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Commons Chamber

Volume 809: debated on Wednesday 20 January 1971

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House Of Commons

Wednesday, 20th January, 1971

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Paisley Corporation (Cart Navigation) Order Confirmation Bill

Mr. Gordon Campbell presented a Bill to confirm a Provisional Order under Section 7 of the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1936, relating to Paisley Corporation (Cart Navigation).

To be considered upon Tuesday next and to be printed. [Bill 89.]

Oral Answers To Questions

Aviation Supply

Aircraft Industry (Future Projects)

2.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply if he will make a statement on future supersonic projects for the British aircraft industry.

I think that we must at this stage concentrate on making a success of Concorde.

I agree with the Minister in that profound statement, but could he say what research is going on for the next stage, that is, research into hypersonic flight?

3.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply if he will make a state- ment on future subsonic projects for the British aircraft industry.

I take the Question to apply to civil projects. The Government are not responsible for finding projects for the industry; the initiative lies with the manufacturers. But I am prepared to consider any applications for Government launching aid.

What is being done by the industry to develop short take-off and landing aircraft, primarily in order to avoid congestion on the short air traffic routes?

Several studies are in progress both in my Department and in the industry. We hope to be able to study these thoroughly in the next few weeks, but I do not think that there is much prospect of a project which will go into development in the near future.

Aircraft Projects (Commercial Returns)

4.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply what is the total of Government expenditure incurred since 1945 on civil aviation that failed to produce a commercial product.

If the hon. Member is referring to aircraft which have failed to achieve any sales, about £40 million.

I thank the Minister for that reply. It is rather less than I thought it would be. But will he agree that what the aircraft industry requires today is a secure future based on feasible projects and that the recent cuts which the Government have made in the projected programmes of the British aircraft industry do not give much hope for that kind of prospect in the foreseeable future?

Of course, the ideal would be a steady stream of viable projects. The hon. Gentleman refers to cuts. That is a rather odd way of describing a refusal to support with launching aid a project in relation to which there was a rival project of the same nature in which a British aircraft company was involved.

Concorde

5.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply if he will make a further statement on the Concorde.

7.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply if he will make another statement on the progress of the Concorde programme.

I have nothing to add to the reply I gave to the hon. Member on Wednesday, 18th November.—[Vol. 806, c. 1212–5.]

What is the right hon. Gentleman's latest estimate of the cost of development of Concorde? Will he undertake that he will give no further authorisation for the purchase or production of parts or components until a decision is finally taken on this aircraft, and may we know when that is likely to be?

The total estimate is still the same as the figure I gave in my earlier statement, £825 million. As regards authorisations in the future, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that this is a matter for joint decision between my French colleague and myself. We very much hope that by the time we come to the major review in March we shall be in a position to make firm decisions.

Could my right hon. Friend say anything about operating Concorde over the United States, and whether we are likely to be given clearance for that?

My hon. Friend speaks of operating over the United States. I think that there is very little—

To the United States, yes. There is the problem of the noise restrictions which are the subject of discussion in the United States, and I am keeping in close touch with how they are going. They could affect the issue very much indeed.

As the Minister has said, and we all know, we are approaching a moment of decision-making on Concorde of immense significance for the aircraft industry and, in particular, as it happens, for my constituency and his. Will he undertake that, before a decision on the future of Concorde is reached by the Government, the relevant figures and alternatives will be published so that the nation itself may have an opportunity of joining in the discussion before decisions are come to rather than after the Government have taken them?

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the decision must be a Government decision. I think that a prolonged public discussion would not be in the interests of the enterprise.

My right hon. Friend knows that this aircraft is a winner. Will he undertake to do all in his power to see that we keep this lead in the aircraft industry?

I would only modify my hon. and gallant Friend's comment by saying that I hope very much that it is a winner. It must depend on the commercial potential as we are able to judge it in a few months time.

As airlines are being pressed to take firm commercial decisions, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what payload performance for Concorde has now been guaranteed?

The hon. Gentleman is a bit premature. We have not reached the stage at which the manufacturers are in a position to guarantee payload performance. We hope that we shall reach that stage when the full results of the tests have been evaluated, but that will not be for a month or two.

10.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply whether he will now make a further statement on production funding for Concorde.

The manufacture of six production models of Concorde has been authorised and authority has also been given to the firms to order some materials for a further four aircraft.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that B.A.C. has serious overcapacity for production, with grave financial implications for the company? We cannot merely expect airlines to have a commercial judgment on the virtues of the project. We must also take into consideration the faith that the sponsoring Governments have in the worth-whileness of the air liner.

There has been no lack or loss of confidence by the Government. The question which we must consider is whether we should authorise further production finance now before we are in a position to assess the marketing potential.

Has the right hon. Gentleman an agreement with the French Government to carry the current rate of spending through to the middle of the year, or is there a break point in March that will make it necessary for him to reach a decision before the airlines may have had full time to assess the aircraft?

There is no break point in the sense meant by the right hon. Gentleman. I am meeting Monsieur Chamant on 2nd February, when I shall have further talks on this aspect before the March review.

In view of the importance of the Question which my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) put about the Concorde's situation, could my right hon. Friend give an assurance that when he is assessing the advice he receives from his officials and from B.O.A.C. he will judge it historically in the light of B.O.A.C.'s attitude towards other British aircraft since the war?

We must study the advice on the basis of the situation as it exists when that advice is given.

13.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply whether he will make an early flight in Concorde.

I am delighted to hear that. Is my right hon. Friend aware not only of the great morale boost that this will be to those employed on the manufacture of Concorde but equally, if not more important, the great show of the British Government's confidence that this will indicate to customers of Concorde who will shortly be placing their orders?

14.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply what is the latest estimate of the cost of Concorde and whether he will now establish a ceiling above which such cost will not be met from public funds.

As regards the first part of this Question, I would refer the hon. Member to my statement on 28th October, 1970. The answer to the second part of the Question is, "No".—[Vol. 805, c. 193–196.]

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that an increasing volume of opinion fears that this might be the most expensive white elephant in British aviation history? How does he square his reply with the philosophy of the Conservative Party that everyone must stand on their own feet?

I cannot think of any more unwise course than to fix a purely arbitrary ceiling at this stage. As I have said on a number of occasions—I have always taken this view, as has the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn)—this stage would be the least sensible stage at which to consider cancelling Concorde.

In an earlier answer, my right hon. Friend referred to the figure of £800 million or thereabouts. Will he divide by half when he uses that figure so that the British people know that we are paying only £400 million and not £800 million?

19.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply what discussions his Department has had with the British Aircraft Corporation and the French Government with a view to guaranteeing the manufacturers of the Concorde against loss in the event of unit production costs exceeding the estimates embodied in the selling price negotiated with airlines.

My Department has had a number of discussions with the manufacturers on the arrangements for the financing of production. These discussions are continuing. The French Government have been kept informed of these discussions.

Would the right hon. Gentleman say that these discussions do not include any consideration of the prospect of financing Concorde beyond the development phase, and in particular that there is no question of direct or indirect subsidy to production models for sale to the airlines?

I may have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman's Question. These discussions refer to the production phase. We are not considering any form of subsidy or grant at that stage. What we are considering is the terms and conditions of the interest-bearing loans which were the basis on which the last Government proposed to finance Concorde. As the hon. Gentleman will understand, many factors have to be considered.

Does my right hon. Friend know whether Air France is submitting evidence to the French Government on Concorde? If it is, will he do his best to see that he has access to it?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the attitude of both B.O.A.C. and Air France in taking up their options on Concorde is crucial? Would it be his policy to continue to subsidise Concorde directly or to expect B.O.A.C. and Air France to do so?

21 and 22.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply (1) what is the estimated research and development cost of the Olympus engines for Concorde;

(2) how many engines have been ordered by his Department for the Concorde project.

Nineteen bench and 44 flight development engines have been ordered under the Concorde development programme. Authority has also been given for the manufacture of the first 14 production engines. It would not be appropriate at this stage, for reasons of commercial confidence, for me to give the total estimated development cost of the Olympus 593.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the research and development cost is as it was estimated at the beginning of this project? If not, can he give some idea, even in percentage terms, of how much it has risen and whether the engine supply programme is on time?

I cannot say that the estimates have not risen since the outset of the arrangement. I cannot without notice give a percentage increase. As far as I know, the present development is on time but there are other modifications which have to be taken into account.

What percentage of this research and development cost is being spent on the reduction of lateral noise and smoke pollution? Can the right hon. Gentleman say where in this country the majority of these engines will be made?

I cannot give answers now to those supplementary questions. If the hon. Gentleman will put them down on the Order Paper I will endeavour to do so, but these costs are difficult to identify.

When can we expect the first flight of a Concorde with the modified engines?

The right hon. Gentleman referred to commercial considerations. While accepting that, in certain circumstances, this may be a reason for not giving detailed figures, will he not be more explicit now, because there seems no obvious reason why figures should not be given without prejudice?

I have some sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman, but the problem is that the figures contain certain contingencies, and I think that they are better not published.

Heavy-Lift Helicopters

6.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply if he will make a statement about the supply of heavy-lift helicopters to the Royal Air Force.

The Department has not been notified of any R.A.F. requirement for a heavy-lift helicopter. However, we have been notified of a possible requirement for some helicopters with a medium-lift capability. We are examining helicopters which might meet such a requirement.

Would not the operation and the efficiency of the Harrier squadrons be severely restricted unless there were some medium-lift or heavy-lift helicopters available to supply them at forward airfields? Can my hon. Friend say anything about the report about a form of exchange deal with the United States as against W.G.13s produced in this country?

My answer to the latter part of my hon. Friend's question is, "No". The former part is an operational requirement question, and he should put it to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence.

V/Stol Aircraft

8.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply what discussions he has had with European Governments for the joint production and procurement of vertical/short take-off landing aircraft.

Is my hon. Friend aware that such aircraft may very well be the hope for the future of the aircraft industry, and that to develop them effectively is likely to be beyond the resources of any one nation State? Is he aware that consequently the only way to do this is in co-operation with the countries of Europe? Will he assure us that the spirit of the approach to the matter will be that co-operation is based on the effective sharing out of contracts and not merely on the basis of Buggins' turn and all parties getting as much money back from the project as they put into it?

My hon. Friend has raised a number of questions about the nature of international co-operation and I must answer in the compass of a short reply. I prefer to defer that until another time. With regard to joint ventures in V.T.O.L. or S.T.O.L. aircraft, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation Supply said in answer to an earlier Question, we do not see any immediate likelihood of hard projects, but very much study work must be done.

Does the Minister recall his right hon. Friend saying on 4th December that there were various problems which must be sorted out? Can he indicate progress in that direction? Does not he accept that if the project is to be a European venture we should seek to have it funded internationally to carry the load?

Yes, Sir. All this is under consideration. Quite a lot of study work has been commissioned both domestically in the United Kingdom and by some European countries under the general auspices of European civil aviation. This progress must be achieved before we can talk of a project for hardware.

Does my hon. Friend recall that when my right hon. Friend replied to an earlier Question on short take-off and landing aircraft, he said that it was entirely a commercial matter for the aircraft firms? Will my hon. Friend confirm that this Question, which refers to European Governments, does not enter into the matter? Any co-operation is between firm and firm, regardless of whether we are in the Common Market or out of it.

With respect to my hon. Friend, although there is a lot of truth in what he says, the matter is not quite as simple as that. The operation of S.T.O.L. and particularly V.T.O.L. aircraft has considerable consequences for land and land use planning. Proper co-ordination involves Governments and local authorities, and there is little virtue in the manufacturers going ahead with their own projects.

On design discussions how does the Minister reconcile his Answer of "None" to the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) with the "Yes, Sir" which I received to a supplementary question on Question No. 3? I thought that it was the same.

I thought that someone would pick that up. What the hon. Gentleman has not detected is the difference between formal discussions between Governments in a formal negotiating sense and, what is true, that officials have been in touch and are continuing to be in touch, exchanging information on the general parameters of these projects.

Air Holdings (Lockhead 1011S)

9.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply if he will now make a statement setting out the extent to which the Air Holdings orders for Lockheed 1011s were underwritten by Her Majesty's Government.

I have nothing to add to my reply to a similar question by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) on 13th January.—[Vol. 809, c. 78–79.]

How does that answer square with the assurances given by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) to the French and Germans when we were considering entering the A300 project that there was no question of a British Government subsidy for an American competitor? Since there is such concern about the extent of public backing that will be necessary for the deal, has my right hon. Friend yet received the report from his accountants on Rolls-Royce's finances?

It would be simpler to put the first part of my hon. Friend's question to the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). The situation is that, if my hon. Friend defines the Air Holdings contract as a subsidy, which I am not sure that he can—

—I think that at the material time the Government were supporting the A300B. The accountants' investigation is very thorough and cannot be made very quickly. I do not expect the report for several weeks.

Rolls-Royce—Lockheed Contract

11.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply whether Her Majesty's Government was a party to the contract between Rolls-Royce and Lockheed, under which Her Majesty's Government provided loan assistance to Rolls-Royce for the RB2-11 contract.

The Government are providing Rolls-Royce with launching aid to develop the RB211 for the Lockheed Tristar, but they were not a party to the contract between Rolls-Royce and Lockheed.

If the Government were not a party to the contract, is it not extraordinary that £47 million of public funds were made available for the completion of the contract?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate that the Government launching aid policy, which has been followed by successive Governments, has always kept the Government out of the contractual relationship between the engine manufacturer and the airframe manufacturer.

Is Rolls-Royce now applying for further money? If so, is any upper limit to be fixed?

The only information I have about that is what I read in the newspapers, and no one has told me anything of a different nature.

Did the Government know the terms of the contract before agreeing to lend the company £47 million?

I think that the Government must have known. Although it was long before my time, I think that that is so.

Short Brothers And Harland

12.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply if he will now make a statement on the recapitalisation of Short Brothers and Harland.

Not yet, Sir. The reconstruction of the company is currently being considered. I will make a statement in due course.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House hopes that he will be in a position to make that statement soon and that it will be of such kind that it will not be necessary for us to provide any further public money for this company?

Is there any intention of giving any restitution to Mr. Wrangham for the disgraceful treatment he had at the hands of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn)?

What is the difference between helping Rolls-Royce and helping Short Brothers and Harland?

That may be clearer if the hon. Gentleman will await the outcome of these considerations.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind, in expediting this decision, the importance to the employment situation in Northern Ireland of the work done at Shorts?

Aircraft Noise

15.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply what research the Government is undertaking to reduce aircraft noise; and if he will make a statement on the results of research already undertaken.

We are spending £1¼ million a year on research towards quieter engines. Progress has been made in identifying sources of engine noise, the design of quieter components, and noise-attenuating techniques. The first results will show in the RB211.

While thanking my hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask whether he is aware that many people feel that the reduction of noise levels in future aircraft is rather more important than going for continuously increasing speed, and that if that is possible, the public would like it?

I am sure that everyone connected with the development of future aircraft is aware of the increasing importance of reducing noise levels.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the political impact of this during election time? In my constituency, one cannot canvass when aircraft are overhead. It takes 50 per cent. of good canvassing time away. Will he look at the political implications of aircraft noise?

The operation of aircraft is a question for the Department of Trade and Industry. My responsibility concerns the development of new aircraft and any modifications which can be done to existing aircraft.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that, in general, approach paths to airports are over areas of dense population and take-off paths are over less densely populated areas, and that efforts should be put into research on noise emanating from the front end of the engine rather than that there should be too much concentration on the jet efflux at the rear?

There may be truth in what my hon. Friend says, but in fact many of the worse complaints which come in are about lateral noise which arises when aircraft are on the ground.

Multi-Rôle Combat Aircraft

16.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply what progress has been made in the multi-rôle combat aircraft development programme; and if he will make a statement.

As I stated in reply to a Question on 18th November, the first major phase of development is now under way on a tripartite basis.—[Vol. 806, c. 1217.]

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this collaborative V.G. Project is, both operationally and industrially, the core of our long-term aircraft programme and has the most major implications for the future of advanced technology in this country and must be persevered with virtually at all costs?

I would share my hon. Friend's view, but I would not always accept the term "at all costs".

That must be the subject of another Question and I doubt whether we have the answer yet.

Have these aircraft sufficient range for widespread use in the Royal Air Force?

That is a matter for my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence.

European Space Research Organisation, Holland

20.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply if he will make an official visit to the European Space Research Organisation, Nordwijk, Holland.

I have no present plans to visit the E.S.R.O. Establishment at Nordwijk.

Is it understood that, in the uncertainty surrounding their future, many of the best members of the staff are contemplating leaving?

The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed this matter on the Adjournment and I have nothing to add to what I said then.

In view of certain Continental doubts, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the British Government's general support for E.S.R.O. remains undiminished?

I would qualify that by saying "French" rather than "Continental" doubts. We have no intention of withdrawing the support which we have already been giving.

Aircraft Industry (Redundancies)

23.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply how many redundancies have now been notified to him arising from the decision not to proceed with the BAC311; and what estimate is available of further reductions in employment in the aircraft industry during 1971.

B.A.C. has informed me of 870 redundancies following the decision not to proceed with the BAC311. It is not for me to anticipate the decisions of individual companies or to make my own forecasts of the level of employment, but I can say that I have received no indications from industry to suggest that there will be any major redundancies beyond those already announced during the rest of the year on present project expectations.

Bearing in mind the figures given the other day by Hawker-Siddeley, giving an estimate of expected redundancies of from 2,000 to 2,500 by next summer, and also the right hon. Gentleman's reply today to Question No. 3, does not he consider it the Government's duty to place before the House a clear statement of the shape of the aircraft industry as they see it now?

I do not think that anything would be gained by that at the moment. Perhaps later it might be possible.

If my right hon. Friend accedes to this request to publish a paper on the aircraft industry, particularly the BAC311, will he do his best to stress the part which the Rolls-Royce situation has played in setting the present atmosphere, which has resulted in the Government feeling themselves unable to go ahead with the 311, a decision which many of us feel is disastrous for the British aircraft industry?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments, but they refer to a hypothetical situation.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that redundancies are gathering pace in the aircraft industry and that this is very worrying to those who work in it and is having the effect that highly skilled personnel are leaving? It is very difficult to recruit the right type of people to an industry when such redundancies are taking place.

I appreciate all those factors, and we take them seriously into account. But the question of overcapacity in the aircraft industry is not confined to the United Kingdom or to Europe but extends to America as well.

Thurleigh (Pilot Training)

24.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply why he authorised the transfer of the training of pilots belonging to the British Overseas Airways Corporation and other airlines from Stansted to Thurleigh before he had ascertained the noise contours of the many villages likely to be affected in north Bedfordshire.

Noise contours would have added little to our knowledge of the problem. The increase in disturbance relates to the extension of the airfield's operating hours rather than to the noise levels of individual aircraft. None of the B.O.A.C. aircraft produces highe-noise levels than the types of aircraft currently using the airfield.

Surely my right hon. Friend could have attempted to work out the noise contours before he reached his decision? Surely he is sacrificing the public to administrative convenience.

There is no administrative inconvenience about it. As I have explained, these flights are of exactly the same type as have been undertaken from that airfield for many years. It is an extension and therefore the investigation my hon. Friend has in mind would not have helped in any way.

Is my right hon. Friend aware—indeed, is my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) aware—that the airlines already have enormously high costs which they bear in going many hundreds of miles for local training? Many airlines, notably B.O.A.C., are doing no conversion training anywhere near either Bedford or Stansted, and my constituents living near Stansted are grateful to my right hon. Friend for helping to share this burden of noise from essential training around the country.

That is a factor one has to take into account. The plain fact is that no one wants this noise, but there is some merit in trying to spread it more fairly and evenly as time goes on.

25.

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply why, since the movements at Thurleigh are expected reach 40,000 in June, 1972, roughly equivalent to those at Stansted today, he did not take steps to ascertain public opinion at an earlier stage before authorising the transfer of the noise burden involved in the training of pilots for airlines from Stansted to Thurleigh.

The extended use of Thurleigh for training flights does not involve the introduction of a new activity, but only an increase in a type of flying already undertaken there.

Surely the Minister must realise that the local authorities should have been consulted on this matter in the first instance because it must lead to an intensification of the noise involved in asymetric flying. Why did he not consult them? Is he not aware that Bedfordshire expressed the view that if the proposal were to be carried through, the environment would be seriously affected?

My experience in these matters is that no local authority will do anything other than resist any increase in noise. This is a marginal increase, and I have set up a consultative committee between officials of the R.A.E., Bedford, and the local authorities, and I undertake to my hon. Friend to watch their proceedings and to see that their representations are considered.

Does the Minister agree that the trouble lies in the short notice given to everybody concerned about this intention? Is there not some danger—indeed something has already appeared in the Press to this affect—that these training flights will be extended to other airlines? Therefore, is there not some ground for apprehension locally? Perhaps the situation might have been made easier if everybody concerned had been told in good time, instead of at a few days' notice.

I note my hon. Friend's comments. I do not entirely agree with them, but I am keeping an eye on the extent to which this use would be further intensified in future.

Environment

Council House Rents (Greater London Council)

26.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what request he has received from the Greater London Council, under the Rent (Control of Increases) Act, 1969, for permission to increase council house rents in 1971 by an average of more than 7s. 6d. per week.

The Greater London Council do not require my right hon. Friend's agreement under the Act to the rent increases they propose to make in 1971.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Greater London Council recently announced increases averaging a total of 30s. over the next three years, which works out at an average of 10s. during 1971? How can he reconcile his refusal to act with the Prime Minister's clear pledge before the last General Election to act directly to reduce public sector prices?

It is all very well for the hon. Member to say that. I say to him what I said in my original answer, that under the Act which was passed by the Labour Government the Greater London Council do not require to have my right hon. Friend's agreement to rent increases which they propose to make this year.

House Building, Brent

27.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the number of sites which had been acquired by the London Borough of Brent for building housing accommodation still available for building starts on 1st January, 1967, the number of units envisaged, the number of sites which have since been sold or offered for sale, and the number of units which will now not be built.

The hon. Member should apply for this information direct to the London Borough of Brent who have the precise details of the date on which they acquired sites and their plans relating to them.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a tremendous shortfall in the housing programme because of such sites being sold? I am grateful to him for twisting the borough's arm in getting the rent rebate scheme put back in the area. Is he aware that in my constituency there are 9,800 people without fixed baths, 21,000 families who share baths, and 19,000 who share lavatories? Could he do something about the appalling conditions in the Borough of Brent by using his political influence on that borough?

I do not accept the implications of that supplementary question. We are all worried about housing conditions not only in Brent but in other parts of the country. I am delighted to see that the Borough of Brent propose to put to tender so many dwellings next year.

Could the hon. Gentleman reconsider the last part of his reply and reserve his delight for a future occasion when this local authority increases its building programme? Is he not aware that there has been a cut of over 4,000 housing starts in the housing programme in 1969–72 by the present Conservative administration in the Borough of Brent?

What the House will be pleased to learn is that the council propose to put to tender nearly 2,000 dwellings this year and over 1,000 in 1972 and 1973. I hope that that will be considered to be a worth-while programme.

Rural Transport Services

28.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations have been made to him, in the light of the rapid breakdown of rural transport services, to provide alternative transport services in co-operation with the General Post Office.

Without accepting all the implications of the Question, I can say that I have received a number of general representations on this subject.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Post Office make at least one collection per day from most of the rural areas which are at the moment without any form of public transport? Would he not, in conjunction with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, carry out an investigation into the possibility of having a combined postal/transport service for these areas, on similar lines to those which operate so successfully in other countries and in some parts of this country?

Yes, Sir. I understand the anxieties that lie behind the Question. Discussions of the kind to which my hon. Friend referred are taking place between my Department and the Post Office.

Would the hon. Gentleman not persuade his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that the only adequate solution to this problem is to publish a White Paper enshrining the proposals of the Maud Commission on Local Government so that the city regions of this country could introduce a systematic solution to the problem of rural transport?

The hon. Gentleman is a good deal more trusting in the efficacy of White Papers than I am.

Is the Minister aware that, in fact, rural bus services have already broken down and that in Dorset there will be an estimated loss of £300,000 in the coming year, that services have been withdrawn on a wholesale scale and fares have been raised to a degree which cannot be paid by low-income earners? Would he treat this as a matter of great urgency?

I assure my hon. Friend that I am in no way ignoring the gravity of this problem. He referred to its particular impact on Dorset. I assure him that Somerset is going through the same experience. But underlying it is the fact that the operation of buses, particularly in country areas, recently has become very unprofitable.

Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that there are many people in rural areas who are still dependent on public transport? Would he take the initiative, following his circular, by calling together local authorities and bus companies so that the position could be examined and some relief given to this desperate problem?

I assure the House and the hon. Gentleman that the matter is being thoroughly examined, but I should be deceiving the House if I were to suggest that there was some hope of a very easy and painless solution to be obtained by merely calling people together.

Expanded Towns

29.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the policy of the Government with regard to expanded towns; and if he will make a statement.

As my hon. Friend will know, the Town Development Act, 1952 was introduced by a Conservative Government to enable local authorities to provide houses for families from the congested areas. Our belief that this is a sensible policy is unchanged and we intend to see that it is used to the best advantage.

In view of that answer, would my hon. Friend please see, where projects are awaiting decision by the Minister, that action is taken quickly? I have in mind one case in which the Greater London Council, as the exporting authority, held a public inquiry last January, which is 12 months ago, and in which there has still been no answer from the Minister.

If my hon. Friend would like to write to me giving specific details, I will try to reply to her. We have to take into account a large number of factors but, compatible with the situation, we try to move with all reasonable speed.

New Towns

30.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the long-term policy of the Government in respect of new town corporations and the New Towns Commission; and if he will make a statement.

31.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will introduce legislation to give control of the assets and property of new town corporations to local authorities.

48.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his policy with regard to the retention of the Commission for New Towns.

I fully expect that developments under the New Towns Act will continue as an element in national and regional strategies, but I shall look for greater participation by private capital and a much higher level of owner-occupation. I have no plans to legislate for the transfer of new town assets to local authorities. The Commission have an important continuing task and I envisage the future transfer to them of other new towns as development corporations complete their tasks.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the House will welcome the Government's interest in giving an opportunity to private enterprise to take part in the development of new towns? Will he also bear in mind the importance at the planning stage of taking account of the interests of local residents?

Yes, certainly. I agree with everything my hon. Friend says and I take note of the points he makes.

I thank the Minister for his encouraging reply. In the interim could he make houses in development areas available on preferential terms on the same basis as occurs in Skelmersdale?

Perhaps I could look at the specific case and at the point about Skelmersdale.

In view of the anxiety of the local authorities to take over the assets of the New Towns Commission, is my hon. Friend satisfied that the assets are properly valued? If they are valued at book value they become a very attractive proposition, but if they are valued at current market value they are not quite so attractive.

My hon. Friend puts his finger on an important point. If there were any question of a transfer to the local authorities the valuation of these assets would be an extremely difficult and complicated matter.

Is the Minister aware that there will be great anxieties about the implications of what he said about the future of the new towns and their relationship to local authorities? Many of us are concerned that there should be proper democratic control in some of these cases. Would he not agree there is a need for some debate about this matter?

It is certainly a very important matter on which hon. Members will wish to express views. But I do not think there is any doubt that there has been some prolonged uncertainty, and my right hon. Friend and I wish to see the New Towns Commission retained.

Is my hon. Friend aware that his reply will give great comfort to those of us who feel that the local councils have special qualities and structures which suit them for local government, but that they are not factors which suit them to run such major business enterprises as new towns?

I appreciate what my hon. Friend says and I should like to say how much I enjoyed the visit to Harlow New Town which I had the pleasure of making recently.

Can we not get the record clear? May we be clearly told whether this is a continuing decision or a provisional decision—as to whether this is a retention of these assets in the New Towns Commission, or whether there is an intention to review the matter and pursue it with the possibility of passing over assets to local authorities in future?

My right hon. Friends have decided that the New Towns Commission should remain and we envisage that future transfer to it of other towns would be done as the development corporations complete their task.

Overspill Schemes

32.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps he proposes to ensure that the private sector of housing plays a substantial part in overspill schemes in general, and at Daventry in particular.

New Town development corporations and the local authorities in expanding towns are already encouraged to make land available for private sector housing. In Daventry since 1966 about one-quarter of the new houses have been privately built. Private development is pending on 22½ acres, and a further 24 acres are likely to be released for private housing in the next 12 months.

I note what my hon. Friend said in reply to an earlier Question about the level of rented accommodation and owner-occupation in the new towns. Without exception, both in the new towns and in town development schemes, these are out of balance very substantially. In view of the commitment into which the previous Administration entered, with a 50–50 break, how does my hon. Friend see this becoming a reality?

There is every prospect in the New Towns Commission of being able to progress towards these targets at a reasonably early date. I hope that it will also be possible in the expanding towns. But there are difficult problems in many areas. I should very much welcome constructive suggestions and should like to discuss the matter with my hon. Friend.

National Association Of Waste Disposal Contractors

33.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what contact his Department maintains with the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors; and what advice concerning the development of total destruction complexes that body has tendered.

The Association gave evidence to the Working Party on Refuse Disposal and representatives of the Association met officials of the Department in December, 1970, for an informal discussion of waste disposal problems. No advice has been tendered by the Association concerning the development of total destruction complexes.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the increasing lack of dumping facilities for refuse. Does he not agree that these destruction schemes will become a necessary part of refuse disposal and will he encourage such schemes?

The Government will encourage such schemes and I hope that suitable reform of local government will enable this matter to be put on a more rational basis.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at a recent meeting of the Science and Technology Committee representatives of the industry thought that his Department could be more positive in this matter?

We received a report on this matter only a few weeks ago, and we are currently asking local authorities to tackle the matter in a more efficient manner than has occurred in the past. I hope that our arrangements on the future construction of local government will substantially assist.

Transport Holding Company (Chairman)

34.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what terms of reference have been given to Mr. Lewis Gilmour Whyte on his appointment as Chairman of the Transport Holding Company.

I am discussing with Mr. Whyte the future of the Transport Holding Company and its subsidiaries, and I hope to make a statement shortly.

Is the Minister aware that there is great concern throughout the nationalised industries about the proposal to hive off profitable sectors, which includes Thomas Cook and Sons? Is he further aware that there is considerable suspicion among working people in the nationalised industries, following the dismissal of Lord Hall and the refusal by Lord Robens to serve further on the National Coal Board, that chairmen will be appointed who are prepared to do the Government's bidding in getting rid of concerns over which they are put in control?

I am not aware of any of the proposals to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I would comment that, if there is anxiety in any of these concerns, I cannot believe that it will be allayed by the sort of allegations the hon. Gentleman has made.

House Of Commons

Prime Minister's Questions

35.

asked the Lord President of the Council if he will seek to have the Prime Minister's period of Question Time extended from 15 minutes to 30 minutes.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. William Whitelaw)

No, Sir.

I thank the Leader of the House for that extremely detailed reply. Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that back benchers will be extremely disappointed with his reply—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I speak for myself—as many of us have tabled large numbers of Questions? I have tabled a large number of Questions to the Prime Minister which he has transferred to other Ministers, possibly because he does not want to reply to them. Does the Leader of the House agree that a longer period at Question Time would make it possible for back benchers to put more Questions to the Prime Minister?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that since my right hon. Friend became Prime Minister he has answered substantially more Questions than were answered by his predecessor.

While appreciating the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Carter) for listening to the Prime Minister at much greater length, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether experience in this Parliament justifies the recommendation of the Select Committee on Procedure in the last Parliament for a modest increase in the time available for Questions generally by bringing Question Hour up to a full hour?

I have promised the House that I will shortly bring forward proposals following that Report about the future of Question Time. That I will do.

Public Expenditure Committee

36.

asked the Lord President of the Council if he will make a further statement on the setting up of the Public Expenditure Committee.

39.

asked the Lord President of the Council when he now expects to establish the Select Committee on Public Expenditure.

I hope that the Motion establishing the Select Committee will be tabled this week.

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for that most welcome, gratifying news, may I ask whether he will tell us what will be the number of Members on the Committee and, most important of all, the number of staff which will be seconded to it?

I would ask the hon. Gentleman, as I am sure he will appreciate, to await the Motion which I shall be putting on the Order Paper.

Concerning the membership of the Committee, having originally in the Green Paper proposed 45, I shall propose in the Motion that it should be 49.

I shall be discussing the number of staff with the Chairman as soon as the Committee is set up. We shall then consider how best we can meet his requirements.

Will the full Committee have power—I will not use the expression "hive-off"—to divide itself into such sub-committees as it desires? If so, will the right hon. Gentleman make absolutely certain that there will be adequate staff, so that there will not be a doubling-up of the activities of, say, one clerk to take responsibility for one or two, or even three, sub-committees?

I am sympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman says. When the Committee is set up, I shall want to discuss the whole question of staffing with the Chairman. I should like to await that discussion before being certain what can be done to help. I want to help as best I can.

Parliamentary Questions (Department Of The Environment)

40.

asked the Lord President of the Council if he is aware that the effective Question Time allocated to the Department of the Environment between 27th October and 18th December was approximately 165 minutes compared with approximately 270 minutes allocated to the equivalent Departments on the original Question schedule for that period; and if he will now take steps to increase the time allocated to the Department of the Environment so that its first place time is equivalent to that given to the displaced Departments.

Although I do not think the hon. Member's comparison is a valid one, I am sure that he knows that I am always willing to consider changes through the usual channels, if that appears to be the general wish.

Concerning validity, is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that the figures which I have provided are not correct or that they are an inadequate reflection on what is likely to occur in the House?

In the first instance, the problem is complex because, in making a comparison, one must take into account not only the occasions on which a Department is top for Questions but the likelihood of its being reached when it is not top. That is certainly a possibility in the particular case to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Concerning the roster, having had considerable experience both in Opposition in the last Parliament and now in Government, I can say that one of the great problems in preparing a Question roster is that it is impossible to satisfy everyone's requirements and needs. I am certainly prepared to do my best.

While appreciating that the number of minutes devoted to Questions is of paramount importance, may I ask the Leader of the House to try to persuade his right hon. Friend that his Department would acquire much greater status in terms of improving the environment if it would place the reclamation of land in the key sector of capital expenditure when he comes to think about this problem some time in the future, and whether he would talk to him about this matter with particular reference to the City of Stoke-on-Trent?

I learn most things very slowly, but one thing which I have learned since I have been Leader of the House is that it is extremly unwise for me to depart from questions of Business into questions of policy. I will, therefore, not be tempted on this occasion.

Accommodation For Physical Exercise

41.

asked the Lord President of the Council when he expects accommodation for physical exercise to be available in the proposed new Parliamentary building.

When the new building is completed. On present plans, this should be 1978.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is far too long to wait? Will the right hon. Gentleman re-examine the position in this building to see whether a room can be made available immediately? Surely there must be some tiny corner in this huge Palace which can be used for this important purpose and which could be equipped at very little cost. Judging from the recent photograph of the Prime Minister, perhaps he would be happy to join me very quickly in taking advantage of such facilities.

While never wishing to follow any comments about individuals concerning physical exercise—because I realise how intensely vulnerable I permanently am—I would only say that there is a great demand in this House for accommodation for Members to do their work as Members of Parliament. This must take precedence over other clearly desirable requirements.

Will the Lord President of the Council pay attention to what has been said by my hon. Friend, as many of his own colleagues will not be here in 1978 and will, therefore, want to avail themselves of some accommodation during the transitional period? Will the right hon. Gentleman make premises available now to those of us who are keep-fit addicts?

I must stick to my previous reply, except to add that if I am one of those who will be here in 1978 I shall certainly be less inclined to physical exercise than I am now.

Palace Of Westminster (Smoking Regulations)

44.

asked the Lord President of the Council what action he intends to take with regard to smoking regulations in the Palace of Westminster as a result of the Second Report of the Royal College of Physicians.

I believe this is a matter best left to the general wishes of hon. Members.

As a smoker, may I put in a plea for the non-smokers who, in the places where public business is done, have no way of getting away from the stench raised by the rest of us by our smoking habits?

As a non-smoker, I can only reply that there are many places in the Palace of Westminster where smoking is not allowed. This is a matter which can be carefully considered, but it is obviously one in which the wishes of all Members must be taken into account.

Members' Salaries (Review Body)

45 and 46.

asked the Lord President of the Council (1) when and where the review body dealing with Members of Parliament's salaries, emoluments and allowances in cash or kind, will sit; how Members may give oral evidence; in what form the report of the investigating body will be published; and whether the first report will be available before Easter;

(2) whether he will now publish the names of the persons comprising the review body dealing with Members of Parliament's salaries, emoluments and allowances in cash or kind; whether Privy Councillors and Members of Parliament in both Houses will sit on the body; and whether party political balance is to be accomplished.

The composition of the review body is still under consideration, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister hopes to be able to announce the membership in the near future. Detailed arrangements in connection with the review of Members' pay will need to be considered when the Chairman of the review body has been appointed. It is not possible at this stage to forecast the timing of any reports.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the inordinate delays which have occurred in recent years in dealing with this pressing matter—not only the question of Members' pay, but the deplorable conditions of Members' allowances, accommodation, services and everything which goes to make up efficiency in a Member of Parliament's work which is thoroughly derogated by both this and the last Government? Cannot the matter be treated with some urgency, not in a dilatory fashion?

I think that my hon. Friend is being somewhat less than fair on the question of allowances. Both the previous Government and the present Government have made considerable improvements in Members' allowances. I feel that the step taken—and I fully recognise the important part played in this by the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton)—in setting up a review body and agreeing to refer the whole question of Ministers' and Members' pay and allowances to that body, as was said at the time when we had a debate on the right hon. Gentleman's Bill, once in every Parliament of normal length, is a very considerable step forward in a matter which this House has always found extremely difficult to deal with. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will feel that this matter of allowances is being tackled by the present Government, as it was by the previous Government, as is also the major matter to which he refers.

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that when the review body discusses the whole question it will also look into the status of hon. Members' secretaries? The position at the moment is most unsatisfactory, and many hon. Members feel that their secretaries should receive emoluments, and have conditions of work, similar to Civil Service conditions, but that their secretaries should be appointed by hon. Members themselves, obviously on the basis of the right type of secretary that the hon. Member wants.—[Laughter.] This is a very serious matter. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that this question of secretarial status will be looked into by this body?

I think that I should be wise, in responding to what I recognise to be a very proper and important point put by the hon. Member, to say that I should like to consider further whether this is a matter appropriate to be considered by the review body or whether the question of providing accommodation in this building for hon. Members' secretaries is not far more a matter for the Services Committee and for ourselves.

Post Office (Dispute)

I should like, with permission, to make a statement about the Post Office dispute.

I held a long series of meetings yesterday with representatives of the Post Office and of the Union of Post Office Workers, ending with a meeting of both sides under my chairmanship. I very much regret that despite these protracted discussions the dispute remains unresolved. Throughout the talks, the positions of the two sides remained firmly as they had been when negotiations broke down.

The Union maintained strongly that the only basis for a settlement was a substantial increase in the Post Office's offer and justified its claim in relation to the level of settlements in the last twelve months, and as being necessary to maintain the relative position of its members.

For its part, the Post Office regard its present offer as the limit to which it can go in view not only of its present financial position but also because of the damage to its longer term commercial viability, in view of the scale and timing of further increases in charges which an improved offer would make necessary, and the effects of such increases on the volume of its business.

Nevertheless, the Post Office confirmed its willingness to go to arbitration under its agreement with the union of last August, and be bound by the award. The Post Office maintained that this agreement placed an obligation on the union, if the Post Office so required, as it has done, to join the Post Office in asking me to refer the dispute to arbitration.

The union, however, is not prepared to go to arbitration. Moreover, it takes the view that the agreement does not require one party to accept arbitration if the other party requires it, and its representatives explained to me that they would not have signed the agreement had it in their view placed such an obligation on them.

From my reading of the agreement, which I find clear on this point, I agree with the Post Office's view. I must accept, however—and I promised that I would make this clear to the House, as I am doing now—as did the Post Office representatives, that the difference arises from a genuine misunderstanding.

At the end of the talks, Mr. Jackson expressed his thanks for the genuine attempts that had been made during our discussion to try to find a basis for conciliation, and asked me to report this to the House. The Post Office representatives associated themselves with this expression of appreciation, and I should like to say how grateful I am to both sides for it.

I finally made clear that I would hold myself available for further discussions if either side should at any time feel that this would be useful.

In thanking the right hon. Gentleman for that statement, may I confirm how grateful the union is to the right hon. Gentleman for having brought the two sides together under his chairmanship last night, and how much it appreciated the way in which he personally handled the meeting, in keeping, as Mr. Tom Jackson put it, with the best conciliation traditions of the D.E.P? We are glad that the services of the D.E.P. are back in business, and may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to keep it that way? Will he assert his own rôle in this Government, and will he do everything in his power to persuade the Post Office to get round the table again with the union to find a settlement?

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her remarks, and I want, if I can, to do nothing to spoil this unusual but pleasant harmony of view.

I probed long and deep to try to establish the real fundamental positions of the parties in order to discover whether there was any chance of helping them to come to their own agreement, and that, I believe, and always have believed, is the proper rôle of conciliation. We all had to agree, however regretfully, that the gap was unbridgeable at that moment.

I really do not think that I ought to say more. Least of all should I say anything which might be taken to mean that one side ought to move rather than another. I am sure that I am right in saying simply, as I did to the parties last night, that I am available for further discussion at any time if either side should think it useful.

Will my right hon. Friend and the Government ensure that those Post Office employees—and there seem to be a fairly large number of them—who wish to continue working are not prevented from doing so, or are otherwise molested,—[HON. MEMBERS: "Blacklegs."]—by strikers' pickets?

There is a long-standing law in this country about peaceful picketing. The police have a duty in this matter and, may I say, so do the public themselves. This is not a matter for Ministers.

While acknowledging the contribution of conciliation which the right hon. Gentleman has made in this dispute so far, may I ask whether he accepts that the nation will find it remarkable that, in a situation in which 250,000 employees of a public corporation are involved in an industrial dispute, the Minister who has responsibility for that public corporation has not found time during the dispute to meet the leadership of the union involved in it? Will the right hon. Gentleman caution his right hon. Friend, and certainly the Post Office Board, in regard to the forecasts which appeared in the earlier editions of the Press this morning about the effectiveness of this industrial dispute with regard to the nation's telephone services?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the latest figures available indicate that, as far as telephonists are concerned—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."]—the strike is 94 per cent. effective? As far as the membership of the Union of Post Office Workers is concerned—

Order. I think that the hon. Member has already managed to put about three supplementary questions.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications is properly answerable, and is very capable of answering, to the House for the conduct of his own responsibilities. I thought that the hiving off of the Post Office as a separate nationalised corporation which was conducted by the Labour Party when it was in power was clearly to establish that the Post Office Board was the employer and not the Minister.