§ (By Order)
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)
Before I call the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), I have to inform the House that the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has not been selected.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill, which deals with the situation that has arisen owing to the discovery of oil off Shetland, may well point the way to better methods of controlling developments consequent upon oil discoveries in other parts of Britain. But the Bill has arisen because of the Shetland situation, and the Shetland situation is to some extent a special one. I believe it is essential that the impact of oil on a rathei unique island community such as Shetland—an impact which may be extremely serious but which certainly will not go on for ever and may be over after 50 years —should be controlled carefully. We must not sacrifice the long-term future of the community.
Control should be exercised with several aims in view. The first is the well-being of all Shetlanders and all their descendants. The second is the maintenance of their traditions, which are largely Norse in origin and which differ from the traditions of much of the rest of Britain. The third is the preservation of the best land of Shetland—here I have in mind both its agricultural value and its beauty —and the protection of Shetland's existing fisheries, agriculture and industry.
We should also arrange for the retention in the islands of a fair share of the income which will arise from these discoveries. We should ensure that this income can be used for the general well-being and for such purposes as making good if pollution should take place and the ultimate rehabilitation of sites which may be used and then discarded. The fifth aim is that service and other industries connected with the oil should be introduced in an orderly manner and at a speed and on a scale which the islands can absorb without disruption.
To some Shetlanders the very minimum introduction of service industries is to be deplored. They see them as a threat to their way of life, and that way of life certainly is distinctive and humane in scale and is becoming very much valued in a world which has seen the squalor which arises from forcing human beings into great conurbations. The 1,100 people of the island of Unst, for instance, would view with dismay more than 500 incomers over the next four 862 or five years. I sympathise with that point of view. But there are already service industries in Shetland, for example at Sandwick. The discovery of oil is having an effect on the economy and it would be unreasonable and unrealistic to expect that we could keep them out even if we wanted to. Of course a refinery would be a very different matter.
The Bill sets out to achieve orderly planning for the aims that I have outlined in the interests of Shetland as a whole. The general purpose of the Bill is set out in paragraph (2) on page 2. It is to ensure that facilities required in connection with the discovery of oil off the coast of Shetland should be provided… in an orderly, co-ordinated and effective manner …".I cannot believe that anyone could object to that.
The Shetland County Council has drawn up a development plan which has been submitted to the Secretary of State. It has appointed a firm of consultants to do more detailed planning of the main areas likely to be affected. It has the advice of Messrs. Rothschild's on financial and technical matters. It has been aware for years of the nature and some of the purposes of the companies which have shown an interest in the Shetlands. It has had discussions with many of them. Major oil companies such as BP, Shell and Conoco have approved of its proposals. I myself, county councillors and officials have held meetings up and down the islands. The development plan has been exhibited and amended in the light of public criticism. The Shetland Times has given wide coverage to points of view from all directions.
Local planning authorities are accused sometimes of being too slow off the mark, ill-informed, prejudiced and secretive. But here we have a Bill which is an attempt to look ahead, which has been discussed with the community and which would enable representatives of the community in good time to take control of developments the ultimate shape of which it is very difficult to foresee.
The most controversial parts of the Bill are the clauses which would give the county council powers of compulsory purchase in the areas round Sullom and Baltasound. I ought perhaps to explain in some detail why these are necessary.
863 It would be dishonest to pretend that they have not aroused understandable anxiety.
The anxiety arises both from those who do not want ever to part with their land and perhaps those who want to part with it all too quickly and to make a good killing in the process. I have sympathy with those who regard it as a disaster that they may have to sell land which has been in their families for generations and on which they want to stay. It may be a tragedy that oil was ever found at all. But it has been found, and it is neither possible nor, I suggest, desirable to exclude from Shetland the service industries and the handling of oil which will go on almost certainly.
I say to those people that these provisions are not designed to encourage the eviction of families which have lived perhaps for generations in Shetland. They are designed to limit the amount of land which may have to be taken, to see that the land which is taken is put to good use and to protect the crofters, who are tenants. Even if there were no compulsory purchase of land in Shetland, it would still be possible for landlords to resume the land and therefore there is a need to protect the crofters and to ensure that they get good compensation.
Then I must explain why the county should not rely on the normal planning procedures and why the land needs to be acquired at all by public authorities. It may be argued that they have sufficient power under the planning Acts. Again I stress that we are dealing with islands and with special situations of small, defined communities.
Property developers might buy up land. Some has been bought already and more is under option. Having bought it, they might keep it until its value had risen a great deal. There is already evidence that some land has been sold at below its potential value. Therefore the people affected will get a much better deal if it is valued by the district valuer at the market rate prevailing when it is required for industrial development. What is more, developers might take far more land than is needed. They might choose to put up a lot of small tanks rather than one or two bigger ones. They might seek to let it to service companies dealing with only one 864 oil company and again be extravagant in the use of land.
Indeed, if we rely entirely on planning Acts there is no certainty that proper surveys and so on would be carried out. Under those Acts development could no doubt be confined to the designated areas, but proper planning within those areas would be more difficult. Conditions could not be written into the planning permission which would cover all possibilities. I emphasise that we are looking into the future, and it would be almost impossible to cover all the possibilities which might arise.
Further, the initiative would have to come from the developers. Again, there is a danger that we might find in certain hands a monopoly of the valuable land in Shetland. Unless permission to develop were limited to a stated time, I understand that no detailed provision for the restitution of the land could be inserted in the authority to develop.
I suspect that demands will grow and that it will be impossible, once planning permission has been given, to regulate these demands as we might want in the interests of the community. The result of relying simply on planning procedures could be that perhaps one man or one company would make a lot of money while the neighbours, whose amenities would be greatly affected, would get nothing.
Why should not the council proceed with compulsory purchase under Section 102 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972? I do not deny that this could be done, but there are great difficulties in the way. To my mind the proposed procedure is more satisfactory.
I emphasise again the particular nature of the Shetland problem. It is an island community of 17,000 people and when the oil eventually ceases to flow there could be disastrous effects on a distinctive community.
It would be difficult to put an argument to the Secretary of State which would meet the requirements of Section 102 of the 1972 Act. That section is primarily designed to apply to land which should be developed as a whole in connection with definite projects. The wording of the Act is "land is required". We are dealing with land which is not at the moment definitely required. We 865 are looking to the time when we are pretty sure that it will be required. It is control that matters, and it would be difficult for the Secretary of State to sanction the purchase of the land if the council went ahead at this time without a definite project. The procedure would not allow the county council to proceed with plans for housing, roads, harbours and so on. It can hardly do this without the absolute assurance that it would control the landward areas.
Further, the council would have to purchase now and incur expenditure of perhaps £4 million or £5 million and it might not need the land for several years. The landowners or tenants would get less compensation now than they might when a definite industrial use for the land was determined. In the meantime the land can remain under its present use until it is definitely required. I am certain that the procedure would also suit the developers, because it would mean that the land was available when the actual development was scheduled to take place.
The proposed procedure allows the county to grant leases into which conditions can be written which it would be almost impossible to write into any planning permission. This is an important point.
I should like to draw attention to two or three recent experiences concerning planning. First, I do not believe that anyone thinks that the system of individual inquiries, as with Dunnet Bay and Edinburgh Airport, is satisfactory. Secondly, the new towns have always found it necessary to acquire land. They do not rely on the planning procedures. Thirdly, other counties are considering the promotion of orders or Bills.
Lastly in this connection I refer the House to the speech by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) in the debate on 30th March when he pointed out the dangers of the totality of the effect of piecemeal planning decisions which have gravely affected the Thames Estuary, and on the siting of refineries he said:The only principle appears to be that there are no principles".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th March 1973; Vol. 853, c. 1725.]I do not think that the hon. Member's experience is satisfactory. It points to the need for this Bill.
866 Those who want what amounts to a free-for-all, subject to planning procedures, should bear in mind the interests of the community. To some extent the community has created the value. Had the county council not designated Sullom and Baltasound as development areas, the values would have been much less. Therefore, I maintain that the community has a right to take reasonable steps to control the land and to expect to share in the profits made from it.
Parts II, IV and V of the Bill are largely concerned with the proposal that the county council should become a harbour authority. I believe it is generally agreed that something like this is necessary. It may be that in Committee various points will be raised on this matter, but in general this is essential. There are various harbour authorities in Shetland but they do not control the areas most likely to be used. The planning Act's provisions extend only to low water mark in the sea. There is a big problem over the protection of fishing grounds and facilities for the fishing fleet. Here I should like to mention the petition which has been put in on behalf of the fishermen.
§ Mr. Tarn Dalyell (West Lothian)
The right hon. Gentleman has suggested that the county council should become a harbour authority. Does the Zetland County Council have the expertise to become a harbour authority? Most of us who know something about harbour authorities appreciate what an enormous amount of expertise is involved.
§ Mr. Grimond
That is true. I will deal with some of the points which the hon. Gentleman has in mind as I go along. It is suggested that the Zetland County Council is an innocent body without commercial experience.
§ Mr. Grimond
It can command commercial experience in abundant quantity. It itself is quite experienced. There has been a great change in the staff of county councils. I do not wish to cause embarrassment, but we have a highly paid, able, competent, lively general manager and he is to have an assistant. County councils can call upon all kinds of expertise, as the Zetland County Council is doing in the form of Livesey and Henderson and 867 the notable Bank of Rothschild. When it becomes a harbour authority we can have every confidence in its being efficient.
On the face of it, it might be said that the harbour commissioners for Lerwick are a very small body, but they are coping extremely efficiently with an enormous extension of the harbour with facilities for P & O and Olsens. The clerk to the harbour trust seems to have done very well. I have great confidence, particularly after Lerwick's experience, that these bodies can compete with their new responsibilities. It is essential that the county council should be a harbour authority.
The fishermen in their petition appear to be frightened that the powers to be taken to construct harbour works, to dredge and so forth, are designed to limit or may have the effect of limiting fishing. The exact opposite is intended. The point taken is that this power to ensure the movement of great tankers and merchant ships through the area shall not too drastically or at all affect fishing. The idea is that harbour works should be constructed in places away from facilities reserved to the fishermen. It is partly to protect the fishermen that the county council wishes to become a harbour authority.
There are other points to which in all honesty I should draw attention. First, in Clause 3(1) "the coastal area" is defined as:the area of the territorial waters of the United Kingdom adjacent to the Shetland Islands".That is a quite big area and I have no doubt that the Committee will consider it. However, that definition is necessary because there may be mooring buoys far out and it would be desirable, if necessary, for the county council to be able to go to the Secretary of State and say "We want powers to deal with this situation."
Clause 5 deals withthe conservancy of, and control of development in, or in the vicinity of, the coastal area.As I understand it, the county council could not undertake any works without applying to the Secretary of State, and there is a procedure for appeal against these works. Anyone who feels that his livelihood might be affected has that extra protection.
868 Certain parts of the Bill will be amended and I do not think I need go into them in detail. For instance, the parts dealing with the Post Office have been amended.
Clause 28 enables the council to subscribe for shares. There are some who feel that this is a wide power to give a county council, but again this is justified. The clause does not say that the council must subscribe to shares. It says that it may, and it may by that means attract to Shetland more of the proceeds of oil than merely by charging rates or dues. This is a reasonable provision which will no doubt be looked at in Committee.
Again, it may be asked whether the county council is capable of knowing whether projects will succeed. To that I say that the council will get advice which will enable it to go into partnership with private developers and enable the people of Shetland to feel that they are participating in what is an important matter for their islands.
Part III of the Bill deals with the compulsory purchase powers of which I have spoken and which are of great importance to the crofters. These will be looked at in Committee if the Bill receives a Second Reading. The exact areas can be examined, and the provision of 28 days' notice might be extended. I stress the importance of adequate compensation, and in this the Land Compensation Act will help a great deal. I have asked the Government to look at the situation of crofters both from the point of view of compensation and in order to ensure that the minimum of agricultural or built-up land is taken.
There is one important matter which worries my constituents, and that is what is called planning blight. Will they cease to receive improvement grants for houses if they are within the designated areas of Sullow and Baltasound? This is a matter of concern, and I hope that reasonable development of and improvement of houses will continue.
I should draw attention to Clause 73 which allows the setting up—
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman would care to say something about the provisions of Part IV, and particularly Clause 39.
§ Mr. Grimond
I am always willing to say something. This is the clause which, under the regulation of harbour areas, applies when works are constructed outside the harbour—that is to say, outside designated areas. It is at this point that the Secretary of State is brought in, and action to extend the powers of the local authority as a harbour board can be taken only after the authority of the Secretary of State has been given. I hope that that covers the point raised by the hon. Gentleman. There is power in the Bill to extend areas which may be taken by the harbour authority, but they would require fairly careful examination.
I was talking about the reserve fund. This will allow the county council to set up a fund—if one wants a precedent one might point to the old common good funds—which could be used in case of pollution or for the reconstitution of land after the oil boom is over.
I have not today mentioned the important social and economic effects which will flow from the discovery of oil because I have referred to them on several other occasions, the last time being only about a week ago. Further, they are not directly dealt with in the Bill but they may well have the most important effects of all. I am concerned about steep rises in the cost of living in Shetland and in freight charges, and there is the possibility that existing occupations and industries might be disrupted. The Bill is intended partly to offset those hazards, for the reserve fund could be used to assist in a situation in which it appeared that severe damage was being done to the community.
I suggest to the House that the Bill in principle is worthy of support. I think it is responsible and far sighted for the Zetland County Council to plan ahead in this way. There are—I have them all here—petitions against the Bill. Many of them make serious points. Many of them are made by people who have great experience of Shetland and are deeply concerned with it. I have shown that there might be desirable amendments. Indeed, I welcome the fact that all these will be carefully examined by the Committee if the Bill is given a Second Reading.
It has been alleged that the Bill will deprive people of some rights of appeal, but there will be careful consideration by impartial people of all the points that 870 have been raised when the Bill is in Committee. There is also the question of the length of time that the Bill is designed to run. That too can be discussed, and I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
We have had our share of rumours and efforts by some to apply the worst construction to everyone's motives. It is a difficult situation, but the local authority is trying to deal with it with skill and courage and I urge the House to give the Bill a Second Reading and send it on its way to its further stages.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
I was the Member who objected to the Bill, and I say at the outset that the objection was a parliamentary device to obtain a discussion of the Bill and not an objection to the substance of it.
I should like to congratulate the Zetland County Council on the speed with which it has hammered together a long and complex measure. If the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) thinks that my view is that the Shetlanders are either innocent or simple I should like gently to disabuse him of that, because no such thought had occurred to me. I am sure that they are neither innocent nor simple, and I should not wish to patronise the Shetlanders in any way.
It is essential to have some serious parliamentary discussion of this measure, and that is why I objected to it before the recess. It behoves hon. Members to understand precisely what we are doing. Many of the laws of this country result from particular situations, and when a particular situation blows up perhaps we get legislation which somehow or other sets a precedent for other situations.
I understand perfectly well that there are many particular issues which affect Shetland, but the right hon. Gentleman must understand that his authority is pioneering, trail blazing and perhaps starting a whole series of orders, petitions and private Bills, and there are many other people and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, other counties who will follow. If we are not careful we shall land up with a whole mosaic of private Bills. Is that really what we want? Do we want Orkney followed by Cromarty, followed by the authorities round the 871 Firth of Forth, Cornwall and parts of Norfolk? That is what will happen, so let us get it right the first time, rather than have an incoherent patchwork. If I am asked the basic objective of this form of parliamentary discussion, it is a plea for some kind of coherent approach to a unique problem.
Let me voice my major worry about the Bill. I would accept a great deal of what the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland has said, but he should recognise that there is a serious problem of size involved. I do not doubt that the Zetland County Council has many competent and able employees. If it had not, it would never have produced so quickly such a complex Bill. Nevertheless, is this the optimum way to approach this matter?
Are the Government really going to allow a development in dribs and drabs of something that calls for a national coherent solution? I am waiting for some kind of statement from the Government on their approach. If they say "We will just allow a series of private Bills like this", I should have the gravest doubts, as would many other people outside the House, whether this was the way to approach this challenge. I await with interest and eagerness the Government's answer to this question.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) for having raised the central issue in this debate. Although we are discussing one Bill, and although I had some misgivings about the appropriateness of the procedure of objecting to a Bill when one agreed with the principle, this is a useful opportunity in view of the complexity of the issue faced in the North of Scotland, and which the country will face in coming years.
It is not only an encroachment on land use in the Highlands that we are considering but the possibility of encroachment in the West of Scotland. I speak as a member of the Council of the National Trust in Scotland, which is very concerned about the incursion in terms of land use of associated oil developers at Drumbuie and the Balmacara Estate. So 872 I am trying to put the Bill in an overall Scottish and United Kingdom context.
Within the constituency of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), we are faced with a provisional order tabled by the Orkney County Council in March of this year which is 99.9 per cent. the same as this Bill. So we are apt to have a proliferation of this type of legislation unless the Scottish Office becomes much more aware—I say this in a censorious tone, but meaning well—of the impact of oil development on the Scottish economy, particularly the Highlands and Islands.
Why is this Bill necessary and desirable? The answer involves not only the presence of oil but the technology of bringing it ashore. It is not just that oil is discovered to the east of Shetland and may possibly be discovered to the west; it is being discovered in very deep waters. The problems of bringing that oil ashore stretch the boundaries of existing technology. If we allow private enterprise development to run amok here, which would be the "traditional" Tory philosophy, this will be disastrous for Shetland. We cannot allow private enterprise speculation in terms of land use to run rampant here. That is why the Zetland County Council is right to promote the Bill.
The Brent field, if present expectations are fulfilled, will bring between 15 million and 20 million tons of oil ashore. But there are others. Shell has been very circumspect about its Golden block. It has managed to bemuse the Press and the public into feeling that this is a dry area. This will prove not to be so. The field may not be as extensive as we had collectively thought, but it will produce oil, along with other discoveries which have been announced, particularly by Occidental, which will be brought ashore to the Shetlands.
But this relates not only to oil, gas associated with the oil or gas on its own. Few of us can picture oil refineries in the Shetlands, and it is much more difficult to picture the oil refinery which is at present being suggested, plus a gas liquefaction plant. The refinery may be very remote, and we may have to go through many considerations as to whether it would be an appropriate development for that area or any other part of Scotland, 873 but a gas liquefaction plant is certainly a starter. There are difficulties in putting these installations in other parts of Scotland because of the terrain and the difficulty, if not impossibility, of growing trees in Shetland with which to hide such developments.
In this situation, it is right that land required for industrial development is put clearly in the public domain. Private enterprise in this area is not on. Therefore, I support the general principle of the Bill, but I would suggest to the promoters one or two considerations which they might take up in Committee.
First, the community in the Orkneys and Shetlands, but particularly in the Shetlands, is in dynamic equilibrium. There is no unemployment, thanks to the efforts of the Shetlanders themselves, aided by the Highlands and Islands Development Board, this community has taken off into self-sustained growth. The basic industries of that Community, wool and fishing, are booming, and if we placed extraneous communities into that situation we would cause havoc among the existing industries, and social dislocation.
The oil companies that want to go there should be clearly advised to place the minimum of manpower, and woman-power—I do not want to offend my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton)—in the Shetlands itself. They should be long-distance commuters to the production rigs and the service facilities.
There is also the problem of crofting. Crofting is a way of life, not just a question of land ownership and tenure. While I would not wish to embark upon it myself, it is a way of life which should be preserved or at least conserved. In this situation, I ask the promoters whether they would agree that the Crofters Commission should be consulted before any land is taken out of crofting tenure. In normal circumstances, that would be done, but the Secretary of State for Scotland has some proposals for the alteration of crofting tenure which might involve the ending of the Crofters Commission. We await those proposals, the nature of which is not yet clear, and I urge that for the duration of the compulsory purchase powers under the Bill— that is, until 1982—the Crofters Commis- 874 sion ought to be consulted. If we cannot have a clause to that effect, I should request the promoters to give the Commission, or, if not the Commission, certainly the local crofters' union, a binding undertaking to the effect that no land will be taken out of crofting tenure save only in exceptional circumstances.
The protection of flora and fauna is another important requirement. I have seen the Sullom Voe area, though I am not fully conversant with the flora and fauna of all the Shetlands. I suggest that there should be written into the Bill something akin to Clause 9 of the Maplin Development Bill, as amended, under which the Nature Conservancy should be consulted about the effect of any development work on the flora and fauna of the area, with, perhaps, sums set aside by the promoters under the Bill to ensure that the flora and fauna are conserved.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will say a little more about the powers under Clause 39. I am not sure that these powers are circumscribed in the way that I should desire. The Bill not only gives harbour authority jurisdiction to the Zetland County Council in relation to Sullom Voe and Baltasound but raises the distinct possibility that, subject to the Secretary of State's approval, the whole area of Shetland could eventually be a harbour development authority area if the Zetland County Council so requested.
I can see the need for that. Immediately the issue is put in those terms in the Shetland context, there is no alternative but to ask for those powers. One of the reasons relates to the remoteness of the Scottish Office from the issue.
I am not sure that the analogy of the common good fund which the right hon. Gentleman used in relation to Clause 73 is correct. If the Zetland County Council and the other authorities which may be set up are as discreet and intelligent as I imagine they are or will be, they will screw the oil companies; they will take under their control these vital areas of land and make the oil companies pay. There ought to be substantial profits flowing to Zetland County Council from the use of these resources. Therefore. I do not think that one can use the analogy of the common good fund.
My overall impression is that the Bill is being pushed forward because of the 875 lack of a clear indication from the Scottish Office that it understands, and has a policy in relation to, the impact of oil on the economy of Scotland and of the Highlands and Islands in particular.
I have already spoken of the National Trust. We are in danger of maligning ourselves in Scotland. We start off wanting Scottish interests to be involved in oil and oil developments, and then we read newspaper articles criticising the very firms which take up the opportunities on the basis of a free private enterprise economy I have already pointed out that if we pursue a free private inter-price economy in the Shetlands and other areas, it will produce the worst possible result. I think that the Scottish Office is now coming round to that realisation. Therefore, while wishing to see the Bill go forward, I plead with the Scottish Office to become far more aware of the impact of these developments and to give us an overall view. If we cannot have a comprehensive White Paper covering the matter as a whole, let us at least have a White Paper on the implications of oil and associated developments in relation to land use. We cannot have the Secretary of State not desiring to embark on planning inquiries and commissions while at the same time hoping that the problems will be solved by local authorities promoting Bills of this kind.
By far the largest proportion of Zetland County Council's expenditure comes from the central Government. I am told that a penny rate in Shetland produces £2,000. Zetland County Council will be bearing this burden for the nation. It is promoting the Bill not necessarily for the benefit of Zetland but for the nation as a whole, and I do not think it right that the nation should sit back and let Zetland handle it. I say that not because I wish to disparage the county council but because I realise how tremendous will be the impact of oil on the north of Scotland. One has only to think of the consequences of tankers of 500,000 tons coming into the area. Yet power to make that possible will be given if the Bill is passed.
I suggest that we give the Bill a Second Reading because of the lack of feasible alternatives from the Scottish Office, but I hope that that lack will be remedied in the near future.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
It is significant that there has been no opposition in the House so far to the principles of the Bill, although, naturally, there are misgivings about certain details. I am sure that the Zetland County Council will take due note of what is said by all hon. Members who speak.
I wish at the outset to express my grati-ture—I am sure that I speak here on behalf of my hon. Friends the Members for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Douglas) and Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon)—for the hospitality shown to us by the Zetland County Council and Shell Oil when we visited the islands last week. It was extremely helpful to see things as they are on the spot and to talk to the folk most likely to be intimately affected by the imminent landing of unknown quantities of North Sea oil and, possibly gas.
After the recent debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire, I was taken to task for referring to the Shetlanders as gentle and simple folk. I was accused of being patronising and condescending. I should never be either to anyone. I did not intend my remarks to be understood in that way, and I do not think that anyone was in doubt as to what I meant. What I implied—indeed, I stated as much—was that a whole new complex of problems was hitting a community with the force of a tornado. I was doubting then, and am still inclined to doubt, the local community's capacity to deal with them as a whole.
No one can visit the Shetlands and come away without an acute awareness of the enormous challenge, opportunities and dangers facing the native populace. Nor is one left in much doubt either about the clash of interests involved and not least, the clash of personalities.
Most Shetlanders, as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said, would probably wish the oil had never been discovered or that it would go away; but it has and it will not. The problems with which the Bill seeks to deal are precisely those arising from the fact that the oil has been discovered, that it will not go away, and that it must be brought ashore by one means or another. One can question the speed of the operation; one may question the wisdom of going too fast 877 with the operation; but that it should proceed there can be no doubt.
The problems were stated fairly by the right hon. Gentleman. The first is to ensure that as far as is humanly possible the onshore facilities for the oil industry should be so planned as to cause minimal harm to the environment—I made this point in the previous debate—and to the traditional way of life.
My hon. Friends have repeatedly chivvied me for referring to a way of life of certain crofters. It is not unimportant that the House should devote some attention to the need to preserve that way of life, consistent with the development of this enormous bonanza that we now have on our doorstep.
Secondly the county council is right to limit the new industrial developments that are bound to take place to certain well defined areas to be controlled by the planning authority, and, in particular, thirdly—here I make an appeal to the Government—to insist that adequate infrastructure—that is, housing, education and health facilities, and not least police and transport facilities—will be provided in good time to minimise the social and economic stresses which are bound to be caused by the influx of new workers from outside.
Fourthly, we must make absolutely certain that the benefits accruing from the oil come back to the local people first— that should be a prime consideration— rather than to the fly-by-night speculators who are interested principally in the biggest financial returns for themselves and their shareholders.
I trust that the oil companies themselves will be dealt with by the Government. We will see what develops. The Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry will no doubt be playing a part in dealing with the oil companies as they see fit, and I hope that they will accept as the basic principle that the public interest is more important than any private interest.
The fifth principle which must be borne in mind is that we must ensure—I think the Bill does this—that where dereliction and environmental destruction or damage occurs there shall be cast-iron written agreements, comparable with the amendments which have been written into the Maplin Bill, that the companies causing 878 that damage or that pollution shall pay handsomely for restoration of the land as near as possible to its former state whenever and wherever the industrial exercise is completed.
It has seemed obvious to me—my hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire has just referred to this—that the Shetland County Council has not got the financial resources to meet all the demands, whether it be for infrastructure or anything else, that will be made upon it. My hon. Friend quoted the figures that were given to us in good faith by the county manager. A lp rate brings in about £2,000.
It is absurd to suggest that the county council can compulsorily acquire land and at the same time build all the infrastructure required even with a grant of 80 per cent. or 90 per cent. from the Government. The Government should take this on board as a public investment and help the council out to a much greater extent that than they have hitherto contemplated.
As of now, it seems that the county council and the oil companies are co-operating satisfactorily. We heard it said that it is very difficult to get much hard information about what the oil companies need. I do not think that there need necessarily be anything sinister in that, because the oil companies do not know yet what the firm figures are. Such information as the oil companies give to the county council cannot easily be challenged, because I do not believe that the county council has the expertise to do so. I believe that the county council would concede that. Indeed, it was conceded that whatever information is given to the county council by the oil companies the county council is in no position to contradict it.
I say in all friendliness to the county council that the liaison committee which is now operating between the county council and the oil companies could and should be strengthened by the addition of representatives from the Scottish Development Department, from the Department of Trade and Industry, and perhaps even from the Highlands and Islands Development Board.
Meanwhile, we are faced with Nordport, whose managing director is a young man whom we met, a Mr. Ian Caldwell, Nordport is as busy as bees—or should I 879 say "as vultures"—securing land or options on it. Mr. Caldwell has an impressive record of providing 400 to 500 new jobs in the knitwear industry over the last seven or eight years. I am sure that the Shetland County Council and all of us are duly grateful for that. I do not wish to denigrate the man unduly.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I said "unduly". I think I have been fairly moderate for me. The hon. Gentleman should not incite me.
It is my belief—in fact, it is my conviction—that Mr. Caldwell is the front man for Onshore Investments, North Sea Assets Trust, and, back through a labyrinthine net, for Messrs. Ivory and Sime of Edinburgh. Their consulting engineers are Bernard L. Clark and Partners of Victoria Street, Westminster.
I am grateful to Bernard L. Clark and Partners for having sent me detailed plans—I think the firm has also sent copies to my hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire; if not, he is that much deprived—of what it hopes to do. They are ambitious proposals. They are designed, no doubt, with the welfare of the Shetlanders uppermost in mind, and the profits accruing from such developments would be a secondary, incidental consideration. One can believe that if one likes. Within the capitalist system, there is nothing wrong in somebody moving into Shetland or anywhere else where he sees rich pickings. That is what capitalism is all about. As one who does not believe in that type of system and wants to destroy it or, at any rate, drastically modify it, I see this as a battle between a publicly accountable authority and private authorities which move in mysterious ways and are accountable to nobody except their shareholders. This, I find, is the basic conflict of principle involved here.
The second one, I think, is the question that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire—the conflict between the desirability of piecemeal planning and overall comprehensive planning carried out by publicly accountable bodies. Here I think it might be apposite to refer to an article which 880 appeared in The Times last week, and which, in my view, after having been up there and talked to representatives of the oil companies and the county council, was unfair and inaccurate. I believe the county council has done its best to keep the public informed of what is going on, but it cannot supply information which it has not got.
I do not think I have been brainwashed by the county council. I do not think it has held anything back, or that it has been guilty of a gross error of judgment if it has done so. I do not think it has deliberately kept anything back from the public. The article implied that the county council had no development plan, when the authors of the article must have known at the time the article was written that that was simply not true. It may be that the county council did not have a plan as provided for under the 1947 Act, but there was no need for it. The place was being depopulated. It is only now that the necessity for a plan has arisen. But the authors of the article knew very well that the plan was in existence when the article was written and that it had been widely publicised. The county council has currently in the pipeline three other studies for a structure plan for the county, a local plan for Lerwick and a local plan for Unst.
The article went on to insinuate— indeed, it almost spelt out—that the county manager was a liar. It said that the county manager told the authors of the article, or they had found out, that the liaison committee met twice when they knew that it had met three times. In fact, it had not met three times at all. The first meeting was to decide whether to have a committee or not. That kind of article breeds the kind of suspicion and uncertainty in the minds of Shetlanders that does nobody any good. It seems to me, too, that the article tended to support the activities of Nordport, saying that it had the support of the Bank of Scotland. It had nothing of the kind. I understand that the Bank of Scotland had nothing to do with Nordport. If The Times is going to publish articles about what is happening in Shetland, I hope it will at least try more strenuously to ascertain the truth about the matter.
There are one or two detailed doubts about the Bill which have been expressed, and I wish to repeat them. Clause 35 is 881 untenable and unacceptable. Whenever one talks about compulsory acquisition or eviction after giving not less than 28 days' notice, the occupiers think that they can be kicked out in 28 days. I do not think this is acceptable to anybody. The period ought to be extended to six month or even a year. I think the county council would be prepared to accept some modification of that provision.
I think one must spell out to these people that their way of life is going to change. There is no question about that. They cannot at the same time have oil and have their traditional way of life completely unchanged. The question is where the balance lies. But there must be adequate compensation for the people for the inconvenience caused to them by taking over their land or the change in their way of life. It would be remiss of me not to express misgivings about what might happen in Scalloway. We must look very carefully at that community, as well as at Unst. The oil companies have made representations to us, and I make them to the Government, that they ought to consider an airstrip at Unst, because this might help to resolve the transport problems of the oil companies as well as assist the local community in general.
The Shetland County Council has striven, with some measure of success, to meet the challenge which it faces. It has met completely new problems with a great measure of courage and forthright-ness, and I hope the Government will give this measure a fair wind and allow it to go to Committee where the petitioners can be heard and suitable amendments can be made to it.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Lamont(Kingston-upon-Thames)
I should not like the occasion to pass without saying a brief word in support of the Bill. I say that with considerable trepidation because only a week ago I received a very angry letter from a constituent complaining that the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames had appeared on a television programme in East Anglia. Goodness knows what he would say if he knew that I was speaking in a debate in this House on a matter relating to the Shetland Isles.
I ought to go through the formality —and it is a formality—of declaring an interest, in that I have a connection with the bankers Rothschilds who are the 882 financial advisers to the Shetland County Council, although that is something of which I became aware only recently, and which post-dated my own personal interest in this problem. Nevertheless it is a development which I very much welcome because I think that a community like the Shetlands deserves the best possible and most powerful advice in standing up to the oil companies and other commercial concerns which will pose problems for them.
My reason for speaking in this debate is that, so far as I know, I am the only person in this House who comes from the Shetland Isles. Much has been said about Shetlanders and whether they be simple or cunning or otherwise, but at least I hope that in this debate I shall be able to contribute the proper pronunciation of some of the place names which have been mentioned. As I say, I was born in Shetland. I went to school there and I was brought up there, and I look to the islands with tremendous affection.
I view the arrival of the oil and the oil companies with considerable trepidation. Boom time has come to the Shetland Islands. It is changing the way of life rapidly. Even the emigration from the islands has been reversed, something we could hardly have contemplated a few years ago. It is a threat to the culture and to the wild life of the islands. The hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Douglas) mentioned this. It is one of the biggest worries. We have only to think of a single oil pipe bursting along the coast to realise that thousands of years of evolution and ecology could be lost in a moment.
The advent of oil threatens other values. I know from my friends in Shetland that there have been scarifying stories about the repeated offers that have been made and the absurd prices offered to people, not for their land but merely for an option on their land for a short time. I welcome the Bill because it enables the county council to come to terms with considerable problems like these that will descend upon Shetland.
We were asked whether we should not consider all these problems in the broader context of a national policy. That may be so and I do not want to venture an opinion upon it. What I am certain of is that in present circumstances, in 883 the absence of such a policy, be it right or wrong, there is no alternative to a Bill such as this.
It has three functions. The first is to bring forward measures to help conserve the development of the Shetland coast. The second is to prevent a situation arising in which there will be haphazard powers sought for the development of new marine facilities. For that reason the third function is to constitute the county council as a harbour authority. Rightly, the question has been asked whether the Shetland County Council can develop the expertise to perform the functions of a harbour authority. That is a real problem. Unlike many other local authorities it does not have tremendous experience in developing motorways or industrial sites or in slum clearance. These are new issues. Unless the council has the powers contained in the Bill, unless it has the bargaining power that will be given to it, it will not be possible for it to attract such expertise. I suspect that given these powers the expertise will be forthcoming.
This is a positive Bill. It does not rely on negative powers. What I do not want to see in Shetland is a proliferation of harbour facilities such as we have seen at Milford Haven, where each individual company has its own terminal facilities. There has been a multiplication of facilities with damaging environmental consequences. I hope that by improving the bargaining power of the Shetland County Council vis-à-vis the oil companies the Bill will place Shetland in a stronger position to deal with some of the terrible social problems that will arise.
We have seen something of this in Alaska. We have seen how the oil companies arrive and pay exorbitant wage rates, killing the local industries when labour is attracted away to a short-lived construction boom. We do not want that to happen in Shetland. It has taken many years to build up some of these local industries. A community like Shetland remembers what life was like before the war. It suffered more than most communities during the depression. It has taken years to build up those local industries and they must not now be destroyed simply because of the advent of oil.
884 The introduction of extra labour from outside by the oil companies will also mean fresh demands for non-existent facilities. Some of the companies have shown themselves willing to co-operate with the county council. Shell, Esso, Conoco and BP have all participated in the liaison group that has been set up. Not all companies have behaved as well as that. Some have resorted to rather cruder tactics. Some have been extremely aggressive in the buying of land and in their dealings with the county council. Those companies should be given warning that it will not be simply the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) who will be watching to see how they behave. He will not be the only person to name them.
The Bill is essential to give the Shetland Islands the powers they need to cope with the tremendous challenges ahead. They have a way of life in which I strongly believe, one which is unique and worth preserving. The Bill will enable them to do that.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Martin Maddan (Hove)
I, too, feel great trepidation in intervening, particularly with my arm in a sling due to a slight mishap on the Sussex shore beneath the Seven Sisters.
§ Mr. Maddan
I fully realise that the Shetlands are very much more rugged.
The Bill arises from the oil developments in the North Sea. I see other hon. Members here who sat with me on the Public Accounts Committee examining certain aspects of these developments. In the course of those considerations we could not help but learn of the tremendous scale of what might take place in Shetland. I want to make one plea. It is that when the House has before it the resolutions to set up the Select Committee to consider the Bill, as I hope it will, it will ensure that those provisions contain authority for the Committee to visit the Shetland Islands.
Normally, and I speak as one who has served on various Select Committee on Private Bills and recently on a Hybrid Bill Committee, a Committee does not have the power to sit outside Westminster. No finance is provided for this purpose. On other occasions I have come down 885 against a Select Committee being able to do this, because I have not thought it appropriate. On this occasion it would be very appropriate. No part of the United Kingdom is further from the capital than the Shetland Islands. Although I have never been there I have friends living in the islands and I understand that there is the feeling that decisions may be taken at Westminster without an understanding of local circumstances. I hope the Government will see that when the resolutions setting up the Select Committee are produced they contain powers enabling it to sit outside Westminster.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
Before the hon. Member sits down, perhaps he can get this right. Am I not right in thinking that a Scottish Committee dealing with a Scottish Private Bill and Scottish provisional orders must meet in Scotland?
§ Mr. Maddan
I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be able to deal with that when he intervenes.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I rise, as most other speakers have done, to give generous support to the Bill. There is no doubt that it is a pathfinder for the future. We have at the back of our minds the thought that it is the first of many such Bills. This is why we are so anxious to see that we get its form right and have a proper discussion. It throws into sharp relief the dilemma facing local communities. That dilemma is how to balance the needs of the environment, a traditional culture and a way of life with incoming industry and development on such a massive scale that it is difficult for anyone, sophisticated Members of Parliament or simple islanders, to grasp.
Very few people are aware—I am probably included among them—of the kind of massive development involved and the impact that there is likely to be on remote communities and on their cultures. One of the things that have been shown up has been the inadequacy of existing planning procedures. I noticed the Under-Secretary waxing eloquent at the Standing Conference on North Sea Oil about the powers of plan- 886 ning authorities. I thought that he was being complacent when he suggested that local authorities had sufficient powers unto themselves to cope at present. If local authorities felt they had sufficient powers there would be no need for the Bill.
The question arises how far local authorities can control development. This was highlighted clearly in the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs which looked at land use, at how negative are planning procedures and at how developments, however worth while, can be held up for four years, five years or a decade because they must be dealt with on the basis of one-off planning inquiries. That situation must be corrected as soon as possible, and the Bill as presented provides a useful way of taking care of the matter.
We have to ask how local authorities can compete with the developers and with the oil companies which have such tremendous resources. We cannot say much about the Dunnet Bay inquiry because it is presumably still sub judice. We cannot comment in detail on the basis of Press reports, but some of the things reported in the Press make one's hair stand on end—although I do not wish to deal with that in detail. To talk, as was reported, of spreading the sand dunes with latex and then putting down a covering of porous concrete in order to provide some environmental protection is enough to make one panic at what may go on if developments are allowed to proceed.
It makes one wonder how local authorities can manage without facilities to tackle the companies on their own ground with sufficient expertise and sufficient cash. It is about time the Government came forward with their considered views not only in a White Paper on the development in general but on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs which dealt specifically and carefully with how some method should be found to provide Government cash and aid for people to object at local planning inquiries.
The whole debate on planning, which was highlighted by the Select Committee, should not be left in limbo any longer, and it is time the Government provided time for a debate. I know that providing a debate is not the responsibility of the 887 Under-Secretary but he is responsible for preparing the Government's views and for having them ready for a debate. I hope that he will give us an assurance that these arrangements are being worked on and that we shall have a policy statement soon.
The Bill takes wide powers, and I believe that they are essential to protect the interests of the islanders. That is particularly true in relation to the powers of compulsory purchase. The whole question of land use in Scotland has bedevilled the interests of people living in thinly spread localities for generations, and we have to tackle the problem. It would be as good a way as any if it were tackled by the local authorities.
Perhaps one reason why there is suspicion and concern and why we are all anxious to get the Bill right is that it is rare for any part of Scotland, particularly the islands, to be faced with the problem of incoming industry. The problem has always been how to protect the islands and their people from depopulation and from industry leaving. We all know of the big changes that have occurred in the herring industry in Orkney and Shetland. Now we are presented with the opposite problem, and that is perhaps why we are taking a leap into the dark and why we are so anxious to get things right.
I am pleased to see that the Bill takes powers to deal with dereliction to ensure that after perhaps a decade or two of exploration and exploitation we shall not be left with dereliction if demand falls off.
I am still not sure, in spite of the explanation by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) just exactly how some of the powers in the Bill will be operated. Clause 28 gives the authority powers to subscribe for shares in bodies corporate. Where will the authority find the money to subscribe for such shares? We have been told by a number of speakers that a penny rate brings in £2,000. That will not provide much money with which to buy a significant stake in the kind of developments we are concerned with. However, the money has to be found. What is at issue here is not simply the question of holding back development but how best the 888 developments can best benefit the community.
The Secretary of State has a great rôle to play here. There has been severe criticism in the past of the Secretary of State and the part he has played, or, perhaps, the part he has not played. Clause 39 deals with developments outside particular harbour areas. Authority has to be obtained from the Secretary of State before works can proceed. Here the Secretary of State obviously must be on the ball. He must know what is happening, and must be prepared to take action swiftly and not allow a long time to pass between application from the local authority or the harbour authority and his taking a decision. Clause 70 provides that the Secretary of State must give his authority for the borrowing of sums to be spent for the purposes of the Act.
While the Bill takes wide powers, there is no doubt that the Secretary of State has equally wide powers, and I applaud the way in which the Shetland County Council has approached the matter. However, I am frankly worried that all the effort it has put into the Bill will come to nought if the Secretary of State puts a dead hand on it. There are umpteen examples in many fields of where the Secretary of State has shown indecision and where he appears to be allowing difficult decisions to go by default in the sense that they are not taken swiftly enough. It would be a great pity if, in spite of the powers given in the Bill, the Secretary of State had the power to make or break the actions of the Shetland County Council. I hope that he will take an active interest in what the county council does and that he will in no way inhibit it from proceeding with what it considers to be essential developments by refusing it the cash.
The dead hand of the Treasury has often been accused of holding back the development of industry in the community interest in Scotland. We do not want the dead hand of the Treasury simply to be transferred so that it becomes the dead hand of the Secretary of State. He must fight in the Cabinet for a share of resources. Whatever controversy there may be about whether Maplin should go ahead, if there are to be massive developments in the south-east 889 of England we need the Secretary of State to fight for a massive share of the capital required in Scotland. Clearly, Shetland is one of the places where the capital will be needed quickly.
Despite one or two difficulties thrown up in the debate, I believe that the Bill will do a great deal to ensure that the people of the Shetlands benefit from the discovery of North Sea oil. I hope that it will go to Committee, and that we shall have a constructive reply from the Government. I hope that they will not simply say "We shall see how things develop", but will show themselves anxious to support the Bill and see the kind of developments that Shetland County Council wants.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Development, Scottish Office (Mr. George Younger)
It may be for the convenience of the House if I intervene briefly to indicate the Government's general reaction to the Bill.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) on the way in which he presented the Bill, and I should like through him to pass on my congratulations and admiration to his county council for the way in which it has tackled what several hon. Members have described as a very big and complicated undertaking for a county council. I warmly commend what it has done. I have been in touch with it personally and through my officials over the months in which it has been preparing the Bill. I have seen the County Convener about it and my officials have been glad to offer what help they can to the county council. Any further help that it may require is most willingly and enthusiastically given by the Scottish Office.
§ Mr. Younger
That is a very sweeping question, but I can see no reason why I would not be prepared to offer the maximum help to any authority in similar circumstances to carry out such an undertaking. I would not like the hon. Gentleman to hold me to every conceivable situation that could arise, but I think that generally the answer in good faith is "Yes".
890 The Government recognise that the pressure of oil exploration work in the North Sea area east of the Shetlands and planning for development and production stages in those fields is already creating substantial needs for oil rig service bases and so on in Shetland. We also recognise that it is likely to create needs for more extensive facilities, such as pipeline terminals, refineries and other associated developments. Existing harbour facilities are undoubtedly inadequate to cope with these new developments. Already a number of new projects are in hand or under consideration. The right hon. Gentleman referred to some of them in his speech.
§ Mr. Douglas
The Minister is choosing his words carefully. He referred to refineries. He is not seriously giving a view that we might have refineries in Shetland, is he?
§ Mr. Younger
No, I am not seriously giving any view of that kind. If the hon. Gentleman will kindly do me the courtesy of listening to my speech as a whole he will realise that I am trying to describe the background to the Bill. I hope he will not try to commit me to having declared that there are refineries in Shetland. There are no such refineries, and the hon. Gentleman should know that.
§ Mr. Younger
If the hon. Gentleman listens carefully to what I say as a whole, he will realise that I am simply trying to paint the background to the way in which the county council has presented the Bill. He would do us a great courtesy if he listened to what I say as a whole and judged it fairly, as he normally does.
In the circumstances that I have outlined, there is clearly a danger of a conflict in land use demands between the commercial interests of oil production companies seeking the most suitable and profitable arrangements for handling their oil on the one hand and the public interest in the most effective use of existing and potential harbours in Shetland on the other hand, having regard to both the social and economic structure of the community and the protection of the environment.
The principle of an overall port authority for an area has already been applied with success in other places, such as 891 the Clyde and the Forth, and Parliament has recently approved a similar arrangement for the Cromarty Firth. The appointment of a public authority with statutory powers in the Shetlands can ensure a proper balance of development and prevent a first developer using sites in such a way as to inhibit the best overall use of potential harbour areas. There is some evidence that the absence of an overall authority in the early stages of development elsewhere made for some difficulties of the kind that Shetland is seeking to prevent by the Bill.
It is against that background that the county council is seeking wide-ranging new powers for harbour development, licensing and control and to purchase compulsorily large areas of land in places where it wants to concentrate new developments. That will enable it to reinforce normal planning controls, to secure co-ordinated development and to prevent any one developer from obtaining a monopoly of land and inhibiting the best overall use or holding other competitors to ransom. All these possible outcomes have been referred to by various hon. Members and by the right hon. Gentleman in presenting the Bill.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Can all the desirable objectives which the Government have in mind be achieved by an authority of the size of Shetland? We listen with anticipation to the Government's judgment.
§ Mr. Younger
That is a fair question. I have gone into this matter with some care in recent weeks. The point that the hon. Gentleman has raised is an obvious and immediate matter. I can reassure him to this extent: that, having gone into the matter with some care, and having spoken to those concerned on several occasions, I am satisfied that the authority can exercise these powers effectively. I am satisfied that there is adequate technical and other advice available which will help it to exercise its powers. For what it is worth, I have added the offer that the Scottish Office will give every possible help that it can. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's perfectly correct question is that I am satisfied that the authority will be able to exercise these powers effectively and that I hope it will do so.
892 We accept with this background the need for the proposals for harbour authorities. We support this part of the Bill in principle. In the conditions in Shetland it is clearly in the public's interest that powers of that kind to secure co-ordinated development should be made available, and the county council is the appropriate body to have such powers. The Government note that the Bill recognises the position of the existing harbour authorities, which themselves have proposals in hand for oil-related developments. That is an important proviso which is already in the Bill.
There are naturally a number of technical drafting matters upon which my Department is already in consultation with the promoters. I hope that agreement on these matters can be reached before the Bill goes to Committee. In addition, two major points of policy arise which have attracted much public attention. They have been the subject of petitions against the Bill and they have been referred to by several hon. Members. One such matter is the power to participate in undertakings by the purchase of equity shareholding. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Robert Hughes) specifically mentioned that matter.
It is the Government's provisional view that the county council's power to invest funds—that is to say, essentially current balances—should be subject to the limitations which normally apply to local authorities and that it would not be appropriate for the county council to raise funds specially for the purpose.
The other matter is the power of compulsory purchase without the normal procedures concerning designated areas of land. The county council considers that the powers—
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of power to participate, will he say something about the existing limitations?
§ Mr. Younger
In general this refers to the use of direct ratepayers' money as opposed to the use of money which may be accumulated in draft accounts and so on by the authority concerned. That is the distinction which is normally drawn. This is only a provisional view and naturally the matter has to be gone into with great care in Committee. I hope that 893 it is helpful to the House to declare the Government's provisional view, which is that the normal rules which apply elsewhere to other local authorities should apply in this case.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Is it the Government's intention to have a discussion on this subject with Rothschild?
§ Mr. Younger
—would be to have consultations with the authority concerned. If there are particular matters that the county council or the right hon. Gentleman would wish me to discuss with Rothschild, I should be willing to do so if that was thought to be helpful.
The other important point is the power of compulsory purchase without the normal proceedings over designated areas of land. The county council considers that the powers of compulsory purchase available under the Planning Acts fall short of what is needed to achieve the purposes for which it is promoting the Bill. Certainly these are unusual powers, but they are being sought in order to deal with a very unusual situation in a very special part of Britain with peculiar local characteristics, to which hon. Members have referred. The provision will have to be carefully looked at in Committee and the Government will reserve their position meanwhile on the details of this aspect.
§ Mr. Douglas
We have to be careful here. Are we getting this right? I take the connotation of what the hon. Gentleman is saying as being that the Government are reserving their position on perhaps the most important aspect of the Bill. This is quite unusual. Will the hon. Gentleman clarify the position?
§ Mr. Younger
I am not sure that I would agree that it is the most important part of the Bill. The harbour authority powers are perhaps the most important. However, I would not care to draw up a league table of important parts of the Bill.
In principle and in general, the Government support what the county council 894 is trying to do but, like hon. Members we have to consider various aspects and they will have to be looked into very carefully in Committee. As the hon. Gentleman should know—and Mr. Speaker gave a ruling on this before the recess—we are not approving the principle of this Private Bill but agreeing that it should go forward for scrutiny in Committee, and the right thing to do is to indicate that we approve the proposal which the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland has put to us, that we are in support of it but that, like hon. Members, the Government will naturally wish to reserve their position on some matters which have to be discussed in Committee. In general, however, I make it clear that we are in support of the right hon. Gentleman's intention to bring the Bill before a Committee.
§ Mr. Dalyell
We should clarify this point. This is very important in any sense because Shetland is a rather special, geographically and perhaps otherwise, part or our country. Precedents which may be set in relation to Shetland may not apply to other parts of the United Kingdom from the Firth of Forth to North Cornwall—choose where one likes. I think we should get that straight.
§ Mr. Younger
The hon. Gentleman was choosing his words carefully. If he says that precedents may not apply to other parts of the United Kingdom he is probably right because the point is that each case of this kind is likely to be different to some extent. Some people have said that Shetland is a fairly unique situation. I do not, however, accept that there are no other situations anywhere where similar circumstances might arise, but I do say—and this is in tune with what the hon. Gentleman was saying earlier—that I do not think there would necessarily be exactly the same position in other parts of Britain. I recognise that there may be other situations of exceptional difficulty which may require some sort of similar treatment, and I assure the House that we will be prepared to look at that very sympathetically if and when such a matter should arise.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I do not say this in a vituperous spirit, but the Government's thinking on this whole important subject is still in a primitive and immature stage, and that is astonishing.
§ Mr. Younger
I respond in the same courteous way. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind my saying that it is not enough to say that Government policy is primitive or immature. There are two points of view. I would never subscribe to being told that the impact of North Sea oil was being underestimated. I think that the impact is quite tremendous. It is tremendous for our economy, for our environment and, in many parts of Scotland, for our way of life.
The hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Douglas) said that I did not appreciate the point, but I have devoted a great deal of time and attention to it for a couple of years. It does not follow, however, that one panacea is the only solution. I am concerned that we should have public control over what is allowed to happen within our shores of Scotland. My point is that the existing planning Acts contain effective powers of control for most circumstances.
I am doing all I can to encourage local planning authorities to use those powers and to get it across to the public that people must realise that nothing can be allowed to develop without the approval of local planning authorities, which are elected by the people precisely for that job. Local planning authorities will get full support from me in the exercise of those powers, and that was what I was trying to say.
If there are circumstances such as those that the right hon. Gentleman has brought before us this evening when the existing planning powers are not fully adequate for what a particular authority may wish to do, other action may have to be taken. I do not say that this is the only occasion on which we shall face a situation of this sort, but I think that most such cases will be different from each other. I think it is appropriate that Shetland should have decided in this instance to deal with the matter by Private Bill, and that is why I am generally in support of what the right hon. Gentleman is trying to do.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
I should like the hon. Gentleman to be a little more forthcoming. His reply to my hon. Friend's intervention has now taken so long that the hon. Gentleman has probably lost his place in his brief. So far he has said that 896 he approves of the idea that the Shetland County Council should be the harbour authority and he has left aside the fact that there is already an existing harbour authority. He has said that he does not approve of the use of Section 28, which would allow the authority to participate in a commercial undertaking beyond the limitations of local authority law, and he has said that he has reservations on the subject of compulsory purchase which he will leave until Committee.
But the hon. Gentleman should say tonight what the Government's view is. It is not enough for him to tell the House that he has spent a great deal of time on the subject of North Sea oil and the problems facing the Shetland County Council and that the Government's views will be explained in Committee. He should clearly state those views tonight.
§ Mr. Younger
I do not agree. This is a Private Bill and the situation is different from that when we are dealing with a Public Bill. Tonight we have before us a proposal, which I support, that this Private Bill should be sent to a Committee for scrutiny. I have said that in general I approve of what the right hon. Gentleman wants to do and that the place for these matters to be thrashed out is in Committee. I have done my best to be forthcoming. It may be that I have been too forthcoming, and that may be why the hon. Gentleman is trying to drive me further than I should go.
It seems clear to me that the right procedure is for the details to be worked out in Committee. That is the procedure that is normally followed in these cases and I think that it is the procedure that the promoters would prefer.
In case hon. Members are reading all sorts of sinister implications into what I have said—and that would be quite uncalled for—I assure hon. Members that all I am trying to do is to indicate those areas in the powers requested to which we shall require to give much closer scrutiny and on which we reserve our position until we reach Committee.
However, I have made it amply clear that in general I support the right hon. Gentleman's objective. I have given what I hope has been useful help to Shetland County Council—indeed, I am given 897 to understand that by the County Convenor. Generally speaking, the Government approve of what the council is trying to do and I hope that that will be sufficient assurance for the House.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Younger
Several hon. Members are now asking me to give way. I have already given way a great deal. However, I will give way again to the hon. Member for East Stirlingshire.
§ Mr. Douglas
I readily recognise the Minister's difficulty, and I accept his view that the matter should be dealt with in Committee. Nevertheless, will he be a little more forthcoming and specify, if he can, that, in the Bill as it stands, if the word "end" does not means the end in terms of compulsory purchase in advance of development, his advisers will try their best not to resist the end which the Shetland County Council has in view? That is to say, the end of acquiring land by compulsory purchase in advance of development is the end we all desire, and that is the unique part of the Bill in terms of compulsory purchase. If the Minister will not resist that end but try to devise suitable means of keeping that existing general planning end, I shall be happy.
§ Mr. Younger
I do not want to be drawn further, or too far, at this stage, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we in the Department have approached the problem with the Shetland County Council all along in a spirit of helpfulness to try to make it possible for the county council to achieve what it thinks is necessary. In dealing with any other problems that come up, I shall continue in that same spirit. I hope that that statement will go some way to satisfying the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I made a very short speech on purpose so that the issue that interested me would not be clouded. That issue is the philosophy of the Government's whole approach to the problem. Are we to take it tonight that we are to have an Orkney Bill, a Cromarty Bill, a North Cornwall Bill and many other Bills? Do the Government see the approach to this national problem as being through a series of piecemeal Private Bills? It may be that the Minister cannot give a direct answer, but he can give an undertaking. The undertaking 898 I ask for is that he goes to the Lord President of the Council or the Legislation Committee of the Cabinet and asks what senior Ministers think they should do given this national situation. What is the Government's philosophy on the approach to this important problem?
§ Mr. Younger
I was about to answer the hon. Gentleman's point in detail and as briefly as possible, and I think I can most usefully do so in the following way. I do not agree that this is a national problem. This is a series of local problems each probably very different from the others, but what is important is that they should all be looked at in a national context. That is what the planning rôle of the Scottish Development Department is for, and when all such matters come before that department we look at them in a national Scottish context. That is what we are there for and all the applications that come to us, whether they be harbour authorities' applications or applications for development of rig construction platforms, are looked at nationally. That is what the Secretary of State's planning control is for and what it is used for.
The answer to the hon. Gentleman's problem, therefore, is that I think that the approach of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is an appropriate way of dealing with a particular problem such as that in Shetland. There may be other cases where similar but probably somewhat different problems arise where a similar procedure may be necessary, but for normal problems there is the normal control of harbours which is adequately and competently dealt with by the Harbours Act 1964. These powers are used in all normal situations and are very flexible and effective where used. But we shall never get away from the position where there will not be some unusual problems, and this is a very good and flexible method of dealing with them. That is why I support the right hon. Gentleman in what he is trying to do, and I very much hope that the House will do so also.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
There is one unanswered question. It is the one first asked concerning piecemeal planning. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not answer it.
899 It is not good enough for the Undersecretary to say that different circumstances arise in different cases. Not very long ago I read a speech by the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) suggesting that there should be some measure of halt in the North of Scotland on the mainland so that we might make a re-assessment and see just where we were going in respect of all the applications coming forward for the use of parts of the Scottish coast for the purposes of building rigs and the like. I think the hon. Gentleman was right. Indeed, I had made the same appeal a few days before in his constituency.
The point is that Shetland is different to the extent that it is geographically a unity in respect of which there is the one authority mainly concerned. So we have to congratulate it on appreciating the dangers to its community and the possible benefits, and on its desire to minimise the dangers and maximise the benefits by taking specific action.
I know the communities very well. As a member of the 10th Battalion of the Highland and Light Infantry, I served in the Highlands. Not only did I come to know the Highlands by day; I had the job of picking up any place from Sullom Voe to Sumburgh Head by map reference in the middle of the night. I know every peat bog in the area. Equally, I know the nature of the people of Scalloway, Skeld and Unst. I nearly became the military governor of Unst. The people of Unst were spared that disaster by about a fortnight, when I was sent to warmer climes to serve in the Far East.
Anyone who knows the struggles that the people have had to build up a viable economy and anyone who knows the success which they have had, with considerable help from the central Government and the Highlands and Islands Board, will appreciate just what this tremendous change will mean. Anyone who does not appreciate that should look at Nigg Bay at present where they have gone to the extent of mooring a large ship in the bay to accommodate the people working on the construction side. That is only one problem. That is the temporary problem. Then there is the permanent problem. No one seems able to give any local authority in the area an indication of what it is.
900 There is tremendous frustration, uncertainty and anger that they are not being given the full information that they require about the number of houses which will be needed, who is to build them, and the rest of it. Hon. Members should go to the area and talk to the local government people there as I managed to do when I was there recently.
I do not under-estimate the difficulty. But suppose that Shetland County Council had taken no action. What would the Government have done about it?
§ Mr. Douglas
Would not the Government have left it to such developers as Nordport, which have options on large sections of land?
§ Mr. Ross
Of course. We have been told that the Government have no proposals for tightening up matters in respect of other parts of Scotland. The Conservative Whip has indicated that he feels there is a need for some action there. He suggests a halt, a reassessment, to see where we are going. If this is important for the Shetlands, it is obviously as important for those parts of the Scottish mainland in the north that we know will be, and are, under pressure. There have been meetings of crofters in Wester Ross. It is the same kind of terrain as in the Shetlands, but lacking the kind of unity that we have with the geographical position of the Shetlands. As the Government are conscious of the tremendous effect that this matter will have, let us see whether what we now say is absolutely essential to the Shetlands, on which we congratulate the Zetland County Council for taking action, is necessary elsewhere. It may be that the authorities in these other places are not prepared to take this necessary action. We must be careful about that.
I do not blame the Under-Secretary for not being sufficiently forthcoming at this stage. However, I think that we have been fortunate, through the activity of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), to have this discussion at all, and, thanks to the generosity of the Chair, to have roamed a little wide. As a result of this Bill we 901 have been able to talk about the importance of this matter to the whole of Scotland.
I was disappointed at what the Undersecretary—I dare say that he reckons he was too forthcoming—told us about the Government's view on Clause 28. I had more than a feeling that that was to satisfy certain silent hon. Members on the Government side who are traditionally opposed to this kind of power being given to a local authority. The implication is that it must affect the Government's attitude to Clause 80, which is the power to borrow. If the Zetland County Council is to participate only to the extent of its capacity within its rate poundage and what that will raise, it does not mean very much at all. One point which has been underrated here is the contribution that central Government makes to the local expenditure of the Shetlands. It goes higher than 90 per cent. I do not wish to give out-of-date figures in case they may not be accurate. I stress the point about piecemeal legislation. It is important in the context of the situation now facing us.
I may have been wrong in what I said about the further stages of scrutiny of the Bill. I should like the Under-Secretary to make the position clear, because there are private orders in respect of which joint committees are set up which sit in the places that are more concerned with them, be it Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and so on.
§ Mr. Younger
Perhaps I should have answered the point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Maddan). A Provisional Order Committee has to sit in the area which is affected. However, this is not a provisional order; it is a Private Bill. Therefore, the discussion will take place here.
§ Mr. Maddan
I hope my hon. Friend will not be so specific in saying that it will take place here and will confine himself to saying that in the normal course it would take place here, but that if, for instance, the Chairman of Ways and Means were to put down a motion authorising the Committee to sit outside Westminster and to incur the necessary expenditure it would have the Government's blessing. That is what we want to hear from my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Ross
I agree with the hon. Gentleman and urge the Scottish Office on this occasion to find ways and means of making it possible for the Committee to visit the locus of the initiators and promoters of the Bill because it will then more readily understand the problems.
On the whole, I do not think that anyone here wishes to hold up the Bill but we wish to ensure that when it goes forward for further scrutiny the Government will not water it down. We hope that the Government will not appear to be prepared to give certain powers under the Bill and then use other powers which remain to the Secretary of State to strangle the initiative of Zetland County Council.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.