None, Sir. But, as the House knows, I have been considering whether to set up an independent inquiry to look into the issues raised by the economic and environmental impact of the lorry. I have now decided to do so. I will circulate the terms of reference for the committee in the Official Report.
Is the Minister aware that we are very interested to note that inquiry, particularly the date and the timing that he has chosen? Is he aware that the current proposals of the EEC Commission permit national and local authorities to declare certain routes unsuitable for heavy traffic? Will that come within the ambit of the inquiry that he proposes, and does he realise that this has particular relevance to the constituency which I represent?
Yes, I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. It is for that very reason that I felt it right—I mentioned this in the House on the first occasion as long ago as last November—to set up an independent inquiry to look into all these problems. The lorry has important industrial and economic advantages, but, as the hon. Gentleman implied, it carries with it a severe impact on the environment and many communities. For that reason I believe that a wide-ranging inquiry will be justified.
Mr. R C. Mitchell:
Will my right hon. Friend expand a little on the terms of reference of the inquiry? Will it have power to go into the whole question of the social costs of heavy lorries and who should bear those costs?
I would not wish to place any unreasonable restrictions on the area to be covered by the committee. I hope that it will work fast and report within a reasonable period of time, because there are important decisions for Ministers to make. It may well be that the committee will look at precisely the kind of issues that my hon. Friend has raised.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the statements in the documents that were leaked from his Department suggesting that some civil servants were anxious that there should be an inquiry designed simply to prove the case in favour of a heavier lorry? What steps is the Minister taking to ensure the impartiality of this committee? Can he say who he has asked to be the chairman of it?
May I strongly express enthusiasm for this inquiry, which has been requested by so many? Will those who have requested this inquiry have their views represented in the inquiry by the membership? Secondly, will the committee look especially into all the costs incurred because of the presence of lorries in city centres?
As I have said to the House, I do not think that I would wish to restrict the scope of the committee to its terms of reference, which I shall be publishing in Hansard. Plainly, there are many issues to be considered; and I am sure that the committee will wish to take account of them. On the question of receiving representations, I expect that this committee will receive evidence from a wide range of sources and that evidence will be published. Whether the committee sits in private or public will eventually be a matter for it to decide.
Following are the terms of reference:
To consider the causes and consequences of the growth in the movement of freight by road and, in particular, of the impact of the lorry on people and their environment; and to report on how best to ensure that future developments serve the public interest.