HC Deb 23 July 1974 vol 877 cc1429-504

Order for Third Reading read.

[Queen's Consert, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

9.59 p.m.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

I have already explained to the House on two occasions the contents of the Bill, when it was given an undivided Second Reading in April and when it came back to the House last month after going through an unopposed Private Bill Committee. Therefore, I shall not go over the content of the Bill yet again this evening.

The Bill is a miscellaneous Bill which contains a large number of small provisions and some more important provisions, relating to various parts of the country, providing for the construction of some stretches of railway line, for the removal of some stretches of railway line, for the provision of some level crossings, and such like matters. Hon. Members have all received a brief from the promoters of the Bill, the British Railways Board, explaining the contents of the Bill to them.

The Bill has had a very slow progress through the House in the last Parliament and in this one. It started in January and was blocked at the beginning of the year by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and one of his colleagues because of two provisions contained in the Bill at that time. One related to the power to construct a railway line to and over Maplin Sands, and that provision has since been removed in the light of the Government's new policy on Maplin. The other provision, to which the hon. Member for Essex, South-East took exception, is that which authorises British Rail to construct a one-mile stretch of railway track to a proposed refinery site on Canvey Island.

I must say again what I have said on the two previous occasions when the House has considered this Bill—that this Bill does not authorise the refineries to be constructed on Canvey Island. Its only relevance to the refineries is that the Bill permits British rail to construct a railway link from the main London-Southend line to the proposed site of the refineries. I think I should endeavour to remove all doubt about the extremely modest nature of the proposal, which is the only ground on which exception is taken to this Bill.

The distance from the main line to the proposed refinery site is approximately two miles and the first mile of the connecting spur was authorised in the British Railways Act, 1972. The House, and Parliament as a whole, has therefore authorised the construction of one mile of railway track from the main line halfway towards the site of the refineries, and that one mile takes the track up to the creek separating the mainland from Canvey Island, over the creek and for about one-third of a mile on Canvey Island itself. The relevant clause of this Bill only permits that spur line to be further extended by one mile to reach the proposed site of the refineries, and of that one mile about one-third will be within the proposed refinery area.

When this matter was last discussed last month the hon. Member for Essex, South-East suggested that it would be preferable if the product of the refineries were transmitted not by rail but by pipeline. I suggested then to the House that there were technical objections to that alternative and I want now to give the House the expert guidance which has been provided on this point.

Not all products of refineries can be transmitted by pipeline. It is an inherent characteristic of heavy industrial fuel oil that it will become very viscuous or even solid and unnumnable at normal temperatures. It must be maintained at relatively high temperatures, say about 130° F, throughout the length of the pipeline. To maintain oil at that temperature in pipes within the boundaries of, or adjacent to, the refinery is a relative simple matter. Pipes are heated with steam supplied for the purpose which is readily available and reliable, and the pipelines are above ground, easily accessible and usually short in length.

But for long, buried cross-country pipelines outside the refinery heating is not a practical proposition. If the pumping of heavy fuel oil should be on a continuous basis, and the oil can pass through the line at sufficient velocity, it is possible to rely on sufficient insulation retaining sufficient heat in the heavy oil during its transit without external heating of the line. However, output from, and consequently input to, a rail depot is intermittent and irregular, and thus continuous pumping of heavy fuel oil to it via a pipeline is not practicable. It is for that reason that the hon. Member's suggestion of a pipeline to connect the refinery to a transmission station is impossible.

There are other objections. For example, it would mean that the transmission of the oil from the pipeline to the railway waggon would be at a point very close to an area of dense population—closer to that area of dense population than the sidings proposed in the Bill.

The House has given the Bill an unopposed Second Reading, and the Bill has been to a private Bill Committee and has been passed with amendments. One of the most important amendments made in Committee was one which was enthusiastically desired by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East. When the Bill came back to the House for consideration last month the hon. Member moved an amendment to delete the provision concerning a Canvey rail link. On a vote the amendment was defeated by 141 votes to 59, a majority of 82.

When the Bill leaves this House it will go to the House of Lords. Hon. Members understand that Private Bills are unlike public Bills in that they may continue from one Parliament to the next, and it is expected that this Bill will do that. In the House of Lords the Bill will have to go through the same rigorous processes for consideration of any petitions against it as that through which it has already gone in this House. Any local authority objecting to the Bill, therefore, will have its opportunity to use the processes laid down by Parliament for a rigorous examination in a quasi-judicial atmosphere. Tonight, therefore, the House has only the choice of passing the Bill or killing it.

I invite the House to consider seriously what would be the consequences of kill- ing the Bill. Clause 23 extends for a further period of years the powers of the police to stop, search and arrest persons suspected of theft on British Railways property. The powers are conferred under previous legislation on a temporary basis, and so they have to be extended for a further period of years every few years. The current powers run until 31st July—a week tomorrow. If the Bill is killed tonight it will be impossible as from a week tomorrow for British Transport Police, or any other police—because their powers on British Railways property depend on the same legislation—to stop, search and arrest persons suspected of theft on British Railways property.

On Thursday this week, at the request of the Opposition, we shall debate law and order. It would be curious if on Tuesday of this week the House were to choose to defeat the measure and so deprive the police of essential powers for controlling theft on British Rail property.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon Tweed)

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that on a number of occasions in Committee it was pointed out to the British Transport Docks Board and British Rail that their choice of private legislation to seek such powers was far from satisfactory, and that it would have been much better if they had used general public legislation to obtain the powers? It is hard to imagine the Home Office looking unfavourably on attempts to deal with such powers in the proper place, namely public legislation.

Mr. Cunningham

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, but the distinction between private and public legislation is that private authorities do not promote public legislation. It is right that the powers I am talking about, police powers, should be conferred in public legislation, but they are not so conferred at present, and British Rail cannot promote a public Bill to change that. Governments of all parties have tolerated the situation over the years. If some Government at some time want to change it, they can do so, but until that day comes we have given British Rail certain concessions, and they are doing the only thing they can, by putting into the legislation which they promote power to extend the police powers which they now enjoy.

I. hope that the hon. Gentleman will pursue his point on another occasion when there is time to do something about it—we certainly do not have time between now and next Wednesday—so that this kind of provision does not in future have to be part of private legislation promoted from outside the House by nationalised industry. I hope that hon. Members understand the difficulty of nationalised industries and local authorities in promoting legislation from within the House when they are not in any normal sense represented in the House.

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)

Would it not be a satisfactory way out of the problem, which is one of a Bill which contains both desirable and undesirable objectives, according to the hon. Gentleman, if British Rail were to give an undertaking that if the Bill went through the House it would not take advantage of the provision which relates to the construction of the railway line to which my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) objects? In that way British Rail could have its police powers without any further problem tonight, and my hon. Friend would be satisfied.

Mr. Cunningham

The hon. Gentleman's proposition is that the proposal relating to the Canvey link-line could be left in the Bill but not used. A much more satisfactory proposition was considered by the House last month, that the proposal should be deleted from the Bill, and it was resoundingly defeated. No nationalised industry is likely to take on an understanding that it will not implement powers which it is given in the Bill. But the British Railways Board will implement the powers only if the refineries are there. If the hon. Member for Essex, South-East is successful in stop, ping the refineries from being completed on Canvey Island, British Rail will not proceed to construct the railway line. There are many authorisations for action in private legislation which are not taken up if there is not a practical justification for them.

The House faces a simple choice tonight. The House either passes the Bill, it having been rigorously considered, or it defeats the Bill, with the serious consequences to which I have drawn attention. The Bill has been badly de- layed since January this year, and there will be some serious consequences of that delay, even if it goes throughout the remainder of its passage in the speediest manner possible. Therefore I hope that the House will after a very brief debate—I am sorry to have spoken so long—now give it its Third Reading.

Finally, may I draw attention to the statement which it seems the hon. Gentleman has made to the Press today about our proceedings—

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

I have made no statement to the Press. I hope that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) will withdraw.

Mr. Cunningham

I just want to draw the attention of the House to the statement which I have read on the tapes today, which says that the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) plans to block the Third Reading of the Bill. It is said that he intends to move, That the Bill be read the Third time upon this day six months".

Sir Bernard Braine

That is on the Order Paper.

Mr. Cunningham

It is said that the hon. Gentleman admitted that there was no certainty that he would get away with these tactics but that his object was to make Parliament listen to his case. I think that the House has listened to his case with great interest on several occasions, and no doubt we shall do so again tonight. I hope that this occasion will not be taken further to delay a Bill which it is now essential to pass quickly and which if defeated would leave British Railways in an impossible situation regarding the security of its property.

10.16 p.m.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

I rise to oppose the Third Reading of the Bill. As the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) has made clear, I object to only one provision in the Bill—namely, that which is contained in Clause 6 which enables British Railways to construct a railway line and sidings to serve the oil refineries on Canvey Island.

Mr. Speaker

Is it true that the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) intends to speak for three hours?

Sir B. Braine

If, Mr. Speaker, you will be patient with me, as I hope you will, it will be seen as I develop the case against the Bill that three hours is scarcely sufficient to express the feelings of answer, frustration and bitterness of my constituents. However, I shall endeavour to confine my remarks to as short a time as possible.

Hon. Members will know that my objection to the proposal in the Bill is not based on some small trivial point, some mere technicality, but upon a matter of very great moment. If Parliament gives these powers to the British Railways Board it will enable it to add an additional fire hazard to an already endangered environment. My answer to the plea from the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury for the swift and uninterrupted passage of this measure is that its promoters could have had it some weeks or months ago had they possessed the imagination and the sensitivity to understand that this seemingly simple little provision touches upon a matter of the gravest concern to thousands of my constituents and to the elected local authorities within my constituency.

The Castle Point District Council covers an area which happens to be controlled by the local Labour Party. As will be apparent from what I say later, they simply do not understand how it is possible that 140 of the colleagues of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, most of whom had not even bothered to listen to the case, marched into the Lobby on an amendment to a Private Bill which touched on the interests of only one constituency. The Labour Party in South-East Essex finds it difficult to understand the attitude of the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends.

Mr. Cunningham

I understand that it is possible that the Castle Point authority would wish to petition against this part of the Bill. Does the hon. Member for Essex, South-East not agree that it would be best for it to do so in the House of Lords, where the matter would be considered according to the rigorous procedures of petitioning a Private Bill before a Private Bill Committee rather than for the matter to be thrashed out yet again, in terms which we have all heard before, on the Floor of the House?

Sir B. Braine

The night is young. I shall deal with this point in some considerable detail. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to help me with interventions of that kind, I am more than willing to permit him to do so.

The fact is that British Railways chose to ignore the concern of my constituents, to brush aside my request on Second Reading to drop this unwelcome provision, and, when I put down an amendment on Report, to rely upon Labour Members to defeat it who had not even heard the argument. Yet as I shall demonstrate later, the provision is unnecessary as well as objectionable.

I emphasise again at this early stage of my remarks that I have the support of the local authorities and of the vast majority of my constituents in fighting this measure by every means I can muster. Thus, all that the British Railways Board has succeeded in doing so far, together with the skill and ingenuity of the hon. Gentleman, is to enable me to delay the passage of the Bill to the point at which Parliament at long last will hear our case in detail, and for that I am extremely grateful to the board and to the hon. Gentleman.

I make no apology for having embarked upon this course, because the safety, the health and the peace of mind of my constituents are directly involved. These are the interests which, as Edmund Burke told his constituents in Bristol 200 years ago, I should prefer to any interest of my own. Indeed, as will become clear, who can be sure that, in a situation where, over a decade, there has been a persistent and wilful refusal by successive Government to consider the totality of the effect of hazardous industrial developments of this kind upon the environment of my constituents, the greatest interest of all—human life itself—is not being endangered?

Mr. George Cunningham

I shall not allow myself to be provoked again, I promise. But does the hon. Gentleman remember another remark by Burke? When Burke was asked by a lady if he really believed all the stuff and nonsense he sometimes spoke, he replied: Gad, Madame. Does any man swear to the truth of a song?

Sir B. Braine

I remember a great deal of Burke and the hon. Gentleman will, I think, be sorry for trying to introduce a note of flippancy into a debate which, as the evening wears on, will be seen to be reflecting the views of a very large number of people who are gravely worried.

Mr. Cunningham

indicated assent.

Sir B. Braine

I notice that the hon. Gentleman is nodding assent. Indeed, when the story is told, I think that the House will be horrified, because it has never been told in full before.

It is my submission that this Bill gives British Railways powers that it should not have and that it is in the interests of my constituents in South-East Essex that those powers should be shown to symbolise what they are—an evil which so far the House has not insisted on removing. That is a matter for hon. Members to debate with their consciences.

For me, my duty is clear. It is to spell out in the greatest detail why that evil, serving as it does a still greater evil, should be removed. That is what I propose to do. It is a bitter story. It involves Ministers in successive Governments whose failure to apprehend the situation has been matched only by their arrogance. It also involves the Prime Minister, who thought it worthwhile to exploit the anxieties of my constituents by giving them a pledge during the General Election that he would review the whole matter—a pledge which he has so far unhappily failed to implement.

It is a story with a message for every community that believes its environment to be in danger. Across the whole confused scene there looms—I am choosing my words carefully—the dark shadow of the Aberfan traeedy which, the House will recall, engulfed a small community because no one in authority ever considered it to be his duty to calculate the total risk involved. That is the answer. I am sorry to say Mr. Speaker, to your earlier question, for it is also a long story and I hone that hon. Members will be patient with me as I recount the details.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

I am sorry to delay my hon. Friend but I wonder whether he could enlighten me on one point. It was put to him earlier that all these matters could be dealt with by the petition procedure which would apply if the Bill reaches the House of Lords. Can he explain why that is not a satisfactory procedure with which to deal with the matter he is raising?

Sir B. Braine

That is a good point. It was suggested earlier that if I were reasonable, that would be a course which I should allow the House to pursue, and it might be argued that much of what I am to say could be dealt with in another place. I agree that in normal circumstances, with a normal Private Bill, having made one's protest here—as I have done on Second Reading and again at Report stage—the Bill should be allowed to pass, since it is open to local authorities. or for that matter other objectors, to petition their Lordships' House. But the circumstances are not normal; the Bill is not a normal Private Bill.

The provision in the Bill to which I object touches not upon some narrow interest affecting only a few people or injuring possibly the interests of a small corporation, or a few individuals. It touches upon the safety, health and peace of mind of a whole community which is represented in this House, but not in the other place. If, as I shall presently show. Ministers have behaved towards that community in a neglectful and damaging way, and if now nationalised industry shows the same disregard for that community's interests, feelings and susceptibilities by insisting on the retention of the objectionable parts of the Bill, then it is in this House that the facts must be laid bare for all to see and judge.

I am proud to have represented the people of South-East Essex for nearly a quarter of a century. I should feel that T was failing in one of my first duties to them if I did not pursue the matter on their behalf with all the means at my disposal. When an issue of this kind arises and a community has exhausted every other means of reasonable and constitutional protest available to it, it rightly looks to its Member of Parliament to carry on the struggle in this House. I will not be denied that privilege. Indeed is this not a matter which goes to the heart of what Parliament is all about? Ts it not one of our oldest constitutional principles that redress of grievance should precede supply? Ministers may govern in the name of Her Majesty, but only on the understanding that they first redress the grievances of Her Majesty's subjects. T assert that this principal covers Private Bills as well as public Bills.

No one, not even the British Railways Board, has the right to inflict a hazard upon my constituents without protest in this House. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) asked a pertinent question. There is another reason why the circumstances are not normal. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury gave us the answer. He said that unless we pass this Bill tonight and it goes to another House and is rushed through and becomes law by the end of the month, the most dreadful consequences would follow.

What follows from that argument? Apart from anything else, it seems unlikely that there will be time to deal with the matter adequately in another place. We have the word of the hon. Member for that. I rather gather that the promoters would wish to have the Bill straight away, without any more fuss and bother. They would be very unhappy to see it carried over into another Session or even, who can tell, into another Parliament.

Then there was this nonsense of suggesting that the local authority could petition in another place. If I am not mistaken, the promoters—and the hon. Gentleman made this clear—would seek in these circumstances to get the Bill rushed through in another place and, although it would be wrong for me to presume to say how their Lordships might deal with it, any such rush and lack of consideration would be contrary to the best interests of the people I represent and would be bitterly resented by the local authority.

Mr. George Cunningham

I must make one fact plain. There is no intention or desire or possibility of the other place disposing of this Bill before the Recess, whatever happens here tonight. Nor is that necessary for the retention of the policing powers. I could explain why if it were necessary, but I would take too long to do so in an intervention. Provided the Bill passes through this House tonight, the law is such that the policing powers are essentially preserved although the Bill does not pass through another place before next Wednesday.

Sir B. Braine

That is very unconvincing. The hon. Gentleman and British Railways Board have had a great deal of time to ponder this. They have known of my objection for many months. They refer to it in the Statement accompanying the Bill. If it is so important for them to secure the Bill for these other reasons, it was always open to them to withdraw this objectionable provision. If that were not possible they could at least have indicated that when the Bill reached another place arrangements would be made to put the matter right. But no! The British Railways Board takes its cue from the arrogant attitude which has been characteristic of all who have had anything to do with this matter from the beginnng.

Let me begin by setting the scene. I must do this if hon. Members are to comprehend the full significance of the proposal in the Bill to which I object. Canvey Island, which I have the honour to represent, is an island comprising less than 4,000 acres. It is generally flat, and a large area is below sea-level. [Interruption.] I am talking of the one place m the Kingdom that was completely inundated by the East Coast floods in 1953 when we lost 100 souls. That was a matter of grave concern to us then and therefore when I refer to topography it is not a laughing matter. It has a significant place in the story. I hope hon. Gentlemen will understand that.

Much of Canvey Island is generally flat and below sea level, yet successive Governments and planning authorities have encouraged no fewer than 30,000 people to make their homes there. It is not an unpleasant place. In the summer months that number of residents is doubled by holidaymakers. At the height of summer there may be 50,000 to 60,000 people in a small island of less than 4,000 acres.

I said that I had represented the area for a long time. I therefore know it like the back of my hand. I still have vivid memories of the great flood disaster in 1953 when the islanders were the most hard hit of all the East Coast communities. We lost many lives, extensive damage was done and many of the inhabitants felt at the time that the island would never recover. For me, it was an unforgettable experience and it left in my mind an impression of vulnerability which lies at the root of what I shall say tonight.

Canvey survived that disaster. Behind greatly strengthened sea defences the island recovered, grew and prospered. Yet it remains vulnerable in the sense that, although there are now two bridges linking it with the mainland instead of only one in 1953, the approach roads converge at a single roundabout. If ever disaster came again to Canvey, it still has only a slender communication link with the mainland. It does not take much imagination to see that that would create difficulties in an emergency should the fire and rescue services seek to get on to the island at the time when the inhabitants are trying to get off.

Canvey, however, is vulnerable in another sense. About half the island is residential. The other half is given over to extensive oil, gas and chemical storage installations, all of which are officially classified by the fire service as major fire risks, and also to the sites of the two new oil refineries, one of which is already under construction, which are to be served by the additional hazard represented in the powers sought by the British Railways Board in the Bill.

The introduction of these refineries into the already endangered environment close to a large and growing residential population has been forced upon us, despite continued and bitter opposition from the residents, the local district councils most closely concerned and myself. I will come to these new haxards in due course. For the moment I wish to concentrate on the existing hazards with which the islanders have had to live for many years.

There are three main installations on the island, all next door to one another and to the sites where the refineries will he erected. First, there is the important North Thames methane terminal which, I have heard said, stores enough gas for one week's consumption for the whole country. Here there is storage for about 110,000 tons of frozen gas below ground level and a variety of other products such as ethylene, pentane and liquefied petrol gas. Altogether there are 24.6 million gallons of inflammable material stored in that one installation.

Next door are the Texaco oil tanks holding 5.7 million gallons of class A highly inflammable products and 7.7 million gallons of class B products which are only slightly less inflammable.

Then, we have the London and Coastal Oil Wharves Ltd. which is licensed to store 61.2 million gallons of chemicals— 50.5 million gallons of class A products and 10.7 million gallons of class B products. These include 1,280 tons of cyclo-hexane, the material which was used in the manufacturing process at the Nypro plant at Flixborough. Let me say in passing, however, when this fact became known after the Flixborough disaster, a spokesman for the company announced, no doubt in an honest endeavour to allay anxieties, that this was by no means the most dangerous chemical stored in the installation.

London and Coastal Oil Wharves has a jetty which can handle tankers of up to 45,000 tons. Storage is rented to customers, which include the major oil companies. Some 650,000 tons of products were handled there in 1970 and this increased to 750,000 tons in 1971. I do not know the present figure, but it is unlikely to be less.

At any one time on the island, a total of 100 million gallons of highly inflammable and dangerous material is stored there and much of this is also transported through an area where many thousands of my constituents have their homes.

As I told the House on the Report stage of the Health and Safety at Work Bill on 18th June, there are 33 residential caravans immediately adjacent to London and Coastal Oil Wharves. There are other dwellings between 140 and 220 yards away, the famous "Lobster Pot" public house—beloved of that distinguished ex-Member of the House, the late Sir Alan Herbert—is about 150 yards away, while the main residential areas where 30,000 people live start at about 550 yards away.

Nor is this all. For, immediately to the west of Canvey, in Thurrock, are two of the largest oil refineries in the country—the Mobil refinery at Coryton and the Shell refinery at Shellhaven. Both of these have expanded their operations considerably in recent years. Both are within sight and smell of Canvey. There is also a third large refinery across the river in the Isle of Grain.

I wish to emphasise two points. The first is that these three refineries already exist and are not to be confused with the two new refineries which are to be built at Canvey, while yet another is planned opposite us on the Kent side of the river at Cliffe. Secondly, the prevailing winds in the area for a large part of the year are south-westerly so that the emanations from the existing refineries and other industrial plant in Thurrock drift over the heavily-populated areas of South-East Essex and Southend. As for Canvey itself, it should be readily seen that its residential population is already hemmed in on the south-west and west by a heavy concentration of hazardous installations—hazardous in themselves, and made vastly more so by being adjacent to one another.

Thus, we have here a web of risk made up of many strands—the installations themselves, the trans-shipment of hazardous products from the river to land, and by road tanker, and the possibility of collisions in the river itself. The House will be interested to know that there have already been many accidents, many warnings and many narrow escapes.

The Robens Committee on Health and Safety at Work specifically mentioned in its report that its attention had been drawn to a number of locations where highly explosive or flammable substances are kept in such quantities that any failure of control—however remote the possibility—could create situations of disaster-potential. The report went on to describe how situations of considerable potential risk to the public could be created in a variety of ways and circumstances. I quote from paragraph 297: The problem can be particularly acute in sites or areas where there is a gradual accretion of potentially hazardous development by different employers. Existing technical problems may be compounded by new and possibly incompatible developments nearby, and administrative arrangements can become complicated because of the number of authorities that might become involved in one way or another. In such situations industrialists and officials no doubt apply their knowledge and discharge their responsibilities to the best of their abilities. Nevertheless, there have been expressions of public concern from time to time about the possibility that official controls may be inadequate or inadequately coordinated. I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury in particular to the fact that the report goes on to give as an example of this public concern the Adjournment debate on fire safety in Canvey Island which I initiated on 24th November 1970 and also a report on an explosion at South Stifford, in our neighbouring district of Thurrock.

This then is the area of risk and concern in which successive Governments have authorised the introduction of two new oil refineries with their attendant storage and transportation facilities. This is the area of risk and concern in which the British Railways Board seeks powers to bring an additional hazard. That it has done so against the wishes of the local people and their elected representatives is bad enough, but to have done so in the knowledge that we already have too great a concentration of hazards for health or safety is irresponsible and unforgiveable. Such action is to compound the chances of something going wildly wrong. It is not to be wondered at that in the south-east of Essex the Department of the Environment is regarded as a sick joke.

I emphasise that this is the area of risk and concern into which British Railways, if given the powers contained in this Bill, would bring an additional hazard, since to move oil products by rail is infinitely more hazardous than to move them by pipeline.

Up to about 20 years ago, it could be fairly claimed that South-East Essex enjoyed the reputation of having such pure air and bracing conditions that large numbers of people suffering from chest complaints and possessed of only limited resources made their homes there on medical advice. I know that there are hon. Members who have relatives who came there for their health. I have met many constituents who have told me that coming to Canvey gave them a new lease of life.

The atmosphere changed as the oil refineries in neighbouring Thurrock expanded their operations. In 1957, constituents started to complain to me. In the first nine months of that year, when a special record was kept by an efficient public health inspector obnoxious fumes were detected on no fewer than 39 days—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

Order. Everyone wants to be fair to the hon. Gentleman, who is making his constituency case. But he will have to link it a little more closely to the current proposals in the Bill.

Sir B. Braine

It is not difficult to relate it to the current proposals. If I might spell out what I said before you took the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will then see exactly what I am proposing to do, and I trust that you will feel that that is entirely in line with what the House expects on an occasion of this kind. In short, the Bill by itself seeks to bring a relatively small hazard to Canvey Island, which is in my constituency, to serve what I shall presently show, is a considerably larger hazard—in fact, two hazards. These two additional hazards have to be viewed against the background of existing hazards which have given rise to grave concern in my constituency.

I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House, when they have heard the facts, will grasp the gravity of what I am trying to tell the House. It is necessary, therefore, to show not only how these hazards have been built up stage by stage with the knowledge of the authorities, but also that their totality has never been appreciated and measured. It is this which I wish to bring to the attention of the House tonight as a reason for refusing to give the Bill a Third Reading.

As long ago as 1958 my constituents, including many invalids, were petitioning against these nuisances. They urged that the nuisances from the existing refineries were distressing in the extreme and were aggravating their conditions. Indeed, I raised the matter in the House.

It must be remembered that while we are concerned here about serving new refineries with a railway line on Canvey itself, the existing refineries are in neighbouring Thurrock, not far away, and within sight and smell of my constituency. I want to be absolutely fair about these installations. The oil companies were worried about the matter. It emerged that the trouble was due to occasional accidents in the refineries rather than to any general daily emissions. The Deputy Chief Alkali Inspector, at a meeting of Essex local authorities on 5th June 1958, said that all known methods were being adopted to eliminate the smells but when they occurred it was probably due to accidents in the, refineries.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must also be fair to the House. He has drawn our attention to the long history of this matter. I suggest that he ought now to say why the terms of the Bill, which can hardly have anything to do with the smell in 1958, are relevant to the history.

Sir B. Braine

If you will be patient with me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will see how the matter is related to the Bill. We were quoting Edmund Burke a little earlier. Did he not also say that small dangers, by being despised, grow great? Therefore, my purpose, starting at the beginning, is to show how, by and large, the ignoring of small nuisances and small hazards, has now created a situation of the utmost gravity. With respect, I feel that the case must be argued at some length to demonstrate the sheer gravity of the situation now facing my constituents, I am prepared to telescope my remarks, but my constituents would expect me to deploy their case before the House tonight. I submit, therefore, that it is in order for me to put it forward for the reasons which I have given.

The truth of the matter is that by the early 1960s my constituents had learned to live with these smaller nuisances—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman will not want to be at cross-purposes with the Chair, any more than I want to be at cross-purposes with him. But we must somehow get to this railway and the proposals in the Bill. On Third Reading, the House is discussing directly what is in the Bill.

Sir B. Braine

What my constituents did not foresee in the 1960s was that, having got used to the nuisances then existing, their problems would be compounded by deliberate decisions to introduce new refineries. It is those new refineries which are to be served by the provisions of the Bill.

I should like to demonstrate the risks attendant upon the powers given in the Bill. You know yourself, Sir, from the tragedies in the mines of South Wales, or in disasters which can happen anywhere, that one accident can lead to another, triggering off a whole series of consequences. What I hope to be able to describe is how situation after situation has triggered off a series of events which have placed my constituents in peril. The powers sought in the Bill represent just one more hazard.

Mr. George Cunningham

On a point of order. I wonder whether I could draw to your attention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the fact that the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) has given notice, not just to the House but to the whole country, of what he is doing tonight. It was reported on the news tapes that he hopes tonight to make … the longest speech of this Parliament so far from theback benches". The report added: Sir Bernard admitted today that there was no certainty that he would get away with these tactics. Would you agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is highly desirable that he should not get away with these tactics, because to do so would be an abuse of the House?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

We get bad news from time to time. The hon. Member must leave it to me, as long as I am in the Chair, to try to ensure fair play. I want to ensure fair play for the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), but I have to observe the rules of the House. A Third Reading, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is limited to a discussion of what is in the Bill. There was an extensive debate of these matters on Second Reading, when many of these arguments were put before the House.

Sir B. Braine


Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)

On a further point of order. Is it not proper that a matter of this gravity should be debated in this House, rather than in another place, for the reason that the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) gave earlier—that at least his constituency is represented in this House and not in another place? Could notice be taken of the fact that many of us who have an open mind on the Bill take great exception to an hon. Member opposite suggesting, first, that the discussion in this House should be stifled, and, second, that it should be transferred to another place?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

As long as I am here, or Mr. Speaker or the Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means is here, free discussion will not be stifled. But we always encourage orderly discussion.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Further to the point of order. Is it in order for hon. Members who are making their first appearance in the debates on the Bill to complain about the amount of discussion that it has had especially when we know that they are political Cinderellas who will disappear at midnight?

Sir B. Braine

It grieves me very much that when I am attempting to do my duty to my constituents by describing a situation which causes them the gravest concern, these small and trivial points should be made.

I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will allow me to show, step by step, how the environment of my Canvey Island constituents has been steadily worsening and will be worsened still further by the proposals in this Bill. In order to show how half a mile of railway line and some sidings, by themselves not very important, are in fact of the utmost importance in this context, I must be allowed to show the extent of existing hazards.

It is a story which, as I told Mr. Speaker at the beginning of my remarks, is bitter and long, and it must be told. It will be told—I bow always to your rulings, Mr. Deputy Speaker—within the terms of this Bill in the sense that the provision in Clause 6 is an additional hazard to an already endangered environment.

In the summer of 1964 it was revealed in the national Press that United Refineries Ltd., a subsidiary of an Italian State-controlled group of oil companies, proposed to build a f15 million refinery on the island. The company had obtained an IDC and, subject to the granting of planning permission, the refinery was expected to be completed in 1967.

When the exchanges took place a moment ago I was attempting to explain how my constituents had suffered over the years from intermittent smell nuisance from the three existing refineries in the Thames Estuary. It was known and reluctantly accepted that an offensive odour was inseparable from the oil-refining process, and in some cases where people were suffering from chest and throat complaints, considerable annoyance and even distress had been caused. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that with this new development there should be widespread anxiety, not only to my constituents but to people living on the Kent side of the river and further afield, in South-East Essex and Southend. Over 20,000 people signed a petition against the proposal.

Existing refineries in Thurrock, while visible, were at least some distance from the residential population in the island and in neighbouring Benfleet to the north, the combined population of which at that time totalled 50,000. But the site proposed for the new refinery was on low-lying ground on Canvey, about 580 yards from Benfleet railway station. The residential area of Benfleet occupies high ground which rises from the railway line to the north, up to a level of 250 feet. Since this was the height of the proposed chimney to the refinery, and since the prevailing winds in the summer months are south-westerly blowing across the island towards the mainland, it should have been apparent that this proposal would make life unbearable for thousands of my constituents.

While the height of the chimney and the volume of noxious fumes emitted would depend on the kind of fuel gas or fuel oil burned, there was bound to be an emission into the atmosphere of sulphur dioxide and other pollutants. Thus, with the chimney at 250 feet, my constituents would be exposed, for varying periods to varying quantities of pollutants, breathed in at almost ground level. This would make complete nonsense of all the principles of good planning. It was bound to arouse intense opposition from the people who had made their homes there, and it did.

I found that the Board of Trade were reluctant to issue an IDC, but that they were told by United Refineries that if the company could not build at Canvey, the refinery would not be built in this country at all. Hon. Members will therefore begin to see the gravity of what I suggest—that undue pressures were beginning to be brought to bear by foreign oil companies.

In my innocence at the time I felt that all was not lost. There simply had to be safeguards in our planning law. So I decided to raise the matter in Parliament in the hope that I could alert those responsible for planning matters to this monstrous proposal. I was in some difficulty because the Canvey Island Urban District Council at that time was Labour-controlled and was actually advocating the establishment of an oil refinery on the island. The electors later threw these gentlemen out, but unhappily they were there long enough to open the door and their views undoubtedly influenced much of what followed.

It should be put on record that when United Refineries saw that its proposal was arousing intense local opposition it sought to overcome it by inviting local councillors to visit refineries in Italy, at the company's expense, to see for themselves how unfounded were the anxieties of the objectors and how marvellously their refineries were operated and merged into the landscape with no one noticing them.

Such a visit took place. On their return home, some of the councillors were ecstatic about the way in which their generous hosts ran their installations. Never once did it occur to them that if they wanted to know how refineries cope with atmospheric pollution, it would have been better to study the problem under the atmospheric conditions in Britain rather than under the totally different conditions prevailing in Southern Europe. Had they grasped that point, they need not have travelled to the Mediterranean but could have gone to Thurrock, next door.

All this was long ago. I understand your anxiety, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I should not dwell too much on the past. Today no doubt those councillors are sadder and wiser men. I do not impugn their motives. I think that they genuinely believed that a refinery would add substantially to the rateable value of the district. I mention this unhappy episode now only to show how slender our defences were against a foreign oil company's successful threat to the Government to take its business elsewhere if it were refused permission to build in Britain, and to show how it extended expensive hospitality to people whom it thought might influence the climate of opinion.

I raised the whole matter in the House in December 1964 and drew attention to what I considered to be an improper action of the company. I was reinforced in my action by the decision of the Essex County Council, as planning authority, to refuse planning permission. The Minister who replied to the debate—the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), now the Government Chief Whip—conceded that the Board of Trade had indeed hesitated before granting an IDC. He pointed out that it was only a little refinery with a throughput of only 2 million tons, and that any further expansion would have to go to a development area. He explained that as planning permission had been refused, any appeal by the company would be considered by the Minister. There would be a public inquiry and objections would be heard.

Let me say at this juncture that there were to be numerous inquiries at which objections were to be heard, and that the Minister's inspectors would listen courteously and gravely make recommendations which in almost every case were to be brushed aside. That is one of the most astonishing features of this story. However, all that lay in the future, and for a moment I felt that the message had got through. We all know how genial the right hon. Member for Bermondsey can be, and I felt that he had got the message. He gave me a careful and courteous reply. He went so far as to say that he thought that I had done my duty to my constituents and had done it very well.

Perhaps I might be forgiven for thinking at that time that attention would be paid to my representations. Certainly the strength of the case against this ill-judged proposal was self-evident. The planning authority had thrown it out, and public feeling was running high. Surely it could not prevail.

A public inquiry was held. The objections were raised. The Minister's inspector conducting the inquiry recommended that planning permission should be refused. Yet in March 1965 the Minister of Housing and Local Government—the late right hon. Member for Coventry, East, Mr. Crossman—ignored the recommendations of the inspector and granted planning permission.

From that moment the pass was sold—although we were not aware of it at the time. In fact United Refineries did not go ahead with the building of its refinery. One reason for that was that the company's investment programme was influenced—believe it or not—by the current Italian Economic Development Plan.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Is this interesting part of the hon. Member's speech concerned with the current proposed refineries?

Sir B. Braine

Yes, indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because the company to which I am referring disappeared from the scene for only a brief period. It returned subsequently, but in the meantime fresh foreign oil companies were moving in. Canvey was becoming besieged by these interests.

Another factor in United Refineries' reluctance to proceed was that the trend was moving towards the building of very large refineries, and no doubt it was felt that a 2 million ton throughput would be uneconomic. So much for the facile argument of the Board of Trade in 1964 that it was in the British national interest that the company should be allowed to build at Canvey because otherwise it would go elsewhere.

Not unnaturally, my constituents and I thought that in these new circumstances this unwanted project might be abandoned and that we should be left in peace. Our relief was short lived. In February 1970 we learned that United Refineries and an American oil company, Occidental, had applied for IDCs to build refineries on adjacent sites. My constituents and I were horrified. The two companies opened negotiations for a joint venture, but they were unable to agree, and the negotiations collapsed.

Occidental's application was referred to the Secretary of State for the Environment, who ordered the usual public inquiry to be held. Objections on grounds of pollution, health, amenity and traffic considerations, risks of fire and explosion and navigational aspects were heard in the last weeks of 1970. The decision was delayed because in the meantime United Refineries decided to make a planning application in respect of a new site.

For a brief moment a third foreign oil company flitted across the scene. This was the Murphy Oil Corporation. It had just been refused permission for a refinery in the Glasgow area. It therefore cast its eyes on Canvey, which, as I have shown, had been sold out by the previous Government, and sought a partnership with United Refineries. In November 1970 the two companies signed a contract for a joint venture.

These applications were strongly opposed by the local district council which, under Conservative leadership, was taking a more robust line. They were also opposed by the Essex County Council and by me. I am not making any party point because the local Labour Party later changed its mind under the pressure of events. My stand on this has been against sucessive Governments of all parties. Our reasons for opposing the applications were—and here we come to the nub of the matter—the proximity of the proposed development to residential areas, the adverse effect on local amenity, and intrusion into the green belt.

The Secretary of State ordered a public inquiry, and this took place in March and April 1971. The inspector who conducted that inquiry reported to my right hon. Friend that there was a strong economic case for the refineries, that there were no insuperable objections on the grounds of pollution, traffic or navigational aspects, areas, the adverse effect on local amenity, but that it would be a serious environment of a refinery on either side. Accordingly he recommended refusal of the proposed development.

On 23rd November 1971 the Secretary of State announced his decision. He granted permission to Occidental to build a refinery with a 6 million ton throughput and a jetty. He refused the application from United Refineries, the principal reason given being the effect the development would have on the physical environment. He declared his belief that it was important to maintain a significant area of open land between the Occidental Refinery and Benfleet, but he rejected his inspector's recommendation to be more specific about the limits to be imposed on industrial development in the area.

No doubt the Secretary of State and his advisers, miles away from the sight and smell of oil refineries and none of whom, I would wager, had ever been anywhere near the scene, felt that rough justice had been done. One oil company had been given what it wanted; the other was sent away empty handed. One part of the island was to be given over to an oil refinery, but elsewhere green belt was to be preserved. Surely these pestiferous islanders and their persistent Member of Parliament would now settle for one refinery.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

Having visited Canvey Island recently, I agree that the area of green belt land left would be very limited, and that the Minister's decision is seen to be absolute nonsense when one looks at the site.

Sir B. Braine

Yes, indeed, Anyone who has taken the trouble to see for himself comes to exactly the opposite conclusion to that reached on so many occasions in Whitehall.

Until 1970 local objections to oil refinery development had been based much more on fear of pollution, loss of amenity and visual intrusion than on safety from fire and explosion. This was not surprising, because the residents could smell the existing refineries but were not conscious that they posed any threat to their safety. But now that a refinery was to be built on the island, people began to recall that there had been a number of serious warnings of what might happen, especially as there were hazardous installations on the island and vessels carrying hazardous cargoes were passing it daily.

In fact—and now perhaps a few of the smiles might be wiped off the faces of those who have thought this an amusing occasion so far—in the three years up to 1970 the Essex Fire Brigade had responded to 54 alarm calls from the existing high fire risk installations in the area, of which no fewer than 45 were to the two oil refineries in Thurrock.

On 9th June 1970 there had been a serious fire at the Shell refinery following an explosion in a pumphouse. More than 200 firemen fought valiantly through the night as flames leaping 150 feet menaced some 25,000 tons of oil. Three men were badly burned and were taken to hospital. It was announced that the Shell Company would make a report, but that this would not be published.

May I give the House some idea of the lax way in which matters of this kind were handled at that time. This has relevance to the addition of two further refineries and their attendant rail communications.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It has relevance only in passing, if the hon. Gentleman is making the point that adequate precautions are not taken, but to give the full details of how other fires were dealt with can hardly be relevant.

Sir B. Braine

All the fires we have had in South-East Essex thus far have been handled with great skill and heroism by the hard-pressed and under-manned Essex Fire Brigade. If the hazards are added to—and one of the proposals in the Bill is that there shall be an additional hazard introduced to Canvey Island—there may come a day when a fire may not be handled quite so successfully. There may come a day when such a fire triggers off an even more serious incident. If I am allowed to pursue the argument, I shall give the House evidence which will suggest that this is not a remote possibility, however much we might wish it to be so.

Accordingly after the Shell refinery fire I wrote to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), then Minister of Technology, who was later to play a melancholy rôle in this saga of muddled thinking, wrong decisions and wilful refusal to face the facts. I drew my right hon. and learned Friend's attention to the fact that the Shell report would not be published and that many of my constituents living next door to a massive concentration of oil storage were not only worried by the implications but wanted to know what the lessons were.

I told my right hon. and learned Friend that Canvey was doubly vulnerable—it was vulnerable because of its own complex of fire hazards and was vulnerable because if anything went wrong it was dependent upon a single life-line of communication to the mainland. I asked him whether he was really satisfied that there were no lessons to be learned which should be published.

The reply was that although the report would not be made public copies would he sent to the Thurrock Urban District Council's petroleum officer—Thurrock was the neighbouring district in which the refinery was situated—to HM Inspector of Factories and Essex Fire Brigade, and that HM Inspector of Explosives would keep very much in mind the need to pass on useful information to the petroleum officer of Canvey Island.

No doubt that was intended to be helpful and reassuring, except that nothing happened. That was why on 24th Novem- ber I raised the matter on the Adjournment. In the five months that had elapsed since my right hon. and learned Friend's assurance, no information had been passed to the Canvey Petroleum Officer, This was not just an oversight because the clerk of the urban district council, who was also the secretary of the Thames-side Oil Refinery sub-committee, had written on his own account to the Inspector of Explosives as he too had heard nothing, having been assured independently that he would be told what lessons had been learned. After it was known that I would be raising the matter on the Adjournment there was a rushing to and fro in Whitehall and a promise was made that Canvey would be given the information.

Events were beginning to snowball. In the Adjournment debate I told the House that while I was waiting for the report on the earlier fire at the Shell refinery local newspapers had reported on 11th November that another fire had broken out at that installation. These. hon. Members will realise, are fires taking place within the sight of my constituents who have been promised two additional refineries. If I must relate the matter to the Bill, these two refineries would be served by the rail link which the Bill would empower.

Nor were these happenings at the Shell refinery the sole reason for the mounting tide of anxiety. On the night of 26th July the Thames was literally set on fire. A 10,000 ton passenger ship, the "Monte Ulia", bound for Tilbury, veered off course and ploughed into the oil jetty at Coryton. It severed the oil pipe line. Hundreds of tons of crude oil gushed into the Thames and the river was set on fire. The noise of the impact was heard a mile away. The ship swung round and grounded on a sand bank off Canvey, setting off a terrifying chain reaction as the blazing oil snaked round Canvey Island. Fire tugs happened to be on the spot and they battled to stop the flames from spreading. Two blazing barges moored to the Mobil jetty broke loose and were swept down on the ebb tide towards the London and Coastal wharf on Canvey island where a tanker was unloading hundreds of tons of highly inflammable fuel. A general alarm was sounded. Shipping in the estuary was halted. Thanks to the splendid exertions of the Essex Fire Brigade, the fire was eventually brought under control.

We had had the narrowest of escapes. Had the fire tugs not been providentially on the scene and had the wind and tide directions not been favourable it is almost certain that there would have been a major disaster. A spokesman for the Port of London Authority, which is responsible for safety on the river, was reported in the local Press as saying: We have been very lucky. There has been nothing like this since the war. It went off like a bomb. There was a terrible risk with so much fuel around. One experienced pilot whose job was to bring ships into the estuary told the local Press on 31st July 1970: The 'Monte Ulia' incident was a warning. It showed on a comparatively small scale the kind of incident the Thames is facing. It involved just 500 tons of oil yet there are 20,000 ton tankers going up there. The pilot in question warned about navigational dangers, the narrowness of the channel, and the fact that jetties handling crude oil, methane gas and other dangerous substances were jutting out too close to the deep-water channel. He said: The jetties are so close to the channel that they represent a hazard to navigation. One shudders to think what would have happened if the accident had involved not a passenger liner but an oil tanker or a methane carrier. Yet such vessels pass Canvey Island and its hazardous installations every day.

On the day after the "Monte Ulia" incident, I wrote to the then President of the Board of Trade and told him what had happened. I asked whether a routine inquiry under the Merchant Shipping Acts had been put in train and whether there were any lessons to be learned. I asked him to appreciate that on Canvey Island because of our vulnerability we were sensitive to matters of this kind.

I drew the then President's attention to the proposal to erect a new oil refinery—I ask the House to remember that at this stage no decision had been taken in that regard—and I pointed out that this would increase the oil traffic off our shores and therefore the volume of hazard to which my constituents would be exposed. I did not know then what I know now—that there would be a huge increase in that traffic as a result of decisions which still lay in the future, but I shall come to that and its implications in due course.

On 7th August 1970 I was told that a preliminary inquiry had been ordered and was proceeding. From that moment until I raised the matter on the Adjournment in November, I heard nothing. That treatment has been characteristic of what has been happening on Canvey Island and to its elected representatives over a long period of time, and under successive Governments.

What was the lesson to be learned from that experience? It was that nobody in authority thought it right to keep an hon. Member representing an anxious community in the picture. Nobody thought that it was his responsibility to consult others—to see the problem in the round. Shipping hazards were left to the Port of London Authority; fire problems were a matter for the Home Office; planning was a matter for the Ministry of Housing, and later the Department of the Environment, and in any event the decision where oil refineries were concerned seemed to be cut and dried in advance. If planning authorities or even the Department's own inspectors got in the way they would be brushed aside.

In that Adjournment debate I dwelt on these problems. I asked a number of questions, two of which were of particular relevance to all that followed, to all that I am saying here tonight, and to the objectionable proposal in the Bill. The first question was whether the Home Office—the Department primarily concerned with preventing disasters occurring—would ensure that other Departments bestirred themselves in situations of this kind involving safety.

Here I was touching on the need—later I shall spell it out in greater detail—for some co-ordinating authority to look at the totality of the effect of all that was happening to the environment of South-East Essex in general, and Canvey Island in particular.

The second question was to ask the Home Office to draw the attention of the then Secretary of State for the Environment, my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) to the dangers, indeed the folly, of permitting an additional oil refinery to be established in an area where there were already far too many fire hazards for the health and safety of a large and growing residential population. I added these words: I have no wish to be alarmist. Indeed. I am choosing my words carefully. But the Aberfan disaster crept upon us largely unawares precisely because no one ever thought that it was his responsibility to calculate the risks being taken. I beg my hon. Friend to make sure that his colleagues understand fully that, before any deliberate decision is taken to add to the existing fire hazards on Canvey Island, they must remind themselves that the safety of more than 25,000 human beings is involved.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November 1970; Vol. 807, c. 378.] Since then, of course, the population of 25,000 has increased to 30,000 and the total hazard has been greatly increased by the expansion of storage facilities for inflammable products. Potentially it has been increased still further by the decision to authorise two new refineries and facilities for handling tankers carrying crude oil.

It is against that background that the House has to consider the powers to introduce yet another hazard in the form of a rail depot to handle oil products on Canvey Island. However, in 1970 that lay in the future. In the following year all was quiet except that we had the customary fires at the two existing refineries. We were expecting such fires annually and it seemed that we had to live with them. These fires served, however, as reminders that refineries were hazardous installations where, with the best will in the world, accidents would sometimes happen.

May I say in passing that today I had the privilege of presenting to the safety officer at the Mobil refinery a diploma awarded by the British Safety Council. The diploma was presented here, in the Palace of Westminster. I paid rightful tribute to the work of safety officers in these installations. But I think that everyone will concede that, however well a refinery is run, accidents do happen. It is a marvellous tribute to the staff, particularly the safety officers, that in the vast majority of cases such accidents are quickly brought under control.

Nevertheless, there was a serious fire at the Shell refinery on 29th July 1971 and another at the Mobil refinery on 9th December. Thus we entered 1972 uneasily, but with only one new refinery authorised for Canvey Island. At that stage one might have been forgiven for thinking that a belated lesson had been learnt, that a line had at last been drawn, and that we were to suffer no further assault. But that was not to be. In April 1972 United Refineries made a joint application with the Murphy Oil Corporation on similar lines to earlier proposals. To be fair to the oil companies, they had been invited by the then Secretary of State to put in this fresh application for an alternative site in the hope, one can only suppose, that it would be an improvement on the earlier proposals.

Mr. Cryer

Will the hon. Gentleman accept, and make clear, that the Bill has nothing to do with planning consent for the refinery? I appreciate that he is concerned with the risk of transporting refinery products from point A to point B, but the Bill does not express or imply any planning consent, because that has been given. I agree that it is probably unfortunate. But does not the hon. Gentleman agree that, with planning consent having been given, the argument is about the form of transport to be used from the refinery?

Sir B. Braine

That is not the argument, although the hon. Gentleman's point is perfectly valid. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury who opened the debate considered that the Bill has nothing to do with planning proposals as such. That is true, but it is the contention of the residents and of their elected representatives on the local authority—this is the unanimous view of all parties on the local authority—that it is in any case wrong to transport by rail a product from the new refineries on Canvey Island, should they be built. The proper form of transporting the product off the island is by pipeline.

In any event I shall at a later stage in my speech explain, as the hon. Gentleman has not done, that one of the two refineries does not wish to use the proposed rail link. The rail link is, therefore, being provided for only one of the two proposed refineries, and it is not necessary. For that reason, I am surprised that the British Railways Board did not take the hint at a very much earlier stage and withdraw what is clearly to us an obnoxious proposal.

One reason for thinking that we would be left alone in 1972 was the unrestrained enthusiasm that the Department of the Environment was showing in preparing for the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment that was to be held in Stockholm in June of that year. Working parties were set up to prepare briefs for the British delegation, and hon. Members may remember some of them. They appeared as glossy publications for public consumption under such titles as "Nuisance or Nemesis", "Sinews for Survival" and "How do you want to live?".

The British view put to the conference carried a foreword by the then Prime Minister. He wrote: A detailed and practical interest in the quality of life we lead in our island is central to the philosophy of this Government … We are conscious that alongside a desire for raising standards of living, there has grown up a worry that we might be destroying with one hand what we are creating with the other… that we might find we had only achieved rising material standards at the cost of producing a country about which, in terms of amenity, we were no longer enthusiastic. Those were wise words from the former Prime Minister, now the Leader of the Opposition. They expressed impeccable sentiments, and were a warning to us all. Could it be that at long last someone would take a detailed and practical interest in the quality of life of Canvey Island? Could it be that someone would ask my constituents how they wanted to live, instead of always brushing aside their protests and snubbing their elected representatives?

On the strength of this, I tested the temperature of the water. On 5th July 1972 I asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will order an inquiry into the total effect on the local environment of the concentration of oil refiners and other industrial plant, existing and planned, in the Thames estuary?". My right hon. Friend assured me that when proposals for new development of this sort came before the local planning authorities or were being considered by him the wider effects were taken into account.

That was a fair assurance, so I asked my right hon. Friend whether he was aware of the concern in South-East Essex where so many people have made their homes, and more would be coming as a result of the decision to site the third London airport at the other end of my constituency, about the deterioration of our environment by piecemeal development, with oil refinery after oil refinery being authorised? If my right hon. Friend means what he says about protecting the human environment, will he set up a planning inquiry commission to look into the totality of the threat to our environment? "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th July 1972; Vol. 840, c. 522.] My right hon. Friend replied that he did not consider that there was any evidence of a need for such an inquiry but he would carefully consider any future application in terms of the area as a whole and not in isolation.

We shall see as I develop my argument, how much that assurance was worth. By now our local authorities were disturbed about the way in which the situation was developing.

In July 1972 the Canvey Island Urban District Council pressed the Department of the Environment to set up a planning inquiry commission under Section 48 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. Such a commission of inquiry can be set up only where there are considerations of either national or regional importance which cannot properly be evaluated without a special inquiry or when the technical and the scientific aspects are of so unfamiliar a character that a proper determination cannot be reached under the ordinary public inquiry arrangements.

But a public inquiry planning commission can also be asked to look at alternative sites for the development and, subject to the Secretary of State's approval, carry out the necessary research. No doubt this request of mine was very embarrassing to those who had already decided that we would get a second refinery, whether we liked it or not. It took the Department two months to send me an answer. When it arrived all it said was: as far as the present oil refinery proposals are concerned, it is not thought that these give rise to any consideration which cannot properly be evaluated at any ordinary local inquiry for which arrangements will shortly be made". Towards the end of the year my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester was succeeded by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham as Secretary of State. Inheriting this unhappy problem my right hon. and learned Friend could not have been left in any doubt, assuming that his advisers had briefed him, that there was intense opposition to the refinery proposal.

The promised inquiry was held in January 1973. The usual objections were heard at length and in the end the inspector recommended that the application be refused—[Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) will stop gallivanting about the House and laughing at inappropriate moments. What we are dealing with here—and as the evening wears on this will become more and more apparent—is the safety of 30,000 human beings. The behaviour of the hon. Gentleman will, I have no doubt, be noted by supporters of his party in my constituency. This flippancy is typical—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. Could we not resume the debate? The hon. Member's comments are not altogether appropriate.

Sir B. Braine

When one is delivering a serious argument to be met with guffaws from hon. Members sitting on the Government Front Bench is not merely disconcerting, it is extremely discourteous, if not to me then to the occupant of the Chair.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must get on with the very important speech he is making.

Sir B. Braine

I was saying that my right hon. and learned Friend inherited an unhappy problem. The promised inquiry was held and after the usual objections were heard the inspector recommended that the application should be refused, adding that in his view there was not enough suitable land left in Canvey for a second refinery.

On 28th March the Secretary of State announced that he rejected his inspector's recommendation and would give planning permission on the ground that the national economic interest should take precedence over the environmental disadvantages. I wrote to him straight away expressing my disgust and profund dissatisfaction. I did not then, and I do not now, accept that the national interest required that these refineries should be added to the existing concentration of industrial high fire risks with which my constituents were being forced to live. I served notice on him that from that moment on I would view as worthless the protestations of concern for the environment made by successive Ministers on both sides. I will throw a veil over the correspondence that followed, utterly unconvincing as far as the Minister was concerned and with expressions of bitterness and betrayal on my side.

The feeling on Canvey Island was running very high. The Canvey Oil Refineries Resistance Group was busy mobilising opinion, and in April the chairman of the council wrote a moving letter to Her Majesty the Queen in which he said that the islanders had reached the "lowest depths of despair." That, for me, was a touching episode, reflecting as it did the feeling that there had to be some higher authority who could right a palpable injustice.

At the same time the council passed a resolution deploring the decision of the Secretary of State for the Environment to allow yet another oil refinery to be constructed on Canvey Island, notwithstanding that his inspector recommended refusal of the planning application and regardless of the fact that the Essex County Council, Benfleet Urban District Council and Canvey Urban District Council and many of the local residents are opposed to any further increase in oil refinery or storage installations; demands that the approval be revoked and the national Government meet all costs incurred and calls upon the Government to change the legislation such that Parliament would reserve unto itself the decision as to whether an inspector's recommendation should be rejected on a major planning inquiry. That was an interesting suggestion that has never been developed.

I wrote to my right hon. Friend to make sure that he saw the resolution, and I told him that it expressed in diplomatic language the intense anger of the Benfleet and Canvey Urban District Councils and the two communities over his decision. I told him that I had never known such bitterness about a planning decision, and that once again I felt obliged to ask him to revoke his decision. I added that it was my considered opinion that whatever trouble this might cause to the applicant company was completely outweighed by the blow which the decision had given to our confidence in democratic procedures. Our general view, I told my hon. Friend, was that public inquiries which ended in a result of this kind were an expensive farce.

There remained, however, the wider question. If decisions of this kind could be made piecemeal without any regard for the total effect nothing could prevent the build-up of an even greater concentration of risk alongside residential population, which would quite simply invite disaster. That is why I oppose the Bill tonight. It represents one more hazard added to the rest.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Rippon)

Does my hon. Friend agree that a planning inquiry commission should look at the broad strategic aspects of development and planning? Why have Ministers in various Governments refused to accept the rôle of a planning inquiry commission? I suspect that a planning inquiry commission has never been held in this country.

Sir B. Braine

My hon. Friend has put his finger on a most interesting point. The function of the planning inquiry commission is to look at the wider implications With hindsight, everyone would say that the siting of airports, refineries, and so on should be looked at on a national basis.

I hesitate to express a view as to why successive Secretaries of State have resisted any suggestion that matters of this kind should be referred to a planning inquiry commission. In this context, I am dealing with the pressures which have been brought to bear by foreign oil companies upon successive British Governments. I have no evidence to suggest that Ministers have given way to foreign interests where they would not have given way to domestic interests, but unhappily the majority of the oil companies are foreign-owned. This remains a mystery. My hon. Friend's point serves only to illustrate the gravity of our situation.

It follows that if decisions of this kind could be made piecemeal without regard to the totality of the effect upon the environment, there was nothing which could prevent a situation from being built up which invited disaster. Moreover, unchecked this would induce the feeling in industry and Whitehall that the place to put high-risk installations was in areas where they already existed, irrespective of whether people lived there or not.

Indeed, some of us heard with horror the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) a few weeks ago in putting the case for building a Burmah-Total oil refinery at Cliffe, only a short distance from Canvey Island. His argument was that the area was already heavily industrialised—and he was referring to North-East Kent and South-East Essex. He gave a catalogue of the industrial plant in the area. Not only would we have to put up with a refinery at Cliffe. He told us gratuitously that there was also a proposal to site a major power station next door to it.

My hon. Friend did not know, or if he did know did not say, that there had been agreement between Burmah-Total and the Central Electricity Generating Board about the construction of a nuclear power station in the Thames Estuary. I would be surprised if any local authority knew anything of that agreement.

But the worst piece of insensitivity was to follow. Canvey Urban District Council asked the then Secretary of State to receive a deputation. He refused. Under pressure from me, he changed his mind and in mid-June last year I led a representative deputation, consisting of councillors and local resistance groups. We put our case. We asked the Secretary of State formally to revoke planning permission. He refused.

We then asked him to consider setting up an independent inquiry, not a planning inquiry commission, which he had already rejected. We suggested that it should not be beyond his wit or imagination to set up an independent inquiry into the whole question of industrial development in the Thames Estuary with special reference to the proliferation of oil refineries. We argued that we already had too great a concentration of oil refineries in the area and too many industrial high fire risks on Canvey Island. We said that it was imperative in our view that the implications for future planning policy should be looked at afresh before further damage was done to the environment. We got no satisfactory answer. The feeling of bitterness, despair and frustration became all the more intense.

Let me at this stage draw together the threads of the argument. Despite an existing concentration of high fire risks, and despite intense local opposition, deliberate steps had been taken one after the other by both Labour and Conservative Governments to add to that concentration of risk.

Mr. Tony Newton (Braintree)

While my hon. Friend is tying the threads together, will he explain whether he is suggesting that these developments should not take place at all or that they should be spread across a wider area? If they are to take place, would not they be better placed together rather than spread the dangers across a wider area?

Sir B. Braine

My hon. Friend is on a point which I intend to develop later. It is necessary when objecting to development of this kind to make one's own position plain: is one objecting to the development as such, or is one saying that the development should not be here but somewhere else, perhaps even indicating where that somewhere else should be. That is a perfectly valid point, and I shall come to it later.

The Bill which we are considering gives a huge State monoply the power to add one more risk to those which already exist. It adds, so to speak, insult to insult and injury to injury. It may be argued that by itself the proposed rail link and rail depot for the handling of oil products is not a major fire risk. That has been the argument used all along to justify each new assault upon the environment of Canvey Island. I submit that this latest proposal cannot and must not be allowed to pass.

The steps over the years to worsen that environment were not taken in a fit of absence of mind but coldly and deliberately on the grounds that the national interest must take precedence over local amenity objections. It has always been the argument that the national interest must prevail over the amenity of the local inhabitants—not, it will be noted, the health and safety of my constituents, but their amenity.

That argument reveals considerable confusion of thought. If by "the national interest" was meant that Britain must have additional refining capacity, no one in South-East Essex would argue against such a proposition. It is manifestly in the oil companies' interests to build their refineries and to operate them close to the market where they hope to sell their products. No one can quarrel with that from a purely commercial point of view. It is also the case that the most lucrative and the fastest growing market for these products is in the already overcrowded South-East. The question is whether the commercial interests of the oil companies should have precedence automatically over every other consideration. Should they be allowed to site their refineries where they want irrespective of other considerations, or should there be some strategic policy which would ensure that the companies were directed to go where they caused the minimum harm to the community?

To argue that it is in the national interest to build these new oil refineries in the Thames Estuary close to a residential population already living in an endangered environment is not only stupid and irresponsible but makes a complete nonsense of all that successive Governments have said for decades about the need for regional planning and for reversing the unhealthy drift to the South-East.

The point should have been grasped, especially by the Labour Government. They had an admirable opportunity on Report if they had bothered to listen to the argument and had agreed to my amendment which, incidentally, would have enabled the Bill to pass through rapidly and to avoid the dire consequences which would follow if it does not become law on 31st July.

I know that the Under-Secretary of State, who is most wise in these matters, would be the first to recognise that it is necessary to reverse the trend towards the South-East and that, if we are to have a healthy economy and social system, it is necessary to see that economic development is encouraged in the North and in Scotland. But there has been no sign from successive Governments that in regard to these—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going rather wide on Third Reading of the Bill. The main object and gravamen of his argument is the railway on Canvey Island. I think that it would be outside the competence of Third Reading to embark upon a general discussion on the siting of installations in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Tebbit

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should find it difficult to follow my hon. Friend's argument over what, on the surface, appears to be a very narrow point about a small section of railway, which would appear to be a trifling matter, unless I were to have the benefit of his complete case for the way in which these issues have arisen in the past.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is not quite such a trifling matter as the hon. Gentleman makes out because, on Third Reading, we are confined to what is in the Bill and to that alone.

Sir B. Braine

I am anxious to carry you with me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I heed your advice, but I should like to make the same submission to you as I made to your predecessor in the Chair—namely, that the Bill provides for a rail link which because it is to handle oil traffic which by its nature is hazardous, is a hazard in itself. That rail link is designed to serve at least one new refinery, which is an even greater hazard. In order to establish that it is a greater hazard I must describe the accumulation of hazards with which my constituents have had to live for a very long time. These hazards range over a wide area. They are not limited solely to refineries, existing or projected. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ching-ford (Mr. Tebbit) for his intervention, because he indicated exactly what I am trying to do.

I was on the point that the siting of these refineries was a contradiction of regional policy and made a nonsense of all that we had understood regional policy to be about.

After his decision to give planning permission to the second refinery on Canvey, I wrote to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham on 5th April last year: Your argument about the over-riding national interest is ludicrous when in fact the future development of the oil industry must to a very large extent lie along the North-East coast and even Scotland, close to the points of delivery from the North Sea fields. Nobody with any sense can think of the refineries of the future being isolated from the petrochemical industry and the growth which one expects to flow from complexes of this kind. There is, however, no possibility of developing a petrochemical industry in the Thames Estuary. It is important in relation to the Bill to realise that the "national interest", which is really a camouflage term for the interests of the oil companies—and foreign oil companies to boot—is being allowed to prevail over the "amenities", which is a camouflage term for the safety and health, of the local inhabitants. That puts the matter in a nutshell.

Before I turn to an interesting new political twist to this story, let me explain why there were and still are solid grounds for anxiety about the totality of risk to the island. It has always been the contention of the Department of the Environment that an oil refinery is inherently a safe installation because of the very strict regulations laid down by the licensing authorities, which are now the county councils, under the Petroleum Consolidation Act, 1928.

Those regulations cover fire and safety measures and premises are licensed annually, so there should be strict control, No one doubts that oil companies operate their refineries with care and a sense of responsibility. I have no criticism to offer on that score. The same arguments can be used about the other installations on Canvey Island. I am sure that those who run the methane plant and the London and Coastal oil wharves spare no effort to ensure that safety precautions are observed.

But the fact remains that there have been fires. Where there is such a great concentration of high fire risk installations, there is always the danger of one accident setting off a chain reaction. Over the years we have had many warnings, arising from a variety of hazardous undertakings, sometimes restricted to one installation, sometimes involving others. First, we have the existing high fire risk installations—that is the term used by the Essex Fire Brigade—each of which is a risk on its own but which, when taken together with one or more, of its neighbours, represents a risk of great magnitude.

The Essex Fire Brigade advises me that in the last ten years—the period during which I have consistently opposed the introduction of oil refineries on Canvey Island—there have been no fewer than 128 fires in these installations. Not all of them were serious, of course, but a number were. That they did not lead to disaster owes everything to the skill and gallantry of our undermanned fire service.

These one might call static risks. But there are also considerable and ever-growing quantities of inflammable and dangerous oil products and chemicals transported from these installations along our restricted roads, with occasional spillages. These one might describe as mobile risks. We should always remember that Canvey is an island, not a community in the heart of the country. This means that there is also an ever-present danger of collision between vessels carrying dangerous cargoes to and from the oil jetties on Canvey and next door in Thurrock, and of setting fire to them.

The danger is heightened by the addition of a new jetty for the Occidental refinery, which will mean that considerably more tankers will be manoeuvring in the confined space between the island and the mainland. This is not my view, but that of the Port of London Authority itself.

Dr. Hampson

Will my hon. Friend clarify how the railway is to get from the island to the shore? I am ignorant of precisely what this Bill requires.

Sir B. Braine

Under the British Railways Act 1972 powers were obtained from Parliament—and in fact the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, told us this—to bring a railway on to the island. That railway, as the hon. Member carefully explained, falls short of the site of the proposed refineries and thus the powers to build it are utterly useless unless the House gives the further powers asked for in Clause 6 of this Bill.

The view I was expressing a moment ago is that of the Port of London Authority itself. The Authority frankly admits that the number of ships which are likely to use the narrow confines of the Thames above Southend would create congestion, with the danger of accidents and serious damage to the environment.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury acknowledged that there was anxiety about refineries, but I must tell him that our anxiety extends far beyond the refineries. The hazards are multiple. It is, for example, an open secret that the Mobil Oil refinery next door is disturbed at having the Occidental jetty so close to its own jetty.

It is neglect of considerations of this kind that characterises the handling of the whole problem. Traffic will certainly grow. As a result of persistent efforts on my part, we can measure how far it will grow once the Occidental Refinery is in full operation.

A few days ago I asked the Secretary of State for Industry what tonnage of petroleum products is expected to be handled at the Occidental jetty. The answer was that refined products expected to be shipped from it are expected to amount to between 4 million and 5½million tons per annum. Hon. Members will note that the answer did not add how much crude oil would be brought in. However, one must be grateful for the minimal information one is able to drag out of the authorites.

The total tonnage of oil moving into the Thames Estuary—excluding the Medway—has been averaging about 24 million tons in each of the last five years while the internal movement of oil products has averaged about 4 million tons. One can see that the Occidental development alone will double the outward movement of oil products and must inevitably add—

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

Do I gather from my hon. Friend that he has been having difficulty in obtaining this information? I would have thought that it was their duty to provide him with all the information he wanted when safety is involved, and when this affects the general national reaction.

Sir B. Braine

My hon. Friend will have gathered from my earlier remarks that we have been waging a persistent war against these departments. It has been difficult to get the required information, upon which to base a judgment. This is all the worse because, as my hon. Friend rightly says, this is a matter touching on the safety of a sizeable community.

What this means in terms of shipping movements was revealed last month when the director of Maplin seaport project was reported in The News of Essex of 28th June as saying: Three hundred tankers a year are now using the Thames to deliver crude oil to the refineries. When the two refineries at Canvey are constructed and the proposed one at Cliffe, this will mean 500 tankers a year will use the Thames". Perhaps I should explain that it is one of the purposes of the Maplin seaport to eliminate traffic of this kind and to deliver to the refineries by pipeline, but, with the best will in the world, this lies several years ahead.

Mr. Stephen Ross

It was a point being made by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) that the pipeline could not be put in on Canvey because it was not suitable to take away the oil. There was talk of heat and other things which would make it unsuitable to have a pipeline from this refinery to the mainland. Yet the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) has just said that from the proposed Maplin seaport the oil will come by pipeline. Is not that contradictory?

Sir B. Braine

To be fair, I do not think that we are talking about the same pipeline. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) was talking of the difficulty of transporting refined products away from the refinery. I am now talking of the delivery of crude to the refinery from the proposed Maplin seaport. These are two entirely different things. I do not accept the argument that it is impossible to pipe a product away. The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) is implying some additional hazard here which I would want to investigate. It may be one reason why my local authority is so opposed to the establishment of the railway link which is empowered by the Bill.

The director of Maplin seaport project went on to say: Inevitably, this increase in shipping will go ahead before we can construct the pipeline The Occidental refinery is due to be operational in two years' time It would take us 3½ years to install the pipeline. We should remember, however, that there has been no decision as yet to authorise the Maplin seaport. I know that this is a controversial matter—

Mr. Ronald Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is an interesting argument, but there is much business to be done tonight. Is not the hon. Gentleman now being very repetitive, and is he not raising matters which go beyond Third Reading? I have always understood that the Third Reading debate is very narrow. On the occasions when I have attempted to do what the Gentleman is doing I have been brought up sharply by the Chair insisting that I speak only on matters in the Bill. I am wondering what the hon. Gentleman has been doing. Am I to understand that the rules of the House have been changed?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have requested the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) to keep within the rules of order, on the very point that on Third Reading of a Bill the measure is drawn very tightly. The hon. Gentleman has heeded my warning, and generally he has taken my point. I shall watch the matter carefully.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point raised by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) is not fair. The pipeline is not mentioned in the Bill, but the argument being made was that the railway was replacing a pipeline.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I do not think we want to get into what I can only describe as a counter-debate. I take note of the point.

Sir B. Braine

The prospects are that at best we can expect a very substantial increase in oil tanker traffic in the estuary for a few years until the seaport and pipeline have been built, and at worst a permanent increase of not less than 66 per cent. in that traffic. Nor are the hazards limited to tanker traffic. For example, it has been the practice for a long period for ammunition to be loaded from barges into ships off Canvey Island. On 1st March last a quantity of explosives fell overboard as it was being loaded on to the ICI explosives ship "Lady McGowan" about a mile off Chapman Point. The explosives were seen floating on the tide towards Southend, but then disappeared. I was told about this and I launched inquiries. Home Office explosives experts, Department of Trade officials and representatives of ICI met to discuss the incident. I was assured that there was no danger, that the explosives were not fitted with detonators and would deteriorate in the sea, and that they would become completely safe after about eight weeks.

Mr. Ronald Brown

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not quite see how the railway can run into the sea. We seem to be discussing explosives. I fail to see how they are relevant to British Rail Board. I do not follow how the railways run into the sea, causing explosives to be dumped into the sea.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Perhaps I should explain. I think that the hon. Gentleman is trying to explain that the very fact that the railway is to run into Canvey Island makes more difficult the problems which he claims already exist in the island. I think that he is in order in this instance.

Sir B. Braine

I am most grateful to you Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have a great regard for the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown). I am not sure that he heard the earlier part of my argument when I dealt with the point that has been worrying me. If he will be patient he will see that there is a close connection between all these hazards.

Less than a fortnight after the loss of these explosives overboard a small coaster, the "Katherine Mitchell", which normally carried explosives, went aground and rammed into the Canvey sea wall in thick fog. It happened very close to the methane plant. Happily, the vessel was unladen. For years I have been warning about deteriorating standards of navigation in the Thames. On this score I have no criticism to make of the PLA. It is a responsible body which shares our concern and which always responds with the utmost speed to every inquiry I make. It does all it can to raise the standards of navigation in the river.

In fact the accident would never have occurred if a safety plan suggested by the PLA had been put into operation. On 14th March the Evening Echo carried a report which said that Mr. John Lunch, Director General of the PLA, had been reported as saying that if everyone concerned with safety on the Thames, including the PLA and shipowners, had agreed to PLA recommendations on radar and radio the accident would not have happened. At recent meetings, it said, the PLA suggested that in poor visibility ships over 50 tons should not move in the Thames unless they were fitted with both operational VHF radio and radar.

Mr. Ronald Brown

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker I must insist that British Railways has no power over navigation on the Thames. As far as I am aware there is no statutory argument that it has responsibility for any forms of radar or navigation. I do not understand why this debate is being allowed to range over means of navigation on the Thames which are not applicable to Blackfriars Bridge, Southwark Bridge or any other bridge which carries the railways. If you are allowing a debate on transport generally Mr. Deputy Speaker we should have it at the proper time.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member who entered the Chamber only ten minutes ago to raise points of order when those of us who have been here since the beginning are satisfied with what is happening?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The question is whether the Chair is satisfied. I think that the hon. Member for Essex, South-East is straying a little. I am listening carefully to what he says, and he understands the position. I am prepared to let him continue.

Sir B. Braine

For the benefit of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch, I will spell out the connection again. We have all night if necessary. I am determined that Parliament should understand the web of risk in which my constituents are enmeshed. I will not be denied the right to state my case by irrelevant interruptions.

The Bill brings a hazard in itself the railway line and the oil sidings to serve the proposed oil refineries; These two major hazards are to be constructed alongside a population of 30,000 souls. I am in the process of describing a host of additional hazards. Is it beyond the wit and imagination of the hon. Gentleman to visualise—

Mr. Ronald Brown

Not on Third Reading.

Sir B. Braine

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will contain himself, and at some time face the people of Canvey Island and explain to them why he bursts into the middle of the debate and is unwilling to listen to a case affecting the health, safety and peace of mind of 30,000 people.

I want to establish that there is a connection between poor standards of navigation in the Thames such as this incident involving an empty ammunition ship crashing on to the sea wall beside a high fire risk installation, and the safety of the people I represent. Another PLA spokesman was quoted in our local Press as saying that the authority was continually campaigning for a tigthening up of safety in the Thames. He said that the PLA agreed on many points with Canvey oil refinery protesters who feared that refineries would bring extra shipping and more dangers. He added: The Department of the Environment is aware of the points made on safety that we —the PLA— would like to see brought into operation. They are leaving it to us to negotiate with the various bodies concerned There were other incidents, too, involving a variety of vessels. For example there was the incident in April, when the "Lachs", a tanker carrying 2,600 tons of petrol rammed the Texaco oil jetty on Canvey. According to the Texaco company, this was a relatively minor incident. No one was injured. There was no spillage and there were no pipe fractures. To the annoyance of the PLA, however, the company did not bother to report the incident.

Yet it does not take much imagination to see, if a 100-ton coaster, which might have been carrying ammunition, and a tanker carrying 2,600 tons of petrol, cannot be handled properly alongside the existing concentration of high fire risks on Canvey, what is likely to happen when 100,000-ton and 250,000-ton tankers are due to come to the Occidental oil jetty now under construction, and a little slip is made in these narrow and constricted waters. Is it not clear from all that I have said that Canvey is enmeshed in a thick web of risks, any one of which might trigger off a disastrous train of events?

We in South-East Essex have not sat down and allowed this situation to happen without protest. Over 10 years ago when I opposed the first refinery application a strong protest group was formed in Canvey. Their representative, now a Castle Point district councillor, gave evidence at most of the public inquiries into the oil refinery applications.

About the time of the public inquiry into the Occidental application in 1971 a new protest group, the Canvey—now Castle Point—Oil Resistence Group, came into existence and ever since has waged a vigorous campaign. The effect has been to cause the local residents to look much more closely at what is hap- pening, to try to assess the risks to which they are being subjected. Many of them are well qualified to do so. They include engineers, surveyors, local government employees, and skilled men who work in high-risk installations. The wool cannot be pulled over their eyes. They can judge these matter for themselves. As a result, they are asking questions that the Department of the Environment should have been asking for years past.

I appeal to hon. Members to try to put themselves in my shoes. What would hon. Members do if intelligent constituents put the following question to them? Supposing fire broke out at any one of the existing installations, as it has done not infrequently in the past, and for once the fire led to an explosion which breached the sea wall. Remember that Canvey is an island and below sea level at high water, so that to the hazard of fire would be added the hazard of flood.

Now this is not an imaginary danger, I saw for myself the devastating effect of the great tidal surge in 1953 when the whole of the island was flooded. It does not take much imagination to visualise what might happen. May I read an extract from a letter written to me by a constituent last year? In his view the authorities seem to have specifically planned the greatest disaster our country has ever seen. He contends that if something went wrong there could be a snowballing effect. He wrote: I would imagine that an explosion at a single plant could easily blow a hole in the sea wall. With flooding the cooling machinery at the methane plant would cease to function with the possibility of liquified natural gas rising in temperature and vapourising. By this time we could have a flooded island with petrol and crude oil floating on top of the sea water and methane gas escaping into the air. What a spectacular explosion would result! How the House of Commons would deplore the shortsightedness of such planning! Remember Aberfan. My constituents need not remind me about Aberfan. The lesson of that tragic experience was burned into my mind.

Moreover, in raising the question of flooding my constituents remind me that, with the construction of the Thames barrage, tidal levels will rise at certain times necessitating the raising of the defences and Canvey's sea wall. I assure the House that there is a genuine anxiety about the effect that this could have upon the strength of the sea defences should they be breached. For example, at the public inquiry into the Occidental application it was asserted by the navigational assessor that the risk of a vessel doing serious damage to the sea wall at Canvey—

Mr. Ronald Brown

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have now raised a number of points of order. I know that the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) has informed the world outside that he intends to ruin the rules of the House for three hours. I have attempted on occasions to talk at length on Third Reading and I have been held tightly in rein by the Chair. I regard what is now happening as a new departure. I can find nothing in the Bill, be it good or bad, which refers to sea walls or anything of the kind involving the British Railways Board. I do not believe that the board has an interest in navigational matters. I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to call the discussion to order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

I am much obliged to the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch (Mr. Brown). I may be an innocent from abroad but I thought that the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) was concluding his speech. I am at a disadvantage in that I do not know where the sea wall is situated. I do not know whether it is by the railway. If the hon. Gentleman would tell me then I could rule very quickly.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a further point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is Mr. Deputy Speaker allowed to accept a suggestion that he is so neglectful that he is allowing a Member to deliberately ruin the rules of the House? That is what the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) has suggested.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I always believe the best of what anyone says. I am sure that the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch would not have implied that. Perhaps the hon. Member who is addressing the House would be kind enough to tell me whether the sea wall has anything to do with the railway.

Sir B. Braine

It has everything to do with it. Those who have listened to the debate from the beginning know full well that my argument is simply that the provisions in Clause 6 of the Bill introduce into Canvey an additional hazard. I have been describing—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I heard the hon. Gentleman advancing that argument the previous hour when I was in the Chair. He is not helping in repeating that argument. I know that that is so because he has already advanced it to the House.

Sir B. Braine

The story does not need any repetition. But it is such a grim one of neglect and wilful misunderstanding that it has to be spelt out in detail. You asked me an important question a moment ago, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about what the sea wall had to do with the railway. I have pointed out more than once that Canvey is an island. It lies beneath the level of high tide. To protect its 30,000 inhabitants from flooding it has a sea wall. Anything coming on to the island must cross over the sea wall. Anything coming on to the island has to be measured and evaluated from the point of view of whether it adds to the security of the community or detracts from it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I am thoroughly convinced. Sir Bernard Braine.

Sir B. Braine

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Tebbit

I am sure we want to hear about the security of the sea wall and the likelihood of its being breached in any of the ways described by my hon. Friend, with the resultant flooding of the railway line. If there were an engine and train on the line at the time of the flooding, whether it were full of chemicals or with passengers on board, it would constitute a grave hazard to the railway line. Hence we would be anxious to be assured about the safety of the wall in the event of a ship running into it, as my hon. Friend described.

Sir B. Braine

My hon. Friend is asking the sort of question that should have been answered at the various public inquiries which have been held. I am on the point of saying that at the public inquiry into the Occidental application, it was asserted by the Navigational Assessor that the risk of a vessel doing serious damage to the sea wall at Canvey was non-existent. It was held that the tidal pattern was normal and that heavily-laden tankers of 100,000 tons could not possibly run into the sea wall but would run aground well short of it. That is not so. We experience unusual tidal ranges from time to time. The 1953 floods were a graphic example, but there have been others since.

The effect of the Thames barrier will be to ensure higher tides. There are circumstances in which we can expect a greater rather than a lesser number of instances of vessels hitting and breaching the sea defences. I do not wish to be dogmatic about this, but had there been the sort of inquiry into the totality of risk in the Thames for which I have asked, and which has been repeatedly refused by successive Secretaries of State for the Environment—what an inept title, incidentally, for the mandarins of Marsham Street!—this is certainly one of the matters which should have been considered.

Then, suddenly and for a brief moment, it looked as though the truth might begin to penetrate. On 3rd November last another fire occurred at the Shellhaven refinery—the third fire at that installation in three years. The cause was unknown and it is not without significance that the Chief Fire Officer of Essex informed me recently that the cause is still unknown. The damage was immence. A spokesman for the company told the local Press that the cost of replacement would be in the region of £11 million. Over 200 firemen from Essex and London were sent in to fight the blaze which was described by the Chief Fire Officer for Essex as very difficult to tackle— The most severe of all the fires at the refinery. Once again, the Essex firemen saved the situation.

Not unnaturally the effect on my constituents who could see the blaze was disturbing. A spokesman for the Refinery Resistance Group was reported in the Evening Echo of 5th November 1973 as saying: We sent representatives down to Shell haven to see the fire and gather information. They were horrified by it, their feelings were of great distress. How long are the powers that be going to keep their heads buried in the sand? Canvey in already at risk with a big methane gas plant and an oil storage depot. It's going to be like sitting on a bomb when the two refineries are built. I'm not trying to be a scaremonger, but it's asking for disaster to put two more oil plants on Canvey. On 16th November, less than a fortnight after the fire at Shellhaven, the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) initiated a debate on the subject of a serious fire which had been taking place at an oil depot at Langley in her constituency. I mention this particularly to demonstrate to the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch the close connection between the proposals in the Bill and fire hazards.

The Langley oil depot was served by a railway line. There had been previous accidents there which had caused anxiety. On 5th October there was an explosion involving an oil train. People living nearby had to be evacuated from their homes. Apart from observing that the Bill gives British Railways powers to build a line to serve a similar purpose and that the Langley fire showed that this can be a hazardous installation, I will say no more of what happened there.

But the debate provided a splendid opportunity which the hon. Lady recognised of focusing attention on Canvey's predicament, and I seized that opportunity. I will not repeat all that I said on that occasion, but I protested again at the persistent and wilful failure of Governments to consider the implications of the piecemeal industrial development in the Thames estuary. I urged the then Minister for Local Government and Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), to consider setting up an inter-departmental inquiry to take account not merely of the various planning decisions, but the health and safety factors involved. I pointed out that the Department of the Environment was responsible for relations with local authorities and for planning decisions and the like, but that ultimate responsibility for safety rested with the Home Office while responsibility for navigation on the Thames and for transporting dangerous cargoes rested with the Department of Trade and Industry, as it then was. I said that it seemed that there was an urgent case for the setting up of an inter-departmental inquiry to look at the totality of the effect of the matters being discussed upon the environment, and upon the health and the peace of mind of tens of thousands of people living in South-East Essex. I concluded that there was clearly a case for a co-ordinating authority.

My right hon. Friend's reply was interesting and unusual. What he said is relevant to what we are discussing. He admitted that he, too, had been anxious about the matter. He said A few weeks ago, because of my anxiety—the same anxiety as my hon. Friend has expressed—whether we were reaching saturation point with oil refineries in this area, I spent a whole morning flying over it in a helicopter, because one gets a much better impression of this sort of development from the air. From that experience, I believe that my hon. Friend is right—that we ought to consider very carefully the whole implications of any further development of this kind in the area."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November 1973; Vol. 864, c. 903–4.] That was the first glimmer of sanity for nine years and the first indication that anyone was prepared to look at the matter objectively. I was delighted. I assumed that within weeks we should have news of the inquiry and an indication of what was to happen. But before there were any developments we were plunged into a General Election.

However, for some months before the General Election it was clear that the Labour Opposition were beginning to take an interest in the matter. It is not for me to dilate upon their motive. It might have been remorse for the way that the Canvey Labour Party and the Labour Government in 1964–65 had sold the pass. What did it matter? There is, after all, more rejoicing in Heaven for the one sinner who is repentant than for 99 just persons. But whatever the motive there suddenly appeared on the scene a potentially powerful ally, no less a person than Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland).

According to the Evening Echo of 17th April, with the bold headline "Labour brings the oil war to Westminster", it was announced that the right hon. Member for Grimsby had given the assurance that the Labour Party will be fighting for the people of South-East Essex. It believes all refinery development should go to Scotland or the North-East where it is needed. On 25th April the same newspaper revealed that the right hon. Gentleman would lead what was described as "the bitter battle inside Parliament". Since my first loyalty is always to my constituents, as I hope has been made clear tonight, I was frankly delighted to hear the news. I felt like the commander of a fortress that had been under a long seige, its walls battered, its garrison depleted and low in spirits, and with death or surrender the only prospect ahead—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I tried not to interrupt the hon. Gentleman when he was making his political points, but it would be helpful if he would now come back to the Bill itself, and to why it should or should not have a Third Reading tonight.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

My hon. Friend referred to the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) having supported him in the concern that he has rightly shown for his constituents in South-East Essex and on Canvey Island. May I assure my hon. Friend that I, too, on the other side of the estuary, have no less concern than that expressed by the right hon. Member for Grimsby. I hope that my hon. Friend will not forget that. I shall support my hon. Friend to the hilt in the case that he is making tonight, and I hope to hear much more from him because this is a matter of concern not only to the people on Canvey but to those on the other side of the estuary in my constituency. My hon. Friend has made a good beginning, and I hope that he has much more to say.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I accept that that intervention was meant to be helpful, but I appeal to hon. Members to give the hon. Member for Essex, South-East the chance to make his own case, which I think he is able to do without assistance.

Sir. B. Braine

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) who has been a staunch ally throughout this affair.

I was painting the picture of someone who had been fighting a lone battle for a long time, and suddenly it was announced that no less a person than the Shadow Environment Secretary would lead "the bitter battle inside Parliament". It suddenly seemed that rescue was nigh; that the relieving force under the command of an experienced general was on its way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is on its way, but if the hon. Member will tell me to which clause he is speaking it will be helpful to me.

Sir B. Braine

I am referring to Clause 6, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Despite my high hopes of help from new allies nothing happened. The relief column never materialised. The general appointed to lead "the bitter battle in Parliament" did not appear. Indeed, when the Canvey protest group came to the House of Commons to urge the right hon. Gentleman to rally his troops he could not be found.

The right hon. Gentleman did not find his voice until the General Election and then, according to the Evening Echo of 15th February, in a letter—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member has done exceedingly well, if I may say so, in staying in order for so long. It would be a pity if he were now to wander as far as he appears to be doing from the reasons why the measure should not have its Third Reading tonight. I am trying to be helpful to the hon. Member.

Sir B. Braine

If you will listen to the development of my argument, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will see how, suddenly, hope was given to us in writing that certain things were likely to happen which would have made, for example, the provision in Clause 6 quite unnecessary.

In this letter the right hon. Member for Grimsby said: I am greatly concerned about the proliferation of oil refineries on Canvey Island … If and when I become Labour's Minister of the Environment I shall look again at the whole Canvey situation and try to find a more satisfactory solution to the whole problem of the future of the area. That that pledge was meant to be taken seriously was underlined by the personal intervention of the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. Wilson). In the middle of the election campaign, his personal assisitant, Mr. John Ryman, wrote to the Secretary of the Oil Refineries Resistance Group and gave the right hon. Gentleman's 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. But there followed a passage which showed how little the right hon. Gentleman had grasped the problem, because the letter continued: On the face of it, it is most unusual for a Minister to reject the recommendations of 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 no planning permission would be granted. The right hon. Gentleman was wrong on both counts. Planning permission had already been granted for both refineries. One of them was already under construction. As for Ministers rejecting the recommendations of their own inspectors, it had been the right hon. Gentleman's own Minister, the former right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), who had set that bad example when granting the first planning permission in 1965.

However, one should not be too critical for here were specific assurances from the men who were shortly to find themselves back in office and who, if they chose, could transform the situation. That was five months ago. Since then we have had this Bill brought before the House. Since then, I am sorry to say, there has been no evidence that these promises are likely to be implemented. Indeed, all the indications are in the opposite direction. Parliamentary Questions have elicited the fact that no progress has been made with the inter-departmental inquiry I asked for in November. The Government have specifically declined to undertake the wide-ranging study I have always had in mind.

Then we learned that the new Secretary of State, last year's leader of the "bitter battle inside Parliament"—which never took place incidentally—"was minded to grant planning permission" to yet another oil refinery at Cliffe, just opposite the Thurrock refineries in Kent. On 2nd April I had the pleasure, in company with my hon. Friends the Members for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), Canterbury and Faversham and Maldon (Mr. Wake-ham) of persuading the House to throw out the Bill authorising facilities at Cliffe.

The main question still had to be answered. Would the new Government implement the pledge to re-examine the proposals for the construction of these refineries in the light of strong objections from local residents. Soon after the General Election I reminded the new Secretary of State that we were expecting him to implement his undertaking. He finally agreed after a long delay, to receive a deputation led by me, comprising representatives of the new Castle Point District Council, which now covers Canvey and Benfleet, the Canvey Ratepayers' Association and the Refineries Resistance Group. That meeting took place on 28th May.

We outlined our case and made three specific requests. The first was that the Minister should revoke the planning permission given to United Refineries, which is the installation which would be served by the railway line proposed in this Bill. Second, we asked that he should make a discontinuance order in respect of the Occidental refinery which was already under construction, albeit at an early stage. Third, we asked that he should have a look at the area as a whole, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby had done last year, and determine that there should be no further assault upon our environment and that no further risks should be taken with the safety of the people of South-East Essex.

The right hon. Gentleman refused the first two requests. He made no reference to the third. He even expressed surprise that the deputation was opposed to both refineries. When we made it plain that it had never been otherwise and that this was on the record, he admitted, somewhat lamely, that he had been misled. He had been told that we would have been satisfied with the removal of one refinery. So much for the knowledge and understanding of the problem shown by the commander appointed a year before to lead the "bitter battle in Parliament". He had not only absented himself from the field—he did not even know what the battle was about.

The right hon. Gentleman was in good company. My right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham, and the right hon. Gentleman's former colleague who had represented Coventry, East and with whom the whole miserable deterioration of our affairs had started, had all failed to understand what the battle was about. Of course the right hon. Member for Grimsby had been misled—whether by senior civil servants or some local party hack looking for political advantage at the time of the General Election we shall never know. All one can say is that we were given one more illustration of the lax, slipshod and generally unsympathetic way in which those in authority have always treated our case.

However, the right hon. Gentleman thought a way out might be found if the two oil companies which would be served by the railway provided for in the Bill would merge their operations into one refinery. There was nothing new in that idea. It had been mooted before. My right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby had mentioned the possibility in November last year when he said: I believe now that the two companies are in negotiation to combine their refineries".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th Nov., 1973; Vol. 864, c. 903.] If they were then, nine months have since elapsed without any sign of agreement, The right hon. Gentleman assured us that it was the Government's firm wish that such a merger should take place and that the Secretary of State for Energy himself was having talks with the companies on the subject. That was the only encouragement we were given. There clearly was no intention of revoking planning permission, and even the prospect of two refineries being merged into one, which gives no joy to my constituents, since the total volume of crude oil arriving and of products being shipped out will remain the same—

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Has my hon. Friend discovered the amount of compensation that would have been payable had the planning permission been revoked? That may be a consideration which he has not taken into account.

Sir B. Braine

No, I have never sought to discover that, and I do not think that I would succeed if I tried. But my hon. Friend has put a perfectly valid question, since the longer the time that elapses the greater will be the compensation payable if the permission is revoked.

What of the merger? It was talked about a long time ago. The Secretary of State for the Environment thought that it was a possibility. That his colleague, the Secretary of State for Energy, had been seeing the companies indicated that the Government thought that it was within the bounds of possibility.

Mr. Ronald Brown

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Nowhere in the part of Clause 6 which deals with Work No. 3 in Essex is it said that the railway is to be used only by one class of user. Whether any petrol refinery in any part of the country should be merged or not merged is not relevant.

Sir B. Braine

I think I can help by reminding the hon. Gentleman, who did not hear the earlier part of the debate—

Mr. Ronald Brown

I have heard it all.

Sir B. Braine

Then if the hon. Gentleman has been here all the time, he could not have listened. The proposal in the Bill is to provide a rail link to serve new refineries on Canvey Island which will add considerably to the great mass of hazards which we already have. If the hon. Gentleman cannot grasp that, he is incapable of grasping anything.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am much obliged to the hon. Member for Essex, South-East, but he has advanced that argument and the House is cognisant of it.

Sir B. Braine

I knew that I had your ear, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought that it would be unnecessary to repeat what I had said, but I wanted to help the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Ronald Brown

Further to that point of order. The hon. Gentleman keeps on repeating an untruth. I have followed his argument on the Bill over many months and I understand it. The interests of the House are not best served by hon. Members taking advantage of the Chair and using a Third Reading debate to make a Second Reading speech. I am not concerned whether the arguments about oil refineries are relevant. We are on the Third Reading of a Bill on which those arguments have already been advanced. If that is in order in a Third Reading debate, it is certainly repetitive.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

As I am following the hon. Gentleman—as I have for a long time—he is advancing reasons why the Bill should not be read the Third time. I gather that that is the general purport of his speech. Every hon. Member is entitled within the rules of the House to advance his case at whatever length he decides. The Chair does not decide for how long an hon. Member shall speak, but every hon. Member bears in mind the interests of the House.

Mr. Crouch

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch (Mr. Brown) has to my knowledge on four occasions disputed the ruling of the Chair on whether my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) is in order. Each time I have heard your ruling from the Chair that my hon. Friend is in order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern for me but I am not sensitive to any criticism. If I hear any from anywhere, I will immediately let the House know. I have not heard any yet.

Sir B. Braine

We had reached the stage where there was talk of a merger of the two refineries but there had been no further information.

Dr. Hampson

Would these refineries, merged or not, function without the railway line, or is this line of 1,545 metres essential?

Sir B. Braine

Only the oil companies can answer that. I would not presume to do it for them. However, the nature of the product of one of the refineries is such that the company says it would need the railway line while the other company says it would be prepared to pipe its product.

The situation was transformed by the Flixborough disaster. The nation was shocked, and Parliament showed deep concern. Since an investigation of that tragic occurrence is under way, I must not and would not wish to comment. But 1,200 tons of cyclohexane, the material used at Flixborough, is stored at Canvey Island by London and Coastal Oil Wharves. I doubt whether before the Flixborough explosion local residents at Canvey knew that cyclohexane was stored there. Now minds were concentrated for the first time outside Canvey on the risks involved.

When the Secretary of State for Employment made a statement about Flixborough on 3rd June, I drew his attention to the urgent implications that this tragic accident had for those areas where there was too great a concentration of high fire risk installations. I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether the inquiry ordered into the Flixborough disaster would cover our own situation, since the Secretary of State for the Environment had just refused an inquiry into the totality of risk to the Thames-side communities.

I also asked the right hon. Gentleman to ask the Prime Minister himself to take a grip on the situation and order the two refineries to cease building until such time as the inquiry's findings were made known. One could not expect the Employment Secretary to go into detail then, but he indicated that our situation was one reason for considering how wide the terms of reference of any inquiry into the Flixborough explosion should go.

The national Press fastened on this point. Next day, the London Evening News said that I was right to call for urgent action and that Government inquiries could be slow and cumbersome. On 9th June the Sunday Times, in a forthright article headed Canvey Island: is the scenario for a new disaster? went to the heart of the matter by saying: Canvey Island, as it happens has one of the biggest concentrations of major fire risks in the country. And in the wake of the Flixborough disaster, Canvey's MP, Sir Bernard Braine, was quick to seize upon the broader implications and issues raised by the explosion at the Nypro plant. They are simply stated: At what point should the industrial and financial logic of, say, concentrating oil facilities so thickly on Canvey give way to concern about the safety and quality of life of people living there? That is the crux of it. The article went on to describe the deterioration of the environment which the refineries would cause.

Mr. Ronald Brown

On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker. I suggest that whether or not refineries are right or wrong is for the hon. Gentleman to pursue on another occasion. There is nothing in the Bill which empowers the British Railways Board to take any control over refineries. The fact that refineries are there may be used by British Railways since they are a source of freight for them. If the refineries are taken away, British Railways still have other sources of freight. I suggest that we are not discussing the merits of oil refineries. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to discuss those, he can use his skill to obtain an Adjournment debate or raise the matter on the Consolidated Fund Bill. If he does, I shall support him. But he is not entitled to use this Third Reading debate on the British Railways Bill to pursue his justifiable argument.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

I must tell the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) that the more that I study the Bill, the more I realise that it is concerned with the railway and that the general issues of the safety of other installations on Canvey Island belong to another debate. I must therefore ask him to confine himself to the Bill which we are considering.

Sir B. Braine

The Sunday Times article said: The potential for disaster on Canvey, however, is sufficiently great for Essex County Council's emergency planning group to have devised a meticulous scenario for the very serious situation that could develop on the island. I know that the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) is most anxious to prevent me from spelling this out—

Mr. Ronald Brown

That is not true.

Sir B. Braine

Then I will do so once again. Against this background, any proposal to add the smallest hazard to Canvey's situation is damnable and is to be resisted be every possible means. When will the hon. Gentleman understand that?

That is my case. This Bill adds a hazard to a situation which is already fraught with grave hazards. Everyone else can recognise it, except the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch.

Mr. Crouch

In arguing that the railway is conducive to a possible additional hazard on the island, is my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) referring to the tragic accident and disaster which occurred at Langley, where a railway carrying products of a refinery constituted a hazard to people living in a highly condensed urban area?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Before the hon. Member for Essex, South-East answers, may I remind him that he has already dealt at length with that very point. He would be in danger of being called to order for needless repetition if he went into the same argument, at considerable length, to which I listened with interest.

Mr. Crouch

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I come back to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), who queried whether references to the refineries were matters properly in order in relation to a railway in Clause 6. I suggested in my intervention that my hon. Friend's case was that the railway itself added to the hazards of the refineries in a condensed urban area.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I do not know how long the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) has been in the Chamber—

Mr. Ronald Brown

Not very long.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

If he had been here, he would have heard that argument dealt with at length by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East.

Sir B. Braine

I look to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for protection in this matter. I hope that by now the House appreciates the appalling dilemma facing an hon. Member in the situation which I have described. Should he give utterance to views such as those expresed in the Sunday Times article and open himself to the charge of being an alarmist, or should he play the whole matter in low key and hope that his very reasonableness would impress those in authority? Unhappily there are no signs that reasonableness pays With the exception of my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby, who was not left in his office long enough to implement his undertakings, Ministers in general have shown themselves unable or unwilling to measure the gravity of what my constituents have been saying.

If I may adapt another of Burke's most telling phrases, there is a limit at which reasonableness ceases to be a virtue. There is a point beyond which one must speak in loud and more insistent tones if one is to be heard by the deaf and those who will not listen. For me that point has long been reached.

Nevertheless, one would have thought that after Flixborough there would be a change of attitude, a new alertness, a willingness to admit that mistakes had been made. I acted on that assumption.

On the same day as the Secretary of State for Employment made his statement on the Flixborough disaster, I wrote to the Secretary of State for the Environment and asked him to recall that I had asked him, as I had asked his predecessors, for an inter-departmental inquiry. I wrote: Like your predecessors, you refused to set up such an inquiry. Events have now overtaken us and the Flixborough tragedy shows that the Government has a duty to ensure that people are not exposed to unnecessary risk, especially where warning after warning has been issued over the years. You will no doubt see the exchange I had with Michael Foot this afternoon and my specific request, which he did not answer, that pending the outcome of the wide inquiry to which he made reference the construction of the two refineries should be halted. In short, I am asking you once again to revoke the planning permissions. Those were the planning permissions for the refineries which were to be served by the railways—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. But not under this Bill. The planning permissions for the refineries do not arise under this Bill. It is the railway that arises under the Bill.

Mr. George Cunningham

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to draw to your attention that the whole of the discussion relates, as you said, to one mile of railway, which is one of the works provided for in Clause 6, and that this has been almost the only subject of discussion on Second Reading and on consideration of the Bill. When the Bill came back from the Private Bill Committee and was considered in the House the hon. Gentleman moved an amendment solely directed to removing the authorisation for this one mile of railway. In the light of the fact that at previous stages exactly this point has been exhaustively and exhaustingly gone into, may I ask you to prevail upon the hon. Gentleman either to curtail his remarks or to give us an indication, which he must have since he is reading from reams of notes, just how long he proposes to go on?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I should never presume to ask any hon. Member to curtail his speech as long as he is in order. But there is no getting away from the fact that the Bill deals with the railway. I try, and every occupant of the Chair tries, to be as tolerant as possible when an hon. Member raises a constituency matter which is of great concern to him. I think that the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) will fairly acknowledge that the Chair has been tolerant in allowing him to develop his case. But the question whether planning permission should or should not have been given for the refineries is not an issue which has to be approved by the House tonight.

Sir B. Braine

I am loth to quarrel with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you know, I always bow to the Chair. But, under the Bill, a small length of railway line is to be introduced on to Canvey Island which will constitute a hazard. To say that it is a hazard, full stop, would be very satisfactory indeed to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) for, just as my amendment was defeated on the Report stage when 140 of his hon. Friends trooped in from outside, most of whom had not heard the argument, so the Bill might well get through tonight if hon. Members were denied hearing the detailed argument. It is my duty—I can do no other—to explain why this hazard, added to all the other hazards, is totally unacceptable. But for the unfriendly interruptions, I should have been through by now with my argument. As it is, there is a great deal more that I have to say. My people would never forgive me if, having secured the Floor of the House of Commons on an issue of this kind, I did not seek by every means to bring home to hon. Members the full gravity of the situation in which they find themselves. How many more times have I got to say that to the hon. Gentleman?

I agreed at the outset that this was not a normal Private Bill. It is manifest now, not merely from what I have said but from the conduct of the sponsor of the Bill, that it is most certainly not a normal Private Bill. He has told us that, despite all these objections, to which he is in some degree sympathetic, the Bill must be rushed through to another place, it must become law by the 31st of this month, which would give no opportunity for consideration there of the weighty matters that I have been laying before the House.

Mr. George Cunningham


Sir B. Braine

I would suggest that the hon. Member, who no doubt was selected to sponsor the Bill because he has no interest in it, and who is a good Parliamentarian and adds much to the sum of wisdom in the House, should allow me to develop my argument. I am coming to my conclusion: he is only prolonging the matter.

Mr. George Cunningham

The hon. Gentleman has made some errors of fact which cannot be allowed to pass even it they do prolong our procedures by a short while. I have already pointed out to those hon. Members who were present at that time that the statement which the hon. Gentleman has just made is not true. It is not the case that the Bill has to be rushed through both Houses by Wednesday of next week, and there is no chance of that happening. In the House of Lords the procedures for the consideration of Private Bills are as rigorous as in the House of Commons, and their procedures would not permit the Bill to pass in that time.

The dire consequences to which I drew attention on the matter of police powers on railway property arise if the Bill is defeated tonight. This is because of an obscure provision, which I can explain privately but would prefer not to in an intervention, about the continuation of those powers if a Bill is in process of going through Parliament but has not been killed. But if the House kills the Bill tonight—I am grateful for the chance to repeat this—then, as from a week today, it will cease to be legal for British Transport Police or any other police to stop, search and arrest persons on railway property.

Sir B. Braine

I shall come in a moment to a proposition which might interest the hon. Gentleman.

I allow that the House has been very patient with me. It has had to listen to a story which I said at the outset was long and bitter. I hope that the House will agree that the story is frightening in its implications for all of us. If those who, by the strange accidents of politics, are entrusted with the power to act as they have in this case, with such disregard for the interests of one small community, possessing neither the vision to see where their actions lead nor the courage to admit they were wrong, who knows what other stupidities may be committed?

The story I have told has a possible application to other communities in the kingdom. What has been at stake here is not merely the quality of the judgment of those who govern, but the whole of our democratic process. If, over and over again, the wishes of the elected representatives of the people at local level and here at Westminster are to be thrust aside and trampled underfoot, and attempts are made even to stifle the hearing of the case, how much is our democracy worth? It is against this sombre background that one has to consider the whole wretched proposal in this Bill to add one more hazard to those which my unfortunate constituents have had thrust upon them.

I explained my objections to the promoters of the Bill months ago and I pleaded for the removal of this obnoxious provision on Second Reading. I said then that no provision of this kind should find a place in the statute book. No Government and no public authority have the right to take chances with the safety of my constituents. Unacceptable risks were being taken. The time had come to call a halt.

It was my hope that the promoters would heed the warning, but no. So I was obliged to put down an amendment on Report. Again, I felt that even if the promoters lacked the wit, the imagination and the sensitivity to accept the amendment, the House itself would grasp the point and insist on cutting out the offensive provision.

This is a Private Bill and one would have thought that no hon. Member would lightly go into the Lobby to vote for a provision so injurious to another man's constituency. One would have thought that no Labour Member could have gone into the Lobby to vote for a provision which a Labour-controlled authority thinks is injurious to the people it represents. Yet that is what happened on Report, when 140 Labour Members, most of whom, as I have said, had not even heard the argument, joined the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury and marched into the Lobby. No wonder the Labour Party in South-East Essex feels a sense of betrayal.

Perhaps the only excuse for that action was the misleading advice of the hon. Member who was hurt that I should seek to prevent a short stretch of railway line being built. Why should I pick on British Railways? Unfortunately the hon. Member had not grasped the background to the matter. He said: The Secretary of State of course has power to revoke the planning permissions which have been given. I suggest that that is the direction in which hon. Gentlemen should be pressing their activities. That is the only way in which they can terminate, safeguard or limit the refinery activities there. They will not remove the abuse by preventing a one-mile stretch of single-track railway. They would have to get the Secretary of State to withdraw the planning permissions if this operation were to succeed. One does not operate on a major matter like that by starting with a small and consequential matter like the rail link."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th June, 1974; Vol. 875, c. 1646.] That is where he is wrong. When all else fails, when Secretaries of State will not use their powers, one seizes every legitimate opportunity to secure justice. One starts with a small and consequential matter. Not that it is so small a matter. Indeed, the defeat of this Bill tonight might well be a major victory for common sense since the obnoxious provision in the Bill is to serve the purposes of two unwanted refineries on Canvey.

There is another aspect of the matter which I must mention. In January, the Chief Legal Adviser and Solicitor of British Railways wrote me a courteous letter notifying me of the proposals in the Bill which affected my constituency. At that time, South-East Essex was larger and included the area in which the Third London Airport was to be located. The Bill included certain provisions in which I was interested, concerning Maplin, but these were later withdrawn.

The Legal Adviser referred to all the proposals and added: It is perhaps worth mentioning that Occidental Oil Ltd., are unlikely now to want direct rail access to their refinery, favouring, for technical reasons, loading sidings on the mainland … to which their product would be pumped by pipeline. So in respect of one refinery the provision in the Bill is unnecessary. The second refinery clearly wants the rail link.

The new Castle Point District Council is utterly opposed to the building of a railway which must cut through the little green belt land we have left and end in a depot which adds one more hazard to our already endangered environment. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) is right to remind the House of what I said earlier—that a rail depot handling inflammable products is itself a hazard. The Essex Fire Service has expressed a clear preference for piping oil products off the island, for this is infinitely safer.

I have stated at length why there should be no refineries on Canvey Island. It is still open for the Secretary of State to revoke planning permission for the one refinery that adds so greatly to the existing hazards. That is my answer to the promoters of the Bill.

The question arises whether the promoters, even at this late hour, might wish to reconsider the whole matter. If the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury were able to consult the Parliamentary Agents, who are not a hundred miles away from here, and to indicate that they might be prepared to give an undertaking that the offensive provision will be withdrawn when the Bill goes to another place, I shall readily permit him to intervene. If, however, common sense and common justice are not to prevail, I serve notice that I shall oppose any motion for carrying over the Bill into the next Session or into another Parliament. I have little doubt that if this measure ever reaches another place there will be someone there with humanity and determination who, having read this recital of our grievances, will ensure that the measure receives a rough passage.

Mr. Crouch

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Ronald Brown

May I, Mr. Deputy Speaker, beg to move, That the debate be now adjourned?

Sir B. Braine

I have given way to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury.

Mr. Crouch

I was asking to intervene before my hon. Friend had sat down. My hon. Friend has reminded the House of a very important and serious consideration. He has told us that the Essex Fire Brigade has recommended that this rail link is not preferable to an underground pipeline and that there would be a greater hazard in the rail link to carry these inflammable materials than if they were carried underground. When we had a short debate on the statement on the Flixborough disaster, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it was stated that local authorities and other authorities which should be advising on the safety of communities have a very serious responsibility in advising operators of dangerous plants of the best ways of safeguarding the community—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is now making a speech.

Sir B. Braine

I should like to detain the House for a few moments more, in order to give the sponsor of the Bill an opportunity to take up the offer that I made a minute or two ago.

There have been two useful developments in recent weeks which in all fairness I should mention. The first has been the progress of the Health and Safety at Work Bill, which sets up a Health and Safety Commission. We all warmly welcome that. The safety of storages on Canvey Island will, I understand, come under its scrutiny. But it will be some time before that body assumes its responsibilities and begins to function.

The Secretary of State for Employment has assured me that the committee of experts set up following the Flixborough disaster will start work in advance of the Health and Safety Commission, and although its exact structure and terms of reference have not yet been decided, the problem of large complexes such as those at Canvey Island, Baglan Bay and Grangemouth will be well within its remit.

This a most welcome development, as far as it goes. But necessarily it relates only to the existing installations. There is no guarantee that it will be able to do anything about the refineries, one of which, as the House will know, is under construction. Our grievance, therefore, will remain. The Health and Safety Commission may be able to tighten up the regulations governing the safety of each of the high-risk installations; that will be its function. But it cannot reduce the total volume of risk which, with the advent of the new refineries, will reach unacceptable levels.

While the Department of the Environment turns a blind eye to our predicament, Essex County Council is taking no chances. Hon. Members should know what is planned so that they can judge for themselves the gravity of our situation. Immediately after the Flixborough disaster details were revealed of a massive emergency operation that would swing immediately into action if a major disaster struck any part of Essex. A full account was given in onr local Press of a meeting the other day of the County Fire and Public Protection Committee. The plan, which was approved several months ago, was finally made public a few days ago, and spells out a massive countywide operation which "at seconds' notice" would: Summon 500 fire appliances to a disaster area; Throw up a cordon to seal it off completely from sightseers; Flash TV messages appealing to people to stay away; Call up five fire fighting tugs for instant action; Rush in gallons of fire quenching foam; Switch water supplies for fire engines from installations on Thameside, from Purfleet, to the Thames Estuary. On 19th July the same newspaper revealed that a full-scale exercise to test hospital and emergency aid services in the event of a disaster in South-East Essex is being planned for the autumn. These are the realities against which the debate is being held. These are no imaginary fears on my part. This is what our local authorities are planning to do in the face of the mounting hazards menac-

ing our environment and to which this wretched Bill makes its contribution. Let there be no doubt about the scenario. The newspaper went on to say: Southend district health administrator Mr. Malcolm Jefferies said: "We will be testing every aspect of the hospital emergency plans. And it's possible we will base our exercise on a disaster in the Thames Estuary area, based on a Flixborough-type explosion with possible effects on Canvey and the immediate surroundings. We haven't finally made our decision on the type of accident, but it will be on the type to extend our disaster plans fully. It may be of some comfort to know that if the worst happens an efficient rescue operation will be mounted. But would it not be more sensible to reduce the possibilities of anything happening at all? That is what the argument is all about. If any hon. Member votes for the Third Reading of the Bill after all that has been said tonight he is consciously adding to the burden of unacceptable risk that the people I represent are having to bear. I cannot believe that any hon. Member is so insensitive and irresponsible as to act in that way, and I ask the House to strike a blow for the safety of a small community, to strike a blow for common sense, and to throw out this wretched Bill.

Mr. Ronald Brown

I have listened to the arguments put by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and I recognise that he has a powerful case. I regret that he did not understand the procedures of the House and the right way to deal with the matter.

I believe that we have discussed this for a long time, and I beg to move, That the debate be now adjourned.

Question put, That the debate be now adjourned:—

The House divided: Ayes 0, Noes 1.

Division No. 99.] AYES [1.33 a.m.
Mr. Bob Cryer and
Mr. Phillip Whitehead.
Braine, Sir Bernard
Mr. Norman Tebbit and
Mr. Roger Moate.

It appearing on the report of the Division that forty Members were not present, Mr. Deputy Speaker declared that the

Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next Sitting of the House.