HL Deb 30 October 1985 vol 467 cc1555-6
Viscount Hanworth

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what were the causes of the faults in the newly-opened section of the M.25 motorway from Leatherhead and whether they are satisfied that the contract for the road was adequately supervised.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, this contract was supervised by a leading firm of consulting engineers and the contractor's agent. Under the provisions of the contract it is for the consultants to decide what were the causes and where the responsibilities lie. That decision will be binding unless referred to arbitration by either the department or the contractor.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that reply. I take it that what he is saying is that at the moment the matter is virtually sub judice, so he cannot answer my Question fully. Am I correct?

The Earl of Caithness

No, my Lords. I thought that I had answered the noble Viscount's Question; but we are awaiting the consulting engineers' decision.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, can the Minister please tell us exactly which contracting and consulting firms were involved, what public money was taken by them for the work that they undertook and what endeavours will be made to recover that public money for the taxpayer who provided it in the first place?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord has asked a number of supplementary questions which would provide an interesting debate in their own right. The consulting engineers for the Leatherhead-Reigate section were W. S. Atkins and Partners.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I note that the Minister's reply was in line with that given by his honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport in a Written Answer in another place on 22nd October. Is there any connection at all with the decision to transfer work from the department's construction units to private consulting engineers? I ask that question for this reason. Is the Minister aware that in a Department of Transport press statement on 4th October it is stated:

"During road building, the Department checks on the quality of work through the consulting engineer."

In addition to the Answer that the Minister gave just now, we find that the Minister of State, in another Written Answer, given in the other place on 24th October, said:

"We are considering the curtailment of some of the independent decision-making powers of the engineer (our consultant) in future road construction contracts".

What does that mean? What independent decisions are taken of which the department is unaware?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the contract for this particular section of the motorway was one designed by the Institution of Civil Engineers, and the conditions of contract (fifth edition) provide for the appointment of an independent engineer to supervise the works. We are looking at the whole question of the role of the consulting engineer. This is under discussion at the moment.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, before we become completely absorbed in the criticism of different points, is my noble friend aware that the virtual completion of this road is one of this country's major road achievements? It confers a very great benefit on not only the whole of the private travelling public. It is very much to the Government's credit that they put this work in hand and had it completed.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I was very pleased to read some of the press articles from people in nearby local towns who were delighted when the section was opened.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the Minister agree that what the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has said is absolutely true except that there is one fault in his submission? If that section of the motorway cannot be used by public transport or any other form of transport because it is unsafe and inadequate, there was no point in building it in the first place and there has been an excessive amount of money wasted. Can the noble Earl tell us which construction company built it? It is not to the credit of any Government to build a motorway that no one can use.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord is, of course, wrong. The section is open, traffic is using it and it is perfectly safe. The contractors started as Bovis-Birse. The Bovis section then sold out to a Mr. Farr under the terms of the contract, and this was allowed for.

Lord Broxbourne

My Lords, further to the supplementary question asked by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, is it right that this contract was entered into under the Institution of Civil Engineers conditions of contract, and will the arbitration provisions of that contract be followed, if need be, in this case?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, that is true.