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Transport

Volume 981: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1980

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Dipped Headlights

1.

asked the Minister of Transport what representations he has received about the need to make the use of dipped headlights compulsory in built-up areas.

A number of representations have been received, mainly from the Night Safety Advisory Bureau, in favour of requiring the universal use of headlamps at night. There have also been representations against it.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that there is some evidence to show that dipped headlights are safer than sidelights in built-up areas? Will he consider introducing legislation to make the use of dipped headlights compulsory in those areas?

Many people use dipped headlights at night. I do. However, it is a matter of individual judgment. At present, the Government cannot contemplate introducing any legislation to make the use of dipped headlights compulsory.

In his reasonable way, will my hon. Friend bear in mind that there are two sides to this argument? Does he accept that in inner urban areas a motorist finds it difficult to see pedestrians if he faces a stream of oncoming traffic that is using headlights?

I know that there are two sides to the argument. However, the decision should be left to the individual judgment of motorists. The Government could not successfully make the use of head lights compulsory.

Highway Surfaces (Condition)

2.

asked the Minister of Transport what is his estimate of the cost of damage to vehicles or other property during 1980–81 as a result of unsatisfactory highway surfaces.

There is not yet any objective evidence to suggest that the condition of road surfaces generally is deteriorating seriously, or that the cost in real terms of wear and tear to vehicles and property is rising.

Is the Minister aware that an increasing number of motorists show growing distress and face mounting bills as a result of those unsatisfactory roads? Will he make clear that responsibility for next year rests with this Administration and not with local authorities? It is unfair that local authorities should receive the brunt of such criticism.

Many motorists criticise the standards of highway maintenance. An objective study, the national road condition survey, is being carried out to investigate the position. Responsibility rests with local authorities. They should make the best use of the resources that we make available. They must make their own decisions about priorities for road maintenance in their areas.

Channel Tunnel

3.

asked the Minister of Transport if he will make a statement on progress in planning the Channel tunnel.

11.

asked the Minister of Transport what recent discussions he has held concerning the Channel tunnel.

I have been examining preliminary proposals by British and French railways for a single track rail-only Channel tunnel. More needs to be done before the full implications of the scheme can be judged and variations might offer different advantages. I await with interest the full proposals which are due to be put to me this summer.

The decision to have a tunnel or any other link across the Channel must firstly be for the French and ourselves, and would need suitable arrangements between the two Governments. The cost of any scheme would be very large and I should make clear now that the Government cannot contemplate finding expenditure on this scale from public funds. However, if a scheme is commercially sound. I see no reason why private risk capital should not be available.

I look forward to receiving any specific proposals, including those on which British Railways are working, which would attract genuine risk capital.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that work will commence on boring the Channel tunnel by 1981? Will he further undertake that, once that work has commenced, there will be continuity of operation until completion?

I cannot give such an undertaking. British Railways have not put forward their final scheme. We hope that schemes will come forward that can then be examined. However, they must meet the criteria. No public expenditure is available. The schemes must, therefore, attract private capital.

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be no parliamentary delay? Will he ensure that a simple enabling Bill is brought forward at the earliest opportunity once the schemes have been prepared? My right hon. Friend has mentioned risk capital. Will he assure the House that EEC transport infrastructure funds would be acceptable?

Legislation will be necessary to deal with the first point, and the House will want to consider that legislation.

Concerning the possible EEC regulation on infrastructure, we welcome the Commission's initiative in proposing infrastructure aid. The Channel tunnel would be a natural candidate. At this stage no such regulation exists.

Does the Minister accept that there is a strange contrast between his absolute refusal to consider transport integration in a national context and his apparent willingness to consider it here in an international context? Does he agree that the proposal for the Channel tunnel, which is limited in scope compared with the previous proposal, offers an energy-efficient form that would facilitate freightliner services across Europe from this country? If it is of considerable public advantage, why make that development dependent upon it facilitating private profit? Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman lay before the House a green Paper so that we can debate the many implications that the proposal has for other forms of transport?

It was the right hon. Gentleman's Government who ruled out public expenditure and cancelled the Channel project. It beggars belief for the right hon. Gentleman to come forward with such suggestions at this stage. The proposal is at an early stage, but, given the right scheme, there is a good opportunity for an enterprise that could be profitable and serve the national interest. I believe that the proposal would be widely welcomed by the public.

Because it was a one-user project, certain guarantees had to be given to the effect that the interest would be met by the Government? Does my right hon. Friend's announcement preclude that guarantee?

We are looking for genuine private risk capital, but I do not preclude consideration of guarantees in the wider area.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that he is being a cautious Christian and that he has already seen a sufficient number of studies to decide on the project? We have British machinery for the boring, British Railways want to use the tunnel and there are interested freight and passenger users. The cost would be less than one Jumbo jet over the whole building period of the tunnel. Has the right hon. Gentleman given approval in principle? If we and others outside can find the money, will he allow us to go ahead?

I thought that I had made it clear that, provided the details are right—and that is the whole point of what I am saying—there are good prospects for the tunnel. I know the hon. Gentleman's consistent interest in the subject over a long period, but I remind him that British Railways have not yet provided me with a complete scheme. He should interpret my statement as much more hopeful than any he received from his right hon. and hon. Friends.

I shall call one more hon. Member from either side on this question, and then we shall move on.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is disappointment that his guarded statement at the beginning has deteriorated? He now appears to be expressing approval of the proposal and believes that it will be in the national interest. Will my right hon. Friend accept that there is a strong political element involved in the project whose purpose is to tie us more closely to the European Community? Will he deny published reports that he has been under strong pressure from interests in the Community urgently to approve the proposal?

I assure my hon. Friend that I am under no pressure. My hon. Friend should see the matter in this way: there has been a growth of traffic across the Channel, which is likely to increase. Providing we get the right Scheme, a Channel tunnel would be the sensible way of meeting that public demand.

Will the Minister accept that, had the Channel tunnel existed, I should not have had to rely only on the airlines and would have been here five minutes earlier to congratulate him on his excellent statement? Will he confirm that nothing in the various studies he has so far seen seriously contradicts the cost estimates put forward by British Rail and SNCF at 1978 prices?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman. I know the problems that he had in getting here. None of the reports that I have contradict the impression that the British Railways scheme, under the assessment that they are mak ing, is viable. However, I emphasise that we shall look at all schemes. I am asking Sir Alec Cairncross to widen his remit to take in a study of all schemes submitted to me.

High-Speed Rolling Stock

5.

asked the Minister of Transport whether any proposals have been put to him by the British Railways Board for further investment in main line high-speed rolling stock.

I have not received any proposals since those referred to in my reply of 23 January to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn).

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on the East Coast main line between London, the North-East of England, and Scotland, many Inter-City trains are seriously overcrowded and the position is constantly worsening? Will he accept that that demonstrates an urgent need for additional rolling stock?

I am aware of the complaints of overcrowding on that line. However, approval has been given for 95 high-speed trains, and 60 of these are already in service.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, regarding investment in highspeed rolling stock, electrification or the Channel tunnel, British Railways feel increasingly that they could obtain funds other than Government funds were they not restrained by current legislation? Is my right hon. Friend considering discussions with the chairman of British Railways to change the financial relationship between the Government and British Railways over profitable new investment?

I am starting discussions with the chairman of British Railways, and am prepared to consider that point.

Is the Minister aware that, although the trials and building of the high-speed rolling stock took place in the Derby area, the line from Sheffield to St. Pancras is steadily deteriorating and a diversion is necessary on the main line from Edinburgh to complete the journey in 31 hours? Will he take action? Is he aware that South Yorkshire believes that it is considered a non-viable area because it does not have a proper rail connection?

I do not accept that generalisation. We have recently approved four high-speed trains on the East Coast main line. I am prepared further to consider the position of Sheffield.

I understand that my right hon. Friend is to visit my constituency in the autumn. When he does so will he note the great need for highspeed anything on the line to Norwich? When he considers these proposals, will he bear in mind the bad journey that he will experience on his way to Diss?

I am not sure that I regard that as the best way to persuade me to visit my hon. Friend's constituency. I shall certainly look at transport provision, including rail provision, in the East of England.

"Towards A Commuters' Charter"

8.

asked the Minister of Transport what analysis he has made of the British Railways Board's publication"Towards a Commuters' Charter "; and if he will make a statement.

I am anxious to see an improvement in commuter services. I therefore welcome the commuters' charter, especially since it helps define the service improvements that the customer wants. I also attach great importance to the inquiry by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission into the efficiency and quality of service of British Rail's London commuter services.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he could make a major contribution to improving commuter services, particularly between London and the North-East, if, in concert with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, he allowed British Railways to pull down Liverpool Street Station, brick by brick, and redevelop it?

I shall certainly discuss that rather drastic proposal with the chairman of the British Railways Board. As for the general issue of improving commuter services, particularly those in my hon. Friend's constituency, I emphasise again the importance that I place on the examination of those services by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that no other railway in the world moves as many commuters in a day as does Southern Region? Will he take this opportunity to dissociate himself from the silly comments of his right hon. Friend the Minister for Consumer Affairs in connection with the investigation of commuter services, especially since the right hon. Lady usually rides around in a Rolls-Royce and not a commuter train?

I back entirely what my right hon. Friend said about the importance of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's investigation into the efficiency and quality of commuter services. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's first remarks, but the efficiency and quality of commuter services has not been investigated in this way before. I think that it is in the interests of commuters, and that, after all, is what we are about in transport policy.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are probably far more people in favour of improving commuter services than there are in favour of the Channel tunnel? Will he therefore make clear that, when he says that public funds are not to be used on the Channel tunnel, he is referring also to public funds under the control of British Rail which could be used for commuter services and other purposes?

My right hon. Friend takes me back one stage. I do not complain about that, but I do not agree with the division that he is making. Clearly the impact on commuter services is a matter which we shall study when we look in detail at the Channel tunnel schemes that are put forward. I disagree when my right hon. Friend says that the Channel tunnel will not be of great benefit. I believe that it will be of benefit both to the public and to the railway industry.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give a commitment that if the inquiry into commuter services in the South-East establishes that there is a lack of investment in that area he will raise public money and provide the appropriate investment for those services?

I shall obviously have to take account of that matter, and I hope that British Rail will take account of any recommendations or proposals about the efficiency, standard and productivity of the, services.

Road Haulage Permits

9.

asked the Minister of Transport if he is satisfied with the effects of the distribution scheme for road haulage permits for British transport companies operating in France.

There are not enough French permits to meet demand, and the effects of any rationing scheme are bound to be unsatisfactory. I take every opportunity to press for increases, and for the eventual abolition of all quotas. Meanwhile I expect very shortly to announce new measures to assist firms which have genuine difficulty in acquiring permits.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's reply. Is he aware that the paucity of permits is having a damaging effect on our road transport industry? Can he tell me how it is possible, given that we are members of the Common Market, for one member of the Market to impose a restrictive transport policy and for leading citizens of that country to seek to give us lessons on what being a good member of the Common Market entails?

I have great sympathy with that point of view. It is exactly the view that I seek to put in Europe. Let me make clear that we want no such restrictions. We have been successful in negotiating increases in the permit quota — 24 per cent. in the current year in relation to France. I do not disagree when my hon. Friend says that the final goal must be the abolition of such restrictions.

Would we not be in a better position to negotiate satisfactory conditions for our transport industry if we were not in the EEC at all?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that companies that have been in breach of the regulations in some minuscule way are forever banned from getting these permits? Is he also aware that when a limited company has a legal entity of its own, but a common directorship with another limited company, with a separate legal entity, that second company suffers from any ban on the first? Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that, with all the expertise of the drivers involved, the situation is causing great loss and hardship? Will he look at that aspect of the linking of companies, which is wrong and illegal?

We want to make the system as flexible as we can and I undertake to look at that matter.

M40 (Oxford To Birmingham)

10.

asked the Minister of Transport when he expects to make a statement about proposals to extend the M40 from Oxford to Birmingham.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the road forms a vital part of the export route that links the industrial Midlands to the South Coast? Will he ensure that every effort is made to press ahead with the extension of the M40 to Birmingham as soon as possible?

I accept entirely my hon. Friend's description of the importance of that route. I said "Very shortly" and we are on the point of making a definite announcement about the status of the complete length of road involved.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that he has renumbered the M42 Bromsgrove section of the M40? For the avoidance of false hopes or fears, will he indicate clearly the Government's intention regarding the construction of that Bromsgrove section once the inquiries have been concluded?

I am not sure about the numbering of the motorway, but we certainly intend to resume statutory inquiries now that the legal problems have been removed. We hope to complete the statutory procedures for the M42 Bromsgrove section and the Warwick-Umberslade section of the M40. When the White Paper on roads is produced later this year it will contain details of the dates of construction and the planning for the future of both routes.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the present stretch of the M40 from London to Oxford is not particularly busy and that many of us who travel on that road every day consider that, instead of having the motorway continued from Oxford to Birmingham, it might be better and cheaper, and save much agricultural land, if the present main road were improved?

The improvement of parts of the present road is one of the possibilities that we have been looking at, but the present M40 is already quite busy and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Cadbury) said, an extension to Birmingham could be a valuable industrial link and provide a great deal of relief for the M1 which, as I am sure my hon. Friend is aware, is desperately overcrowded between the industrial Midlands and London.

Has not the hon. Gentleman considered the potential of the Oxford-Birmingham railway line? Does he not agree that it might be better to spend money on upgrading that line instead of wasting millions of pounds on a motorway when, by all accounts, there will be no energy for any cars to use in 20 years' time?

It is artificial to try to set up a conflict between the needs for investment on the London to Oxford railway line and the needs of industrial road traffic between the West Midlands and London. We have to look at investment projects for both in the light of transport needs and judge our priorities accordingly.

Reflecting Discs (Children)

13.

asked the Minister of Transport how many representations he has received in 1980 regarding the availability of reflecting discs for children to wear or carry after dark.

None, apart from the hon. and learned Member's in previous questions. However, I welcome recent efforts to promote the use of reflective discs.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, in spite of the failure of other hon. Members to assist in this campaign, more than 1 million discs have been sold. largely as a result of the efforts of the Sunday Mirror and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents? Bearing in mind that such discs are likely to save many children's lives, will the Minister take the initiative in encouraging their use and discuss with the Chancellor of the Exchequer the possibility of the discs being zero-rated for VAT?

The hon. and learned Gentleman's campaign may be a lone one in the House so far, but it is certainly a worthwhile one. I congratulate the Sunday Mirror on the campaign which has resulted in 1 million discs being distributed. We encourage anything that will make pedestrians, particularly children, more conspicuous at night. The question of the VAT rating of discs is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I shall refer the problem to him.

Is the Minister aware that hon. Members on both sides of the House are in favour of the campaign and it is not a one-man campaign? Many of us are interested in saving the lives of young children who are at risk on the roads. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that hon. Members on both sides urge him to take action and to discuss with his colleagues in the Department of Education and Science ways of extending the campaign?

I am sure that the campaign has widespread support. Anything that we can do to encourage the greater use of discs and any other means of making pedestrians more conspicuous will be done. There is no need to cast doubt on the value or effectiveness of the campaign.

Tachograph Regulations (Scottish Islands)

14.

asked the Minister of Transport if he has made any progress towards exempting the Scottish Islands from the European Economic Community tachograph regulations.

The United Kingdom cannot unilaterally make exemptions from the EEC tachograph regulation. We have, however, included in our domestic regulations special provisions designed to meet the difficulties of the Scottish Islands as far as possible.

Will my hon. Friend try to persuade the EEC to make exemptions to the regulation, such as the United Kingdom has done over the years in respect of our plating and testing regulations without causing any damage? I would have thought that it would not break the Common Market to make similar exemptions for the Islands.

There are a number of changes that we would like to see in the EEC regulation. We shall probably best be able to negotiate on those changes once the regulation is in force in this country. It has been a weakness in our negotiating position in the past that we have delayed so long before complying with the law. Before we can make any amendment to the regulation, we are proceeding with preparation of the remote area standards scheme for calibration which, we hope, will ease problems in remote areas like the Western Isles.

Is the Minister aware that, in the Scottish Islands, because of the distances and the ferry timetables, journeys that would take a few hours on the mainland can take up to two days? The use of the tachograph in such circumstances would be extremely disadvantageous. If the EEC will not agree to exemption, will he deal with the matter in the same way as the French would deal with it?

We are concerned that the remote area scheme should be of some use to hauliers in the area. I am glad to be able to tell the right hon. Gentleman that one of the tachograph manufacturers has informed us that it intends to seek approval to provide calibration services on Orkney and Shetland and at such places as Oban, Wick, Tain, Fort William, Campbeltown, Galashiels, Kelso and Aberlour. The journeys that hauliers have to make may not be so long and difficult as the right hon. Gentleman contemplates.

Following the admirable example of Rhodesia, would it not be a good idea if these Islands established their independence?

Sitting alongside the right hon. Gentleman is the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), who is the only Member of the House who agrees with the right hon. Gentleman. I do not think that the tachograph is the best argument even for Scottish nationalism.

Factory Tractors (Road Speeds)

15.

asked the Minister of Transport if he will bring forward proposals for speeds limits of less than 30 kilometres per hour on factory tractors when using public highways, thus avoiding them being subject to tachographs; and if he will make a statement.

I shall consult those directly concerned about this suggestion, for which I am very grateful.

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that it is vital to solve this problem? If British industry has to introduce tachographs into these tractors, it will involve a cost of many hundreds of thousands of pounds.

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out that present EEC regulations would allow us to exempt tractors with a maximum authorised speed not exceeding 30 kilometres an hour. That would seem to comprise most industrial tractors. We shall follow up this helpful suggestion. We shall probably have to consult about it, and, eventually, produce regulations to be approved by the House.

Will my hon. Friend make sure, in the process, that the importance and value of the contribution that the tachograph can make to safer driving is emphasised? We are constantly attacking some things that happen as a result of membership of the Common Market. This is a good thing that should be said to be a good thing.

I believe that the tachograph was attacked by many people simply because it came from the EEC, although its first proponent was Mrs. Barbara Castle, as Minister of Transport. It is astonishing that, now this Government have had the courage to get on with complying with the law, how little fuss is being made about its introduction in the road haulage industry.

Will the hon. Gentleman recognise that when Barbara Castle introduced the proposal it was a voluntary measure? When this matter was debated in the House the estimate was that the cost of implementation would be £150 million. Industry now says that it will cost over £300 million. What is the Government estimate?

I have no reason to revise the estimate that we gave in the debate. It seems that there is little objection or complaint, in practice, to the steady introduction of the tachograph into the country.

London Transport

16.

asked the Minister of Transport when he plans to meet the chairman of London Transport.

While noting that my right hon. Friend has no direct responsibility for London Transport, may I ask him, when he next meets the chairman, to remind him that following a 40 per cent. increase in bus fares, it is time for an aggressive acceleration of the policy of the introduction of one-man buses?

As my hon. Friend says, I have no direct responsibility. I am sure that both the chairman of London Transport and the chairman of the GLC will be concerned to achieve maximum efficiency in London Transport.

Has London Transport made an application to my right hon. Friend for the closure of the Epping-Ongar branch of the Central line? If so, will he consider holding a meeting, before proceeding with consideration of the closure, of all the interested parties to see whether some common agreement can be found to fund the admitted losses on this section of the line?

The answer to my hon. Friend's first point is "No". My consent has not been sought in this case. Unlike British Rail services, this is a local service for which there is no direct Government support. That was the position of the previous Government. I shall bear in mind the point made by my hon. Friend on the general position.

In view of recent reports of attacks on London Transport workers, will the Minister discuss this matter when he next meets the chairman? Has he had discussions with the Home Secretary to see whether some protection is needed in particular areas so that public service workers will not have to consider refusing to man certain services in certain places?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I am sure that the whole House will deplore the violence seen last weekend, and, particularly, the injuries inflicted on London Transport staff and on members of the public. This is becoming an increasingly serious problem. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I will be holding a working conference, I hope, next month, involving the trade unions and the organisers of the transport industries, on violence on public transport. At the same time, the Government's general policy of strengthening the police and their emphasis on law and order must also make a contribution to tackling the question.

Order. I am not sure whether Neasden is in the constituency of either hon. Member. Mr. Nigel Forman.

Will my right hon. Friend, when he next meets the chairman of London Transport, ask him to explain to Londoners why so many London buses seem to travel in convoy? Is it to do with safety in numbers? Is it operating practice? Or are the crews not fulfilling the instructions of management?

I do not think I shall attempt a quick, flip answer. It will be one of the aspects of my discussions with the GLC and with the chairman of London Transport about the efficiency of the service. I understand my hon. Friend's concern.

Heavy Lorries (A6-M63)

17.

asked the Minister of Transport what discussions he has had with Greater Manchester council and Stockport metropolitan borough council about heavy lorries making their way from the A6 to the M63 now and when the next stages of the M63 are opened.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his answer will disappoint my constituents? Many have been concerned, since the M63 spur road opened, about the number of heavy lorries using main and minor roads through Edgeley and Cheadle Heath. Is he aware that they would like a guarantee that, once the next stage of the M63 is built, traffic will travel from the A6 to the M63 through nonresidential areas and cause them as little difficulty as possible? Does he realise that they would also like to see far more of the heavy limestone conveyed from the Peak District in this direction carried by British Rail?

I appreciate the concern. Our lack of discussion is not because we downgrade the importance of the matter. These local roads are the responsibility of the Greater Manchester council. Traffic management schemes, and any diversion of lorry traffic, are primarily a matter for the council. I am sure that it will bear in mind the comments of the hon. Gentleman.

Type Approval

18.

asked the Minister of Transport if he is satisfied with type approval regulations.

I am currently considering whether any changes are needed to the regulations.

Does my right hon. Friend think it an anomaly that there should be strict type approval regulations for private vehicles but apparently no type approval regulations for commercial vehicles? Is this not detrimental to Leyland vehicles, for example, at a time when it has produced a new vehicle capable of making competitive inroads into commercial vehicle sales?

I understand my hon. Friend's concern. It is a concern that has also been expressed by Michael Edwardes. We are considering the possibilities. I hope to be able to announce a decision shortly.

Does the Minister agree that the 13 per cent. swing against the Tories at Southend demonstrates a distinct lack of approval for the "Cathcart retread"?

I advise the hon. Gentleman to wait a little in case he crows too early.

Roads White Paper

19.

asked the Minister of Transport when he now expects to publish his White Paper on Roads.

The programme will be set out in the roads White Paper, which will be published after the Easter Recess.

In view of the recent House of Lords decision that roads programme policy cannot be challenged at public inquiries, and since the House last debated the roads programme in 1971, does the Minister agree that it is now appropriate for the House to be given the opportunity to discuss the forthcoming roads White Paper? Is the Minister aware that we have spent £15 billion on the road programme since the House last debated it?

The hon. Gentleman's description of the House of Lord's decision is a travesty of the judgment in the Bushell and Brunt case. The statement in that case will, I hope, help us to return to roads programme inquiries which are conducted in a way which allows the merits and demerits of road programmes to be discussed in a sensible fashion and, therefore, act as a genuine aid to the decision-making process. We welcome the idea of a debate on the White Paper when it is published, but that is a matter for the Leader of the House.

Does the Minister accept that investment in roads and motorways is essential for the economic recovery of the United Kingdom?

I agree about the importance of investment but it must be in the right roads and the right motorways. We have to balance the industrial and traffic needs and the environmental damage that can be done by putting roads in the wrong places.

Can the Minister confirm that the White Paper will not be based on an increase in lorry axle weights in order to suit the proposals of our European colleagues?

We are awaiting the Armitage report. The roads White Paper will not deal with lorry axle weights. Obviously, we always try to keep the design of road surfaces in line with the traffic that uses them.

May we have an assurance that the White Paper will deal adequately with the vexed question of noise emanating from roads because of bad surfaces or the failure to provide adequate sound barriers, or both?

We try to take noise problems into account when designing roads. I can assure my hon. Friend that, without waiting for the White Paper, we are studying the particular noise problems that have arisen on the M11 in his constituency.

Crossing Point Signs (Elderly And Disabled Persons)

20.

asked the Minister of Transport if he will consider the provision of special traffic signs to indicate crossing points used frequently by elderly or disabled people.

Yes, Sir. We have decided that these could be worthwhile if used where large numbers of blind, disabled or elderly people regularly cross a road unaccompanied. We have, therefore, included a proposed sign in the draft traffic signs regulations which have just been circulated to interested bodies for their comments.

Is my hon. Friend aware that my constituents who live on "danger mile" on the A5 at Grendon will greet that statement with great enthusiasm? Will my hon. Friend take into consideration the needs of spots, such as I have described, in many other parts of the country where people take their lives into their hands when crossing the road?

There is considerable demand for a sign of that type. We must decide on the right criteria for the use of such signs. However, in many places, including that in my hon. Friend's constituency, such provision would be welcome.

Is the Minister aware that crossing points generally are becoming more and more abused by motorists? One has only to step outside the Palace of Westminster to realise that zebra crossings are not regarded with respect by motorists. Can the Minister do anything to improve policing to solve the problem?

We rely on the police to enforce the regulations. The police have manpower problems but I am sure that they will bear the hon. Gentleman's comments in mind. To a large extent we rely on the courtesy, common sense and good behaviour of road users when approaching zebra crossings.

Is my hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members take their lives in their hands when they cross to St. Stephen's Entrance from Old Palace Yard for Divisions? Will he consider erecting an appropriate sign in that vicinity?

That is a problem for Westminster council and the police who look after us in the building. When leaving the House in my official car I shall remember what my hon. and learned Friend has said and draw it to the attention of whoever is responsible for the arrangements.

Sheffield-Woodhead-Manchester Railway

21.

asked the Minister of Transport if he will visit the Sheffield-Woodhead-Manchester railway line.

Will the Minister think again about his answer and decide to visit the Sheffield-Woodhead-Manchester line? Does he realise that the imminent closure of the line is in contradiction with the view of Sheffield city council, the South Yorkshire council, the Manchester council and the Labour and trade union movements in both areas? Is he aware that nobody can understand why the line should be closed? Is he further aware that it is to be closed against the wishes of local people by remote officials? Will he discuss the matter with the people concerned and challenge the proposed closure?

The decision on the future of the line is a matter solely for British Rail. It is not a matter for Ministers. As I said in a recent Adjourment debate, in response to the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. McKay), British Rail has consulted every conceivable interested body and has been doing so for a long time. I have no doubt that British Rail is fully aware of the views of those bodies mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. If it is a redundant freight line, obviously it is common sense, and in the interests of the rail network, that steps should be taken to close it.

If my hon. Friend is unable to visit the railway line at Sheffield, will he find time instead—

Will the Minister seek to ensure that a little vision is applied? Does he realise that we are discussing an important east-west line? Is he aware that, if it were used for development in connection with improving the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation it could greatly facilitate east-west links and the development and expansion of our exports?

I appreciate the importance of east-west links over the Pennines. However, there are no fewer than four railway lines that cross east to west in the area. There is a great excess of capacity over predictable freight needs in the area. It is proper for British Rail to examine the possible closure of one of the four lines. The Manchester-Woodhead line needs millions of pounds spent on it to modernise it to the same electrification standards as the rest of the network. It would be wrong for Ministers to insist that that money is spent there or to give a higher priority to investment in that project than to other parts of the network.

Transport Supplementary Grant (Greater London)

22.

asked the Minister of Transport if he will make a statement on the transport supplementary grant for Greater London.

In the 1980–81 settlement announced last December I accepted £232 million local transport expenditure for Greater London on which I allocated £103 million grant. It is for Greater London Council to decide how to employ the resources available to it for transport.

Does the Secretary of State believe that that sum is anything like adequate to cope with the problems of economic and industrial revival in the inner city areas of London, particularly in dockland? Is the Minister aware that the construction of the M25, though welcome, will act as a magnet for industrial development, drawing that industrial development out of London? Does he appreciate the vital importance of building roads such as the southern relief road in dockland which will enable that area to attract the industry which it needs so badly?

The GLC received a marginally bigger share of expected expenditure than in 1979–80. We have made it clear that we put the greatest priority on the development of dockland. Clearly, one part of that development must be the construction of better road links.

The Minister said that the GLC will receive marginally more. How does that compare with 20 per cent. inflation? Is it 20 per cent. more?

Motor Cycle Licences (Dispatching Procedures)

23.

asked the Minister of Transport if he will take steps to stop the practice of including with motorcycle licences, an application form for a kidney donor's card when the licences are dispatched, in view of the distress it can cause to a licence holder and his or her family.

No, Sir. I understand that a significant number of those who carry cards were introduced to them in this way and I hope that most people regard this as a useful means of increasing public awareness of the donor scheme. Whether drivers use the cards is, of course, entirely a matter for personal decision.

I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. I do not wish to suggest that the kidney donor scheme is not good or desirable. However, will the Minister bear in mind the anxiety which is caused to parents of youngsters who are obtaining their first licence, when those parents do not, perhaps, wish their child to have a licence? Is he aware that such parent; experience anxiety when such a form is included with the licence?

I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend says, but I believe that one must be rather sensitive to take that view. I should have thought that most people who applied for a driving licence would realise that there are hazards involved in going out on to the road. The level of reaction we receive to sending out the cards is not very high compared with the 44 million cards that we are able to distribute in this way. I think that it would damage the kidney donor scheme if we stopped distributing the cards.

Will the hon. Gentleman consider widening the scheme by discussing the matter with his right hon. and hon. Friends and by including those cards in income tax demands and television licence renewal reminders?

I am sure that the practices of the Department of Transport will be widely followed in many other Departments. Whether one needs to be reminded of any other possible doom which might befall one when one receives one's income tax demand is, no doubt, a matter that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor will consider.