House Of Commons
Wednesday 5 December 1979
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
asked the Minister of Transport if he is now able to announce the measures he proposes to take to improve coach safety;and if he will make a statement.
As I told the hon. Member in my reply to him on 26 November, I hope to be able to proceed shortly with regulations on emergency exits. Following further tests and consultations we are having to revise the draft regulations on strength of superstructure, but I am glad to say that, without waiting for legislation, manufacturers are already designing stronger superstructures. I expect to start formal consultations soon on draft regulations on braking standards for new vehicles. I am pursuing the questions of seat strength and seat belts for vulnerable seating positions in international discussions. As regards licensing and testing, the current Transport Bill includes provisions to ensure the continuance of proper safeguards for the condition of public service vehicles.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is, at long last, some sign of progress in this area, which should be widely welcomed? Will he comment on a matter that I have raised with his Department, namely, the dangers that could arise in vehicles due to the substitution of counterfeit Taiwan parts for British components?
I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman's first remark. Regarding the piece of equipment to which he referred, I have had inquiries made and I am advised that it is perfectly legal at the moment. We should not wish to encourage the further use of the brake activated device until we have had time to consider it.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the appropriate clauses in the Transport Bill will help to ensure higher safety standards for what are known as back street coach operators?
I certainly will confirm that. There is no intention to reduce the safety requirements on operators of public service vehicles. The standards required of operators and vehicles by the new legislation will, if anything, be more rigorous than those at present.
How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile his last statement with the fact that he is redefining public service vehicles so that a substantial number of vehicles will be taken out of safety control by the Bill's proposals?
When the hon. Gentleman has studied the Bill he will find that the safety requirements are not being relaxed. The relaxation is on the quantity control of public service vehicles because we feel that the present licensing system is too restrictive in that respect.
Transport And Road Research Laboratory
asked the Minister of Transport to what extent cuts in public expenditure have affected the work of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory.
There has been no significant change in the overall form of the laboratory's programme, although some components of it have been slimmed. I am now reviewing my Department's research needs as a whole, and will decide the laboratory's future financial provision in the light of that review.
May I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that the head of the vehicle safety division, Mr. Ian Nielson, has been quoted in the Yorkshire Post, in an article by Mr. Robert Schofield, as saying that the 17 per cent. cut in staff is seriously hindering the research work of the laboratory and that vital research on, for instance, the chest pad for motor cycle riders has been put back by as much as two years? Is not that a crazy example of forced public expenditure economy when so much money will be spent on the other costs of vehicle deaths and injuries?
I shall look at the matter of motor cycle safety, to which I attach special importance, as I know the hon. Gentleman does. In general there has been no overall change in the programme of the laboratory. We are currently examining the whole range of work being carried out.
Will the Minister confirm that every piece of research into the damage caused by heavy axles on roads proves that the position is even worse than anybody ever dreamt? Is not that an argument for more, not less, money to be spent on research?
That is one of the arguments that we will consider. I know of the hon. Gentleman's concern in this matter and I should like to make it clear that we will always publish the information that comes from these studies.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, having been to the Transport and Road Research Laboratory recently, I have seen the chest protection device installed on a motor cycle? How soon will we make such devices legally enforceable on motor cycles already on the road?
I shall be visiting the TRRL in the next few days, and I shall take the opportunity of looking into the matter raised by my hon. Friend.
asked the Minister of Transport when he now expects work on the M6-Blackburn, and other remaining stages of the M65, to begin.
I cannot yet say. We are reviewing the timing of schemes in the trunk road programme as part of our commitment to contain public expenditure. Revised proposals will be published in a White Paper in the new year and it will then be possible to give an indication of possible starting dates for trunk road projects.
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Government still regard this scheme as of high priority? Does he recognise that its speedy implementation is vital to the economy and prosperity of the whole of North-East Lancashire? If only one road scheme is to go ahead following the public expenditure cuts, will he promise that it will be this one?
I appreciate the high priority put on the Calder Valley scheme by those who represent the area. I shall certainly bear in mind the wishes of those who represent the area when we are reviewing the programme. I do not think that the claim that this should be the only scheme to go forward will win much approval elsewhere, but the cuts in the road programme should not be so drastic as to require anything of that kind.
I think that the Minister's letter to me yesterday announcing stages 4 and 5 of the M63 through Stockport will be met with rejoicing. Is he aware that that takes the M63 into the centre of Stockport?
Order. Is the hon. Gentleman going to relate his question to the M65 and the M6?
Indeed, Mr. Speaker. Just as the M65 is important to Blackburn—I think that the Minister has an answer, Mr. Speaker.
Order. It is a bit thick really, but perhaps we could have a very quick reply from the Minister.
May I ask the Minister—
Order. I want to call another hon. Member.
I hope that the hon. Member for Stockport, South (Mr. McNally)is satisfied, as he should be, that we are proceeding to place the contracts for the Stockport east-west bypass. He will know that we are looking at other schemes for the continuation of the motorway. Indeed, I made a visit to the area recently to look at possible routes.
With regard to the M65, the Minister will be aware that if this scheme is further delayed there will be deep dismay throughout North-East Lancashire. We have waited for it for a long time. We had a helpful meeting with the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that he would like to stick to the assurance that he gave us at that meeting that this scheme would be implemented at the earliest possible opportunity.
I have recently been able to announce progress on the section of the M65 near Burnley. As I promised, in the review that we are to carry out we shall bear in mind the high priority placed on the scheme by those who live in the area.
asked the Minister of Transport what new plans he has to improve public transport facilities in rural areas.
The changes in licensing control proposed in the Transport Bill will be of particular benefit to rural areas. They will make it easier for private operators to introduce new bus services and for people to share cars and other small vehicles. These changes will be of particular benefit to rural areas.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the escalating cost of fuel is hitting the less well off rural resident very hard? Unless public transport to many rural communities is strengthened, village life will change disastrously in the next few years.
I entirely take the point made by my hon. Friend. That is why we place so much importance on seeking to develop new ways of meeting transport needs in rural areas.
Is the Minister aware that what he is saying is not quite true? Indeed, the Parliamentary Secretary knows that in Nottinghamshire licences were granted, but within 12 months the firm concerned folded up. The answer to this problem is to give a subsidy —
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not start giving answers at Question Time until he is sitting on the Government Front Bench. He must ask a question.
Is the Minister aware that the answer to this problem is to give a proper subsidy to the local authorities concerned so that people in rural areas can enjoy the transport services to which they are entitled? It is all right for Members of Parliament and Ministers to ride about in their big vehicles, but some people do not see a bus at all.
I am tempted to put a question to the hon. Gentleman, but I shall not. We believe that what we are doing will help new transport to develop in rural areas. That is a sensible policy. It is a policy that we have conducted and have been committed to for a number of years. That is what the Transport Bill will seek to implement.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the proposals in the Bill to derestrict licensing should create tremendous opportunities for many people, particularly in rural areas? Will he use every endeavour to ensure that residents and ratepayers' groups and parish councils are made aware of the opportunities that will shortly be open to them?
My hon. Friend has made a good point and we shall certainly take it on board.
The right hon. Gentleman should be aware of a recent study of rural transport by the Association of County Councils, as a result of which it recommended improving and maintaining the public transport network, which we think the Bill will undermine. Even private studies show that the county councils are heavily dependent upon the bus grants which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to abolish. If his scheme fails, will he return to supporting the public network system?
I know that the hon. Gentleman does not like being reminded of this, but the new bus grant was being phased out by the Labour Administration. There is no change in that policy. We are seeking to give the county councils the opportunity to buy new transport and probably get better value for money than they are getting now. I believe that that will be a considerable asset for local authorities.
asked the Minister of Transport if he intends to review the whole system of traffic surveys.
It is essential that we maintain the present high quality and accuracy of traffic figures, but we are not satisfied with the existing system of national traffic censuses. We intend to reduce the amount of unnecessary survey work. A review of traffic data collection procedures is already under way in the Department and some rationalisation has taken place. We intend to continue to reduce the number of different traffic surveys and to increase the use of automatic traffic counting equipment.
I am encouraged by that reply. Will the Minister ensure that the traffic surveys cause the least possible disruption to traffic flows, and hence inconvenience to road users?
I realise that unnecessary surveys cause unnecessary annoyance to many motorists. We hope that by developing automatic vehicle classification equipment we can reduce many of these unnecessary hold-ups.
Roads (Resurfacing Costs)
asked the Minister of Transport what is the current annual cost of resurfacing motorways and trunk roads.
Costs of structural repairs to road surfaces during the 12 months ending 31 March 1979 were about £30 million and £22 million for motorways and trunk roads respectively.
In view of those two staggering figures, which are far higher than the figures that went into the cost benefit analyses for making recent roadways, does the Minister agree that they amount to reconstruction on more elaborate specifications than those that were used in building the roads? Does he further agree that to meet the damage caused to these roads by heavy axle loads the haulage industry should pay higher licence fees?
These are old schemes under which the weight of traffic—particularly heavy traffic—using the motor- ways was underestimated. It is necessary to reconstruct some motorway to handle modern traffic.
Will my hon. Friend consider the possibility of repairing motorways at night and at weekends, when most of us do not use them? That would save motorists millions of pounds even if it would not save the Government very much.
We are anxious to take such steps as can be taken to reduce the long delays that are suffered when motorists encounter repair spots. The increased use of night and weekend work is being encouraged and increased.
Does the Minister accept that the increased weight of traffic to which he referred has grave implications for the way in which his Department determines traffic levels for setting road standards? Will he examine the roads on which the additional traffic is giving rise to high maintenance costs to find out whether the estimates on which those roads' standards were based were the minimum of a wide range of estimates? Will he also ensure that the figures that he has for accurate traffic flows are fed into his model to ascertain the implications of the increased traffic for other parts of the road network?
We are, of course, talking about the building of motorways 15 years ago, and the traffic forecasts then were considerable underestimates of the present heavy loads. Traffic survey methods have been greatly improved and far more sophisticated methods are used. We have to take care to make sure that we are not again providing roads at too low a standard for the realistic load of traffic.
Will the Minister confirm that if lorries with a 40-tonne axle weight were allowed into this country the cost of resurfacing trunk roads and motorways would increase dramatically?
That is one matter that the Armitage committee will have to consider, and it has expressly been asked to look at future weight limits on lorries. In that context we shall also be looking at the tax paid by the heaviest vehicles, and we have announced that we intend to alter the rate of vehicle excise duty on the heaviest road vehicles.
asked the Minister of Transport what is his current estimate for expenditure on road building for 1979–80.
The estimate is £566 million. In the answer that I gave yesterday to my hon. Friend the Member for Welling borough (Mr. Fry) I listed the schemes which I have decided should go ahead up to summer 1980, as soon as they are ready.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement about these schemes, but is it not clear from the figure that he has given that we shall need to get longer service from our roads because of financial stringency? Surely that emphasises the overriding need to estimate the true track cost of heavy lorries. The Transport and Road Research Laboratory says that a 10 per cent. increase in axle loads can increase the structural damage to roads by 50 per cent.
It is for that reason that we set up the Armitage inquiry. We shall not take any decision on heavier lorries before the inquiry has reported.
Bearing in mind the heavy construction and repair costs of roads, would it not be better value for money to switch much of the traffic that does not need to go by road on to the railways?
I am in favour of British Railways carrying as much of the freight traffic as they possibly can. However, that does not make a case for abandoning our road programme. I believe that the view on both sides of the House is that we should have a balance.
Does the Minister appreciate that if we want to consolidate land chickens do it better than elephants? Surely it is not a question of axle loads but of tyre loads and pressures?
I shall consider my hon. Friend's points, particularly the first one.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the revenue from motorists, through oil and petrol taxes, greatly exceeds what we spend on roads and other means of transport? In that context, will the Minister consider what will happen to the condition of our roads this winter? They are short of capital investment, maintenance and repairs and will be a great handicap and danger to motorists.
We should wait for the winter before jumping to conclusions. Our provision for road investment and maintenance is fair in the overall context of public expenditure.
European Community (Council Of Transport Ministers)
asked the Minister of Transport how many meetings of the EEC Transport Ministers he has attended since he assumed office.
The first meeting of the EEC Council of Transport Ministers to be held since I have taken office will take place tomorrow.
Is the Minister aware of the enormous differences in axle weights in the EEC countries, from 32 tonnes in the United Kingdom to 50 tonnes in the Netherlands? Will he tell his European counterparts that the only EEC harmonisation that he will agree to will be based on the British standard of 32 tonnes?
I shall make clear to my European colleagues that we have set up the Armitage inquiry to look at the whole issue of lorries and the environment, and there is no question of any decision being made before that inquiry has reported and the House has had an opportunity to debate the issue.
Will my right hon. Friend tomorrow raise with his EEC counterparts the question of the Channel tunnel?
That is one of the issues that will come up, but I believe that there is a later question on the Order Paper about the Channel tunnel.
Will the Minister raise with his counterpart from the Federal Republic of Germany how he managed to persuade the West German Cabinet to give a subsidy to West German railways that is nine times that given to United Kingdom railways? When the right hon. Gentleman has that information, will he use it on his own colleagues?
We know that the West German Government are giving proportionately more to West German railways than we give to ours. One reason is that at present West Germany is far more prosperous than Britain.
asked the Minister of Transport when he expects further developments to take place on the M6-M61 to Whitebirk section of the Calder Valley route;and if he will make a statement.
We are working towards the publication of statutory proposals. I cannot yet say when they will be ready.
Does the Minister realise that all we are asking for after 11 years is that at least the line of route should be decided, or, if that is asking too much, that there should be an inquiry into the line of route? Neither option costs very much. Will he get on with it?
A preferred route was chosen in 1977, as my hon. and learned Friend knows, and we are studying that because there is a prospect of attractive modifications. The next stage will be to publish statutory proposals giving details of the engineering implications of the route. After that there will be opportunity for objections and a public inquiry.
Epping Forest (Road Schemes)
asked the Minister of Transport what road schemes, apart from the M25, are contemplated by his Department that would infringe Epping Forest.
We are considering some schemes in North-East London which could slightly affect Epping Forest land. They are a relief road between Hackney Wick and the M11, a relief road between South Woodford and Barking and the widening of the North Circular Road in the vicinity of Hale End Road.
Is my hon. Friend's Department in constant consul- tation with the Conservators? Am I right in thinking that nothing is contemplated on the scale of the encroachments at Bell Common or Upshire in my constituency?
I can give my hon. Friend both those assurances. In the end, if any small take of forest land is contemplated, it is for the Conservators to approve it, and if a private Bill has to be presented, for this House to approve it.
Is the Minister aware that there has been considerable encroachment into Epping Forest since the war as a result of road improvements? If that important amenity area is not to be destroyed, maximum resistance to further encroachment should be expressed. Does the Minister recall that when the Bill was before the House he made a statement on the matter?
We are very much aware of the need to avoid encroachment on to land such as Epping Forest. As I told the hon. Gentleman in the debate to which he referred, in the main it is slivers of land alongside an existing road that are being looked at, and otherwise only some small encreachment to cater for the schemes that I have indicated.
Is my hon. Friend aware that it is not the current intention to signpost my constituency of Basildon on the M25? What action will he take to see that Basildon is put on the map? It is the second largest urban area in the second largest county.
I shall look again at the needs of Basildon and the desire of many people travelling on the M25 to visit it. When signposting motorways it is necessary to restrict signs to the minimum and to indicate main points of destination. With that in mind, I shall consider the claims of Basildon.
asked the Minister of Transport what capital programme for electrification of British Railways is envisaged in 1980–81, 1981–82 and 1982–83.
In its last investment programme the British Railways Board indicated that it was considering investment of the order of £10 million to £15 million in each of the years in question in suburban electrification and links with the existing electrified network.
In that context, is the Minister aware that it would be extremely foolish to close the Wood head route, which can be made compatible with a general electrified system, at little cost, by upgrading the existing track and other apparatus?
The Wood head tunnel is electrified, but on a much older system which dates back to the 1950s. The estimated cost of changing to a modern system is about £25 million. It is for the Board to decide priorities for modernisation and electrification, and it would be wrong for the Government to direct it to invest in a freight route if the Board were eventually to judge that it was redundant.
Why is the principle of cash limits which is applied to local authorities also applied to British Railways? British Railways have income, whereas local authorities do not, other than through rates. If British Railways could finance their electrification programme through borrowing in the market, should not the Government encourage that?
Cash limits have always been applied in one way or another to the nationalised trading sector. Any investment by the British Railways Board is public sector investment, and therefore takes the resources of the public rather than the private sector. The investment ceiling of British Rail has not been changed by the present Government and remains at the level that was set by the previous Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) asked a question about the capital programme of British Rail for electrification up to 1982–83. Does the Minister's answer mean that he has no intention of making a start on the proposed extension of the electrified system of British Rail which was incorporated in the study produced by his Department and British Rail? Surely, given the premium fuel value of the diesel oil that is being used by British Rail, it makes sense to take a decision within these time limits about the major extension of electrification.
The right hon. Gentleman is right, and I shall clear up the matter. The answer that I gave relates to the last announced investment programme of the Board. We are now in the middle of a survey of the long-term electrification needs of British Rail. The final results of that survey are expected in the spring of next year. We hope to move on to quick decisions at that time.
Does the Minister know whether British Rail has applied to the EEC for financial assistance for particular electrification schemes? If not, will he try to persuade British Rail to do so—in particular for the electrification of the line between Southampton and Portsmouth?
I am not aware of any particular application by British Rail. However, such matters can certainly be considered. My right hon. Friend will be discussing in Brussels tomorrow with his EEC colleagues in the Council of Ministers the possibility that has been put forward by the Commission of a transport infrastructure fund. That will enable European funds to be available for transport expenditure in this country.
asked the Minister of Transport what steps he has taken to eliminate waste in his Department in the six months since assuming office.
I am continuing to review the work of my Department in this respect. Staff numbers have already fallen by about 400 and recruitment is limited to essential tasks only. My recent decisions on vehicle excise duty, the National Freight Corporation, traffic licensing and motorway service areas will produce further economies.
I welcome that reply, but will my right hon. Friend look into the question of the costly £11 a time plastic cones that are purchased by his Department and his agencies? Will he deny the rumour that these cones are breeding on the motorways? If that is not true, will he try to put a stop to what seems to be an enormously wasteful occupation?
I am sure that breeding on motorways is against traffic regulations. I shall certainly look into the question of the cones.
If the right hon. Gentleman finds evidence of waste in his Department, will he consider using some of the money saved to introduce a programme of training for motor cyclists? All hon. Members await a programme to try to stop deaths on motor cycles.
As I said earlier to the hon. Gentleman, I give the highest priority to achieving that aim. We are at what I hope will prove to be a late stage of the discussions. My hon. Friend is having discussions with the interested parties. I hope and aim to have a plan that will reduce motor cycle casualties because, like the hon. Gentleman, I believe that they are far too numerous.
If my right hon. Friend is looking through his Department to see how to save waste, will he look into the possibility of cutting out altogether some of the new road schemes? They seem to have lingered on indefinitely without real purpose. Moreover, it is felt to be an anomaly that nearly all other Government Departments are effecting economies, whereas the road building programme shows no indication of doing so.
Nobody can accuse the Ministry of Transport of not effecting economies. To say that it is not is diametrically the opposite of the case. I shall examine any points that my hon. Friend cares to raise on individual road schemes.
asked the Minister of Transport what is the likely effect of the public expenditure cuts on the road schemes scheduled in the Northern region.
The timing of all schemes in the trunk road construction programme is at present under review. It is not yet possible to say how particular regions will be affected, except in respect of those schemes likely to be ready to start by the summer of 1980 and referred to in the reply given by my right hon. Friend to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) on Tuesday 4 December 1979. The revised programme will appear in the White Paper on roads policy which will be published as soon as possible after the conclusion of discussions on public expenditure up to 1983–84.
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that, one week before the by-election in Hertfordshire, his reluctance to give effect to cuts in the road building programme can be understood? Will he take into account, in the compilation of the review, that the Northern region suffers a higher unemployment rate than that of any other part of the country, barring only Northern Ireland? The continuing development of infrastructure is important, and roads play an important part in that.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that giving the go-ahead for the Billingham diversion and the Stockport east-west bypass was not done with the Hertfordshire, South-West by-election in mind. We are made well aware of the dangers of committing public expenditure shortly before by-elections every time we examine the position with regard to the Humber bridge.
What about the Berwick-upon-Tweed bypass, to which all the necessary permission has been given? Is the hon. Gentleman ready to make an early start on that?
I should like to give a 100 per cent. "Yes" to that question. I believe that I can, but I shall write to the hon. Gentleman in the next few days and confirm—I hope—the good news.
Passenger Railway Network
asked the Minister of Transport if it is his intention to maintain all the existing railway lines and services in Scotland.
I have already made clear in a letter to the chairman of the British Railways Board that it is my firm policy that there should be no substantial cuts in the passenger railway network. A copy of the letter has been placed in the Library of the House of Commons.
I am sure that the people of Scotland will be interested in the characteristically evasive answer of the Minister in using the term "substantial". Will he take this opportunity to give a clear assurance to the people of East Lothian that the North Berwick branch line will not be closed while he is Minister?
Certainly. There is no proposal on that line before me at the moment. I can only repeat what I have repeated at Transport Question Time over the past few weeks, which is that I am totally opposed to any substantial cuts in the network. That is the same policy as was pursued by the previous Government.
Instead of repeating that old litany, will the right hon. Gentleman look seriously at not just passenger routes but also freight routes, especially in the North of Scotland. The roads there are particularly bad and are heavily congested with oil traffic. Will he remind me of the current position on the Buchan freight line?
I shall examine the issue of freight services. I remind the House that, as the hon. Gentleman will remember, the list of lines that were to be closed, as alleged in The Guardian of 7 November, has been revealed to be a list estimated by the Ramblers Association and not by the Government. I do not believe that even the hon. Gentleman would reckon that the Government are committed by the Ramblers Association to a course of action.
asked the Minister of Transport if his policy of greater investment in the rail system includes the reopening of stations and routes previously closed, and a guarantee of no closure of existing lines.
It is for the British Railways Board and local authorities to consider whether particular services or stations should be reopened. I pay tribute to the efforts of voluntary preservation societies in this regard.
Will the Minister give a categorical assurance that he will not approve any proposal to close the Ayr to Stranraer line? Will he also comment on British Rail's proposals to reduce the frequency of services on that line from January? We suspect that British Rail can close a line by reducing services as effectively as by doing it at a stroke.
I shall look into that individual line. As I have said, apart from two proposals about which I gave an answer on 7 November, there are no proposals before me concerning the closing of lines. In the event of an objection, my permission is needed to close a line and I have made my general policy clear on the matter.
Will the Minister confirm that if British Rail approaches him about greater investment in existing routes and the reopening of stations to improve those routes—for example, the routes radiating from Leeds and along the Aire valley through Keighley, where a number of small stations could usefully be reopened—he will consider that approach? Does he accept that in an international fuel crisis we should make the maximum possible use of our railways and improve their usage?
Here again, I shall examine any proposals that British Rail puts forward. However, at the moment, no proposals of that kind have been put to me.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his opening comments will be welcome indeed to the railway preservation movement in general? Will he agree to meet representatives of the Association of Railway Preservation Societies so that they may have a chance to put to him some of the difficulties that they still encounter from British Rail and his Department with regard to some of the schemes that could be extended were it not for some of those difficulties?
I have already paid a visit to one of those societies—the Severn Valley Line—and I shall be delighted to meet any other group that my hon. Friend would like to bring to me.
Is the right hon. Gentleman informing the House that he believes, as he said in answer to the previous question, that the proposal for the closure of 40 lines was provided by the Ramblers Association? I have in my hand a copy of the report prepared by British Rail, which clearly states what the 40 lines are.
Characteristically, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong. I challenge him to find the list of services referred to in The Guardian in the report that he is holding. As he will know if he reads that report, there is no such list of services, and I stand by what I have said.
asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will set up a departmental study group to bring forward further proposals to promote the use of cycles as a method of easing traffic congestion.
No, although I would welcome the greater use of bicycles. My traffic advisory unit is already examining, with the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, a wide range of measures which would provide for cyclists; and we will continue to give financial support to local authority schemes containing new ideas.
Does the Minister accept that more and more people are using this form of transport to get to and from work, and that many more ought to be encouraged to do so? Does he also accept that this is beneficial in terms of the environment, health, energy saving and so on? Will he ensure that all the cycling interests are consulted about the many new road programmes that have not been mentioned today? Finally, does he accept that the only flaw in all these arguments is that if the Government remain in office for much longer people will not be able to afford a bicycle pump, never mind a bicycle.
For a moment I thought that I would be able to agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. While refuting the last point, I am glad to say that I agree with his other remarks. My right hon. Friend has already met the cycling organisations and we are encouraging a large number of local authority schemes up and down the country.
Is the Minister aware that when Mr. Speaker cried foul earlier, I did not just want to congratulate him? Is he aware that unless he completes the Port wood to Denton section of the motorway, the only way in which one will be able to get through central—
Order. I believe that cyclists are not allowed on motorways.
M1-M62-A1 (Road Link)
asked the Minister of Transport what progress is being made in the public inquiry into the proposed M1-M62-A1 road link; and what is the present estimated date for the start and completion of the whole scheme.
The inquiry is proceeding reasonably well. The issues involved are wide-ranging and there is much detailed evidence yet to be presented. Inevitably, the inquiry will continue for some months. I cannot make any forecast about construction of the scheme at this stage.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Is he aware that the 2 million people of the West Yorkshire conurbation regard this link as extremely important, both on economic grounds and in terms of the environment? Will he again consider his view that the inquiry is proceeding well? It started on either 2 or 3 October, and it is rumoured that it will go on until June. It is costing at least £3,000 a day to pay for highly expensive legal and professional advisers, as a result of which it will cost upwards of £½million. Does he not think that the authorities concerned are abusing the possibilities of objection that are open to the pressure groups which are compelled to lose their rights because of the great expense of the inquiry?
The hon. Gentleman will realise that I cannot comment on an individual scheme at this stage without perhaps giving rise to further problems of legal complications later on. We must let this inquiry take its course. As a general point, I agree that these inquiries, while they are valuable, are taking more and more time and are becoming more expensive. It is the duty of all those involved, including the local authorities that make representations, to see whether such inquiries can be kept to the point and that the cost is kept down to the minimum.
Is the Minister aware that his predecessor travelled over the proposed routes, and that without any doubt the Department decided on a certain route? Will he bear in mind that this inquiry is taking far too long and that while the grass is growing the horse is starving? Will he take cognisance of the fact that the villages of Oulton and Woodlesford are almost choked with traffic and that still there is a fight by these various pressure groups, which will not help the situation at all?
We need to have public inquiries, and it is right that there should be the fullest possible public debate about controversial schemes of this kind. Bradford city council felt it necessary to raise a number of procedural points at the beginning of the inquiry. I hope that the inspector resolves them—he must be the only person who can resolve them—and that we have the right kind of inquiry in order to come to a decision in the not-too-distant future.
asked the Minister of Transport when he expects to receive the report on the latest Channel tunnel project.
asked the Minister of Transport what progress he has made with consultations on the feasibility of a Channel tunnel.
I am examining the preliminary studies by the Railways Board of a single-track tunnel and carrying out initial consultations. I shall also receive independent advice on the economic aspects from Sir Alex Cairn cross, but it is too early to say when these will be completed.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that many who were utterly opposed to the previous rolling motorway proposal will look at this rather more modest rail link, which does not require any new rail links, with rather more sympathy? Does he agree that if the project overcomes any of the environmental objections and is seen to be viable it should be funded from private sources without any real or phoney Government capital, as was proposed last time, with Treasury guarantees?
The first thing that I shall do is to wait for the evaluation that is taking place by Sir Alex Cairncross. I believe that we shall then be in a much better position to know the viability of the scheme.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are several schemes for a Channel tunnel? Will he consider the various options instead of going for one particular scheme?
We are in no way committed to a particular scheme at the present time. It is simply that this scheme has been put forward with the support of British Rail and many hon. Members. We are putting it under examination because of its importance, but we are certainly not committed to it.
Do the proposals which the Minister is considering include the possibility, at least, of part finance from EEC sources? Would that not be one way of getting back the £1,000 million?
That is obviously one of the factors that we shall investigate very carefully.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this proposal will cost less than 10 jumbo jets for us and 10 jumbo jets for the French? Therefore, in view of the third London airport proposal, this must be a good investment. Furthermore, is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents and all the people of Kent have taken a completely new view of this proposal and would welcome it?
I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend has said, but obviously I must wait for the financial evaluation. There is a lot of time yet for us to discuss these issues.
Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the additional traffic that is likely to be generated by a Channel tunnel will not be carried on the existing railways? Is he prepared to give further investment to the British Railways Board to improve the existing railway links between London and that part of the country?
I think that we should wait until the evaluation has taken place, although clearly all these questions must be examined. I emphasise that we are at a very preliminary stage.
Port Of London Authority
asked the Minister of Transport when next he expects to meet the chairman of the Port of London Authority.
When the Minister sees the chairman of the PLA, will he be able to gain from him confirmation of the fact that the losses on the upper port of London are largely related to surplus numbers of employees and not to the facilities themselves. Will he confirm that he and his Department see a future for the upper port of London, which already carries 12 million tons of goods?
I entirely understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I shall shortly be making a statement on this whole question, and I ask him to bear with me for a few more days.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Most exceptionally, I shall take a point of order from the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott).
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman assured the House—indeed, I think that he misled it—that the list of 40 services that was referred to during questions was not included in the British Rail report and was contained in a report by the Ramblers Association. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have the list with me bearing the name of the British Railways Board, and I wonder whether he would consider making a fresh statement to the House tomorrow with regard to the matter.
Perhaps I may respond to that, Mr. Speaker. I was referring to a report in The Guardian—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Well, I did say that. That report in The Guardian gave the list. I shall certainly look at the list which the hon. Gentleman has, but it is my understanding that in the strategic plan that has been put forward by British Rail no detailed list of 41 services has been included. That is what I said.
asked the Minister for the Civil Service what change he has in mind on his Department's procurement policy on computers.
The Government's present policy of acquiring large computers by single tender from ICL, subject to satisfactory price, performance and delivery date, will continue until the end of 1980. The Government are examining the consequences for the domestic computer industry of the EEC supplies directive and the GATT government procurement code after that date.
Will my hon. Friend assure the House that the United Kingdom's ability to compete will be fully protected in any review?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. I shall consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry about it.
Is the Minister aware that there will be considerable interest in those changes and in the attitude of the Government to the derogation from the Common Market harmonisation policy with regard to future procurement policy? Will he bear in mind that any change in policy might put at risk the continuance of the ICL capacity in main frame computer manufacturing?
I acknowledge the right hon. Gentleman's experience and treat anything that he says with care. He must bear in mind that the GATT rules now require a change in the policy, but I shall study what he has said.
Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he will go out to open competitive tender for the fast expanding small computer industry?
Yes, Sir. That has been the practice of successive Governments with computers which are smaller than the ICL 2960.
Will the hon. Gentleman given an assurance to the House that he will maintain Government preference for computer procurement to ICL, and that while working with the EEC for a common policy after 1980 he will not tolerate EEC interference with this Government's right to buy from ICL by preference, as they do now?
I am not sure that I can give the assurance for which the right hon. Gentleman asks. We are bound not only by EEC rules but by the new GATT rules, as I told his right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Open Shaw (Mr. Morris), but I shall bear in mind what he has said.
Does my hon. Friend and his Department have an anti-IBM policy, or will they still encourage other people to buy what is best, without guidance?
No, Sir. What I have said is that we shall review our policy in the light of the new situation at the end of 1980. We shall bear all these relevant points in mind.
Is the Minister aware that the EEC also needs new computers? Will he support the application by ICL that there should be extensive use of ICL computers by the European Commission?
I shall consider that. It seems sensible.
asked the Minister for the Civil Service when he last met representatives of the Civil Service trade unions; and if he will make a statement.
Is the Minister aware that massive cuts in public expenditure will, if carried out, threaten the safety standards in many Government Departments, including those concerned with energy, industry and all forms of transport—land, sea and air? Should he not listen to the representations made by the Civil Service unions on all these matters? Will he take into account the documents that have been sent to all Members of Parliament indicating those areas? Will he give a guarantee that the cuts in public expenditure will not affect safety standards in the Departments that I have mentioned?
I do not accept what the hon. Member says. Naturally, I shall listen to representations made by the Civil Service unions on this or any other matter. As the House is to debate public expenditure later today I should have thought that that was the time to raise these points.
In discussions on public expenditure between my hon. Friend and the Civil Service unions, has the question of the alarming and growing burden of the index-linking of public service pensions been raised, particularly in view of the great irritation and dissatisfaction felt by people who have retired from the private sector and are not so protected?
I discussed that matter along with other topics with the Civil Service unions. As I reminded the House the last time I answered questions, the issue of index-linked pensions relates to the whole public sector. It is not simply a matter of the Civil Service.
asked the Minister for the Civil Service what measures the Government are taking to improve general efficiency in the Civil Service.
All Ministers are committed to the search for greater efficiency. Sir Derek Rayner is conducting the first of a series of selective studies in collaboration with Ministers. The pursuit and encouragement of general efficiency is an important part of the continuing work of my Department. An announcement about manpower savings will also be made shortly.
Does my hon. Friend intend to bring in any further outsiders to supplement the work that Sir Derek Rayner is doing?
We do not intend to do that at present. Sir Derek Rayner is doing a magnificent job, with a great deal of help from civil servants in various Departments. The work is going very satisfactorily.
Will the Minister indicate how efficiency in the Civil Service will be improved through his policy of reducing recruitment into the Civil Service, particularly of young people?
The number of people recruited into the Civil Service must depend upon the tasks it is asked to undertake. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will await my further statement on manpower savings for an answer to that detailed question.
Was my hon. Friend's attention drawn to the disturbing article in The Times 10 days ago describing the resistance within the Civil Service to two advanced computer programmes known by the acronyms CAPITOL and CAMELOT? Will the Minister take an early opportunity to talk to those concerned and point out that it is hopeless for the House and Government Departments to preach to the country the necessity for adopting modern technology if we do not do that ourselves?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I hope to have discussions with the unions soon on the question of new technology.
Following the last question, may I ask when the Minister intends to have discussions with the leaders of the Civil Service unions? The computer terminals have been connected, and the Civil Service unions need to be assured that jobs will not be lost on the scale that has been forecast. Will the Minister hasten the discussions?
The staff side proposals have been received, and we are considering them. I hope to have early discussions.
asked the Minister for the Civil Service how many civil servants are wholly employed on Scottish affairs.
On 1 July 1979, the latest date for which figures are available, there were 70,594 civil servants employed in Scotland, of whom 13,571 were in Scottish departments.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Will he assure the House that there will be no question of reducing the number of Civil Service jobs going to Scotland? Will he also ensure that the first 650 of those jobs will be established in Scotland by 1980–81?
I assure my hon. Friend that the statement that I made at the end of July about the dispersal of Civil Service jobs to Scotland still stands. It is still our intention to begin the move of 650 posts from the Overseas Development Administration to Scotland next year.
Is the Minister aware of the anger and disquiet felt in Scotland about the delay in the dispersal programme, and of the feeling that the year 1986 is beginning to look somewhat like the Greek Calends? Will the Minister bring his plans forward and get on with the commitment to effect the dispersal of jobs to the West of Scotland?
The hon. Member may have seen the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland that he is exploring the feasibility of an earlier more general move to temporary accommodation. I shall discuss this matter with those of my right hon. Friends who are concerned.
asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he will make a statement on the number a days lost through industrial action affecting his Department in the current year to date.
A total of 2,211 man-days have been lost through industrial action by staff in the Civil Service Department during this year.
In view of those figures, will my hon. Friend seek to take action to obtain no-strike agreements in current wage negotiations with public service unions?
I should very much like to obtain no-strike agreements throughout the Civil Service, and indeed throughout the public sector. However, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) pointed out at an earlier Question Time, there are great practical difficulties in achieving that.
Will the hon. Gentleman note that the figures presented to us for the period between January and May and May and October of this year show that there has been a terrific upsurge in the number of strikes during the period of office of the Tory Government? Can he give an answer to that?
I should be very surprised if that were true in the Civil Service. The strikes in the Civil Service this year in February, March and April were, I should have thought, the overwhelming bulk, but I shall check the figures and write to the hon. Gentleman.
Question Time (Points Of Order
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have advised the House in the past not to raise points of order during Question Time. Today a point of order was raised at about 3.18 pm, and that prevented question No. 25 from being reached. Will you, Sir, remind the House that points of order should be raised by all concerned at the end of Question Time?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the point of order. As a matter of fact, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton), who was to have asked question No 25, was not in the Chamber, and it would not have been called. But the hon. Gentleman's point is quite correct. I take points of order after statements. That is in the interests of the House.
Division No 117
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to draw your attention to an error in the lists for Division No 117, in which I am not recorded as having voted for the amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees). The name of the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Sir D. Kaberry) is there by mistake in my place. Since in that Division above all I would not wish it to be thought that I had not voted, I should be grateful if you would have the error corrected, Mr. Speaker.
I shall, of course, see that the necessary correction is made.
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on Rhodesia.In the conference on 22 November, the Government put forward full proposals for a ceasefire, on which there have since been intensive discussions. The Salisbury delegation accepted these proposals on 26 November. My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and I are at this moment in touch with the Patriotic Front leaders and we hope that they will shortly be able to agree. Only the detailed implementation will then remain to be discussed. I do not envisage that these discussions need take more than two or three days. Both sides have now agreed on a constitution which guarantees genuine majority rule, on the pre-independence arrangements and on the ceasefire proposals. There can now be no reason for delay in setting in train the arrangements for the ceasefire and for elections under our authority. An order in Council has been made and was laid before the House yesterday which provides for the appointment of a Governor with full executive and legislative powers. The full text of the independence constitution has been given to both delegations. I have arranged for copies to be placed in the Library of the House. It is intended that an order providing for the constitution will be laid before Her Majesty in Council later this week. The Government will also introduce into the House tomorrow the Zimbabwe Bill, which will allow Rhodesia to be brought to independence at the appropriate moment. The process of finalising the arrangements for a ceasefire will require a British authority in Rhodesia. We are therefore making plans to send a Governor to Salisbury in the next few days.
The whole House will have been encouraged by the Lord Privy Seal's statement. It would indeed have been inconceivable that the conference should be allowed to fail so very near to success, or that without a ceasefire the Government should despatch a British Governor to Salisbury to preside over what would have been a continuing civil war.We look forward now, as the Lord Privy Seal does, to the early announcement of a ceasefire. As negotiations are, I understand, continuing during the day, there are questions that I will not press but that I might otherwise have pressed, although if there is anything that the Lord Privy Seal can tell us about how the negotiations have moved forward we shall be very interested to hear it. I put to the right hon. Gentleman just this one point, which I believe could greatly assist the whole climate of the London conference. I invite him to make absolutely plain not only that South African intervention is unthinkable when the Governor arrives in Salisbury, as his noble Friend has already established, but that South African troops whose presence was confirmed by their own Prime Minister only a few days ago will be immediately withdrawn. My final comment is on the independence Bill. We shall, of course, look at it with our normal close scrutiny, but may I establish with the Lord Privy Seal that the powers that he is now talking about—to go forward, as it were, and to activate the processes of election and of interim rule—are not themselves dependent upon the independence Bill, which is the final stage in the whole story?
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said and for his forbearance. I do not think that I can say anything useful about the negotiations now, except that I expect there to be a plenary session this afternoon, probably at 5 o'clock.On the question of South Africa, we have made it quite plain that under the British Government there will be no external interference in Zimbabwe at all. We have made that perfectly plain to all the Governments concerned. The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right on the question of the independence Bill. The powers under which we are proceeding stem from the enabling Bill that the House passed recently. Apart from giving power to introduce an order to create independence, the independence Bill will be chiefly concerned with British law—citizenship and matters like that.
Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that the whole House will be hoping that the Patriotic Front will come to an agreement with the British Government on the ceasefire proposals shortly? May I press him a little further on the subject of South African troops? It is a question not only of the official South African troops but of the freelance mercenaries from South Africa who are at present in Rhodesia. Will they also be withdrawn?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the first part of his question. I can go no further than I have gone. As I have said, under a British Governor there will be no external interference in Rhodesia.
Can my right hon. Friend say when he expects the general election to take place?
Not at this moment. I should not like to give the exact date, but my hon. Friend will have an idea of the sort of dates that we have in mind.
Will Her Majesty's Government have the wisdom, even at this eleventh hour, to draw back from the suicidal folly of committing British forces to the Rhodesian morass?
The right hon. Gentleman has made his position very clear, and I appreciate his point of view. I appreciate that there are dangers. But I think that the whole House agrees that the Rhodesian issue has not only been extraordinarily dangerous for Southern Africa but has poisoned British politics. It is in the interests above all of the Rhodesians themselves, and of the whole of Southern Africa and the Commonwealth, that the issue should be solved now. In our view, it can be solved only under our proposals.
Looking ahead to the elections, can the right hon. Gentleman say what arrangements will be made under the British Governor for the broadcasting system in Rhodesia during the elections? Will it remain in the hands of the present Rhodesian-Zimbabwe authorities?
Like the hon. Gentle-can, I have seen reports about this matter. He will be aware that under the interim proposals we are committed—it is a commitment that we shall certainly honour—to see that the media provide a fair balance between the parties.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the immense patience that he and my right hon and noble Friend have displayed in recent weeks. May I stress to him now that the time has surely come to press on and not to accept any more prevarication from the Patriotic Front, because it is recognised that if legal elections are held its support will be shown by the ballot box to be as meagre as it is?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. Of course, I agree that the momentum must be maintained. As I said in my statement, it is very important that the implementation of discussions should not be long drawn out, and should take place in a matter of days.
We all hope that agreement will be reached, but do the Government recognise at long last how disastrous it would be for Britain's reputation if agreement were reached only with the Salisbury regime? If such a second-class solution were found, would not Britain be involved, with South Africa, in a colonial war in that part of the world? Would not Britain's enemies clap their hands with joy at such a prospect?
We hope that we shall reach an agreement with the Patriotic Front this afternoon on our ceasefire proposals. The Salisbury delegation has already agreed. We shall then discuss the implementation of those proposals. No hypothetical situation can be discussed with profit now.
I propose to call two more hon. Members from each side of the House.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are many indications that from the beginning of the negotiations the Patriotic Front has had as its objective an arrangement under which the official security forces are bottled up, which would allow the Patriotic Front terrorist forces, not in mili- tary clothing, to operate freely m Zimbabwe-Rhodesia?
With respect to my hon. Friend, I do not think that that is an issue that we should enter into now.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the responsible way in which the Patriotic Front has conducted itself during the negotiations has shown that it has a commitment and a genuine desire for a peaceful settlement? Is the right hon. Gentleman insisting that the Patriotic Front forces should remain in 15 defined locations whilst the Rhodesian forces and air force are allowed to roam at will? If he is, is he not putting at risk the prospect of the solution which we all hope desperately that we shall achieve?
I am sorry to weary the House by saying the same thing on successive occasions. However, I think that it is better for negotiations on the ceasefire to take place at Lancaster House rather than in this House.
When providing the independence administrative back-up which the Governor will require in the difficult days ahead, will my right hon. Friend remember that available in this country is a reservoir of experience of Africa provided by former members of the Overseas Service?
We shall certainly bear that in mind.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Patriotic Front has negotiated responsibly? Does he agree that it has demonstrated its desire to reach a genuine agreement? Will he therefore reassure the House that the Patriotic Front will not be faced with a fait accompli but that genuine negotiations on the ceasefire will take place so that we reach an agreement which does not lead us towards the tremendous problems that will occur if agreement with all the parties is not reached?
I have nothing to add to what I have said. We are seeking an agreement with all the parties, and we hope that we shall reach it quickly.
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider publishing—in a few days time might be the appropriate moment—the agreed ceasefire arrangements as he published the other stages of negotiations in the form of Lancaster House papers? Can he assure us that the independence Bill will involve no peremptory procedures of the kind that we experienced three weeks ago?
The answer to both questions is "Yes".
Secretary Of State For Employment
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At Question Time yesterday I and some of my hon. Friends from Merseyside raised the question of the serious unemployment rate in the area. The Secretary of State for Employment made serious slurs against myself and my colleagues. He said:
He added:"Members representing Merseyside constituencies could do a great deal to help, rather than do some of the things that they have done in recent years."
As chairman of the Merseyside group of Labour Members, I call upon the Secretary of State to withdraw those serious allegations because we have always tried to promote good industrial relations."In recent years Merseyside Members have very often added to bad industrial relations in the area."—[Official Report, 4 December 1979;Vol. 975, c. 216.]
I am sure that the House will have noted what the hon. Gentleman has said.
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it possible to ask the Minister to come to the House and make a statement on this issue and to spell out what Merseyside Members are guilty of in relation to industrial relations? My hon. Friends and I have spent our entire lives on Merseyside trying to help industrial relations. We take a dim view of Conservative Ministers, whose policies have led to industrial conflict, accusing us of inspiring disputes.
The House will have taken note of what the hon. Gentleman has said. He will understand that I can- not request the Minister to come here to make a statement.
Questions To Ministers
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to have to pursue for two days running the same fairly important point. Could some of the rest of us in the House occasionally break in on the charmed circle of those whom you habitually call?
The whole House is aware that the hon. Gentleman is not the most reticent of Members. He is certainly not the most shy. He has certainly been called as often as I believe he deserves to be.
Further to my point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to have to pursue this matter, Sir. Surely catching your eye is a matter of fair shares and not a matter of your judgment on our individual merits. If that is so, some of us may have to adopt the tactics of bloody-mindedness and bullying which seem to win through with other hon. Members.
No Speaker can be expected to tolerate that sort of remark. The hon. Gentleman is not advancing his own claims. I try to be fair. I can do no more. Whenever the hon. Gentleman is not called, he seems to feel that there is an unfair balance.
My hon. Friend is a Labour moderate.
Tenants' Rights, Etc (Scotland) Bill
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Government have announced the publication of the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Bill for presentation to the House this afternoon. Ministers are holding a press conference this afternoon and are appearing on television in Scotland this evening to describe the details of the Bill. However, the Vote Office cannot tell hon. Members whether they may have sight of the Bill. We do not know whether we can see the Bill today or whether we must wait until tomorrow. Is that in order?
The control of Government business is not within my discretion. I cannot help the hon. Member.
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not serious for the Government to place on the Order Paper a notice that a Bill is to be published today when that Bill is not available in the Vote Office? The Vote Office has indicated that it may be available later, although there is no certainty about it, and Ministers are to appear on television to explain it. Is that not a serious contempt of the House? It seems to be happening with regular monotony.