§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ Mrs. Margaret Bain (Dunbartonshire, East)
Before we vote on the Bill, there are some important questions that I want to put to the Secretary of State on behalf of my party.
1356 Why did the Secretary of State take a different view from the inspector about the economic prospects of this refinery? How many jobs are involved in the development of this site? When will the work commence? Who has the resources now that the costs have risen from £100 million to £170 million? Will the Government give a grant to the company? Where will the oil come from? Will it all come from the North Sea or will some be imported? Is it to be a service refinery, basically responsible for the export of oil, or will it be used for domestic purposes? What are the prospects of secondary and tertiary development, leading to more jobs?
My party has strong views on the ownership of land in Scotland and this land is being transferred from one foreign landlord to another. If land in Scotland is to be used for economic development, there must be an element of Scottish control.
The Scottish Development Agency and the Highlands and Islands Development Board have compulsory purchase powers in Scotland. Why were they not consulted about this Bill?
I should appreciate the Secretary of State's attention, especially as his party claims to care about the land and the people of Scotland. Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that there should be Scottish responsibility for the development?
§ Mr. Douglas Crawford (Perth and East Perthshire)
Has my hon. Friend noted that the Secretary of State, the Minister of State and the entire Government Front Bench have not been listening to a single word she has been saying? I hope that the people of Scotland will note that fact.
§ Mrs. Bain
I agree with my hon. Friend. We have asked 10 specific questions about this development in Scotland. I reiterate the most crucial point—will the Secretary of State for Scotland confirm that land in Scotland is being transferred from one foreign owner to another? What rights will the Scottish people have in that situation? I hope that those on the Government Front 1357 Bench will have the courtesy to reply to this point before we move to a vote.
§ 10.35 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
I beg to move the amendment standing in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate)—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
Perhaps I should explain that it is not customary to call this type of motion. We are dealing with the Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time, and the hon. Gentleman should speak to that Question.
§ Mr. Wells
I wish to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and I, being two Kent Members, have been under a degree of criticism from certain sections of the Scottish Press. Mr. Michael Nightingale, who is at present the owner of the land which it is aimed to acquire by compulsory purchase, is my constituent.
§ Mr. Wells
The hon. Lady said "An absentee landlord" twice from a sedentary position. I heard her the first time. There was no need for her to repeat the interruption. I shall deal with her in due course.
Mr. Michael Nightingale is an absentee landlord except that he is in Cromarty at this moment on his property. He is a well-known public figure in Kent. He was awarded the OBE not long ago for his services to the general amenity of Great Britain and he has played a considerable part in maintaining the amenities on his estate and the surroundings.
The suggestion in the Bill is that Mr. Nightingale's property should be expropriated and a £100 company called Cromarty Petroleum Company Limited, whose proprietors are a Liberian fleet of tankers, owned in its turn by the Ludwig Cancer Research Foundation of Switzerland, which I believe is backed by a Central European American called Ludwig, who indeed would be, as the hon. Lady the Member for Dunbartonshire, East 1358 (Mrs. Bain) has said, an expatriate landlord.
The point that I seek to make is that my constituent Mr. Nightingale—
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am perplexed. Was the Second Reading of the Bill moved?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I appeal for courtesy in this House. Let there be no more sedentary interruptions.
§ Mr. Wells
My constituent has made a generous offer to the company of a 99-year lease to enable the company to build the dock. Naturally, those who oppose him say that they want to own the freehold and to be able to be there for ever. But those people who know anything about the oil and refinery position as a whole in the United Kingdom would agree that there is already a surplus of refinery capacity. It is extremely unlikely that this refinery will ever be built, no matter what is said here tonight. It is all pie in the sky.
1359 It is almost certain that if Mr. Ludwig and his associates are allowed to expropriate my constituent, an American-Liberian company will own this foreshore, will be able to build a dock and will then be able to sell it for a much larger sum of money than would—
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Does the hon. Member not have enough knowledge to be aware that no one owns the foreshore in Scotland?
§ Mrs. Bain
Is it not a fact that the length of the lease is irrelevant? It could be for 99 years or 999 years. The importance lies in the conditions under which the land is let. Therefore, is it not all the more important that there should be Scottish responsibility to ensure that local democratic wishes are respected?
§ Mr. Wells
I have great sympathy with the point of view expressed by the hon. Lady. I have recently suffered in my own constituency seeing an American firm take over one of our great local industries. I have great sympathy with the point of view which she has expressed, but it is a matter not so much of democratic need as of the extreme unfairness of the way in which Mr. Nightingale has been treated—and not only unfairness, but with the greatest of discourtesy.
When hon. Members put down a block on a Private Bill it is usual for the Parliamentary Agents to approach the hon. Members concerned. I have had no approach whatever from Dyson Bell and Co. who are the Parliamentary Agents concerned. Nor has my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham had any approach from them until one of that firm's minions waylaid him semi-socially last week in Westminster Hall. There has been no attempt whatever to have any sort of negotiation to find out what was 1360 in my constituent's mind or to ascertain why he was opposed.
I believe that my constituent was willing to give a 99-year lease, as he said at the time that the Parliamentary Commissioners held their hearing in Edinburgh. In addition, on the point made by the hon. Lady the Member for Dunbartonshire, East, I believe that my constituent would have been willing to give a lease as long as there were clauses in it providing that a refinery really would be built. If no refinery were built, my constituent would want to retain the ownership of his land. [Laughter.] The Scottish National Party may find this amusing, but it is very serious. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has constituents who have land in England. It is quite likely. If the boot were on the other foot, I would expect him to defend his constituent's interests. I see that the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) indicates dissent. Then he is a very bad Member of Parliament. I should normally expect a Member of Parliament to defend his constituents' interests in any part of the United Kingdom.
My constituent Mr. Nightingale, has done what is reasonable in the past. He has made a fair offer to the company, which has in no way responded. I believe that there are elements in the Scottish Press that like to think that if construction does not take place it will be the fault of my hon. Friend and me or some vague and remote English sector. That is not so. I have already said that there is an excess of refining capacity in this country, and I believe that Mr. Ludwig and his associates are looking only for an outlet for their tankers. I do not believe that they are looking for refining capacity. The major British oil companies already have North Sea oil connections and refining capacity. The intervention of some £100 company tied essentially to a Liberian fleet of tankers is a completely extraneous matter.
My hon. Friend and I have tabled two amendments. The first is, "That the Bill be read a Second time upon this day six months." The second is that if it receives a Second Reading tonight it should be referred to a Committee. The House has a serious duty to consider. When I put down this block I set out only to protect 1361 the interests of my constituent, but since the block has been running I have read more and more on this topic and I have learned more and more. The more I learn the more convinced I am that this entire outfit is bogus and that the likelihood of this project coming to fruition is very small.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear that in making the allegation that the whole project is basically bogus he is saying, essentially, that the planning committees of Ross and Cromarty and the Highland Region, and the Secretary of State for Scotland, have all been gulled.
§ Mr. Wells
The hon. Gentleman need only look at yesterday's Sunday Times Business News in which exactly that phrase is used. It is not the job of the planning committees to look at the global, national position of refining. As for the Secretary of State being gulled, we are used to that and it has happened yet again.
§ Sir Timothy Kitson (Richmond, Yorks)
What compensation has been offered to my hon. Friend's constituent for the 47 acres?
§ Mr. Wells
I speak without the authority of my constituent and only from what I have read in the papers. At one time there was a verbal suggestion of £200,000, from which position I understand that the petroleum company have reneged. I understand that at present a figure of around £75,000 is being discussed. This has been a degazumping situation. I have those figures secondhand and I do not speak with the authority of my constituent.
This is not only an area of potential great value for some future project, which should gladden the hearts of all Scottish Members, but an area of outstanding beauty. That point was made abundantly clear in front of the commissioners when they sat in Edinburgh. The matter has been debated at length and I do not wish to repeat it at length, but in looking at the prospects it is essential that we do not allow these people to rush in, expropriate an honest and innocent British landowner and pass it over to others.
The Scottish National Party has made great play that my constituent is an 1362 absentee. In fact he is the chairman of a British public company which is in the habit of developing land overseas. He has great experience of this in the Far East. In his personal experience it is usual for a developing company to be given only a short lease. He tells me that the longest lease he has in the Far East at present is for about 30 years, and that vast sums of money are being put in.
This is a man of part-English, part-Scottish descent who is genuinely doing his best to protect the interests of his neighbours and of his co-owner, a well-known local figure, Colonel Ross.
§ Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)
As Member for a Cornish constituency, I have only a passing interest, but could the hon. Gentleman say how long his constituent has owned this land?
§ Mr. Wells
To the best of my recollection, he and his wife's family have owned it for 16 years. As for Colonel Ross, his co-proprietor, it has been in his family, to the best of my knowledge, for about 400 years.
We are not concerned with length of ownership. We are concerned with goodwill on the part of the present proprietor and the unfair treatment which has been meted out to him. We are also concerned with the fundamental financial unsoundness of the project. Figures have been lavishly bandied about. We are told that this project will mean an investment into Scotland of £200 million. It might do so if it were built, but before it is built there will have to be investment from Her Majesty's Treasury, from the British taxpayer—from each one of us and each one of our constituents—amounting, I understand, to £20 million. I therefore believe that I am absolutely right when I repeat that the Secretary of State and his Department have been well and truly gulled in this matter.
§ 10.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
We had all better be a bit careful on this occasion about declaring any interests we have. I would therefore say that in the town of Bo'ness in West Lothian a substantial number of people work in the Grangemouth refinery.
I want to ask a basic question. What is the case at all for another green fields construction? We are told by the oil 1363 companies—not just by one—that there is a 60 per cent. use of existing capacity both in the United Kingdom and in Europe and that future projections—this is very much the point—into the 1980's suggest that that proportion is unlikely to be exceeded.
One can talk perhaps about the plight of the refining industry. I am not sure that I would go so far as to do that, but before any decision is reached, surely we should have an authoritative pronouncement about foreseeable demand in the 1980's. I understand from Cromarty that the argument is that Britain needs to obtain maximum benefit from North Sea resources by exporting as much as possible of the refined products rather than the crude oil. Is it or is it not true that Grangemouth and other United Kingdom refineries—but particularly Grangemouth—can do this? Some assessment of this is important.
The question that I should like to ask —it is an interrogative question because no doubt it had good reasons—is, why did the Scottish Office go against the recommendation of the reporter after a prolonged and costly inquiry? If we are to discuss this at all, it should be spelled out to the House why—possibly for good reasons—the Secretary of State overturned the findings of the reporter.
Has Press comment on the risk of oil spills been exaggerated? We also want to know what the plans are—because they involve public expenditure—for housing, schools and infrastructure for the 400 refinery workers. Are we sure that scarce resources should be allocated to the building of a petro-chemical industry in rural Easter Ross? That must affect every hon. Member from Scotland.
My views are well known and the House would not wish me to be tempted into arguing about all sorts of other subjects.
A question which has been put to me is, what is the effect on the Highland Fabricator employees at Nigg? That is important because many people from 1364 elsewhere work at Nigg during the week. Some assessment would be useful.
Some months ago the capital cost was put at £175 million and I understand that that is likely to have risen to £200 million. The House deserves to know precisely—and I choose my words carefully— what is the role of National Bulk Carriers. It is understood that the seagoing tanker business is not very healthy at the moment and that shipping in certain New York based firms is slumping badly. Before we commit ourselves I must ask what the finance from National Bulk Carriers is likely to be. Again, I choose my words carefully and I do not want to be irrelevant, but perhaps some of us owe it to the House to say that we were approached last week with a letter from the public affairs consultant, Mr. Dean Narayn of 209 Brompton Road, Knightsbridge, London S.W.3. His letter to me began:Dear Mr. Dalyell, I am writing on behalf of Cromarty Petroleum Company Limited, to seek to engage your interest in the above Bill, as it has serious implications for a major industrial project in Scotland.Rightly or wrongly it is my practice, when approached on a matter of that kind by public affairs firms, not to reply to them but, if it is important, to go straight to the industrial company. I therefore quite innocently asked the Library who was the managing director of Cromarty Petroleum, and I was told that it was Mr. Jonathan Jenkins. That was a fair question because some of us have wondered what was the precise relationship between Cromarty Petroleum and the defunct Grampian Chemicals. We must know the answer to that because some of us were interested in the events which led to the end of Grampian Chemicals. The relationship may be innocent but we must be told what it is.
The matter is serious. If the debate goes on for a long time it may, for the future of Easter Ross in particular and for Scotland in general, be worth the time of the House to examine the matter in detail.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm Rifkind (Edinburgh, Pentlands)
Two separate issues are involved in this matter. The first is whether the interests of Mr. Nightingale, co-owner of the land, are prejudiced by the action 1365 proposed in the Bill. The second is the effect of the Bill on the development of an important part of Scotland.
On the latter issue I look forward to the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray), who represents that part of Scotland and knows better than any other hon. Member the development requirements of the area. I understand that he strongly supports the Bill. If he takes the view that such development will benefit the area, there will have to be powerful arguments to the contrary to convince the House that the development should be rejected, particularly when his views are in agreement with those of the Secretary of State and the Government as a whole.
I hope that the Government will comment on the report in the Sunday Times yesterday, which will concern many other hon. Members. That report suggested that the development was not a genuine attempt to improve the development of that part of Scotland but a bogus attempt, disguising itself as a genuine commercial effort but for other, less creditable purposes. Before we come to a decision on the matter the House must have an assurance not merely that the Government support the Bill but that they have made sufficient inquiries to satisfy themselves that the company's credentials are genuine and that the objectives it has put to the House in the Bill are objectives that it honestly means to implement. If the Government are satisfied that it does, that will greatly strengthen the arguments in favour of the Bill.
I hope that the Minister will totally reject the silly, puerile remarks of the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain), who suggested that it was relevant to the debate whether the development would be Scottish controlled or controlled by a company outside. I do not know whether the SNP is opposed to any non-Scottish investment in Scotland. I do not know whether it opposes any development that is not Scottish controlled or does not have a Scottish interest in it. If it does, it is doing a great disservice to SNP Members' constituents and the industrial development of Scotland.
§ Mrs. Bain
The hon. Gentleman was totally opposed to the idea of a Scottish Development Agency, which is democratically controlled in Scotland and has the right to carry out investment. We are arguing consistently that there is a right to have Scottish control, so that local views and local responsibilities are taken into consideration in any development, because the local community is obviously the most important community.
§ Mr. Rifkind
Any hon. Member who wants to know my views on the Scottish Development Agency will find them easily by consulting Hansard. I do not propose to go into the matter now. If the hon. Lady seriously believes what she said, that any investment that does not have Scottish control will be opposed by her party as being inimical to the interests of Scotland as she sees them, I hope that she and her hon. Friends will pronounce that philosophy from every platform in Scotland, and make it clear that that is what their party stands for. She would do more to contribute to the growth of unemployment in Scotland than anything even this pernicious Government can achieve by their policies.
I return to the main issue, which is a very important matter. Jobs and development are involved. The local Member is strongly in favour of the development. I shall be inclined to support it unless the Minister or other hon. Members can give substance to the serious allegations made in the newspapers only yesterday. If those allegations have a foundation they should lead hon. Members seriously to doubt the desirability of the development. If they do not, it is up to the Government to make that clear to the House so that the House may make an objective decision tonight.
§ 11.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
Anybody who wishes to take part in this discussion must do so with a certain amount of hesitation—for two reasons. The first is that some of the hon. Members involved with Ross and Cromarty, and indeed neighbouring Members concerned directly with the problems of Highlands development, can be said to be in favour of the development and the second is 1367 that many of us have fought for years to develop Highlands areas. Therefore, one speaks with some hesitation when one has doubts about a project of this kind.
I think it can be said that there is cause for some real doubts. I am not referring to the doubts that have been expressed by SNP Members. They were reflecting a concern not about the ownership of land in the sense of its belonging to the people who live and work there but about ownership of land in another sense. I believe that the Scottish people have a higher moral standard than that. What concerns me is people—not whether somebody comes from the North or from the South. I am concerned about human beings. Therefore, we must see how this project will assist those who live and work in the area.
I am unashamedly in favour of the public ownership of land—not only Scottish public ownership of land but English public ownership of land. Therefore, I, too, share some of the anxieties which have been expressed about land being trafficked in this way. I am concerned that this land should be put to proper use. That means that we must also consider the environmental aspects of the matter.
§ Mr. Buchan
I shall not give way. The hon. and learned Gentleman has just come in—and he is a nuisance when he comes in anyway.
I am concerned to see that development should happen in the right places. I believe that in the past the Government should have said "We shall allow X number of developments to take place in the following areas", but they should then have set them out, instead of allowing unrestricted options in respect of onshore construction sites. I am concerned about the employment situation in Easter Ross in the next five or 10 years. One understands the anxieties about industrial projects having to come into the area. However, we must try to ensure that this, too, is not another "empty hole", to use that phrase in a metaphorical sense.
These matters cause one to pause for reflection. We all remember an earlier application relating to Grampian Chemi- 1368 cals. We have reason to be anxious when we know that one of the directors then involved is now named as one of the directors involved in this instance. I refer to Mr. Jonathan Jenkins. I should like to know what guarantees have been given in regard to this company. We know that in this instance we have involved not only National Bulk Carriers, with friend Ludwig, but a cancer research institute in Switzerland. It is a curious set-up that this concern should be tied up with a company operating bulk carriers registered in Panama and flying the Liberian flag. I am concerned about that kind of background.
Although I argue that there should have been a public take-over of land for onshore oil development and that the Government should have established the number of sites and their locations, at the same time it is we who should be considering the onshore development of oil in this country. In other words, there should not be a private refinery but a publicly-financed refinery, if there is a case for an additional refinery.
The problem is that no such case has yet been made. There is the problem of Grangemouth. As I understand it, there can be an expansion of production there. Some of the oil people tell me that there is no case for yet another green fields site refinery at present.
If it were to be associated with guarantees for further industrial development, petro-chemicals and so on, I would still think twice on environmental grounds. There is no such guarantee. I do not know what is being sought here. We should be told. We should know who is behind the company. Is this related to the failure of the large-scale bulk tanker market? Is there an element of speculation here? What oil will be used? We do not know. There are no direct oil resources. From whom will the oil be purchased? We do not know.
What guarantees have been given for future industrial development, petrochemicals for instance? We do not know. These are the questions to which we must have answers before we approve such a Bill. I can understand the Government's difficulty. They will have to argue on the basis of the correctness or otherwise of the inquiry in the sense that they have the right to override the inquiry decision, which was against the 1369 project. But we are a House of Commons. Quite apart from the technical responsibilities of the Government, they have to look at the social and economic consequences of this action.
These are the guarantees we seek. I am sorry that we have started on the wrong route. Many of my hon. Friends who have fought and argued, and done a good deal for the development of industry in the Highlands, want an answer to these questions to make sure that we get the right kind of industrial development for the Highlands.
§ 11.13 p.m.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Bruce Milian)
It might be for the convenience of the House if I intervened at this stage. As I understand it, there are two motions on the Order Paper, the second depending on whether the Bill is granted a Second Reading. At the moment we are dealing only with the Second Reading.
Despite the fact that a large number of rather wide-ranging questions have been asked in the debate, the Bill deals with a narrow issue. It deals with the compulsory purchase of a small piece of land, approximately 47½ acres, in a scheme for which already about 800 acres have been acquired by the company concerned. I hope that no one believes that what we are dealing with here, whatever happens to the Bill, is the whole of the project. I shall shortly explain the procedure and the formal role of the Secretary of State in this procedure, which places me under a certain amount of difficulty.
The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) will be able to deal with some of the wider matters that have been raised, if he so chooses and if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Since some of those wider matters have also been put to me I can, without offending the rules of order, at least give a certain amount of background information, although the Bill is a narrow one and the question of the reference to the Joint Committee, if we come to that later, is a matter on which I would like to say a word or two.
This proposal for an oil refinery at Nigg Point has been the subject of a most exhaustive public inquiry. The application to the Secretary of State for a direc- 1370 tion under Article 8 of the Town and Country Planning (General Development) (Scotland) Order 1950 was made on 11th October 1974. Following that, a public inquiry was held. That public inquiry was one of the lengthiest and most exhaustive public inquiries that we have ever had in Scotland. It lasted between 11th February and 18th April 1975, and there were more than 500 objections to the proposal which were considered at that public inquiry.
It does not seem to me to be appropriate for me to go over anything like the full range of the inquiry. In any event, I think it is the legal position that the Secretary of State's decision on an inquiry—in this case, my predecessor's—is confined to the decision letter which is legally binding and which was issued on 1st March 1976.
The decision letter of 1st March 1976 is a public document. As well as giving the reasons of the Secretary of State for overturning the recommendations of the reporter and granting the power on the part of the local authority to give the planning permission, there are, for example, eight foolscap pages of conditions attached to that approval. The idea that, somehow, this slipped through unnoticed and was not considered in the most exhaustive way both at the inquiry and by the Secretary of State is ludicrous.
§ Mr. Wells
These stringent conditions all refer to planning. They do not in any way refer to the actual construction of the refinery. There is no condition to protect the interests of my constituent if these people never build their refinery. Therefore, although person after person has said that there are conditions and restrictions, I would point out that there are no restrictions or conditions there to protect the one person on whose behalf all this has started tonight.
We must be clear whether we are dealing with the right of one individual who does not wish his land to be acquired compulsorily or with wider issues. This Bill is dealing with the right of one or two individuals to have their land acquired compulsorily, but that has not been completely clear from the speeches to which we have listened so far. I am simply providing a certain amount of the background, without going into the detailed merits of the proposal 1371 They have been exhaustively considered. There was a very lengthy inquiry and a very long report, and the Secretary of State took account of the findings of that report in reaching his decision.
The objections which were outlined by the reporter to the development did not include most of the matters which have been raised tonight about the viability of the project, whether it would go ahead, the status of the company concerned, and all the rest of it.
Any Secretary of State, including my predecessor and including me, is not a completely free agent in deciding planning matters. Like everyone else, he is bound by the planning legislation. All the matters that were relevant to the decision of the Secretary of State, and these matters of demand, the status of the company, where the oil would come from and what would happen to the products, were exhaustively considered at the inquiry and taken into account by my right hon. Friend in giving what was a very lengthy decision letter, itself of six foolscap pages, quite apart from the conditions. This is on public record, and I do not think that it would be right for me now to try to go over the whole of that ground. We are dealing with one of the consequentials of the matter—the question of the acquisition of the ground required for the building of the refinery.
Perhaps I might now explain the Secretary of State's position so that there is no misunderstanding in the House. Under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, where a provisional Order under that Act is opposed, as in this instance, an inquiry is held before Parliamentary Commissioners. This inquiry takes place in Scotland. The commissioners normally consist of two Members of this House and two Members from the other place. Promoters and objectors, represented by counsel, appear before the Commissioners and lead evidence.
Following the hearing, the Commissioners recommend to the Secretary of State, in the form of a report, that the order should be issued or should be rejected or should be issued with modfications. In this case the Commissioners, after sitting for two days in May this year in Edinburgh and hearing the arguments of the parties, recommended that the 1372 order should be confirmed with slight modifications.
If the order is issued by the Secretary of State, as it has been in this case, it is then submitted to Parliament in the form of a Confirmation Bill, which is deemed to be a public Act. In doing that, the Secretary of State's role is more or less formal. I hope that is clear. That is regardless of the history of this project and the view taken by my predecessor about the planning application, which is the genesis of the Bill.
In theory, the Secretary of State could refuse to accept the recommendations of the Parliamentary Commissioners, but successive Secretaries of State have honoured the undertaking given during the passage of the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1933—consolidated in the 1936 Act—that the Secretary of State would treat such recommendations with the fullest respect and would not set them aside, save in exceptional circumstances.
Thus, in submitting to Parliament an order which has been the subject of an inquiry—as I am doing now—the Secretary of State is not to be taken as expressing a view on the merits of the order, but merely as enabling the appropriate parliamentary procedure to take place.
If on that basis the Bill is given a Second Reading, the wider questions posed by the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty may be dealt with. However, I hope that I have explained enough of the general background to help the House on that matter.
There is a second motion on the Order Paper about reference of the matter to a Joint Committee. It would have been convenient had I been able to explain that matter at this stage, but, as we are talking only about the first motion, not the second, it will probably be better for me to consider the Joint Committee motion a little later.
The Bill has been the subject of inquiry by colleagues in this House and in the other place. They have gone over the arguments and no doubt listened to a number of the arguments that have been deployed tonight. Having listened to those arguments, they have recommended the order for confirmation by means of a Bill. That is the purpose of the Bill before us.
1373 To sum up, the matters with which we are concerned tonight have been dealt with at considerable length at the public inquiry, by the Secretary of State and by the planning authorities. I understand that the planning authorities are not just in favour but are enthusiastically in favour of the proposal. I understand that it is also generally welcomed in the area and by the hon. Member concerned.
§ Mr. Buchan
My right hon. Friend has explained the narrowness of his locus in this matter in relation to the Bill. Could he indicate whether the wider aspects relating to the expectations and nature of the company will come across his desk or to this House for consideration at another time.
What the House and my hon. Friend must understand is that in making a decision about a planning application, the Secretary of State decides on the basis of matters that are relevant to the planning application. It is basically a planning decision. I am not saying that the status of a particular company applying for a planning decision is not relevant to the inquiry. In a case such as this, these matters are very considerably dealt with during the inquiry. If hon. Members wish to look further into this matter, I recommend them to read the very lengthy extensive report of the inquiry. I forget the number of volumes of evidence attached to it, but it is considerable.
I repeat that this was one of the most exhaustive inquiries that we have ever had in Scotland. The common public complaint for a very long time in Scotland—I make no comment on its validity at present—was that the whole process was taking an unconscionable amount of time and that it ought to be possible to reach these planning decisions much more rapidly. If this particular procedure tonight is delayed for any reason, it will add to that delay and must call into question the whole matter of how one handles planning applications of this importance, not only from a political point of view but from the point of view of economic significance. I hope that in deciding this narrow matter tonight, the House will have those wider considerations in mind.
1374 I was summing up by saying that the planning matters were exhaustively considered and that the order that is the subject of the Bill has already been dealt with through the scrutiny of Parliamentary commissioners, including Members of this House. It passed that test. It is on that basis and in accordance with precedent that I am presenting it to the House tonight.
§ 11.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
The Secretary of State has put the case very reasonably and moderately. He has emphasised the very limited nature of the Bill. However, to be fair to the House, I think that he rather laid emphasis on the intensive and lengthy nature of the public inquiry and failed to tell the House clearly what the conclusions of the reporter were with regard to the planning application. It would be only right for the House to be informed quite clearly that the reporter, very positively, recommended that the three applications submitted by the Ross and Cromarty County Council, for direction under Article 8, and so on, of the Town and Country Planning (General Development) (Scotland) Order, be not granted.
The arguments advanced by the reporter touch very much on many of the questions that have been raised in this debate. Perhaps I could revert to those shortly, because there are a number of general points I want to raise.
§ Mr. Millan
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps I ought to have made one further matter clear. The planning decision has been taken. Nothing that can be done on the Bill tonight will affect that in the slightest. The decision has been taken and these commitments are now entered into. This matter was settled on 1st March 1976.
§ Mr. Moate
The Secretary of State is right about the planning decision having been taken. However, it would be rather misleading to suggest that the proceedings on the Bill would have no effect whatsoever on the future development of a refinery. The reverse of that case has been put by a number of persons who are concerned that any further delay might jeopardise the project. I have great doubt on that point. If a project 1375 of this nature, with a £200 million investment, is viable, I do not believe that a few more weeks of parliamentary scrutiny could possibly jeopardise it.
I should like to touch on one or two other points raised by the reporter which are very relevant to the Bill. The reporter's report states:Their motive for taking that action"—the action compulsorily to acquire the title to this land—is to be questioned, bearing in mind that they have been offered a 99-year lease of that land should planning permission be granted for the development, the lifespan of which is almost certain to be less than that term.We are faced tonight with a Bill to confirm a compulsory purchase order on this land. Although we are not now dealing with the petition of Mr. Nightingale—it would have to be dealt with by a Joint Committee—his case is that it is unreasonable for this land to be compulsorily purchased from a British subject—land that has been in the hands of his family, but, more importantly, in the hands of his co-trustees, for centuries—and compulsorily transferred to a foreign company, and more than that, without there being any provision for control over what happens to that land if the oil refinery should not proceed. I would have thought that the Secretary of State should have answered my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) when he asked about the control of the future use of the land if the refinery does not proceed.
It is relevant to emphasise that I am taking up this case on behalf of Mr. Michael Nightingale whose land in Kent adjoins my constituency—indeed, crosses the boundaries of my constituency. Mr. Michael Nightingale is a man who, in all his dealings in Kent, has shown himself to be immensely concerned with environmental matters. He is trying to retain a leasehold control of this site because he is concerned with the integrity of the Cromarty estate and with the quality of life and the environment of the area. If by any chance the refinery does not proceed—and much of what we have heard tonight casts doubt upon whether it will proceed—I believe it only right that the title of that land should revert to the people from whom it was compulsorily acquired. This is relevant to the matter we are discussing.
1376 Much has been made of the phrase "absentee landlord". While I do not claim to know the intimate details of Mr. Nightingale's affairs, I feel it only right to point out that his family, on his wife's side, have been in that area for many centuries. I also believe that the family of the co-petitioner before the Commissioners—Colonel Ross—have owned the estate for centuries. It is equally true to say that it has not been a very profitable exercise for the landlord because Mr. Nightingale receives no income whatever from that estate at the present time.
Here we have a man who is concerned to maintain the quality of life in that area and who believes, I think rightly, that by retaining the freehold of the property he can help ensure that planning conditions are properly met. I believe that it is a genuine and sincere offer. I do not believe that there are any terms in the 99-year lease—either the rental proposed or the terms and conditions which it embodies—which could be considered unreasonable in any sense of the word. It is fair to remind the House again that the reporter was also of a like opinion. I believe that the previous county council also rejected the compulsory purchase order on those lines.
My initial concern was to ensure that Mr. Nightingale should have the rights available to every other Englishman or Britisher, if that word pleases the Scottish National Party. But as a British Member of Parliament I believe that we should ensure that every individual has all the rights that Parliament has provided for him. In this case my original concern was procedural. I felt it right that when the case was as doubtful as this one seemed to be, and when the man and his co-trustees had offered a 99-year lease, we should press for—
§ Mrs. Bain
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he accept that it is right that one individual should be able to block what has been an agreement between the Secretary of State for Scotland and the people involved in the local community? Does he accept that as democracy, because we certainly do not?
§ Mr. Moate
I do not accept the hon. Lady's description of the circumstances whatever. I only wish we knew exactly 1377 where the Scottish National Party stood on this matter.
I was about to say that I was rather anxious to secure a debate, but when I heard the antics of the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends earlier, which did not seem to contribute anything constructive to the discussion except continual giggling, I wondered whether my object in pressing a debate was as worthwhile as I had originally thought. It seemed to me right that there should be a Second Reading debate and that there should be a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider the matter, and the contributions from both sides of the House tonight have confirmed me in that view.
In the statement sent to all hon. Members by the Parliamentary Agents, Dyson Bell and Company, we are told that this is a rather unusual procedure. Parliament has provided these arrangements for individuals and it is wrong that pressure should be brought to bear on Members not to avail themselves of these rights.
I should like to challenge some parts of the statement by Dyson Bell, because I believe that they are not accurate. There are precedents for this type of action. Bills have been considered by the House in this way in addition to those mentioned. It is misleading to suggest that once a matter has been before the Parliamentary Commissioners, thereafter it is almost improper for the House to consider it further. The legislation has to go through both Houses of Parliament and to suggest that we must simply act as a rubber stamp is insulting. It is even more insulting to suggest that Parliament should simply endorse the actions of the Parliamentary Commissioners.
It has been implied by the Parliamentary Agents that it is an unusual procedure and it has been suggested by many hon. Members off the record that we should not delay matters by discussing the Bill in this way. The hon. Lady the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) thought it wrong that one individual Member should hold up the legislation. This is the way in which each Private Bill proceeds. Someone has to block it. I thought it right in this case for these matters to be aired in Parliament.
In my view the company should have entered into meaningful negotiations to establish an agreement based on the offer that was made to it, and that can still be done. It could still be done tomorrow if necessary, and so it cannot be argued that these proceedings must hold up the refinery. If the company had had the courtesy to approach me rather than hon. Members putting pressure on me, a procedure I very much resent, we might have had the answers to many of the issues that have been aired and taken up by the Press in the past few weeks.
§ Mr. Moate
No. I should have welcomed any approach from the company. I was expecting an approach from the company, and the absence of an approach puzzled me. Perhaps it was not the fault of the company. Perhaps it was the result of bad advice from the company's Parliamentary Agents. There might have been more constructive discussions if the company had put its case and explained some of its reasoning.
It seemed to me—and it still does—that a 99-year lease for an oil-related development was not an unreasonable proposition. There might be minor arguments of detail about environmental considerations, but as we are talking about a £200 million development and if the company is anxious to proceed, I do not believe that it would have allowed the project to be held up by such points.
I said that my concern was procedural. It is to ensure that Mr. Nightingale gets a fair hearing. Since this episode began, other matters have aroused my interest considerably and I think that the House ought to note some of the points that have been made in the Press.
Earlier there was a reference to the financial position of Cromarty Petroleum. I have been sent copies of the company's report and accounts for 1974. It 1379 is stated that in the opinion of the directors the ultimate holding company is the D. K. Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, which is incorporated in Liberia. The auditors, who presumably thought that factual, are Price Waterhouse. It now appears that the institute is not incorporated in Liberia. According to Mr. Narayn, as reported in The Guardian today, it is registered in Switzerland. It casts some doubt on the certainty of the intentions of the company when we are not even sure in which country it is registered.
§ Mr. Moate
I am sure that Mr. Ludwig has vast international interests. I hope that the money will be available and that he will invest it in this site if that is the will of the House. But one must be sure that this is the case. An international organisation, particularly one run by one man, can almost on a whim make a decision about a major investment, but it can also take the opposite decision later. If there is doubt about the likelihood of this development taking place, surely Mr. Nightingale is entitled to ask about the future of the land which is proposed to be compulsorily acquired for him.
I have been sent a further piece of information about Mr. Ludwig and his institute to which the Press has referred in great detail. Apparently, vast amounts of money go to the institute, but a letter from the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, which would, presumably, know about the Institute, says:Alas, despite enquiries, we have not been able to trace any information concerning the Ludwig Institute. Perhaps the Liberian Embassy ! may be able to help, or, alternatively, the British Embassy, Monrovia.This must cause doubt about the backers of the project. If permission is to be granted, let us hope that the money will be available, because it will mean jobs. Far be it for me to say what refining policy in this country should be. That is not within the scope of the debate and is far too massive a subject—though it is a matter which this House as a whole or a 1380 Joint Committee of both Houses could examine.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Member asserts that it is not for him to deal with oil refining policy in this country, but can one make a rational decision on a beautiful part of Easter Ross without considering it in the light of oil refining policy in this country?
§ Mr. Moate
That is a fair point. Perhaps I should have said that it was too big a subject to enter into tonight.
However, what is the role of this refinery in the late 1970s and early 1980s when we have a massive surplus of oil refining capacity, when most European refineries are running at 60 per cent. of capacity and are likely to continue doing so for the next decade?
We are not clear about the sources from which the refinery is to secure its supplies. One may say that this fact is not material and that if the investment comes, it will mean jobs, even though it is not working at full capacity. But any increase in oil refining capacity when there is a surplus must undermine investments and job opportunities elsewhere.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) has been passionately concerned about getting jobs for his constituents, and every hon. Member understands the dilemma of the continuous battle of jobs versus environmental matters. My hon. Friend is obviously concerned to maximise job opportunities in his constituency. He has demonstrated that repeatedly.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
As the Secretary of State who made the recommendation, may I ask the hon. Gentleman how many Questions he asked me about it and tell the House that not one Question was asked in the House thereafter?
§ Mr. William Ross
The hon. Gentleman is not talking about the procedural matter now. He is talking about matters relating to the inquiry following which I 1381 gave my decision. Following my decision, not a Question was asked by him or any other Member. It would have been relevant.
§ Mr. Moate
If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to make something out of that he can do so, but, as I have emphasised, my concern derives from a genuine attempt to provide parliamentary opportunity for Mr. Nightingale to put his case in the House. There were many other procedures between the granting of planning permission and the moment of bringing the Bill to the House. The Parliamentary Commissioners had the opportunity to comment, and many other hon. Members who are also expressing their concern presumably did not table parliamentary Questions on this point. When the right hon. Gentleman speaks, he may satisfy us all as to the reasons why he gave planning permission, in which case tonight's debate will have been fully justified.
§ Mr. William Ross
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that anything I said would not be relevant to the question of planning permission. We are dealing only with the question of the compulsory purchase of 47 acres.
§ Mr. Moate
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is wrong, because the reporter at the inquiry commented on nearly all the matters which have been raised tonight. Therefore, the question of the planning application itself is very relevant to the confirmation of the compulsory purchase order on the site.
The petitioners against the Bill are offering a 99-year lease. They do not seek to prevent a refinery from being constructed. If the company is anxious to proceed and is genuine in its desire to proceed, it can negotiate reasonable terms immediately. It is because I believe that to be a reasonable proposition that I think that the House should examine it further. I believe that it is an innately unreasonable proposition that compulsory purchase orders should be given by the House to a foreign corporation which has not satisfactorily proved its credentials to take over land that is British.
I hope that the House will allow time for further consideration of the matter 1382 so that these questions can be answered properly. That is the object of my tabling the blocking amendment. Unless we hear satisfactory answers tonight, we shall have to consider whether the matter should be sent to a Joint Committee.
§ 11.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Hamish Gray (Ross and Cromarty)
I would point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) that the greatest environmental hazard and the greatest pollution of all is men at work.
The case has been well made by my hon. Friends the Members for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) and Faversham. All hon. Members will acknowledge that they have spoken up on behalf of the constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone, as any of us would in similar circumstances. Unfortunately, there was little new in what they said.
I shall try to spell out why I do not intend to oppose the Bill—indeed, why I intend to support the Government. I have a dual role in that capacity, in that I speak as an Opposition Front Bench spokesman on energy and also as the Member for Ross and Cromarty, the constituency affected.
In order that my twin functions shall not be confused, let me clarify the position of the official Opposition. We shall not oppose this Bill tonight, but we should like to make one or two points in connection with it. In making those points, perhaps I can touch on some of the various matters that have been raised during the debate.
It is a great mistake to suggest that refining policy can be determined at this stage for a long period ahead. Future refining capacity must be very carefully considered. What is a surplus of refining capacity today could easily be a shortage of refining capacity in the 1980s. We have only to look at the situation of oil platform yards. A few years ago there was an outcry for an increase in the number of yards. Today we find ourselves with a surplus, and some of us have great worries about the future of those who have moved into our constituencies and the technology which has been amassed in various centres of Scotland about the future of those yards. It depends to a large extent on future oil discovered. Almost every month 1383 there is news of a new strike. The situation will depend to a great extent on world demand. At the moment, therefore, I believe that we should be very wary about making specific statements, such as the suggestion that we have an excess of refining capacity.
I move on to the question of the proposed refinery at Nigg Bay. It will be an independent refinery. This is something that is not common in the United Kingdom or, indeed, in Europe at the present time. I am not surprised to hear the major oil companies express the view that we have an excess of oil refining capacity and there is no need for more refineries at the moment, because the major oil companies control the capacity and it would not be natural for them to say other than that we should not have an independent refinery at the moment, for that would introduce an element of competition. While they control the refining capacity they are also in control of the independents.
Therefore, I believe that the whole aspect of our independent refinery is a good thing. I believe there is a strong case for encouraging competition. After all, surely we on the Opposition Benches believe in free enterprise. This is an element of free enterprise, and I would be surprised if my hon. Friends were to disagree about it too strongly.
Furthermore, the plant connected with the new refinery will be oriented towards petrochemical feedstock. It is declared Government policy that two-thirds of this shall be processed in the United Kingdom. I take issue with those who have suggested an excess of refining capacity, and I refer them to the statement made last week by the organisers of the Offshore Europe Exhibition 1977, which is to take place at Aberdeen. They estimate that £1,100 million of investment in petrochemical plants and refineries is likely to take place in Scotland by the early 1980's.
In an article in the Glasgow Herald, dated 29th July, this is confirmed. A staff reporter writes:Investment in petrochemical plants and refineries in Scotland is likely to total £1100 million by the early 1980s, it was forecast yesterday by the organisers of he Offshore Europe Exhibition 1977.We cannot put too much emphasis on the view that at present there is an excess 1384 of refining capacity. The oil scene and the requirements of the oil industry vary from year to year. It would be a brave man who would go so far as to make a conclusive prediction for the years ahead.
I reiterate what the Secretary of State said, namely, that the Ross and Cromarty refinery has been fully considered already by Parliamentary Commissioners. The question whether the company should be given the right to acquire the 47 acres in addition to the 800 acres already in its possession has been carefully considered. Two whole days were spent considering the objections of the landowner in that regard. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) was concerned about the whole matter and gave it a great deal of thought. I have since discussed the case with him and received his assurance that the Parliamentary Commissioners were convinced on that point.
So much for the views that I have expressed from the Opposition Front Bench. Although I shall not move physically, I shall now deal with the situation from the position of the Member who represents Ross and Cromarty. The Cromarty Petroleum Company has acquired the 800 acres on which to construct marine terminal facilities, a refinery and associated storage facilities, mostly underground. The scheme will cost approximately £150 million. Some questions were raised at great speed by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain), and I was not able to catch them all. There will be 1,500 jobs during the three years of construction of the refinery. When it is completed there will be approximately 450 permanent jobs. We must consider the spin-off that such a development is liable to create.
The refinery will deal not only with North Sea crude but with crude from the heavier end of the barrel. It will deal with crude from the Gulf as well. We are all aware that our own oil from the North Sea, on its own, requires mix, and the mix will come from the Gulf.
I move on to the question of the 47½ acres. The negotiations that have been carried on over nearly three years have been inconclusive. The landowner claims that he has offered a 99-year lease, while the company says that the conditions 1385 have never been set out and that such is the position of the landowner that there would simply not be any likelihood of the two sides reaching agreement.
I have been given a file of the correspondence that has taken place between the landowner and the various representatives of the company. The file is quite revealing. It starts on 11th December 1973, when Mr. Greene, of Macrobert, Son and Hutchison, solicitors of Glasgow, wrote to Mr. Nightingale. The second paragraph attracted my particular attention. It stated:Our clients have taken note of your enquiry on the subject of possible participation in the Company which will construct and operate the proposed development.That seems rather strange for someone who was basically so opposed to the whole concept of the development of a refinery.
On 11th January, in reply to that letter, Mr. Nightingale wrote:You have said nothing further about my possible wish to participate in any project that goes forward.Mr. Nightingale may well have wished to participate in such a company in order that—
§ Mr. Gray
The points that I have made are perfectly straightforward. My hon. Friends are at liberty to see any of the correspondence to which I have referred. Mr. Nightingale may well have wished to participate so that he might effectively control the development of the project, but nevertheless he was pre-prepared to participate, so he surely could not have been all that much against the project.
§ Mr. Moate
Is it not clear from the fact that the petitioner has offered a 99-year lease in good faith that he is not now opposing the refinery, even 1386 though he and many hundreds of others objected originally at the planning inquiry? My hon. Friend may be right in quoting correspondence of this nature, but are not these the sort of points that are normally examined in a Private Bill Committee?
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
Does my hon. Friend have the permission of the so-called solicitor or WS to reveal this correspondence—or the consent of the owner of the land? I share the view that it is questionable whether these letters should be quoted in the House.
§ Mr. Gray
I disagree with my hon. Friend.
I now move on to the question of the 47 acres, and the subject of the Parliamentary Commissioners. As I said, the inquiry took place on 3rd and 4th May and was devoted entirely to the objections of the proprietor. Probably no refinery or similar project has been the subject of such detailed and comprehensive planning conditions. In all, 51 were laid down by the Secretary of State in his decision letter of 1st March, and there were also the rulings of the local planning authority.
This project is wholly supported by the Highlands Regional Council and by the Cromarty Firth Port Authority.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Has the council or the authority gone into the finances of the company—the £150 million, or, as we understand, £200 million? If the hon. Member says that the council has satisfied itself on the point, or that he has satisfied himself, that will obviously weigh with the House.
§ Mr. Gray
I am grateful to the hon. Member; I am coming to that very point Like other hon. Members, if I am going to lend my support to something in the House, I want to make sure that what I am supporting is a viable proposition. I did just that. This afternoon I made exhaustive inquiries about the whole setup of the Cromarty Petroleum Company.
1387 I can tell the House that the Cromarty Petroleum Company is owned 100 per cent. by Universe Tankships, of Liberia, the main operating company under which Mr. Ludwig operates. In turn that company is owned by the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Switzerland, which also operates in London. In London it is controlled by a distinguished committee and is registered both as a charity and as a corporation in research. I have no further information than hon. Members about the operation of the company, but if the Ludwig organisation were to go to any American bank for a credit rating I can assure the House that it would have a rating financially as high as that of many of the major oil companies.
I have no doubt that this company is well able to finance the project. I am prepared to welcome an investment of between £150 million and £170 million in Ross and Cromarty, bearing in mind the jobs it will produce and the off-spin that will arise.
§ Mr. Buchan
Leaving aside the richness of Mr. Ludwig—I believe that he was Howard Hughes' last landlord—can the hon. Gentleman say how much Government money will be involved in supporting a project of this kind? Would it not be better to go the whole hog and make it a publicly-owned refinery?
§ Mr. Gray
I understand that Lord Kearton, the Chairman of the British National Oil Corporation, has indicated that he is not interested in BNOC taking over, but he already has an interest in BP and therefore has no need for further refining capacity. It is estimated that Government involvement will amount to between £30 million and £40 million.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
May we be told the names of some of the distinguished people who head this cancer trust?
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
Will the hon. Gentleman explain the function of the committee? Will it have executive control over the development of the refinery, and will it allocate profits to cancer research?
§ Mr. Gray
No. I shall not fall for that line of questioning again. The committee operates the cancer research aspect in this country.
I was curious about the interest expressed by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and, since he is keen on asking direct questions, I put to him—has he been lobbied by BP on this subject?
§ Mr. Dalyell
I thought it my duty to contact BP. I have close relationships with the company on many subjects. Yes, of course, I contacted BP.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
Can the hon. Member say anything about the interesting, tenuous links in the past between Dr. Jenkins and Grampian Chemicals?
§ Mr. Gray
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I had intended to deal with that matter. It had worried me, and I had an assurance that there was no connection whatever between the former Grampian Chemicals and the present company. I specifically asked whether Mr. Eoin Michie, formerly of Grampian Chemicals, had anything to do with this company, and I was given the assurance that he had nothing to do with it.
My view is perhaps coloured, because—
§ Mr. Gray
Nobody has tried to disguise this. The key figure in the Grampian Chemical Company previously was Mr. Michie. He was the figure in whom I was particularly interested. I should not have agreed to support the project unless I had been satisfied that those running it were of repute.
1389 I remember the Highlands when we had a great deal of unemployment, and when those who graduated or who wanted to improve their lot had to move South. I see a prosperity in the Highlands today which 10 years ago I should not have dreamt of. I see today streets in my constituency with new shop fronts where before shops lay empty. I see today in the constituency a place to which many people want to return—a complete reversal of the position a few years ago. I suggest to my hon. Friends the Members for Faversham and Maidstone, with all due respect, that if they try to delay the Bill they are putting all that at risk. It is important that the Bill is given its Second Reading and is allowed to proceed. My hon. Friends should think very carefully before trying to block the Bill any further.
Tonight's debate has been of advantage. It has cleared the air and has allowed everybody to participate. There has been no undue delay in the debate, but I hope that my hon. Friends will now allow the Bill to proceed.
§ 12.13 a.m.
§ Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
I had had no intention of intervening in the debate. My presence was merely because I was interested in the search for jobs for Scotland. About 20 years ago I spent several years trying to direct industry into Scotland. Most of the major projects then were American investments, not British.
As two other Kentish Members—my hon. Friends the Members for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) and Faversham (Mr. Moate) —have intervened, I feel that I may intervene as the Member for Sevenoaks, particularly as Dr. Jenkins apparently resides at Sevenoaks. I have never met him, but I have corresponded with him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) has hit the nail on the head. There has been the most exhaustive public inquiry into the project. It has been referred to Parliamentary Commissioners, who have approved it. Scotland needs new investment and development. Here is an opportunity.
The only point that has been raised in the whole debate is whether a company that has already acquired about 800 acres for development should be held up by a Mr. Nightingale, whom I have never met 1390 but who I am sure is an honourable man. I am glad that his Member has looked after his interests and put his case fairly tonight. The question is whether that man, with his 47 acres, can hold up this project when the bulk of the land has already been acquired.
My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone was entitled to argue that Mr. Nightingale had been very fair. My hon. Friend pointed out that Mr. Nightingale owned the land, did not wish to sell it, but was willing to let it go on a 99-year lease. I had some sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham, who said that if the project did not go ahead there might be a reason for including a clause to the effect that Mr. Nightingale could repurchase the land for the price he paid for it. However, the idea of a 99-year lease is ridiculous when one has in mind the fact that the project involves a £200 million development. If the project is set up, surely such a suggestion will mean that a pistol could be held at the head of the company. No business man would go ahead on the basis of such a suggestion.
§ Sir J. Rodgers
I cannot. I leave that to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland. I hope that the House will agree to give the Bill a Second Reading and will reject the second motion.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ 12.17 a.m.
§ Mr. Wells
I beg to move,That the Bill be referred to a Joint CommitteeWe have been over all the arguments and my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers), who represents the managing director of the other side, in a short intervention summed up what we and Mr. Nightingale's friends have been trying to put over, namely, that Mr. Nightingale should have some opportunity of redress. We do not care particularly what kind of redress, provided that he is afforded some opportunity to be considered if a refinery is not built.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I have listened to many debates in which it has been claimed by Labour Members that the Scottish Development Agency and the National Enterprise Board have as part of their function the duty of restoring to its original purpose land taken over for an industrial purpose and when they have referred to what happens when that purpose ceases to be relevant. I should like to have some commitment from the Government to the effect that if this land is not used, such restoration will be made without the need for compensation.
§ Mr. Wells
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for that intervention. If the high hopes of the project are dashed to the ground, every reasonable man will expect Mr. Nightingale to have some protection. I see a Joint Committee as the only way by which this can be done, but if the Secretary of State can offer some alternative procedural mechanism by which Mr. Nightingale can be protected, I shall be glad to withdraw the motion.
§ 12.20 a.m.
§ Mr. Millan
Perhaps I can help the House by explaining the position. There is power, under the 1936 Act, to refer the matter to a Joint Committee. This would, once again, involve the calling of witnesses, the employment of counsel, and a repetition of the arguments that have already been put before the Parliamentary Commissioners. The matter has already been gone into. The issues that the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) has raised were no doubt raised before the Parliamentary Commissioners. If they were not, there was no good reason why they were not.
The matters concerned have already been considered and we have now got the Bill before the House. As to whether it is desirable to refer the matter to a Joint Committee I can do no better than quote a former Lord Advocate, now Lord Wheatley, who said in a debate on a similar motion in 1950:'I think that, from the point of view of the procedure of the House, the House would be slow to give effect to any such Motion unless they were satisfied, prima facie, on the case presented that some large and important constitutional issue was raised, or that some material miscarriage of justice had been effected; and that they would not sanction the repetition of the previous procedure and a rehearsing of the case unless conditions such as I have indicated 1392 were satisfied."—[Official Report, 20th July 1950; Vol. 477, c. 2562.]It is for the House to make a decision on this matter but I am not aware that tonight there has been raised an important constitutional issue or the question of a material miscarriage of justice.
The last time—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) is intervening from a sedentary position, but not with any great relevance.
§ Mr. Cryer
I do not mind intervening from a vertical position. There is quite an important matter involved here. Here is an organisation which, so far as we are aware, bears not the slightest relationship to the usual company formation, but to which the Government are proposing to give support and encouragement in an important area. I have not yet heard any good reason why the company should be given this approval.
§ Mr. Millan
With respect, the Government have not done anything more than carry out the formal duty, which I hoped I had explained at considerable length, of bringing the Bill before the House. The House—not the Government—has given the Bill a Second Reading without dissent.
We are now concerned with the question whether we should import into this matter the delay which the establishment of a Joint Committee would involve. As I have said, if we were to do that we would, as far as I can see, be acting against what has been the normal procedure. I was going on to say that the last occasion when, following this procedure, there was a reference to a Joint Committee happened in the early years of the present century. On that occasion—there were special reasons—the Joint Committee reaffirmed the decision of the original Parliamentary Commissioners. On the question of precedent we would have to go a long way back before we could follow this recommendation tonight. As things stand, although this is a matter for the House to decide, I do not think that the case for reference to a Joint Committee has been made out.
§ 12.23 a.m.
§ Mr. Moate
I must confess, again, to having been disappointed with the response of the Secretary of State. I had hoped that he would reply constructively 1393 to the sensible suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers) that an extra duty should be imported into the Bill to ensure that there is proper control over the future of this land if by any chance this project should not proceed. The only way that that can be done, as I see it, is by having a Joint Committee to examine the matter.
The Secretary of State says that he does not think that a case has been made out. That is for the House to judge. I would have thought that enough matters of importance had been raised tonight to justify setting up a Joint Committee. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that the last time a Joint Committee was set up was many years ago. That does not mean that the House has not considered such propositions more recently. I do not have the reference but I believe that the House considered such an issue as recently as 1970. On that occasion, presumably the House decided not to refer it to a Joint Committee.
It is also suggested that we should be duplicating matters that had already been covered by the Parliamentary Commissioners. Far be it from me to delve too deeply into the complexities of Scottish private legislation procedures, but, as I understand it, the philosophy of having Parliamentary Commissioners is to provide for the convenience not of Parliament but of petitioners, so that they do not have to travel to London but can be heard in Edinburgh. It is a sensible procedure to ensure that compromises can be reached and matters settled without having to have recourse to Parliament. But if the petitioners wish to bring their case to Parliament, if they have not been satisfied by the proceedings before the Parliamentary Commissioner, they should have the right to take advantage of the procedures laid down
§ by Parliament for them to be heard once more.
§ I think that the case has been made out, and I hope that the House will decide to appoint a Joint Committee and to refer this matter to it so that it can be dealt with as speedily as possible. If it is dealt with speedily, I do not think that any arguments can be made about unnecessary delay, holding up the project or jeopardising a project which, in the end, must stand on its own feet. If it is a viable project, it will not be jeopardised by a few weeks' further delay.
§ I hope that the House will send this Bill to a Joint Committee for proper scrutiny.
§ 12.26 a.m.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I do not wish to speak for one side or the other, but it is important to Parliament that tonight we have considered a matter of immense moment for the development of an area in Scotland that will either promote employment or ruin the area. We have discussed whether the company in question is valid, but we have also demonstrated that the process by which such an important decision is taken is really invalid.
Parliament is now not really capable of making an important decision of so momentous a kind on a procedure of this nature. I think we should reconsider very carefully the procedure by which such an important decision is taken. Whether my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) or anyone else is right, we are taking a major decision on a whim of procedure. I think that that procedure is wrong and that we should have a better procedure in future.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 9, Noes 68.1395
|Division No. 308.]||AYES||[12.30 a.m.|
|Cryer, Bob||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Dalyell, Tam||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Moate, Roger||Mr. Marcus Kimball and|
|Kerr, Russell||Rooker, J. W.||Mr. John Wells.|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Cox, Thomas (Tooting)|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Buchanan, Richard||Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)|
|Bates, Alf||Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Crowder, F. P.|
|Beith, A. J.||Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiten)|
|Biffen, John||Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)|
|Dempsey, James||Jopling, Michael||Rowlands, Ted|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Kitson, Sir Timothy||Small, William|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Knox, David||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Durant, Tony||MacGregor, John||Snape, Peter|
|Eadie, Alex||MacKenzie, Gregor||Stallard, A. W.|
|English, Michael||Maclennan, Robert||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Mahon, Simon||Stott, Roger|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Tinn, James|
|George, Bruce||Millan, Bruce||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Oakes, Gordon||Welsh, Andrew|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Palmer, Arthur||White, James (Pollok)|
|Gray, Hamish||Parry, Robert||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Penhaligon, David||Woof, Robert|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Reid, George||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Hicks, Robert||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Hordern, Peter||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hunter, Adam||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Mr. Russell Fairgrieve and|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)||Mr. Ian Campbell.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Bill to be considered this day.