister propose to take to ensure, first, that the committees work, and, secondly, that justice is done to the people?

As I said in my Answer, my right hon. Friend does not feel that he would be justified in asking Parliament to give him powers to direct valuation appeal committees; because, from the local knowledge that they have, they would presumably choose a place which is most suited—as, indeed, they are required to do in the original Valuation Act.

Has the Minister no proposals at all to make sure that appeals are in fact heard? When 90 per cent, of the appeals have had to be abandoned, surely some alternative procedure has to be devised of one kind or another in the interests of the working of the Act. In view of the fact that there is a Bill coming before the Scottish Committee in which he can make this provision, why does not he put that into the Bill now?

Fishery Protection (Minch)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he has yet sent a reply to Ross and Cromarty County Council about proposals it made last May for fishery protection in the Minch.

Yes, Sir. The county council were informed in August that the question was still under consideration and a letter was sent on 30th October reporting the outcome.

Would the Minister do us the courtesy of telling us what the outcome was?

Will the Minister really press for this reply to be given more precisely to the county council? This is a very serious matter indeed. It affects the small fishermen and crofter fishermen who have virtually no protection in some of their waters.

In short, the answer amounted to an explanation that, in view of the need for economy in Government expenditure, it was not possible at this time to give additional protection.

Pit Closures

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland to what extent he proposes to assist local authorities in mining areas to plan schemes of work to absorb men who may be unemployed as a result of pit closures.

My right hon. Friend has no specific proposals on the lines which the hon. Member has in mind. The National Coal Board has advised my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power that alternative work will be available within daily travelling distance of their homes for the great majority of the men affected by the colliery closures which have been announced. For dealing with local employment, the Government will continue to operate the Local Employment Act vigorously.

I did not expect the hon. Gentleman to have any specific proposals, and I should have been surprised if he had, but is he aware that in Ayrshire there may be an unemployment problem in spite of the fact that some men may be absorbed in the new pits? If the Ayrshire County Council or any other local authority puts up useful schemes of work which would benefit the community and give employment, may we be assured that they will have his support?

As I said in my Reply, the Coal Board believes that the great majority of men will have work in nearby collieries. A further factor is that the list of areas in which the provisions of the Local Employment Act can be operated is under regular review.

The hon. Gentleman has missed the point of the question. Even though existing miners may be employed, does he not understand that the closure of the mines will close the opportunity for employment of a large number of youngsters and people coming along? This in itself will create a problem. Will the Government as a whole take that into account and see that something is done about it?

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from the Fife County Council concerning the future economic prospects of the county, consequent on decisions recently taken by the National Coal Board to close collieries; and what reply he has sent.

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from Fife County Council regarding proposed pit closures in Fife; and what reply he has sent.

My right hon. Friend has received a copy of a resolution approved by Fife County Council, expressing alarm at what is described as

"the inference and suggestions of the Minister of Power concerning the Annual Report of the National Coal Board particularly regarding the Scottish Division".
He has brought it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power.

Why is not the hon. Gentleman more specific about what the Scottish Office intends to do in these circumstances? Is he aware that two of the major collieries concerned, Rothes Colliery and Bowhill Colliery, are in the West Fife constituency, that more than £12 million has been invested in these pits, and that their closure is imminent? In the circumstances, does he deny the validity of the anxieties of Fife County Council, which itself has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on social investment for these mines? Has he no more specific proposals to advance than are already formulated in the Government's policy?

The question of Rothes Colliery is a matter for the Coal Board, as the hon. Gentleman knows. In regard to the concern about Rothes, it might be useful to re-emphasise the point made by the Prime Minister yesterday, that it was noted some time ago that miners in the numbers originally expected were not moving into the area and, accordingly, the development of the new town at Glenrothes was re-orientated in 1959 to general industrial development linked with overspill from Glasgow. We trust very much that this will assist in the difficulty.

Does not the Minister think that, although his English colleagues have turned down the demand for an inquiry, there is a case for an inquiry by the Scottish Office into the social and economic effects of the closures on local employment and on the finances of local authorities, in view of the fact that what we are witnessing now is the slow annihilation of the coal industry in Scotland?

We are all aware of the circumstances already and an inquiry would not reveal any new facts.

Whereas it might be the responsibility of the Minister of Power in the ultimate to decide whether a colliery shall close or not, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the social and economic consequences of the closures in the various areas of Scotland are the responsibility of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State? Will he undertake to consult his right hon. Friend about the desirability of an inquiry being made into the social and economic effect of the closures on considerable parts of Scotland?

The first point is that the Coal Board is confident that the great majority of men can be re-absorbed. The second point, in regard to any ancillary difficulties, is that we very much hope that it will be possible to meet these under the existing powers.

The Minister's last answer is wholly unsatisfactory. Does not he realise that his statement that miners can be absorbed in other pits is quite wrong, because what happens is that pits which are being operated economically at present become uneconomic as a result of the great influx of men from the closed collieries? Is he aware that a great deal of alarm and despondency have been created among the mining fraternity of Fife, in particular, because of the implications of his right hon. Friend's statement in the House a few weeks ago, that collieries at present working to full capacity are threatened by that statement, and concern is being felt not only by the newest recruits but by the men at the top of the industry? Will he press his right hon. Friend to secure a debate in the House and come clean on this matter?

It is because we are well aware of the anxieties that I have been trying to re-emphasise in my replies that the Coal Board is confident that the very great majority of the men can be reabsorbed into other pits.

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what are the terms of the letter he received from the Presbytery of Ayr on the proposed closure of collieries in Scotland; and what was the nature of his reply.

The letter which my right hon. Friend received at the end of last week from the Presbytery of Ayr enclosed a copy of a resolution which in effect supported the Scottish miners in their call for a public inquiry into the working of the coal industry in Scotland. My right hon. Friend will refer the Presbytery to the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power to the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton) on 13th November.

Can the Minister give a definite assurance to the ministers of the presbytery that there will be no unemployment as a result of these pit closures?

I do not think that I can add to the answers which I gave to previous supplementary questions on this same point.

Orange Juice

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will state the amount of welfare orange juice issued in Scotland in June and July, 1960, and in the corresponding months of 1961, indicating the percentage reduction in each case.

The estimated numbers of bottles of welfare orange juice issued in June and July, 1960, were 200,000 and 175,000 and in June and July, 1961, 40,000 and 45,000. The reductions between the corresponding months are 80 per cent, and 75 per cent.

Is not this one of the strongest possible condemnations of the harsh attack which the Government have made on the welfare of Scottish children? Will the hon. Gentleman reconsider this disincentive to the use of welfare foods by reducing the price of them to the former figure and thereby help to maintain and sustain the welfare of Scottish children?

The important thing is not the amount of these welfare foods being consumed but whether or not the health of children and expectant and nursing mothers is suffering. We have no evidence that that in fact is so.

Then why do we have a welfare foods scheme at all? Are not the Government virtually abolishing the scheme, and would it not have been at least honest for them to have done it outright instead of doing it in this underhand way?

Roads (Farming Areas)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many miles of unclassified and unadopted roads in upland farming areas will be eligible for grant assistance under the Agriculture (Improvement of Roads) Act, 1955, in the present financial year; what mile age will be improved next year; and what sum of money will be made available.

In 1961–62, my right hon. Friend expects to authorise schemes covering about 50 miles of road thereby virtually completing the distribution of the £1 million allocated to Scotland under the Act. The total mileage will be about 370; of this 104 miles have been completed and it is expected that about half the rest will be completed by the end of 1962. My right hon. Friend's proposals for expenditure in 1962–63 will be declared when the Scottish roads Estimate is published next year.

Are not these figures of mileages and sums expended very small compared with the need? Does my hon. Friend agree that, if we want to keep people living in these upland areas, we must be prepared to spend on the small hill roads as well as the trunk roads? Can he say what progress has been made in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, and when he expects to authorise any further schemes?

I know that the county council has one or two schemes in mind which it would still like to do, but I think that the stewartry has had 16 schemes approved, which is a substantial proportion of its requirements.

Will my hon. Friend make sure that there are no financial cuts in this very important expenditure?

Storm And Flood Damage, Galloway

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware of the widespread damage and loss caused throughout Galloway by the storm and floods of 22nd October; and whether he will make a suitable contribution to local funds organised to relieve distress.

My right hon. Friend is aware that some damage and loss did occur in the area, which has since been visited by his engineers. Various forms of remedial works may qualify for Government grant under the appropriate Acts, but, on present information, he does not consider that Government assistance to local relief funds would be justified.

If this storm had struck in Essex or the south of England, would it not have been a major disaster? Is my hon. Friend aware that local funds raised amount to only about one-seventh of the damage suffered by householders in the area, and will he say what assistance is to be given to the county councils to help in repairing roads, piers, breakwaters, bridges and the like?

There has been considerable damage to roads, and a joint inspection has been carried out by the county engineer and an engineer from the Department. The county council has already been informed that the bulk of remedial work will qualify for grants under the Coast Protection Act at the rate of 75 per cent, and the remainder at 50 per cent. of the cost of the work.

Does not the recurrence of these floods in this area show how inadequate are the two miserable flood prevention Acts which the hon. Gentleman supported and would not strengthen at our request?

A8 (Glasgow-Greenock Section)

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he intends to authorise the reconstruction of the Glasgow-Greenock section of the A.8 trunk road to provide for a dual carriageway system to meet present and future traffic requirements.

My right hon. Friend has no plans yet for starting any major reconstruction work on this road since others must take priority at present. He has, however, appointed consultants to investigate the practicability of a bypass of Renfrew serving Abbotsinch airfield.

Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that there is already considerable congestion on this road and that it is estimated that it is carrying double the traffic for which it was intended? Could the hon. Gentleman arrange for an early check to be made on these figures and make a statement as soon as possible about trying to include this road in the next estimates?

The traffic census of last August showed that there was an overload on this road, but it is building up at considerably below the general average rate. We are fairly confident that by the time the dual carriageway is built, or prior to that, there will not be a serious problem.

New Hospital, Greenock

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he intends to build a new general hospital to serve the needs of the people of Greenock and district in view of the pre sent inadequate facilities and shortage of beds.

The Western Regional Hospital Board is at present working out the precise general hospital needs of the Greenock area. This is the first stage in the planning of the new hospital, and it is too early to say when building will start.

That is a very disappointing reply. Would the Under-Secretary of State care to visit the eye infirmary and the X-ray department in Greenock to see the inadequate and primitive conditions which doctors and patients are obliged to endure? Would the hon. Gentleman ensure that this hospital is included in the ten-year programme about which the Government have made great announcements and which was the excuse for the Health Service cuts this year?

I very much appreciate the hon. Gentleman's invitation, which I shall certainly consider.

Poor-Roll Solicitors

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is aware of the decision of poor-roll solicitors in Glasgow and Dunbartonshire to work to rule from 31st December, 1961; and what action he proposes to take to implement the recommendation of the Guthrie Report, published in May, 1960, that legal aid should be extended to cover criminal proceedings.

I understand that in Glasgow and Dunbartonshire applicants for the benefit of the poor's roll are now required to produce affidavits setting forth their circumstances. As regards the second part of the Question, my right hon. Friend is considering the Report of the Guthrie Committee, but he is not yet ready to make a statement about the Committee's recommendations.

Has not the Minister any sense of urgency about this matter? Is he not aware that the whole scheme is likely to break down in Glasgow and Dunbartonshire? Why do we have to get into a state of crisis before the Secretary of State ever does anything? Why cannot he do something in this matter now? He has had the Guthrie Report for about 18 months.

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Guthrie Report made it clear that the trouble in Scotland could not be dealt with simply by bringing into force the provisions of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act, 1949. The changes which the Committee recommended will need legislation, and that is still under consideration.

Housing

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimate he has made of the number of local authority houses likely to be built in 1961–62 and 1962–63, respectively.

Present estimates assume the completion of 18,000 houses by Scottish local authorities in 1961–62 and 16,500 in 1962–63.

In view of the housing problem in Scotland, is not the Undersecretary of State ashamed to make such an announcement and to declare that next year he will reduce the expenditure by £1 million? In view of the condition of Scotland's housing problem, is not this scandalous?

The Hon. Gentleman asked a Question which enabled him to get an Answer which enabled him to ask his supplementary question in the way that he did. The figures, of course, which have not been included are those for building by the Scottish Special Housing Association, the development corporations and private builders.

But surely the hon. Gentleman appreciates that the Government's own White Paper includes these organisations in this reduction of £1 million. They are all to be reduced next year.

Would the hon. Gentleman tell us what the figures are for the bodies to which he has just referred? When he has added those figures to the 18,000 which he has mentioned, does the estimate come within even an appreciable extent of Scotland's housing need?

The figures for completions for the last two years and the two succeeding years are 21,600, 21,500, 21,300 and 21,000 to the nearest hundred.

Do not these figures imply that young married couples will still have to wait five years in rooms with their in-laws before they get the chance of a house?

My hon. Friend will have to wait that time before he gets an answer to his question.

In view of the unsatisfactory reply which I did not receive, I give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Secondary School Courses, Lanarkshire

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what proportion of schoolchildren in Lanarkshire allocated to a three years' secondary course has subsequently been re-allocated to a four or five years' course.

In session 1959–60, the latest for which figures are available, 81 pupils, or about 0·5 per cent. of the total number taking three year secondary courses, were transferred to senior secondary courses.

Does not this show how exceedingly difficult it is to get out of this classification once it has been made? Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that the three-year courses in this part of Scotland do not synchronise with the four-year and five-year courses and that if a youngster wishes to continue at school beyond the age of 15 years there is practically nothing that he or she can do but repeat the third-year curriculum of the third-year course? Is not this a very bad situation?

I think that the whole of this matter will come up for further consideration when the report of the Advisory Council on Promotion Procedures is published, and I hope that that will be very shortly.

New Technical School, Motherwell

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will give the date upon which it is proposed to commence building the new technical school at Motherwell.

No date can be given at present. Accommodation proposals were submitted by the education authority in July and have been discussed with representatives of the authority. As a result of these discussions, the authority is now formulating revised proposals which we are awaiting.

Does the Under-Secretary of State recall that it is more than five years since this decision was taken? In view of the admitted urgency and agreement on both sides of the House about the importance of technical education, does not the hon. Gentleman think that it is very unfortunate, to say the least, that we are still as far back now as we were five years ago?

I hope that we can make progress in this matter, but it is primarily one for the education authority. I believe that, owing to the provision of these facilities at the other four existing colleges in Lanarkshire, the authority did not regard this question as one of high priority.

Minor Offences (Trial)

22.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he is taking to ensure that due expedition is shown in hearing the cases of persons charged with minor offences in Scotland.

This is a matter that my right hon. Friend keeps under review in consultation with my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate and, as the hon. Member knows, the number of sheriffs-substitute and the staffing arrangements for the courts are adjusted from time to time. In addition, courts where business is heavy are given temporary assistance.

The Secretary of State has been keeping this matter so long under review that he seems to have forgotten about it altogether. Does the Under-Secretary of State realise that the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Thomson, recently protested against these unfair delays to the persons charged—they run to about four months—and that the Sheriff of Ayr and Bute recently said that this was a scandalous situation? Could not the hon. Gentleman encourage his right hon Friend to be a little more active and indicate now any steps that could be taken to reduce these delays?

My right hon. Friend certainly has not forgotten about this matter. With regard to Glasgow's difficulties, which have become greater, I think that the recent appointment of an additional sheriff-substitute and provision of new court room facilities should speed things up.

Does the Minister not realise that the right to a speedy trial involves an honoured principle of British law which still applies in Scotland? Will he take a lesson from what is being done in England by the speedy appointment of more judges and ensure that accused persons are not kept confined longer than is necessary and are brought to a speedy trial?

The hon. and learned Member will appreciate that in fixing dates for trials priority is invariably given to those cases in which the accused is in custody because he has been refused bail.

Hospital Services, West Fife

23.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from general practitioners in West Fife on the future of hospital services in the area; and what reply he has sent.

These representations dealt with several aspects of the planning of the hospital services in the area, which my right hon. Friend has invited the practitioners to pursue with the regional hospital board as the responsible authority.

Is the Minister aware that his reply is most insulting, that medical practitioners only write to a Minister of the Crown when they are seriously concerned, that as a professional body they are not given to exaggeration, that they asked for his intervention because they are desperately concerned about the state of hospital services in West Fife and that they cannot afford to wait 20 years as planned for the new general hospital? Will the hon. Gentleman look into the matter and do something?

My reply certainly was not meant to be insulting, and I apologise if the hon. Member took it that way. The regional hospital board has agreed to meet the board of management to discuss the matter, and at this juncture it would be better to leave it at that.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that nobody in Fife is satisfied with his passing of the buck continually to the regional hospital board, and that it is the view of the general practitioners and the general body of the public in West Fife that it is the function of the Secretary of State to exert pressure on the Government to get more money to give to the regional hospital boards? What is the hon. Gentleman doing in that regard? Furthermore, can he tell me when I will get an answer to the invitation which I issued to him at least two months ago to come with me to Fife to see the deplorable conditions in the Northern Hospital in Dunfermline?

I will certainly consider the hon. Member's invitation again. I must admit that I had forgotten it. It is the second invitation I have had today, so I shall pay more attention to it.

Shipping

Foreign Shipyards (Minister's Visit)

24.

asked the Minister of Transport what conclusions he reached as a result of his tour of foreign shipyards; and if he will make a statement.

I have nothing to add to the Answer I gave on 8th November to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams).

The Minister did not say very much on that occasion. While we all support him in any action he may take to make the British shipping industry more competitive, may I ask whether he gained any information as a result of his visit which was not already known to the British shipping industry? If so, what use is he making of it? Has he put it before both sides of the industry, and what has their reaction been?

I gained information which was not known before. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is in touch with both sides of industry and I am consulting closely with him, because I am certain—without casting any doubts about who has been responsible in the past—that we must get the relationship between management and men better. Another by-product of my tour abroad was that I managed to get quite a number of inquiries here. I have with me a letter from a shipbuilding firm stating that it has now been asked by a Norwegian company to tender for a ship and adding:

"I think their last paragraph about your visit is a very nice tribute and, I am sure, justified."
The last paragraph which is referred to was to the effect that the Norwegian company would put inquiries here which they did not put here before.

Can the Minister answer one simple question within the limit of what he saw? Can he say whether modernisation in those shipyards is more advanced than in Britain?

The best of our yards are equal to their yards, but there are quite a number of yards in this country which are not equal to the best in other countries.

Did my right hon. Friend find the same multiplicity of unions and the same lines of demarcation in yards abroad as exist in this country?

If the Minister is claiming that as a result of his visit to Norway an order is likely to be placed by a Norwegian firm in this country, why does he not go away more frequently?

I am so fond of the right hon. Gentleman that I could not part company from him for too long.

Coastal Shipping

31.

asked the Minister of Transport what plans he has to stop the number of British ships engaged in coastwise shipping from shrinking further; and if he will make a statement.

I am aware of the decline in the number of British ships engaged in coastwise shipping. Nevertheless, I do not consider that this situation is such as to call for special measures by the Government at the present time, apart from the provision which has been made for coastal shipping in the Transport Bill at present before the House. I am, however, keeping the position under close review and will continue to do so.

I think that that is an unsatisfactory Answer. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the disastrous contraction in the size of our shipping fleet is having very grave repercussions on, amongst other things, our small ports? Will he not now take steps to see that our coastwise trade is carried only by ships which fly the British flag unless there are reciprocal agreements, and will he in any case take steps to see that the proper manning scales are fulfilled in foreign ships plying round our coasts?

I must say that I have not had any request from the General Council of British Shipping to exclude foreign vessels from the coasting trade. If we were to do this it would be a very serious step indeed.

Is the Minister aware that we on this side of the House, too, share the concern expressed by his hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne), that coastwise shipping is a necessary part of our transport industry, and that it should be possible for the Minister to decide as a practical matter, if he wants so to do, that certain types of traffic ought to be taken on the sea to relieve our over-congested roads? Is he aware that we need something more than his looking at the matter? Will he make a statement to give us some idea exactly what is going on?

Competition between road, rail and coastwise shipping can be discussed on the Bill which will be introduced next week, that is, the Transport Bill. I am bound to say that in 1960, for the first time in many years, the tonnage of cargoes carried in United Kingdom vessels in the non-coal tramp trades increased.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the coastal shipping people are anything but satisfied with what is now in the Transport Bill, and will he have the courage to stand up and tell the House what is the position? Is he aware that unless we are to get more protection for coastwise shipping I myself at any rate have no intention of voting for the Bill?

In answer to the last part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, the next time my hon. Friend supports me will be the first time. The answer to the first part of the supplementary question is that we could debate that next week.

In order to encourage the smaller ports, will my right hon. Friend do all he can to improve the communications to those ports, as certainly much more encouragement is needed in that sphere?

I am quite certain that that is a good point, and Lord Rochdale and his Committee are looking at that particular point.

Credit Facilities

32.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he will publish a White Paper giving details of the information he has received regarding the credit facilities now being offered by the principal foreign competitors of the United Kingdom shipbuilding industry.

The information which I have received, some of it confidential, demonstrates that the credit facilities offered even within one country vary widely from one transaction to another, depending on the commercial prospects and, in some cases, conditions imposed by the Government. In these circumstances it would be neither appropriate nor helpful to publish a White Paper.

Surely my right hon. Friend is aware of the very strong feeling that this is one of the disadvantages our industry suffers under? The more information he can give to clear this up the more welcome it will be, so that we may know where we stand in our shipping industry.

The difficulty is that if we produce a White Paper we want it to be comprehensive, to show what people abroad are doing. The difficulty is to find a comprehensive picture. The picture we have now got at present in the Ministry is that credit facilities are not necessarily a handicap to our exports.

May I ask the Minister to get a small booklet which was issued by the Federation of British Industries yesterday as a result of a visit made by Sir Norman Kipping and another gentleman to Japan, where they say, on page 15, that

"A Japanese exporter of shipping"—

Order. Verbatim quotations from articles are out of order in Questions.

I am very grateful. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will send it to me, and I will read it, but we are not losing orders to Japan. We are losing orders to Sweden, Germany and Holland, and they do not get credit facilities.

If my right hon. Friend cannot produce a White Paper about credit facilities offered to foreign competitors, could he publish one to show how streamlined trade union representation works to the advantage of both the workers and industry?

I think the best thing I can try to do is to get this industry efficient as soon as we can without attributing blame to anybody.

Why should the Minister regard as confidential information he has received while overseas in connection with credit facilities furnished by financiers and shipbuilders to enable them to build British ships? Is it not very important that we should know all the facts so that we can decide upon a policy of our own? Is he aware that there is nothing confidential about our position in this country? Why should he be confidential about the position elsewhere?

If people give me information confidentially I intend to treat it confidentially and not to publish memoires.

Roads

50 Mph Speed Limit

25.

asked the Minister of Transport the total mileage of roads under a 50 m.p.h. speed limit; how many miles of this type of road were previously subject to a 40 m.p.h. speed limit; and how many were previously derestricted.

None, Sir. But on 15 weekends during the summer a speed limit of 50 m.p.h. was imposed experimentally on 750 miles of trunk road. All these roads were previously unrestricted. The experiment ended on 17th September and its results are now being studied.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the imposition of an overall speed limit prevents accidents? Is it not a fact that at one time of the day it might be safe to drive at 50 m.p.h. but that at another time it might be extremely dangerous? Is it not wise to try to prevent the imposition of speed limits wherever possible?

I do not think I would disagree with the last part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question. Our experience with this type of experiment is that last year we found a substantial drop in the number of accidents as a consequence of it. This year, we think that the same picture is likely to be repeated, but we are awaiting the results of the experiment.

Wales

28.

asked the Minister of Transport the total expenditure from Exchequer funds on the new road construction and major improvements in Glamorgan, Carmarthenshire, Brecknockshire, Pembrokeshire and Monmouthshire in the five years ended 31st March last.

Despite what has been done, is there not evidence that the new works have not been commensurate with the tremendous industrial growth of the region?

I would not agree on that. We have been doing a great deal of work in Wales. Over the next six or seven years, we plan to spend an additional £50 million, which will include the Severn Bridge. Wales will, of course, receive the terminations of the London to South Wales and the Birmingham to South Wales motorways. We have not being doing too badly.

Is it not clear that the comparatively small amount which has been spent in comparison with the expanding industrial needs will mean that if there is closure of passenger railway lines in Monmouthshire there is every danger of industry in Monmouthshire choking itself on its own roads?

Industrial Association Of Wales And Monmouthshire (Report)

30.

asked the Minister of Transport whether his attention has been drawn to the comprehensive report on future highway requirements in South Wales and Monmouthshire prepared for the Industrial Association of Wales and Monmouthshire, a copy of which has been sent to him: and what plans he has for road development in that area.

57.

asked the Minister of Transport if he has studied the report prepared by the Industrial Association of Wales and Monmouthshire, a copy of which has been supplied to his Department; and what reply he has made to the Association.

This is a valuable Report and I congratulate the Industrial Association of Wales and Monmouthshire on its initiative. It is useful to my Department to have independent reports like this. I am studying its proposals and hope to make a further statement before long. In the meantime I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT a note of my plans for highway improvements in the area.

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that that is not a fully satisfactory reply? Has he noticed that this comprehensive report points out that already half the trunk roads in South Wales are overloaded and that the position is likely to get considerably worse in the future? As Wales has been rather the Cinderella of our road programme in the past, does my right hon. Friend not agree that it should be given greater priority in future road plans?

I cannot agree with my hon. Friend. It grieves me, but I cannot, because during the next six to seven years the programme of work in Wales and on the Severn Bridge will amount to more than £50 million worth, not far short of the report's recommendations.

Will my right hon. Friend note that some of the work for which he gives credit in Wales is work really in the Midlands? He attributes the Birmingham motorway as a benefit to Wales. Well, it may be, remotely, but will my right hon. Friend consider what actually is being done in the Principality?

Does the Minister think that the possible closure of the railway train services in Monmouthshire will not accentuate the very serious road shortage which we already have in that area?

Following is the note:

Highway Improvements In Wales And Monmouthshire

1. I propose to carry the London-South Wales Motorway from the Welsh end of the Severn Bridge westwards to form a by-pass of Newport.

2. The main trunk road improvements I have planned in South Wales are:

  • (a) The coast road (A.48) from the end of the Newport By-Pass to North of Swansea;
  • (b) the Heads of the Valleys Road;
  • (c) the road from Ross to Newport;
  • (d) the Taff Vale Road from Cardiff to Abercynon.
  • All except ( b) will be brought up to two-lane dual carriageway standards.

    Some lengths of the coast road have already been improved and other lengths—notably the Port Talbot By-Pass—are due for an early start. Work is under way on parts of the Heads of the Valleys Road and more is due to start very soon. Work has also started on the improvement of part of the Ross-Newport road.

    3. The classified road improvements in South Wales and Monmouthshire include the Swansea East Side Approach Road, the bulk of which is now completed, and the Newport Second Bridge.

    37.

    asked the Minister of Transport whether his attention has been drawn to the comprehensive report on highway requirements in Monmouthshire prepared for the Industrial Association of Wales and Monmouthshire, a copy of which has been sent to him; whether he is aware that the Pontypool-Newport road is now carrying more than twice its designed capacity; and whether he will order an enquiry into the effects of closures of railway passenger lines in Monmouthshire upon traffic volume on the Pontypool-Newport road.

    Yes, Sir. I am aware that this trunk road is carrying twice its designed capacity. I am now considering the recent recommendation of the Transport Users' Consultative Committee that the proposals to withdraw passenger services on the Eastern and Western Valley railway lines should be agreed. The Committee's report takes account of road traffic conditions and I do not think another inquiry at this stage would serve any useful purpose.

    In view of the fact that the Industrial Association's comments have been published since the Consultative Committee met, may I ask the Minister whether he will give an assurance that, bearing in mind that 15,000 units a day use this Pontypool—Newport road, he will not take action which will throw all the people hitherto using the passenger service on to a heavily overloaded road of this character?

    I cannot give an assurance of that sort until I have examined in detail the evidence put before the Consultative Committee.

    Is the Minister aware that conditions on this road have to be seen to be believed? Therefore, will he go and see them? Does he not recognise that it would be absolutely shocking if he were to agree to the British Transport Commission's proposal for stopping the passenger services before there had been a really radical effort to deal with the whole road problem in the area?

    I do not think that any decision should be arrived at before the evidence has been examined.

    Will the Minister not have another look at this type of thing? He will be aware that a Select Committee of the House, when considering this question last year, asked the Government to accept some social responsibility as distinct from the profit-and-loss account which the Transport Commission has to consider when it closes branch lines? Will the Minister not give some directive, irrespective of what will be proposed in the new Bill, with a view to keeping these social amenities still available to the public?

    I was asked for my comments on this case. Obviously it is impossible to give a decision until the evidence laid before the Consultative Committee has been seen by me.

    When does the Minister expect to complete his study of the Transport Users' Consultative Committee's report?

    Temporary Flyovers

    34.

    asked the Minister of Transport whether in order to prevent traffic congestion he will, as a temporary measure, erect pre-fabricated steel bridges to carry traffic at points such as the crossing of A.5 and A.41 on the North Circular Road.

    We are studying various possible sites for temporary flyovers including some in the London area.

    We are about to publish our proposals for a permanent flyover at Brent Cross. A temporary flyover there would have too short a life to be worth while. Consulting engineers are investigating the situation at the A.5 junction.

    Many people will be pleased to hear that news. Would my hon. Friend say on general principle that these temporary steel prefabricated bridges have been a great help, not only at Knightsbridge but in other parts of the country?

    Yes, indeed, not only at Knightsbridge, but also the excellent example put up in Birmingham recently. We do not rule out the possibility of having temporary flyovers where the ground is suitable for them. I only say that they should really be suitable for the sites and have a reasonably long life, otherwise the money is wasted.

    M1

    40.

    asked the Minister of Transport whether he will authorise the extension of aluminium slotted screening between the carriageways to the entire length of the M.1.

    No, Sir. Although this experimental screen gives protection against glare from approaching headlights, there is no indication that its presence has, in fact, helped to reduce accidents. It may encourage drivers not to dip their headlights, thus increasing danger and discomfort from dazzle in the driving mirror from the lights of following vehicles. The screen is definitely not adequate as a crash barrier.

    Would my right hon. Friend not agree that this antidazzle barrier should be erected throughout the length of the carriageway? It certainly acts as a wind-break. Only the other day a lorry overturned on the M.1. Will he not look into the matter again? Would he not agree that the cost is well worth while even if only a few lives are saved each year?

    There is a committee which sits continually to consider safety on the M.1, and we have members of the Road Research Laboratory on it. They are not satisfied that what my hon. and gallant Friend asks for is justified at present.

    Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people like myself who use this road fairly frequently, including the other day when the lorry overturned, find it quite invaluable to have this light barrier down the middle of the road? I notice particularly that where the barrier stops is the place where the dazzle starts again.

    This road is being observed almost daily by the Road Research Laboratory and my engineers. If my hon. Friend has any evidence to offer to them I will certainly see that it is sent.

    Junction, Harrow (Traffic Lights)

    41.

    asked the Minister of Transport when he will announce the plans for a new traffic control system at the junction of Alexandra Avenue and Northolt Road, Harrow.

    An improved layout for this junction, including traffic signals, has now been approved. I understand that the highway authority is now obtaining estimates of cost and hopes to proceed quickly with the scheme.

    While thanking my hon. Friend for his comments, may I ask whether he realises that plans for this road junction were first produced ten years ago? Is he aware that from personal experience I can tell him that it is impossible to join the main stream of traffic at this junction except by shutting one's eyes tight and accelerating?

    I would not advise my hon. Friend to do that. We certainly are aware of the difficulties at this place. That is Why we are getting on with this work, and it is a poor heart that never rejoices.

    West Auckland By-Pass

    44.

    asked the Minister of Transport if in view of the unemployment in South-West Durham, he will authorise the early construction of that part of the West Auckland by-pass which will improve access to the new Fielden Bridge industrial site at St Helen's, Auckland.

    This by-pass would be on a classified road for which the Durham County Council is the highway authority. It has not as yet proposed its inclusion in the road programme. Until it does so we cannot consider it for inclusion.

    Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the shortage of money for this purpose? Could he not make money available so that several things could be done at once, 100 acres of industrial development laid out, unemployment in the area relieved, and everybody satisfied?

    The hon. Member has not followed my original Answer. I said that until the Durham County Council puts forward a proposal for this road, which is one of its roads, we cannot consider it for inclusion in the county council's programme. The ball is in the council's court. When the council eventually brings its proposal forward we will try to do what we can.

    Railways

    Parcels And Goods Service, North-Eastern Region

    26.

    asked the Minister of Transport if he will give a general direction to the British Transport Commission to investigate the railway parcels and goods service and make a report to him.

    No, Sir. This is not an appropriate subject for a general direction. Users who are dissatisfied with the Commission's services can make representations to the transport users' consultative committees.

    Is the Minister not aware that users who are dissatisfied have been making representations in the North-Eastern Region for at least the past four years without getting any improvement in the services? Does he not know that British Railways in that region are facing great difficulty about staff, and so on, which is interfering with the efficient working of the service and that they cannot possibly get better staff unless better wages are paid? Why does not the Minister do something about that if he will not have an inquiry?

    The question of wages is another subject. The Commission has said that in the three months ending 30th September the North-Eastern Region handled many hundreds of thousands of parcels but only 34 complaints of delays were received.

    In such cases of delay, is it not useful to take up the matter with the general manager of the region concerned, from whom one might get more satisfaction than from any committee?

    When there have been only 34 complaints from handling hundreds of thousands of parcels, it is straining one's imagination too much to believe that the service in the North-Eastern Region is inefficient.

    Severn Tunnel (Incident)

    36.

    asked the Minister of Transport whether he is aware of public concern, following upon a recent outbreak of fire in a diesel engine travelling through the Severn Tunnel, with the existing safety system used in the tunnel; what action he is taking to investigate the present safety arrangements; and if he will make a statement.

    Yes, Sir. I am aware that some concern has been expressed in the Press about this incident. It has already been investigated by the Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways and he is following up certain points, but in general the present safety arrangements are considered satisfactory.

    Is it not a fact that instead of the tell-tale wire, which when cut communicates itself to the signal box on the other side, being cut, unfortunately the telephone communication wire was cut, with the consequence that there was no possibility of communication from the broken-down train with the outside of the tunnel? If that was the case, will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that some action will be taken to protect the telephone wire so that there will be no possibility of a recurrence of such an incident? Will he also tell the House whether he is prepared to give proper instruction to all those who act as guards in the tunnel?

    They already have instruction. On one side of the tunnel is a telephone wire. On the other side is a tell-tale wire which when broken sends an alarm to the signal box. On this occasion the guard made a mistake. He cut the telephone wire instead of the telltale wire. This is one of those human things which occur. Generally speaking, anyone who goes through the tunnel is trained and instructed on which side of the tunnel the tell-tale wire is located.

    Surely the right hon. Gentleman is not saying that this is only a matter of human frailty. What steps has he taken to prevent a recurrence, such as replacing the tell-tale wire? How does he distinguish between one wire and the other? This is a most unsatisfactory reply.

    The distinction between the telephone wire and the tell-tale wire is that the telephone wire is on the one side of the tunnel and the tell-tale wire is on the other.

    Catering Establishments

    42.

    asked the Minister of Transport if he will give a general direction to the British Transport Commission to examine the advantages of reducing the prices in the catering establishments of British Railways, in view of the success attending experiments of this nature.

    Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one of these experiments concerned a group of railway employees who took over a refreshment room which was not paying and made it pay by reducing prices? Would he take notice of the talent that resides in railway employees and when he makes appointments to the Transport Commission look to that source?

    Certainly, but I should like to have more information on how much voluntary work is provided there.

    British Transport Commission (Surveys And Work Studies)

    43.

    asked the Minister of Transport if he will give a general direction to the British Transport Commission to ensure that full consultation with local trade union branches takes place before work study schemes and works surveys are begun in British Transport Commission establishments.

    I understand from the British Transport Commission that preliminary surveys and work study schemes are introduced only after consultation with the appropriate trade union representatives.

    Would the right hon. Gentleman see that this thing really works? Is he not aware that before any of these schemes can be successful there must be trade union consultation and (that most trade unionists are reasonable people and if consulted will help to get the schemes established?

    I am glad to hear that, and I am certain that it is true. I quite agree that work study must be extended on British Railways in co-operation with trade unionists.

    Transport

    Road Vehicles (Noise)

    27.

    asked the Minister of Transport what steps he is now taking to prevent excessive noise from the engines of all types of vehicles using the roads.

    We are preparing new regulations based on the British Standard for a method of measurement, which was issued last month; on the proposed British Standard for sound level meters; on the results of tests on the actual noise emitted by vehicles; and the effect of various levels of sound on the hearers. I cannot yet say when the work in this complex field will be completed.

    Does my hon. Friend agree that while only a minority of road users make this noise, they should be dealt with severely and as soon as possible?

    That is exactly why we are pressing on as quickly as we can with the proposed new regulations. I do not, however, want to hold out any hopes that we will be able to act all that quickly, because, as I have said, this is a complex matter.

    Exhaust Purifiers

    29.

    asked the Minister of Transport whether he has made arrangements for the test of the latest United States lorry exhaust purifier; and what plans he has for dealing with this problem in England and Wales.

    I understand that the United States authorities are urging on American motor manufacturers certain devices to prevent the escape from the crankcase of unburned hydro-carbons which leak past the pistons. It may be that it is these that my hon. Friend has in mind. They do nothing to purify or suppress exhaust fumes, and have in fact been fitted to most petrol engined vehicles manufactured in this country since the nineteen-thirties. It is more difficult to adapt them to diesel engined vehicles, and fewer are so fitted. The police and our technical officers do all they can to enforce the existing law throughout the country; new regulations to prohibit the use of the excess fuel device while vehicles are in motion come into effect on 1st January next.

    Trafficators

    38.

    asked the Minister of Transport whether he is satisfied that the existing practice with regard to the location of trafficator lights on motor vehicles is satisfactory; and if he will now make a statement.

    Positional limits for the fitting of trafficators laid down in Regulations are necessarily fairly wide because of the number of different kinds of vehicle to which they are fitted. We have no evidence that manufacturers fit indicators in positions in which they are not adequately visible to other road users.

    Is my hon. Friend aware that it is not that they are not adequately visible? It is that they are very much too visible on occasions. There are many motor cars one meets in London whose trafficator lights are a positive menace and a nuisance, especially on dark and rainy nights? Would my hon. Friend not have a look at the matter to see whether he cannot make recommendations to motor manufacturers about it?

    I answered my hon. Friend's Question, which referred to the location of trafficator lights and not their brilliance. I will look into the point, but I should add, for the benefit of the House, that we have already done a great deal of work on the subject of the brilliance of trafficator lights and that we hope to announce a decision very soon.

    Driving Licences (Eyesight Tests)

    39.

    asked the Minister of Transport whether he will introduce legislation to ensure that all persons aged 60 years and over undergo an eyesight test on applying for renewal of a driving licence.

    At the beginning of every driving test a candidate is asked to read a number plate at a distance of 25 yards; if he cannot do so the test is cancelled. Drivers seeking renewal of their driving licences must declare whether they can read a motor car number plate 25 yards away. Licensing authorities refuse a licence application or revoke an existing licence if they become aware that a driver's eyesight does not reach that standard. I do not think that further legislation is required.