HC Deb 12 December 1966 vol 738 cc211-8

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

12.8 a.m.

Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)

I am grateful to have this opportunity to raise -the subject of the impact of defence installations on industry and navigation in the Firth of Clyde. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that this subject was substituted because it was impossible for me to raise the matter which I had orginally intended to raise on the Adjournment.

The Firth of Clyde is one of the world's great recreational areas. Twenty miles from Glasgow there are broad streches of open water, sheltered from every direction and providing unrestricted facilities for sailing and water sports of every kind. The area also serves as the sea approach to Glasgow and contains one of Britain's two deep-water ocean terminals.

Any proposal for restricting the use of these waters must be viewed with concern. It is essential that no restrictions are placed on commercial or pleasure boat movement without the widest possible discussion and such restrictions should be the very least necessary for the effective operation of defence installations. At this stage, the Government should make clear their intentions and an opportunity should be given for consideration of the interests of all the parties who will be affected. That is why I am raising this subject tonight.

The Government are spending £45 million on the Polaris base at Faslane, as well as on road improvements, and other expenditure is being incurred by the Scottish Development Department and Dumbarton County Council. In November, newspaper reports indicated that the Ministry of Defence was proposing to declare some of the Firth of Clyde a "Queen's Harbour", apparently under powers conferred by the Dockyard Ports Regulations Act, 1865. That Act defines a dockyard port, but the limits of each dockyard port are decided by individual Orders in Council

Such Orders should take into consideration special local circumstances, and the Minister will be aware that a draft Order has been prepared. There is widespread concern that his Department has not taken local conditions into consideration, or paid due regard to the special value of the area as a source of substantial amenity for Glasgow and the West of Scotland. This impression may be unfounded, but it is important at this stage to obtain a clear picture of what will be involved.

As operating authority for the area, the Clyde Port Authority, established in 1965, will have a concern that the passage and servicing of merchant shipping in the area is not affected. It will obviously be opposed to any interference with the normal workings of the river—a commercial port of vital interest to Scotland—and will have lodged an objection to the draft Order. Disturbances of oil, anchorage, designated channels and the normal movement of ships, could create intolerable conditions. The authority will not be opposed to the principle of designation; but it requires an assurance that its normal commercial interests are not interfered with.

The proposed designated area is one of Britain's major centres of small boat and yacht building. "Sceptre" was built on Holy Loch, and the yards concerned have the highest traditions of yacht building with the hundreds of thousands of pounds of exports. Such firms use moorings as an essential part of their operation. A yard will require upwards of 25 moorings to hold boats being completed, or awaiting repairs. Any restrictions of moorings or the requirement to obtain licensing would act against their interests and the interests of commercial and industrial employment in the area. It should be realised that this industry employs over 200 people in an area of little alternative employment, particularly in the Holy Loch district.

There is a large shipbreaking yard established in the old war emergency area at Faslane. It employs about 200 people, and any proposal to restrict ship movement for long periods could result in severe losses. An obsolete ship waiting to enter the area could incur heavy charges, and delays to outgoing ships carrying steel scrap, would again affect the commercial viability of the concern. Nearby is a ship-repairing yard, employing 50 people. Restrictions of ship movement here, too, would result in commercial losses, and I can think of many other examples.

The area of Gareloch, Loch Long and Holy Loch form a superb sailing area with the finest waters in Britain. It is well known that environment is an important factor affecting population movement, and the West of Scotland needs to make the most of its attractions for managerial and skilled staff. If these are to be encouraged to come into the area, its advantages as a recreational centre must be expanded and developed. Sailing is one of the fastest growing sports, and the proximity of the district to Glasgow makes it one of the clear attractions of the region.

The sailing is of all kinds. The Scottish Council for Physical Recreation runs courses on Holy Loch. Dumbarton County Council has a sailing centre at Gareslochhead. Several firms have sailing clubs for their employees, and there is increasing pressure for moorings and hards for yachts and dingies of all sizes.

If the Ministry insists on the licensing of moorings, if yachts over 40 ft. require to have a caretaker on board, if all boats have to be cleared out of large sections of the area, the effect could be catastrophic. It would be no exaggeration to foresee the eventual disappearance of sailing as a sport in the Firth of Clyde. This would only happen if those responsible took powers too wide and too tough. But if it happened, one of the main lungs of the Clydeside conurbation would have disappeared and the effect on the future of the area would be very serious.

There are about 400 private boats on the Firth of Clyde. Only about 100 of these are kept outside the proposed area. The rest will be affected. So will countless young people who come from all over Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom to enjoy the benefits of sailing and the self-discipline and initiative that it brings. The employees of at least two large firms will find their leisure hours restricted and the many people who make a living from servicing boats will have their livelihood endangered.

Of course, a Queen's Harbourmaster could use his discretion and judgment not to impose unbearable restrictions. But a danger exists and it is important at this stage to highlight it and suggest alternatives. For example, if one looks at Regulation 12, Schedule 1, of the proposed Order, one finds that all merchant and other private vessels within the limits of a dockyard port shall comply with any direction of the Queen's Harbourmaster. Regulation 10 says that no firearm or airgun shall be discharged from any vessel or from the shore over the waters of a dockyard port. The first Regulation gives very wide powers indeed to the Queen's Harbourmaster, and the second Regulation would appear to prevent anyone firing a starting gun to start a yacht race.

These are points which, I hope, the First Lord can clear up. Is it really necessary to specify such an enormous area? Of course, there are installations which should be protected and channels which should be kept open at all times, which they already are. But surely the designation of small restricted areas and the important channels giving access to them would be sufficient. Large parts of the area are of no conceivable interest to the Royal Navy. They should not take powers to control them.

After all, a Polaris base has existed in the Firth of Clyde for over six years without tight controls. At this stage, it should be possible to consider less severe restrictions and to give them the widest possible publicity. The impression of uncertainty already created would vanish at once if the First Lord were able to do this.

12.19 a.m.

The Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. J. P. W. Maltalieu)

There are at least two reasons why I am grateful to the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) for his speech tonight. The first is that he has persistently referred to me as "the First Lord". It is a wonderful title and I wish that I still had it.

The second reason is that during the last two years I have begun to know the part of the country to which he is referring and can well understand that yachtsmen, people who are light industrialists, people who just enjoy really lovely countryside, become alarmed when they hear of a Government proposing to impose restrictions. That alarm inevitably gives rise to rumours and misconceptions. The fact that the hon. Member for Galloway has raised the issue here tonight does give me the chance to make at least some of the obscurities a little more clear.

The Ministry of Defence is proposing, as the hon. Member has said, to declare part of this area a Queen's Harbour under the Dockyard Ports Regulation Act of 1865. But this area does not include the Clyde proper, if I may use the term. It is not the River Clyde at all. That will still continue to be controlled by the Clyde Port Authority. There is no change whatsoever in the Clyde itself.

The areas affected in a very limited way are the Gareloch, Loch Long and Loch Goil—not Holy Loch. It is necessary to make restrictions in those areas because of the development of a submarine base at Faslane and an armaments depot at Coulport. There will be a substantial increase in naval movement and activity generally in narrow and—as yachtsmen can well say—rather difficult waters.

Therefore, in the interests not just of naval convenience—though it is my job to watch that—but also of public safety generally it is proposed that in certain very limited areas we shall have the power to say that there shall be no moorings and no anchoring without a licence from the Queen's Harbourmaster. We also propose to say that non-naval shipping shall keep clear of naval shipping during naval movements, which will be clearly signalled.

What effect are those restrictions likely to have, first, on yachts, a matter on which, as the hon. Gentleman said, an increasing number of people feel passionately, including myself? In certain very limited restricted areas they will not be able to approach nearer than 500 feet to naval installations, and they will have to keep clear of naval vessels under way. Apart from those two restrictions, they will have the same freedom as now. They will be able to enter the lochs concerned, they will be able to sail the full length and, except in tiny areas, they will be able to traverse exactly as they do now.

Larger craft, depending on the draft, will be subject to an additional limitation. It is proposed that there shall be a channel which is free the whole time, but it will not take larger vessels. Therefore, when a signal is hoisted they may have to wait some time before proceeding up the loch. I expect that they will have to wait between 20 and 30 minutes. That applies to pleasure steamers and to ships going up to Faslane, for example, to the breaker's yard.

I can well understand that if one is towing in something like the "War-spite", as happened a few years ago, and one had to wait for several days before one could get in, that would put up the costs. But I assure the hon. Gentleman that this is a matter of 20 or 30 minutes' wait.

Mr. Brewis

Does that not also apply to tankers going up to the oil terminal at Finnart, which are very important and very large vessels?

Mr. Mallalieu

If it does, it would only be a matter of 20 or 30 minutes. That is the maximum delay that would occur.

Mr. George Younger (Ayr)

Would the Minister confirm that this could be very awkward, with tides in mind, particularly with very large tankers or a large vessel for breaking up? Could not the 20 or 30 minutes be very crucial?

Mr. Mallalieu

I suspect that if they ran it as narrowly as that there would be some bad seamanship. I do not think that it should make any material difference to them.

I have mentioned the possible effect on the shipbreaking firm. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the various boat builders in the area. So far as I know, there are three. Two are completely outside the restricted zone and will not be affected at all in the matter of moorings, and the third is in an area which we are thinking of designating. I give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that this third builder will get his licences. There is no question of interfering with any of these three firms.

I realise that the real effect of the Order which we propose depends on the size and the location of the restricted areas. The hon. Gentleman has said that if they were too broad or too tough, they could cause immense hardship, and I agree. That is why, before we lay the Order, we are taking enormous trouble—and it is right that we should—to consult every possible interest. For some months now, the Captain in Charge of Clyde has been in consultation with the Clyde Port Authority. He has put to it the draft Order to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and, as a result of the preliminary representations made by the Clyde Port Authority, various changes have already been pencilled into the order.

In addition, we have asked the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Transport to consult anyone who feels that his civil maritime interests may be affected. In the Ministry of Defence, we are not merely willing but eager to consult anyone who may feel that his interests are affected or that anything we are pro posing to do will do him harm. If the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member receives representations containing points of substance which he feels he ought to put to the Minister of Defence, I shall be only too delighted to hear them. I guarantee with absolute assurance that they will be properly and fully considered.

All that we are proposing to do is what has been done over the years at Portsmouth and the yachting area of the Solent, which has not been seriously affected by our regulations, and what we have done on, for example, the Medway and at Rosyth. On the whole, those regulations, over the past 50, 60 or even, perhaps, 100 years, have been shown to be for the real safety of everybody and for the real hardship of none. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Galloway for raising the matter, and I assure him that, so far as I am concerned, I shall make certain that the regulations which we lay down for this area have just the same effect and no more.

12.28 a.m.

Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)

The House will be grateful to the Minister for replying with such understanding to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis), to whom those of us who know the Clyde are most grateful for raising the matter. I wish to call attention to one or two further points arising from the debate.

The Minister said, and I am grateful for it, that there had been wide consultations with authorities in the area and, in particular, with the Clyde Port Authority. I am not sure whether that statement embraces the Clyde pilots, who have a better knowledge of these waters than anyone else. If consultations have not already taken place, I would urge on the hon. Gentleman that they should take place before the final decisions are taken. I have in mind particularly the problem of larger vessels going up the Gare Loch, which could well be adversely affected by the Order.

A small point, but one which, I think, merits some clarification, is the position of Holy Loch under the Order. I may have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman but I understood him to say that Holy Loch was not within the designated area.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

indicated assent.

Mr. MacArthur

I raise the question simply because my understanding is that part of Holy Loch is in the area, that part of the loch which lies west of the line through Hunters Quay Jetty and Strone church spire. I raise this not in any spirit of obstruction, but simply for the purpose of clarification. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is most important that in an area such as this, where Holy Loch is an important part of the pleasure area of the Clyde, there should be no possible misunderstanding.

Finally, I would say how much I warmed to the hon. Gentleman when he referred to my hon. Friend's description of him as the first Lord. Like the hon. Gentleman, I regret bitterly the loss of those ancient dignitaries of Admiralty, but I would be the last to try to apportion any party blame in the matter.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am looking hard at the map—

The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. The hon. Gentleman needs the leave of the House to speak again.

Mr. Mallalieu

If I may speak again by leave of the House, I would not dare to repeat the names mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, but according to my map, on which a straight line runs across the mouth of Holy Loch, that is not designated. However, I will check. No areas are definitely designated yet.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes to One o'clock.