§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill is primarily concerned with a number of issues to deal with the acquisition of land. There is also an important clause which deals with the various works which are to be performed by the company.
It may be helpful if I outline the proposed developments. The oil refinery is envisaged to occupy approximately 360 acres. It will have a capacity of anything between 6 million and 12 million tons per annum. The total investment will be approximately £60 million. The location is to be at Cliffe Marshes, Kent. The jetty terminal for the reception of ocean-going tankers is to be adjacent to the refinery.
In 1971 the Port of London Authority granted the necessary licence under the Port of London Act 1968. Further, the Secretary of State for the Environment granted authority for the construction of 1165 a jetty terminal under the Harbours Act 1964.
The road and rail terminal facilities are to he at Hoo junction, Higham. The British Railways Board supports the project. There are to be pipelines between the refinery and the road and rail terminal, which will probably be about three miles away. The Secretary of State is minded to grant outright planning permission. There has been some discussion over the access road leading to the refinery. It was originally envisaged that access would be by way of Gravesend Road. That idea has now been dropped as the Secretary of State indicated that he would not support the proposal.
It might be helpful to the House if I indicate where the companies fit in. United Kingdom Total Oil Marine Limited is one of Total's subsidiaries and is best known by its activities in the Frigg Field in block 10/1. It has interests in the Alwyn Field in blocks 3/14 and 3/15. It also has an interest in block 3/19. It is fairly well known to the United Kingdom for its 4 per cent. interest in the Ekofisk Field in the Norwegian sector. Therefore, Total has interests which it may wish to refine at a later date when oil starts to come from the fields which I have mentioned.
The Burmah group, as we have heard today, has discovered a substantial extension of what may be the Ninian Field which was discovered by BP in block 3/8. Its extension is in block 33. By its acquisition of Signal Oil and Gas the company holds a 19 per cent. interest in the Thistle Field in block 211/18. Production from that field could be as much as 100,000 barrels a day in 1976–78.
I want to give some outline of how the companies fit together. The BurmahTotal Refineries Trust Limited is owned equally by Total Oil Refineries (G.B.) Limited and Burmah Oil Refineries Limited. The parent company of Total is Compagnie Francaise des Petroles, in which the French Government have a 35 per cent. interest. Burmah Oil Company Limited has a substantial interest in British Petroleum, but that will preclude it from utilising refinery services of BP. It might use the Isle of Grain, but is otherwise precluded.
Burmah Oil Refineries Limited has a small oil refinery at Ellesmere Port, which 1166 produces 27,000 barrels a day, utilised for servicing the area round Manchester. In 1969 Total and Petrofina joined together and established Lindsey Oil Refinery, which produces 200,000 barrels a day. Both these refineries are, I point out, in the North. On the other hand, both these companies have considerable marketing facilities in the South-East and they wish to locate a refinery there, in order to cater for that market. The project is for a £60 million Burmah and Total refinery on Cliffe Marshes at Strood in Kent, with a capacity of 12 million tons, which will be built if the Bill is given a Second Reading.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
As far as I understand it, my hon. Friend seems to assume that if this Bill is passed the refinery will be built. The Secretary of State has not yet given permission but has only said that he "may" give it. One should not assume that if the Bill goes through the companies can go ahead and build the refinery, because the Bill will not give that permission.
§ Mr. Skeet
I was coming to that point. On 22nd March last, a letter on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Environment indicated that the right hon. Gentleman was minded to grant outline planning permission. That was the language used. It will be found in the prospectus laid before the House today. It is worth recalling the letter to the House. It said:The Secretary of State is satisfied that it is in the national interest for additional refinery capacity to be made available to meet expected requirements in South-East England.
§ Mr. Skeet
My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) may have in mind Canvey Island, where he has certain difficulties about refineries. It is for the Secretary of State to decide whether there is enough refining capacity in the South-East and whether he is to allow additional capacity.
Total markets 45 per cent. of its sales in the South-East of England, including East Anglia, and about 25 per cent. in Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and the Midlands. Obviously, its refinery on the Humber will cater for the market north of London, but it is essential to have refinery capacity available in the centre of its market in the South-East. Exactly the same 1167 argument will apply to Burmah. Between 45 per cent. and 50 per cent. of Burmah's market is in the South-East and East Anglia and about 45 per cent. in the Manchester area. Burmah argues that it, too, will require additional capacity in the South-East.
§ Mr. John Ovenden (Gravesend)
The hon. Gentleman is making a case more for the inadequacy of the companies' refining capacity in the South-East than a case that the overall capacity in the South-East is inadequate. The Secretary of State's statement was based upon the overall refining capacity in the South-East and not on the capacity of the two companies concerned here.
§ Mr. Skeet
I am coming to that in a moment. I suggest that, when the matter came before the inquiry, the argument was put in a reasonable way. Paragraph 323 of the Report says:On the basis of the evidence given I am satisfied that both need extra capacity to serve primarily the South-East and that the consequences of not obtaining it in this region could well be increased imports of products and loss of potential exports. Subject to my reservations in the last paragraph… I consider that the siting of a refinery in the region would be in the national interest.The inspector, therefore, was interested in two points—the increased prices we would have to pay for imports and the loss of potential exports to Belgium mainly and, possibly, to Scandinavia. Therefore, the project is brought into the wider picture.
I want to amplify this aspect. The savings to the balance of payments by placing a refinery on the Cliffe Marshes with a capacity of 6 million tons would be £13 million in round figures. If the refinery were twice that size, the saving would be £26 million. It might be argued that it would be feasible to extend existing refineries north of London, about 200 miles further north, or to build one in Scotland. But it would be entirely uneconomic for the two companies to supply the South-East, where their market is, from the North. Refinery costs work out at £1.40 a ton compared with distribution costs of £2.80 a ton.
The saving on distribution costs of a refinery based on Cliffe Marshes, compared with the distribution costs following expansion of the companies' refineries located in the North, would be £2,400,000 1168 per annum on a 6 million ton per annum capacity refinery at Cliffe Marshes, and double the saving if it were larger. The saving would be even greater compared with refining in Scotland.
It has been suggested that the two companies might acquire refining rights from other companies. But, of course, they would have to pay heavily for doing so. This would add up in any case to importing products from abroad for Total. Burmah would be left to buy on the open market. The case can be made out on the basis of the companies concerned.
§ Mr. Skeet
The inspector himself stated how the two companies are placed. Let us look at the national picture, particularly as it will be if permission is given for a considerable refinery capacity. Refining capacity at the end of 1972 was 123 million tons and domestic consumption was 102 million tons, which is about 85 per cent. of capacity. So there was marginal spare capacity available. By 1975, taking account of current expansion programmes, there will be about 146 million tons capacity as against an estimated home consumption of 118 million tons. By the early 1980s, the respective figures could be 160 million tons and 140 million tons.
Therefore, on a national basis, it can be asserted that there will be need for additional refining capacity in the South-East, an area where there is going to be considerable increased consumption, and that although other refineries are already on stream on the Thames there is certainly a place for this one. I am putting this on the basis that the House approves the Bill and the Secretary of State carries out his intention of following it up with full planning permission.
This refinery was originally scheduled to go on stream in 1976. But, of course, there have been planning difficulties, of which we are fully aware. It was going to operate on Iranian light oil similar to the Forties oil from the North Sea, and would thus produce products mainly for 1169 the home market, though some would be available for export as well.
I come now to one or two matters that may interest the House on environmental factors. The report has mentioned that there are no serious objections on pollution, noise, navigational safety and agriculture grounds. This is part of the statement covered by this letter from the office of the Secretary of State on 22nd March. The inspector, a copy of whose report is enclosed, found no serious objections to the refinery on grounds of pollution, noise, navigational safety or agriculture. One would expect that the inspector, having listened to all the evidence and having come to the conclusion that on these grounds there was no objection, this House would be prepared to accept that conclusion.
§ Mr. Skeet
Yes, but the Minister called in the report, and on these specific points he accepted the inspector's view that there were no serious objections on these grounds. While there may nave been a rejection on the broader issue, the inspector's comments carried weight on the particular issue.
Further, the Alkali Inspector is totally satisfied with the design of the refinery. He is the person who would be concerned with atmospheric pollution, and the Port of London Authority is the body that would be concerned with any water emission that may affect the Thames. These are two specialist bodies which can look into the minute details. I should have thought that if they produce evidence before the inquiry, such evidence should be accepted by the House
§ Sir Bernard Braine
Is my hon. Friend not ignoring the fact that after years of representation from Members representing Thamesside communities the Minister for Local Government and Development in the late administration conceded in this House on 16th November that perhaps we were right in believing that this area had too great a saturation of plants of this kind? He went on to say:I believe that my hon. Friend is right that we ought to consider very carefully the whole implications of any further develop- 1170 ment of this kind in the area."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March 1973; Vol. 949, cc. 903–4.]He was the first Minister to fly over it in a helicopter, as a result of which he concluded that we were right and that there was no case for further refineries on Thamesside.
§ Mr. Skeet
I appreciate that point. But I made the point a moment ago that distribution costs are very substantial indeed. If these companies are to be invited to extend their refineries 200 miles north, they will have to pay all the transportation costs, and savings will not be incurred. If my hon. Friend maintains that the environment will be vastly affected, or raises the question of pollution, may I remind him that I have already advanced what the Alkali Inspectorate has said about the refinery. The inspectorate is satisfied that there would be no pollution derived from the design of the refinery and that there would be no pollution of the Thames.
§ Mr. Ovenden
Is the hon. Member aware that the inspector, in his report on this planning application, was critical of the applicants for not having investigated locations outside the Thamesside area?
§ Mr. Skeet
In all these applications to put a refinery anywhere, there is considerable objection. We have just had a debate on Scottish oil. When Chevron endeavoured to put a refinery on the Clyde many objections were put forward. I remember when my hon. Friend was quite rightly concerned on behalf of his constituents because Occidental wanted to put a refinery on Canvey Island. When Murphy and ENI wanted to put a refinery there as well, my hon. Friend stoutly defended his constituents' interests. I have never known a refinery to be built anywhere without a great deal of local pressure, because people say, "Not here, but elsewhere". Surely somebody must look after the national interest.
1171 Why did the Secretary of State write the letter and why did the inspector reach the conclusion that it was in the national interest? Either we shall utilise the North Sea oil, or we shall remain short of oil. If we allow no refinery expansion, there will be difficulties. It is the duty of my hon. Friend to indicate how his constituents will be adversely affected. From the evidence it seems that on the grounds of pollution they will not be adversely affected.
I turn now to the question of environmental considerations. There was a public meeting on 17th December 1971 which was attended by about 300 people. Quite rightly, the companies were present to answer questions. There was also a public inquiry which lasted for approximately one month during which time a variety of evidence was called. The main point taken against the project, of course, was the access road in an area where the road network was not satisfactory.
With regard to landscape, there is much industrialisation in the area—Tilbury power station, Bata Shoe, a coal depot, all on the North Bank; a tip for the GLC, Shellhaven refinery—I dare say that at the time that went down there was great objection—the Mobil Coryton refinery and the refineries on Canvey Island.
§ Mr. Burden
This is a most serious matter and I dislike having to interrupt my hon. Friend so often, but I should like to ask him now, as he is talking so freely about the environment, whether he has been to Cliffe and looked at it?
§ Mr. Skeet
I visited this area some years ago, not recently. I have been very patient with many hon. Members who have intervened and should like to deal with points as they arise.
On the South Bank there is the Isle of Grain refinery and power station. Anyone who cares to study the 1970 report of the CEGB will see that the CEGB has it in mind to put a power station next door to the very position of this refinery project on the Cliffe Marshes. Further down is the Conoco jetty and tank farm, a cement works owned by the associated Portland Cement Manufacturers and sand and gravel workings. That is a fair example of the landscape.
§ Mr. Skeet
It may well be. But if we are to pursue this line of inquiry nothing will be built, anyway. I am suggesting that these matters can be formulated, discussed and counsel can present the case upstairs in a Committee of the House, where these matters can be gone into much more thoroughly, but it is only right that they should be outlined here.
The more one reads the report the more one is confirmed in the conclusion that it is the coastline which is the consideration and not so much for the protection of the marshes. If I may indicate that point to the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden)—
§ Mr. Skeet
Indeed, but more so to the hon. Member opposite. The Branch Secretary of the Construction Section of the AUEW, Mr. Thompson, gave evidence at some length—I can cite what he said—in favour of the refinery project. He was supported on that occasion by Mr. Coles, a full-time trade union officer. Those people must have considered both aspects of environmental considerations and the possibility of having a number of jobs provided.
Another matter that will probably trouble hon. Members is the access road. It was envisaged in the earlier stages that some of the products would come away from the refinery by road, but that idea has been dropped. The products are to go by pipeline, by river and by rail, and therefore they will not be heavy loads. The road will be used only for bringing in manpower and a certain amount of service equipment. This matter was fully ventilated during the inquiry. About half the time was spent in dealing with this matter by people who naturally were concerned.
I should like to stress—particularly for the benefit of my hon. Friends—that both the Kent County Council and the Strood Rural District Council, as it then was, accepted that the refinery project was a good one and should go ahead.
§ Mr. Ovenden
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Secretary of State for the Environment said that he realises that 1173 the refinery could not operate on a permanent basis without the movement of products by road?
§ Mr. Skeet
That is so. The Secretary of State was specific about the access from the refinery to the north, or inland. He will not permit the movement of petroleum products from the refinery. He told those concerned, "At some later date you can work out alternative proposals, but until you have worked them out and submitted them to me and I have been able to recommend that certain conditions apply to them, I shall probably not turn the outline planning permission into full planning permission." That is probably what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind, although I do not rule out the possibility that at a later date it will happen that way.
I should have thought that the cheapest form of transportation was by barge—that should certainly be utilised—by pipeline and by rail. As I said earlier, it was the British Railways Board which fostered the idea that this project should go ahead. There will probably be oil trains and that sort of thing for the movement of petroleum products from that area.
The Bill provides for the acquisition of certain rights, and this may be worrying hon. Members. These matters were registered under the Commons Registration Act 1965. They all deal with highways, and it is doubtful in law whether the Mead Wall Road could have been registered under that Act. It may well be that these rights will have to vest in somebody, or that the Commons Commissioners will have to decide in whose ownership these properties are. At present they are held in trust by the parish council for the future owners.
The concern must be that this will in some way deprive the public of the right to use some of the land in question, such as Mead Wall Road, Pickles Way and Black Lane. If these are to be made up into proper roads, the public will still be able to pass to and fro on them. In addition, the company has decided that it would be a good idea to have a turntable for vehicles right at the bottom against the Thames shore. This could be used as a public car park and as a starting place for a walk along the Thames. In fact, if it is considered that there is a certain amenity now, there will 1174 be an improved amenity in future. Therefore, land acquisition is unlikely to lead to any diminution in the value of the amenity already enjoyed by the inhabitants of the area.
One must remember that when this project started, in 1970, costs were much lower than now. Costs have escalated by about 50 per cent. and, though it was hoped to complete the refinery by 1976, it is not now likely to be on stream by 1980. Such matters as land options, engineering costs and so on need to be dealt with—perhaps with some urgency. I appreciate my hon. Friend's enthusiasm in opposing this measure, the view that it should not be in their parish, but in the next, but sooner or later somebody must decide—I hope that it will be the Government—that the Bill should receive a Second Reading and that it should go to a Select Committee to consider the arguments by the petitioners such as the Medway District Council, the Cliffe Parish Council and the Dickens Country Protection Society—the last of which is a small group but with extremely important arguments to adduce.
§ Mr. Skeet
One is enough in a democracy in which we appreciate the value of argument. The right place for this discussion is upstairs where counsel can cross-examine and deduce the validity of the various arguments.
One can overstate the environmental difficulties. I think that my right hon. and hon. Friends are doing just that. On the other hand, it may be that one can overstate the importance of having further refineries in that area. One recognises that the South-East is one of the fastest growing areas in the United Kingdom. It is certainly right to have a refinery somewhere in the South-East and the place which has been located is on the Cliffe Marshes on the Thames.
I hope that the House will consider this matter most carefully, bearing in mind that it will be desirable to follow up the recommendations of the Minister, and agree that this matter should be carefully examined by a Select Committee.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. John Ovenden (Gravesend)
Speaking as the Member for Gravesend, 1175 in which constituency these powers are sought, I ask hon. Members to reject the Bill. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) based his case entirely upon the refinery, but that is not the issue. Whether the refinery will be built is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. We are now considering the provisions for which the Burmah-Total Refineries Trust is asking. I wish to concentrate on two matters that arise from that.
First, I consider the Bill to be premature. It seeks to acquire land for the construction of a refinery which, whatever else is said, is still the subject of a planning application upon which no decision has yet been taken. That is a matter to be decided by the Secretary of State.
Hon. Members know that after the public inquiry the inspector recommended refusal of the project because of the inadequate local road network and the effect of the refinery on the largely unspoilt area of Cliffe. It is true that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment stated that he had it in mind to grant permission, subject to no road movement of oil deliveries or products, but he recognised that the refinery could not operate permanently in that state, and the question is still what the solution to this problem is. With an inadequate road network, how can the area cope with the effects of this refinery even in future?
The Secretary of State has said that because the permission he had it in mind to grant would lead to a development significantly different from that which was examined by the public inquiry, he was affording all parties the right to make further representations. Some of those representations may be for the establishment of a new inquiry. We must bear in mind that this report has been with the Department of the Environment for 18 months, that two years have elapsed since the evidence was given to that inquiry, and that many factors have changed—not least, the energy position—since evidence was given to the inquiry.
§ Mr. Skeet
How does the fact that the energy situation has altered assist the hon. Gentleman in suggesting that there should be another public inquiry? If we are to develop, and accelerate the development of, our own oil from the North 1176 Sea, and if we are prepared to refine it over here, we want home-based refineries. As it is right to have refining near to the centres of consumption—it is for these two companies in the SouthEast—why should it not be located in the South-East?
§ Mr. Ovenden
One of the arguments that could be used is that used by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he spoke about increases in fuel tax, but we should perhaps be considering more ways of economising in the use of petroleum products in this country. The figures given in the report from the inquiry referred to 1975 estimates of demand and refining capacity. Those were figures given in 1972 upon which we must now make a decision in 1974. That is a ludicrous position in which to put ourselves.
I wish to make it clear that I am not opposed in principle to the refinery. The whole argument from the hon. Member centred upon the refinery. We must weigh carefully the advantages and disadvantages for the area affected. I do not believe we have had sufficient time for proper examination since the Secretary of State announced his intentions. That is what we must do now in the light of the Secretary of State's statement and in the light of the inspector's report. For that reason, it would be totally wrong for us to arrive at a decision to grant a Second Reading to a Bill which is to acquire land before the project has even been approved.
Many people in my constituency feel that if the House gives a Second Reading to the Bill it will be to a great extent prejudging the planning issue. They feel that the presentation of the Bill is, for that reason, premature.
I turn now to what for many of us is the major issue but which was dealt with only briefly by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden)—the deregistration of common land. The Medway District Council which, from Monday, became the local authority in charge of this area, strongly objects to the proposals to deregister common land, as does the Cliffe Parish Council in whose area this refinery would be sited.
Many people feel, with some justification, that they have been misled over the issue of commons registration. I quote 1177 from paragraph 116 of the inspector's report on the inquiry:The question of common land is irrelevant to the grant of planning permission. If rights have been established they would be fully protected by legislation and the applicants would have to go through the established procedure.Is this the established procedure for the deregistration of common land? People are justified in feeling that they were misled by that statement.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)
There is something here which puzzles me. My understanding is that we are discussing part of the public highway. This appears to put the matter into a different category. Is it, in fact, what was said at the public inquiry? Would that be relevant to a public highway which happened to find itself registered as common land?
§ Mr. Ovenden
The references in the report are to common land. We are discussing common land. We are not here to discuss whether it should have been registered. It is a fact that this land has been so registered and is therefore common. Existing legislation lays down procedures which the applicants can follow for the deregistration of commons. Legislation lays down that commons cannot be enclosed except by ministerial order after an inquiry under the Commons Act of 1876. Section 11 of that Act calls, among other things, for public meetings and public notices to be posted. That is the procedure we should like applicants to follow if they wish land to be deregistered. Although they stated at the public inquiry that they would go through the established procedure, it is obvious from this Bill that they have no intention of so doing and that they seek to bypass the normal procedure.
Many people consider this Bill to be entirely contrary to the spirit of the Commons Registration Act 1965. I believe that the onus in this debate is upon the promoters of the Bill to prove that they need the powers they are asking for in it.
§ Mr. Skeet
What was the purpose of registering this land if it were only a piece of highway? It may have been to provide continuous easement for the public to go in with it. It will be a highway in any event. It would be put in good condition and they would be 1178 able to move right down to the Thames front and back again at their free will. I cannot see that their interests are impaired—
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. That was a long interruption. The hon. Member earlier spoke for 33 minutes. Perhaps we can now have a debate instead of an argument.
§ Mr. Ovenden
I hope later to come to some of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. As I said, the onus to prove that they need the powers within the Bill is upon the promoters of the Bill and not upon us.
Clause 21 demands sweeping powers to deregister common land. It provides:Notwithstanding the provisions of the Commons Registration Act 1965, the registration as common land under that Act of the lands to which this section relates is hereby declared null and void and the registration authority under that Act for the county of Kent shall amend the register accordingly.Those are the sort of powers we are being asked to give the promoters of the Bill.
I understand that the promoters have written to hon. Members assuring them that they will guarantee the rights of people affected by the deregistration procedure. I also understand that in their letter they talk about compensating people for loss of any rights. But we must bear in mind that within this Bill the promoters speak only about private rights, not about public rights. I shall not get involved in a long discussion about whether this land should have been registered. It is in fact registered and there are procedures to be followed for its deregistration.
The Bill raises many issues. It certainly raises the whole question whether there should be an oil refinery in this part of the country. Many of us have had a very short time in which to study the long and complicated report published after the public inquiry. For that reason, I should have been most happy if the promoters of the Bill had withdrawn it and allowed us time to debate the issue calmly before pushing us into a decision on an issue such as this.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
The sole intention of the Bill is to provide communications, including roads, pipeline, rail and rail-loading and distribution 1179 centres, to service a proposed new oil refinery on Cliffe Marshes. The proposed area is six miles from the centre of Gillingham and about four or five miles from the centres of Rochester and Chatham.
The Secretary of State for the Environment stated on 25th March that he "may be prepared" to grant outline planning permission for the construction of an oil refinery and jetty on about 360 acres of land on the marshes, and a pipeline, but he does not propose to grant permission for a railway terminal at Hoo Junction, although he does not propose to grant permission for the construction of an access road from there to Gravesend Road, Higham.
I take comfort in the right hon. Gentleman's statement that he only "may be" prepared to grant outline planning permission. He asked for further representations before making the final decision. Parliament has a great responsibility in the decision it makes in discussing this Bill, most of all to the people living in the area. It will affect their way of life and their amenities, not forgetting the effect that the inevitable fumes might have on the orchards and horticulture generally within a 10-mile area.
Of course, the national interest has to be taken into account. Right hon. and hon. Members these days often find it easy to brush aside the rights and interests of individuals and groups of people by saying that something is in the national interest, more as a catch-phrase providing an easy way out than a basis of absolute fact and good sound argument against which the interests and application of the Bill must be weighed. If that were done, I believe that the Bill would be thrown out.
Surely the Minister who will reply for the Government will bring to his right hon. Friend's notice the fact that there have been three official petitions against the Bill. The first is from the Cliffe Parish Council, the area most intimately concerned. The second is from the Medway District Council, which takes in the whole Medway area—a conurbation of over a quarter of a million people. The third is from the Dickens Country Protection Society.
The strongest possible representations have been made to me by the Medway 1180 Preservation Society and the North Kent Wildlife Society. I have also had a considerable number of letters and telephone calls from individuals. All strongly oppose the Bill and the construction of the oil refinery that undoubtedly would follow its enactment.
The Cliffe Parish Council alleges that the inhabitants of its parish would be affected injuriously by the Bill, and it sets out a series of cogent arguments proving this beyond all reasonable doubt. Among those arguments it is pointed out that the construction of the refinery would result in the despoliation of the last stretch of open country on the south bank of the tidal Thames. It is a favourite resort of residents of Cliffe, the Medway towns and Gravesend and for all country lovers living in the area. This point is reinforced by letters I have received from the Medway Preservation Society and the North Kent Wildlife Society pointing out that these areas are widely used by people living in the area.
The Cliffe Parish Council objects strongly to the proposals made by the promoters of the Bill that they be given authority compulsorily to acquire land belonging to that authority for the construction of roadworks and so on. The council says—if it were felt that the Bill would benefit the area, I am sure that the council would not make these statements—that it would be detrimental to the landscape and would be destructive of historical associations.
Common land is involved frequently in Bills brought before Parliament. When suggestions are made in this House that such land should be acquired by some other interest, we should always be extremely critical of any moves to make other uses of it. We must be jealous of the responsibility that we have and do our best in almost every case to ensure that land continues to be used by the public. We must be zealous in our actions to resist any attempt to deprive the public of the pleasure that it can and does give them. There is far too little common land in this country, and I am strongly against its erosion.
The Bill provides widening of existing roads. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) has made much of the argument that this will not interfere with the surrounding land. But Clause 14(1) of the Bill will give power to: 1181(d) construct and provide carriageways, footways, sewers, drains and other works and conveniences;(e) construct and provide all such bridges, arches, piers, embankments, aprons, abutments, retaining walls, wing walls, boundary walls, culverts and other works as may be necessary or convenient for the works or for carrying them over or under any stream or watercourse, any road or any land;(f) stop up and appropriate the site and soil of so much of any roads as they may consider unnecessary to retain or to throw into the works;(g) raise, sink or otherwise alter the position of any of the walls, railings, fencings, drains, watercourses, pipes, spouts or wires belonging to any house or building and remove all other obstructions;They are very wide powers and the House should be very reluctant to give them.
That there is one passage in the Bill which the House should regard with great care. On pages 14 and 15, on de-registration of certain common land, Clause 21 states:Notwithstanding the provisions of the Commons Registration Act 1965, the registration as common land under that Act of the lands to which this section relates is hereby declared null and void and the registration authority under that Act for the county of Kent shall amend the register accordingly.There is thus a call in the Bill for a complete change in the law. This is an extremely dangerous precedent that every Member of the House should regard with the greatest suspicion and in no circumstances allow the Bill to go through, if only because of this clause alone.
§ Mr. Burden
My hon. Friend has admitted himself that eventually there must be free road, rail and water access. In the long term there will undoubtedly be congestion by heavy lorries coming in and out of the area, causing great inconvenience and even danger to many people. All this is for the provision of an oil refinery that will employ not more than 300 people when it is finished. I took the trouble this afternoon to telephone and ascertain how many people will be employed when the refinery is finished. I was told by the agents, who contacted the promoters of the Bill, that the total, including those employed at the rail terminal, will not be more than 300.
We already have one oil refinery in the area at Grain, and when there is a 1182 prevailing easterly wind sulphurous fumes can be detected at Maidstone, 20 miles away. This refinery, if built, must cause considerable air pollution over an area in which more than a quarter of a million people live and where the population is still growing. To accept this for not more than 300 jobs—how many of them would be for local people?—is something the House should in no circumstances contemplate.
§ Mr. Burden
I should like my hon. Friend to get away from the beauties of Bedford for a couple of days and put himself 10 miles away from Grain with the wind blowing towards him. Unless he has no sense of smell he will realise that the people there are already inconvenienced; and do not want to have to put up with any more smells.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for issuing that mild rebuke. He and I have been Members of this House for many years. He will know that several hundred thousand people living on the north bank of the Thames have been complaining for years about the smells from the two existing refineries, and it is now proposed to add three more. My hon. Friend has made his point.
§ Mr. Burden
And all this with the destruction of amenities that give great pleasure to large numbers of local people. Cliffe Marshes are a sanctuary for wildlife. Neither the people of the Medway towns nor those in North Kent as a whole want a refinery. Why not put it somewhere else? There must be more suitable areas nearer to the coast for it. It certainly should not be near such a conurbation as that of the Medway towns. I hope that the House will show in no uncertain way what it intends to do.
During his speech my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford tried to indicate that in some way or other this scheme would improve the countryside. I believe that 1183 if the scheme were allowed to go through it would not improve the area but would prostitute a considerable area of land from which people derive pleasure and recreation. Furthermore, it would serve upon them a notice of inconvenience in the future through the intensification of traffic in an area which is already over-intensified with industry, and it would also serve upon them a notice of pollution. This proposal is unacceptable to the people of the Medway towns and of the area in general. I believe that another area could be found in which the refinery would be far more welcome than it is in Kent. I hope, for the reasons that I have stated, that the House will throw out the Bill.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Irving (Dartford)
I am happy to support the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden) to defeat the Bill.
I want first to add my own protest to that of others at the fact that the promoters, who have not yet received planning consent, should be seeking to use the Private Bill procedure to act in a way which could be irrevocable in the loss of common land and detrimental to the interests of people in the area. We in Kent know that urban and industrial expansion is continually increasing its stranglehold on the Garden of England, the beautiful Kent countryside, as well as adding to the danger and annoyance of people in the area.
My first objection is that the road access is inadequate. As the Secretary of State has said, it cannot continue in a permanent form without increased road development. Whether in its interim stage or its permanent condition, it will only add to the appalling congestion in northwest Kent, an already serious problem about which the people in Kent are increasingly angry.
As the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) has pointed out, such a refinery would add to the fumes which are damaging to many growers in northwest Kent and would be an increasing irritant to the people living there.
The Bill is associated with one more encroachment, this time in an area of great amenity value to a large number of people in north Kent, an area which is 1184 recognised as being of international importance for wildlife. The Bill could prevent access to this important site, depriving a large number of people of the enjoyment which they derive from the area. The plans for a long-distance coastal footpath around the Kent coast would be made impossible by the closing of the path around the sea wall, and the use of the Mead Wall for heavy traffic or pipeline construction would disturb the colony of common terns at Cliffe, which disturbance should be avoided as this species is rapidly dying out in this country.
All this would be a tragedy anywhere, but it is inexcusable when the company, in presenting its case to the inquiry, urged that in this respect the protection of the general law was adequate. Now, before any final decision or possible further inquiry, the company seeks to pre-empt the future ahead of planning consent by gaining powers to close this common land.
Therefore, I join with other hon. Members in hoping that we shall be able to defeat the Bill.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
I join with others on both sides of the House who would ask the Government to agree to the withdrawal of this measure. The Bill empowers certain works to be constructed in connection with the building of a new oil refinery at Cliffe. I listened very carefully to the case for the Bill made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet). He certainly did not convince me, and for one very important reason. The site of the new refinery is almost due south of two very large oil refineries in Thurrock on the north bank of the Thames and only a little further away to the south-west of two new oil refineries which are to be built on Canvey Island in my constituency, close to a large and growing residential population.
The prevailing winds in this area, as my hon. Friends will testify, are southwesterly. Thus for the greater part of the year the emanations from the existing two refineries, from the proposed refinery at Cliffe and from the proposed refineries on Canvey Island, one of which is already being built, will be spread over an area 1185 in which over 300,000 people in southeast Essex have their homes. I wish that I had a large map so that I could display to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford the consequences of his proposal.
I have protested against the proliferation of industrial plant of this kind in an area where there has already been a huge and unprecedented increase in population. I spent years protesting about it before my hon. Friend even became a Member of the House. Successive Governments, I am sorry to say, have totally ignored the environmental considerations. I beg the House, therefore, to consider what is happening to our Thamesside communities before it approves a measure of this kind. I have asked for this previously and do not apologise for asking the House to consider the matter again tonight.
Consider the facts. We already have two very large refineries on the north bank of the Thames. These have been operating for a number of years. On Canvey Island, where we are to have two more refineries, we have oil storage facilities and the first methane gas terminal in Britain, all concentrated alongside a rapidly-growing residential population. Over the years we have had quite a number of refinery fires, some of them expensive and very damaging. We have had collisions between vessels carrying inflammable cargoes close by these installations. Only a week ago an ammunition ship—which was empty, happily—crashed into the sea wall at Canvey. Two years ago a Spanish liner veered off course, crashed into an oil jetty at Coryton, severed the oil lines and literally set the Thames on fire.
These happenings, taken together, are unacceptable risks, and no Government has the right to add to them. So far it has been one voice against 629 others in this House. I am very glad to have allies here tonight in my determination to draw attention to the grave and growing dangers to our environment as a result of uncontrolled developments of this kind.
I remind the House that it was a Labour Government in 1965 which authorised the first oil refinery on Canvey Island, despite the determined opposition of the residents of the area, despite my opposition and that of the planning 1186 authority. On that occasion the Secretary of State overruled his inspector. It was a Conservative Government which authorised the Occidental refinery in 1972, and again the United Refineries plant last year. In the latter case planning permission was given against the advice of the inspector who conducted the inquiry. Now we have the present Secretary of State "minded" to give planning permission for yet another refinery opposite us at Cliffe.
In a debate on 16th November last I attempted to impress upon Ministers the importance of taking into account the totality of the effect of all these planning decisions upon the environment of the area—the effect upon our road communications and upon navigation in the river, and the growth of industrial fire hazards. Indeed, as I mentioned in an earlier intervention, the then Minister for Local Government and Planning conceded that we have had more than our fair share of installations of this kind.
The Minister agreed with me that there was a case for an interdepartmental inquiry into the totality of the effect of these decisions. He said:I can assure my hon. Friend that, following my examination of the area from the air, I am in discussion and in consideration of the matter with my colleagues."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 16th Nov., 1973; Vol. 864, c. 904.]I was delighted with that. It was the first admission that we had had enough and that the whole matter should be looked at anew. One would have concluded that second thoughts were at last beginning to prevail in Whitehall.
During the General Election, statements were made by right hon. Members of the Labour Party which convinced many of my constituents that for their part they too were having second thoughts. No less a person than the present Prime Minister wrote to the Castle Point Oil Refineries Resistance Group—Castle Point is the new district covering Canvey Island and Benfleet, where a large number of my constituents live—and all gave an assurance that:A new Labour Government would reexamine the proposals for the construction of these refineries in the light of strong objections from local residents.He was refering to the two refineries on Canvey Island. He continued:On the face of it, it is most unusual for a Minister to reject the recommendations of 1187 the inspector who conducted the inquiry and therefore there is a very strong case for a thorough and full investigation of the whole affair, pending which, of course, no planning permission would be granted.Someone in the right hon. Gentleman's private office should have told him that planning permission had already been granted in respect of both of the refineries and that one of them was already under construction. Moreover, his own Secretary of State in 1965 had overridden his inspection.
But the matter did not end there. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), who was the Shadow Secretary of State for Environment—with no more than a gleam of hope in his eye—wrote a letter to the local Labour candidate saying thatIf a Labour Government comes to power I shall look at the whole question of refineries on Canvey again.Three cheers. I was delighted that such an assurance was given.
Since then, however, we have had a number of developments which throw very serious doubts on those utterances. First we had the Secretary of State himself "minded" to give planning permission for this proposal at Cliffe just across the water. I shall listen with interest to the reply by the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, for whom I have a great deal of respect and affection. Perhaps we shall learn whether the Secretary of State is still so minded after what he told us in the General Election.
I thought it prudent to table a few Questions on the subject and on 20th March I asked the Secretary of State for the Environmentwhat progress had been made in respect of the requests made to his Department by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East for an inter-departmental inquiry into the economic, social and environmental implications of industrial development in the Thames Estuary, with particular reference to Canvey Island.The House will recall that the Minister for Housing and Local Government in the last Government conceded that an inquiry of some kind should be conducted since manifestly we had had enough development of this kind. This was the answer I received from the new Minister for Planning and Local Government:We are aware of the anxieties underlying the hon. Member's question. We do not at 1188 this stage envisage such a wide-ranging study as the hon. Member suggests, but we are reviewing the situation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th March 1974; Vol. 870, c. 110–11.]I do not think that that is likely to encourage my constituents after the bold pronouncements made in the General Election by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment. I fear therefore, that there appears to be little evidence so far of any intention by the Government to limit oil refinery developments in the Thames Estuary. As one who came near to refusing the Conservative Whip in the last Parliament because of the way my constituency was treated by the Department of the Environment, I should like to point out that in my opinion successive Secretaries of State for the Environment do not care a fig for the environment. We have had example after example of how little they care.
In the course of the debate reference has been made to the so-called national interest. I asked the Secretary of State for the Environment in the last administration to define what he meant by the national interest in this context. I was never given an answer. Of course, we all concede that it is in the national interest that there should be additional refinery capacity. That is not in question. The issue is where should it be located. In the last Parliament I heard Labour Members argue the need for additional refinery capacity in the North-East and East Scotland. One would have thought that there was at least an economic case for siting the refineries somewhere near where North Sea oil was likely to be landed. But the argument made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford was that we already had a great many refineries, electricity generating stations and industrial plant concentrated in the Thames Estuary. Therefore, he argued, what did it matter if we had a few more? After all, he commented, this is where the market is.
Now we are getting at the truth. The national interest relates to the economic case made by the oil companies for siting their refineries close to the market where the product will be sold. I can understand that view, even though I do not accept it, but I have never yet heard a Secretary of State when tackling this problem define the national interest as something which must automatically take precedence over the environmental 1189 interest of people living close by. We have 300,000 people tightly packed into the area between the Thames and the Crouch. On the Kent side there is another large population. How many more installations of this kind must we accept before we reach saturation point? What is the meaning of planning when people, who have put their life savings into their homes in residential areas, find oil refineries at the foot of their gardens?
§ Mr. Burden
I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that what is so extraordinary about the situation is that on the one hand the Government argue that these new projects must go into the development areas and other areas while the very next moment they seek to push those developments into areas which are already overcrowded.
§ Sir B. Braine
My hon. Friend is right. He will recall the battle by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) and myself waged to prevent the Maplin development taking place in a way which would cause the utmost annoyance to people in our area. We had to fight over the siting of runways and access routes. We had to fight to prevent land being reclaimed for the purpose of heavy industry. We had to insist that land should not be reclaimed for heavy industry since that would have had the effect of attracting plant, capital and workers from industrial areas in the Midlands and the North. At last our point was conceded. Essex County Council laid down that Maplin should be developed so far but no further—and for light industry, not heavy industry. In that respect the planners drew the lines carefully. But when it comes to refineries the oil companies somehow or other appear to be exempt from the rules that apply to small business men who want to set up a workshop in an area not far from people's homes. It would seem that a completely different set of rules applies to these large international companies.
I warn the Minister that this is a situation which I shall never accept, never, never. It is certainly a situation which my constituents will not accept. I serve notice on the Labour Government, as I did on the Conservative Government 1190 which I supported, that I shall not tolerate this situation. They cannot count on my support for the proliferation of industrial plant of this kind in an area which already has too much of it and whose inhabitants complain of pollution and the lowering of their quality of life. Such treatment is not good enough. It must stop. I hope that the Secretary of State will take heed of what has been said in this debate.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
I wish to add my still, small voice to that of my hon. Friend across the water, the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine). I speak on behalf of many constituents in Kent and I add my voice to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden).
I am concerned that, in a way, I must wear two hats when dealing with this problem. For some time I have led a campaign in Kent to bring more industry on a limited scale to the north-east Kent coast. In that area there has been a problem of unemployment, although it can be said that they are pockets of unemployment which are not to be compared with the situation in the regions. However, this is a somewhat unusual situation when we bear in mind that my constituency is situated in the otherwise rich area of the south of England.
The introduction of an oil refinery does not bring with it opportunities for a large amount of employment. Job opportunity flowing from the development is limited. The sort of jobs that are offered by an oil company are not in percentage terms over-large in relation to a figure of 300 workers, but I suggest that a great many workers probably will come in from other parts of the country, especially the specialists.
My still, small voice is added to this debate to speak on behalf of the people of Kent. Kent is being overrun, not so much by industry but by the sprawl from London out to the coast as well as from the prospect of a Channel Tunnel and the concrete sprawl that will lead to it. There are also the new railways that will serve this area. Maplin was a frightening prospect to the people of the north-east Kent coast. The time has come when hon. Members who represent constituencies in Kent must call a halt to this 1191 encroachment of their amenities and their enjoyment of life.
I know a great deal about oil refineries and there is no question that they emit an unpleasant smell. Only recently I led a delegation from this House to the port of Antwerp where the stench from the oil refineries was almost unbelievable. Let us hope that in this country we so manage the affairs of oil refineries that they are not as bad as that. I know many refineries at Grangemouth and in other parts of the country, having served for a long time in the chemical industry. We cannot escape the fact that there is a problem of atmospheric pollution from oil refineries.
We have to consider where to draw the line on the encroachment of further industrial development into Kent in this way. This is not the type of job opportunity which I was seeking to mop up the pockets of unemployment which exist on the north-east Kent side. This is really to use the Thames Estuary in the wrong way.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East said, the refineries in the Thames Estuary have been there for a great many years. I know, because I served in the war on Canvey Island and they were there then. I can remember the fires there then. Why should we continue to develop this area as an oil reservoir and an oil refinery area for Britain? Surely we should look elsewhere.
My voice is only a still, small one but it must be raised because people in Kent honestly believe that not a big enough fight is being put up for them in this House to protect and preserve the Garden of England. I hope that the Under-Secretary will not neglect the cry from the people of Kent who are determined to protect themselves against encroachments of this kind.
It is not a dog-in-the-manger attitude. It is one which says "We recognise the national interest." I was one of those who recognised the national interest of the Channel Tunnel. But I had to go back to my constituents about that problem, telling them that I felt there was a national interest to be served—a link to the Continent which required to be met if we were to succeed as a nation in 1192 communications. But the people of Kent felt that they had been let down and that they were making a sacrifice. They recognised the national interest, but they also recognised the sacrifice.
I say again to the Under-Secretary that I am not being dog-in-the-manger. I am not saying that we should not increase our oil opportunity and our oil-refining capacity. But let us look elsewhere rather than constantly coming back to the Thames Estuary and saying that it is the obvious place because it is where we have been for the past 50 or 60 years.
I ask the Minister to consider very seriously what my colleagues and I have said.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)
My hon. Friends who have pleaded the case for their constituents and for Kent and the Thames Estuary clearly have a strong argument on their side, but it goes to the issue of planning permission. It is a responsibility of the Department of the Environment, and it is not a matter to which I propose to address myself.
I want to make two points only. The first is that, when I was Minister for Energy, I saw the Department's case for the construction of further refinery capacity, and I was satisfied. In my capacity as Minister for Energy I represented to the Department of the Environment that, apart from any question of where a refinery should be located, it was in the national interest that that refinery capacity should be created. I do not think that my hon. Friends deny that.
My second point is to take up that made by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden), who clearly is the hon. Member most affected by the Bill. It concerns Clause 21 and the so-called deregistration of certain common land.
The land in question is the highway. It is a public highway. It is not in good repair, but it is available for use by the public as a highway, and if the Bill goes through in its present form the land will continue to be available for use by the public as a highway. It has been registered as common land, but one has to make the distinction that there have been no common rights registered in respect of it. Mere registration as common land 1193 therefore, does not create any additional public rights over that land. It is not as if it were land which had rights of cattle grazing, rights to take timber, or other common rights such as those with which we are familiar in other parts of the country.
The public interest in this land is as a public highway, and that will be unaffected if the Bill is passed save only in one respect. It is that the Bill will give the promoters the power to restore the highway to a good state of repair and to keep it maintained and in good repair. There may be two views about whether a potholed road or a tarmac highway is the better amenity. That is the only issue which arises on Clause 21.
The hon. Member for Gravesend suggested that the promoters should have used some other procedure in the courts to secure the deregistration of the land. I am not an expert in this branch of the law, but I accept the advice that I have been given, which is that no such procedure exists and that the only way in which the promoters can acquire the power to make good the surface of the highway so as to turn it into a highway which can be used by vehicles is to take statutory powers.
One of my hon. Friends suggested that the Bill is dangerous because it seeks to change the law. That, surely, is the purpose of every Bill before this House, whether public or private. If we were prepared to throw out a Bill because it sought to change the law, we should have no legislation at all.
§ Mr. Burden
I take exception to the fact that Private Bills should seek to change the law which has been set through parliamentary procedures on Bills which have been passed in the normal way. It sets a very dangerous precedent.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I understand my hon. Friend's point, but I have been advised that the sole purpose of Clause 21 is to give the promoters the power to make good the highway and that there is no other procedure whereby they could overcome the procedural difficulty that there have been no common rights registered subsequently in respect of it.
I recognise that the main purpose of the debate affects the planning decision. That is a matter entirely for the Depart- 1194 ment of the Environment. As Opposition spokesman on energy, I find it very difficult to express a view upon it.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Carmichael)
Perhaps I should have intervened earlier but I emphasise that I am in no sense replying to the debate. This is a Private Bill and, as hon. Members who have been here much longer than I are aware, it is for the promoters to secure a majority for the Second Reading. The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine), in a powerful speech, suggested that the Government should withdraw the Bill, but I am sure that he was carried away and that he realises that it is not within my powers to withdraw the Bill because it is not a Government Bill.
It is important to remember that the application for planning permission relating to this matter is still before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and is still sub judice. Therefore, I must be extremely careful what I say. I rise to say a few words because it is apparently the custom in these circumstances for Government spokesmen to give the House some indication of the Government's views regarding the Bill being debated.
As the House is aware, the works have already come to the notice of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State by reason of the planning permission which has been mentioned. My right hon. Friend has indicated that, subject to consideration of any further representations —I am sure that the debate is part of the further representations—he is minded to grant planning permission for the refinery, pipeline and rail works. Great play has been made of the phrase relating to my right hon. Friend being "so minded" to grant planning permission and I accept that it is slightly quaint. Following from what I have said about my right hon. Friend's view, we therefore find that the pipeline and railworks are generally accepted, but my right hon. Friend has indicated that he does not feel able to approve the proposals for the distribution of refined products from the refinery by road transport. I cannot anticipate his decision on any alternative proposal which may be subsequently put forward.
1195 It is the convention that Private Bills follow a procedure under which the Government, in most cases, support the Second Reading and advise the House that the Second Reading should be approved so that the Bill can be referred to Committee where all the issues can be properly examined with the benefit of the expert evidence which is undoubtedly produced in Committee.
This is the Government's point of view regarding this Bill, and I hope that what
§ Question accordingly negatived.