HC Deb 04 May 1966 vol 727 cc1618-21
6. Mr. Robert Cooke

asked the Minister of Transport whether she will now announce her decision on the Port-bury dock scheme.

71. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Minister of Transport when she will make a statement on the future organisation and development of docks facilities in the Bristol Channel.

73. Mr. Dean

asked the Minister of Transport when she will make her decision on the Portbury docks scheme.

81. Mr. E. Rowlands

asked the Minister of Transport when a decision on the future of the Cardiff and South Wales docks will be announced.

83. Mr. Gower

asked the Minister of Tranport when she will announce her decision regarding major port improvements in the Bristol Channel.

Mr. Swingler

The Government have decided that, before they reach a final decision, they require short comparative studies of the possible alternative schemes. These will be completed as quickly as possible.

Mr. Cooke

The hon. Gentleman has said that before. Is he aware that every responsible body in the west of England strongly favours this great and imaginative scheme, which has international possibilities and great national significance? Will he get on with the job and make a decision soon?

Mr. Swingler

There is no doubt that the scheme recommended by the National Ports Council is greatly imaginative but since then a number of alternative proposals for large-scale capital investment, which would involve the destinies of considerable numbers of people, have been put to us. It is right and proper that these proposals should be examined, and they will be very quickly.

Mr. Roy Hughes

What thought is being given to the economic effects of possible innovations bypassing the existing—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—unpretentious facilities of South Wales ports?

Mr. Swingler

These matters have to be assessed. We have to take into account the position of South Wales ports, where, in any case, very considerable capital investment amounting to £30 million will be made in the next five years. Proposals have been made on behalf of the South Wales ports and are being studied.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I would point to new hon. Members that hon. Members must not read their supplementary questions.

Mr. Dean

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that one of the disadvantages in not announcing a decision on the scheme is that a number of my constituents living and working in the area are considerably anxious about their future? Is not this another reason for advancing the decision?

Mr. Swingler

We realise that a number of people in different ports are anxious about their future and desirous of having the large-scale capital investment involved in this scheme. That is what makes it so important that we should arrive at the right decision.

Mr. Rowlands

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the development of the South Wales ports together would be cheaper than the Portbury scheme and that these ports are vital to the economy of South Wales?

Mr. Swingler

The House now sees how these assertions and counter-assertions are made on behalf of different ports and authorities. The Government are at present making the economic and technical assessments on which they will report to the House shortly.

Mr. Peter Walker

When was the decision taken to carry out the examination of alternative schemes? How many schemes are being looked into? How long will it go on?

Mr. Swingler

Several alternative schemes from South Wales, Southampton and other places are being investigated. It was decided to examine these schemes at quite an early date after we had had the recommendation from the National Ports Council in favour of the Portbury scheme. The investigations will be completed in a few months' time.

Mr. Wilkins

Is it not a fact that an announcement would have been made towards the end of January or the beginning of February giving consent to the Portbury scheme had it not been for the stimulation of the South Wales ports by the Conservative Members for Bristol?

Mr. Swingler

We should be careful not to turn this discussion into the kicking around of a political football. One of the unfortunate aspects of the controversy is that it has become highly politically charged. One of the things we are anxious to do is to make an objective assessment of the economic and technical factors so as to arrive at the right decision.

Mr. Wilkins

On a point of order. Is not my hon. Friend aware that it is a fact that he did say—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order and the hon. Gentleman is aware of it.

Mr. Webster

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that permission has been given to develop British Transport Docks Board ports in the Bristol Channel and elsewhere? Is it the policy to give consent only to nationalised ports?

Mr. Swingler

No, Sir, of course not. We are considering several schemes from non-nationalised ports in which a considerable capital investment is being made. That is not a factor in our consideration. This port is under public ownership—it happens to be under municipal ownership—but that is not the determining factor. We are considering a third liner terminal and considerable capital investment and we want to be sure that we get value for money.

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