HC Deb 14 January 1975 vol 884 cc281-6
Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I beg to move Amendment No. 6, in page 4, line 29, after 'aforesaid', insert 'but subject to subsection (7) below'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 7, in page 4, line 45, at end insert: '(7) This section shall not apply to the completion of relevant operations commenced by a harbour authority or pursuant to a licence granted by a harbour authority before the passing of this Act'. No. 8, in Clause 5, page 5, line 9, after 'shall', insert: '(except in the case of relevant operations commenced by a harbour authority or pursuant to a licence granted by a harbour authority before the passing of this Act)'.

Dr. Mabon

I apologise for not being able to take part in the proceedings on this Bill earlier because I have been in a Select Committee for most of the afternoon. I am glad that I was not provoked on Second Reading by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) to make a speech in support of this excellent Bill, which was the offspring of a reluctant Conservative Government and which has been continued by a not quite so reluctant Labour Government.

This is a very good Bill and these three amendments are meant to be helpful and constructive, as I have tried to be in this House over the past 19 years. Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 go together. Amendment No. 8 is related to them but the first two stand together, No. 6 being the paving amendment. Amendment No. 8 is of a similar character, but is in the nature of a probing amendment. I am not quite so determined about the purport of Amendment No. 8 as I am about Amendments Nos. 6 and 7. Clause 4 prohibits the carrying out of any relevant oil-related operations without a licence granted by the Secretary of State. Subsection (3) makes it clear that harbour authorities or persons licensed by them may continue to carry out works which are not oil-related.

I have been informed by the British Ports Association that some port authorities and licensees have already commenced oil-related works and feel that the Bill should not be given retrospective effect, because it may require those harbour authorities and their licensees to obtain licences from the Secretary of State in relation to those works, and because conditions could be imposed on such licences which would render the works already begun more expensive to complete.

The best example I can give—perhaps the Minister is aware of it—is the Forth Ports Authority, which, I understand, with the assistance of British Petroleum has already commenced an oil-related development at Hound Point in respect of which I understand about £5 million worth of work has already been done. The Minister may have no intention of affecting that position, but it appears that others may be placed in some difficulty. It is with the intention of being helpful that I have tabled Amendments Nos. 6 and 7.

Amendment No. 8 deals with the question of retrospection concerning the provisions of local enactments, byelaws or licences granted by public authorities. The British Ports Association feels that subsection (2) goes a little far and that licences granted by the Secretary of State should not supersede local enactments, byelaws and licences in so far as they have been implemented for oil-related operations commenced before the Bill. Amendment No. 8 deals with that point.

With four or six other hon. Members I have the privilege of being the parliamentary adviser—absolutely unpaid, I hasten to add—to the British Ports Association, and I am pleased to try to represent the association on these matters. It has always been a matter of great regret to me that we did not succeed in 1970 in getting through the Bill to nationalise the ports. Had we done so many of these problems would have been solved. In the absence of nationalisation, I am trying to improve the Bill by these amendments.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. John Smith

I understand that the purpose of the amendment is to try to avoid any retrospective effect in respect of the licences already granted to harbours. The example given by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon) of the Forth Ports Authority and the work at Hound Point is unlikely to be covered by a sea designation order. The Government's intention is to make sea designation orders in relation to platforms and it is only in relation to platforms that this will arise.

It is important for the Government to try to get a uniform system of control and regulation of offshore construction operations. If the amendments were carried it would be difficult to do that, because certain things would be licensed under a set of conditions different from those that come later. There will be close co-operation between the Government and the harbour authorities and, even allowing for an element of retrospection, it is desirable to try to achieve a uniform policy.

I shall make sure that the matters raised by my hon. Friend are brought to the attention of the Government and borne in mind.

Dr. Mabon

May I have an assurance that if there is another estuary where this activity is being carried on it will be covered by the sea designation order? Will my hon. Friend also answer my arguments on Amendment No. 8?

Mr. Smith

I thought that I had given an assurance on that.

Dr. Mabon

I am not sure what assurance I received.

Mr. Smith

I think the confusion arises because I did not intend to give my hon. Friend a specific assurance. I said that I would take into account what he said. Does my hon. Friend want more than that?

Dr. Mabon

Yes, I do. If the British Ports Authority people read the report of our proceedings tomorrow they will be interested to see that my hon. Friend and I got on so well, but they will not be pleased with the answers. I asked my hon. Friend to assure me that he will cover the point in the Bill by regulation. Am I wrong in thinking that he has given me that assurance?

Mr. Smith

I did not give that assurance, but I am sure my hon. Friend will draw the proceedings to the attention of the British Ports Association. The members of the association can then read it for themselves. I am advised that it is unlikely that there would be any sea designation order in the case of Hound Point, which is the example mentioned by my hon. Friend. Any fears he has on that score are unfounded. That is what I intended to cover.

Dr. Mabon

Will my hon. Friend be kind enough to say that that is true of every other circumstance of which he is aware? After all, I gave an example only—I did not give a list.

Mr. Smith

I cannot possibly give an assurance about things which my hon. Friend has not mentioned particularly. I do not know what he has in mind, and I cannot do anything about specific examples.

I can see the force of the argument in cases where licences have been granted to harbour authorities, but, on the other hand, the Government feel that they should take power to apply a uniform set of conditions. It is a matter of balance whether one takes one point of view or the other. I am afraid that I must resist the amendment and advise the House not to accept it. In doing so I realise the importance of my hon. Friend's point and I shall carefully consider it.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

As Hound Point is in the West Lothian constituency, and as I visited it a month ago, I am interested to know whether the Government have had any representations, because I have not.

Mr. Smith

It would not occur to anyone to make a sea designation order there, as we have been talking only about platform construction sites. It would be surprising if the Firth of Forth was used for that purpose. I am glad that my hon. Friend raised the matter so that it could be clarifyied.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

I am glad that my hon. Friend has clarified the matter in his own mind, but will he think about other sites in other places? I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). I was unaware that the Forth Ports Authority was not made aware of this problem. I am concerned that the authority may be involved in more expense. I take it from the Minister's reply that the authority will not be involved in more expense and that the Government will make sure that these matters are looked at carefully.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The Minister said that it would be unlikely that a sea designation order would be made in that area, but is he convinced of that? In that area there is platform construction at Methill and, with techniques changing, the construction of some rigs on the shore part of Methill could be finished on the Firth of Forth. Is the situation so unlikely? I should be interested to know what the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon) thinks about that.

Mr. Smith

I gave no assurance about expenses, and no assurance is intended to be conveyed about expenses. As this is a rather technical matter, my hon. Friend may agree to write to the Secretary of State and take up in detail the way in which it will be carried out in practice.

In reply to the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), I am advised that there would be no intention to make a sea designation order for Hound Point. The main purpose of the orders is to regularise what happens when platforms are towed out for completion.

Dr. Mabon

I shall not press the amendment. May I ask leave to withdraw the amendment?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman may ask leave to withdraw the amendment, which will exhaust his right to speak on it.

Dr. Mabon

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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