HC Deb 15 February 1973 vol 850 cc1460-1
Mr. David Stoddart

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the decision of Her Majesty's Government, announced to the Select Committee on Science and Technology on 14th February 1973, to cancel the tracked hovertrain. I was very concerned—and this is relevant to the issue—that the Minister's reply to my Question on Monday of this week was less than frank. I asked what further assistance would be given to this project, to which the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping replied: The question of the Government's providing financial assistance for the continuation of this project is still under consideration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February 1973; Vol. 850. c. 223.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must remind the hon. Member that he is not entitled at this stage to make the kind of speech that he would make if his application were successful. He must confine himself to the argument why this matter should be dealt with under Standing Order No. 9.

Mr. Stoddart

Thank you very much for your guidance, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate the point that you are making, but I submit that what I am going to say is relevant to the case for a debate on this issue.

In spite of that answer, on 14th February the Minister went to the Select Committee on Science and Technology and said that a decision had been taken on 29th January—which of course was well before my Question was asked—to cancel this programme. The House is entitled to know why the Minister gave perhaps not an untruthful answer but a misleading one to a real and relevant Question. It would appear to some—and indeed it appeared to the Select Committee—that there was an attempt by the Minister to conceal the decision from Parliament.

It is doubtful whether the announcement would have been made had not the Select Committee decided on 5th February to consider this matter. Nevertheless, the announcement has now been made, and I believe that it is in the interests of the country and of this House that we should now debate the matter as one of urgent and public importance.

I believe that the House should discuss the matter urgently and fully, for these reasons: first, the House is entitled to examine the long-term implications of the decision, especially bearing in mind that we are five years ahead of our competitors, and also because of the probable break up of the expertise of the team that has been working on this problem.

Secondly, we have to consider what is to happen to the scientists and technologists who have been working on this programme, and also what is to happen to the great body of information and expertise which they have built up together.

We should also consider the decision that has been made to hand over to commercial interests valuable national resources that have been paid for out of the pockets of taxpayers. Do the Government think that for the sake of another £4 million both the project and the taxpayers' investment should be lost?

For those reasons I believe that there should be an early and urgent debate on the subject.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member gave notice that he intended to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House to discuss the decision of Her Majesty's Government, announced to the Select Committee on Science and Technology on 14th February, to cancel the tracked hovertrain project. It is not for me to decide whether it is an important matter, or whether it ought to be debated at some stage. All that I have to decide is whether it should be debated under Standing Order No. 9, which means giving it precedence over other matters set down for the business of the House. I am afraid that I cannot give it that precedence.