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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 979: debated on Wednesday 20 February 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


Oil Conservation


asked the Minister of Transport what consideration he gives to the factor of oil conservation when judging the economic value of new road projects.

Estimates of savings in vehicle operating costs, including fuel costs, are incorporated in the economic assessment. Both these and the underlying traffic estimates assume that fuel prices will increase in real terms in future. We therefore attempt to measure the oil savings which better roads can produce and anticipate the effects of higher oil prices in our road planning.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the present rapid increase in the price of oil strengthens the argument for new roads, bearing in mind that such new roads, especially those of motorway standards, tend to prevent stop-go motoring which uses more fuel?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. That is a relevant factor that should be taken into account in connection with road planning. Traffic jams can be very wasteful of fuel. In all our transport planning we have to take account of the energy saving implications.

On what assumptions are the Government working regarding the correlation between real increases in fuel prices and consumption?

The fuel price forecasts that we are working on at the moment allow for the crude oil price to treble between 1977 and 2000, and we try to make some assessment of the possible impacts of that on vehicle and road use.

Motorway Network


asked the Minister of Transport what is the likely effect of recent public expenditure cuts on the completion of the motorway network.

The public expenditure and roads programmes are still under review, but the most urgent schemes should still be able to go ahead as soon as they are ready.

Could the Government consider separate funding arrangements for the motorway network? In Wales, for instance, the completion of the M4 is gobbling up the bulk of road expenditure. If Wales is to have any future as a viable economy are there not certain road schemes that should be given the highest possible priority?

I do not think that we could consider a new funding arrangement. Clearly the hon. Gentleman has a point for the Welsh Office. What I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that our road programme is very substantial and we have in mind the importance of the kind of road about which he is talking.

In assessing his priorities for the road network, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the need to provide bypasses for those cities that suffer acute traffic congestion, especially those that are important industrial centres which have—

Order. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is anticipating someone else's question on the Order Paper concerning bypasses.

I am well aware of the problems of the Lincoln bypass. All I say at this stage is that I have every sympathy and intend to place far more emphasis upon bypasses taking traffic away from the residential areas.

Is the Minister willing to fight within the Cabinet for the concept that if industrial regeneration and recovery is our ultimate objective the motorway system, particularly in areas such as Greater Manchester, will play an important part and should not be chopped now for short-term reasons of expediency?

I have great sympathy with the point put by the hon. Gentleman. Roads such as the M25 remain a very high priority as do other industrial routes. Indeed, our road building strategy is to put first emphasis on the regeneration of the economy.

May I ask my right hon. Friend about his proposals for lighting all motorways? As motorists are now accustomed to travelling on unlit motorways, does he not agree that there would be significant savings in public expenditure if he were to remove the urgency of completing that programme and redirect some of that money, through the local authorities, into maintaining and repairing existing major or secondary roads, some of which are in an appalling condition?

I have sympathy with the point about road maintenance. That is clearly something that we shall look at. We put lighting on the motorways only when we are convinced that the savings in terms of road accidents justifies it.

British Railways Board


asked the Minister of Transport if he will relax the cash limits applied to the British Railways Board.

I have no plans to change either the external finance limit for 1979–80 or the 1980 ceiling on the public service obligation grant.

Is not the Minister aware that the cash crisis facing British Rail is now fairly desperate? Is he aware that British Rail has been forced to put a ban on recruitment in the next four weeks and to stop urgent repairs to the tracks? Will he not agree that the only alternative to lifting the cash limits is a further massive increase in charges, to which the public will react violently?

I would not agree with the hon. Member on the last point. The British Railways Board has taken stringent measures, and I pay tribute to it for its ability to live within the cash limit. Measures such as these are what it is all about—that is what living within the cash limits means.

Perhaps in the course of his next meeting with the British Railways Board—and I recognise that this falls slightly outside the context of the question—my right hon. Friend would raise the matter of the very serious train crash which took place in my constituency—

Order. Perhaps the hon. Member could put that question under some other heading. He has, after all, drawn my attention to his misdeeds.

Is the Minister aware that the answer he has just given about the financing of British Rail simply will not do? Will he have another think about this because one of the greatest and most urgent needs at present is that of conserving oil and the best way to do that is to help British Rail electrify more and more lines?

The cash limit that we are talking about is largely unchanged from that left by the last Government. Of course railway policy is important, but it cannot be insulated from the rest of the economy.

Will the Minister say whether, in imposing cash limits, he is giving the chairman of British Rail sufficient flexibility about the amount of the network that he must continue to run?

If the point of my hon. Friend's supplementary question concerns rural services, I have made it abundantly clear to the chairman of British Railways that any option concerning the cutting of rural lines is not one that we would support. We believe that improvements are possible in the economics of British Rail and that the most important need is for improvements in productivity.

Has the Minister overlooked the fact that in its corporate review British Rail pointed out that the investment allocated to continuous welded rail was sufficient to support only 19,000 track miles? In view of the accident which has taken place as a result of a welding failure, will he at least reconsider how far this development will be limited by the decision that he has taken on British Rail finances?

I shall certainly consider the arrangements for continuous welded rail but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not want it to be thought that the cause of the accident was any lack of investment in the system at that stage. I do not believe that that is remotely the case. We have announced an inquiry on this matter, but the right hon. Gentleman's point was certainly not the explanation for the crash.

Following those remarks, will the Minister agree that tribute must be paid to people in my constituency, particularly those at the Watford general hospital, who admitted 45 people in one and a half hours, and also to the employees of British Rail and the local police who acted very promptly and very well in the circumstances? Will the Minister give my constituents an assurance that the findings of the inquiry will be published, and will he ensure that some thought is given to what might have happened had one of the trains carrying nuclear fuel waste been in the vicinity?

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the emergency services and the staff of British Rail. I have ordered a public inquiry into this matter and the results will be published. On the question of what would have happened had this been a flask train, I do not think that any risk to the public would have been involved.

Channel Tunnel


asked the Minister of Transport if he has now received the Cairncross report on the Channel tunnel; and if he will make a statement.


asked the Minister of Transport if he has now received the Cairncross report on the Channel tunnel; and if he will make a statement.

Sir Alec Cairncross has given me his initial impression of the BRB scheme. Further work is in hand and I will make a statement as soon as possible.

Has the Minister gathered from this initial statement that a single-track tunnel of the type recommended would be a sound investment, particularly as finance is available, both from the EEC and the money markets? Will he make a statement next Transport Question Time as we do not want waiting for Cairncross to become the parliament equivalent of waiting for Godot?

I take to heart the point that the hon. Member makes and I shall consider whether a statement will be made at the next Transport Question Time. The whole point is that we have asked Sir Alec Cairncross to have a continuing look at whether the project, as at present conceived, is financially viable. That is what Sir Alec will do and that is the matter on which I await his advice.

Is the Minister aware that a decision in favour of the Channel tunnel would give a great morale boost to a quarter of a million railway men and women? Will he accept that a Channel tunnel will be a considerable asset to the nation's export investment and to tourism?

Obviously there are great advantages, but I am sure the hon. Member will agree that, if we are to have a Channel tunnel, it is important to get the right Channel tunnel. We are at a very early stage in our deliberations. The Government are certainly not committed to a Channel tunnel, and I ask the hon. Member to await my further statement.

Will the Minister make certain that the Cairncross report is available to the House before Transport Question Time so that we can ask intelligent questions about it?

The purpose of what Sir Alec Cairncross is doing is to give personal advice to me as the Minister. His inquiry would not be considered to be a Royal Commission or anything of that kind. I shall wish to make a statement giving the maximum amount of advice to the House, on which the House can reach its own conclusions.

May I raise a question that was raised at the last Transport Question Time about the steel-using aspects of the Channel tunnel? Has the Minister looked at this matter?

This is one of the things that we shall continue to look at. I hope that the hon. Member will await my further statement.

Is the Minister aware of the EEC documents on Community transport infrastructure projects, which was published in November? Is he aware that future rail projects do not include a Channel tunnel? Has he drawn this omission to the attention of the Council of Ministers and does he think that such a project is dependent on Community finances? Does "further work" mean another rail and road project?

The short answer is that the infrastructure instrument is under discussion and has a long way to go. Clearly, European finance would be one of the points that we would have very much in mind. I hope that at some stage the Opposition Front Bench will make their position on the Channel tunnel unequivocably clear.

British Railways (Subsidiaries)


asked the Minister of Transport what proposals he has received from the British Railways Board about the future of its subsidiary businesses.

At my request, the Railways Board has made proposals to my Department for involving private capital in its subsidiaries. I have now asked it to examine the opportunities more widely, including the possibility of setting up a holding company. I am discussing this with the chairman.

Does the Minister recognise that he has made a significant statement? Does he accept the fundamental difference between the involvement of private capital that he proposes and hiving-off? Will he give a clear undertaking now to the House that he will not sanction the hiving-off of valuable British Rail assets, such as the shipping and hotel interests, and that he does not see the arrangements he has outlined as a prelude to eventual hiving-off if the collaboration projects are successful?

We are talking about the involvement of private capital in operations like hotels, Sealink and property. How that is arranged and organised is clearly a matter for discussion between myself and the chairman of the British Railways Board. I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman an assurance on that point. Our belief is that this will provide better opportunities for the subsidiaries which. I believe, have not had those opportunities in the past, and also better opportunities for those people who work for them.

The House welcomes any proposals that will place British Rail on a stricter and sounder commercial basis, but does my right hon. Friend not agree that these proposals must make for greater efficiency? Does not he also agree that there must be greater efficiency in services for commuters, especially in the south-east area of Southern Region, which is currently experiencing a 70 per cent. decline in services leaving Londan stations for areas in the South-East?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's point about commuter services, although this does not strictly arise out of the issue of subsidiary businesses. The point my hon. Friend makes about the efficiency of subsidiaries does arise. It is one of the aims of any new arrangement that they should be more efficient and that they should have greater opporunities and a greater commercial future than they have at the moment.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that, if British Rail is successful in attracting private capital, that capital will be exempt from the financial external limits? Does he not appreciate that if it is not so exempt, the effect of attracting private capital will not increase the resources of British Rail by one quid but will merely result in a reduction in the amount of money it obtains from the public sector?

I cannot give an assurance of the kind that the hon. Gentleman wants at a time when I am discussing the plans with the chairman. I believe that an arrangement of this kind gives, or would give, however organised—whether by a subsidiary grouping company or some other way—more commercial freedom to the subsidiary companies and, therefore, provide a better future for those working in them.

M6 (Barthomley Link)


asked the Minister of Transport what starting date he now envisages for the Barthomley link from Crewe to the M6.

I must ask the hon. Member to await the forthcoming roads White Paper.

I thank the Minister for that forthcoming answer. As his right hon. Friend has taken my constituency out of the development regions, is he aware that we need this link desperately for our industrial development? Will the Minister do whatever he can to expedite the decision?

I announced a preferred route for the Barthomley link in August last year after meeting a number of representatives of the area. We are now preparing the design of the preferred route and undertaking the necessary traffic surveys to support it. Work is proceeding and, when the White Paper emerges we shall be able to give an estimated date for its construction.

Port Of London Authority


asked the Minister of Transport if he will make a statement on the future of the Port of London Authority.

As I announced on 7 December, I have set a strict financial limit on the total of Government assistance to the authority. Subject to adjustments to cope with inflation and the latest forecasts, this is set at the level promised by the last Government.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that, in the town of Sheerness, we not only have a truly magnificent steelworks but an outstandingly successful port? Will he make it clear, or try and establish with the Port of London Authority, that the future of the PLA in no way includes any plans for taking over the Medway and the port of Sheerness?

Yes, Sir. I am aware of the points that my hon. Friend rightly makes about the steelworks and the port of Sheerness. None of the proposals that we have made on the future of the port of London affects in any way the future arrangements for Sheerness.

Has my right hon. Friend any information about present industrial problems in the Port of London Authority and whether he expects a settlement in the near future?

As my hon. Friend knows, there is a strike, and the port at the moment, is at a standstill. I do not believe that it would be helpful, at this time, for me to comment on the strike at the port. I know that both management and unions are making efforts to solve the problems. I gather that a meeting is currently going on, organised by the Transport and General Workers Union, and that there is to be a further meeting on Friday. I would only say that I very much hope that this strike can be brought to an end. It is clearly doing no good at all to the future prospects of the PLA.

Driving Test Centres


asked the Minister of Transport how many new driving test centres he expects to open in the next 12 months.

Most of the new examiners I am recruiting can be accommodated in existing centres. Some new centres will be required and I am discussing the provision of these with my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction.

Will my right hon. Friend say what are the limiting restraints on the provision of new test centres throughout the country?

One of the limiting factors at the moment is budgetary. The second is finding sites for the centres. Using my hon. Friend's constituency as an example, there is no site suitable at present to house a new centre. We are hoping that one will be found. I pay tribute to the pressure that my hon. Friend has brought on the Government on this matter.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how many of the new examiners that he hopes to appoint will be situated in the North-West of England, where the waiting list for driving tests is growing ever longer? Surely, some of the new centres should be situated in the North-West to alleviate the enormous backlog that exists.

We are trying, clearly, to increase the number of driving examiners. There is a later question on the Order Paper about this matter. The average waiting time for driving tests in the North-West is 22 weeks. That compares with a national average that is four weeks longer.

Will my right hon. Friend, in examining his policy towards the creation of further driving centres, bear in mind that it makes greater sense financially and that it is more convenient for additional inspectors to be appointed, wherever possible, to the existing centres rather than indulging in further proliferation of the rent, rates and acquisition costs involved in extending the network of test centres?

That is a suggestion that we have taken very much on board. But the fact is that, in some parts of the country, it is impossible to find accommodation for the numbers that are needed to reduce the waiting list for driving tests.



asked the Minister of Transport how many English towns over 10,000 population do not have a bypass.

Of some 300 such communities served by trunk roads, nearly 200 are at least partially relieved of through traffic by specific bypasses or major new routes. We intend to make progress with as many urgently needed bypasses of this kind as our resources will allow.

Does the Minister realise that the nation deplores the attitude of the Government towards the maintenance of good roads throughout the country? Does he agree that, following a mild winter, compared with last year, the Government are feeling complacent? Is he aware that many villages throughout the country are shattered by what has happened to their buildings and houses due to the passage of heavy vehicles that should be carried on bypasses? Will he take some action?

We are not complacent at all. We are continuing with a perfectly effective roads planning programme consistent with the resources that are available. When the hon. Gentleman talks of a mild winter, he refers, presumably, to the fact that we shall not underspend so much this year on the trunk road budget. That, I believe, is because the roads programme is being managed more efficiently than under the previous Government.

Will the Minister seriously reconsider the roads programme in the North East, bearing in mind the extremely heavy unemployment in that area? Will he consider bringing forward the date of the city western bypass, Newcastle, the western inner ring road and the Redheugh Bridge?

We are considering ail those schemes in the context of the review now taking place. We shall produce a White Paper in April. I am aware of road needs in the North-East. All the schemes that the hon. Gentleman mentioned have been under consideration in recent months.

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that, only two days ago, the Ministry put out another press notice saying that the M25 would have the highest priority in the road programme during its construction and would have first call on the Ministry's finances for roads? How can he reconcile that with assuring my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Brown) that the Newcastle schemes are being considered? Surely they are being considered only in a secondary way, after the Minister has determined his priority on the M25.

We have always said that the M25 has the highest priority in our roads programme, and I reaffirm that. However, it does not take up all the available funds and we must consider a proper regional distribution of the remaining resources in drawing up the roads programme for the whole country.

Road Construction


asked the Minister of Transport how much has been spent on new road construction in the past two years; and how much he anticipates will be spent in 1979–80 at constant prices.

Expenditure on trunk and local roads in England was £544 million in 1977–78 and £516 million in 1978–79. I expect £562 million to be spent in 1979–80. All these figures are at 1979 survey prices.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, despite the improvement in the current year, we do not spend enough on new road construction? Does he agree that if we are to have an efficient and internationally competitive economy we should spend a higher proportion of total public expenditure on new road construction?

No part of transport expenditure can be immune from the present financial situation and the need to achieve constraints in public expenditure, but road programmes can have a part to play in the revival of our industrial manufacturing economy. We have maintained spending this year, and, indeed, we are slightly increasing it because we are not falling so far short of our plans as the previous Government always did.

Does the Minister agree that, while he may be right to give some priority to new road construction, the condition of thousands of miles of existing roads in Britain leaves a great deal to be desired? Is he further aware that the backlog is mounting, and that it could be decades before we catch up?

I do not agree that conditions are as bad as the hon. Gentleman claims, but I accept that many local authorities are not in a position to make economies on road maintenance and we therefore have to reflect that fact in the balance of resources distributed to the remainder of the transport programme. We have shifted some resources from trunk road building to trunk road maintenance because of the need to get maintenance on the faster roads with heaviest traffic up to the required standard.

Driving Tests


asked the Minister of Transport what progress has been made in shortening the waiting period for driving tests.

The key to shorter waiting periods is more driving examiners and we have recruited more than 250 since last May. Waiting periods are now beginning to come down, but I am determined to bring about further improvements as quickly as possible.

is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread anger that the Government should allow a six-month delay in driving tests in an area that is meant to provide a monopoly service? Is he further aware that there is appreciation of his determined effort to reduce the driving test waiting times, unlike the previous Government who were complacent? Why is it not possible to recruit examiners—if not men, why not women?

The waiting periods are coming down and have been reduced to an average of 26 weeks, though that is not remotely good enough. In my hon. Friend's constituency the delay is down from 19 weeks to 16 weeks, but obviously we want to make much more progress. My hon. Friend has put his finger on an important area where much more recruitment is possible, namely in getting more women into the service. I hope that more women will come forward.

Can my right hon. Friend explain why the previous Government cut back on the number of driving examiners when it is a self-financing service? Are we not suffering now from that action?

Indeed we are. It is one of the mysteries of the previous Government—though only one—why they did that. When I took over as Minister of Transport I inherited a waiting list of 800,000. That is why we have given priority to sorting out the muddle left by the previous Government.

Is the Minister aware that his reference to 26 weeks puzzles me, since many of my constituents are having to wait much longer and my son has just been offered a test on 26 October? Why is the position in London worse than that in the rest of the country?

Because the Metropolitan area is one of the most difficult areas in which to find driving examiners. The 26-week figure is only an average. I hope that in London, as elsewhere, we shall be able to improve the situation. What I said about seeking to recruit more women driving examiners has particular application in London.



asked the Minister of Transport why work on the widening of the southern part of the M1 will not start this financial year as scheduled.

All action was suspended pending the resolution of a High Court challenge against the compulsory purchase order for the acquisition of the necessary land. The Department has very recently been notified that the challengers do not intend to proceed with their notice of motion. I am glad to say that we shall, therefore, shortly be able to invite tenders for the work. Unfortunately, there is not now time for the work to be started this financial year.

Given the amount of time and fuel wasted on that stretch of the motorway, will my hon. Friend ensure that work will not be delayed still further through lack of finance once the problems have been overcome?

I am well aware of the time and petrol that I waste, as do many of my constituents, every time we drive to London.

Now that we finally have the legal problems cleared up, public expenditure restraints will not hold back the contract.

Is my hon. Friend aware that it is impossible to travel on the M1 without meeting a multitude of road works? Does he not think that a special effort should be made to put the premier road in Britain into working order, if only for safety reasons?

About 15 or 20 years ago traffic demands in the neighbourhood of Watford were underestimated and the strength of the carriageway needed for modern traffic was underestimated. A great deal of work has to be done to get things in order and, as I indicated in reply to an earlier question, we are diverting some resources from new building to maintenance, in order to get the M I up to the desired standard.

Trunk Road Schemes


asked the Minister of Transport if he will make a statement on the criteria which he is using in his review of trunk road schemes.

The criteria include economic return, importance to industrial traffic, environmental impact, how the schemes accord with the Government's regional policies, and the views of local people.

I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful answer. Bearing in mind that no Minister can ever be as generous with road expenditure as he would like, may I ask whether my hon. Friend can indicate that he will not be cheeseparing about the preparation pool, particularly when he considers the deserving cases of roads that lead to major industrial sites, ports and nuclear power stations such as the road from the M60 to Heysham?

We shall look at any reasonable suggestions for additions to the preparation pool, but our immediate problem is the marshalling of priorities among the 400 schemes in the present road programme. I am aware of the pressure to trunk the route into Heysham, which my hon. Friend and others often press, and we shall look at any scheme that is put forward. I should not like to hold out any false hopes that there is a likelihood in the near future that national funds will be committed to the improvement of that local route.

Given the Minister's own criteria, how can he justify abandoning the Dishforth-Leeds motorway link, which is essential for traffic travelling from the North-East to Lancashire?

We have not abandoned it. We have abandoned the inquiry, which was too closely directed to improvements in the existing A1, which are the least important parts of the improvements needed there. We have every intention of proceeding as quickly as possible with the design of the new link from the M1 to the A1, and fresh proposals will be published as soon as possible indicating the route to the east of Leeds.

Bearing in mind the criteria that my hon. Friend has just enumerated, does he agree that when the Government make a majority policy decision, for example to build a nuclear power station, they should take more account of the impact that it will have on the citizens of the area and should will the means to make the project a success by providing proper access to it?

I am aware that the new power station is a factor to be taken into account, and we look at all relevant factors in assessing how much a road is part of the national network. Essentially, the discussion is about whether it should be paid for as part of the national trunk road scheme or financed as a local authority scheme. We have to assess the needs of Heysham and that part of Lancashire on the basis of the same criteria that we apply to the rest of the country.

British Railways (Freight)


asked the Minister of Transport what is the financial target for British Railways freight services in 1980–81.

We propose to announce a short-term financial target for the freight business very soon.

Does the Minister agree that, whatever the financial target may be, the chances of achieving it will not be enhanced if British Rail goes ahead with its proposal to close the valuable trans-Pennine Woodhead line through the most modern rail tunnel in this country and cut out the modern marshalling yards at Tinsley?

British Rail is still consulting about that proposal. Indeed, it has been consulting for months. As I have indicated in previous replies to the hon. Member and others, there is no ministerial role in the decision about the future of a freight-only line. It is modern, but it is electrified to a different system from the remainder of the electrified track. The future of the freight business depends in part on concentrating on the right traffic and the right facilities and altering the nature of the freight business to make sure that it matches its market more exactly.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is no case for subsidising British Rail freight? Can he say whether the financial target will allow for freight to carry its fair share of track costs and also make a full return on capital?

I accept what my hon. Friend says. There is no case at all for subsidising freight traffic. I cannot anticipate my right hon. Friend's announcement about the actual level of the financial target, but getting a proper return on the capital employed must be one of the criteria to be aimed at.

The Minister says that a decision will be made soon on the financial target for freight. Will he acknowledge the need to listen to the views of hon. Members and those members of the trade union movement who are interested in transport, particularly in the trans-Pennine lines, before the target announcement is made? Talks have taken place but we have not yet made representations to him. Will the hon. Gentleman agree to listen to our views before the financial limits are announced?

In the context of British Rail freight services can my hon. Friend say how many section 8 grants are being processed by his Department.

I cannot give an exact answer but section 8 grants are welcomed by my Department and are always granted in suitable cases. We have rejected only one application since we came to office.

Does the Minister agree that the subsidy now being paid to British Rail's main competitor the heavy goods vehicle—is totally unjustified in that those vehicles do not meet their full track costs? Why does he not behave as a true Tory and withdraw that subsidy as soon as possible?

The aim is that all modes of traffic should bear their proper track costs and receive no subsidy from public funds. My right hon. Friend has already announced our intention to alter the rate of road vehicle excise duty on heavy goods vehicles as soon as legislative time is available in order to achieve that aim.



asked the Minister of Transport what proportion of roads expenditure in 1980–81 will be devoted to motorways.

I must ask my hon. Friend to await the publication of the roads White Paper.

Assuming that the White Paper will show a substantially reduced proportion compared with previous years will my right hon. Friend indicate what progress can be made towards completion of the essential strategic motorway programme in the West Midlands and especially of the M42?

The M42 inquiry is going ahead. The West Midlands is already well served, as my hon. Friend knows. Clearly the needs of the West Midlands and other industrial areas will be kept in view when we publish the White Paper.

Motorway Accidents


asked the Minister of Transport if he is satisfied with his Department's encouragement of measures to reduce the danger of accidents caused by lorry-induced spray on wet motorways.

We are continuing to look for more effective ways of reducing spray but there is no simple design solution. The only obvious but effective remedy is for for drivers of heavy vehicles to keep their speed down in wet weather and for other drivers to keep clear of them where possible and ensure that windscreen wipers are in good order.

Would my hon. Friend be prepared to consider some form of consultative document that would encourage vehicle and vehicle component design—particularly of tyres—so as to make some contribution to reducing vehicle-induced spray?

A great deal of research is going on, using the Department's engineers, TRRL and Southampton university, into possible means of reducing spray from heavy goods vehicles. My hon. Friend has great expertise in the matter of tyres and I agree that improved tyre design would help. No design solution has so far been found but we are continuing to look for better methods.

Has the Minister noticed this afternoon the stream of complaints about lack of maintenance on motorways, and the problems of heavy traffic? Is there not a case for subsidising British Rail freight so that lorries can be taken off the roads and their loads carried by rail? We would thus conserve energy and at the same time preserve our vital rail network for the future.

The previous Government rejected any form of direction of traffic. They found, as everyone else found, that that was totally impracticable. The two modes of transport are often not in direct competition as some forms of traffic are more suitable for rail and other forms are more suitable for roads. The answer is to try to accommodate both methods using the resources available and making a sensible choice of priorities.

Is the Minister aware that juggernauts are becoming an increasing menace everywhere? The particular problem on motorways is that juggernauts are going too fast in the centre lane for ordinary motorists. Is he aware that they often give the private motorist a difficult time, and, if the private motorist will not yield, they move into the fast lane which causes difficulties on overcrowded motorways? Will the Minister look carefully at the problem and give advice to the hauliers and their drivers?

I agree that juggernauts are not popular. It is obviously necessary to carry on designing our roads to take traffic out of residential areas, where it is a particular nuisance. I agree that there is bad behaviour on motorways but sometimes private motorists hog the middle lane and stop the faster-moving heavy goods vehicle drivers making the progress that they would wish along the central lane. We give guidance in "Driving" about proper behaviour on motorways. We hope that motorway driving standards in all types of vehicles will improve.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he could be accused of complacency following his answer to the original question? Does he not realise that the spray from heavy lorries is most dangerous? I am quite sure that it causes many accidents and creates much fear among motorists. Will the Minister please give this matter priority in his research?

I said that we are undertaking research and have placed a new research contract in November last year with Southampton university. This is a serious problem and we have not yet found the solution to reducing spray.

Motorway Service Areas


asked the Minister of Transport when he proposes to introduce the necessary legislation to dispose of motorway service areas.

Legislation is not required. Arrangements for the disposal of motorway service areas in accordance with my policy statement of 22 October are well under way. I have appointed Messrs. Richard Ellis, one of the leading firms of chartered surveyors, to assist me with sales.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he tell us what his plans are for relaxing the rules governing advertising slogans bearing the names of operators in service areas? Has he any intention of using a starring system—or something similar—for facilities at motorway service areas?

The answer to both questions is "Yes". The policy of the previous Government was that Government should solemnly undertake inspections by the Department four times a year in an attempt to check standards at motorway service areas. We have rejected that and have given new freedom to operators in order to ensure greater competition. We plan to introduce a star rating system which, we hope, will be assessed by the motoring organisations. We believe that, by allowing the service area operators to advertise their own names, it will make a contribution to improving the services.

In all seriousness, will the Minister explain how these proposals will improve the appalling standard of service—alongside high prices for food—at the private enterprise motorway service facilities? Does he realise that their standards make a British Rail pork pie look like a gourmet item?

That would be an unusual attribute. We have had 20 years of control of motorway service areas, with Government Departments solemnly sending out inspectors to look at the standard of fish and chips in motorway cafes. That did not improve results. We believe that competition will effect an improvement and that is why we have introduced it.

Transport Supplementary Grant

asked the Minister of Transport which metropolitan authority has had the largest cut in transport supplementary grant between 1979–80 and 1980–81; and what percentage this represents of its 1979–80 grant.

Tyne and Wear county council was allocated 46 per cent. less transport supplementary grant for 1980–81 than for the current year.

How can the Minister expect a metropolitan authority to carry out its statutory duty to develop and maintain good passenger transport services—at a time when the costs of those services are rising—if he chops 46 per cent. off the grant? Surely that is a totally unreasonable proposition? The right hon. Gentleman should find the funds to enable the metropolitan authorities to carry out the duties laid upon them by this House.

The Tyne and Wear authority is a special case, because of the leasing of rolling stock and the use of extra loan sanction outside the TSG system. The fact is that Tyne and Wear still does comparatively well.

Is the Minister aware that the Tyne and Wear metropolitan authority has just increased its rates by 30 per cent? Did the cut in the transport grant have an effect upon that increase?

Without examining the arrangements it is difficult to comment. The Tyne and Wear authority is treated fairly compared with other authorities.

Is the Minister aware that the scandalous cut of 46 per cent. in the Tyne and Wear transport grant has resulted not only in a savage increase in rates but, more importantly, in a savage reduction in bus services? Is he aware that that is having a serious detrimental effect on an area which is already under-privileged?

It is unrealistic to talk in those terms. I have already explained the reason for the reduction to the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth). I cannot believe that, under any objective analysis, it can be said that the Tyne and Wear authority is being badly treated in the provision of transport facilities.

Civil Service



asked the Minister for the Civil Service how many retired civil servants and other public servants received, at the last increase in their public pension, a rise of more than £50 a week.

Figures for the public services as a whole are not available centrally. As to the Civil Service in particular, the number is 18, out of a total of 348,000 pensioners.

Is this not yet another example of one law for the poor and another for the rich under the present Government? Is the Minister aware that the Government are refusing to increase unemployment benefit in line with inflation—an insurance benefit paid for by contributions—and that that act will push millions into poverty? Is he aware that at the same time they are paying out huge, fully inflation-proofed increases to former top civil servants who receive pensions of over £15,000 a year? Does the Minister not agree that a limit must be imposed upon the rich before the poor are made to suffer more?

Whatever the merits or demerits of inflation-proofing it is ridiculous to launch a campaign against 18 people. The hon. Member is basing a campaign on about .005 per cent. of the 348,000 people involved.

What progress has my hon. Friend made in the search for a new and improved mechanism to check on the computations of the Government Actuary in arriving at the real value of index-linked pensions in the public service?

The Government are continuing to study this matter with urgency. I hope that we shall be able to come to conclusions and make announcements before long.

How many of the 18 former public servants have highly paid jobs such as bank managers and directors because of their Civil Service experience? How many of them are in the other place receiving £16.50 expenses which is worth another £100 a day if one takes tax into account?

I cannot answer questions about individuals. The hon. Member has been kind to me in the past, but I have to say that that is a typical question for him.

Has my hon. Friend any plans for obliging those who are in receipt of index-linked pensions to pay substantially more in the course of earning those pensions?

The Government are looking into the whole question of inflation-proofed public service pensions. The issues are extremely difficult. We hope to be able to ensure a stystem which is acceptable to the public servants and the taxpayers.

Is the Minister aware that his answer to the hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) will be deeply disappointing to many retired public servants and to the Civil Service staff side because for about a month he has been unclear about how the investigation is to be carried out, and, indeed, why it is to be carried out? Did he not say a few months ago that he had the utmost confidence in the Government Actuary's figures? Why is the investigation necessary and who will carry it out?

It is interesting that the hon. Member should be so against an investigation into public service index-linked pensions when there is such disquiet about the issue. I have the greatest confidence in the Government Actuary but the question of index-linked pensions goes far wider than the Civil Service. It goes through the whole of the public services. That is why the question is not relevant to the issues at stake.

Staff Side (Meetings)


asked the Minister for the Civil Service when he expects next to meet representatives of the staff side.


asked the Minister for the Civil Service when last he met representatives of the Civil Service trade unions and if he will make a statement.

Do the Government intend to settle this year's Civil Service pay claim within the framework of the national pay agreement?

The normal processing of pay evidence is proceeding. No decision has been taken. The reports were received only in the last week or so. It is far too early to announce a decision.

Computer Maintenance


asked the Minister for the Civil Service what savings in Civil Service expenditure he has identified from changes in computer maintenance.

Arrangements have been made with International Computers Limited to maintain certain computers in use beyond the life originally planned for them. An estimated saving of some £40 million up to 1985 is expected from this life extension programme.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on making such savings in his Department? Does he agree that there is further scope for the use of computers in Government Departments generally, in view of the ever-increasing complexity of Government business and the reductions in the cost of computer hardware?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I shall pursue this matter as vigorously as possible. I am grateful for his question.

Redundancies (Scotland)


asked the Minister for the Civil Service how many persons at present employed in Scotland in offices which are under his control will be made redundant under the proposed public expenditure cuts for the current year; and if he will identify these by region and by numbers involved.

Before redundancy is declared, the agreed procedures provide for a number of measures to be considered, including the redeployment of surplus staff to other Departments. Until all this has been completed, it will not be possible to say whether there will be any redundancies in the Civil Service as a result of public expenditure reductions. We intend to keep redundancy to a minimum. It is most unlikely that there will be any in the current financial year.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that it will be welcomed in Scotland where unemployment is 8·9 per cent? When he comes to consider redundancies, will he take that unemployment rate into consideration?

I shall certainly take anything that my hon. Friend says into consideration. I take his views seriously, especially those about dispersal. I have no reason to believe that the chance of Civil Service redundancies in Scotland is worse than elsewhere.

Does the Minister expect to see any further transfer of Civil Service jobs from Southend to Scotland?

That is an interesting thought. I shall have to consult Mr. Edward Taylor about that.

Since the Minister is still saying that he is in favour of public service dispersal to Scotland, will he be supporting his former colleague, Teddy Taylor, in his by-election campaign in Southend, East?

With vigorous enthusiasm. I am looking forward to a convincing victory.

Staff Side (Meetings)


asked the Minister for the Civil Service when he expects next to meet the national staff side of the Whitley Council.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer that I gave today to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw).

In view of the speculation about further cuts in public expenditure and Civil Service manpower, will the Minister explain, the next time he meets the national staff side of the Whitley Council, when further cuts are to be made and when a definitive announcement will be made to clear up the anxiety in the minds of civil servants?

If there were a further announcement about cuts I would naturally tell the national staff side at the earliest opportunity. I refer the hon. Member to my statement of 6 December. There has been no significant change since then.

Can my hon. Friend assure the House that work is still proceeding with all possible urgency on the options of 10, 15 and 20 per cent. economies?

My hon. Friend knows that those figures were not targets. In my statement on 6 December I said that a number of studies were being conducted in the Departments, notably in the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Health and Social Security and the Department of the Environment on further savings, which, I hope, will be in addition to what I believe to be the largest programme of savings announced at any one time.

Departmental Expenditure


asked the Minister for the Civil Service what progress he is making in cutting expenditure in his Department.

Expenditure by the Civil Service Department in the current financial year—1979–80—will be contained within the revised cash limits announced by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on 26 June 1979, which took account of a 3 per cent. reduction in the pay component. A further reduction of £2·3 million—10½ per cent.—is planned by the end of the fiancial year 1983–84.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will he accept that one of the more effective ways of reducing Civil Service expenditure is to reduce the duplication of jobs carried out by central and local government? Will my hon. Friend encourage his right hon. and hon. Friends to extend the removal of controls along the line suggested by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment?

I most certainly agree with my hon. Friend's remarks I am grateful to him for drawing my attention to the matter. It is an issue about which I shall continually press my colleagues.