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Commons Chamber

Volume 931: debated on Wednesday 11 May 1977

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 11th May 1977

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Transport

White Paper

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he now expects to publish his White Paper on Transport.

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he intends to publish his White Paper on Transport.

26.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he intends to publish his White Paper on Transport.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that the foreword to the consulation paper led us to believe that his White Paper would have the same momentous significance as the invention of the wheel and the introduction of the camel into Africa? Having laboured for three years to produce a White Paper, let alone a policy, does he expect any significant change in the trend of the past three years, namely, that of massively increasing subsidies in return for a rapid deterioration of public transport services?

The hon. Gentleman must await the publication of the White Paper. I shall not make the rather lurid comparisons that have been made by others, but I think that it will be interesting.

Would the Minster care to hazard a guess whether his White Paper will give consolation to those of us who are opposed to the further curtailment of the rail transport network?

I think that it will give consolation to some, joy to others and disappointment, perhaps, to a third group. I do not think that I can anticipate what will be an excellent White Paper, which the House should judge for itself when it sees it.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the White Paper will deal in a clear and open way with the problem of commuter services? Specifically, will it spell out in a clear-cut fashion the implication of the Government's policy for future fare increases?

I am reluctant to say "Wait and see" to the hon. Gentleman. I prefer to say that I understand his point entirely. I hope that the White Paper will be as explicit as possible, given the changing circumstances. We know that, in transport, what is the case today may not be the case tomorrow. The White Paper will be as explicit as possible, within a reasonable length. It is getting rather long even now.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind in the White Paper the suggestion made by the TUC about the setting up of a national transport planning authority? Will he also bear in mind the need to maintain public transport, which is essential to get people back and forth from work, because private transport cannot meet their needs?

Yes. I totally agree with what my hon. Friend says about public transport and its importance. I have been giving careful consideration to the proposals that have been made by the TUC and others about the best way of ensuring an effective transport policy.

Without anticipating details, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any reference in the White Paper to the acceptance of the principle that rural and distant areas should have a fair chance of survival with a fair transport system?

The right hon. Gentleman will find that particular attention is given to the problems of rural areas. As he will know, we debated the matter last week. At that stage I tried to give an indication of the direction of my thinking. I agree that it is important to give some new help to the rural areas, and I shall do my best in the White Paper.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the long-awaited report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries on the rail industry is being published tomorrow? Therefore, he has no further reason for continuing to delay the publication of his White Paper.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for telling me that the report of the Sub-Committee of which he has been a distinguished chairman will be available tomorrow. I shall read it with great interest. I shall wish to take account of it, as far as possible, in the White Paper. However, as my hon. Friend and the House will know, it is the normal practice for the Government to give due and full consideration to a report of a Select Committee before giving a formal reply.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is considerable concern in the transport industry about the future of Freightliners and the suggestion that majority control should no longer rest with the National Freight Corporation? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the most important people who will be affected by the decision are those who work for Freightliners and those who are its customers, who are overwhelmingly opposed to any change in control?

I agree that Freightliners has an important function and that it must be an effective and efficient part of the public sector transport system and pay its way. There have been arguments about where the ownership should lie—for example, whether it should remain with the National Freight Corporation or lie with British Railways. As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is only a part of the problem of the whole future of the National Freight Corporation. I shall take account of everything that is said, including what the hon. Gentleman has said today.

Parking (City Centres)

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received in the last six months about the problem of private nonresidential parking in city centres.

None, apart from the response to the consultation document issued on private non-residential parking in July last year.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the results in the recent local elections were in part votes against the rather stupid and harsh policies of certain cities in squeezing the motorists out of city centres? Does he accept that it is necessary to encourage short-term parking for shopkeepers and housewives? Will he give more encouragement in this direction?

I agree with the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. But, although it might be nice to believe that we could attribute responsibility for election results to local decision-making, they are more likely to be an indicator of the general mood of the country mid-term. I do not, therefore, think that the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question follows from the first.

My view, irrespective of political control, is that local authorities should have very wide discretion. I believe that they are best able to judge what is required in their localities for parking purposes and for any other action, and that, by and large, Parliament should seek to provide enabling powers. As the hon. Gentleman implied, there is always the redress that the electorate can exercise if local authorities make unpopular decisions.

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that residents in many of our suburbs are grossly inconvenienced by non-residential parking, particularly those living adjacent to factories, as is the case in my constituency? Is there any possibility of having residents-only parking sectors?

This is a complicated matter. Some areas have inadequate parking, but it is fair to say that the extent of non-residential private parking creates problems of traffic management. In my judgment, what the hon. Gentleman has said is further reason why Parliament should provide enabling powers. But discretion should lie at local level.

Rural Transport

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has for improving rural transport; and whether he will make a statement.

27.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has for improving rural transport; and whether he will make a statement.

During the debate on rural transport on 2nd May, my right hon. Friend announced that the forthcoming White Paper will provide a new charter for the rural are as. Meanwhile, the Government's rural experiments, relying on the Passenger Vehicles (Experimental Areas) Bill, are exploring what can be done by community self-help.

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the last Conservative Government were beginning to deal, and deal well, with rural transport problems in their 1973–74 measure, which fell with the February 1974 General Election and has not been revived by the Labour Government? Apart from four proposed experiments which are still before the House and have not yet begun, what have the present Government done for rural transport in their three years of office?

The last Conservative Government achieved nothing in three and a half years. Not only that, but the previous Conservative Governments throughout 13 wasted years achieved nothing either, part from one small change in 1956. Since the war, Conservative Governments have made no substantial alteration to bus licensing of any kind. I think that we shall improve on that.

Does my hon. Friend agree that since January 1974 the cost of motoring and motor cycling has increased by 79 per cent. whereas the cost of travelling by public transport has increased by 104 per cent? As the rural areas are particularly dependent on public transport, will my hon. Friend focus his attention on this issue?

I think that my hon. Friend is on the right point. Fares in rural areas have gone up steeply in the last two or three years, partly because they were held down artificially in the early 1970s. There has, therefore, been a catching-up process, for otherwise the subsidies would have been even larger. We have tried to ease the problem by helping to raise subsidies for those services which could be helped in no other way.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that increased bus costs in rural areas hit particularly hard pensioners, disabled people and others on fixed incomes? Good schemes are available in inner city areas to help pensioners with their bus travel costs, but, by and large, they are not available in rural areas. Will the hon. Gentleman examine the possibility of such schemes being made available in rural areas?

It is true that the rural areas—by and large, Tory-controlled—have not the same generous concessionary fare schemes as are widespread in metropolitan areas controlled by Labour local authorities. We intend to deal with this aspect in the White Paper.

I look forward to the Secretary of State's new deal for the rural areas with great interest. Will the hon. Gentleman accept that in many places there is now a bus desert, with large numbers of people marooned, and that what is required—I hope that it will be forthcoming in the White Paper—is a practical programme to allow people to help themselves by reducing some of the restrictions which exist, quite unnecessarily, on the part of the traffic commissioners?

The hon. Gentleman has put that point, which is often put to me by the Opposition, in the best way I have yet heard, if I may say so, and I entirely agree with him.

Buses (Licensing Laws)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he has plans for relaxing licensing laws for buses.

25.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he has plans for relaxing licensing laws for buses.

During the debate on rural transport on 2nd May, my right hon. Friend indicated that the forthcoming White Paper will include proposals for changes to the bus licensing system. Meanwhile, the Passenger Vehicles (Experimental Areas) Bill includes modifications to the present licensing law.

Is there any recognition by Ministers that the most efficient and effective form of public transport, particularly in rural areas, is not necessarily a heavily-subsidised 32-seater bus, and that there are other forms which should be allowed to show that they can produce the service that the public requires?

Yes, Sir. In the debate on rural transport, the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer) made precisely that point. We are aware that subsidies are not the whole answer to the problem, although at the moment they are an inescapable part of it. If subsidies are sliced, as has been done in some parts, to the great detriment of rural bus services, there is a speedy effect on fares and the level of services. Some support is inescapable. Nevertheless, I agree that we must look anew at the responsibilities of the traffic commissioners and the licensing system.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many of us from the rural areas will be pleased to have heard what he said? Will he recognise the extreme urgency of tackling this problem, because the lack of flexibility available to county councils makes their life difficult? Will he undertake to bring forward his proposals as early as possible, and give them the maximum possible flexibility, to tackle the question of rural transport?

We are anxious that local authorities should have the maximum power and flexibility to tackle these problems, which, fundamentally, are best solved by local people because they know them best. We accept that action is urgently needed.

Will my hon. Friend direct his attention to the number of serious accidents involving buses that have taken place in recent months? In the light of that figure, does he not agree that there must be no lowering of safety standards which would endanger the public or the employees?

I accept that point. The safety check must be preserved—that is accepted on both sides of the House. Indeed, the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) referred to it in his speech in the rural transport debate.

Is not the only reason why the licensing revisions of the Conservative Government are not on the statute book now that the incoming Government, in March 1974, disreputably scrapped proposals which, only a few months previously, they had supported when in opposition? The next Conservative Government will reintroduce these revisions—and, following the local elections, nothing is more certain than that there will soon be a Conservative Government.

The hon. Gentleman is indulging in some wishful thinking. I find his explanation of what the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), who was the Minister then, was doing somewhat curious, to say the least. The fact is that the Conservative Government themselves had grave misgivings about their 1973 Bill, which itself was a heavily modified form of the consultation document, and even after Second Reading the right hon. Gentleman announced that he would have further consultations. All we got in three and a half years was the promise of more consultations. I assure the House that we will take some action.

Will my hon. Friend beware of allowing flexibility to destroy existing public services, particularly stage services? It would be folly to allow existing services to be destroyed, thus creating the transport desert to which the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) referred.

My right hon. Friend is right. The whole point of policy here must be to strike a balance between preserving existing stage services, including protecting them by the bus licensing system and adequate levels of subsidy, and getting a reasonable degree of flexibility whereby unconventional means of transport can be used in those areas where they are most right for people's needs.

Will the hon. Gentleman exert his considerable powers of persuasion on the large bus companies to try to get them to accept that it is far better to provide really cheap fares in the middle of the day than to run large buses which are completely empty?

I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. We shall be coming to this later when the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) has a Question about the National Bus Company. I think that the hon. Gentleman is on to a very fair point. If we can utilise capacity in off-peak periods in a more imaginative way—this is true of the railways as well as buses—we can make some considerable progress.

British Railways (Chairman)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will make a statement on his last meeting with the Chairman of British Railways.

I press the right hon. Gentleman to make a statement. Further, will he please now answer the Question, which he totally dodged when he last answered Questions on 6th April, and state whether he and the Chairman of British Rail will ensure that British Rail does nothing to obstruct the granting of licences to commuters who now seek to travel to work by coach?

If I wanted to obstruct them I could not do so, because it is not within my statutory power. I am all for encouraging endeavour and I think that British Railways provide excellent services, including their service to commuters, and could face the sort of competition that the hon. Gentleman has in mind. Certainly the Chairman of British Railways has not raised this as a matter that causes him anxiety.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House whether he has given any reply to the Chairman and Board of British Railways in their request for the investment programme to be put on a rolling basis, which would give British Railways better value for money and more security to the supplying industries? When can we expect a response to this reasonable and realistic request?

There is a later Question on the Order Paper about investment and it may be more appropriate to give a full reply then. But, of course, investment is one of the matters that I discuss with the chairman. It is difficult to make regular statements to the House, because the House would get bored with them. I have what I think the popular jargon calls an ongoing relationship with the chairman. For that reason, questions of investment are regularly discussed. I hope that my White Paper will help deal with the question that my hon. Friend clearly implies is a very important one both for the Board and for those who work on the railways.

When the Secretary of State next sees the Chairman of British Railways—

Order. The Question deals with the right hon. Gentleman's last meeting with the chairman. I think I had better call the next Question.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the totally unsatisfactory nature of the reply from the Secretary of State, I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he will next meet the Chairman of British Railways.

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next intends to meet the Chairman of British Railways.

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next intends to meet the Chairman of British Railways.

Good. In that case, in one of his ongoing meetings, will the right hon. Gentleman raise with the chairman the fact that many passengers are rather browned off with diesel engines constantly breaking down, and will he therefore raise the question of equipment or repair of these machines? [Interruption.] No, not expenditure. Will the right hon. Gentleman also draw the chairman's attention to the long time that he has taken over coming to a decision about pigeons and the carriage thereof?

Certainly I have discussed the first matter with the chairman from time to time. Indeed, the chairman is very anxious to run an efficient railway within the cost limits allowed to him to meet the needs of passengers so far as he possibly can. I am very impressed by what he and the reconstituted Board are seeking to do.

I know the hon. Gentleman's particular interest in pigeons. As he knows, and as I told him, the matter has now been discussed by the Central Transport Consultative Committee, and I am sure that decisions will be made by the Board as soon as it gets a reply.

Will the Secretary of State convey to the chairman that there is considerable concern about British Railways' attitude towards the increase in charges for unaccompanied livestock, such as pigeons and puppies, which is regarded as a mean, spiteful and vindictive retaliation following the thwarting of the Board's efforts to stop this traffic altogether? Will he ask the Chairman of British Railways whether he is willing to open his cost accounts to independent inspection, since he claims that he requires to put up the charges to this extent?

I know that this is one of the matters that have perhaps caused disproportionate concern from time to time. It has been well aired in the House, and the Chairman of British Railways was as surprised as I was at the strength of feeling on the matter. I do not think that there is anything vindictive about his action and I would like to believe that the hon. Gentleman is not endorsing such ungenerous thoughts. The chairman is aware of these matters, and if information can be made available to the House to enable it to see how the Board arrives at its figures I shall certainly make clear to the chairman and the Board that this is what the House would like to know.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has got some useful ideas for his agenda when he goes to see Mr. Peter Parker. May I suggest that he raises also the question of double manning on the footplate, particularly on diesel engines, which I know, from my own observations, is widespread? The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the publication of "Railway Rescue", referred to in the Press on 18th April, suggesting that the manning of footplates could be reduced by over 50 per cent. Does he think that is a useful matter to discuss with the Chairman of British Railways?

Questions of manning are ones that come up from time to time. I see no reason why, if this is something that is worth discussing, we should not discuss it. I must make it absolutely clear, and I repeat, that I do not believe it is the right course of the responsible Minister to get himself involved in detailed day-to-day matters. Equally, I think that the chairman is quite capable of dealing with matters raised by the public on, for example, the question of manning.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the chairman does make a point of seeing that the great majority of trains are no longer double manned. He is anxious to improve productivity, and so are the unions. If there can be discussions, and if there can be changes, so be it.

When my right hon. Friend next meets the chairman, will he explain that some of us believe that the time has come for some experimentation with regard to fares? For example, on the inner city runs we would like to see the reduction of fares for a period of time in order to see precisely how this works out. Many of us believe that if there were a real reduction for a period we would see people coming back to the railways rather than using their own transport or other forms of transport.

My hon. Friend may know that I made clear some time ago that I would welcome experiments in reducing fares on British Railways. That would have my blessing. I have also said that to the trade unions involved and I have said that it seems to me to be a proper business risk to try to reduce fares to attract traffic back to the railways. As my hon. Friend will also know, the Chairman of British Railways has recently announced a very interesting scheme for main lines between London and Scotland, and we must hope that it succeeds.

As my representations have failed elsewhere, I wonder whether the Secretary of State will be kind enough to make a plea to the Chairman of British Railways to treat rather better than they do at present passengers who unfortunately have to travel on Sundays. People who unfortunately have to use the Portsmouth line are regularly unloaded half-way down the track and put into totally unsuitable carriages. Many of them are old ladies with heavy bags. That is no way to attract people back to the railways.

I shall draw the chairman's attention to the hon. Gentleman's point. We have all been victims of the delays from time to time involved in Sunday travel, but most are due to essential engineering work. To be fair, if we are to maintain the track we must close it at some time.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on the Southern Region—the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) mentioned the Portsmouth line—the recent timetable changes appear to have been introduced without consultation with either passengers or staff? In the circumstances, is he surprised that some of the staff have threatened industrial action? Does not he agree that British Rail—indeed, all the nationalised industries—should set the best example of discussions between staff and management? When he sees Mr. Parker, will he ask for assurances that in future, before major timetable changes are made, the outline of the proposed changes is discussed with regular customers and with the staff concerned?

I agree that the public sector should set an example in consultations with the trade unions and customers. However, this is very much the case. The level of consultation between the unions and the British Railways Board today is better than it has ever been. I do not know the details of the case mentioned by the hon. Gentleman but I shall make sure that the Chairman of British Rail looks into it.

Preston Docks (Report)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the report on Preston Docks by the National Ports Council.

I have seen a copy of the National Ports Council's report to the Preston Borough Council about the port of Preston. It appears to make a number of useful suggestions which I hope that Preston Borough Council will consider carefully.

In view of the fact that the report contradicts the assessment on the viability of Preston Docks by the Preston Borough Council, which still wants to close the docks, what action is the Secretary of State prepared to take to keep this valuable national asset open?

As my hon. Friend knows, the port of Preston is and must remain the responsibility of the Preston Borough Council. I have no powers in this respect. I agree, however, that the report from the National Ports Council is significant and indicates that there could be advantage to the ratepayers of Preston if it was adopted. It is not for me to take an initiative at this stage, but I shall be interested to know whether the borough council feels able to adopt the proposal of the National Ports Council.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the survival of the docks at Preston is of consequence to people far removed from the Conservative-controlled council and that the economic welfare of the North-West generally is tied up with the docks? Will he take an initiative in this matter?

The interest in maintaining the port goes very wide, and this is a factor which the Preston Borough Council should take into account. But I must work within my statutory powers. The port is the responsibility of Preston Borough Council. I think that it would be wise to discover whether the council intends to take an intiative and act upon the advice which it appears to have been given.

South Humberside (Road Construction)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement about the road construction programme on the south bank of the Humber.

The whole of the M180 South Humberside motorway from Thorne to east of Brigg is now under construction and is expected to be completed early in 1979 in time for the opening of the Humber Bridge. A preferred route for the extension of this road to Grimsby was announced last summer and, subject to completion to the statutory processes and the availability of funds, it is planned to complete it by the end of 1981. With regard to the associated county road improvements, the link between the M180 and the Humber Bridge is at an advanced stage of construction and preparatory works are continuing on the remaining projects.

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that that is a totally unsatisfactory reply? What is required on the south bank of the Humber for the port of Immingham in my constituency, which is the sixth largest port in the United Kingdom, and for the port of Grimsby, which is smaller but very important, is a decent east-west road system. The money wasted on the Humber Bridge would have been better spent on building a decent east-west road system on the south bank of the Humber.

My reply, far from being inadequate, was over-generous, certainly in its length. It indicated the massive amount of road building which is now in progress on both banks of the Humber in an east-west direction as well as in a north-south direction. I was on the M18 last Saturday, and I can say from my own knowledge how rapid the progress is.

Does my hon. Friend accept that, although we are grateful for the extent of this motorway which has been completed right across my constituency, the granting of development area status to Grimsby means that to capitalise on the investment that has taken place it would be as well to complete the motorway network through to Grimsby and allow the county council to build a spur road through my constituency, thus giving relief to the villages of Ulceby and Ulceby Skitter, to Immingham?

I refer my hon. Friend to my original reply, in which I said that a preferred route for an extension of the road to Grimsby was announced last summer. We are making rapid progress on that, so we are going right to the heart of the area about which my hon. Friend is concerned, although I cannot comment on his second point.

Railways (Investment)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he has received any representations from the British Railways Board on the need for increased investment in the railways over the next five years.

Yes, Sir. Investment levels are among the matters I have discussed with the Board.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the paper from the Board stating that the present level of investment means that it will have higher maintenance in the future, speed restrictions on perhaps as much as one-quarter of the track, and fewer high-speed trains—in other words, a less reliable service covering a smaller part of the country? Does my right hon. Friend have any basis for rejecting the professional judgment of British Rail management?

I have seen the paper to which my hon. Friend refers. There has to be a sense of proportion both about the extent to which there is bound to be a dialogue between the Board and the Government over matters like investment and about the Board making its best case. We also have to look for a cost-effective railway. Obviously, we have to have a higher level of investment in it. But we must not assume that it can in every way and at every point be maintained to the standards which may be appropriate on certain lines.

In considering the investment programme, will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the plans for the provision of food on journeys lasting a considerable number of hours? Is he aware that, on recent journeys which my hon. Friends have made from Scotland to England, there has been no food—not even a mini-buffet and not even a glass of lemonade for thirsty children?

I am sorry if there has been neither lemonade nor any other refreshment on trains recently leaving Scotland. They must be very poverty-stricken if they are not able to provide the minimum sustenance for their people leaving the country to come to happier places. That having been said, although we can all criticise food on British Railways—and I do it regularly—and although there are occasional lapses, the Board is doing its very best. But I am sure that the chairman will note what the hon. Lady said. Indeed, if she and her hon. Friends care to send a letter to the chairman of the Board setting out exactly where the railway is falling short, I am sure that he will take action on it.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the lack of investment on many branch lines, especially the one up the Calder Valley, is seriously damaging the morale of employees and seriously inconveniencing the public? Will he ensure that in the next investment programme many of these branch lines are brought up to scratch, and will he secure in that programme a guarantee that the line to which I have referred will remain open?

This is not the occasion to give a specific undertaking about any one line. I note what my hon. Friend said, and I appreciate the importance attached by his constituents to that line, as I do the importance attached to many lines of British Railways throughout the United Kingdom. I have not doubted the need for a high level of investment. On 26th April I announced very important new plans for high-speed trains to the West Country and for new electric multiple units for the London commuter area. The level of investment in British Railways is high. It could be higher. This is a matter which I discuss regularly with the Chairman of British Rail, and I shall continue to do so.

Railways (Electrification)

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what is his policy towards trunk route electrification on British Railways.

I look at any schemes the Railways Board submits to me on their merits.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Britain ranks only sixteenth in Europe in terms of rail network electrification? Is there not a lesson to be learned from this about the better use of scarce oil resources?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We must, in all our responsibility, consider the energy problems as a background to the decisions which have to be made. I would only say that there are no proposals for electrification before me at present. I think my hon. Friend will agree that electrification is not always necessarily the best formula. The British Railways Board should be free to make proposals in the light of its own judgment and experience.

Does not the Secretary of State agree that British Rail faces a painful dilemma in building what it believes to be an operationally and financially secure base for the railways with the pressures of the public and Parliament to go on spending money on uneconomic services? Would it not be much more realistic for him to say that if we want electrification, the advanced passenger train and better rolling stock, we shall not be able to continue to support wholly unremunerative branch lines or continue with overmanning?

I do not think that I agree with the hon. Gentleman, although he tries to put his question in a persuasive way. The whole House has agreed that it is important to maintain a national rail network. That is the starting point, and to do that we must rely on support out of the public purse as well as support from fares. There are choices and the British Railways Board must face them. Unless we are able to spend much more than we are spending now, which means spending less in some other areas, the only way to increase revenue is to increase fares. Either we increase fares or we increase taxes. If we do not do that, at the end of the day there will have to be a reduction in the present standards or, alternatively, in some way in the quality of services.

Does the Secretary of State realise that the electrification of a route gives one at least the possibility of a decent service? Will he take care that in future electrification plans we do not get daft mistakes such as that in the South of Scotland when the line from Glasgow through Beattock to Carlisle was electrified in order to suit the inter-city whizz kids while neglecting the line through Kilmarnock and Dumfries to Carlisle, which goes through many more centres of population and which would have served many more people in the South of Scotland?

I am not entirely sure what conclusions I draw from the hon. Gentleman's question, whether he thinks that investment went into the wrong place or whether he thinks that there should have been more of it. We must, however, keep a sense of perspective about this. There are some first-class main lines which are not electrified. I enjoy one up to the East Coast. Electrification is not the be-all and end-all of an efficient system. My hon. Friend was right to ask his Question, but let us retain a sense of perspective and leave it to British Rail to bring forward proposals that it can make within the ceiling available to it.

When my right hon. Friend meets the chairman of the Board, will he refer to the question of the second man on a locomotive? Several hon. Members have today criticised overmanning. Will my right hon. Friend inform the chairman that the second man plays a very important part in preventing accidents when the train is moving?

Order. I allowed the hon. Member to ask his question, but really it was related to another Question on the Order Paper.

Motorway Network

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make certain the network of motorways planned for the 1980s will include a motorway between Sheffield and Manchester; and if he will make a statement.

No, Sir. On 18th February my right hon. Friend announced that proposals to build up an entirely new road linking Manchester and Sheffield could not be justified economically. I am satisfied that bypasses of Mottram, Hollingworth and Tintwistle to the west and Stockbridge and Deepcar to the east, together with selective and limited improvements to the existing A628 between the western and eastern bypasses, will be sufficient to meet traffic needs for the foreseeable future.

Is my hon. Friend aware that that is a most disappointing reply? Many people are unhappy with his Department and British Rail about the railway system across the Pennines. Has he ever driven a car or a lorry or even walked along this tortuous road across the Pennines? Will he consider including in the next programme the building of this motorway, and will he include in that consideration the provision of a good service station with a large car park so that people using the road can take advantage of the beautiful country around there?

I thought that the people who supported the rail line were in favour of the decision made by my right hon. Friend. I understood that they argued that a decision to provide a road system where a rail system already existed would have been a strange one. As for the beauty of the countryside, the whole point is that the section where a motorway will not be built includes a national park. That was one of the factors that my right hon. Friend took into account, and rightly so.

Does the Minister recognise that not all of us in Yorkshire disapprove of some of his recent decisions about motorway planning? On the point raised by the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright), will the Minister bear in mind that, when he says that we should not have a motorway through a national park, it is equally worth preserving a green belt area between two metropolitan areas? Perhaps he will bear that in mind in relation to Pudsey and Dishforth.

I visited the interesting area between Bradford and Leeds, which is so important to the hon. Member, electorally and otherwise, and I looked at the whole alternative to the east-west route connecting the A1 and the M1, so I know the problems.

Is my hon. Friend aware that many people, certainly on the Manchester side, were delighted with my right hon. Friend's original announcement and were very pleased that he decided not to allow a national park to be spoiled by the intrusion of a motorway?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) for his restrained support, and I shall ignore seated interruptions.

M25 (Micklefield Green—South Mimms)

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he anticipates that up-to-date road traffic information will be available for a decision to be taken on the choice of route for the Micklefield Green to South Mimms section of the M25 motorway.

We hope that preliminary traffic information for this section of the M25 will be available before the end of the year.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. May I have his assurance that he will make sure that any information that is published appears after the completion of any remedial roadworks but certainly before any public inquiry, to make sure that the greatest possible accurate information is available to the public? Will he bear in mind the problems that have arisen on the existing section of the A405, between Maple Cross and Hunton Bridge, in view of the effect that that will have in altering the traffic flows?

I undertake to take into account the traffic flows when the A405 and the A41 have been improved before the other section of the M25 begins to be constructed.

Will my hon. Friend resist any siren voices of persuasion to the contrary and appreciate the urgent need for this road to be built, because of the misery being caused to the people of Watford? Will he bear in mind that my request has nothing to do with my being the Member of Parliament for the area but refers exclusively to the discomfort suffered by these people because of the traffic conditions?

Whenever I think of my hon. Friend, I also think of the M25 between Micklefield Green and South Mimms. I know of the extreme importance of this to my hon. Friend's constituents and of his personal campaign in support of the building of that road. I am sure that he will deeply appreciate the misery that such a road will certainly alleviate.

Railway Accidents

asked the Secretary of State for Transport in how many railway accidents, in each of the last five years, locomotive failure has been the cause or a contributing factor.

The number of train accidents, excluding fires, caused by the failure of locomotives or multiple units over the five most recent years for which confirmed figures are available was: 1971, 28; 1972, 11; 1973, 21; 1974, 16; 1975, 15.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the figures that he has just given are a tribute to the skill and dedication of the people who care for and maintain the rolling stock on British Rail? The ageing nature of that rolling stock is presenting grave problems to these people. I appreciate the significance of my hon. Friend's announcement last month, but will he seek further to improve the rolling stock?

I support my hon. Friend's tribute to the efforts that have obviously led to the reduction in the number of accidents involving engines. The figures are a tribute to British Rail, in view of the existing state of its rolling stock. My hon. Friend will have noted my right hon. Friend's remarks about the importance of rolling programmes and investment levels generally. We take that to be an extremely important point.

I compliment the dedication of British Rail and its splendid record on having so few accidents, but may I call my hon. Friend's attention to a central line, not a branch line, up to Sheffield, with its increasing deterioration of rolling stock? It has more breakdowns of engines than it should have and has had in the past. Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that more investment is necessary for that line in order to improve its whole service?

Yes, indeed. I think that there will be some electrification on that line in the near future. I believe that there are plans for electrification, and my hon. Friend will then see some improvement.

Driver And Vehicle Licensing Centre

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he is satisfied with the efficiency of the Swansea Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre; and whether he will make a statement.

24.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he is satisfied with the efficiency of the Swansea Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre; and whether he will make a statement.

There has been a substantial improvement over the past year—though all concerned at the centre would readily admit that there is still room for further improvement.

I thank the Minister for that reply and accept that there has been a considerable improvement, but is he aware that I continue to receive a considerable number of complaints from my constituents about the work of the centre, and that there is clearly room for considerable further improvement?

The hon. Gentleman has raised three cases since he came to the House and in only one was the centre at fault.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he should not brush aside complaints, as they are widespread, repeated, and received by many hon. Members? Is he further aware that he will not satisfy the public criticism of the operation of the centre unless he orders an immediate independent—and I stress "independent"—inquiry into the working of the centre to try to make good these faults?

I am aware of the complaints, because I have to answer them. I am constantly aware in detail and in depth of the sort of problems that have been caused. We take this matter seriously, but, given the volume of work that the centre deals with, the improvement has been quite marked over the last 12 months, and rather than our setting up an inquiry it would be better for the improvement to continue. If it does not, I shall look at the matter again.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree, on reflection, that the whole concept of this centralised Government bureaucracy was a disaster?

The Government of the day believed that the system in operation at that time—a system that was popular—of the local taxation offices handling these matters could not continue because of the increasing number of motor cars and the additional licensing involved. A decision had to be taken on that basis, and whatever the merits of the previous system we cannot go back to it.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there have been a number of cases of people applying to Swansea for provisional licences and being issued with full driving licences? Can he tell us how many such cases there have been and how many people are now driving on the roads without ever having taken a driving test?

This is a new one on me. I thought that I had seen everything in the way of complaints about the centre. I shall certainly look into this matter if the hon. Gentleman will write to me, or perhaps I can speak to him about it later.

Lorry Drivers (Working Hours)

23.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what discussions he has had with the EEC Transport Ministers on the question of drivers' hours and distances.

Since the last meeting of the EEC Council of Transport Ministers on 16th December I have had informal meetings with several colleagues. There have been regular discussions at official level in preparation for the next Council meeting, which is planned for next month.

At the next meeting of EEC Transport Ministers, will the right hon. Gentleman impress upon his fellow Ministers the fact that implementation by this country of Community Regulations 534 and 642 is liable to cause substantial disruption to freight transportation and a substantial increase in rail fares? Will he urge that there should be considerable changes made to these orders and urge upon the Leader of the House that we should debate the matter soon?

My right hon. Friend will have heard the hon. Gentleman's question. We had a discussion on 4th April on various matters relating to drivers' hours in the EEC and there may not be a great deal of parliamentary time in the immediate future in which to discuss the matter again. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said. This is a matter of great concern to our road haulage industry and it is something on which we shall have to negotiate to get the best possible deal. I shall be acting in the spirit suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the introduction of tachographs, and if I were persuaded that accidents? Will he consider their introduction, despite the opposition from certain quarters?

My hon. Friend is not referring to the regulations affecting drivers' hours and distances travelled. There are many arguments concerning tachographs, and if I were persuaded that they would have a significant effect on road safety I might have dealt with the matter in different terms. I am not convinced that they are more central to road safety than are many other matters to which we could give much higher priority.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say what is the Government's estimate of the total cost that would be likely to fall on our bus and road haulage industries if the Community requirements on drivers' hours were implemented in full?

It is difficult to say. I have tried to get estimates that convince me, and the industry has its own views. It could be more than£100 million.

Concessionary Bus Fares

28.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on his discussions with the National Bus Company on the question of concessionary fares for the elderly.

I am told that the National Bus Company's studies will necessarily take some months to complete; therefore, I cannot yet add to the reply that my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member on 21st March 1977.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, although he has tried to make the difference between rural and urban areas a matter of party politics, this has nothing to do with the problem, and that it is related to the fact that in many urban areas the municipal bus services are run by local authorities which are free to make their own arrangements, and that Bournemouth, which is not, I think, a Labour-controlled area, has a scheme for concessionary fares? Does he agree that my suggestion that the National Bus Company should sell bus passes on a similar basis to the scheme operated by British Rail would not involve extra public expenditure and that it would help to eliminate the unfairnesses that exist among ratepayers in adjacent local authorities served by the same bus company where some enjoy concessionary fares while others do not?

I can confirm what the hon. Gentleman said about such a scheme not adding to public expenditure. If we could get a sensible scheme within the overall financial regime of the NBC, that would help. I am anxious to encourage it, as the hon. Gentleman knows because we have talked about this. Indeed, the initiative that the NBC is taking arose partly from our discussions.

When discussing concessionary fares for the elderly, will my hon. Friend also bear in mind those at the other end of the age scale, namely, schoolchildren over 14 and up to 17 or 18 who are being charged the full adult fare by most bus companies, both public and private? Does he agree that there is a widespread wish in the House and outside that a concession should be granted to these schoolchildren?

My hon. Friend is right. As a result of the raising of the school leaving age, a problem has been created for schoolchildren, who do not benefit because the age limit for concessionary fares has not been raised. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is looking into the matter, and local authorities have discretionary power to help children who have to travel more than three miles.

Will the hon. Gentleman encourage the public enterprise bus services to introduce, before the report, concessionary fares on certain days when some country buses travel all but empty during mid-morning and mid-afternoon? Would this not be of great assistance to elderly people living a long way from towns, and should it not be done immediately?

The NBC has taken this point on board. That is why it is undertaking the study. It is an important matter, and I am sure that the whole House would urge the NBC to do something about it.

Railways (Productivity)

30.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he is satisfied with current levels of productivity on British Railways.

I always welcome improved productivity in transport, as we must all do, throughout British industry.

Has my right hon. Friend read the recent Press reports about the claim of Railway Rescue that British Railways are paying railwaymen for doing nothing? This is a load of rubbish. Let me assure my right hon. Friend that the railway trade unions are co-operating with the Board on productivity deals. I can assure the House that railwaymen are working rest days and—

I certainly saw the report to which my hon. Friend referred. I think it is important to say that there is a great deal of unfair comment about moves towards productivity on the railways. My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to the co-operation that has existed between the rail unions and the British Railways Board on important productivity agreements, including those related to signalling. The record is a good one. That is without prejudice to whether it could be better.

Parliamentary Papers

(by Private Notice) asked the Leader of the House whether he will make a statement about the present state of the printing of parliamentary papers.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Michael Foot)

The printing of parliamentary papers has been disrupted because of a dispute about flexibility and overtime working involving the National Graphical Association and NATSOPA machine room staff at the Parliamentary press. Discussions between officials of Her Majesty's Stationery Office and representatives of the staff concerned have taken place and are continuing. Existing arrangements will ensure that essential parliamentary papers continue to be available. I naturally very greatly regret the inconvenience which is still being caused to Members in all parts of the House.

Obviously the Leader of the House is aware of the great inconvenience and the seriousness of any interruption of the normal supply of parliamentary papers. Will he agree that it seems to some of us that these disputes have become rather more frequent in recent years, which is extremely unfortunate? Can he hold out any hope that there will be an early settlement to this particular dispute, and can he hold out any hope that there will be a more lasting settlement, so that the House of Commons and Parliament do not suffer from the interruption in the supply of papers in the future?

I agree with everything the right hon. Gentleman has said about the seriousness of the interruption in the supply of papers for the House. I do not think that anybody in the House can doubt that. But let us try to settle this dispute, and then we can see how we can prepare for the future. The most immediate concern is to try to get a settlement of this dispute.

Will my right hon. Friend explain to the House precisely who are the people doing the copying in the House? Are they members of a trade union? Have they been accepted to do the job by the trade union in dispute? Have they been checked for security? Are they issued with security passes? What is the cost of using these people in comparison with a settlement with the trade union concerned?

Further, is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us are most disturbed that hon. Members are not allowed to use the rooms downstairs while they are being used by people whom we might well consider to be blacklegs?

I fully acknowledge the inconvenience for Members of the House arising from the use of these rooms, but the general arrangements for the operation that is required to deal with the situation were announced in the House by my predecessor and the House was able to consider all aspects of the matter then.

I do not think that any question of blacklegging arises. Certainly the question has not been raised at all in any of the discussions which have arisen in the last day between my hon. Friend from the Civil Service Department and the representatives of those working here. Since they have not raised the issue, I do not think, therefore, that it is wise for the House to raise it.

Is the Leader of the House aware that we are very grateful to those downstairs who have produced our Order Papers, whether they have had fingerprints taken or blood tests, or any other tests that hon. Members might think relevant?

Will the Leader of the House, in view of the exchanges yesterday—this is a serious point—consider whether it might be possible for at least one copy of the proceedings of this House to be made available in typed or duplicated form in the Library so that right hon. Members who wish to refer with greater accuracy to the events of the previous day can do so?

The right hon. Gentleman will see that we have done our best under these operations which are now in effect and which have been used on previous occasions to produce a form of the reportwhich is available to the House. Many copies of that were available yesterday, not merely in the Library but for the House generally.

I support the statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) concerning the uneasiness felt by hon. Members on the Government side about the present printing arrangements. Will my right hon. Friend not agree that had the questions asked by my hon. Friend been answered, it might well have been possible to remove some of the fears that we have about the alternative printing arrangements used in the House at the moment?

There has been no complaint by any of those working here about the emergency measures which the House has put into operation. I think it is therefore unwise for us to raise those questions. We are seeking a settlement of the dispute. In the meantime, the measures which were put to the House and explained to the House by my predecessor are now in operation.

Will the Leader of the House convey to those who are concerned with the printing of parliamentary papers that they normally do a most excellent job in frequently very difficult and time-limited conditions? Because of that, this House should be the best possible employer of any in the country.

The statement that the Leader of the House made to the House is very similar to that which has been made by many Leaders of the House previously—in other words, "Let us settle this dispute and then deal with the overall problem". The overall problem has not been dealt with. May we have an absolute assurance from the Leader of the House that he really will now deal with the problem on a longterm basis?

There is a difference between saying that anyone standing at this Dispatch Box, or any Leader of the House, will try to find a long-term solution and in seeing that it is put into operation.

I fully accept what the hon. Gentleman said about the very great skills used by those who produce the papers for this House and the speed with which they are normally produced. I pay the highest tribute to those who are engaged in these operations. But I think it is essential that the papers for this House are supplied. That is why the emergency operation system was described to the House earlier, and why occasionally, unfortunately, it has had to be brought into existence.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I have your guidance on this matter? Hon. Members, when they put serious questions, which they are entitled to ask, as to who is doing the printing, whether these people are members of the trade union, what is their pay, and so on, ought surely—[Interruption.] I am not asking Opposition Members for their advice. I am asking Mr. Speaker for his guidance. Are we or are we not entitled to an answer to these serious questions? Many of us on the Government side, if not on the Conservative side, would like to know the answers.

Order. The hon. Gentleman well knows that I am not responsible for the content of answers.

I had Interview Room H booked for 4 p.m. today for a meeting to discuss pre-school education. I have received a note from the Serjeant at Arms telling me that the meeting room has now been lost. There is nowhere to go. Will you advise me, Mr. Speaker, where such a meeting could take place?

Order. I was afraid that the hon. Gentleman was about to ask me to tell him where to go. It is obvious that, with the difficulties facing us, special steps have to be taken. This House must be allowed to function.

Rhodesia

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I shall make a statement about Rhodesia.

Discussions of the Rhodesian question have taken place with the United States Government over the past three weeks. I met Mr. Secretary Vance on 6th May. We were in full agreement on the best way to carry matters forward.

Both Governments wish to reiterate their determination to work for the independence of Rhodesia under majority rule in 1978. They have been encouraged by their contacts so far to believe that detailed consultations about an independence constitution and the necessary transitional arrangements could be a satisfactory way to achieve this. They have therefore agreed that Britain and the United States should now enter into a phase of intensive consultations with the parties.

For this purpose, Her Majesty's Government have decided to establish a consultative group to make contact with the parties, which will visit the area as necessary, including Salisbury. It will be headed by J. A. N. Graham, Deputy Under-Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He will leave for Africa next week.

Mr. Vance has agreed to appoint a senior United States official to work with the head of the British consultative group.

While not wishing to take an unduly "told you so" attitude, may I congratulate the Secretary of State on step-by-step moving closer to the views which we on this side have expressed for a considerable time past? I assure the right hon. Gentleman—I am sure that he will understand this—that we welcome the setting up of the consultative group and the proposed United States participation in it, which we have long thought desirable in any such event. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to say more about its precise terms of reference and the time scale which he has laid down for its work?

Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, as part of this system, the presence of a mission in Salisbury on a resident basis to keep the group and the Foreign Secretary himself fully informed seems to us to be continuingly desirable? Further, may we have an assurance that the setting up of this group will in no way lessen the right hon. Gentleman's personal involvement in the solution of these matters, to which also we attach importance?

Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that, in the way they have handled these matters from the time of the Kissinger initiative, the Government have seemed to us too frequently to accept the reality of events rather late and to react to them rather late? We have had to refer to this already. We hope that the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the extreme urgency which we now believe surrounds this problem. Will he be able to tell the House soon how he means to consult the whole people of Rhodesia, in accordance with the fifth principle, to which both the Government and the Opposition are deeply attached?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome. As to the precise terms of reference. I have deliberately not set precise terms of reference, and I do not think that to do so would help at this stage. As to the time scale of the consultative group's activity, I certainly attach a great deal of urgency to the matter—the right hon. Gentleman emphasised that—and that is why it is starting next week. It will stay in Africa and hope to report back to me in early June.

As to when or whether we should establish a mission in Salisbury, I have made clear to the House throughout that I have been open-minded on the matter. I do not judge it the right moment to do so at present, but the consultative group will be visiting Salisbury. As for my own personal involvement, I assure the right hon. Gentleman and the House that I still stand ready to chair any conference were it to be decided that that was the right way of proceeding, and I shall also stay very closely involved in the whole issue.

I recognise that the House has always wished to be satisfied as regard consulting the whole people of Rhodesia. Again, I think that it is too early to decide the precise arrangements—whether they would be through a General Election or some mechanism such as a Pearce mechanism, or whether the House might be satisfied by the sort of activity done through the consultative group. I recognise, however, that the House will wish to be satisfied that any solution commands majority support inside Rhodesia.

Will the Foreign Secretary take it that we welcome the Government's continuing efforts to achieve a peaceful solution of this problem? Can he say a little more about the consultative group? Will it be all-British or will it be multinational? Will the Americans be there on purely a consultative basis or will they be members? Where will this body be based, and will it merely report to the Government or have powers to negotiate?

The British representatives on the consultative group will work under my authority and will be answering to me, and if it makes any major decisions they will be decisions which I shall make on behalf of the Government in consultation with the whole of the Government. Those members of the consultative group who come from the United States will operate under the same arrangement. Throughout this procedure there has been and will continue to be the closest working relationship between Mr. Vance and myself and between Her Majesty's Government and the American Administration, as well as the close involvement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Carter also. It is a joint enterprise.

What we are trying to do is to sound out opinion. We shall be putting forward suggestions, but we shall also be listening and trying to reach a consensus about a peaceful transition to majority rule under a constitution and a method of election which will give an independent Zimbabwe in 1978.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that he is talking not about the independence of Rhodesia but about the independence of Zimbabwe, and will he confirm that the requirement of "one man, one vote" for majority rule remains the core of any settlement?

I have made clear on a number of occasions that I think that the franchise should be on the widest possible basis, and I have indicated also that it is not just one man who might wish to vote. There are also women in Africa. The question of the franchise is obviously an issue which will have to be discussed in the negotiations. As to my hon. Friend's reference to Zimbabwe, in fact, Zimbabwe is the name which most black nationalist leaders and most black Africans think of for an independent country, but, of course, it will be for the people of that independent country to decide its name, and traditionally that has usually been one of the issues which have been decided on the first day of independence.

Is it not unrealistic to think that much progress can be made in this direction unless there is a guarantee of an underpinning of the Rhodesian economy during the transition to majority rule? I find it surprising that the Foreign Secretary made no mention of that in his statement today. Could he give any details of what he has in mind?

What is often referred to as the Zimbabwe development fund, which was initially suggested by Dr. Kissinger, is still very much part of the package of proposals which we should wish to discuss. This is one of the many reasons, though one of the central reasons, why I think that United States involvement with Britain is necessary. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important to ensure the independence of Zimbabwe in economic prosperity and stability, and in the sense that a development fund could make a contribution to that, I believe that it would be extremely important.

Does not my right hon. Friend realise that when the American Kissinger proposals were forthcoming the front-line Presidents categorically rejected the involvement of America in anything to do with Rhodesia, and does he not realise also that, on the last occasion, for the second time the front-line Presidents again made clear that they did not want the involvement of the United States of America in Africa? Does not my right hon. Friend recognise, therefore, that the attempted involvement of America now, implying that we cannot go ahead on our own, is definitely slowing down the whole process of democratising Rhodesia, and that, if the Americans were to come in, undoubtedly the Soviet Union also would want to come in?

There was undoubtedly some misunderstanding on the proposals put forward by Dr. Kissinger between what he appreciated and what the frontline Presidents appreciated, but even at that stage there was the closest co-operation.

My hon. Friend must recognise that there is a new Administration in the United States, an Administration which, I believe, is extremely committed to the whole concept of no racial discrimination and a freedom for the nationalist movement in Southern Africa. My hon. Friend suggests that the frontline Presidents object to the proposals which I have put forward. That is not the case. I went and spoke personally to all the front-line Presidents. I visited President Machel in Mozambique, and I went also to Angola and talked personally to President Neto. That is not what they told me. They said that they would continue to support the Patriotic Front, but they wished my initiative well. They wanted a peaceful transition to majority rule. They expressed scepticism about the intentions of the Rhodesian Front, but they did not object to the proposals; in fact, they positively supported them.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take it that many of us on this side are extremely concerned at the increasing escalation of violence in Rhodesia and that we wish to be assured that he will treat these necessary negotiations with great urgency? Can he say when he expects the mission to report to him so that he can begin to take some of the essential decisions which have to be made if further violence is to be avoided?

Of course I wish that the existing level of violence would stop and certainly that it would not escalate, but unfortunately there is a tragic history surrounding the whole issue of Rhodesia and there is no way in which we can wave a magic wand and stop the violence. We must have a considerable measure of urgency, but at the same time we must move at a pace which will ensure that we get the support of all parties involved. That is extremely difficult. As I said before, I hope to have a report back from the consultative group early in June, and I shall keep the House informed from time to time.

Will the Foreign Secretary explain more fully the attitude of black Africans to the question of American involvement, in view of the reported statement by Mr. Nkomo? Is it the case that the United States, in the light of his representations, has made any step backwards in its involvement with our Government?

No. The United States is still firmly committed to joint action on this problem. There has been some confusion here, because some black nationalist leaders thought that American involvement meant co-chairmanship of the conference. That was never suggested. Also there have been certain misunderstandings, which I can well understand, over the constitution. The constitutional proposals always would have to come to this House. They would have to be presented by the Government and would be subject to amendment or revision by the House. In these circumstances the British Government would, of course, take a central lead.

There are other aspects—not least the development fund, and the whole question of democracy in the transitional period—where the United States' involvement is very helpful, and broadly speaking most black nationalist leaders have supported that involvement.

The Foreign Secretary has confirmed that he remains in close touch with the United States Secretary of State, Mr. Cyrus Vance. Will he bear in mind that one of the main reasons for the failure of the original Kissinger initiative was that we did not involve the United States in the subsequent negotiations? Will he ensure that the Americans are involved fully now, and will he not agree that it is regrettable that the United States will not be co-chairman of the conference?

We discussed this with the United States and we jointly agreed that co-chairmanship would be wrong. The exact form and the means by which and when the conference can be called are issues that must be discussed, but that is something that comes later down the track. I assure the hon. Member and the House that the United States is fully and firmly involved in this. This has been shown in the last few days by the close conversations and involvements.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that, despite his play on words about men and women voting in Rhodesia, he has left a distinct impression that he may be thinking in terms of a limited franchise? Will he confirm or deny this?

I have already supported women voting. I emphasised it because, while we all support the case for "one man, one vote", there is also a strong case for "one man, one woman, one vote". I think that some women think that they should have two votes and men should only have one.

This is a new venture in many African countries, as my hon. Friend knows, and it is an issue which must be discussed. I have made it clear that I believe that the franchise should be on the widest possible basis. I must accept that this will be one of the issues to be discussed. If and when it is necessary to give some safeguards for minority opinion, we are prepared to discuss the matter at that stage. It is easier to see it against a complete and open franchise, and I have expressed that opinion many times to Mr. Smith, to the Rhodesian Front and on Rhodesian television.

Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear to the front-line Presidents that it is inconsistent with the practice that we have adopted in giving independence to 30 countries over 30 years for them to think that they can nominate the future rulers of Rhodesia as they were purporting to do a few weeks ago? Is that point accepted by them?

I do not quite understand the hon. Member's question. The whole purpose is that future leaders of an independent Zimbabwe will come as a result of elections fairly held inside Rhodesia, and supervised to make sure that they are fair. The leaders will be chosen by the people living under the new constitution.

Will the Foreign Secretary recognise that the question of the franchise is crucial but that in any settlement, unless the agreement is accepted by the people of Zimbabwe as a whole, it does not matter at all whether it is accepted by this House, by the whites or by the five front-line Presidents? It is essential to know whether they have accepted that the franchise must be based on "one man, one vote" in order to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe have accepted the settlement.

Of course the franchise is central to the discussion, and the widest franchise will win the widest acceptance. Any attempt to limit it will run into severe problems and will raise doubts whether the settlement has been acceptable overall to the people of Zimbabwe.

Will the Foreign Secretary agree that we should be grateful to the United States for providing practical economic aid to facilitate a peaceful transition in Rhodesia, and is this not in sharp contrast to the activities of the Soviet Union in this area?

This is one challenge which the Western democracies have to face. They have to be prepared to stand up for democracy and democratic values and the peaceful transition to majority rule in Africa and other areas. It is noticeable that the Soviet Union's involvement in Africa has been largely confined to supplying arms.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his repeated reference to "the widest possible franchise" is increasing anxiety on this side of the House? We believe that the right to universal suffrage for both men and women is quite a separate matter from the protection of minority rights, which can be dealt with in other ways. Will my right hon. Friend tell us categorically that there will be no qualification in any way of the principle of "one man, or one woman, one vote"?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) is an experienced negotiator and she knows that it is unwise to enter discussions laying down the criteria before starting. I have made it clear that I believe that the ingredient for a successful settlement is the widest possible franchise. In the past this House has often given independence on a restricted franchise, and that has usually been shown to be wrong by history, and has soon been changed. I agree with my right hon. Friend that the whole climate of world opinion at the moment believes that each individual above a certain age has the right to choose the Government under which he or she lives.

Has the latest initiative been discussed in advance with parties in and around Rhodesia, and, if so, with what result? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the purpose of the initiative is to take soundings and not to negotiate on the Richard plan?

The purpose is to take soundings and to produce proposals and ideas and to reach a consensus. Having made the decision, with the American Secretary of State, Mr. Vance, we thought it right to inform the many interested parties who will be visited by the consultative group of our intentions. This has been done throughout Africa.

In view of the fact that the illegal Rhodesian régime has been sustained by the support of South Africa, what representations have been made by the Americans to the South Africans to stop giving support to the Rhodesian régime? The Rhodesian régime would collapse without South African support.

I have made my views about this very clear to Prime Minister Vorster in Cape Town, and the United States has repeatedly made its views clear. In fact, Vice-President Mondale has made it known that he will reinforce these views and himself make the position clear.

I propose to call two more hon. Members from either side. We have a lot of business to do today.

If the Government really want a peaceful solution in Rhodesia will they do two things to show that they are in earnest? Will they go to the United Nations and say that sanctions have failed and should be dropped; and will they cease giving aid to the Government of Mozambique, which harbours guerrillas who are murdering Rhodesians—black and white?

The first matter is a decision which is primarily for the United Nations. I have made it clear that I think it unrealistic to attempt to lift sanctions while there is any question about the practicability of and total commitment to the transition to majority rule. We shall not get the support of the United Nations for lifting sanctions until it is clear that irreversible procedures are under way for majority rule.

In relation to aid to Mozambique, it does not serve the interests which the hon. Member espouses to drive Mozambique or any other country ever increasingly into the arms of the Soviet Union. Many of these countries are ruled by nationalist movements which have fought bitter battles against repressive colonial rule. They want to be genuinely unaligned, and it is in our interests to restore good relations with them, and that includes Angola as well as Mozambique.

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that we would not be having a statement like this today if sanctions had been properly and effectively applied in the first place? Given that oil supplies have been vital to the survival of the Smith regime, what progress is being made with the inquiry into alleged sanctions-busting by oil companies, especially by British Petroleum?

Mr. Bingham has been appointed and I believe has started work. I have explained to him the importance and the urgency that I attach to the inquiry, but it is, of course, a very complicated issue.

I totally agree with my hon. Friend: had sanctions been applied in the full intention of the United Nations, there would not have been this tragic history and loss of life and we should not now still be debating the possibility of achieving a transition to majority rule in 1978.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's initiative and I wish him well, as I think will many hon. Members in all parts of the House. But one of the main difficulties that the Foreign Secretary has is that the Rhodesian nationalist movements have all to agree upon reasonable demands by Mr. Smith. One of those points of agreement has to be the willingness—we have heard a lot about a ballot, a referendum or an election—to stand for elections on a "one man, one woman, one vote"—or "two votes"—basis. Has the right hon. Gentleman had any indication that the Patriotic Front at the moment, in its component parts, is more willing than it has been recently to stand in such elections?

I put that issue straight to Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Nkomo. They both said that they would be prepared to take part in democratic elections and saw democratic elections as a way of achieving a transition peacefully to majority rule.

Since on the Government Benches below the Gangway there still appears to be some confusion about the status of the Americans in the African continent, can my right hon. Friend sincerely and clearly say what is the attitude of the front-line Presidents? Do Seretse Khama, Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyerere and Jomo Kenyatta—all these Commonwealth men—support the Anglo-American initiative in this matter?

Yes, I think that, in the form in which I have announced it, it will get their full co-operation. A variety of differing opinions have been expressed about some aspects of the constitution. Many of them, of course, got their independence through a constitutional Lancaster House-type procedure, and I think that many of them would wish to see that play a part, particularly in respect of the constitution. It should be possible to meet that anxiety, but there is no doubt that the broad outlines of this initiative, as I explained it to them myself, are supported by them. The procedure which I have just announced to the House will, I think, have their ready support and their full co-operation.

Ballot For Notices Of Motions For Friday 27Th May

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are about to draw a Ballot for Private Members' motions on 27th May. The Leader of the House has announced that he hopes that the House will rise on that day. Clearly, of course, that would be the day for Adjournment debates, when Back Benchers have an opportunity to raise their own subjects in debate. It seems that, unless the Government move to alter the day for the Private Members' motions, Back Benchers will be deprived of one day of business. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I ask through you whether the Government are prepared to restore that day to Private Members.

I believe that discussions are under way on this matter, but it is not, of course, a point of order for me. I am fulfilling the instruction of the House to hold a Ballot today.

Members successful in the Ballot were:

  • Mr. Michael Brotherton.
  • Mr. Spencer Le Marchant.
  • Mr. Donald Stewart.

Welsh Affairs

Ordered,

That the matter of Small Businesses in Wales, being a matter relating exclusively to Wales, be referred to the Welsh Grand Committee for their consideration.—[Mr. Harper.]

Fishery Limits (Emergency Provisions)

4.5 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make further provision for the protection of fish stocks within fifty miles of the coast of the United Kingdom.
By seeking leave to introduce this Bill, I seek the clear and visible support of this House for a 50-mile British fishery limit within the EEC.

Less than a year ago Parliament passed the Fishery Limits Act, which set a 200-mile limit around Britain's coasts, with great and unusual urgency. The emergency leading to that Act has not ended and will not end until the job is completed, and the job cannot be completed unless there is some real safeguarding of British interests in waters within those 200 miles.

Our real fishery limits, so far as our neighbours in the EEC are concerned—they represent most of our neighbours with fishing fleets—are not 200 miles at all. Our real fishing limits in practice are only 12 miles, and in some cases, including my own constituency, only six miles. In 1982, unless a new common fisheries policy is negotiated, there will be no limits at all. In the absence of any new provision, the right would exist to fish right up to our beaches, but even the limits of 12 miles and six miles, which are all that we have now, are totally inadequate.

The common fisheries policy was concocted on the eve of British and Irish entry of the EEC to suit the needs of the then member countries, which had for the most part fished out the resources in their own waters and would like to deploy their catching fleet in our waters. Britain has the biggest food fish market of any of the EEC countries. It has the biggest fishing fleet of any of the EEC countries. It has many more communities dependent on fishing than have other countries in the EEC, and whether one considers the small inshore fishing ports of a constituency like mine or the large fishing ports of the deep sea industry on the Humber Estuary, at Fleetwood and elsewhere, one sees communities with a heavy degree of dependence on the fishing industry. Perhaps most important, more than half of the EEC's total fish stocks are within the 200 miles of waters which surround the coasts of the United Kingdom.

I deplore, of course, the fact that the common fisheries policy was ever agreed to in the first place and was not either the subject of a stronger stand at the time or made a part of renegotiation, as I believe it should have been. I say to those hon. Members who share my strong feelings on the subject that all that has all happened now. The original negotiations have passed, the renegotiations have passed and events have overtaken us, and 200-mile limits of the kind now in existence were scarcely thought of then.

We must work together—I hope that all hon. Members will agree with this—to secure a decent settlement for Britain, even at this admittedly very late hour.

The member countries of the EEC do not recognise that we mean business in getting a realistic fisheries policy. That is why the House must act. The fishing industry, after all, has not been extreme in its demands for what exclusive British control should extend to. The general cry for a long time was for 100 miles, but now a limit of only 50 miles is being sought. Hon. Members who do not know the fishing industry well should take something of the measure of the frustration which is felt.

I should like to quote from a statement made by the British Fishing Federation and quoted recently in the Trawling Times:
"It's the indignity of it that hurts most. Fishermen are proud people and one can understand their frustration when, through the failure of the EEC to sort out fisheries problems and no fault of their own, they see foreigners walking off with their pockets stuffed full of our money, while our own vessels head for the scrapyard and some of the world's finest fishermen are made idle. The fact that, with the EEC's blessing, the Icelanders are thumbing their nose at us makes it even harder to bear. Lunacy is the only word to describe it. Talk about food from our own resources! As far as fish are concerned, they're being carved up for the benefit of the rest of the EEC, while we fork out badly-needed sterling to buy from third countries."
My Bill is an emergency Bill. I shall explain why. Fish is a superb protein source that is self-sustaining. Fish stocks replace themselves, but they must be given a chance to do so. They have no chance of being self-sustaining if there is no adequate conservation. There is no chance of adequate conservation at present.

The conservation record of many EEC countries is poor. That is why they want to be in our waters. They have few fish in their own waters. The present activities of some EEC countries give every reason to fear for the future. If hon. Members do not know what is going on off Shetland they should consult my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and The Shetland Times. The situation there is apparent to all who know what can happen when a massive industrial fishing effort is allowed to continue.

I quote from an article in The ShetlandTime:
"Foreign fishing fleets are robbing the Shetland fishing grounds of stock of haddock and whiting—and doing it quite legally. That is the evidence brought to light by an experiment carried out this week by the Whalsay boat 'Langdale'
The 'Langdale' made a two hour tow off Balta on Tuesday night, on the fishing grounds where the foreign industrial boats are working at present, and took about six tons of fish. Of the catch, about one ton was pout, and most of the rest mature haddock and whiting and other species suitable for human consumption.
The 'Langdale' was using a 16 mm net, the same as that used by foreign boats. The only check on what these boats catch is a by-catch limit of 10 per cent. of under-sized haddock and whiting."
A spokesman for the Shetland Fishermen's Association said:
"When a boat returns to port after nine or 10 days the catch is like soup and there is no way of saying what proportion of haddock or whiting, or anything else, has gone to make up the catch.
The only thing that can eliminate this kind of thing is an exclusive 50 mile limit for Britain, so that we can work out our own plan of conservation."
The EEC's own ideas about conservation show that it has no grasp of the situation. It puts forward proposals for catch quotas that every fisherman knows are impossible to enforce. Catch quotas have been shown to be ineffective. Some EEC member nations have demonstrated how easy it is to avoid them.

Conservation needs national enforcement. It is likely to work effectively only if it is being enforced by British authorities on British vessels landing fish in British ports. Only then can the catch be tested. That is one of the greatest difficulties. British fishermen will accept conservation if they can see that it is effective and if they do not have to stand by and watch other people defying it.

An emergency exists in another sense. We have a crisis in our own fishing industry. Many vessels are tied up. We cannot accept a situation in which our own distant-water and inshore vessels are fighting it out over a mere 12 or six miles of coastal waters. It is reasonable to ask for a 50-mile limit. We should still be making a massive contribution to the EEC "pond" with the rest of our 200 miles. We could meet the needs of our own industry within the 50-mile zone, even allowing for the contraction of distant-water fishing. The other EEC nations would still have access to the outer 150 miles.

The Bill would amend section 2 of the Fishery Limits Act 1976 so that full control of access to the 50-mile zone is assumed by the British Government. Access within 50 miles by vessels of EEC States would be restricted in the same way as that by vessels of other countries into the whole 200-mile zone. If passed, the Bill would be annually renewable until such time as the EEC incorporates provisions of this nature into a new common fisheries policy. Of course, legal clashes may well arise, just as they have over Ireland. We must be prepared to face that.

The industry supports the Bill. It also has the support of local authorities and hon. Members of all parties. I see no reason why, if the stalemate continues, the Government should not give time for the Bill. Even the passing of this preliminary stage today would be a clear indication that the House is serious about the future of fish stocks and our fishing industry. I hope that the Bill will meet the approval of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. A. J. Beith, Mr. J. Grimond, Mr. James Johnson., Mr. Walter Clegg, Mr. Hamish Watt, Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith, Mr. Austin Mitchell, Mr. Douglas Henderson and Mr. Russell Johnston.

Fishery Limits (Emergency Provisions)

accordingly presented a Bill to make further provision for the protection of fish stocks within fifty miles of the coast of the United Kingdom: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 17th June and to be printed. [Bill 118.]

Orders Of The Day

Supply

[17TH ALLOTTED DAY]— Considered

Civil Estimates, 1977–78

CLASS III, VOTE 7, CENTRAL AND MISCELLANEOUS SERVICES (MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD)

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That a sum, not exceeding£78,519,000 be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1978 for expenditure by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on central administration including land management and small holdings, Royal Botanic Gardens, land drainage and flood protection and certain other services including subscriptions to certain international organisations.

Agriculture

Before I call any hon. Members to speak, may I tell the House my usual story when there is an agriculture debate? There is a very long list of hon. Members who wish to speak. We can fit everybody in if hon. Members exercise self-discipline. The only weapon that I have is a good memory about those who do not.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I refer you to the Order Paper and the motion standing in the name of the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition and a number of her right hon. and hon. Friends. The motion calls for a reduction in the salary of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and others. You may not be aware, Mr. Speaker, that the present Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food does not receive a salary as Minister of Agriculture. He is paid as an ordinary Member of Parliament, as I am. Therefore, how can a salary that does not exist be reduced?

The whole world knows the poor state of the right hon. Gentle-man and sympathises with him.

I have selected the motion in the name of the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition.

4.16 p.m.

I beg to move,

That Subhead A1(1) (Salaries &c., of Ministers) be reduced by£6,500.
I was already aware that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister slaves in the national interest for no reward. This must be taken as evidence of our lack of malice towards him. Perhaps it is also a reflection of the rather quaint procedures of the House.

The Government should have initiated this debate. I regret that they did not do so. I also regret that they did not offer a supplement to the White Paper produced early in January to round off the tale of events since then. That would have helped the House to bring the events into focus and into a reasonable relationship with each other. It would have shed more light on the Minister's views of the present situation and of his intentions. We offer this opportunity to him to reconcile the hopes and aspirations which were expressed in "Food from our own Resources" with the present situation and with what looks likely to happen in the future.

The right hon. Gentleman has been most punctilious about informing the House of what has happened in Brussels—but whether the content of his reports was acceptable is another matter. The sporadic, serial-story nature of the way in which the tale has unfolded leaves much to be desired and has many disadvantages.

In January an interesting White Paper revealed the present state of the industry. It was slightly unworldly because it did not say anything about future prices. In March we had an announcement about sheep meat and wool prices. In April, after a few hiccups, we had the EEC prices. In May, with such discretion and in almost a whisper, we had the late announcement about milk and potatoes—on a Friday. News of that has not yet penetrated through to the pages of Hansard. That is unsatisfactory. I hope that the Government will not think that that conduct is acceptable.

I do not wish to underrate the Minister's difficulties. He faces many, both in Brussels and here. I have the impression that during this saga of events the Minister has almost gone out of his way to add to his difficulties. We joined the EEC after much thought and almost endless debate. We then undertook certain serious treaty obligations. I do not believe that it is particularly suitable or worthy for us now always to seek—or as the Minister does—to blame the CAP for all our ills, many of which arise from causes much nearer home. I quite understand that the Minister does not want to talk about the errors and shortcomings of his colleagues and that perhaps it is nice to seize upon the CAP as a scapegoat.

I believe that it is unworthy to seek to blame the CAP for all the ills that come upon us, when we know very well that most of them derive directly from the economic mismanagement of the present Government.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) has been shouting loudly from a sedentary position in a most offensive and off-putting way. As I am extremely interested to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), will you protect the House from the bad manners of the hon. Gentleman?

The Chair is always ready to afford its protection when it is needed.

I am the last person to underrate the capacity of the Chair to do such things, but I am sure that the Chair would be very unwilling to take upon itself the responsibilities for performing miracles.

I should like to remind the Minister and the House of what the original purposes of the CAP were. When one looks at them, one finds that they are not at all unacceptable. There is, first, the intention to increase production by means of technical improvements and rationalisation. There is then the aim to provide a decent standard of life for the agricultural population. [Interruption.] There is the aim to create stable markets and the aims to ensure secure supply and to provide goods at reasonable prices. [Interruption.]