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Commons Chamber

Volume 981: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1980

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 19 March 1980

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[ Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Transport

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.

Civil Service

Non-Industrial Civil Servants

59.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he has any longer-term plans to reduce the total number of non-industrial civil servants by a fixed amount over a specific period.

I refer my hon. Friend to the statement I made in the House on 6 December. I then announced savings of 39,000 posts; of these some 28,000 will be non-industrial. There are further studies going on in a number of Departments which will result in savings, and, in addition, I told the House on 14 March that there would be a further 2½ per cent. additional saving in manpower costs in 1980–81.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the annual turnover among non-industrial civil servants is currently running at 11½ per cent? If that is the figure, is it not true that the numbers of non-industrial civil servants, if Parliament so willed it, could be reduced sub- stantially without causing redundancies or forced resignations? If that is so, will my right hon. Friend encourage a national debate about how many civil servants we should have?

My hon. Friend is broadly right. Wastage is approximately 11 per cent. The approximate figures are 8 per cent. wastage and 3 per cent. retirement. I confirm that savings of the kind that I have announced can be achieved, I hope, with few redundancies. We are certainly not looking for redundancies.

Is the Minister aware of a reply I received from the Treasury on Monday which indicates huge reductions in staff in the Inland Revnue? Is it not an interesting reflection on the priorities of this Government that they are employing 1,000 additional social security snoopers whereas the number of people available to tackle the much greater problem of tax evasion is being seriously reduced?

I am sure that the House would like to see fewer people employed both in the Inland Revenue and in the Department of Health and Social Security.

In that case there is a difference of opinion between the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and me —not for the first time. I am glad to tell the House that the latest figures show that the Department of Health and Social Security employs 3,000 fewer staff than last year. The hon. Member's question is therefore based on a false premise.

When the Minister next examines the long-term plans for making savings in the Civil Service will he, in the light of the answers he gave to a question about the numbers of Government information officers, bear in mind that there has been no shrinkage, either in the number or the salaries of those information officers? The only shrinkage has been in the amount of information that has come forth.

I noted what the hon. Member says and I shall discuss it with those of my colleagues who are principally responsible.

Notwithstanding the excellent reply that my hon. Friend gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman), will he take his suggestion seriously? Is it not the case that in this, as in other spheres, there is something to be said for a long-term target, if only as a check on the activities of the Government?

I am against long-term targets because I believe that it is better to proceed in specific areas in an attempt to get numbers down. However, both my hon. Friends have a point and I will reexamine it.

In the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) may I ask the Minister whether it is not time that the Government stopped using the Civil Service as a scapegoat for all their ills? Will the Minister give a straight answer to a simple question? If the Civil Service staff side unions accepted the 14 per cent. pay offer made to them, within the cash limits, would that mean no additional cuts in the Civil Service?

It is not true that the Government are making the Civil Service a scapegoat. I am doing my utmost to achieve the smaller Civil Service which I believe is in the national interest and also in the long-term interest of the Civil Service, while at the same time trying not to damage any individual. I believe that a reduction in the size of the Civil Service is a high national priority and we are working towards that.

Civil Servants (Car Allowances)

60.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service what estimate he makes of the total annual car allowance payments to civil servants.

Separate records of this are not kept centrally. In the circumstances, the best estimate that can be made is about £50 million. I have recently asked for a study to be made of the whole question.

Will the Minister follow the lead set by General Zia of Pakistan who has issued his entire Cabinet with bicycles? Will the Minister encourage civil servants to travel around inner urban areas by bicycle rather than by car since a great deal of public money can be saved in that way? Will the Minister set an example next week by telling his Private Office that he will be pedalling with them on a tandem?

I am reluctant to do that because the Government are not anxious to face another by-election in Southend at present. I had not thought of taking General Zia as an example for the Civil Service but I shall consult my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Hurd). I am sure that all those who can bicycle —that does not include me—will do so whenever possible so that they are fitter and thus better equipped for the tasks of the day.

When the Minister examines the position will he note that top civil servants, the permanent secretaries in Whitehall, use chauffeur-driven cars to take them to Victoria Station and to Charing Cross station when buses and taxis stop outside their offices? Could not those civil servants take a bus instead of using Government cars?

When I discusssed this matter with some of the younger members of the Civil Service it was their keen wish that all senior permanent secretaries should use bicycles, on the ground that there would be more rapid promotion for them. When my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) spoke of a tandem I did not know that he had the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) in mind as my companion.

Civil Service Posts (Northern Region)

61.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service how many Civil Service posts have been transferred to the Northern region since May 1979.

Information about posts transferred to the Northern region for management reasons is not held centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

The Minister knows that there have not been any transfers. Is that not another example of the vendetta being carried out by this Government against the Northern region? Does the Minister recall the transfers proposed by the previous Government which included the PSA headquarters to Middlesbrough and Government Chemist's Laboratory to Cumbria? Those plans were stopped by this Government. Will the Minister say what consideration is being given to the transfer of such posts? Does he not realise that there is a crying need for that kind of employment in the Northern region? Will the Minister reopen consideration of the transfer of Civil Service work to the North?

I should be misleading the House if I offered any prospect of reopening the dispersal issue at this stage. After a great deal of study we changed decisions last July. I told the hon. Member that there were post transfers for management reasons and that that was why I could not give him the figures for which he asked. We considered the transfer of the PSA to Middlesbrough and the Laboratory of the Government Chemist to West Cumbria with great care. The net Exchequer cost of those two moves during the next four or five years would be more than £40 million. It was impossible to justify the moves on that ground alone.

Does my hon. Friend see any purpose in moving jobs from London to the North at such great expense when there is unemployment in London?

That is one of the factors to be borne in mind. We have to take into account the costs and benefits of any move. In the Northern region there is a large number of Civil Service posts already. In fact in the North there are more Civil Service posts than in most parts of the country.

Following upon that, how many Civil Service posts are likely to be transferred away from, or otherwise lost in the Northern region in pursuance of the Government's policies?

In pursuance of obtaining a smaller Civil Service in general I have no reason to suppose that there will be any untoward loss in the Northern region compared with any other region. I see no reason to assume that is would not be broadly—I cannot give the exact figure—across the board.

Will the Minister now answer the question which he blatantly evaded when I asked him earlier? If the staff side unions accept 14 per cent. within the cash limits, will the Government give an assurance that there will be no additional staff cuts? If not, why not?

First, I am not prepared to negotiate Civil Service pay across this Box. That is a matter between the unions and the official side. It is not a matter to be debated between the two sides of the House. I do not believe that that is the way to carry out pay negotiations and neither would the Opposition if they were in power.

Offers have been made to the Civil Service unions. We have set them within a cash limit of 14 per cent. I believe that it is right on its merits that there should be a smaller Civil Service. That is something that the Government are working towards.

Olympic Games (Geneva Talks)

(by private notice) asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the talks yesterday at Geneva of the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office on possible alternative post-Olympic Games.

Representatives of 12 countries met in Geneva on 17 and 18 March to discuss the possibility of arranging competitions of high quality, primarily for athletes who stayed away from the Moscow Olympics. Useful progress was made in identifying possible sites for alternative events which might be held in late August/early September. The participants in the meeting will now undertake further contacts with other Governments and with national and international sporting bodies to develop these ideas.

I chaired the first day's proceedings, which were held in the British mission in Geneva, and Mr. Cutler, President Carter's special counsellor, the second. A summary of the meeting was prepared by the co-chairmen and agreed by the meeting, and copies of this have been placed in the Library of the House.

Will the Minister give the names of any sporting organisations that have encouraged the Government in this project?

A number of sporting organisations from our contacts, whose eyes are still set on Moscow, are nevertheless increasingly interested and concerned—

—about the likelihood of an effective boycott, including the total absence from Moscow of American and perhaps German athletes. Our consultations with these sporting bodies—[HON. MEMBERS: "Name them."]—are and will remain confidential. It is for them to express their views when they think the time has come.

Will my hon. Friend not be put off by the scepticism of Opposition Members in seeking to organise some kind of international festival of this sort? Will he acknowledge that it cannot be a substitute for the Olympics, however they may now take place? Will he also, as soon as may be, encourage Governments to draw back from the arrangements that are to be made and place them in the hands of an international organising committee comprising individual citizens who are knowledgeable in the realms of sport and of voluntary bodies that may be prepared to assist?

My hon. Friend's last suggestion may be the right way to proceed. First, we have to put to the sporting organisations one by one—there are 21 different Olympic sports—the detailed suggestions that we worked out in the past two days and see whether, in the light of the developing boycott, they are interested in pursuing these ideas.

I think that this meeting in Geneva was always somewhat mysterious. I do not think that the House is very much clearer about the scope of the meeting and, indeed, what came out of it, as a result of the Minister's reply.

I should like to put three questions to the Minister. First, how many countries actually attended and how many were invited to come to the meeting? Secondly, had all the countries that attended the meeting recommended to their own sporting bodies that they should not attend the Olympic Games? Thirdly, what has been the response so far of the national Olympic committees in those countries to that request?

As I said in my answer, 12 countries attended. They comprised a group that had met quietly for some time to discuss these matters at official level. Therefore, one meeting led to another, which is the normal way in which international meetings take place. This meeting was held in a blaze of publicity. I do not think that there is any particular mystery about it.

Some of the countries represented in Geneva have not yet come out firmly in favour of a boycott. A large number of other countries are sitting on the fence and have not yet made a decision. They will make their decisions during the next few clays, or weeks, I should say. The same is true of the national Olympic committees. I think that it is true to say that no national Olympic committee in any major Western sporting country has yet taken a decision "Yes" or "No".

As the United States ambassador in London admitted frankly in an interview last week that there was a degree of electioneering in President Carter's original call for a boycott of the Olympic Games, and since fewer than half the Members of the House voted in support of the Government's call for a boycott, will the Minister now abandon this move for pseudo-Olympic Games, which will be the death knell of the Olympics?

No, Sir. We strongly believe and will continue to express the view that the attendance of British athletes at Moscow while the Soviet Union continues its aggression in Afghanistan is against British interests.

Having expressed that view, we felt it right to explore with other countries, whose feelings are broadly similar, whether we could help some of the would-be competitors, whom we are asking to take a very difficult decision, by organising in good circumstances high-quality competitions in which they could take part after Moscow. That seems an entirely sensible approach and one with which we shall persevere.

Will the Minister tell the House how many atheletes attended the meeting of the 12 nations—or, if he will not give the number of athletes, at least the ratio of athletes to diplomats?

Secondly, does the Minister have any reason to believe that if the alternative Games are held they will not be boycotted by all those nations which attend the official Olympics in Moscow?

Finally, will the Minister continue to bear in mind the inequity of sacrifice demanded of athletes as against other people?

The meeting in Geneva was a meeting of representatives of Governments. It was preceded and will be succeeded by consultations with national and international sporting organisations. We are not and did not pretend at Geneva to be in the business of taking decisions on behalf of sporting organisations. We worked out a set of suggestions, which we shall now put to them.

On the hon. Gentleman's second question, the number of organisations or sportsmen who smile upon these ideas will vary, sport by sport. Therefore, we shall be able to answer his question only when we have their response, in some weeks' time.

The third point—

I said that the success of this venture will depend on the number who do. We know that a number of sporting organisations are interested in this approach. As I have already said, it is for them to state their intentions when their own plans and ideas are clear.

The final question put to me by the hon. Gentleman was discussed at great length, in my absence, in the debate on Monday, and the House reached a satisfactory conclusion on it.

Will my hon. Friend remember that this is a matter not just for the vested interests of athletes as a whole but for Governments and people as a whole? Does he not think that perhaps our athletes have got a tiny bit self-centred and selfish in this whole matter?

I do not agree with my hon. Friend. I am not sure that that is a wise approach to the subject. There is a kernel of truth in what the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) said, namely, that because of the accident that the Olympics are taking place in 1980, at a time when the host country is conducting continued aggression against another country—a wholly new position in the history of the Olympic Games—it means, unfortunately, that we are asking a great sacrifice of our athletes. We accept that. That is why we are trying to help.

Order. This is an extension of Question Time. I propose to call two hon. Members from either side, and to call the Front Bench at the end.

Does the Minister recall—I think that he is old enough to do so—the slogan written on walls during the Second World War which asked "Is your journey really necessary"? From the pathetic statement made by the Minister from the Dispatch Box today, is it not clear that his journey was not really necessary, and that it would have been better if he had stayed in Britain?

I am sorry that I missed the hon. Gentleman's brief intervention in the debate on Monday. I did not attend the meeting in Geneva with any high hopes. However, we made rather more progress and produced more specific suggestions than I had expected. The success of the enterprise will depend on the way in which it is received by the sporting organisations whom we are now consulting.

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that if the Government wish to persuade the public of the valid arguments for boycotting the Olympics, more information will have to be given from now on about any alternative plan? Does he appreciate that the weakness of our position is that we are asking for an inordinate sacrifice from sportsmen and not from others, such as business men, in respect of their relationships with the Soviet Union?

We have been criticised in the house, especially by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who tabled the question, for failure in the past to consult sporting organisations sufficiently. In this enterprise, that is precisely what we intend to do. This enterprise has only just started. The hon. Member for West Lothian would be a little unwise to write it off at this stage. I warn him of that. [Interruption.] I warn him out of regard for his reputation for wisdom in the House.

Because we intend to hold consultations it would not be sensible for me to read out to the House the exact suggestions on which we intend to base our consultations

I refer to the original statement of the Minister, when he seemed to indicate that athletes would be faced with a choice of competing either at Moscow or at alternative Games. Will he take this opportunity to say that there will be no boycott on athletes who attend Moscow to prevent their taking part in any alternative Games? If the Government are putting their money where their mouths are, will the hon. Gentleman tell the House how much public money will be given to promote the alternative Games?

The hon. Gentleman's first assumption is correct. The financial aspects of the alternative Games will need further study. Much will depend—as it does in the financing of all sporting events—on the nature of television coverage.

At the meeting in Genera, did my hon. Friend discuss an alternative venue for sailing? Is he aware that the sailing events will take place not is Moscow but in Tallinn, in Estonia, which was annexed by the Soviet Union as a result of a carve-up between Ribbentrop and Molotov in 1940. It is highly relevant that that occupation is 30 years older than the occupation of Afghanistan.

My hon. Friend makes a relevant point. We are in touch with the yachting authorities. I noted in a press report today that dissidents are being arrested in Tallinn to prevent their putting their point of view to any yachtsman who may go to that country.

It is not now crystal clear that the Geneva meeting was an attempt to organise an alternative to the Olympic movement, and an attack upon international sport as we know it? The various sporting organisations were not consulted before Ministers attended that meeting.

Will the Minister say whether the information that I gave to the House in the debate on Monday was considered by his colleagues and conveyed to him, namely, that 18 international governing bodies of sport had said that they would not sanction any such alternative competition, and that any sportsmen taking part would exclude themselves from international sport?

The Minister said that no national governing body had yet taken a decision on the issue. Will he say why 104 such bodies accepted the invitation of the 10C to compete in the Games? Was that matter considered by his colleagues?

If we are to rely on world-wide television to finance alternative Games, what information can the Minister give us to the effect that television will be any more dictated to by the Government than the sporting bodies? How do we know that it will finance the alternative Games?

Why did the Minister with responsibilities for sport not attend the meeting in Geneva? Has sport in this country been taken over totally by the Foreign Office? Why did the Government embark upon such a ludicrous exercise?

The right hon. Gentleman does himself no credit by these questions. He is not doing himself justice. We do not rely on the right hon. Gentleman for our knowledge of what happens within the sporting bodies. We have our own information from numerous contacts that have been made in the past few weeks. I was armed with such information at Geneva.

The right hon. Gentleman was correct when he referred to the IOC decision. However, I was talking of the individual decisions of national Olympic committees. Even they are less significant than the individual decisions of individual sporting organisations in the 21 sports.

The examination of possible finance from television coverage for the alternative Games is at an early stage. Nobody can force television to cover any event. If, as a result of our suggestions, it were possible to establish a series of high-quality events in different parts of the world following the Games at Moscow, it might be possible to arrange quite substantial television coverage.

This is an exercise and a policy undertaken and approved by the whole Government. It would not be right to leave my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibilities for sport to carry the whole burden. Most of the meetings with sporting organisations and athletes were attended by my hon. Friend. I am happy to be able to tell the right hon. Member for Birmingham Small Heath (Mr. Howell) that my hon. Friend is leaving tomorrow for a meeting of the Ministers of Sport of the Council of Europe, at which he will express exactly the same Government approach as I expressed in Geneva.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.

Defence Sub-Committee

I wish to make a brief statement. Yesterday the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) raised a point of order about an article that had appeared in The Guardian relating to the staffing of the Select Committee on Defence. I undertook to look into the matter and to make a statement to the House.

The allocation of duties to particular Clerks is determined by the Clerk of the House and no one else. The article in The Guardian confuses two different bodies—the Defence Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee, which became defunct in April 1979, and the Select Committee on Defence, which was nominated in the following November. Some of the matters in the article related to the Sub-Committee and some to the Committee.

I have been assured by the Clerk of the House that there is no correspondence or any indication of any pressure from the Government to have Mr. Cooper removed. To set the factual record straight, the Clerk of the House has asked me to say that so far from being dismissed from his post, Mr. Cooper continued to serve the Defence Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee until the Dissolution of Parliament in April 1979. That Committee, with its Sub-Committees, was not set up again in the new Parliament and in the new structure of Committees that now exists Mr. Cooper occupies a position that is in no way inferior to that which he held in the old structure. Indeed, so far from being demoted, he was promoted last October to the rank of Senior Clerk.

I am very grateful, Mr. Speaker, for your having looked into the matter arising from the press article. Can we take it from your statement that no kind of representations were made by senior officials at the Ministry of Defence regarding the Clerk in question?

I have prepared this statement carefully, and I believe that the independence of this House from the Executive is central to our parliamentary democracy. That was why I undertook so readily to look into this matter. I have looked into it, and I have been given complete assurances by the Clerk of the House that there was no pressure. The House should accept that statement.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

I express our gratitude for your prompt action on this matter, Mr. Speaker. It is a matter of major constitutional importance and we are very grateful to you for having cleared it up.

Order. I will take the three points of order that appear to be in train in a moment. Then I hope that we can leave the matter.

May I join with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in expressing our thanks to you, Mr. Speaker, for your investigation of what was alleged to concen the independence and intregrity of this House, of which you are the guardian? In the circumstances where an aspersion has been made on the Clerk of the House, who has served us all so well, should not the innuendos made against him be now totally withdrawn?

We shall see what happens tomorrow when we read the newspaper. That is not something that is within my control.

We are all grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, especially for your most recent words. The accusation was not made against the present Clerk of the House, nor does anyone imagine that the present Clerk of the House would have acted in the way in which it was said that a previous Clerk had acted. Mr. Cooper is one of the most intelligent of a group of very intelligent men who serve this House, and I hope that it is made quite clear that in no way has his career been injured by these events.

I say at once that the former Clerk of the House had our full respect and trust in exactly the same way as the present Clerk of the House. The House has been given the assurance that the Clerk in question has been promoted, and that is an indication that his career has not suffered.

The Clerk in question is a military historian. He was dealing with his own subject. He has now been removed from it, and I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that there was in fact a demotion of this man.

It would be a sorry day if hon. Members or I myself sought to put pressure on the Clerk of the House about the way in which his Clerks should be assigned to their Committees. We have been faithfully served, and I believe that we should leave the present system as it is.

Motions And Bills (Amendments)

On a point of order Mr. Speaker. This point arises out of Monday's debate on the Olympic Games, although it is in no way concerned with the substance of that debate. My point is purely procedural. Yesterday the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) raised with you a point about the selection of amendments, and he sought clarification about the selection last Monday. In reply, you pointed out that you were bound by precedent, in as much as when an amendment was tabled in the name of the Leader of the Opposition all your predecessors had always felt obliged to give priority to that amendment.

You went on to point out that the House did not give you the power to choose another amendment and that if you were to be able to do so there would have to be a motion on the Order Paper empowering you to call another, if it were for the purpose of a Division.

I perhaps misunderstood exactly what you meant by that, Mr. Speaker, and possibly other right hon. and hon. Members are in the same position. I understand that such a motion could only be moved by the Government. That being so, it is for the House to consider whether, on days when both Front Benches have publicly announced that there is to be a free vote, the inhibition on your selecting amendments for a vote is appropriate in those circumstances.

I do not know whether the matter has arisen on previous occasions. The last thing that any of us would wish to do would be to fetter your discretion, but if it is the case that a motion enabling more than one amendment to be called can be moved only by the Government, I hope that on any future occasion, whatever the issue may be, if both Front Benches have announced a free vote the Government will table such a motion so that your discretion to call both the amendments to be debated and those to be voted on will not be as inhibited as it is at present.

I am obliged to the right hon. Member for the way in which he raised his point of order and for giving me notice of it this morning. He is correct. Only the Government can table a motion allowing the House to decide that it would like to have more than one Division at 10 o'clock, or more than one amendment voted on. This procedure was followed quite recently when we voted on a series of motions on conditions of service of hon. Members of the House. This is really a matter to be pursued through normal party channels and the normal channels of the House, when such a motion is required by hon. Members.

Business Of The House

I apologise, Mr. Speaker, for not giving you notice of this point of order, but the presence of the Leader of the House indicated to me that there might have been notice of an adjustment to tomorrow's business, which might be welcome. Have you had any such notice, Mr. Speaker, since tomorrow's business is of great topical interest and is important, particularly in relation to the nature of the motions and the questions to be put at particular times?

I am afraid that I have had no notice of any change. If I get it, I will convey the information to the House at once.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, may I put it to the Leader of the House—

Order. The right hon. Gentleman can only put it to me on a point of order.

Following the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), may I explain to you that there are discussions still continuing between the usual channels on this matter? Since the end of last week we have been concerned about the situation arising out of tomorrow's de- bate, whereby there seems to be a proposal that the debate on the agriculture motion should be taken at the same time as the debate on the budget resolutions.

We have been seeking to secure a better method of dealing with that debate. Discussions have been continuing and may still be continuing. Is it possible, Mr. Speaker, for the Leader of the House to be given an opportunity tomorrow, if we have reached a conclusion, to make a statement about business that will enable us to look at the matter afresh? The point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South causes concern to many hon. Members. I hope therefore, that a statement from the Leader of the House tomorrow will be considered in order, even though it deals with the business of that day.

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. As the House will understand, I am not aware of private discussions taking place between the usual channels. I am simply informed of the result of the conversations.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

I was surprised to hear the intervention by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), because discussions have been taking place between the usual channels, and the convention of the House is that they are not referred to until a conclusion is reached.

I refer to the rules of the House. Whilst we must keep within the rules, we must never make them our prisoner. I am saying not that we should break the rules but that, in the interests of the House, from time to time there should be a little—

"Flexibility" is too strong a word. There should be a little understanding.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you advise ordinary Back Benchers about the procedure that is to be followed tomorrow?

I am afraid that I cannot. Like the hon. Member, I shall wait until tomorrow to see what is forthcoming.

Cruise Missile Sites

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable persons living within the area of proposed cruise missile sites to vote on their acceptability; and for connected purposes.
The purpose of the Bill is to remedy a serious defect in our democratic system that was created by the Secretary of State for Defence agreeing to the installation of cruise missiles in this country, without troubling first to consult Parliament. Several Labour Members pressed for a debate, as did the Opposition Front Bench—even though somewhat belatedly. A debate took place well after the decision was reached.

However, on the proposed Olympic Games boycott, the Leader of the House adopted a different view. He said on 13 March:
"The debate must be arranged before the conference that is to be held on 17 and 18 March…However, it is important that the will of the House should be expressed before the conference takes place."—[Official Report, 13 March 1980; Vol. 980, c. 1558–9.]
That was said in the context of a suggested debate around midnight, before the Geneva fiasco, on which we have just heard a report.

The installation of 160 cruise missiles is a far more serious matter, and the view of the House was not heard until after the decision had been reached. Even when the House debated the matter, the consensus view of politics that afflicts the Labour leadership from time to time meant that some Labour Whips urged some Labour Members to abstain in the Division. Happily, a healthy number did not, but the closed door conspiracy that exists over nuclear weapons must be broken. My Bill will provide a means of doing that.

The Government are extremely anxious to provide the trade unions with opportunities for ballots. Clause 1(3) of the Employment Bill provides a wide range of opportunities for ballots. But the issue of cruise missiles is immensely more important than the internal arrangements of trade unions. I propose to give the people of the areas in which it is intended to install cruise missiles an opportunity to vote on their acceptability. That is especially important in view of the fact that the missiles are parked on our shores and will be owned and controlled by the Americans with a single key, with consultation only, and with no right of veto over their use by the Government.

Since, on the admission of the Secretary of State, nuclear conflict would involve only a matter of minutes warning, consultation seems a somewhat academic right, and since the cruise missile areas will be prime targets the people affected should have a voice in and a vote on their future.

My Bill will use as a guide part of clause 6 of the Government's Employment Bill. The acceptance of cruise missiles for an area will recognise that
"not less than 80 per cent. of those entitled to vote in the ballot voted in favour"
of the siting of the cruise missile or missiles in the relevant area. Connoisseurs of the Employment Bill will recognise an adaptation of a provision of that Bill.

The Bill will also define the relevant area. In a nuclear conflict the United Kingdom would be completely affected, but the cruise missile sites would be more vulnerable in an accidental strike. It is conceivable that an isolated freak incident could arise accidentally. Hence, the relevant area in my Bill would be the area affected by a retaliatory strike of a 5 megaton warhead. All the figures used to define the relevant areas are taken from the Home Office handbook "Nuclear Weapons". Figures in the handbook range up to 20 megaton weapons. Hence, a 5 megaton definition is by no means the most widespread devastation that could apply.

I have also taken figures for ground-burst weapons only. Airburst weapons would result in greater devastation and death.

All people living within three miles of the site would be eligible to vote, as would persons likely to suffer from the heat effects. That would be the main area of fire zone and general destruction of houses and buildings. The area in which heat effects would be felt would be wider. Table 5 on page 24 of the handbook "Nuclear Weapons" gives a diameter of 18½ miles where skin would be charred, 24 miles where skin would be blistered, and 32 miles where skin would be reddened. The effects of 5 megaton bombs on sites at Cambridge and Bury St. Edmunds would overlap. Up to a total diameter of 32 miles there would also be damage—from total destruction at the centre to light damage at the periphery. In addition, there would be radioactivity over the whole area, varying from lethal to damaging, producing later death.

The total area affected by dangerous, and in many cases lethal, residual radiation would be as large as 2,000 square miles. In view of the potential sacrifice of life, limb and future generations that the people in the areas arou