HC Deb 29 June 1948 vol 452 cc2167-76

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Collindridge.]

11.29 p.m.

Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)

I desire to draw the attention of the House to the serious harm being done to the village of Lamlash in the Isle of Arran by the continued closing of the pier. I can speak with some knowledge of the subject because I know the island and its people very well indeed. The matter on which I wish to speak tonight is of importance and interest, not merely to those who are traders, but to the thousands of visitors who flock every year to this island on holiday. As an example of the number affected, the normal population of the village of Lamlash is 1000, but in the Summer months it rises to 7,000, and that ratio of increase applies to each one of the holiday resorts on the island. The access to the village of Lamlash is by means of a pier. That pier was closed over a year ago, in the beginning of last March, without any notice whatsoever to the people affected. The result is that the only approach to the village now is by means of the road from Brodick, four miles long, rather narrow, and sometimes not in very good condition. The effect of that is that the trader who has to bring his goods from Brodick is thereby penalised by the cost, and in addition the holiday maker who has to travel from Brodick to the other parts of the island, to Lamlash, to Whiting Bay, and so on, has to pay the extra fare for the motor journey, and in addition has difficulty in getting his luggage moved to his holiday destination. These things are causing inconveniences and increased costs.

Now the fear is spreading to Whiting Bay that the fate which has befallen Lamlash is to fall on them. If that should happen then the whole economy of the south end of the island of Arran will be flung into a state of serious disrepair. It should be tinted that the Arran Trustees stand to secure financial advantage out of closing the piers. If the Duke of Montrose attains what appears to be his object and gets Whiting Bay closed as Lochranza and Lamlash have been closed, then there is only one pier left requiring upkeep. The quantity of goods coming into the island will not be seriously impaired nor will the rates be affected, but his costs will be greatly reduced and, therefore, the profit to the Duke will correspondingly increase. But to the native, who lives on the island and to the holiday maker, who comes for a period during the year, there will be increased costs of transport, with increased manpower required, loss of rates to the local authority, and congested roads. As far as the Duke is concerned there will be gain; as far as the public is concerned there will be nothing but loss and inconvenience.

For nearly 18 months attempts have been made to save the pier from going out of use altogether, and a very strange situation has arisen, a situation difficult to conceive as existing among Scotsmen, because when one Scotsman offers another money he very seldom refuses it. He grabs it right away. But we have this existing state of affairs. To keep the pier open, the people subscribed enough money to buy the pier and said to the Duke "You cannot keep the pier open. It is our livelihood and lifeline with the outside world. We will buy it from you and keep it in order." "Oh, no," says the Duke, "I cannot sell it." "All right," they said, "we will take a long lease. We have the money here for the purpose." He said: "I will not lease this pier, it is so valuable." But he will not keep it in order. Then the people said "If you are hard up"—for even Dukes are sometimes hard up today—"if you need money we will lend you money so that you can use our money to put your pier in order." But the Duke would not even take the loan either.

That is a strange situation, when one Scotsman offers another Scotsman money. They were prepared to let him have the money interest free. But perhaps the Duke does not believe in a system of interest-free money. There is another possibility. He may have hoped that in the near future he might knock a bigger sum out of the Government than out of the people of Lamlash, for he was continually saying to them "There is a great Bill going through the House of Commons just now called the Transport Bill and I could not think of disposing of this pier until this Bill gets through the House of Commons."

Now, the Bill was passed some time ago and the Duke still will not dispose of the pier. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary tonight will be able to tell us why the Duke is hanging on to this pier which is of no use to him at all. I suggest that not only is he doing something that is wrong as far as the people of this little village are concerned—he is violating the Isle of Arran Piers Confirmation Order Act of 1938. And that I take it is a most serious offence for the Preamble to that Act says that the piers together serve the needs of the whole community of the inhabitants of the Isle of Arran and it is expedient and would be in the public interest that, to the extent and purposes of this Order providing, the piers should be administered and carried on by the trustees as one undertaking. The Duke is not doing that because he has already put two piers out of commission, and there may be a third, and therefore these four piers are not being carried on as one undertaking and in law he is obliged to do that. It becomes a very serious question when a Duke breaks the law, and I hope that if there is a penalty to be suffered then there will be no difference between the Duke's son and the cook's son in administering the due penalties of law. I suggest that the law is not being observed and I say that there are certain steps that might be taken. First, there is the question of requisitioning the pier. Secondly, there is the question of holding an inqury into the whole circumstances surrounding this business. Here is a community whose life-line is being interfered with. It merely wants to live. It is turning to the Government to ask them for help in order that it may live, and I hope the answer given tonight will be an answer that will bring comfort to the people of this island.

11.40 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I am sure I should be the last person in this House to say any thing disrespectful about the Duke and I hope that the Government will not take seriously the suggestion that he should be prosecuted and imprisoned for his action in this case. I do suggest that the villagers of Lamlash are entitled to have their pier repaired and the Government should do something in order to get this done as expeditiously as possible.

According to an answer given to me by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty last Thursday, the Admiralty settled with the Arran Estates, which is another name for the Duke, on 31st May, 1946, so surely by this time something should have been done to get this pier repaired. The villagers of Lamlash can hardly fail to notice that a still larger sum of money has been spent on piers and harbours in other parts of the world, notably at Singapore, where since the war we have spent over £860,000. There has been a marked lack of any go-ahead spirit over this very necessary repair, and I suggest that it should be somebody's responsibility.

Our trouble has been to fix responsibility. I spent a very long time trying to find out who exactly would get something done in this respect. I asked about the Secretary of State for Scotland, but he was apparently not responsible—or irresponsible—in this matter. I saw the Admiralty with a little bit more success, but now I look more hopefully to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, as I understand he has had some experience of Lamlash and is anxious to help in this way.

The shops, hotels, boarding houses and the people who have houses to let have all been very badly hit by the closing of this pier, and those of us who go to Arran would welcome the boats going to Lamlash in order to bring visitors to help the economic life of this village. I therefore appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to try to get a move on in order to help to bring pressure on the Arran Estates either to get this pier restored or to have it taken over in order that the island of Arran will once again have the opportunity of seeing steamers visiting Lamlash regularly and in order to help people like myself who have a very warm feeling for the island of Arran and especially the little village of Lamlash.

11.44 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Callaghan)

My hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) have, I think, performed a public duty in bringing this matter to the notice of the House. It may be asked of what consequence is the life of this small community on an island that is a long way away. I contend that there is an important issue at stake here and one which is worthy of the attention of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston broadly outlined the position, and I do not think the House will disagree with what he said. He outlined the position quite fairly—that in Lamlash village or town—I do not know what the Scottish description is—the very centre of those people's lives is the pier. It is the main means of communication with the mainland, and it is almost true to say that physically the island is concentrated round the pier. Those of us who have personal knowledge of Lamlash—some of us at His Majesty's expense—and other ports round there know well that there are occasions when you may use one pier and not another because of the weather conditions. It is certainly important, in my judgment, that the facilities for getting to the island should not be limited to one pier, because that might mean in certain circumstances that the island would be cut off. The number of piers that are in existence should be used.

The hon. Member for Tradeston said that if the Duke gets Whiting Bay pier closed, he will increase his profit. The hon. Member's point may be accurate, but there is no suggestion that the Duke would close Whiting Bay pier. Indeed, the contrary is the case. I have an assurance from the Arran Estate Trustees, in a letter to the Minister dated 8th April, 1947, referring to Lamlash pier, that the closure was in the nature of an emergency measure, entirely caused through the condition of the pier, and was in no way a decision to discontinue the use of Lamlash pier permanently. I think it important that that assurance should go on record.

Mr. Rankin

I have in my hand a letter dated last week from a well-known resident at Whiting Bay, a friend of mine, who gives expression to the rumour I spoke of, and it is well perhaps that it should be discredited now. There is the fear, as I have said, that Whiting Bay might be closed.

Mr. Callaghan

The assurances given by the Arran Trustees law agents on 8th April has been repeated in similar terms since, and there is no reason to suppose that there has been any departure from that policy. The Arran Estate Trustees have said that this closure is a temporary measure. I take them at their word, and that it is their intention to reopen this pier at the earliest moment. My hon. Friend said the enterprising local residents were prepared to make certain arrangements in order to reopen the pier, and gave some account of them, but he did not finish them off. Not only did they offer to buy the pier—which was rejected—and to loan the money interest free—which was also rejected—but they went on to say that if the Arran Estate found the piers were taken over by the British Transport Commission, and the compensation they got from the Commission was not sufficient to equate the loss, they would regard the balance of the debt as liquidated. That I put in to finish off the story of the financial arrangements, because it does reflect great credit on the people of Lamlash that they should have been prepared to go to this extent. I regret very much that one of these offers was not taken up.

My hon. Friend suggested that the Minister might requisition the pier or hold an inquiry. I fear that my right hon. Friend has no powers to hold a formal inquiry to try and get a settlement of this matter. Last September one of my right hon. Friend's officers paid a visit to Lamlash, where he held conversations with the local residents and the Arran Estate. At that meeting it was reaffirmed that the Lamlash pier is an essential facility, and also that the Arran Estate trustees are prepared to contemplate carrying out repairs to the pier with a view to rendering it safe for the Summer steamer traffic between May and September. The estate also undertook to obtain an estimate from their contractors of the cost involved, and, when the estimate was received, that they would lay their proposals before the Commission for any comment the Commission might wish to make. There the matter rests. It was in April, when the Minister inquired what was the present position, that we received a reply from the estate's law agents that the present position is that the trustees did receive an estimate for the repair of the pier, which was of such a figure that the trustees could not contemplate the expenditure without some assurance from the British Transport Commission.

There seems to have been some impression about that one of the early actions of the British Transport Commission would be to take over these four piers in the island of Arran off the West Coast of Scotland. That was never the intention, obviously, of the British Transport Commission. The way in which it has been used as a stalking horse in this matter leads me to the conclusion that there was a desire to procrastinate, and that they here found a very convenient way of doing it. I ought to say, to make the position clear, that the British Transport Commission, through the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive, informed the Duke of Montrose personally on 25th May, and confirmed in writing on 23rd June last, that it does not desire to acquire the piers. The Commission went on to say that in these circumstances the Duke of Hamilton's trustees should go ahead with their own plans for the piers in the exercise of their statutory powers. I repeat that hope. I certainly hope that that will be the case.

This is a pier which is obviously needed by the residents of Lamlash to protect their own livelihood and to develop their own community. I considered how far I was entitled to comment on the attitude of the trustees of the Arran Estate, whose responsibility this is. The life of this community is a matter of public interest, and I had little difficulty in reaching the conclusion that it was proper to comment in the way I have done. As I have said, it seems to me quite clear that, although the assurances have been given that this pier will be re-opened, and will be for the use of the people of Lamlash, there has been procrastination. There is a marked contrast between the declarations of the Arran Trustees and their subsequent performance, and also a remarkable difference between the lassitude of the trustees and the enterprise of the local residents, who are vitally affected in this matter. I think it is difficult, on study of the papers, to reach any other conclusion than that in the last 12 months the trustees have not only failed to exert themselves in the interests of these island people, but have stood in the way of those who wanted to help themselves; and I think that that is very regrettable.

In these circumstances I agree with my hon. Friend that we ought to explore what action is open to the Minister to protect and secure the interests of these island residents, and I propose to examine the provisions of the General Pier and Harbour Act, 1861, Amendment Act, which does give to the Lords of the Admiralty, whose functions have now passed to the Ministry of Transport, in certain circumstances power to undertake certain works and to recover the cost from the trustees. There is also, of course, the Harbours, Piers and Ferries (Scotland) Act, 1937, under which the county council has powers to acquire the piers, either by agreement or through compulsory purchase, subject to an order. That consideration, I think, is worthy of exploration both locally and centrally. I propose to pursue this matter and to see if we cannot get some suggestion in the interests of the local residents of Lamlash.

It is quite clear that the trustees have incurred considerable expense in recent years in connection with putting right the pier at Brodick Bay. It may be that the expense they have undertaken there has left them out of pocket, as far as the repairs at Lamlash are concerned. I do not know how far they would want to use that argument. It has not been used so far, but if it is put forward it can be examined. Meantime, so far as I know there is no reason why the trustees should not carry out their declared intention to repair the pier and do their duty under the Arran Piers Order to provide for this community facilities which have been enjoyed for many years and which the people have a right to expect from those who originally undertook the task.

Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew (Ayr and Bute, Northern)

Would the Minister make it perfectly clear to the House that the Transport Commission will do all they can to get the Ministry of Supply to give a permit for the materials required? I understand the materials are not forthcoming, because they cannot be got.

Mr. Callaghan

On 15th May, 1946, the trustees were told by the Minister that no building licence or permit was required for the repair of the pier.

Sir C. MacAndrew

Not to build but to get the materials.

Mr. Rankin

I should like to put one point to my hon. Friend before he finishes. Can he say whether or not there has been any outcome of the meeting which I understand was held last month between the Arran Estate Trustees and the chairman and vice-chairman of the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive of the Transport Commission?

Mr. Callaghan

Yes, Sir; that was the meeting to which I referred, from which an answer was sent in writing, at the request of the Duke, informing him that the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive, on behalf of the Commission, did not desire to acquire the piers.

Adjourned accordingly at Four Minutes to Twelve o'Clock.