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The Ordnance Survey

Volume 387: debated on Thursday 17 November 1977

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3.18 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they intend to announce the establishment of the study on the Ordnance Survey and whether they have yet issued invitations to representative bodies and individuals to serve on the inquiry.

My Lords, my right honourable friend hopes to make an announcement very soon. No formal invitations have yet been issued, but various informal approaches have already been made.

My Lords, will my noble friend recall that the Secretary of State wrote to the Royal Society in the summer, saying that he intended to announce this survey early in October? Is my noble friend aware that anxiety and concern continue? Can she give an indication as to the kind of invitations or soundings that the Government are making?—for if this inquiry and its results are to carry confidence it must include people from outside and not merely departmental members.

My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will accept my assurance that it will include a number of people from outside organisations. It is not a completely internal study. The Ordnance Survey's consultative committees, which represent users, have been asked to make suggestions to my right honourable friend for committee members. Obviously, every category of user cannot be included on a study of this kind; otherwise, it will become impossibly unwieldy to manage. But I should be very surprised if, when they are announced, some of the committee members do not appear to have considerable knowledge of users' interests. I accept that my right honourable friend had earlier hoped to have the study group set up by October, and we are sorry that it has taken so long. We had hoped to have completed the arrangements by now. But I know my noble friend will agree with me that preparations for a major review like this must not be rushed.

My Lords, even if my noble friend would be surprised if it was not a satisfactory committee, in view of the past history of two Governments in dealing with the Ordnance Survey, I for one would not be surprised. May I therefore ask my noble friend to realise that there is strong support for the view that I am sure she holds, that there should be a body with real representation from outside? May I also ask her whether it is the intention that the report will be published, and, hopefully, the evidence?

My Lords, I still hope that my noble friend will not be quite so sceptical and will accept my assurance that we hope that a considerable number, if not the majority of the people serving on this committee, will be from outside organisations, including user interests. I could not pre-empt my right honourable friend's announcement about the appointment of the committee or about what will happen to the report, but at this stage I cannot see any reason why the committee's conclusion should not be published.

My Lords, could the noble Baroness say whether we shall have news of this appointment before the House rises for Christmas? The matter has dragged on for a long time and one begins to suspect that communications have been taking place by post.

My Lords, I know that, in Parliamentary terms, "shortly" covers a multitude of sins. I said that my right honourable friend hopes to make the announcement shortly, and I hope that that "shortly" is the literal interpretation of it and that we shall have the announcement before Christmas.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that one of the user interests, so far as the Ordnance Survey is concerned, is price; that the price of these maps has gone up considerably more than the general inflation level, and that a kind of Penguin edition, made available to ordinary people living in the country, would command a very big market?

My Lords, that question goes rather wider than the original Question which was asked by my noble friend. We had a long debate on the pricing policies of the Ordnance Survey. Changes have been made in the copyright practices and the fees and that was a once-for-all change to rationalise the position. There are no plans for anything further on that scale, but map prices must reflect the inflationary increases in the cost of production and, so far as we can tell, the effects of rationalisation do not appear to have been quite so burdensome on schools and the map publishers as we were led to believe in our recent debate.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness agree that it is nearly two years since the subject was first raised in this House? Could the noble Baroness also give an indication of the increase in price and of the increase in the sales of Ordnance Survey maps?

No, my Lords, not without notice of the question; but I will make some inquiries and will write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, could the noble Baroness give an assurance that one of the members of the committee will come from Scotland or some other Celtic region?

My Lords, without betraying any secrets, I think I can say that efforts are being made to find somebody from Scotland and somebody from Wales to represent users' interests.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness take steps to ensure that somebody from the Ramblers' Association is represented on the committee, in order to make certain that no longer is there any confusion between parish boundaries and footpaths, as now occurs on the latest edition of Ordnance Survey maps, a fact which makes the passage of a rambler, who is following what he thinks is a footpath but which turns out to be a parish boundary, sometimes rather perilous?

My Lords, the Ramblers' Association represent a very valuable part of my right honourable friend's consultative committee. I do not know the names which have been put forward by the consultative committee. However, they have been asked for names and I understand that they have submitted a selection from which my right honourable friend can choose.

My Lords, my noble friend has again worried me by saying that the report will probably be published. However, the whole object of the exercise is to produce a report and publish it. Cannot my noble friend guarantee that it will be published, and cannot she also take note of the fact, since there was a reference to copyright, that the Whitford Committee, contrary to what the Ordnance Survey said in their report, recommended the abolishment of royalty charges in this area? Can my noble friend also confirm that the national grid now joins latitude and longitude in not being regarded as copyright?

My Lords, that is a question which strays rather widely from the original one. So far as publication is concerned, as I have said to the House, I cannot pre-empt my right honourable friend's announcement. However, when he makes his announcement of the names of the people who will serve on the study group, I confidently expect that at the same time he will be able to assuage the fears of my noble friend by saying that the report will be published.