HL Deb 17 October 1973 vol 345 cc338-69

5.14 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Gowrie.)

House in Committee accordingly.

[The VISCOUNT GOSCHEN in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Establishment of trading funds for certain services of the Crown]:

THE EARL OF LAUDERDALE had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 1A: Page 1, leave out line 17.

The noble Earl said: I beg to move the manuscript Amendment standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Balerno, at page 1, to leave out line 17; that is to say, to omit from Clause 1(3) the words, "(b) the Royal Dockyards". It embarrasses me a little that by the rules of the game my Amendment comes before that put down by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who one would have hoped to have heard first in this debate. However, I understand that it is the Government's wish to look at these two Amendments together, and therefore it falls to me to open the batting.


So far as I am concerned, I certainly do not wish the two Amendments to be taken together. They bear on separate subjects, and I should not be satisfied until I had moved my Amendment that the Government should deal with it.


Perhaps I should say that I am very willing to take the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Lauderdale separately. It simply occurred to me that substantive points that I wish to make to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, might also apply to my noble friend's Amendment. If the Committee are willing, I will take my noble friend's Amendment first.


I shall be interested to hear what the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, is going to do. I must say I find it slightly difficult at this short notice to correlate these two Amendments. I have the greatest respect for my fellow geographer, the noble Earl. Lord Lauderdale, but I will await and hear what he has to say on the dockyards. I propose to talk about the Ordnance Survey.


If it is acceptable to the Committee, I will address myself briefly to the Amendment standing in my name, because only having had my attention drawn to the matter at the last moment, it occurred to me possible, and therefore prudent to make a probe on the subject, that the inclusion of the dockyards might mean including the hydrographic survey. If my noble friend the Minister would care straight away to assure us that the hydrographic survey is not in any way affected by this Bill, I shall be happy to give way to him at once so that he might dispose of that and we can get on to Lord Shackleton's more serious and interesting Amendment.


I am grateful to my noble friend. That seems to be the best way to deal with it. I can assure him that the hydrographic survey has nothing whatever to do with the Royal Dockyards.


In that case, I need not move my Amendment.

LORD SHACKLETON moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, leave out line 20.

The noble Lord said: I rise to move the Amendment standing in my name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, the Royal Scottish Geographical Society President, the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook (who is wholly with us in spirit, but unfortunately has been ill; we wish him an early return) and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I apologise for being rather short on the subject of the dockyards, but it was because the dockyards had, as I understand it, been subject to the Mallabar Inquiry that I felt the two matters should be separate.

I think I should apologise to the Committee in that only three days ago the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, and I had a letter in The Times on this subject. I may say that, in principle, I prefer us to conduct our debates in the House rather than in the newspapers. It was purely the accident of chance that the Government suddenly announced a change of policy that, whereas our letter originally was intended to relate to the earlier correspondence, it got overtaken by events. I am bound to say that the letter to The Times did actually have rather more effect in the first instance than just putting down the Amendment. But I should not wish to suggest that we should always conduct our debates in advance in the newspapers.

My Lords, this Bill has had a strange history and if I may dwell on it for a little while it may save time later. It was introduced in the Commons under the Second Reading Committee arrangements by which it did not have a Second Reading on the floor of the House. The Second Reading Committee took place at a time when Hansard was not being printed, and therefore nobody knew what was said in that Committee. The Standing Committee in another place lasted exactly two minutes, being devoted to congratulating the Chairman of the Committee on his brilliant handling of the proceedings; and it was not until midnight, during the very final stages of the Bill, that a number of noble Lords woke up to the significance of this proposal. Part of my complaint to the Government in this connection is the way in which this has been introduced, and —I will not say the deliberate secrecy with which these matters were dealt with, but the absence of open Government which we have been advised by this Government and by previous Governments would he their practice. They said this when in Opposition but tend to forget it when in Government.

It is a fact that the particular proposals have led to a major controversy in the scientific world, and not only in the scientific world but among those who use maps, who failed to find much Parliamentary recognition until we came to our Second Reading debate here. I would say that, partly as a result of pressure by a number of bodies—the Royal Society and practically every professional body one can think of in the country, the Ramblers' Association, the Youth Hostel Association and an almost inexhaustible list of people who are concerned with maps and the two societies with which the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, and I are connected—and partly perhaps as a result of a rather unsatisfactory questionnaire which was sent out, the Government backed down on two proposals that they had made; namely, that the future of the 2½ inch map would depend on the numbers of copies and the editions would depend in effect on the degree of public support and the tertiary levelling would disappear as a routine service and become a repayment service.

One of our difficulties has been that we do not know how those decisions were reached, and although one is very gratified that there appears to have been a complete reversal of policy it is disturbing that all we know is that there was a review within the Department—apparently an internal management review. The Government may say that they did not concern themselves with the particular matters that I am talking about—the 1/25,000 map or the matter of the tertiary levelling. If that is so, of course I will accept it but we do not know how two suggestions of such a serious nature should be announced, in effect, as Government policy—and I have the quotations here—without any consultation other than apparently what went on within the Department. We welcome this change of policy, and indeed it is arguable that we have gained most of what we wanted when we criticised these proposals in the first instance, but I am bound to say that if that policy had been carried through it would have meant the end of tertiary levelling and even now we do not know what the density will he.

It is clear that the Government still intend to continue with their policy of commercialisation of the Ordnance Sur- vey. I welcome the statement of the Secretary of State that they will still continue to provide a public service, but at the same time Mr. Rippon said this—and I quote from the Press notice which was issued at the time of their letter to the Royal Society which was also issued to the Press, but I do not think was published: the more commercial approach announced in February this year would be pursued". He went on to add this: This did not mean that services which could not be made to pay and for which there was no generally acceptable substitute would necessarily be abandoned. Services provided by Ordnance Survey which were in the public interest to continue would still be made available with, where necessary, Exchequer support. This represents a fundamental change of policy, and it will be fair to the Government to argue that they have adopted this change of policy even though the Ordnance Survey is still not financed by a trading fund.

I must comment further on this because the Government are inclined to regard the trading fund device as essentially a managerial device which does not necessarily affect policy, that it is derived from Fulton and is really only another way of running the Ordnance Survey. But the coincidence of the change of policy with the decision to include the Ordnance Survey as a candidate in the Government Trading Fund Bill was bound to arouse suspicion. I am concerned, as indeed are many people who use maps, that the availability and cost of these maps is likely to be determined much more by a commercial approach.

It is not so very long ago that Sub-Committee E of the Estimates Committee in 1963 pointed out that an interdepartmental Committee in 1866 recommended that maps should not be sold at a price less than the cost of printing; that is to say, excluding the cost of survey. The first question I would ask the noble Lord is whether they intend to load part of the cost of the survey on to the maps. The recommendation from 1866 may be thought to be rather old-fashioned but it was in fact approved by the Treasury in 1931 and again in 1950 that the cost of survey would not be loaded on to the maps, but we now find a much more commercial approach.

Here again I want to suggest to the Government that a decision to set up a particular form of management affects the purposes of the particular operation. I have seen this time and again in industry where pressure has been growing all the time for accountable management, for proper cost allocation, for separate profit centres which have at times affected policy. I submit that if the Ordnance Survey is to be included among those to be financed by a Trading Funds Bill, it is of paramount importance that we should know the policy to be followed.

We have been told repeatedly that all the Government are doing is following Fulton, and that I, as the Minister responsible in a previous Government for Fulton, ought to be very pleased about this. I have gone back and looked at Fulton again, and the Government Trading Funds Bill does not follow the Fulton recommendation. The Fulton recommendations were either to have accountable management including trading accounts in Government or to hive them off entirely and the Minister is not even answerable for them in Parliament. They become like a nationalised industry. This is not going to happen with the Trading Funds Bill. I do not blame the Government for the decision they have taken, but they cannot plead Fulton as their justification for this. Furthermore, the Ordnance Survey is listed in an honest way by the Government in the Bill. I should like to ask the Government, since they have seen fit to include this, what are the assets of the Ordnance Survey and how they propose to value them, because that is required by Clause 2 of the Bill. Are they proposing that there will be an issue of public dividend on capital? What return do the Treasury expect from an organisation which at the moment depends for rather more than two-thirds of its expenditure on direct financing? I would submit that, before we come to any conclusion as to whether the Ordnance Survey should be included in the Bill, we should have an answer to these questions.

The truth of the matter is—and all Governments fall into this kind of trap at one time or another—that the Department concerned, looking for suitable candidates, because it is a popular idea nowadays that you can hive things off, have alighted on the Ordnance Survey as an obvious candidate. I agree that it is an obvious candidate; but when you consider it more closely it appears to be a rather unsuitable candidate, especially if the consequence of its being financed by a Government trading fund is the further commercialisation of the Ordnance Survey.

I do not think it is appreciated how wide a section of the general public uses maps, nor is it appreciated how far educationists depend crucially on maps. The only market survey information which is available from a study made not long ago suggests that the great majority of the two and a half inch map-users are in fact schools. But when we inquired whether the Department of Education, under the "customer-contractor principle", was to be the customer we were told that the Department was not at that moment really interested. Therefore I would submit that we ought not to alter this system until we have had a proper inquiry. The Institute of Geological Sciences feels the same, and so do many other bodies. It is necessary to point out that not only will this policy of the application of copyright to an area in which information is available only from Government sources have very serious implications, but it is also arguable that other services such as the Stationery Office might also be involved. For all I know, the Stationery Office or Parliament might try to get back the cost of the Hansard writers, and it may be that the Stationery Office ought to load the cost of some census-taking into the publication of those reports. I submit that we are going in a very dangerous direction if we are to charge for information which can be derived only from public and Government sources.

One effect of my Amendment, which is quite a moderate one—and there are two Amendments running together—is to strike out the Ordnance Survey from the list of candidates. The second effect, since it will still be possible to make the Ordnance Survey into the kind of creature to be financed by a Government trading fund, would be to require that there should be some form of inquiry and consultation, together with a report, before any Order is laid—because the Government still retain the power, even if my first Amendment is carried, to finance the Ordnance Survey by a trading fund. I was therefore proposing, in the words of the Bill concerning Maplin—because they are exactly similar—to require that there should be consultations and that those consultations should be published.

The Government have been alarmed by the agitation that is taking place. They have offered to the Royal Society that they should in fact be consulted and that they should have a committee which would represent scientific interests. But, of course, this goes very much wider than the scientists. It affects professional bodies—surveyors, engineers and others—who may not be represented, and it affects a wide range of people with public interest, such as youth hosteliers, travellers, mountaineers and others who enjoy the countryside. I hope, therefore, that the Government will be inclined to accept an Amendment which does not in any way destroy the purposes of the Bill but gives us what we have not so far received; namely, an inquiry similar to that carried out by the late Lord Davidson—and great tributes have been paid in your Lordships' House to the noble Baroness by those who have been concerned in this matter. That inquiry was carried out before the war, 35 years ago. I hope that the Government will be prepared to announce that there should be a similar inquiry, in which all those who are concerned, geographers and all the rest, will have a full opportunity to thresh out the matter, and that the Government will then state their policy before they in fact proceed to bring in an Order which we know could not be amended and indeed would not even come before this House, since it would come only before the House of Commons. I hope, therefore, that we shall make some progress on this matter to-day. I beg to move.


I wish to support all that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said. To Scotland, the knowledge of this Bill and it effect on the Ordnance Survey came somewhat tardily. As President of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, I am most grateful for the "tip off" given to me by the President of the Royal Geographical Society, which enabled me to make some remarks on the subject on the Second Reading of the Bill. When I returned to Scotland I found that there was considerable consternation at that time, particularly of course among geographers. It is normal for academics, when the month of August comes round, to go into a state of academic hibernation. The fact that quite a number of them took time off to consult and to organise a protest was significant of their feelings. This is all the more remarkable if your Lordships recall that geographers combine their vacations with an extension of their work and that this takes them very often into places of extreme scenic beauty and interest, and it makes them reluctant to put pen to paper.

I have prepared a very full speech, but I do not propose to deliver it. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has made a very clear statement of the reasons that lie behind these Amendments. Therefore, I shall dispense with most of my speech and merely add a footnote to one point made by the noble Lord about communications. This point may be made by the Government in the future. My suggestion—and it merely extends what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said—is that when such matters are contemplated, then before the Bill is drafted or the Order made there should be information given to the two societies involved—in this case the Royal Society of London and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. If these Societies are informed, they are in close touch with scientists, not merely those who are Fellows of their respective Societies but also with the scientists working in their areas in general. They can pass that information on to the bodies or professions concerned, the disciplines concerned, and they in turn can be put in touch with the Government Department that is considering such matters. Suitable scientific advice of a guaranteed decent quality can be given to the Government. If something like this had happened in the case we are considering there would not be the confusion which has arisen. It would not be too much to say that it has turned up a hornet's nest in the geographical circles in this country, and a lot of that would have been dealt with beforehand and we should have had a more satisfactory solution to this problem. I am not going to bore your Lordships any longer, there are others who wish to speak and I will let them do so.

5.41 p.m.


The noble Lord, Lord Balerno, said that the Government have stirred up a hornet's nest with this proposal. One has to remember that for every letter that appears in The Times signed by distinguished academics there are probably a thousand other people who are affected by these proposals and who have either not heard of the proposals or, if they have, would not dream of putting pen to paper and writing to The Times about them. Nevertheless, their interests are just as important as those of the academics. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, mentioned in passing people like the youth hostellers, and many others, who use the 2½ inch map and who would have been affected if it had not been for the concessions made by the Government, which I should like to welcome at this stage.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, that we have not gone far enough in merely recognising these concessions; we want to get written into the Bill some further safeguards that will ensure that we do not go too far down the road of making this organisation into a commercial operation which is entirely inappropriate for it. The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, said on Second Reading that the concept of a trading fund requires that a significant part of the operation of the organisation should be of a trading nature; whereas the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, reminded us this afternoon that two-thirds of the finances of the organisation we are discussing this afternoon comes from a Vote. So one can only draw one conclusion from these figures: the Government would intend, if the Ordnance Survey were made into a trading fund organisation, to reduce significantly the money coming out of the Vote. One cannot claim that only one-third represents a significant part of the total operation.

The solution that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has devised is a very useful one in enabling the Government, as it does, to avoid any loss of face. If we strike out the words "Ordnance Survey" from Clause 1 it is still possible for the Government, if they see fit, to make the Ordnance Survey into a trading fund under the omnibus subsection later, but they can only do so providing the inquiry has been undertaken which the noble Lord proposes to insert in the Bill later. This is only reasonable. Such an inquiry ought to apply, as is set out in the Amendment, not only to the Ordnance Survey but to any other organisation which is going to be affected in this way.

What are the Government trying to do? They are trying to save a few thousand pounds and, in my view, the only way that that can be done is by diminishing the quality of the service. There is a remarkable contrast: earlier this afternoon we were discussing a project on which the Government are merrily going to spend £1,000 million, while here we are arguing about the ways in which they might be able to save a few thousand pounds. It is "chicken-feed" and if the Government have any intention of reducing the quality of the service provided by the Ordnance Survey—and that would he the result of putting it into a trading fund—they ought to have second thoughts on it. They should accept these Amendments which do not prevent them from doing it if it appears desirable, but requires them to come forward with all the facts. We are supposed to have an open Government now; we see precious few signs of it. Here is an opportunity for the noble Earl who is going to reply to do more than pay lip service to that principle.

5.45 p.m.


I should like to support my noble friend Lord Shackleton and the others who have taken part so far in this debate. I do so because I have the honour to be the President of one of the senior amenity societies in Wales. We also are very much concerned with this matter. Naturally we would be entirely in favour of consultations taking place with the Royal Society of London and the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the two Royal Geographical Societies, but I would endorse the plea made by my noble friend Lord Shackleton that any consultations which should take place, if the Government, as I hope they will, accept these Amendments, should be extended to the wider public, who also use Ordnance Survey maps, particularly the large-scale ones. I always feel very happy indeed when I come across individuals or groups of people in our Welsh countryside who are sufficiently interested and intelligent to use the Ordnance Survey maps, because that means they are probably taking a serious interest in the countryside and are concerned to know about it and find their way intelligently around it. They should be warmly encouraged in their use of the large-scale map in particular, and we are glad to know that is being reprieved to some degree. I do not want to prolong the argument but simply to let the noble Earl, Lord Cowrie, know that there is widespread interest in this matter which is by no means confined to the professional people, the scientists and educationists. It is a very wide interest indeed. I hope that the noble Earl takes this matter seriously.


I rise to support these Amendments. I am not absolutely sure they go far enough. It is a remark, able and regrettable thing that the Government should apparently have decided provisionally upon a considerable change of policy regarding the financing of the Ordnance Survey without having held a proper inquiry beforehand. The Ordnance Survey is a scientific undertaking, dating back, as we have been told, to 1866, which is of the utmost importance from the point of view of scientists as well as those who are hikers and those who are concerned with the amenities.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, spoke about this as being only an attempt to save a few thousand pounds. It is a great deal more serious than that. The purpose of these Government Trading Funds, as the Bill says, is that they should pay their way taking one year with another. I am advised that the cost of the Ordnance Survey each year is something in the neighbourhood of £11 million; and what they obtain by the sale of maps and royalties charged to other map makers is somewhere in the neighbourhood of £4 million. Therefore there might be a considerable sum of money involved. I consider that it would be a serious change of policy if it were seriously intended to put the greater part of the cost of this scientific survey upon those, whether Government Departments or private individuals, who buy maps, whether the maps are published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office or by private individuals who no doubt pay some small royalty.

The original announcement by the Director-General of the Survey, made with the authority of the Secretary of State for the Environment, also proposed the abolition of tertiary bench-marks and the discontinuance of the publication of the 2½ inch map. We very much rejoice that there has been a change in the Government's policy; but it makes one wonder why it was that these proposals were originally made. It appears that there was an inquiry conducted in the privacy of the Department of the Environment. I do not think it would be at all satisfactory if a conclusion were arrived at upon a matter of this importance if only the opinions of the learned societies, and I hope the amenity societies for whom I speak, were to be consulted about it.

Reference has been made to the Davidson Committee which reported in 1938. I understand that it was as a result of the recommendations of that Committee that the 2½ inch map, which I believe was of immense value to the Armed Forces during the war, was introduced. Similarly, they also recommended a 1/1,250 scale map for towns only. The whole of the administration of town and country planning has been immensely simplified by the publication of this very large scale map, and the report of my lamented noble friend Lord Davidson in 1938 was the kind of comprehensive study of the whole matter which I think provides a precedent, and I very much hope that before the Government come to any conclusions about making any fundamental change in the present organisation and scope of the Ordnance Survey they will set up a committee similar in scope and authority to that over which my late noble friend presided and which produced such valuable recommendations in 1938.

As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has pointed out, this Amendment does not prevent the Government from implementing this policy if, after due consideration, it is found to be the right one. It only removes the power from subsection (2) of Clause 1, but it can still he included under paragraph (g) on page 2; so that it is a moderate Amendment and indeed, as I have said, I am not quite sure that it goes quite far enough. Certainly I hope that the Government will respond to what has been the view of every speaker this afternoon, representing as we do a great variety of interests. I hope that the Government will respond.


My Lords, most of what I wanted to say has now been said, but may I just add these words in support of the two Amendments. First, as has been stressed already, the public demand for the services of the Ordnance Survey is much wider than is commonly recognised and by no means limited to hikers and pleasure seekers. Industrial location decisions are taken by companies on the basis of maps. At this moment there are proposals for industrial development of great significance for the North West of Scotland around Loch Eriboll and elsewhere. That is an area which is still without the 2½ inch to a mile map. Indeed, 60 per cent. of Scotland is still without such a map, so that had there been any temptation to cut back on it, which at one time there was, it would have been very, very serious and would have caused serious damage to the economy.

The maps are required for environmental planning, they are needed for the now common, and increasingly common, discussions of land use; they are needed for the containment of pollution, and they are needed for archaeological research. I agree with my noble friend Lord Molson. My only complaint about the second Amendment standing in the names of Lord Shackleton and Lord Balerno is that I am not quite sure it goes far enough, because the scope of paragraph (g) of subsection (3) of Clause 1 is really rather frightening. Some 130 years after the Geological Survey was established we still do not have a 6-inch geological survey map, in both solid and drift editions, for all parts of Britain, let alone an aeromagnetic survey. Can we be quite certain, as things stand with this Bill, that the Meteorological Office responsible for research in geophysics may not one day find itself a candidate for a trading fund? Are we quite certain that this will not happen to the National Environment Research Council's research into solid mass, inland waters and the oceanographical work of the seas and oceans? These might equally well become targets for the predators of the Treasury masquerading under the pleasing guise of a trading fund. On these matters we must be willing to do battle. Therefore I appeal to the Minister to accept at any rate the spirit of this Amendment, particularly that spirit which would affect paragraph (g) of subsection (3) of Clause 1. This is very serious. It is a wide-ranging Bill as it stands, and everybody who is concerned with geography in the widest sense, human, political, physical or whatever, must surely range themselves behind these Amendments and should, I think, express gratitude to the noble Lords, Lord Shackleton and Lord Balerno, for having set these Amendments off.

5.57 p.m.


I wish to support the Amendments to both clauses. In order to be brief I read from notes. If the Ordnance Survey is included in this Bill it could lead to a disintegration of other existing organisations, such as the Institute of Geological Sciences, who are identified, as is the Ordnance Survey, as public services. They are both connected and concerned with maps. This may be art opportunity to emphasise once more the vital importance to our economy of the work done and to be done in the near future by the Institute of Geological Sciences. Many times in the last eight years I have tried to draw the attention of the Government concerned to the need of a far more thorough geological survey than has yet been done in depth and area of our mineral resources. If the income available for such surveys is to depend on the sale of maps we shall be in a sad mess.

We who are concerned with the extractive industries are aware of the excellent work done with limited resources by the geological surveyors, but they have yet to be given adequate tools to finish the job. The practical work has to precede map-making. It is not a question of profit-making on maps. This is information we must have of all the mineral resources in this country. The total of present information is very inadequate and seems in danger now of becoming less. Some twenty-seven years ago my noble friend Lord Shinwell established the Mineral Development Committee, which sat for two and a half years and of which I was a member. In one of our early meetings we met officials of the Geological Survey and we learnt that their only drilling tool was an 11 ft. auger hand-drill. At that time holes thousands of feet deep were being drilled in South Africa and America. We were able to recommend better, but still not adequate, equipment; but if we had not taken action who knows other than that the 11 ft. auger hand-drill would still he their drilling equipment to develop a science which was even then 100 years old.

There is still not anything like sufficient awareness of the need for support for a large-scale geological survey to ensure our future. If we are to rely oil profits on maps we deserve to he the laughing stock of other nations. We need an urgent full-scale inquiry into the future of the Ordnance Survey and the functions of the Institute of Geological Sciences, and all undercover action by the Department of the Environment or any other Department should be suspended. The publication of vital map series must not be allowed to be dependent upon market sales support, and certainly not the services rendered by the Ordnance Survey and the Institute of Geological Sciences. There is more than one aspect to profit motives, and the profits which may be derived from map sales are insignificant in comparison with having available scientific information on our dwindling resources. I would even go so far as to say that these maps should be free. That would be a real public service.

6.3 p.m.


I should like to emphasise the anxiety which I share with my noble friend Lord Shackleton concerning the impact of the trading fund upon the policy of an institution like the Ordnance Survey. I personally believe that if we introduce trading fund activities into this form of organisation it is bound to change its character, and I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that this is the finest —and I emphasise the words "the finest"—Ordnance Survey in the world. It has set standards of survey for the world and it would be a sad day if we were to lose the identity of this institution.

Others have spoken about the impact of maps upon our daily lives and I will not dilate upon their scientific merits, because others can do it just as ably, or more ably. I should like to point out that the impact of a map upon any country is its accuracy and there are no maps in the world produced more accurately than those produced by the Ordnance Survey. I am absolutely sure that if we were to introduce some kind of commercialisation into this, some kind of reduction in the standards of cartography would be introduced because of the cheaper or more rapid form of production. Therefore, I join with my noble friend in asking the Government to delete the Ordnance Survey from this list because it is a centre of excellence that this country can still happily afford. Even if we do not want to advance that argument, it is a centre of excellence that this country cannot do without because it sets a standard of accuracy upon which the law of the land must ultimately be based.

6.5 p.m.


I understand that it will be in accordance with the feeling of the Committee if I address myself to both Amendments, and although the hour is late by the early standards of our Session, and I promise not to be very long. I think it would be wrong of me to restrict myself simply to the Amendments and not to answer some of the points made in this debate, because feeling in the Committee has been so very strong. Since so much of the discussion on the Bill has been focused on the Ordnance Survey, I should perhaps start by making it clear why the Government included it in the list of "possibles" in the Bill, and I know it was this original inclusion that caused concern to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition and to others.

The announcement made by the Secretary of State in February made clear that we fully accept the fact that the Ordnance Survey has a national role to play, and a very important role indeed, as all speakers have suggested. The Government unconditionally accept that there will be a number of services of the Ordnance Survey which it is desirable on public service grounds to maintain, and we accept this not only in cases where they cannot recoup their costs from receipts—and we must remember that they make charges at present; this is not something being foisted upon them —but also where it is considered desirable, again on public grounds, that these services should be sold at a price below cost in order to remain widely available. The Secretary of State's decision on the 2½ inch map, which I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and others, welcome, surely bears out this point. But this decision is not inconsistent with a trading fund, provided that the support for particular services can be in the form of specific payments, from, for example, the Department of the Environment's Vote for specific work done. It would not work if the payment had to be in the form of an open-ended subsidy. I am genuinely sorry that the suspicions of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, were aroused, I believe needlessly, and I am genuinely pleased that the decision went his way.

I do not wish to assume the wounded air of one who has been stung by a hornet, as I think my noble friend Lord Balerno suggested, but I cannot emphasise too much that we must be clear that trading fund financing is not a goal; still less in absolute terms is it a policy; nor is it really about commercialisation, as the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, a distinguished geologist, feared. It is a method of setting up the financing of certain suitable organisations. It assists accountable managements, which is to do with running the organisations in such a way as to define and allocate the personal responsibility of the men and women who manage them. In other words, it reduces one kind of facelessness—something I am sure we could all agree to find efficient as well as humane. It finances them, secondly, in such a way as to make it possible for the items of work of such organisations—their "output", in the jargon—to be measured in appropriate relation to costs and use of capital. To do that helps the defining of tasks as well as letting the taxpayer know clearly where public money may be needed.

The Government's view is that there could well be advantages in terms of public accountability and of the internal management of the Ordnance Survey, if a trading fund were introduced and a clear distinction was made in the accounts and system of financing between what services were supposed to be managed on a commercial basis, and what services should be provided as a public service. But, as I explained on Second Reading, it may be several years yet before developments in management and accounts now in progress enable the Government to take a firm decision on this.


Before my noble friend leaves that point, I wonder whether he would explain how it is possible to avoid conducting it on a strictly commercial basis, in view of the wording of Clause 4, which imposes upon the responsible Minister that in the discharge of his functions in relation to the fund it should be his duty— (a) to manage the funded operations so that the revenue of the fund is not less than sufficient, taking one year with another, to meet outgoings which are properly chargeable to revenue account".


I think I can make two points on that. First, as I said, it may be some time before the Government even consider it appropriate to suggest that trading fund financing would be suitable for the Ordnance Survey. In terms of the mechanics of trading and financing generally these are questions of accounting to do with one section of public money being used and accounted for in such a way as to provide the maximum clarity as to what areas should, as it were, be profitable, and what areas should be provided as a service. I do not think that this is really in any way underhand or inconsistent because, after all, many Government operations already operate on grounds of profitability, as the noble Lord knows. As I said, I wanted to deal with the concern and criticism about consultation since the Secretary of State's Statement in February. I must emphasise that the Statement made by my right honourable friend last February was seen by us as the beginning of a process of consultation about the future activities of Ordnance Survey. It marked the completion of a review of the management system for Ordnance Survey, not a review of the individual map series. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that that was the case, as I think he asked if that was so.


My Lords, if I may interrupt, how does the noble Earl square the argument that it is part of consultation just to announce that the tertiary levelling will become a repayment service? Also, how was this decision taken? We know that it was not taken by the Committee. We do not know how the decision was arrived at; but it was announced as a policy decision. I do not want to make life difficult for the noble Earl because I think it will be difficult for him for a time.


My Lords, it is a feeble answer to say that I am coming to that, but if the noble Lord will bear with me to the end of my speech, he will find that the Government recognise, as I have done, that there was concern and that they propose to do something about it. We feel that some of this concern was misplaced. I do not wish to delay the House by reading out the published material, but if the noble Lord will look at the February Statement of the Secretary of State, the Statement which in fact set the hornets out of their nest if you like, he will find what I have said about this Statement being the beginning of a process of consultation borne out. A review was to be undertaken by the Department about the needs of the public sector for maps. I do not think this was an unreasonable way to carry on.

My Lords, the first two aims of the Ordnance Survey specified by my right honourable friend re-affirm the continuing national role of the Survey as envisaged by the Davidson Committee. May I say how glad I was to see the wife of the noble Lord, Lord Davidson, my noble friend Lady Northchurch, listening here to-night and say what tribute we would all make to the work of her husband in this field. This Statement also laid stress on the surveys taking account of the needs of users and in particular of making sure that any service justified on public service criteria met those needs. I presume we are all agreed that there is no point in continuing a public service unless it does meet such needs. The Statement was immediately followed by a very extensive, wide-ranging inquiry into user needs directed particularly in the first instance to three Ordnance Survey products or services where it had become clear there was a need to identify more clearly the extent and nature of the needs before deciding on the future form of the products and services concerned. The response to the questionnaires which formed the basis of the inquiry was encouraging. I think the noble Lord's words in The Times were a little deprecatory about questionnaires. But I should have thought that this was a reasonable way of ascertaining views. There was a marked level of response, and information was provided in detail. The information from the inquiries enabled the Secretary of State to take decisions in principle that the 2½-inch map series and the tertiary benchmark service should continue. The review is now virtually complete, and the work of detailed analysis of the requirements of both public and private sectors has begun. Only when this work is completed will it be possible to take decisions on the detailed specifications of the maps and services in question.

My Lords, perhaps here I may deal with the question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, as to the cost of the survey in terms of map prices. The decision to recover part of the cost of the survey in the price of the maps was taken by the Labour Administration in 1967 as part of the cost of expanding the Survey's activity. I see no reason in logic in not recovering the survey costs where one can. I emphasise the last point of that rubric. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for the formidable weight he successfully brought to bear on these decisions, but I cannot accept that there was any lack of open government in this matter. Indeed, with admittedly far less experience than the noble Lord. I would say the story provides something of a textbook case of open government.

At this point I should like to make reference to a question asked by my noble friend Lord Balerno. I do not wish to delay the House by reading out already published material, but if my noble friend will read my right honourable friend the Secretary of State's letter of October 2— and I would be delighted to send it to him if he has not got it—especially the last paragraph, some of his fears about consultation with other bodies may be laid. I will undertake myself to see the consultative process extends, as I believe it now does, to Scotland as well. It would be most inappropriate for me, with a Scots name, to stand here and refuse to do that.

My Lords, I come now to charges for public information, another item which bothered the noble Lord, Lord Shackle-ton, both in The Times and in this debate. The noble Lord suggested that there was something wrong in the principle of the Government charging for providing information that can come only from central Government services, and in particular in the idea of royalty payments from commercial map publishers. There may well be a case to argue that in the case of information acquired by Government as an essential part of the actual process of Government, no charge should be made for making the information available. I am not sure that I would accept this in its entirety. In particular, there would seem to be a strong case for expecting the user to pay at least the costs of putting the information in a form suitable for publication. But I concede the noble Lord's case. This argument would not seem to me to extend to cases where the information is not collected by the Government for its essential purposes, but because it is considered that a Government body is in a better position to do the work than a private one. The large-scale survey work of Ordnance Survey is surely in this latter category. In such cases the arguments as to how far the costs should be carried by those who benefit from the service and how far by the general taxpayer need to be looked at on their merits. We must remember, as I think perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, did not, that charges for Ordnance Survey services already exist. It is surely right because there are many bodies making use of the services—lawyers, estate agents and the construction industry generally—who can afford them.


Why does the noble Earl say I have forgotten? Of course, everybody knows that when the Ordnance Survey provides a particular service for a particular purpose it will charge for this service. I have not argued that.


My Lords, perhaps I was being a little hard on the noble Lord. Let me say that I did not think he mentioned this or brought it out in his argument. There are always more worthy candidates for Government support than resources available and it is essential that those resources should be applied to those things that have the greater priority. I do not believe that scrutiny of my remarks will suggest that the Government give anything but high priority to the work of the Ordnance Survey. Questions on valuation of assets are still being considered, but under the arrangements they will be brought to Parliament on the Draft Order, and the same applies to considerations of public dividend capital.

My Lords, I must come quickly to the functions and financing of the Survey. In considering this matter, it is important that we should recognise that there are three issues which have tended to be confused—what an organisation should do, how it should be managed, and how it should be financed. Most of the discussions on the Ordnance Survey have been concerned with the first; that is, what an organisation should do. But this Bill is primarily concerned with the last. The questions about the criteria which determine the standard of service which it provides are the ones which are of clear concern to the users of the service and where consultation has a very important role to play. There are then separate questions of what its relationships to Ministers should be and what management system and accounts are required. Finally, there is the question of how it should be financed. These are the questions which Parliament will need to consider when a draft Order for a particular trading fund is laid before them.

In spite of, I hope vigorously and accurately, defending the fact that the Government's feelings are a little bit hurt about charges of lack of open government on this question, we acknowledge the genuine disquiet which has been expressed about the form of consultation in this case, even as we feel that it was perhaps a little over-emphatic and a little misplaced. We are, therefore, prepared to accept the spirit underlying the Amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and my noble friends Lord Balerno and Lord Cranbrook. May I say how much we all wish that Lord Cranbrook will soon be back with us.

First, so far as the future functions of Ordnance Survey are concerned, the Government propose to publish a review document in the coming months. This will first explain more fully the reasons behind the statement of aims of Ordnance Survey set out by the Secretary of State last February. It will then summarise the results of the recent consultations on three specific activities and the Government's decision on them. Finally, it will outline the continuing arrangements for Ordnance Survey to establish the needs of users, including consultations with the appropriate professional bodies. In this connection the Royal Society have welcomed the Secretary of State's proposal for improving arrangements for Ordnance Survey to be made aware of the requirements of scientific interests. I hope that also will allay the fears of my noble friend Lord Balerno. I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State would welcome other suggestions for improved consultation on a continuing authoritative basis from other professional bodies. Perhaps I should say here to the noble Lord, Lord Arwyn, that my information is that the Institute of Geological Sciences and the Ordnance Survey are altogether things apart, but I will relay what he said to the Secretary of State for the Environment. This review document we are proposing could, subject to consultation through the normal channels here, provide an opportunity for a debate by your Lordships.

Secondly, so far as the future method of financing the Ordnance Survey is concerned, the Government propose that the Bill should be amended on Report to achieve essentially what is envisaged by noble Lords' Amendments. The effect would be that if the Government decided to proceed with the trading fund for Ordnance Survey, or for any other part of government which was largely concerned with providing a service to the general public, it would carry out the appropriate consultations and it would lay the results at the same time as it laid the draft Order.

I should, perhaps, finally, explain why I am suggesting tabling an alternative rather than accepting noble Lords' Amendments as they stand. First, I am advised that in the usual way in some small manners they are technically defective. Secondly, they would impose a duty of consultation in respect of all trading fund bodies that may be proposed under the general power. While I accept that this would be appropriate in those cases where an organisation provides a substantial service to the general public, such as is the case under discussion, it is not really appropriate in those cases where a trading activity is primarily within Government. The list of named candidates shows that the former are likely to be the exception rather than the rule.

My Lords, I have welcomed this Committee stage and these speeches as a continuing part of the review process that we have mentioned, and I hope that, in view of the very firm assurances I have given, the noble Lord will not press his Amendments at this stage.


There are several aspects of the noble Earl's speech on which I should like to comment. I should like him to clarify one point. Would he say again precisely what it is he is proposing should be laid in the event of a decision to go ahead with an Order on the Ordnance Survey? He said it would be laid in the same way as an Order, at the same time. This is not the purpose of my Amendment, and, furthermore, Orders under this Bill are only laid before another place.


I think I can dispose of this best and quite briefly by saying that we are genuinely anxious to meet the noble Lord's proposals. For reasons I gave, we wish to do this by Government Amendment. This will, of course, be subject to fullest discussion here, and I am anxious to study carefully what the noble Lord has said, just as I am sure he is anxious to study what the Government's case is. I am sure we can meet the spirit of the noble Lord's Amendments at Report stage. I do not think it is unreasonable to ask that we should wait until that stage.


This is very crucial, because what in effect the Government are asking me to do is to withdraw my Amendment and not move the second Amendment. I remember the experience on the Nature Conservancy Bill where the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, pressed on and defeated the Government and ensured that we got the right Amendment. None the less I must accept—and I do—the statement of the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, that he means this fully and fairly, but with this condition. After all, the Ordnance Survey may not be subject to a trading fund, as he says, for several years. I would prefer there to be a proper inquiry now. I cannot see why the Government do not go ahead and agree to appoint a Davidson-type committee. I nearly used those words in the Amendment, but I thought it better to use words which the Government were likely to appreciate because they were taken from one of their own Bills, the Maplin Bill. But the noble Earl must be quite clear that I would not be satisfied, nor I think would my noble friends be, unless the Amendment called for a full-scale inquiry, and the results laid before both I louses of Parliament. The idea of it being laid like an Order fills me with horror, because it is the delegated legislation procedure which is so extremely unsatisfactory.

Increasingly I wonder whether Parliament is capable of doing its job properly. I had thought of putting down an Amendment to provide the sort of procedure for sending such matters, the Order in draft, to a Select Committee. But it is the custom that we do not in legislation, as a rule, make arrangements with regard to our own procedure. Sooner or later Parliament will have to face this. Therefore, I am really very disquieted about this matter. I think in Parliament we have got to face our responsibilities, especially when we find that, owing to pressure of business, another place misses out entirely on a matter of this kind.


I wanted to make sure that the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is not going to agree to withdraw his Amendment before he sits down. I think we must have a further explanation, and I should like to make a few points about it.


I assure the noble Lord that I was not intending at this moment to withdraw my Amendment, because I still need some further satisfaction on the conditions and I was dealing with some of the points.

The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, made a powerful speech. I hope he will not take it amiss if I say that I have heard management consultants about ten years ago making similar speeches. It really makes me very sad to hear this type of management jargon, which I know is not in accordance with the noble Earl's nature, determining how we proceed with a matter of this kind. I should like to make it clear that all our remarks here are in admiration of the Ordnance Survey. I should not wish their distinguished Director General, General Irwin, to feel that there is the slightest criticism of him, but there has come into industry and government this fashion of allocation of costs, and it can be carried too far.

I shall have some further remarks to make on whether the clause shall stand Part of the Bill. I shall be interested to hear whether my noble friends are prepared to accept this assurance. Even now I do not think that there is a full appreciation of what the effect of charging for information is. We have seen earnings from royalties going up steadily. I am told that at the time when I was in the last Government we agreed to a major reversal of policy on allocation of survey costs. I must take my responsibility for that, though obviously I did not know about it. But who does know about these things? This is what is worrying. Ministers do not always know what is happening. The loading of charges is going to have a serious effect, and the application of copyright is already leading people to break the law. They are not sure whether they are breaking the law. If you reproduce an Ordnance Survey map, or get some friend with the equipment to do so, and have not got a licence, you are liable to a royalty charge. There is need for a major investigation of the whole situation. We are going down a path—not followed by the United States, where these matters are wholly, and remain, in the public domain—which can lead us into trouble, without sufficient gain in return. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, is going to speak, but I should like to know more closely what the assurance will be.

6.33 p.m.


I have always noted that Treasury counsel, the draftsmen of Bills, are resentful and reluctant to accept any Amendment drafted by laymen. On many occasions they are able to show that their arcane craft is not fully understood in all its ramifications, and therefore at the Report stage a different form of words is introduced. Frequently that is justifiable, but sometimes I very much doubt whether it arises from anything except professional pride. We are now considering an Amendment which is "leave out line 20". Line 20 says: (e) the Ordnance Survey; If we go on to paragraph (g) we find that the Government would obtain power that this Act applies to the following Crown services. Paragraph (g) then says: any other service, managed by a Minister of the Crown or a government department, in whose case the responsible Minister and the Treasury are satisfied that its operations consist of or include trading operations or operations in the nature of trading … My noble friend said that the reason he was not prepared to accept this Amendment, but would introduce an Amendment at the next stage, was because there was some technical defect in it. In the case of complicated Amendments there are frequently technical defects only understood by those familiar with the arcane craft of the Parliamentary draftsmen. I feel that we all ought to be able to understand what is the technical defect in this Amendment, which proposes only to delete the words "the Ordnance Survey".

6.35 p.m.


I think that the technical defects I had in mind pertained to the second Amendment. I take my noble friend's point about the arcane mysteries of Parliamentary draftsmen. Unfortunately they are as arcane and mysterious to me as I suspect they are to most Members of your Lordships' House. I think I should say that it has become somewhat of a convention to accept their word for it first, and then scrutinise what they put out second, and I do not think that that is reasonable. A little earlier in his remarks my noble friend Lord Molson asked me a question which I have not answered. Perhaps he would like me to answer it now. Section 4 does not preclude payments from votes for services as part of the revenue. If the noble Lord wishes me to return to him, or make way for him, I will, but at this juncture I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that we accept that the consultations should be laid before both Houses of Parliament—and I said earlier that it would be possible, through the usual channels, to debate them—in good time before any Draft Order, if need be, were laid. What I am asking the noble Lord to accept is that we like the spirit of his Amendments and are anxious to meet it.


After hearing the noble Lord, Lord Molson, I am tempted to say, "All right, we will move the first Amendment because nobody can quibble about the meaning, and we will await the Government's Amendment and see how it does". My instinct, as always, is to co-operate with the Government. They have had a rotten time the last two or three days. They have been beaten in practically every Division, even when the Opposition were voting for them. I quite agree that they did all right to-day, and their morale must be a little restored. I shall be interested to know what the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, has to say before I ask leave to withdraw my Amendments, which it is my inclination to do. If, as has happened, the noble Lord, Lord Molson, or any other noble Lord wishes to refuse that leave, then we will take it to a Division.


We are not fighting for the exclusion of the first Amendment, because accepting the spirit of all the noble Lord's Amendments means that this would be excluded from the Bill. We are suggesting that we believe that we can meet the objections of noble Lords very fully by putting down a Government Amendment on Report. Since we can discuss this matter fully on Report, and since leave may be refused on Report, I cannot see why we should not leave it until then.


My Lords, I have followed my noble friend's argument very clearly, and he has made the point that he intends to do this. Therefore, quite obviously the Government will accept the Amendment, and then the matter can be put right on Report, simply amplifying it. So I recommend that we should not withdraw this Amendment.


I feel in somewhat of a difficulty. I think I must tell the noble Lord on this point that I wish to be helpful. Since permission to withdraw an Amendment can be refused, I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.


Before the noble Lord sits down, may I say that if it is the will of the House that the Government accept this Amendment, they are quite prepared to do so.


The first Amendment?


The first Amendment.


Then I do not withdraw it.

6.40 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 1, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?


There are quite a lot of things I should have liked to say on Clause 1, because it may be that we shall have to put down a rather exceptional Amendment on Report stage; that is to say, either to leave out Clause 1, which one should not really do on Report stage, or to leave out, say, "the Stationery Office"—because, again, I would be interested to know how this Bill is to apply to some of the other candidates. I must say that I should have quite liked to continue the managerial argument, but I think it would be a mistake to do it now, and therefore I merely mention that I may wish to say something more on Clause 1. We shall be coming on later to the second Amendment; and it may be that other noble Lords will want to speak about some of the very mysterious other clauses, which really do need quite a lot of explanation.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 2 to 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Orders]:

LORD SHACKLETON moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 6, line 4, at end insert— ("Provided that, in relation to an order under Section 1(3)(g) above, before making such an order the responsible Minister shall consult with such persons as appear to him appropriate, and shall lay a report of the consultations and of his conclusions in respect of each service before Parliament.")

The noble Lord said: I think I should move this second Amendment formally at this point as we have discussed it, in case the noble Lord, Lord Molson, wishes to carry it into the Bill; but if I rightly understand it, this is the area in which the Government will meet us, and since I do not think this particular form of words has any merit except that it follows precisely the Government draftsman's drafting, I can think of a much better Amend- ment and I shall hope for that from the noble Earl. I beg to move in order to enable any noble Lord who wants to speak to do so.


The Amendment proposed is: page 6, line 4, at end insert the words printed on the Marshalled List.


If no noble Lord wishes to speak to my Amendment, I ask leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [The Mint]:

On Question, Whether Clause 7 shall stand part of the Bill?


I should like to ask for an explanation of the drafting of this clause. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the Master of the Mint. This clause says: For purposes of this Act the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to be regarded as the Minister responsible for the administration of the Mint", and it provides that the concurrence of the Treasury shall not be required for the making of Orders. In view of the position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as the de facto head of the Treasury, even if the Prime Minister be also the First Lord of the Treasury, is it not unnecessary to make this special provision, which apparently is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not have to agree with himself in proposals that he puts forward?


I agree that we seem to have a somewhat Heath Robinson arrangement here, but there is an explanation and I will do my best to make it clear to my noble friend. Subsection (1) of the clause makes it clear, as he pointed out to us, that for the purposes of this Act the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the responsible Minister for the Mint. This clarification is necessary because Section 4(1) of the Coinage Act 1971 provides that the Chancellor shall be the Master of the Mint; that is to say, an officer of the Mint. It is most unusual for the Chancellor to be named in an Act, statutory powers being vested in the Treasury; that is to say, in the Board of the Treasury. But given the provisions of the Coinage Act, the present solution seemed to be simplest.


I am very much obliged to my noble friend.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with the Amendment.

First Class* Second Class*
Date Not over Charge Percentage Increase Not over Charge Percentage Increase
At 1st January, 1950 2 oz. 2½d. 2 oz. 1d.
At 1st June, 1951 4 oz. 1½d. 50
At 1st January, 1956 2 oz. 1½d.
At 1st June, 1956 4 oz. 2d. 33
At 1st October, 1957 1 oz. 3d 20 2 oz. 2d.
At 1st October, 1961 2 oz. 2½d. 25
At 17th May, 1965 2 oz. 4d. 33 2 oz. 3d. 20
At 16th September, 1968 4 oz. 5d. 25 4 oz. 4d. 33
At 15th February, 1971 4 oz. 3p 44 4 oz. 2½p 50
At 6th March 1972 2 oz. 3p 2 oz. 2½p
At 10th September 1973 2 oz. 3½p 17 2 oz. 3p 20
* The rates shown for the dates before 16th September 1968 were for the letter post and printed paper post. Use of the printed paper post was confined to specified articles in unsealed envelopes.