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Written Answers

Volume 12: debated on Thursday 5 November 1981

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Written Answers To Questions

Thursday 5 November 1981

Environment

Important Sites (Development)

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what recent responses he has had to his call for higher architectural quality in the development of important sites.

I have issued a consultation letter floating the idea that special development order procedures might be used for development proposals which result from suitably organised architectural competitions. A developer—Arunbridge Ltd.—has now come forward with an imaginative scheme for a competition for a substantial area of the South Bank at Vauxhall. I welcome this response to my suggestions for seeking high architectural quality on important sites. The land use issues relating to these sites have already been considered by the local planning authority and proposals for two of the sites have been discussed at public inquiries. These conditions may or may not always apply. But, certainly in the case of the first experiment, it is a helpful background. I therefore intend laying an order before Parliament, provided that the developers choose to proceed with a scheme of proven merit emerging from the competition. This in no way prejudges decisions following the consultation process on the much wider-ranging consultation paper.My present role is restricted to allowing or rejecting one particular proposal submitted by way of planning application. The SDO procedure enables a degree of involvement much earlier that might lead to a greater certainty for the developer if he works from the outset within a planning brief that has my support. It may also lead to useful savings in time. Further, the procedure would encourage a wider public debate about a range of choices and solutions for a particular site that is not usually available when only one scheme is the subject of a planning application.An earlier application by Arunbridge Ltd. for part of the area—the Effra site—was the subject of one of the public inquiries to which I referred earlier. At the developer's request I have put into abeyance consideration of the Effra application while this wider proposal is being examined. However, in order to inform public comment at the final stage of the competition, I am arranging to make available the inspector's report on the Inquiry into the Effra scheme.

Building Control

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment, in view of the absence from the Gracious Speech of any mention of legislation on building control, what proposals Her Majesty's Government have for reform in this area.

We remain firmly committed to the principles we set out in Cmnd. 8179. Although it will not be possible to implement our proposals for private certification of building works and for a new system of building regulations this Session, we shall be taking steps under existing powers to simplify the administrative procedures which face applicants for building regulations approval, particularly where small works are concerned. We shall also continue to develop our proposals for private certification as an alternative to local authority building control, and we are carrying forward our review of the building regulations themselves, with the object of simplifying and reducing them.

Industry

Engineering Council

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether the Royal Charter to establish the engineering council has yet been granted.

Her Majesty the Queen signified her intention to grant a Royal Charter to establish the engineering council at a meeting of the Privy Council held on 28 October.

Trade

Shipping (Anti-Trust Litigation)

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a statement on the current anti-trust litigation in the United States of America against British shipping lines trading in the North Atlantic.

The then Under-Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) reported to the House on 14 June 1979 the Government's grave concern at the prosecution by the United States authorities of British shipping interests and British nationals for alleged violations of United States anti-trust laws arising out of their trading in the North Atlantic. That prosecution led to the imposition of heavy fines on the British and other defendants, and then to a further and even more serious action for the recovery of civil damages alleged to have arisen out of the same violations. A settlement has now been announced.The conduct of which the British and European lines stood accused was entirely lawful in their own countries. Moreover, much of it fell outside the internationally-accepted jurisdiction of the United States.In spite of this, United States law provides that even where there has been a penalty paid as the result of a Government prosecution, there can also be penal—treble—damages awarded by a civil anti-trust action in respect of the same conduct; and that each party to an alleged conspiracy is liable for the whole of any judgment awarded against all the parties, without legal recourse to the others. The British shipping lines concerned have explained to my Department that in these circumstances they and the other European lines saw no alternative but to join their United States co-defendants in the negotiation of an out of court settlement, whatever their views on the substance of the allegations.My Department was kept fully informed by the lines as these cases developed.Successive British Governments have sought to alert United States Administrations to the dangers of the unilateral application of one country's laws to an international activity such as shipping outside the accepted limits of its jurisdiction, and to the friction that this must introduce into other aspects of our relations. These fears have now been borne out, with results which can only increase the uncertainties facing shipping lines on the North Atlantic and inhibit international trade.I am glad to be able to report that the United States Administration now has its policy on merchant shipping under review, has acknowledged the need for common shipping policies between the United States and its trading partners, and has called for consultation to that end with the European maritime countries. Her Majesty's Government, like other European Governments, have accepted this invitation: we look forward to the consultations and hope that they will be carried to a successful conclusion. The recent litigation demonstrates their urgency.

Transport

Road Construction Sub-Units (Denationalisation)

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what progress he has made with the transfer of work from the road construction sub-units to the private sector; and if he will make a statement.

On 13 August my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) announced the final firm of consulting engineers whom he had selected to take on work and staff from a road construction sub-unit. That completed the selection of firms to carry out work which was formerly done by the 16 sub-units on the design and supervision of construction of new motorways and trunk roads.Work is now being transferred to the private sector on road schemes whose total cost is estimated at over £2,000 million. The list of firms and the work they are taking on is as follows:

Sub-Unit schemes from:
Sir William Halcrow & PartnersBuckinghamshire
Brian Colquhoun & PartnersHertfordshire and West Bedfordshire
Maunsell & PartnersEssex and East Bedfordshire
Mott Hay & AndersonHampshire and Kent
W. S. Atkins & PartnersSurrey
Bullen & PartnersDurham
Pell Frischmann & PartnersWest Yorkshire (Kirkhamgate-Dishforth)
Babtie Shaw & MortonWest Yorkshire (Airedale) & Lancashire
John Burrow & PartnersWest Yorkshire (Lincoln Relief Road)
Mander Raikes & MarshallDevon and Somerset
Ove Arup & PartnersWarwickshire (M40, M42, A46)
C. H. Dobbie & PartnersWarwickshire (A435)
Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick & PartnersDerbyshire
Sir Owen Williams & PartnersStaffordshire
Ward Ashcroft & ParkmanCheshire.
The transfer of work and staff from the sub-units to the consultants is now in progress. The work of 10 sub-units has already been transferred, and the whole process should be completed by the end of the year.The clearing house, which was set up to look after the interests of the staff, was closed at the end of October. It arranged for offers of employment with consultants to be made to almost all the staff who were working on the schemes that are being transferred.

Social Services

Drugs (Reimbursement Of Cost)

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether the present arrangements for reimbursing the cost of drugs used by chemists contracted to the National Health Service are such that all contractors are subject to the same conversions when the amounts to be reimbursed are calculated.

Yes. There has recently been some misunderstanding over this. The position is that all pharmacists in contract with the National Health Service are reimbursed on the same basis.

Juvenile Offenders

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether his Department has recently undertaken an analysis of statistics relating to juvenile offending.

Yes, such an analysis has recently been completed. My right hon. Friend has decided that it would be in the public interest for the document to be made generally available, and it has been published under the title "Offending by Young People—A Survey of Recent Trends". Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.