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As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Heddle) yesterday, the report has been published and copies are available in the Library. I should like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to Sir Arthur and his team of assessors for the work that they have put into this independent inquiry. It will obviously take a little time for the Government to consider this wide-ranging report and its recommendations, but I shall make a statement on our views in due course.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the implications of the recommendations of the Armitage report go far beyond lorry weights and axle loads, important though they are? Is he further aware that they must, therefore, be viewed in the wider context of transport strategies, industrial needs and environmental considerations? Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that we shall have an opportunity to debate the report before any decision is announced?
I gladly give that assurance. It is vital that we should have a debate on the Armitage report. The only proposal that we shall put forward in the Transport Bill — I think that it will meet with the approval of the House — is that concerning vehicle excise duty on heavier vehicles. The heaviest vehicles will be required to pay their full track cost.
If the Minister is disposed in favour of accepting the representations made on behalf of the lorry lobby, will he make compensating benefits available to British Rail so that it can improve its freight attractions? For example, improved section 8 grants and other such benefits could be made available, which would ensure the existence of a viable rail freight system.
It would do the hon. Gentleman quite a lot of good to read the report and the part on section 8 grants. The report has not been proposed, even remotely, by the lorry lobby. It is an independent report. Those who have had anything to do with it and who have given evidence will pay tribute to that fact.
Given that a large number of jobs depend upon the implementation of some of those recommendations, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be no delay in holding a debate and in bringing forward the necessary legislation?
Obviously, that is a matter for my right hon Friend the Leader of the House to consider, but I hope that we shall be able to hold a debate on the Armitage report. It would be convenient to the House if such a debate were to be held within the next two months. That is the speediest progress that we can make. I agree with my hon. Friend's general point.
For that debate, will the Minister provide statistics showing how much it would cost to build bypasses for all the rural villages and historical towns over the length and breadth of Britain? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that figures will be issued to equate the cost of that against the claimed savings in the Armitage report?
I shall try to provide the maximum amount of information. This is not a matter of party dispute. The Armitage report refers to priority for bypasses, and that priority is very much a part of the Government's road-building programme.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that those who live alongside the South Circular Road and other narrow roads are deeply concerned because such roads are already immersed in heavy lorries? Will he give careful thought to this issue before going ahead with the recommendations in the Armitage report, with the exception of increasing taxes on heavy lorries? Will my right Friend also give an assurance that he will first consult the House of Commons?
My hon. Friend has made a fair point. That is why we thought it best to have an independent report and to follow that with a general debate in the House of Commons. That is a fair way to proceed. The proposals made by the Armitage report concern heavier lorries but not bigger lorries. That is an important distinction.
Will the Minister accept that I join him in paying that well-deserved compliment to Sir Arthur Armitage and his committee? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be wrong to raise lorry weights without first introducing the road construction programme, an increase in rail freight facilities and the enforcement of lorry safeguards, which the Armitage report shows to be necessary?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his endorsement of the fact that the Armitage committee is independent. His general point is that a package of proposals is involved. That is right. The House should have the opportunity to consider that package and to debate it.