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Heavy Lorries

Volume 959: debated on Wednesday 29 November 1978

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15.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what further steps he plans to take to reduce the nuisance caused by heavy lorries in towns.

In addition to our efforts to develop a quieter heavy lorry and more effective means of controlling diesel smoke, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State recently urged local authorities to make more extensive use of the Heavy Commercial Vehicles (Controls and Regulations) Act 1973—the Act to which the hon. Gentleman has given his name—and advised them that we would always try to look favourably on road schemes designed to help to divert lorries from sensitive areas.

Since the Minister has mentioned that Act, I hope that he will forgive me if I ask him this question. Since there would be a widespread explosion of anger in this country from serious environmentalists and citizens if there were any plan to make lorries heavier than 32 tons, will he now confirm that he has taken action against the civil servants who leaked to the press the fact that there was a departmental plan so to do —or will he confirm that he is still out of control of his own Department?

At no time have I been out of control of my own Department. If Parliament thinks that I have been, Parliament can express its view to that effect. The policy of my Department is the policy of Ministers and will remain so. I personally regret that a confidential minute of one of my officials who is not in a position to defend himself became more widely available. I have complete confidence in that official and, generally, in the loyalty and the integrity of civil servants as a whole. That is how it has been and how it ought to remain.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the proposals of the Manchester airport authority to transport large quantities of limestone from Buxton through my constituency to the airport for its reconstruction, causing a great deal of damage to existing congested roads? Will he insist that this heavy limestone is transported by rail and not by road through my constituency?

I was not aware of the problem and I am not sure that I have the powers to insist, but I shall certainly look into the matter.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many residents in South London, particularly in my constituency, are reaching a state of despair about the ever-increasing numbers of heavy juggernaut lorries passing through the area? Will he take steps to" de-prime"the Kew Road and also ask his officials to make sure that they answer telegrams and communications from local authorities sent to his Department, which recently were not answered at all?

On the last point, if the hon. Gentleman has a complaint I shall certainly look into it, because overall I think that my Department deals very well with queries of the kind it receives —often urgent, frequently complicated and generally demanding. As for heavy lorries in the way that the hon. Gentleman describes them, no one likes heavy lorries wherever they go. That is why I agreed with the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) that we do not want heavier ones.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a few years ago all the limestone being transported from the Derbyshire or Buxton area to other parts of the country was always carried by rail? Why has it been transferred to the roads, and what will he do about it?

With regard to the document referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), does not the Secretary of State agree that, whatever view one takes about the heavier weight argument, that memorandum has made the situation much more difficult? Is it not the case that a Civil Service document which claims that the main end of an inquiry should be a clear and overwhelming case for heavier weights is bound to convey the impression that, far from such an inquiry being impartial and objective, it could have been cynically manipulated? As it is in all our interests that the public accept such inquiries as impartial and objective, does not the right hon. Gentleman now have an obligation to take some steps to restore public confidence in the sort of inquiry which is likely to be established by his Department?

It is very difficult to deal with a statement that there has been a loss of public confidence. I agree that there has been some disquiet, and I greatly regret that circumstances do not allow me to explain in more detail how these matters fall out. However, the proposal for an inquiry was mine and it is the task of my officials to advise me as they think fit. As I say, I make the policy and very often the views of my officials differ one from another. That is the way it is, and I think that that is the best way in which we can ensure that policy when it is made has taken account of the opinions expressed. However, I have no doubt at all about the integrity of the official himself and I greatly regret that he has been the subject of some unfair criticism.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter as soon as possible on the Adjournment.