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Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) : We have heard two speeches from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland--one last night and another this morning. This morning's included a lengthy discussion of the question of amnesty, in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman repeated the formal position. I have no time to make my argument in detail, but I was not reassured by what he said. He knows that law and practice are flexible on the issue of early release, which has been used in the past. It is not encouraging that, despite being invited on a number of occasions directly to address the question of early release, the Government have failed to do so. That is particularly significant in view of one of the misleading and mischievous statements that have been made by Garret Fitzgerald, which was repeated by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). I find it interesting to read the five pages that Garret Fitzgerald
Column 1216devoted in his memoirs to the meeting with Lady Thatcher in Milan, in which he alleges that an agreement was reached. A similar description of that meeting appears in Lady Thatcher's memoirs. The two discriptions are consistent--but wholly inconsistent with the view that there has been no agreement on early release.
misunderstanding--it never occurred to me that there were grounds for any. As the hon. Gentleman knows, a discretionary power exists to release on licence those who are serving life sentences. That will operate in precisely the same way and without any special dispensation being made by reference to the cessation of violence. As to determinate sentences, the hon. Gentleman knows that there is no similar provision.
While we are on the topic, it might be a good idea to look at the practice in England and Wales. It might be a good idea to assimilate it with that of Northern Ireland, or I shall not recommend one over the other--to a common standard, because the problem is common and there are prisoners on both sides of the Irish sea. There should be common treatment in that respect, too.
In his speech last night, the Secretary of State said two things that I want to touch on. On page 20 of his speech, he referred to a willingness to strengthen the law with regard to terrorism and give the police the resources that they need. We have heard statements like that before. I can remember a similar one last year shortly after the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary had publicly called for greater powers. I know that the RUC is still keen to see certain changes introduced, but they are stuck somewhere ; whether in the Home Office or the Northern Ireland Office we do not know. Let us clear that logjam and get them introduced.
Again in his speech last night, the Secretary of State referred to the continuing talks process. I am glad that he referred to continuing the present process rather than referring to some new grand round-table extravaganza. I noticed that he mentioned Her Majesty's Government making proposals to give focus and direction. We welcome that. I recall that, some 14 or 15 months ago during the inter-party talks of October or November 1992, we sought such a statement of Government policy and proposals. We urged the Government to get off the fence and put their cards on the table. We have been disappointed that, during that period, the Government have not done so. For long periods last year, it was frustrating to try to understand why there were occasional hints about proposals that would give focus and direction to the talks, but nothing ever happened. Of course, we now know the reason : for much of last year, indeed even now, the Government have been playing footsie under the table with the Provos. I understand the reasons why they started to do that, but they were naive in rushing into it in terms of their response to the February message and in their response to the Hume-Adams initiative. I hope that we will get past that. As we do, I hope that the Secretary of State will appreciate the extent to which the Government's actions on both fronts has weakened public confidence in Northern Ireland.
Column 1217There is still a need for the Secretary of State to address the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) put to him last December, when he asked what the Secretary of State was going to do to give our constituents renewed confidence in the integrity of Government and the direction of Government policy. There is still a need to rebuild the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland. I do not have time to go into detail, but it is my view that the Downing street declaration--understandably, I do not regard it as a balanced document--which is a response to the Hume-Adams-Reynolds initiative, is a diversion. It has distracted energy from the right way forward ; the continuation and intensification of the dialogue in which we have been engaged. I believe that that declaration, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) has said, will not receive a positive response from the Provisional IRA.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) posed certain questions to the republican movement about whether it was really interested in providing unity and consent. Of course, it is not. From its inception, the IRA has been interested only in coercion. It does not care about the views of the greater number of the people of Northern Ireland who wish to be part of the United Kingdom and who consider themselves British. It is concerned with the expulsion of those people from Northern Ireland. It is interesting that, on the rare occasions when the Provos let their guard slip on the matter, one hears references to the analogy of Algeria and the pieds noirs there. Anyone who has discussed such matters with republicans will find that once one probes a little bit, that idea is there. People who regard themselves as British will have no part in the Ireland that the IRA will have created ; indeed, they will not even be on the island if it has its way.
That is the reality and we should not disguise the fact. That reality will be acted out, or there will be a propaganda overlay. All this business about clarification is no more than propaganda. It is no more than an attempt by the IRA to divert blame from itself, partly because it fears the reaction in its own areas if it is seen to turn down the offer of peace, and the possibility of peace, but also so that it can maintain its connections and the relationship that it has established with the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and with the Irish Prime Minister.
There is another consideration. The Provos have fought what they say is a long war--they have been at it for 25 years--and are quite prepared to wait for another two years when they think that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) will be in a position to give them all that they want on a plate. His statements at the Dispatch Box today will have reinforced that belief. They are quite prepared to wait for what they think will be a Labour Administration. Even if there is a Labour Government I think that they will be disappointed, but I do not think that that hope should be offered to them. The actions and statements of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North on the matter are reprehensible. None the less, the Downing street declaration is a diversion. I hope that the Secretary of State's speech last night shows that we are getting away from it and back to
Column 1218the more sensible approach of trying to press forward and deal with the real issue, which is remedying the democratic deficit. The Secretary of State said today that the people of Northern Ireland will be supported by the Government while they remain part of the United Kingdom and will have all the entitlements of citizenship. No, we do not have those entitlements. We do not have any form of useful local democracy or administration ; we do not have any real say in decisions taken locally which affect us ; and we do not even have any real say in this House where, in terms of the legislative procedures adopted, we are second-class Members and second-class citizens in Northern Ireland. That must be remedied.
I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) expound the distinctions between consent in constitutional matters, not having a veto on policy and all the rest. That was interesting. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. It is not right that a party with four Members of Parliament--a party that represents such a small fraction of the United Kingdom electorate--should have a veto on restoring accountable democracy in Northern Ireland and proper procedures in this House. I hope that as we proceed we shall not hear the phrase, "Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed". It may have served a purpose, but it has had its day and I do not see it serving a purpose in the future. The hon. Member for Foyle is very fond of European comparisons. There is a lot of advantage in such comparisons and we could learn a great deal from the way in which the peoples of western Europe have resolved their problems on the basis of mutual respect and an absence of territorial claims. If we study closely the procedures of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, we can learn a great deal. Through the human dimension, developed since the Vienna conference of 1989 and reflected in the charter of Paris in 1990, a lot of work has been done to try to stipulate what should be the rights of national and ethnic minorities. We should adopt those standards. They have the advantage that they are not framed merely for our conditions but are the principles that the countries of Europe should apply. I notice that, for Finland, the CSCE talks not merely about having no territorial claims but about refraining from advancing any such claims and from hostile political propaganda. I am told that the Taoiseach, Mr. Reynolds, made another speech last night. I did not hear it and I have not read it, but a journalist told me this morning that in it he expounded his views on national self determination in terms of international law. Our reaction is, "Good!" I am glad that the Taoiseach is paying some respect to international law. I only wish that he would adopt it and bring his constitution and Government practice wholly into accord with it.
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam) : This debate is timely. Today's newspapers reported that Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said yesterday that he would not rule out the prospect of a ceasefire. That is welcome news. However, we must not judge members of Sinn Fein-IRA by their words--I judge them by their deeds. I have a permanent reminder of exactly what they stand for--a piece of shrapnel which I picked up after a housing estate
Column 1219in Dungannon had been mortar-bombed only a few weeks ago. I therefore need to be far more persuaded of the commitment of the Sinn Fein-IRA to peace.
My acquaintance with them last Monday, observing the Sinn Fein-IRA meeting sponsored by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), in the Jubilee Room here in the Houses of Parliament, did not persuade me that their remarks were at all sincere. That entire press conference was another cynical attempt to divert from the real issue. The message that everyone wants to hear is a date. When will they end their violence? A serious reference to that might have given Gerry Adams's remarks yesterday more validity.
As it was, the meeting left a deeply unpleasant memory for me. It was simply, as far as I could see, a cheap propaganda ploy--delaying tactics. The national chair-person, Tom Hartley--looking more like a bank manager than a man who sponsors terrorism--with an attractive escort, Joan O'Connar, gave an unreal impression of being there to discuss everything but the hidden catalogue of human misery that they have inflicted, causing more than 3,000 deaths. Last year, 84 people were killed and many more were maimed.
Never once did those people respond to my call to end violence. It was as if my intervention had never happened. I could have been reciting the telephone directory for all the response that they gave. Never once did they apologise for the grief and unhappiness that they have caused. They were utterly detached and unmoved. It was all so remote. They could have been people living on another planet, unconnected with the trail of terrorism that they have left behind. I wonder how much they want peace. If they did want it, they are perfectly capable, in their own brutal terms, of making their more extreme followers fall into line, as was shown by the 72- hour Christmas truce. Their sheer detachment was harrowing. It was clinical and polished. They praised the Hume-Adams document, but, when asked, "When will it be published?" they said, "We will do it at a date that suits us." Their vocabulary was littered with words such as "lying", "ridiculous refusal of the British Government", "bogus accounts", accusations that the British Government "falsified versions of exchanges" and allegations of "British Government
Column 1220duplicity". Further words-- "demilitarisation", "a withdrawal by the British"--by Mr. Hartley did not send signals of serious intent to promote any interest in ceasing violence.
The call by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield for "terminating British jurisdiction in Northern Ireland"--by 31 December 1999, as he detailed earlier this morning--did nothing to promote an illusion of a desire to end violence. It was more a case of surrendering to violence and terrorism. I found it nauseating to watch him, together with the hon. Member for Islington, North, sponsoring such a meeting. Neither of them cared a rap for the majority will of the people in Ulster.
How could those people hold a meeting in the very Parliament which the IRA have tried so hard to destroy? We were just 50 ft from the spot where Airey Neave was killed in his car coming up the car park ramp. Our walls bear tribute to colleagues here in Parliament who became victims of the IRA, such as Ian Gow and Sir Anthony Berry. The press conference was slick and odious. As for the document that Sinn Fein produced, claiming their own version of contacts with the British Government, I can only say that those who have studied it tell me that it is full of lies, innuendoes and deceit. In these difficult times, it is essential that we are guided by our heads and not by our hearts. We must be careful where we are treading and we must be under no illusions about the nature of the people with whom we are dealing.
The Downing street declaration should be supported by all those who are seeking peace in Northern Ireland. We have had power-sharing assemblies, conventions and all sorts of initiatives over the years, but at this stage, the people of Northern Ireland are crying out for peace. I am aware of the hypocrisy of the Provos, but--
It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Conway]
Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North) : I am grateful to have the opportunity to raise a matter of great concern to my constituents in Letchworth, Baldock, Ashwell, and especially Radwell. The objectors are led by somebody who normally says "Yes Minister"--Sir Humphrey Appleby, played by the actor Nigel Hawthorne. On this occasion, Nigel Hawthorne is saying, "No Minister" to the proposal for a motorway service area. In leading the objectors, he has said of the fight against the proposal :
"We're dealing with the big guns here and we're just the little people. It is Agincourt, if you like We're trying to save a wheat field".
The purpose of the debate is to ask my hon. Friend the Minister to do two things. The first is to explain the policy of de-regulation in the planning of motorway service areas, which has made that planning application possible and made the appeal necessary, and to reassure local residents such as Mrs. Meredith-Hardy in my constituency, a lifelong Conservative party member who said :
"Local people blame the Government for legislation that the Developers (speculators) loose on all of us."
Secondly, we seek assurances in the light of recent press comment that the Department of Transport and the Government have taken no action and will not take any action that would in any way pre-judge or undermine the absolute independence of the planning process, while the decision of the Secretary of State for the Environment is awaited. Can the Minister confirm what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment has informed me in writing, that it is essential that the Minister is impartial in the process and that all the arguments put forward by the objectors in my constituency, by the appellants and by the district council will be carefully considered before a final decision is made?
In considering the case, I shall set the scene. Within days of being elected, I was approached by the objectors, including Nigel Hawthorne and Mrs. Meredith-Hardy, who expressed strong objection to the proposal for a motorway services area. Certainly, at that stage, there was general agreement on the policy of deregulating motorway service areas. That was not being criticised. The site was the reason for the objection.
The site which has been put forward for the scheme is two miles from existing services--a Little Chef and a Happy Eater, with hotel accommodation--which could be developed as a motorway service area without any difficulty. The proposed site is a virgin site, on top of a hill, in open countryside, designated to be of scenic value and close to the small village of Radwell--with its lake and historic buildings--and to one of the most beautiful villages in north Hertfordshire, Ashwell, which has a high proportion of listed properties, and is known for its medieval history, for its springs and for its general beauty.
The objectors' second point was that there would be a huge increase in traffic through the villages to accommodate nearly 7,000 vehicles a day using that motorway services area. The next point was quite curious. Apparently, a water bore hole was necessary to service the new area. The extraction of excessive water could put Radwell's lake and the River Ivel at risk.
Column 1222The objectors also said that there would be noise at a level that they had never experienced before. Ambient noise in such a rural setting is obviously different from that which would occur from the manoeuvring of 7,000 vehicles through a nearby 12-acre site. The objectors were also concerned about floodlighting which could mean that Radwell might no longer have a night time. They were also concerned about pollution and the loss of countryside.
I have lived in north Hertfordshire for 13 years and I know the area well. In fact, my children and I feed the ducks on Radwell lake. After listening to the objectors, and having visited the site, I was so concerned that I took the matter up with the former Minister for Roads and Traffic, my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle). He sent me a reply in which he said :
"The Department continues to be consulted by local planning authorities about proposals affecting roads for which it is responsible, and the Radwell service area scheme was therefore referred by North Herts District Council for comment. The Department responded on 3 November, directing the Council to refuse planning permission on the grounds that the proposal would be incompatible with plans to improve the A1 and A1(M)."
As one might imagine, that reply was met with great excitement, joy and pleasure in Radwell and the surrounding villages and towns. It seemed that the scheme was not going to proceed. Nigel Hawthorne wrote to me saying :
"Sir Humphrey would have been extraordinarily proud of the style of writing, but I think I have managed to deduce the content." He want on to praise the Minister at length.
Shortly after that, there was another encouraging sign when the director of planning at North Hertfordshire district council wrote to me explaining the strong objections from all quarters. He said that he would recommend the refusal of the scheme at the planning committee on 27 January 1993. However, before that recommendation could be considered by the committee, it was pre-empted when the appellants appealed to the Minister in the Department of the Environment and the objectors had to prepare for a public inquiry. At that stage, the objectors were buoyant because they felt that they had the support of the Department of Transport, the county council, North Hertfordshire district council, every parish council and the thousands of people who had signed the petition and who had written letters of objection. However, shortly before the planning inquiry in June, the Department of Transport withdrew its objections and the county council decided not to appear.
Hopes that the matter was a formality and that it would be disposed of easily were dashed. Local residents realised that they had a fight on their hands. Throughout the period, I have made strong representations on behalf of the objectors to Ministers and to councils, as has the local Conservative councillor Mr. Andrew Young. The inquiry took five days and the inspector is currently completing his report. On 18 January 1993, in reply to my parliamentary question, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State for the Environment confirmed that the Secretary of State's decision on the planning application is due in April.
The inquiry cost local residents £35,000 in objecting to the scheme. On each day, more than 100 residents attended the inquiry, 25 on horseback. I believe they did that to highlight the rural nature of the area. At the end of the inquiry, local residents were feeling buoyant, having again expressed the objections which I have outlined.
Column 1223In October 1993, the Department of Transport became somewhat more popular when it became apparent that it was reviewing its national trunk roads programme, and it was hoped that the improvement of the A1(M) might not be accomplished quite as speedily as had been thought and that that might help even more. So it was, with the objectors in quite a buoyant mood, that, on 7 January this year, The Times published an article, which is the immediate reason why I asked for this Adjournment debate, which stated :
"Motorists who have to endure long motorway journeys without a break will be relieved by yesterday's announcement that 24 new service areas are to be built."
Above that article was a map showing the A1(M), Radwell and Letchworth. It went on to quote the views of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the improvements that would be provided for drivers.
One can imagine how that news was received in Radwell, Baldock and Ashwell, where people felt that all the work of protest was in vain and that the public inquiry was a waste of time and money. Some residents were so annoyed and depressed that they put their homes on the market because they did not want to be near such a development. The Department's press release does not give a ground for the comment in The Times that those service areas are to go ahead. Having read the press release and received answers from both relevant Ministers, it is clear to me that the point of the Department of Transport in the press release was that there was considerable enthusiasm in the private sector to accept the challenge of providing new motorway services and that many schemes have been proposed, four of which had received planning permission, not that the sites which were subject to the planning process would necessarily be chosen for that purpose. That opinion is proved by a detailed examination of the press release. It shows that three of the sites referred to on the M6 near Stone are mutually exclusive and that two of them on the M40 are the same, so it could not be the case that the Department was prejudging the issue and saying that all sites would go ahead. Anxiety in north Hertfordshire is such that, none-the-less, I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to make the position absolutely clear to people in north Hertfordshire who wish to read his comments. My constituents who are Conservative supporters and who genuinely welcome the deregulation of the planning of motorway service areas might need reassurance on the Government's policy.
There are two reasons for deregulating. First, we do not have enough motorway service areas to provide the ability to rest so that drivers are not drowsy and overstrained. Secondly, there is the risk, which has been highlighted by our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, of drivers pulling over to the hard shoulder, in desperation, to relieve themselves. If that risk is not met, there could be accidents or even disasters, particularly with children. Although I recognise the need for motorway service areas and for the policy, the site is wrong. I am not sure whether the southern end of the A1, with its substantial provision of Little Chefs, Happy Eaters and so on, is necessarily the type of area at which the policy was aimed. My constituent Nigel Hawthorne put it in his own way and said, "No, Minister." I agree.
Column 12242.43 pm
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Key) : I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising this issue in the House today and on his persistent, ever-courteous and thoroughly effective representations to me, my predecessor and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. I am grateful for the opportunity to put the record straight, and I shall now seek to do that.
We know that people are increasingly using our motorways, whether it is for freight transport, business and commerce or increasingly for leisure and pleasure. Motorway service areas are an essential part of our transport infrastructure. They make an important contribution to safety on United Kingdom motorways, a record of which we are rightly proud. Our motorways are our safest roads, and our roads are the safest in Europe.
Currently, there are 47 motorway service areas in England. Virtually all are at locations that were originally selected by my Department. Under arrangements that applied until 1992, they were provided at intervals of roughly 30 miles--about half an hour's driving time at normal motorway speeds. The Department of Transport sought the planning clearance for their development and acquired the necessary land, usually by compulsory purchase. Sites were then offered to private sector operators who were invited to bid for the right to build an MSA and operate it under a 50-year lease from the Department.
Under those arrangements therefore, the Department directly controlled the location of MSAs. It also controlled, through conditions in MSA leases, a list of specified facilities that the operator was required to provide, ranging from the number of car and lorry parking spaces to the hours during which food and drink had to be available. I emphasise that none of the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State bear any relation to, or have introduced, the question of "deregulating planning", which was the phrase used by my hon. Friend.
By the late 1980s, however, the system was becoming bogged down in a series of lengthy public inquiries provoked sometimes by environmental groups and by concerns about MSA proposals and objections to the associated compulsory purchase orders. That seriously delayed the delivery of the Department's MSA programme and it led to widespread public criticism of the fact that several motorways--notably, the M25 and the M40--had to be opened before adequate services were available. My hon. Friend will recall that, over the past few months, my Department and I have come under severe criticism for the lack of sufficient rest areas on the motorways. We always planned motorway service areas, for example, on the M40. They were denied to us because of the lengthy planning processes and the legitimate objections of people on many grounds, including environmental grounds.
As my hon. Friend recognises, there is increasing need for those service areas. He referred to the sort of incidents that can occur on our motorways. I can confirm that that happens. Indeed, only this morning I was on the M4 driving towards Reading and was interested to see a large light brown Mercedes, the number of which escapes me, with a gentleman half-way up the bank behind a shrub. That example exonerates the policy and I shall not continue with it.
We had to come to terms with the growing pressure from prospective operators of MSAs. They were confident
Column 1225that they could provide for the public need more efficiently and effectively than the Department. They could also save the taxpayer a great deal of money--each of the MSAs costs about £10 million to £15 million to build. We committed ourselves in the citizens charter to seeking ways of providing more services more quickly.
During 1992, the Department undertook an extensive public consultation. We sought the views of the motoring public, as well as those of the operators and developers, on the way forward. The responses that we received demonstrated wide support for the principle of deregulation of MSAs, not the planning procedures. At the same time, it was clear that certain of the minimum facilities required under the lease were regarded as valuable and were widely appreciated. The consensus among those consulted was that any deregulated policy should incorporate safeguards to guarantee that the features were preserved.
The new policy on MSA provision, which was developed in the light of the consultation responses, was announced by my right hon. Friend in August 1992. Under the new arrangements, it is for the private sector, rather than my Department, to identify sites for new MSAs, to secure ordinary planning permission and to acquire the land. At the same time, the minimum permissible distance between MSAs has been reduced from about 30 miles to about 15 miles. One might ask why there are any regulations at all regarding the distance. The answer is simple. The first reason is the safety of access roads and slip roads, and the second, of course, is the commercial interest of the people who are going to have to develop the land. There is a continued guarantee that fuel, free parking, lavatories and facilities for disabled people will be available for 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
The new arrangements will accelerate the provision by tackling some of the main causes of delays which were experienced under the old system. There will no longer be compulsory purchase orders for new MSAs, and less regulation of facilities should give developers greater flexibility to draw up proposals that are acceptable to local authorities and to others.
We heard some of the fears of the constituents of my hon. Friend today. I heard in Reading that local people are concerned at the proposal to develop an MSA on the M4. They were worried about the height of buildings, but that is not a matter for me. It is a planning consideration for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.
As well as accelerating the provision of services on motorways where none exists, the new policy will increase customer choice. Standards of MSAs have improved substantially, and I am happy to acknowledge the achievement of their operators in that respect. I am convinced that the best way of sustaining that improvement is by increased competition. The reduction in the minimum spacing between MSAs from 30 miles to 15 miles and the greater flexibility of the new policy will give operators every incentive to provide the facilities which motorists want. My hon. Friend and his constituents would acknowledge that MSAs have come a long way from the rather drab and dour places we remember from the early days of the 1960s and 1970s.
Column 1226Since August 1992, my Department has been notified of a total of 28 planning applications for new private sector MSAs. Planning permission has since been granted for five of those applications, construction is to begin shortly at two of those. Planning applications for the remaining 23 are still under consideration. Preliminary inquiries have been made to the Department for about a dozen further schemes for which planning applications have yet to be submitted. Those are encouraging results and demonstrate the firm interest that the private sector is taking in that section of the market.
I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend for the way in which he highlighted a press release from the Department of Transport. He pointed out that the release did not at any stage say that those proposals were going to be built. My hon. Friend drew attention to the first paragraph, which referred to 24 new schemes being in the pipeline, of which four had been granted planning permission. It was the level of response from the private sector to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred in that press release. The fact that his remarks were so widely reported illustrates the public interest in the subject. Less helpful was the fact that some of those reports provoked unnecessary concens among people, including my hon. Friend and his constituents, who were potentially affected by the particular MSA proposals. I am glad to be able to put the record straight today.
I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would tell his constituent, Mrs. Meredith-Hardy, that I hope that it will be clear that private MSA proposals will be subject to planning procedures directly comparable with those that apply to schemes promoted in the past by the Department. No developer will be able to take his proposals forward unless and until he has first sought planning permission from the local planning authority which is responsible for the area. In the event of his application being refused, the promoter of an MSA--like the promoter of any other development --has the right of appeal.
My Department still needs to satisfy itself that access can be provided to a proposed MSA which is acceptable in safety and traffic management terms. We will also respond to inquiries from a developer or from planning authorities on whether a proposed development would qualify for signs from the motorway. In addition to all the normal planning procedures, we must consider two additional
constraints--access and the question of signing from a motorway. So there is no question of the Department riding roughshod over the plannings procedures. I much regret that certain of the reports that I have seen gave the impression that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had somehow decided unilaterally that some 20 MSA schemes would now go ahead. Those reports are misleading. I hope that Radwell lake will continue to entertain my hon. Friend and his family and that the ducks will continue to thrive. I know how much people in the countryside--I count myself as a country dweller--recognise and treasure such experiences.
I know that the matter has caused particular concern to some of my hon. Friend's constituents, who argued against the proposal at Radwell on the A1(M) when it was the subject of a public inquiry last year. They are understandably alarmed at any suggestion that the views
Column 1227that they expressed then should be overruled before the inspector appointed by the Department of the Environment has even submitted his report.
Bernard has told me--confidentially, of course--that Sir Humphrey means to have a word with one or two of his friends when lunching at the Athenaeum next week. We do not want any misunderstandings. This may be Sir Humphrey's Agincourt. I have no intention that it should be my Waterloo, whether on horseback or not.
The Department originally objected to the Radwell scheme because it conflicted with proposed improvements to the A1. Refinement of our plans for the road later allowed that objection to be removed. The local planning authority nevertheless refused planning permission, for reasons of its own. The developer appealed against that refusal, and it was that which led to last year's public inquiry.
Let me be quite clear that the Department has not identified a specific need for an MSA at Radwell. That is not our role. Our earlier objection was based solely on technical considerations. It is because those technical points have been overcome, rather than because we wish positively to recommend Radwell as a suitable MSA site, that our objection has been withdrawn.
My hon. Friend has suggested that existing services near Radwell could adequately service the A1(M) and that
Column 1228a new development is therefore unnecessary. As I understand it, those existing services do not meet the minimum standards for MSAs signposted from the motorway, but it is open to the operator there to propose uprating his site to meet those requirements. Were he to do so, we would consider his site for signing, just as we have considered the current proposal. The inspector at the public inquiry will, I am sure, have been forcefully reminded of the presence of the existing services, and he will no doubt wish to take account of them when he submits his report.
If the developer of the new site is, nevertheless, successful in his appeal, we would expect to agree suitable access arrangements. Provided that the site meets the minimum standards that I described earlier, we would also expect to provide signs from the A1(M). But we have not attempted, and will not attempt, to influence whether permission is granted in the first place. That remains firmly and clearly a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who will take a decision in the light of the evidence before him. I hope that my hon. Friend and his constituents will be reassured by that.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at three minutes to Three o'clock.
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