HC Deb 14 January 1975 vol 884 cc315-28

9.30 p.m.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

I beg to move Amendment No. 23, in page 18, line 5, at end insert: '(2) A copy of a notice published under subparagraph (1) above shall, within 48 hours of the date when the notice is first published, be served on any harbour authority appearing to the Secretary of State to be likely to be affected by the proposed order'. It is not often that a gamekeeper turns poacher, but in my time I have had to counter amendments suggesting that it is invidious for a Secretary of State or a Minister to have to advertise or make known to everybody involved the consequences of certain intentions of a Department. On this occasion I regard it as a reasonable request that the schedule should be amended in the way I suggest.

The schedule is concerned with public notice and the provision states that the Secretary of State shall publish these matters in two successive weeks in one or more local newspapers circulating in the localities … It is surely not unreasonable to ask that, in addition, if a harbour authority in the Secretary of State's opinion is involved, that authority, too, should be served with a notice. The provision is not phrased in such a way that every harbour authority must be served but so that harbour authorities as determined by the Secretary of State may be involved.

My amendment could not be put more mildly or modestly. If the Minister says that the amendment is unnecessary and argues that the Secretary of State can handle this matter administratively, I would rest content with that assurance. But, if I am not given that assurance, I believe that it will be unjust for harbour authorities who may be affected by orders to have to rely on spotting these matters in local newspapers. It seems an extraordinary way to deal with matters between Government and public trusts.

Mr. John Smith

The mere designation of an area as a designated sea area does not affect the interests of a harbour authority because no action flows from the designation order, and no subsequent action within a designated sea area can be taken without involving the harbour authority and giving it the opportunity to express views. In other words, the mere making of an order does not affect the situation. It is the next step that affects authorities.

Before a licence is granted under Clause 4, the Secretary of State must consult the harbour authority. That is where the protection arises. In many cases it is likely that the power to enforce licence conditions and regulations will, under Clause 7, be delegated to the harbour authority. For these reasons, it is unnecessary to serve notice on it before a designation order is made.

I assure my hon. Friend that, in addition to the statutory consultations under Clauses 4 and 6, there will be administrative arrangements for full consultation with any affected harbour authority. The Government would prefer to arrange such consultation in the manner proposed in the Bill rather than by singling out harbour authorities for formal service of notices.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

That is an admirable reply. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, and Prince of Wales' Consent (in respect of the Principality and Stewartry of Scotland), signified.]

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

9.36 p.m.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I do not intend to say a great deal on Third Reading. We have had a full debate on the Bill both in Committee and on Report, but I should like to make a number of points.

In some respects, I have some criticisms of the Bill. However, I believe that we have improved the Bill, first, on the planning question, on which we received clarification, and, secondly, on the consultations with the fishing industry. To that extent I thank the Government for the improvements that have been made.

It is only right, now that we see the Bill in the state in which it is to go to the House of Lords, to question whether it is relevant for the situation in Scotland today and the need to develop the offshore oil industry.

I question the Bill's relevance in that it does not deal with the real root of delays—namely, planning procedures. If the Government had shown in one way or another that they were prepared to deal with the bottleneck of planning procedures, I believe that the Bill would have had greater relevance than it has. They have not done so. They have given us assurances about the consultations and the circular to be issued to local authorities on planning procedures generally, but that is as far as they have gone. The Bill does not deal with the root of the problem of delays in offshore oil development, which is planning. For that reason, it has less relevance than it might otherwise have.

I question whether the urgency that the Government have pleaded is necessary for getting the Bill put into operation is justified by the situation today. The Government took from February to October last year before introducing the Bill. It it was so urgent, why did they not deal with it in the summer?

Last week the Government gave planning permission for three sites at Hunterston, Portavadie and Campbeltown. I do not criticise the Government for the time that they took to reach their decisions on those three sites, but I do not understand where the urgency lies. As all the comments in the Press by the oil companies and others concerned pointed out over the weekend, now that we have those three additional sites it is questionable whether the expedited acquisition procedure will be necessary to get more platforms built. It can be argued that we now have an adequate number of sites for building and that the powers in the Bill may not be as necessary as the Government made out. Indeed, on 11th January the Glasgow Herald carried the headline, Big boost for platform orders unlikely. There may not even be sufficient orders to put those sites into operation.

Another matter that the Government have not taken into account is the unfortunate slow-down in the oil industry generally, related most of all—again I quote the Glasgow Herald—to uncertainty about Government taxation and nationalisation policies. I was in Aberdeen only yesterday and I know from talking to people in the industry that there is uncertainty which did not exist two or three months ago. Much of the blame for that must rest with the Government.

The Bill is nothing like as relevant as it would have been a few months ago. By introducing it in this form and at this time the Government have missed the bus of helping the development of this industry. Hunterston is one example of the way in which the Government have failed to justify these powers. They intend to use them to nationalise the production site there, although the development company, in co-operation with private companies, is ready to go into production. Nothing in the Bill will improve that situation and the Minister of State has told us nothing to change that view.

What is left in the Bill which is urgent and necessary? Admittedly the reinstatement powers are worth while, but they must be examined. The Government laid great stress on them on Second Reading and the Under-Secretary of State for Energy said tonight that they were one of the most attractive features of the Bill. The Minister of State made the same point last Friday when he made his announcement about new sites for platforms.

But these powers are simply residual. The Government can continue industrial development on some of these sites and in certain circumstances that may be a good thing, but it is not a fair representation to claim reinstatement as a major part of the Bill. The Government intend to use the powers as a fall-back In the absence of other development. This must be watched by those in the areas where these developments take place. Many people in those areas are prepared to see them for the purposes of expediting the development of offshore oil. They do not particularly want to see these developments for general industrial purposes, which perhaps is what they will be left with.

Many of the powers in relation to reinstatement are good as long as one gets them in context and understands how they operate in relation to other powers. I believe we see in this Bill an extension of nationalisation and of Socialism for no real practical purposes. I oppose the Third Reading of the Bill.

9.46 p.m.

Mr. Grimond

I cannot refrain from commenting upon the curious conduct of the Conservative Party. If this is a Bill to introduce Socialism it was such a Bill last November. But then the Tories were in favour of it. Of course it was out of date and behind hand last November and it did not deal with the planning procedures but, nevertheless, the Conservative Party were in favour of the Bill. The hon. Member for Ayr in particular supported the Bill and supported the principle behind it. He urged the House to support it as well. I am surprised therefore that after admitting that the Bill has been improved, the members of the Conservative Party are now joining the ranks of the enlightened so late in the day.

First, I am glad to have the assurance of the Minister that there is no intention to use the Bill to interfere with the work already done in Orkney and Shetland. We have gone a long way in dealing with our own planning, and I am sure that the Government would not wish to complicate the situation any further. However, I hope that the Government will take note of the need for the reform and simplification of planning procedures in regard to oil and other matters.

Resources are the key. Oil will not be exploited or properly controlled by means of more and more procedures. We need housing, roads and general resources to enable a community of 17,000 people to prepare for its exploitation. Last week I used a single-track road through an area which the newspapers call the site of Europe's greatest oil port. Unfortunately, in the middle of the site of Europe's greatest oil port was a crane stuck in the road. On the other side of the obstruction were enthusiastic contractors who wished to get on with their work. I suggested that we swopped cars. I left mine on one side of the obstruction and continued North in their Volvo. They took mine and we swopped back again in the evening. That indicates the state of affairs when there is the slightest accident on the main roads.

This is the key. Let the Government give us resources. Let them look at the planning procedures and otherwise let them support the local authorities in my area to get on with the very difficult job which they have already undertaken.

9.48 p.m.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

I congratulate the Government on the way in which they have tackled this legislation. During the course of the passage of the Bill the Government have accepted amendments suggested by the Opposition parties. That is a good and intelligent way of dealing with legislation. Although some amendments have been accepted, many provisions have been left in the Bill that should have been taken out of it. One of the things that stuck in the gullet in particular was the question of the expedited acquisition order, both because of the way in which it was intended to operate and because of the fact that there is a strong feeling that it is unnecessary.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) made a very sound point regarding the Conservative Party and its out-of-date Bill. There may well have been a stronger argument for such a Bill two or three years ago, when the first signs of expansion in the oil industry were becoming apparent. Instead, we had an awful silence. The present Government have come galloping along, in sight of the possibilities which exist. Even if they attempt to achieve their oil targets they are slipping behind, partly because of the lack of materials and labour and partly because of the lack of foresight shown by the previous administration in not attempting to clear the way and to get the planning and acquisition procedures correct. It is essential that in looking at this Bill we consider whether or not it would be of very great effect in achieving its purpose.

Apart from its good points, which are related to the reinstatement of sites, the clearing up of the debris which may be left by construction companies after their work has finished, and the alteration of sites to give new and continuing employment to areas which did not have employment before, there is the grave possibility that with the proliferation of sites many of them could be of short duration, with jobs lasting a short time and with the possibility of industrial dereliction, whatever the Government seek to do. Once a community is disturbed it is not easy to restore it.

Although Government strategy appears to be operating on the possibility of orders for platforms in nine years or so, the last information which I obtained from the oil companies was that they expected about five platforms, which could make nonsense of what the Government have in mind.

Two explanations were given against the viewpoint that there might be too many sites for new platforms, possibly leading to over-production. When these figures were quoted by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) on 4th December, the Under-Secretary of State for Energy accused him of taking a simplistic view. The hon. Gentleman said: It assumes that all platforms are producing at full blast all the time. He went on: these platforms have a limited life, given the very severe conditions existing in the North Sea."—[Official Report, 4th December 1974; Vol. 981, c. 1757.] Two arguments can be made from those statements. The first is that with a given number of platforms, sooner or later they will reach their maximum output. On that assumption, given too many platforms, we could have oil production peaking too soon. I appreciate that, taking a simplistic view and multiplying the amount of oil from each given platform by the total number of platforms, we could finish up with a very substantial amount of oil, and it is true that we may need more platforms for each field in order to get continuity of production over a given period. Having said that, however, I think that the Department of Energy has made a serious mistake in its calculations.

As for the argument that these platforms have a limited life, it would be interesting to hear the Department's estimate of their life span.

I am getting a little away from the purposes of the Bill, I appreciate. However, the fact that the calculations on the basis of which the Government have introduced it may be wrong leaves a nasty feeling among those of us who live in Scotland, at the thought that so many powers have been taken by the Government which may prove to be unnecessary.

9.52 p.m.

Mr. Millan

None of the speeches in this debate has sounded like a powerful argument against giving the Bill a Third Reading.

The behaviour of the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) has not even the virtue of consistency. It is extraordinary that a Bill which he and his right hon. and hon. Friends did not oppose on Second Reading and which in everyone's view has been considerably improved in Committee and on Report, when the Government adopted a helpful and conciliatory attitude towards amendments, should be opposed on Third Reading. I find that almost completely incomprehensible.

In fact, it is rather more than that. It is thoroughly dishonest. The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns, after all, represents a party which not only wanted to take powers of the kind that we have in the Bill but wanted them to override the planning powers as well. To add to the sins of their intentions, he and his right hon. and hon. Friends produced their legislation with the specific purpose of preventing the public inquiry at Drumbuie from coming to its normal conclusion, with the Government purpose in mind of taking inalienable National Trust land. Why we should have to listen to the hon. Gentleman's sermons about the inequities of this Bill, I cannot imagine.

There is still urgency in the situation. If there is some lesser urgency in some of the matters referred to by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns, it is because we have had a year of considerable activity by this new Government.

We inherited a situation which it would not be unfair to describe as chaotic. There was no policy. There was no planning about either the preferred designs of production platforms or of the numbers required. There was no clear or coherent idea as to how the numbers required would be matched with the sites required in Scotland.

All that has been put into a more coherent framework, as indeed has the whole of the North Sea oil policy of the present Government, and I think there is very widespread recognition that on the matters that we are dealing with in this Bill there has been a very considerable improvement in Government policy since the present Government took over in March of last year.

But of course we are not dealing in this Bill simply with the short-term situation of acquiring the number of sites which are necessary. We are dealing also with the longer-term necessity to see that there is no proliferation of sites and that, once acquired, sites will be properly dealt with, managed and reinstated at the end of the day. That essential purpose of the Bill, which is as important as any urgency arising from the expedited acquisition procedure, has been warmly welcomed by local authorities in Scotland, the Countryside Commission, the Oil Development Council and all those who are informed about the real problems involved in the matter.

What the Bill amounts to is part of the overall strategy which we believe to be the right one, which is in the national interest, in the interest of the people of Scotland, and which will bring them the immediate benefits in terms of jobs and employment opportunities which the SNP policy, for example, would deny them, although the spokesman for the SNP tonight, as on other occasions, is very careful not to make that explicit.

This is an important part of the Government's policy and I commend it to the House on Third Reading.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The House divided: Ayes 192, Noes 155.

Division No. 49.] AYES [9.58 p.m.
Allaun, Frank Ashton, Joe Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)
Archer, Peter Atkinson, Norman Bates, Alf
Armstrong, Ernest Bagier, Gordon A. T. Bean, R. E.
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Park, George
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Horam, John Parry, Robert
Bidwell, Sydney Hoyle, Douglas (Nelson) Pavitt, Laurie
Blenkinsop, Arthur Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Perry, Ernest
Boardman, H. Hughes, Mark (Durham) Prescott, John
Booth, Albert Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Hughes, Roy (Newport) Price, William (Rugby)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hunter, Adam Radice, Giles
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Richardson, Miss Jo
Buchan, Norman Janner Greville Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Buchanan, Richard Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) John, Brynmor Robertson, John (Paisley)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Johnson, James (Hull West) Roderick, Caerwyn
Campbell, Ian Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Cant, R. B. Jones, Barry (East Flint) Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Carmichael, Neil Jones, Dan (Burnley) Rooker, J. W.
Carter-Jones, Lewis Judd, Frank Roper, John
Cartwright, John Kaufman, Gerald Rose, Paul B.
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Kelley, Richard Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen Kerr, Russell Rowlands, Ted
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Kinnock Neil Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Lambie, David Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Lamborn, Harry Sillars, James
Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony Lamond, James Silverman, Julius
Cryer, Bob Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Skinner, Dennis
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Lee, John Small, William
Dalyell, Tam Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Davidson, Arthur Lewis, Arthur (Newham N) Spearing, Nigel
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Spriggs, Leslie
de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Lipton, Marcus Stallard, A. W.
Dempsey, James Litterick, Tom Stewart, Rt Hn M. (Fulham)
Doig, Peter Lomas, Kenneth Stoddart, David
Dormand, J. D. Loyden, Eddle Stott, Roger
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Lyon, Alexander (York) Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Duffy, A. E. P. Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Swain, Thomas
Dunn, James A. Mabon, Dr J. Dickson Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Dunnett, Jack McCartney, Hugh Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Eadie, Alex McElhone, Frank Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Edge, Geoff MacFarquhar, Roderick Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Mackintosh, John P. Tlerney, Sydney
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Maclennan, Robert Tinn, James
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Tomlinson, John
Ennals, David McNamara, Kevin Urwin, T. W.
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Madden, Max Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Evans, John (Newton) Magee, Bryan Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Mahon, Simon Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Faulds, Andrew Marks, Kenneth Ward, Michael
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Marquand, David Watkins, David
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Weitzman, David
Flannery, Martin Meacher, Michael White, Frank R. (Bury)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mellish, Rt Hon Robert White, James (Pollok)
Ford, Ben Mendelson, John Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Freeson, Reginald Millan, Bruce Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Wilson, Rt Hon H. (Huyton)
George, Bruce Moonman, Eric Wise, Mrs Audrey
Gilbert, Dr John Murray, Ronald King Woodall, Alec
Golding, John Newens, Stanley Woof, Robert
Gourlay, Harry Noble, Mike
Grant, John (Islington C) Ogden, Eric TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Grocott, Bruce O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian Mr. James Hamilton and
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Orbach, Maurice Mr. Donald Coleman.
Hamling, William Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Harper Joseph Ovenden, John
Aitken, Jonathan Churchill, W. S. Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Elliott, Sir William
Beith, A. J. Clark, William (Croydon S) Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)
Benyon, W. Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Eyre, Reginald
Biffen, John Cockcroft, John Fairgrieve, Russell
Biggs-Davison, John Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Farr, John
Boscawen, Hon Robert Cope, John Fisher, Sir Nigel
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Cormack, Patrick Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Corrie, John Fookes, Miss Janet
Brittan, Leon Costain, A. P. Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)
Brotherton, Michael Crawford, Douglas Fox, Marcus
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Crowder, F. P. Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)
Budgen, Nick Dodsworth, Geoffrey Goodhart, Phillp
Bulmer, Esmond Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Goodhew, Victor
Burden, F. A. du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Carlisle, Mark Durant, Tony Grimond, Rt Hon J.
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Grist, Ian
Hall, Sir John McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Silvester, Fred
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Sims, Roger
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Skeet, T. H. H.
Hannam, John Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Mayhew, Patrick Spence, John
Hastings, Stephen Meyer, Sir Anthony Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Hawkins, Paul Mills, Peter Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Hayhoe, Barney Moate, Roger Sproat, Iain
Henderson, Douglas Monro, Hector Stainton, Keith
Hooson, Emlyn Montgomery, Fergus Stanbrook, Ivor
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Hunt, John Neave, Airey Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Hurd, Douglas Nelson, Anthony Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Hutchison, Michael Clark Neubert, Michael Stokes, John
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Nott, John Stradling Thomas, J.
James, David Osborn, John Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Jessel, Toby Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Jopling Michael Pardoe, John Tebbit, Norman
Kaberry, Sir Donald Parkinson, Cecil Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Pattie, Geoffrey Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Kershaw, Anthony Price, David (Eastleigh) Thompson, George
King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Pym, Rt Hon Francis Townsend, Cyril D.
King, Tom (Bridgwater) Rathbone, Tim Trotter, Neville
Knight, Mrs Jill Rees-Davies, W. R. Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Lane, David Reid, George Viggers, Peter
Lawrence, Ivan Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts) Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Lawson, Nigel Rifkind, Malcolm Watt, Hamish
Le Marchant, Spencer Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Weatherill, Bernard
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Welsh, Andrew
Lloyd, Ian Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire) Wiggin, Jerry
Loveridge, John Scott, Nicholas Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Luce, Richard Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Macfarlane, Neil Shelton, William (Streatham) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
MacGregor, John Shepherd, Colin Mr. Michael Roberts and
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Shersby, Michael Mr. Hamish Gray.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.