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Roads (Public Inquiries)

Volume 959: debated on Wednesday 29 November 1978

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18.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what proposals he has for improving the operation of public inquiries into highway matters.

25.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he is fully satisfied with the present operation of highways inquiries.

Substantial changes were made as a result of the review of highway inquiry procedures, the report of which was published as a White Paper—Cmnd. 7133—in April. I shall be considering the effectiveness of the new procedures as soon as we have adequate experience of them.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that just as public confidence was boosted by that review, so it has been jolted by the leaking of the Peeler memorandum? Does he realise that many people believe that any attempt by civil servants to set the agenda so as to rig an inquiry—whether it is a committee of inquiry or a public inquiry—should be disavowed by the Department, whether or not the Secretary of State has confidence in those civil servants?

My hon. Friend is rather untypically confusing two separate issues. His Question relates to inquiries into highways, for which there are specific and plain procedures. Those inquiries are now conducted by inspectors nominated by the Lord Chancellor.

The other matter to which reference was made earlier is whether a committee should be appointed to conduct an impartial and independent inquiry into lorry weights. The two procedures are totally different. I should be happy to do anything that would restore public confidence because I am sorry that it has been jolted.

Is the Secretary of State aware that there is widespread understanding of the need to widen the MI in Hertfordshire but that there is dismay among those who attended the inquiry because the inspector's report was swept to one side by the Minister in an arbitrary fashion? Is he aware that this has resulted in a loss of credibility in the procedures?

I do not agree that any report would arbitrarily be set aside. There are differences of opinion and emphasis among almost every section of the public about such proposals. The inspector's task is to report on objections to any proposal. The Minister's job is to decide and to answer to Parliament for that decision.

What is the state of play on Archway? What difficulties are involved in making public the information that is obtained?

The issues are highly complicated. I have made it clear that I have no intention of moving on the proposals made previously for Archway. I hope that on that basis everyone will agree that the relevant information has now been made available.

Does the Secretary of State agree that under successive Governments great efforts have been made to improve the road inquiry procedure? Is it not therefore all the more deplorable that disruptive tactics should still be used at road inquiries? Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to state clearly that this type of tactic will in no way influence his final decision?

I am happy to take the opportunity to confirm that. There is no justification for the disruptions which have occurred. The inquiries are set up under procedures agreed by the House and the inspectors are nominated by the Lord Chancellor. It is only fair to all the objectors that these procedures should be conducted in an orderly fashion so that the inspector can make his report.