HC Deb 26 June 1967 vol 749 cc173-84

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.

7.22 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North): I beg to move—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I should have informed the hon. and learned Member that the Amendment he has on the Order Paper is not selected. A list of the selected Amendments has been published. He can speak to this Motion. [Interruption.] I repeat it for I know the difficulty of hearing in the Chamber. The Amendment in the name of the hon. and learned Member has not been selected. He can speak to this Motion.

Mr. Hughes

My Motion is not an Amendment, it is a substantive Motion.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is a question of semantics and terminology. The Motion by the hon. and learned Member is not selected, but he can speak to the Motion that is now before the House.

Mr. Hughes

With respect, surely it will be in order for me to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Chair is not being awkward at all. The Motion in the name of the hon. and learned Member is not selected. Can I help him by saying that the points he would have wished to make if his Motion had been selected can be made on the Question which is in front of us now?

Mr. Hughes

I oppose this Bill for reasons I propose to adduce. I am in favour of a yacht harbour in Brighton under Brighton's control and management for the benefit of Brighton and its visitors.

Mr. Speaker

Order. On this Motion the hon. and learned Member can discuss what is in the Bill. He cannot discuss alternatives which are not in the Bill.

Mr. Hughes

I was not proposing to discuss alternatives. I was proposing to discuss my objections to the Bill, what is in the Bill. For that reason, by way of exordium, I was about to say that while this Bill is in favour of a yacht harbour for Brighton I am not against a yacht harbour in Brighton, but I am against this Bill for reasons I propose to adduce. I am in favour of a yacht harbour in Brighton under Brighton's control and management for the benefit of Brighton and its visitors in a safe place for yachtsmen. The proposal in the Bill is not of a safe place for yachtsmen.

You appear, Mr. Speaker, to be keeping me under very strict control. I want to make clear why I object to this Bill, because of what is in it. That I think is what you said; that is what is in your mind. The plan in this Bill is none of the things I have just mentioned. It is two miles outside Brighton, it proposes to set up a rival township to Brighton, it is not under Brighton's control or management, and it is not for the benefit of Brighton or its visitors. Its profits, if any, will go largely to Canada. It is in a place which is unsafe for yachtsmen, as yachtsmen have written.

It has concomitants, otherwise commonly known as strings, which would ruin a beautiful and restful place, would ruin the scenery and do great damage to Brighton. I shall mention some of the unpleasantnesses which are in the Bill, indicating why I object to it. In parenthesis, I point out that it may be used as a precedent for other seaside resorts to their great damage. So I appeal to all hon. Members who sit for seaside constituencies to analyse this Bill and see how damaging it will be, if it is passed, to them and their constituents in Scotland, England or Wales—all the resorts which are within the ambit of this island.

It is a shocking thing to read that Brighton and other seaside resorts may be victims and tools of Canadian moneymaking companies and tycoons. As evidence for that, I quote from the Brighton Evening Argus of 3rd May this year from a short article. I shall not read the whole of the article. It is headed: Where The Money Would Come From The article says: At the first meeting of the Marina Bill hearing before the Select Committee was Mr. Fraser Martens, financial director of Allied Land Holdings Limited and joint managing director of Close Brothers Ltd., investment bankers. He referred to large-scale developments carried out by Allied Land in this country and Canada. Allied Land owned 74 per cent. of the Brighton Marina Company Limited of which Mr. Martens said he was a director. 7.30 p.m.

I cite that to make it clear that the Bill will inure, if at all, not for the benefit of the people of Brighton, but for the benefit of the people of Canada. This is a very dangerous, penalising, and antisocial Bill which will damage public and free access to the Brighton beach. It will also create a terrible precedent at other seaside resorts in Scotland, Wales and England—in Hampshire, Devonshire, Yorkshire, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk. The attractions of those seasides will be damaged, minimised and perhaps wrecked, for the private profits and dividends of a few money-seeking profiteers in Canada and elsewhere.

Let me put categorically my points against the Bill. I oppose it because it would close the foreshore and beaches to the public, who would have to pay money to go there. It would create a wrong precedent for the closure of other beaches. The money profit, if any, would go to Canadian shareholders and not to Brightonians. It would spoil a beauty spot described in a plaque set on the cliffs by Brighton Corporation many years ago and still there. It would confiscate the homes of many residents, who protest against the activities of the promoters of the Bill who wish to take their houses and their homes and make new roads there. It would destroy many shops and businesses. It would involve desecrating a graveyard and exhuming 300 corpses, which is a very gruesome feature of the Bill.

I object to it, not as a yachting harbour, which is a charming, beautiful and health-giving concept in the proper place, in a place which is safe for yachtsmen under public control, without penalising the public by making them pay to go for a swim on the beach, without penalising the private owners whose homes are being taken, and without penalising Brighton's ratepayers, who, by the Bill may be exposed to an increase in their rates.

I object to the Bill because it does not conform to the essential requirements to which such a Bill should conform. On the contrary, it would combine undesirable concomitants and would inflict unjust compulsory powers. It would put yachts in a dangerous place, involving loss of life. It would steal away public beaches used for generations. It would spoil beautiful scenery enjoyed by thousands of people, young and old. It would deprive Roedean school girls and students at other schools who go down to these traditional beaches to study marine life. [Laughter.] It may be amusing to hon. Members opposite. Do they not realise that school girls study marine life? I agree with the suggestion behind the laughter that it is not their whole study, but marine life is one of the essentials which they study.

It would interfere with the useful amenities enjoyed by the blind men in St. Dunstan's Home, which is nearby. It would have a great many disadvantages for all the residents in that area. All this would be done in a way which would involve enormous cost for rich and poor alike in the Brighton area. It would expose Brighton Corporation to a vast rate increase to bring private profit, at the expense of public loss, to Canadian companies which are behind the Bill.

The scheme is wrong from many essential aspects. It has been condemned—let me put it shortly and categorically—by seafaring yachtsmen as unsafe; by economists as unsound and dangerous; by architects as incompatible and dichotomous—a good word there; by artists as repulsive and barbarous; by students as a deprivation; by residents, swimmers and walkers as invidious; and by the Save the Beaches Movement because of the loss it would inflict on people who wish to enjoy the amenities of the beach.

Let me put the case in another way from the point of view of the House of Commons. I quote from Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice, 17th Edition, page 871: The promoters of a bill may prove beyond a doubt that their own interests will be advanced by its success and no one may complain of injury or urge any specific objection, yet, if Parliament apprehends that it will be hurtful to the community, it is rejected as if It were a public measure, or qualified by restrictive enactments not solicited by the parties. I have already said enough to indicate that on the grounds specified in that paragraph of Erskine May the Bill should be rejected. No doubt here the promoters' interests will be advanced in England and in Canada. They will make profits here and in Canada. But there is grave doubt whether any profit will emerge at all from this very dangerous scheme.

The Bill seeks statutory powers to enclose over half a mile of beach and foreshore and reclaim land from the sea and erect thereon car parks, filling stations, hotels, restaurants, club premises, offices, theatres, cinemas, casinos, dance halls, ice rinks, playgrounds, boat-yards, bowling alleys, shops, houses, flats and other residential accommodation. By doing all that, it is obvious that it will divert a great deal of business from Brighton itself and thereby do great harm to it as a seaside resort.

A word now about the locus in quo. Brighton Corporation put on the cliffs many years ago a plaque stating that, The history of Black Rock cliffs and beaches goes back over 100,000 years, during which time relics of prehistoric animals and tools were found there. They include mammoth, woolly rhinoceros and hippopotamus". That plaque has been there for years, it is there still, and what it says is true. The place is not only one of scenic beauty for walkers and swimmers but it is also a place of historic interest. The rocks and cliffs are rich in marine life, which students go there to study. Adjacent are several boarding schools, and the scholars there not only study the marine life but are able to use the two miles of the under-cliff walk and exercise on the two miles of greensward above the the cliffs. Nearby, as I have said, is the magnificent St. Dunstan's home for the blind, associated with the name of Sir Ian Fraser, the occupants of which enjoy the amenities of the beach and cliffs, amenities which will be destroyed if the scheme adumbrated in the Bill goes through. There is also the Black Rock swimming pool. All this is only part of the beautiful picture which will be endangered if this money-grabbing scheme goes through, not under the control of the people of Brighton but largely under the control of the majority shareholders in Canada.

What do architects think about the scheme? In the May issue of the Architect's Journal this year, the scheme was called, "The Battle of the Fore- shore", underlining that it may be used as a precedent for the ruin and closure of other beaches for private profit. The Journal says that the scheme is incompatible with the safeguarding of our coastline, and it criticises Brighton Corporation in these terms: If every local authority worked in a similar dichotomous manner, there would be very little indeed of our natural coastline left in a few years. I shall not quote the whole article, but the comment is made later on: So far from making money from the scheme, Brighton ratepayers will have to pay out for it without any certainty of its being the howling success that it must be to bring money into the town. The Brighton and Hove Gazette of 26th May quotes those observations of the Architect's Journal with approval and adds that the scheme can only form a complete blockage between town and cliffs, effectively cutting off the quiet beaches further on and turning the cliff-side walk into a dark canyon". Where it refers to the cliffside walk, the Gazette means the under-cliff walk and the over-cliff walk, the under-cliff walk amid the rocks and by the sea which has been maintained by Brighton Corporation for generations, the over-cliff walk a beautiful greensward of two miles between Black Rock and Rottingdean. In the opinion of the Brighton and Hove Gazette, both will be damaged.

From every point of view, this Bill is wrong. It is supported, and probably financed, from Canada. It is an attack upon public access to the foreshore. It will redound not to the public benefit but to private profit. It will penalise the ratepayers of Brighton. It will deprive British citizens of their long-enjoyed and cherished rights. Above all, if this Bill passes, it will be likely to be treated as a precedent for other places. I have been informed by a colleague on the other side of the House that the same sort of thing is threatened in his Lancashire constituency. It may be threatened in Yorkshire constituencies, in Essex, in Devonshire and in Cornwall. If this Bill passes, it will be a bad day for Brighton's beaches and foreshore.

The Clerk Assistant at the Table informed the House of the unavoidable absence of Mr. SPEAKER from the remainder of this day's Sitting.

Whereupon Sir ERIC FLETCHER, The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, took the Chair as DEPUTY SPEAKER, pursuant to the Standing Order.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)

The whole House is indebted to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) for his summary of the case against this proposal. My hon. and learned Friend is now a very senior Member, and I am sure that I speak for all of us when I say that he is well liked in every part of the House. Although hon. Members may disagree with him—I personally have a great deal of sympathy with what he says—I am sure that all will, nevertheless, agree that what he has to say on this Bill comes from deep-felt personal conviction about the sanctity of our beaches and our foreshores and from a deep conviction that the Bill is not in the wider public interest.

However, I regard the vote on Second Reading as conclusive in this House. The House gave its blessing to the project, despite the misgivings which my hon. and learned Friend and I expressed at that time; and I shall not go over the broad Second Reading case again. I regard that issue as largely decided now. Nevertheless, this much should be said about my hon. and learned Friend's criticisms. What has emerged since Second Reading shows the force of what a good many of us said on that occasion. This is not a yachting harbour scheme. It is a large piece of town development, with a yachting harbour as the excuse for its taking place on the Brighton foreshore.

The total cost was orginally estimated at about £9 million. I am not sure, but I think that the figure is probably nearer £12 million now. Of the original £9 million, only £3 million was for the harbour and the yachting facilities. All the rest was for the onshore developments set out in the long list which my hon. and learned Friend read. This is a piece of large-scale private-enterprise development in Brighton, with a yachting harbour as the excuse for doing it. This is what has emerged since Second Reading, and in affords the broad ground of the case against the Bill.

However, I shall not deal with that point now. As I said, I accept that the House of Commons decided to have the Bill on Second Reading, and I wish to raise a separate matter. The Bill before us now is totally different from the one which we discussed on Second Reading. The Second Reading Bill had 36 pages. As soon as it got to Committee, the Committee deleted half-a-dozen of those pages, the main six pages at the beginning which dealt with the compulsory purchase powers then embodied in the Bill. That left us with 30 pages. But the Bill as it reaches us now has 49 pages: there have been 19 added to the 30 left after the Committee's work.

My hon. and learned Friend is right to point out that this is a new situation. The Bill is quite different in many respects. I want to talk about one particular aspect of what happened in Committee which affects our consideration of the Bill at this stage. The Committee deleted the whole of the powers of compulsory acquisition of the properties necessary to form—

Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)

On a point of order. The hon. Member is talking about what we should consider in the Bill. I understood that he said that he is not against the Bill being considered, and what he has now said seems to support that. The Motion concerns only whether the Bill should be considered, and as I understood him to say that he was not opposing the consideration, is it in order for him to proceed?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Motion is "That the Bill, as amended, be now considered", and it is in order on that Motion for the hon. Member to say whether or not he thinks that it should be considered. On the other hand, he was beginning to refer to matters that were in the Bill at an earlier stage but are no longer in it, and he is not allowed to refer to that part of the Bill.

Mr. Chapman

I fully understand. Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) has mistaken my position. I am saying that I shall not oppose further consideration of the Bill, and I am entitled to make a speech showing why I think that other people are entitled to oppose its being given further consideration. I have been in the House long enough not to fall for that one.

The reason why we have some qualms about considering the Bill much further is that it is now quite different, and I am trying to explain in what respect I think that we now face a new situation. The Bill now contains no compulsory purchase powers, and the question arises whether the project can be expected to proceed without them. The approach roads, as we might broadly call them, need for their construction the purchase of some houses for demolition, and so on. The original Bill was drafted in such a way that the company would have all the powers of a local authority to buy the properties by compulsory purchase, demolish them and make the approach roads. Those provisions have now been deleted, and the Bill has no compulsory purchase powers in it.

I want to quote what the Chairman of the Select Committee said, as reported in the local Brighton newspaper. The proposers of the Bill wanted to abandon the whole of it at one point; they said that if they could not have compulsory purchase powers the Bill was no good and they might as well abandon it, but after a short recess they decided to continue. When asked about the powers, the Chairman of the Committee said bluntly, as reported in the Brighton newspaper: The whole scheme should be completed without resort to any compulsory powers at all. I understand that he was speaking on behalf of his fellow members of the Committee who had deleted all the compulsory purchase powers.

The new situation is that we have a new Bill. We have a decision of the Committee to proceed without compulsory purchase powers. The strangest thing that has happened, and what gives me reason to believe that we should go some way to saying that the Bill should be stopped, is the attitude now taken by Brighton Corporation. Despite those words of the Committee Chairman, it has held a special meeting and decided, flouting the words of the Chairman of a Committee of the House, to take no notice and to promote, if necessary, a further Private Bill in order that it shall have compulsory powers to buy the houses and give them to the company for development for approach roads.

This is monstrous. The House of Commons said in the Committee, "You wanted this thing as private enterprise, and if you want it as private enterprise you cannot have powers of compulsory purchase." Now the Brighton Corporation is trying by the back door to say, "All right. In the end we shall not accept that. We shall ask for compulsory purchase powers, and having bought the houses compulsorily will make them available to the company." The matter is even worse than that. What it boils down to is—

Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich) rose

Mr. Chapman

The hon. Gentleman can make a speech. I do not want to be interrupted, because I want to be brief.

Mr. Grant-Ferris

Surely the facts are that the Committee said very definitely that if there were to be compulsory powers they must be exercised by the Corporation?

Mr. Chapman

I will read again for the hon. Gentleman's benefit the words of the Chairman of the Committee: The whole scheme should be completed without resort to any compulsory powers at all. If one reads the whole of his speech one sees that the Chairman made it absolutely clear that he was saying, "If you want this thing as private enterprise you must have the penalties of being private enterprise, namely, that you must proceed by agreement with the purchase of the property you need for the approach road." This is what gives me cause for alarm. The House of Commons in Committee was saying this clearly—

Sir William Teeling (Brighton, Pavilion)

Where is this reported?

Mr. Chapman

I am quoting from the verbatim report of the Committee's hearings in the Brighton Evening Argus of 9th May.

I should not like to labour the point too much, but this is really not the proper way for the Brighton Corporation to proceed. It boils down to blackmail of the people in Riflebutt Road and the other houses concerned, to sell them to the company because the threat of compulsory purchase by the Corporation is being dangled over their heads. That is not proper. It is not the right way to deal with the House of Commons or with the people who live in those houses.

I understand that the houses are probably worth about £150,000. If they are so important to the company for its piece of private development it must do like any other private developer—pay up and look happy, and strike prices at which the people are willing to sell their property. If I have a field and need to buy a house to make an access road and develop the field I cannot run to a local corporation and say, "Buy it compulsorily for me so that I can carry out by private development in the field." I must pay up and look happy, and give whatever is necessary to tempt the people concerned to sell me the house.

Similarly, the Brighton Marina Company should be bluntly told that if it needs £200,000 instead of £150,000 to buy the people out it must pay up and look happy. If it costs £250,000, it must pay up. That is nothing in a total expenditure of £12 million. Secondly, we must tell Brighton Corporation that this is not the right way to deal with the House of Commons. When a Chairman of Committee has made the remark about the excision of the Clauses, it is improper, to put it at its lowest, for the Corporation to say that it will seek powers of compulsory purchase in order to dangle this threat over the heads of the freeholders.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should pursue this point any further, because he is now dealing with something which is not in the Bill.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Chapman

I am obliged, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I have finished that point.

I would not support any Motion to delay further progress of the Bill. I regard the principle as having been decided at Second Reading. On the other hand, I have misgivings about further proceedings, firstly because the Bill is so different from what went upstairs to Committee and, secondly, because of the attitude adopted by Brighton Corporation to the proceedings in Committee. I felt it right to ventilate this point of criticism against Brighton Corporation, even though I would not join my hon. and learned Friend in trying to delay the Bill's further progress.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, considered accordingly.