HC Deb 05 December 1973 vol 865 cc1237-40
4. Mr. Alfred Morris

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is yet able to make a further statement on the Manchester Piccadilly-Victoria underground railway scheme.

11. Mr. Hatton

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will now make a statement regarding Government grant towards the proposed Manchester Piccadilly-Victoria underground.

12. Mr. Sheldon

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will now make a further statement on his decision on the Manchester Piccadilly-Victoria scheme.

Mr. Peyton

I will, with permission answer Question No. 4 and Questions Nos. 11 and 12 together.

Mr. Charles R. Morris

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has the Minister indicated that he wishes to associate Question No. 61 with this group of Questions?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter of order. It is a matter for the Minister.

Mr. Peyton

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I always understood that to go too far down into the recesses of the Order Paper exposed the Minister concerned to the displeasure of the Chair, which I would never wish to incur.

I will, with permission, answer Question No. 4 and Questions Nos. 11 and 12 together.

No, but I have promised a decision on the merits of the project by the end of the year.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Is the Minister aware that it would be difficult to overstate the urgency of the need for an early decision on this project? Does he agree that the present petrol situation, which many of us would call a shambles, re-emphasises the vital importance of this project? Is he aware that every wasted day compounds the problems of millions of people in the Manchester area, regardless of party?

Mr. Peyton

I am aware of the need for a decision, but I believe it is desirable that the decision should be a sensible one.

Mr. Hatton

Is the Minister aware that, as the days progress and while the great city of Manchester is waiting for this decision, there is widespread support from all representative bodies in commerce and industry and united support from all political parties in the area and from civic and community groups? Is he further aware that this support is evident in letters and editorials in the Press? Will he take all these matters into consideration?

Mr. Peyton

I am in the happy position of having been made the recipient of many views on this subject. I spent some time in Manchester and had the opportunity to realise just how much importance was attached to the project by many people. On the other hand, it is a costly undertaking and it is important for the country and the citizens of Manchester, who under the new system may be faced with a major part of the bill, that we should take the right decision.

Mr. Redmond

When my right hon. Friend makes up his mind on this vitally important project, will he ensure that unemployment is not created in the Lancashire area as a result of increased demand for steel and other raw materials which are already in short supply and which could be used by other industries? Is he further aware that that does not override the importance of the project in the eyes of the people of Lancashire?

Mr. Peyton

I have noted all that my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Sheldon

While I fully endorse all that has been said by my hon. Friends about the strong feeling in the Manchester area, may I ask the Minister in reaching a decision to bear in mind that, if it is decided to carry on with Maplin at a cost of £1,000 million in the South-East and with the Channel Tunnel at a cost of £1,000 million, again in the South-East, there will be a great deal of trouble if the spending of £75 million on crucial transport developments in the North-West is not given the go-ahead?

Mr. Peyton

It is nice to find the hon. Gentleman in favour of a tunnel somewhere. I shall bear in mind what he says.

Mr. Charles R. Morris

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the SELNEC area generally there is a crisis of confidence about the Government's intentions towards the Piccadilly—Victoria line proposals of the SELNECPTA? Is he further aware that this crisis of confidence is as to whether the Government are serious in encouraging people to leave their private cars at home and use public transport? When will he resolve this crisis of confidence and give the authority and grant needed for the infrastructure proposal?

Mr. Peyton

My experience of crises of confidence is that they are usually created by those who talk most about them.

Mr. Mulley

While I welcome the Minister's intention to make a further statement before the end of the year, may I ask him to bear in mind that this proposal is exactly in line with Government thinking about the transfer of urban road building resources to the railways, as announced last week, because the alternatives would be a substantial road-building programme which the local authorities in the area, wisely in my view, have turned down? Is it not the case that at every stage in the development of these plans the officials and councillors involved have worked hand in hand with the Department? Would it not be an enormous let-down if the Minister were to say "No" at this stage?

Mr. Peyton

Of course there has been constant consultation, as is only right and sensible. The right hon. Gentleman has much experience in these matters. The scheme is now estimated to cost not far short of £100 million. It is important to ensure that the money is well spent and that the citizens of Manchester and the large, important areas around it get a sizeable benefit from such expenditure.

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