HC Deb 20 June 1973 vol 858 cc674-6
22. Mr. Douglas

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the regional dispersal of oil refineries and his Department's policy regarding the location of refineries in the next five years.

Mr. Rippon

The siting of oil refineries was debated on the Adjournment on 15th June and I have nothing to add to what my hon. Friend said in reply to that debate.

Mr. Douglas

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman concede that his hon. Friend's reply to the Adjournment debate that I initiated on Friday was extremely inadequate? As there will be a need to expand the number of oil refineries, is not the time ripe for a national strategy in siting oil refineries in the United Kingdom? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consult the other Ministers involved to see how a national strategy can be devised?

Mr. Rippon

I have no reason to dissent from what the hon. Gentleman has said as a general proposition. I shall consult my right hon. and hon. Friend's concerned. Each case must be considered on its merits. We cannot prejudge all the circumstances that might arise. However, I thought that my hon. Friend's reply to the Adjournment debate was helpful. We have taken into account, and will continue to take into account, the points that the hon Gentleman made in the Adjournment debate.

Sir Bernard Braine

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take this matter more seriously? Is he aware of the intensive opposition in South-East Essex to the planning approvals given by Labour and Conservative Governments to the siting of oil refineries too close to residential populations for health or safety? Will he make it clear that in future considerations of commercial interests will not be allowed to prevail in the face of the opposition of local authorities, the elected Member of Parliament and the Minister's own inspector?

Mr. Rippon

What my hon. Friend says illustrates my point that we must consider cases on their merits. With the new approvals, there is more or less a balance between the refining capacity to be provided and the requirements of the South-East area. On national policy—and we cannot rule it out of consideration in these matters—the Government follow the line adopted by the previous Government, which is set out in the White Paper on fuel policy published in November 1967. Paragraph 41 sets out in broad terms the sort of considerations that have to be borne in mind, as well as the local representations. We try to strike the best balance possible.

Mr. Crosland

We have moved on some way since 1967. Is it not impossible to consider every case on its merits unless we have some sense of national policy and strategy? We are getting into a mess when oil refineries are being imposed on the residents of Canvey Island, who detest the idea, while other parts of the country long to have them for regional reasons. Following our recent brief debate, will the Secretary of State consider publishing a White Paper or a Green Paper setting out broadly what are the arguments—regional, economic and the rest—for this policy, rather than that policy, in relation to refineries? There is a great deal of public disquiet about this.

Mr. Rippon

I shall certainly bear that in mind. I am not quite sure what the right hon. Gentleman means when he says that we have moved on some way since 1967. In due course he may sug- gest to us in what way he disagrees with the 1967 statement of the broad national policy. A number of proposals are coming forward for the construction of refineries elsewhere—for example, in Scotland. To some extent the initiative rests with the companies to assess the demand, but thereafter the regional and national considerations have to be borne in mind in any public inquiry.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

My right hon. and learned Friend will obviously wish to bear in mind that if as a result of a general policy of refusing refineries we reach the same position as the United States—which is seriously short of refinery capacity in general, which is contributing to the severe energy crisis—this will not be generally popular in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Rippon

That factor was recognised in 1967 and it is still relevant today.

Mr. Delargy

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that I strongly support the plea made by the hon. Member for Essex South-East (Sir Bernard Braine)? There is already more oil stored along those few miles of the Thames Estuary from Canvey Island to Purfleet than is stored anywhere else in Europe. Does the Minister realise that the people who live along this dread river bank are not only gravely inconvenienced but are in fearful danger?

Mr. Rippon

I cannot accept the latter part of the supplementary question. Questions of health, pollution and safety are relevant to any public inquiry on the siting of a particular oil refinery. I am aware of the public anxieties. One factor to be borne in mind is proximity to markets. I have said that, as far as one can judge, the present position is that the capacity of oil refineries matches the demand in the South-Eastern area. We have also to bear in mind the export of oil and balance of payments considerations, to which the 1967 White Paper drew attention.