HC Deb 16 December 1985 vol 89 cc72-106

Order for Second Reading read.

7 pm

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

I suggest that the motion to refer the Bill to a Joint Committee of both Houses should be debated with the motion for Second Reading.

Mr. McQuarrie

I place on record at the outset the fact that this is the first opportunity that I or any hon. Member has had to discuss the Bill. It has been said by the Scottish National party in my constituency that the Bill could have been discussed or promoted earlier. To set the record straight, I should make it clear that it has not been possible to discuss the Bill in the House until this evening. I accept that the SNP in my constituency and its prospective parliamentary candidate have shown an ignorance of parliamentary procedure in suggesting otherwise.

If the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes)—later supported by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson)—had not tabled a blocking motion on 10 July this year, the order would have been passed a long time ago. The hon. Member for Dundee, East, who is not in his place, despite his opposition to the Bill, has told his party in my constituency that he supported the trustees' proposals, but his action on 29 October clearly proved that his support was certainly not for this scheme or for the Peterhead harbour trustees. It is an example of the double standards to which we have become accustomed from the SNP in Scotland. It says one thing in my constituency and the opposite in other places. I do not blame the hon. Member for Dundee, East if he wishes to support the harbour board in his constituency, but he should not mislead my constituents who wish to see the scheme approved and welcome the progress that the Peterhead harbour board has made.

This is a Bill to confirm a provisional order made by the Secretary of State under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936, after a local inquiry by commissioners, in pursuance of the Act. The order is promoted by the harbour trustees of Peterhead who are charged by statute with managing the fishing harbours at Peterhead in my constituency.

The inquiry into the provisions of the draft order was held in Peterhead from 1 to 15 May 1985 on 11 sitting days, before commissioners appointed by the Secretary of State under section 3 of the 1936 Act. The commissioners were Lord Hughes, as chairman, the Earl of Balfour, Lady Sempill and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown). The commissioners heard full and lengthy arguments for and against the order and found unanimously in favour of the scheme. The procedure at the inquiry was regular, according to law and parliamentary procedure and practice. The order, as modified in accordance with the the commissioners' recommendations, forms the schedule to the Bill.

The object of the order is to authorise harbour works which will calm the water in the existing harbours and provide additional berthing spaces for the fishing vessels. The fishing harbours at Peterhead have become the pre-eminent port in Europe for landings of white fish. I should like to illustrate the increase in trade. The number of boxes landed at Peterhead increased from 300,000 in 1970 to 2,109,000 in the year up to March 1985. In addition, Peterhead has become an important port for the export of grain and other bulk cargoes and serves its own hinterland of grain producers in the north-east of Scotland.

Unfortunately, though acceptably, the increase in trade at Peterhead harbour has led to severe congestion in the fishing vessels' area in the harbour. At weekends particularly, vessels frequently have to berth six or seven deep from the quay wall, which makes the servicing of vessels difficult and inefficient and causes a safety hazard. The harbours are too often crowded and many vessels that use Peterhead as their home port have to be turned away.

Another problem is that steel-hulled boats have to berth alongside wooden-hulled boats, which causes considerable damage to the fishing vessels. The problem is even greater because of the excessive wave motion in the existing harbour which provides inadequate shelter for fishing vessels. The trustees have had to take that fact into consideration in putting forward their proposals.

Another important factor is that the Peterhead harbour trustees do not conduct any oil-related business in the port. That has been made clear in order to allay the fears of companies and other harbour authorities which are involved in that industry and feel that there is a threat to their business. It must be said that the trustees at Peterhead also have no intention of engaging in that business when the development has been completed.

The additional berthing space is required primarily for fishing vessels and general cargo boats. The oil supply boats are served either in the adjacent Bay of Refuge, which is not under the management of the Peterhead harbour trustees, or at the harbour in Aberdeen where the oil-berthing capacity is far greater and the facilities more suitable. Therefore, it cannot be said that the scheme proposed by the Peterhead harbour trustees will result in a loss of business for Aberdeen where the oil work is being carried out.

The draft order, together with the plans and sections of the proposals, were deposited at the Scottish Office and elsewhere, pursuant to the 1936 Act, in March 1984. Ten petitions were lodged against the draft order, but three were withdrawn before the public inquiry. The remaining seven can be grouped according to the nature of their objections.

The first group could be the Peterhead bay authority, which is responsible for the management of the adjacent harbour—the Peterhead Bay of Refuge—and the north of Scotland hydro-electric board, which have both complained that the proposed works would have a detrimental effect on the safe manoeuvring of tankers in the Bay of Refuge. The commissioners, in submitting their report to the Secretary of State for Scotland, said: We consider that the proposed harbour extension would bring considerable benefit to the operation of the existing fishing harbour and would not prejudice the operation of the Peterhead bay harbour, and in particular the manoeuvring of tankers in the bay, especially if there is a reversion to the size of tanker which, with one exception, was used prior to the end of the coal strike. The commissioners add, in relation to the report from the Department of Transport and the statement to the inquiry by Captain Fellingham: In any event, we heard a considerable amount of technical evidence addressed by both the promoters and the objectors. We were much more impressed by the evidence of the promoters and we had no hesitation in accepting it. The second group of objectors comprised the Aberdeen harbour board, the Aberdeen Stevedoring Company, the Dundee port authority and the Forth ports authority, which appeared jointly before the inquiry to complain that the works were unnecessary and would remove trade from their ports. The commissioners said: We are further of the view that the ports of Aberdeen, Dundee and the Forth ports harbour authority as to what is proposed at Peterhead has limited foundation, but to allay some of the fears we propose to delete from the order lines 29 to 32 on page 4 which would have permitted the construction of the roll-on, roll-off facility. We would add that it is no part of our function to amend the dock labour scheme, and we cannot stultify beneficial development at non-dock labour scheme ports on the grounds that it might provide unfair competition to harbours which are within the scheme. The final group of objectors comprised Mr. Thomas Chalmers and 17 others, residents of homes in Peterhead adjacent to the proposed works, who complained that the work would be detrimental to amenity and their houses. In the report to the Secretary of State the commissioners stated: We have paid considerable attention to the objections of those living in the near vicinity of the proposed works but consider that any loss of amenity to them is insufficient ground for preventing the proposed development from going ahead. We propose however to impose conditions to minimise the loss of amenity by restricting the height of the wall on the proposed new south breakwater to 6.2 metres above the ordnance datum: by restricting the height of any buildings on the proposed north quay to the level of the existing retaining wall: by restricting the hours during which blasting and drilling operations can be conducted to the period between 8 am and 6 pm or half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset whichever period is the shorter: and by prohibiting such work during Saturdays and Sundays: by imposing measures for the control of noise and the restriction of vibration caused by blasting and drilling operations as offered by the promoters: and by providing for comoensation for any physical damage caused by such operations under the Land Compensation (Scotland) Act 1973". Although the commissioners ruled in this manner, I felt that I had an obligation to my constituents to pursue the matter, as I was aware that they were not wholly satisfied with the result of the inquiry.

I had a meeting with Mr. Stanley Anderson, the consulting engineer concerned with the Peterhead harbour trustees' proposals, to secure information on the other matters raised by those objectors. On being questioned about the grain operations, Mr. Anderson informed me that they had been occurring at Peterhead for more than 10 years—a matter of which I was aware and which I accepted as being true. He told me that the trustees had guaranteed that they would ensure the use of the most modern methods and equipment for loading grain on to the boats. He added that, in the early stages of the development, the grain would be loaded on to the new south quay, which would remove the boats from such close proximity to the houses. Mr. Anderson pointed out also that the companies that acted as stevedores are private contractors and that, in the interests of the objectors, the trustees would lay down instructions on the method of loading the grain to minimise any inconvenience to them.

In paragraph 4 of the petition, the objectors expressed concern at the possible increase in vehicular traffic during and after the development period. Although I accepted that there was bound to be an increase during the construction period, I believed that the limitations and restrictions placed by the commissioners in their report would reduce that traffic. As for traffic after the development, I established that the trustees' proposals for a readjustment of the traffic system, which would have to be approved by the Grampian regional council, would result in considerably less traffic using Lodge walk and Harbour street than at present. Grampian regional council, which had originally petitioned against the order but later withdrew its objection, in its petition, said: Your petitioners in general support the proposals by the trustees and do not object to them as such". In paragraph 6 of the petition the same group of objectors expressed worry that, in the area of the seaward site of Harbour street and Lodge walk and adjacent to the lifeboat station, buildings and other structures would be erected which would restrict their present view of the sea.

I was satisfied that the restrictions placed by the commissioners would provide safeguards, but, in addition, Mr. Anderson guaranteed that the trustees had undertaken that no structures would be erected above the existing parapet level. It was pointed out also that any proposals for quayside structures would have to be approved by the planning committee of the Banff and Buchan district council and that full opportunities would be afforded at all stages for the residents to make representations if they thought it necessary.

The final part of the petition of these objectors is concerned with the loss of amenity ground on the seaward side of Harbour street and Lodge walk which was of benefit to the residents of Peterhead and the objectors. The petition showed that the ground was owned by Banff and Buchan district council. I am advised that that amenity area, with the seats, will be retained in an acceptable form. That undertaking has been given by the Peterhead harbour trustees. Banff and Buchan district council raised no objections to the trustees' proposals. I understand that the local authority approved them. Given those assurances and the further protection that will be available to my constituents, I am certain that any future representations that they make will be sincerely considered by the Peterhead harbour trustees.

All those petitions were carefully considered by the Parliamentary Commissioners before the report submitted to the Secretary of State for Scotland. In the normal course of events, the Bill would have been presented to Parliament and passed all stages without trouble. That was not to be, as the Aberdeen harbour board presented a petition praying that the confirming Bill be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. It is interesting to place on record that, of all the objectors who had been heard at the public inquiry, only the Aberdeen harbour board could not accept the commissioners' findings. Even the Dundee port authority had no further petition, despite the fact that the hon. Member for Dundee, East, in his usual arrogant manner, had chosen to oppose the Bill on his own account. No member of the Dundee harbour board appeared in person before the public inquiry.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his description of my signature to a motion to the House of Commons as "arrogant". Is he aware that I signed the motion in direct response to a request by the chief executive of my port authority?

Mr. McQuarrie

That may well be, but the hon. Member for Dundee, East was not in his place when I discussed earlier the fact that he had assured the constituency and the parliamentary candidate in Banff and Buchan that he was supporting the Peterhead harbour trustees. I refer the hon. Gentleman to a copy of the Buchan Observer in which the parliamentary candidate clearly stated that he had approached the hon. Member for Dundee, East who had given him an assurance that he would support the Peterhead harbour trustees' proposal.

Mr. Wilson

That is wrong.

Mr. McQuarrie

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for confirming that the information conveyed in the Buchan Observer by the prospective parliamentary candidate for Banff and Buchan is wrong.

It is an insult to the commissioners for the Aberdeen harbour board to pursue this matter further after the most careful consideration of its pleadings at the inquiry. Having read Mr. John Russell Turner's evidence to the inquiry, which is in pages 992 to 1138 of the proceedings, I can see the reason for the persistence. Mr. Turner is the general manager of the Aberdeen harbour board. During his evidence it was perfectly clear that he was adopting a dictatorial and evasive attitude to the Parliamentary Commissioners. It was the old story—"Whatever I say is right and whatever you say is wrong." One has only to read the evidence to gain a clear impression that Mr. Turner was determined, by any action he could take, to prevent the Peterhead trustees from successfully promoting the Bill.

Having carried out considerable research into the money that has been spent at Aberdeen harbour over the years, and the authority for carrying out that work, I asked myself: how has the Aberdeen harbour board the effrontery to petition against the Peterhead Harbours (South Bay Development) Order Confirmation Bill when it has carried out over many years a works programme without asking for parliamentary approval? Should not the Aberdeen harbour board have been subjected to the same parliamentary scrutiny as the Peterhead harbour trustees?

Mr. Gerald Malone (Aberdeen, South)

An important point must be clarified. The Aberdeen harbour board has spent considerable sums. It has invested to improve existing port facilities, not to carry out enormous expansion such as is proposed by the Bill. That is the distinction. I am sure that my hon. Friend does not want to be unfair. I think it is best that he should know that that was the purpose of the expenditure.

Mr. McQuarrie

I am grateful to my hon,. Friend for making that point, but he must accept that, in the past few years, the work in Aberdeen has been carried out with sole purpose of extending the harbour facilities—[Interruption.]— and carrying out new works. The Aberdeen harbour board has spent money on tidal works and improvements in the harbour area.

Harbour boards generally have the power to dredge the harbour and carry out maintenance and improvement work. However, the power is usually confined to the lands belonging to the harbour board. If a board wishes to carry out tidal work, it requires parliamentary authority because the seabed belongs to the Crown and the harbour work extending into tidal waters interferes with the rights of navigation.

It appears that the Aberdeen harbour board relies for its powers on the provisions of the Aberdeen Harbour Confirmation Act 1960. It may be relying on section 69 of that Act, which confers power on the board on or in relation to any lands for the time being vested in them or in relation to any other property belonging to them leased, let, hired or loaned to the Board. Notwithstanding the wide wording of section 69(1)(a) of the Act, it says that the powers apply only to the land and may not be exercised in tidal waters. It seems that any tidal work and development in the Aberdeen harbour before and during Mr. Turner's tenure as general manager may have been carried out unlawfully and should have been investigated by the Secretary of State.

I shall deal with some of the matters raised in the new petition of the Aberdeen harbour board after the public inquiry. It repeats what was said in the earlier petition and at the inquiry. In paragraph 4, the Aberdeen harbour board admits that the commissioners have found in favour of the order. Why can it not accept the report by the appointed parliamentary body, which gave it a full hearing? If the Aberdeen harbour board suggests that the order is wrong in principle, Mr. Turner's evidence did not prove that. On the contrary, he made a case for it, as can be seen from his cross-examination by counsel and the commissioners.

The theme of the new petition is based on many statements that are not new, and I shall deal with some of them. First, there is a complaint about the non-existence of the national dock labour scheme, which the Aberdeen harbour board said would give Peterhead an unfair advantage over Aberdeen. The national dock labour scheme has been in existence since 1942, and this is the first time that Aberdeen has suggested that it is adversely affected.

It became clear from Mr. Turner's evidence to the inquiry that he wanted to be rid of the scheme in Aberdeen because it was killing the fishing trade in that harbour. Some 67,000 boxes of fish are landed each day—Monday to Saturday—at Peterhead compared with 3,400 boxes at Aberdeen. That includes 428 boxes that have been consigned from other ports in Scotland. As the Peterhead order is mainly for the fishing vessels, there should be no need to prove the case further.

In addition, it was clear from Mr. Turner's evidence that fishing is responsible for only 10 per cent. of the revenue at Aberdeen harbour. That must be a serious loss-making operation, and it proves the evidence brought out during the public inquiry that the fishermen are voting with their feet and staying away from Aberdeen.[Interruption.] The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) seems to think that he is in the Chamber for a laugh. He never comes in for a serious debate. It would serve him better in his position in the shadow Cabinet if he listened to what is said by hon. Members.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)


Mr. McQuarrie

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman.

It will be most interesting to know how much of the total loss at Aberdeen is accounted for by the loss-making fishing trade. Mr. Turner was unable to give that information when he was pressed by the chairman of the commissioners, who suggested that he was trying to steal the fishing vessels away from Peterhead.

Paragraph 7 of the new petition submits that at Aberdeen harbour and elsewhere in Scotland more than sufficient harbour facilities already exist, which are better located and well suited to meet the requirements of the type of shipping that could be expected to make use of the facilities that could be afforded by the proposed work. The simple question is: where and how suitable are they? My constituency covers the largest fishing area in the United Kingdom. There are nice harbours at Portsoy, Whitehills, Banff, Macduff, Gardenstown and Fraserburgh. Fraserburgh did not oppose the confirmation order although it would have had most to lose from it. All those harbours are efficient and busy. Fraserburgh commissioners have just promoted two parliamentary orders in the House for increased fishing and grain facilities.

None of those harbours could cope with the trade that is carried out at Peterhead and none has the same difficulties as Peterhead in accommodating the fishing vessels that use the harbours. Mr. Turner in his evidence stated that half a million tonnes of traffic would be at risk if the Peterhead order is approved. That is the total traffic passing through Aberdeen, and it is farcical to make such a suggestion. In cross-examination, Mr. Turner accepted that that was all guesswork, scaremongering and had no foundation—[Interruption.] Look at the record.

If, as Aberdeen's petition states, there are adequate facilities there and in other ports, why did Mr. Turner tell the inquiry that the board has plans for further extensions costing millions of pounds over the next 10 years? Is that just another reason for his opposition to the Peterhead proposals, with the Big Brother attitude—"Don't do as I do, do as I tell you"?

On the matter of the grain trade, I shall confine myself to the latest figures from J R Crabtree, which are an update on the Entwhistle report that was referred to at the public inquiry. Between August and March 1984–85, Peterhead handled 143,079 tonnes compared with Aberdeen's 9,089 tonnes. In April, Peterhead had 7,687 tonnes and Aberdeen had nil. In May, Peterhead had 3,146 tonnes and Aberdeen had 5,889. In June, Peterhead had 553 tonnes, Aberdeen nil. That brought the total for the period to 154,565 tonnes for Peterhead and 14,978 tonnes for Aberdeen. In the current period, covering August, September and October 1985, Peterhead and Aberdeen had no grain traffic in August. In September, Peterhead had 14,042 tonnes, Aberdeen nil. In October, Peterhead had 31,395 tonnes, Aberdeen nil. For those three months, Peterhead had 45,437 tonnes of barley exports, Aberdeen nil.

It is interesting to compare other ports which, according to the Aberdeen harbour board, handle barley exports. In the same period for the 1985–86 totals, Montrose handled 20,570 tonnes, Dundee 9,738 tonnes and Leith 18,467 tonnes. Therefore, it is clear that neither Aberdeen nor any other Scottish port can match Peterhead for the handling of barley for export. That fully justifies the Bill.

Oil-related works were also mentioned in the new petition. Much discussion took place at the public inquiry about what Peterhead might do in the future which could affect Aberdeen. Mr. Turner was not prepared to say that Peterhead had no intention of taking on any oil-related work. That was made clear by Mr. Tom Buchan, the chairman of the Peterhead trustees, in his evidence to the inquiry. In his evidence Mr. Buchan said: Well, as far as the trustees are concerned there is a gentleman's agreement, an operating agreement between the two bodies that we don't touch oil vessels—we have had many approaches over the years from various companies to use the fishing port as an oil base and that has been refused, and I see no reason why the Peterhead harbour trustees should change their mind in the future. If that was not a good enough undertaking for Mr. Turner and the Aberdeen harbour board, apparently nothing will satisfy them in their efforts to thwart the passing of the Bill.

I refer to Aberdeen harbour board's plan for a Peterhead harbour extension, which it said would be acceptable. I have with me some drawings, which I now exhibit to the House. I was unable to bring the whole bundle to the House because it is more than 3 ft in length. Those drawings were presented by the Peterhead harbour trustees to the public inquiry. They were accepted by the commissioners, who reported back to the Secretary of State for Scotland.

The drawings were compiled by the trustees' consulting engineers. I am sure that the House will agree that it does not require an experienced person to see that they involved a great deal of time and money. As I said, those drawings were considered and approved by the commissioners at the public inquiry.

I also have a cutting from The Press and Journal, a daily newspaper that is circulated widely in Scotland, especially in the Grampian region. It is dated 25 October and headed, "Harbour plan unveiled." It is a report from Mr. Bob Kennedy, the fishing editor. The article states that the Aberdeen harbour board unveiled plans for an alternative scheme to that proposed by the Peterhead harbour trustees. The drawing illustrated in the article is all that has been issued. No technical details have been set out, nor were prior consultations held with the Peterhead harbour trustees. Mr. Tom Buchan is quoted in the article as saying: It is a bit like me having a garage plan turned down by the planning authority and then my neighbour presenting me with his own ideas. Mr. Turner, general manager of the Aberdeen harbour board, suggests that it was endeavouring to help, not hinder; but in the article he goes on to admit that ideally Aberdeen harbour board would not want a new development at Peterhead and that it had used considerable expertise to prepare the alternative plan. As none of the harbour trustees at Peterhead has seen the scheme, other than in The Press and Journal article, let us look at how expert it is.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Has not the hon. Gentleman put his finger on the problem? At the initial inquiry, and since then, despite determined efforts by Aberdeen harbour board, the Peterhead trustees have never been allowed to see the alternative scheme. I have evidence from the Peterhead trustees' parliamentary agents that no agreement could be reached. Would it not be better if the trustees looked seriously at the scheme instead of dismissing it in a cavalier way, as the hon. Gentleman seems to be doing?

Mr. McQuarrie

I cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I have checked thoroughly. The Peterhead harbour trustees were not advised of the scheme until they saw it in The Press and Journal on 25 October. There has been no discussion on the matter.

Mr. Malone

This is an important point. If I am called, I shall make the point that Aberdeen harbour board has been keen to compromise. I do not want my hon. Friend to be wrong on a matter of fact. The question was put by the general manager of Aberdeen harbour board to Mr. McCrae, the clerk to the Peterhead harbour trustees, at the meeting in London with the two sets of parliamentary agents, and it was dismissed out of hand at that stage. That was in October or the early part of November.

Mr. McQuarrie

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information. However, my information is that no discussions have taken place between Aberdeen harbour board and Peterhead harbour trustees. They are the people who are affected.

Aberdeen harbour board unveiled a plan, and the newspaper article was presented to Mr. Stanley Anderson, the consulting engineer to the Peterhead harbour trustees, as the trustees were willing to look at it, although the information was scanty.

After those investigations, the following points must be made. First, it was proven during the public inquiry, after careful consideration, that the Peterhead trustees' scheme would not interfere with tanker manoeuvrability in the Bay of Refuge. That was accepted by the commissioners.

Secondly, the width of the structure proposed by Aberdeen is such that the storm waves will be reflected straight back into the Bay of Refuge, reaching a possible height of 20 to 30 ft, which would render navigation by fishing and commercial vessels hazardous.

Thirdly, the alternative plan for width would be too narrow to be anything other than a vertically faced structure. It would act as a mirror reflecting the full energy of the waves back into the Bay of Refuge, again causing severe problems for the fishing and commercial vessels.

Fourthly, the Peterhead trustees' proposals took full account of those dangers, as can be seen from their scheme, where the proposed jetty is much wider and has a curved end to prevent unacceptable wave motion within the new harbour and render the existing south harbour free of any wave motion. The Aberdeen harbour board proposals do neither. They are defective in that the wave motion would be considerably worsened in the existing south harbour. That factor was established after extensive tests carried out by Mr. Anderson, the consulting engineer, on various shapes and forms of harbour layouts at the hydraulic research station at Wallingford.

Fifthly, it is obvious that no real thought, never mind the considerable expertise claimed by Mr. Turner, has gone into providing an alternative proposal to that of Peterhead. Nobody in his senses, having spent £250,000, as the Peterhead trustees have done, in the preparation of drawings, models, site investigation, design, hydraulic testing and many other operations, would consider a 3 in by 3 in illustration in a daily newspaper a suitable alternative to that produced by the Peterhead trustees.

For those reasons, it is right that the ridiculous alternative proposals should be rejected by the Peterhead harbour trustees. Even Mr. Turner is quoted in the article as conceding that they had already been dismissed as not being cost-effective by the clerk to the Peterhead harbour trustees, Mr. Colin McCrae.

Paragraph 12 of the new petition seeks to have the Bill referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. In parliamentary discussions arising out of motions to refer confirmation Bills to a Joint Committee, it has been established that such a course should be followed only where a good prima facie case has been made that there have been grave errors in procedure or a serious miscarriage of justice before the commissioners, or that new or material facts have emerged. Since the present procedure was introduced, on the passing of the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1899, only twice has such a motion been successful—in the Leith Corporation Tramways Order Confirmation Act 1904 and the exceptional Lothian Region (Edinburgh Western Relief Road) Bill this Session.

In the Leith case, the commissioners had denied an objector a locus standi and it appeared that there was a denial of justice. As is well known, the Edinburgh case has not yet been considered by the Joint Committee. Peterhead harbour trustees, the promoters of the Bill, do not think that there is any legitimate reason for referring the Bill to a Joint Committee. The new petition of the Aberdeen harbour board merely raises matters that have already been argued or could have been argued before the commissioners at the public inquiry.

Due to the pressure of time, I have been able to deal only in part with the necessity of giving a Second Reading to the Bill tonight. At present, unemployment in Aberdeen is only 5.6 per cent., compared with 13.9 per cent. in Peterhead. The development will create many jobs during the construction period and some permanent jobs on completion. It will mean a safer harbour for the fishermen, who require our support, when one considers the dangerous calling that they follow.

For that reason, and for others that I have mentioned, I ask my hon. Friends and Opposition Members to support Second Reading of the Bill and to reject the petition by Aberdeen harbour board to refer the Bill to a Joint Committee of both Houses.

7.40 pm
Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

My intervention in the debate will not be brief, although it had been my intention to be brief. I gained the impression from the speech of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) that the hon. Gentleman thought that this matter should be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses. However, as the hon. Gentleman said that he had no intention of agreeing to such a proposition, the Opposition obviously have a duty to persuade the hon. Gentleman that even at this late hour and as the debate continues within its time limit, he ought seriously to reconsider his position on that point.

It is right that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan should argue his case on behalf of the Peterhead authority. I was tempted to say on behalf of his constituency, but from the evidence and the correspondence that hon. Members have received, I think that the hon. Member would concede that there is some controversy in his constituency about the proposed development. The argument between the Peterhead harbour authority and Aberdeen harbour authority has far wider repercussions than the harbour at Peterhead and the port at Aberdeen.

Mr. McQuarrie

The hon. Gentleman has said that there are considerable problems in my constituency. Will he elaborate upon those constituency problems?

Mr. Ewing

The hon. Gentleman should not put words into my mouth. I did not say that there were considerable problems in his constituency. When he reads Hansard tomorrow he will see that I understand from correspondence that I have received that there is some controversy in his constituency about the development. I did not say that there were considerable problems.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan referred to the controversy that surrounds the proposal to develop Peterhead harbour in an area which the harbour authority does not own. The area is owned by the Peterhead bay authority. The matter of ownership is one of the major differences between the developments that have taken place over the years at Aberdeen and the proposed development at Peterhead. The developments at Aberdeen have taken place in an area that is owned by the authority carrying out that development whereas the Peterhead trustees do not own the land where the proposed development will take place.

I honour and respect the fact that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan is entitled to argue on behalf of the proposition for the Peterhead authority. I was interested in the points that he made in seeking to reassure the householders in the proposed development area about the skyline of the buildings to be constructed if the developments and the proposed road network went ahead.

The hon. Gentleman said that the road network would have to be approved by Grampian regional council and the planning consents affecting the skyline and other matters would have to be approved by Banff and Buchan district council. The hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that that would be an automatic fait accompli; if the residents accepted the development, the planning authorities would take care of the residents' interests in planning considerations.

After 15 years in the House of Commons dealing with such matters both on a constituency and a national level, it has been my experience that it is pointless to put too much faith in the outcome of a planning application. I would not want to put a great deal of emphasis or stress on such an assurance because no planning authority would give any assurances before a planning application was submitted. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan does not have grounds to pursue that point on that basis.

On a lighter note, it was interesting to hear the hon. Gentleman refer to Mr. Tom Buchan. The hon. Gentleman said that the Aberdeen harbour authority's approach to the matter was like Mr. Buchan having an application for a garage rejected by the planning authority and his neighbour then suggesting an alternative proposal. I have news for the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan. I do not know what happens in his part of the world, but in Falkirk, East that is a regular feature of garage construction. The two neighbours get together and arrange a compromise. That is what we are trying to do today.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan skated over the very important point of Peterhead harbour's record on the export of grain. I was tempted to intervene and ask the hon. Gentleman why, if Peterhead harbour is operating so well and efficiently at present, it should want to spend £13.2 million. That was the estimated cost in March 1984 but obviously that will have risen since then, as one can see the final costs of civil engineering jobs over the years outstrip estimated planning costs. I do not understand why the Peterhead planning authority wants to spend that sum if, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan claims, it is operating exceptionally well.

The only reason for the authority wishing to spend that money is that it wants to attract more traffic from other ports. I know that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan will say that the harbour authority wants to spend that money to provide a safer refuge for the fishermen who steam into Peterhead harbour. I am in favour of making the sea and the refuge as safe as possible for the fishermen, but I cannot accept that the development is solely for the safe passage of the fishermen who use the harbour. I suspect that in his heart of hearts the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan knows that.

Mr. McQuarrie

I did not say that the development was intended solely for the fishermen. I said that it was primarily for the fishermen. The hon. Gentleman, who has had ministerial experience, must accept that the vessels in the harbour line up six, seven or eight deep and that there is a serious risk of overcrowding in the harbour. That risk justifies the harbour commissioners in asking for an extension primarily for the fishermen and to make the harbour safe. I do not dispute the fact that the proposal would make the harbour safe. The prime purpose of the Bill is to assist the fishing vessels and to make the harbour safe.

Mr. Ewing

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but I suspect that the alternative proposal by the Aberdeen harbour authority would make the harbour safe primarily for fishermen, as the hon. Gentleman says. There is another element involved, and that is that the development would attract additional traffic. The authority is seeking to increase the facilities of the harbour to allow vessels up to 10,000 tonnes into the harbour. It is clearly essential to attract additional traffic to obtain a return on a proposed investment of £13.2 million.

Mr. Malone

If the proposal was intended to benefit fishermen in the first instance, it seems odd that the proposals put before the commission included a roll-on/ roll-off facility. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) has said that the fishermen are voting with their feet, but I do not think that even that novel concept requires a roll-on/roll-off facility.

Mr. Ewing

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Whether the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan and the Peterhead authority like it or not, there is grave discontent about the way in which the commission conducted the inquiry. It cannot be right for one party to be able to take the commission on a tour of the area and to submit its evidence without cross-examination.

Mr. McQuarrie

That is not true.

Mr. Ewing

It is clearly recorded in the documents that the Peterhead harbour authority was never cross-examined. The chairman, Lord Hughes, allowed no cross-examination of the authority itself as distinct from its witnesses.

Mr. McQuarrie

Mr. Tom Buchan, chairman of the harbour trustees, was questioned and cross-examined. His evidence is contained in papers 15 to 80 of the record. The words "T. S. Buchan cross-examined" are there for all to see. Mr. Buchan gave evidence and was examined by Mr. Osborne and cross-examined by other parties including the chairman. I quote just one example: "The Chairman: If all the parties produce documents, if you finish up with 10 the Objectors will start with No. 11. That is just one of the chairman's comments to Mr. Buchan in cross-examination. The hon. Gentleman should get the facts right.

Mr. Ewing

The cross-examination of witnesses is the function not of the chairman but of those representing the objectors. One of the unsatisfactory features of the inquiry was the attitude of the chairman—I say this in the friendliest possible way to my old friend Lord Hughes—to those seeking to object to the proposition. I leave it at that, but the deep dissatisfaction and discontent that it has caused is just one of the reasons why the matter should be submitted to a joint Committee of both Houses.

It would be wrong for the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan to try to convince the House that the commission conducted the inquiry satisfactorily because it did not. Indeed, that is a salient difference between the 1904 Leith tramways case mentioned by the hon. Gentleman and last week's western relief road case. In the latter case, there was no complaint about the commission of inquiry, but there was certainly a complaint in the 1904 case and there is a complaint in relation to the present case which should be taken into account when the House makes its decision today.

There is a much broader issue involved. As I have said, one might easily gain the impression that this was a private battle between the Aberdeen harbour authority and the Peterhead trustees, but nothing could be further from the truth. We need look no further for evidence than the barley export comparisons made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan between Peterhead and the Forth ports. The hon. Gentleman failed to mention the significant fact that the EEC Commission recommended to the inquiry that there should be no extension of harbour and port facilities in the United Kingdom. As Scotland is included in the United Kingdom, that was a salient feature in the investigation. If the project were allowed to go ahead it is clear that there would be serious repercussions for the Forth authority ports. At the last count, there were some 21 harbours around the coast of Scotland involved in those exports.

Mr. McQuarrie

Give us the facts.

Mr. Ewing

I wish that the hon. Gentleman would afford others the courtesy and respect with which the House listened to his comments. He should sit quietly for a minute and listen to what others have to say.

There has been a dramatic change in the export of goods from Scottish ports in the past five years, and the extension of facilities at Peterhead will merely aggravate the problem. I hope that I shall not bore the House if I give some figures. Five or six years ago, 75 per cent. of all exports with manufacturing origin in Scotland were exported through Scottish ports—the Clyde authority ports, the Forth authority ports and ports in other areas of Scotland, including one non-scheme port. Peterhead is not the only non-scheme port in Scotland. Now, only 25 per cent. of all goods with manufacturing origin in Scotland are exported from Scottish ports. The reason is the introduction of the grid system, to which the Government have turned a blind eye despite my constant efforts to make them come to terms with it.

Under the grid system, the shipowners—not the Government or the exporters—pay for the transport of exports by road from any part of Scotland to the non-scheme port of Felixstowe. A good example is whisky which is manufactured in Perth but taken by lorry free of charge down to Felixstowe. The reason given is the long steaming distance to Scottish ports, but the Government fail to appreciate that the grid system is leading slowly but surely to the closure of the Scottish ports and that as soon as that result is achieved the system will be removed and the exporters will have to pay the road haulage costs. Among all the threats to the prospects of Scottish industry I can think of none more damaging than the inability to use our own ports for the export of our manufactured goods.

Gartcosh is in the news. I do not intend to go into detail about it, but 48 per cent. of the cargo going out from my port of Grangemouth is finished steel products from Gartcosh—finished steel products for export to the German car industry. If Gartcosh closes, we simply could not replace that dry cargo let alone allow a development at Peterhead which may take away more. Grangemouth is also a port which is used to ship to the Shetlands and other islands.

The Bill has far wider repercussions that appear to be appreciated by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie). I must say this as gently and as kindly as I can, but I simply do not accept that the Peterhead harbour trustees can blandly assure us that they will not take cargo from anybody else. It may be Christmas, but we do not live in a fairytale world. The Peterhead harbour authorities will be as much in competition for exported goods from Scotland as Grangemouth, Leith, Dundee, Aberdeen or any other port.

Mr. Robert Hughes

If the scheme went ahead and Peterhead harbour did not increase its revenue as much as possible by increased trade, Peterhead fishermen would pay a heavy price. What would the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan say then?

Mr. Ewing

That is a very important point. It emphasises what I am trying to say about the viability of this investment at Peterhead. It could not be supported by fishing alone. There are no ifs and buts about that. This investment of £13.2 million at 1984 prices, now possibly in the region of £17 million, could not be supported simply by fishing. If that is true and the House accepts it, support for this investment must come from somewhere else.

It is the somewhere else that concerns us. There is uncertainty about where the investment will come from. There is uncertainty about all that will flow from a decision to allow this development to go ahead without further examination. That makes me strongly favour reference to a Joint Committee of both Houses, and on that I will cast my vote tonight.

8.2 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Ancram)

On these occasions when confirmation Bills are contested there can be a general misunderstanding about the Secretary of State's role and responsibilities. As we have heard tonight, the Opposition, and especially the official Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing), can take a fairly broad view. I am sure that hon. Members will be under no illusion about the Secretary of State's function. The House will know that this is purely formal in relation to the introduction of the Bill and of our proceedings tonight.

Perhaps I might go back a little in time to set those remarks in context. Under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936, where a provisional order under that Act is opposed, as is the case here, an inquiry is held before the commissioners. This inquiry takes place in Scotland at or near the place which is the subject of the powers which are sought.

Promoters and objectors, represented by council, appear before the commissioners and lead evidence. After 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 modifications. In this case the commissioners, sitting at Peterhead, hearing the arguments put forward, recommended that the order should be confirmed, with some small modifications.

If an order is then issued by the Secretary of State, as it has been in the present case, it is submitted to Parliament in the form of a confirmation Bill, which once approved by Parliament is regarded as a public Act. The Secretary of State's role so far is a formality.

In theory, the Secretary of State could decline to accept the recommendations of the parliamentary commissioners, but it has been the practice to honour 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 greatest respect and would not, save in exceptional circumstances, set them aside. Therefore, in submitting to Parliament an order which has been the subject of an inquiry, the Secretary of State is not to be regarded as expressing a view on the merits of the order. My right hon. Friend is enabling the appropriate parliamentary procedure to take place.

Mr. Robert Hughes

May I refer the Minister back to the original confirmation Bill. I refer especially to an answer that he gave about the publication of confirmation Bills. He said that he would not normally publish confirmation Bills until such time as a transcript of all the evidence was available to those who had an interest. Why did that procedure not operate in this case? The original confirmation Bill was published some months before the transcript was publicly available.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman is right to remind the House that he put a parliamentary question to me on this. He is also right to say that my answer suggested that that was the normal practice—that the transcript of the evidence should be available. I understand that this is not of necessity the case, but it has been the normal practice. Under section 8(3) of the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936, my right hon. Friend is required to introduce a confirming Bill as soon as conveniently may be". Obviously, in those circumstances, where there is some difficulty in getting the transcript—the hon. Gentleman is aware that there were certain difficulties in transcribing—there must be a balance of judgment struck by my hon. Friend to decide when he chooses to introduce the Bill in order to conform to his statutory obligations. It was in the light of that that the Bill was originally introduced by my right hon. Friend in July of this year.

I should make one or two general points. It is our legal practice in this country that those who wish to build harbour works, which might interfere with the rights of others, should have statutory powers, usually quite specific, to do so. In the present case the trustees of the harbours of Peterhead, which is where the fishery traffic is accommodated, wish to extend their harbour facilities to the southward by creating new quays and berthing spaces. I understand that these facilities are intended primarily for commercial, that is non-fishery, traffic. The trustees maintain that these new works will have a beneficial effect also on their handling of fishery traffic. The financing of the proposed works is a matter for the trustees.

The confirmation Bill has been the subject of inquiry by colleagues in this House and from the other place. They have recommended, having listened to the evidence, the order for confirmation by means of a Bill, and it is on that basis and in accordance with precedent that it is before the House tonight.

In relation to the motion to refer to a Joint Committee, perhaps it would help the House if I were to explain the position as I understand it. There is a power under section 9 of the 1936 Act to refer the matter to a Joint Committee, if a petition against the order in the Bill has been presented before the period of seven days after the introduction of a confirmation Bill. I understand that a petition was presented in form and in time by the Aberdeen harbour board.

Although it has been usual not to refer confirmation Bills to a Joint Committee, that practice or precedent was overturned two weeks ago by the decision to refer the Edinburgh Bill to a Joint Committee. It is for the House as a whole to decide what to do in relation to a confirmation Bill under the private legislation procedure, including reference to a Joint Committee. I would not seek to advise or direct the House in that regard. As with the Edinburgh Bill, the Government are neutral, and I trust that the House will accept that we have fulfilled our responsibilities in regard to this Bill.

8.9 pm

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

I rise on the insistence of the Dundee port authority to ensure that this matter is fully ventilated. I have had the privilege of visiting Peterhead harbour. I found the trustees' work building up the harbour for fishermen superb. I hope that nothing that we do today will hold up those necessary improvements to make the harbour safer for fishermen.

I should like to put in a cautionary word. The hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) has already made it clear that there are broader implications in these developments than appear at first sight. The very fact that hon. Members who represent ports throughout the east of Scotland are present suggest that the matter is more controversial than was originally thought.

I do not oppose the general upgrading of Peterhead harbour, but I wonder whether its impact on other east coast ports has been considered properly. There is a question mark over the Commission chaired by Lord Hughes. It is remarkable that, after such a commission of inquiry, several organisations still feel that their arguments have not been examined properly and fairly.

The port of Dundee has a wide variety of harbour facilities which are well suited to the requirements of the types of shipping that could be expected to use the facilities afforded by the proposed works. As the roll on/ roll off proposal has already been struck out by the Hughes Commission, I should like to focus attention on the accommodation and loading of grain vessels with a carrying capacity of 10,000 tonnes. Dundee port authority believes that the proposed work would not generate any new business, but rather that it could erode existing trade at Dundee and other major Scottish ports without contributing to the economy of Scotland as a whole or to that of Grampian and Tayside regions.

The port of Dundee currently exports more then 50,000 tonnes of grain a year in consignments ranging from 2,500 tonnes to 5,000 tonnes. The port owns two grain elevators with a loading capacity of 200 tonnes an hour and a further two elevators with a loading capacity of 80 tonnes an hour. It can accept and load vessels with a 10,000-tonne capacity. Peterhead and Dundee draw such traffic from separate hinterlands, with the exception of grain drawn from intervention stores. It is estimated that, from that source, there will be occasional cargoes from 10,000 tonnes to 15,000 tonnes capacity. That grain will not be collected from a restricted area of about 35 miles from a port, but will be collected from anything up to 150 miles from a port. The subsidy given by the intervention board makes it economic for the haulier to collect from a much greater distance. That is an echo of the grid facility which the hon. Member for Falkirk, East described. The port of Dundee and other major Scottish ports can already cope with the trade. The port's worries remain despite the work of the Hughes commission.

A scheme port has certain financial obligations which by statute it must fulfil. Such obligations do not necessarily arise from the operation of the port. They frequently—and most often do—arise from other ports. The National Dock Labour Board levy for administrative purposes is 2.75 per cent. of the port employer's gross wages and, in addition, there is a severence levy of 4.75 per cent. of the gross wages. Unfortunately, the pattern in our ports recently has been the rundown of manpower. That would happen if Peterhead went ahead without such financial obligations, and it would have an unfair advantage over other ports.

I hope that we do not have to vote down the whole proposal, because there is much in it, such as what the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said about the need to take care of fishermen's interests, with which the House agrees. However, we must protect our own people's interests. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan mentioned unemployment. I have to tell him that unemployment in Dundee is running at 16.5 per cent. Male unemployment, which includes dock workers, is considerably higher. In view of the general dissatisfaction and the need for a fair hearing, it would be best if the matter went to a Joint Committee of both Houses so that it can be examined with fresh eyes. If the Joint Committee accepts the order, I would accept it. I merely require the matter to be ventilated in the interests of my constituents, so that it is clear that they will not be disadvantaged. We wish Peterhead well.

Mr. McQuarrie

I should like confirmation of what the hon. Gentleman said. Did he say that he would accept the ruling of the Joint Committee?

Mr. Wilson

Yes. My port authority is worried that the matter has not been considered closely enough. If the order is upheld by a Joint Committee, I would accept it and not inhibit the scheme going ahead. In view of the tremendous disquiet in the House and in my area about the proposals, the subject should be referred to a Joint Committee.

8·17 pm
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I respect the views of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie). He must put his constituency case strongly. I do not object to that. However, I wish that he would not present the case in such a way as to make it appear that those of us with a strong interest in Aberdeen harbour are not behaving in a proper parliamentary way. We have a right to look after the interests of our own port and to consider the wider issues.

This is not a party issue. I am speaking purely with my constituency hat on as many of my constituents work in Aberdeen harbour or depend for their livelihood on the harbour in one way or another.

There has been some argument about parliamentary procedures and propriety. It seems that people in the Peterhead area have been given the impression that the parliamentary inquiry is the beginning and end of the democratic process and that no other means are open to them. They have been given the impression that they must accept the inquiry's findings and that to challenge them in any way is undemocratic. That is not true.

The inquiry is the beginning of the parliamentary process. Our debate tonight is the second part of that process. Other parliamentary processes follow. Some of the aggravation could have been prevented if the Secretary of State's office had handled the original confirmation Bill properly. The Secretary of State was aware of my interest in the parliamentary inquiry.

So that there should be no doubt about how the Aberdeen harbour board should proceed, and to further its objections, I advised it to write to the Secretary of State to find out how to lodge a petition. The Secretary of State's private secretary wrote to the general manager of the harbour board describing the procedures and explaining how, once the Bill had been published and read the First time, seven days were available to lodge a petition. Because of a strange coincidence, a lapse by the Scottish Civil Service or a deliberate act, the day before the Bill was published the Secretary of State's private secretary wrote to the general manager and neglected to tell him that the Bill was to be published the next day.

One could argue that the Aberdeen harbour board was lax. It did riot imagine that the Bill would be dealt with so quickly. When I was telephoned, only by chance did I look at the Order Paper to discover that the Bill was due for its Second Reading. I had not been advised that the Bill had been published. Perhaps I was lax, because I could have been more vigilant by looking at the Order Paper every day. Whatever the reasons, the normal courtesies were missing, and as a result the opportunity to deal with the matter properly in the last Session was missed.

There is nothing new in Back Benchers seeking to block confirmation Bills and to refer them to Joint Committees. There is nothing new, novel, arrogant or malevolent in that. It is wrong to say that we are seeking selfishly to guard the areas which we represent and to destroy Peterhead's capacity to develop. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We want a development at Peterhead that will satisfy the original objectives, which were to provide a safer harbour and some improved facilities for cargo traffic. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan cannot have it both ways. In his anxiety to show the need for development, the hon. Gentleman drew attention to the percentage unemployment for Peterhead compared with Aberdeen. Percentages mean nothing. I accept that the percentage figures for Peterhead are serious. I do not deny that they are much higher than they are for Aberdeen. However, many more people in Aberdeen are unemployed than in Peterhead. It shows the depths to which this Tory Government have driven us that we have to talk about percentages and job losses in Aberdeen compared with Peterhead. If the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan is saying that more people will be employed in Peterhead as a result of the South bay development, it must mean that Peterhead is looking for more traffic.

The hon. Gentleman's attention was diverted earlier during my intervention. Perhaps when he has finished his walk he will listen to what I am saying. The hon. Gentleman said that the Peterhead harbour trustees were not looking for increased traffic. He said that there was a gentleman's agreement not to take oil-related work and that the board did not want to poach grain trade from other ports. The development must be paid for. If the new scheme is to be viable, additional revenue must be raised to pay for it. If increased revenue is not generated by additional traffic, it will be necessary to increase costs to existing port users. If that happens, the first person to be on his feet complaining will be the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, because the fishermen will have to pay more.

Mr. McQuarrie

The Peterhead harbour trustees make £1 million a year profit, mainly from fishing vessels. I made it clear that the development is primarily for fishing vessels. Many fishing vessels would like to use Peterhead harbour as their home port, but are prevented from doing so because of problems within the harbour. The fishing vessels are the main problem, not the grain. An undertaking has been made that no oil-related work will be taken on. In cross-examination, Mr. Buchan made it clear that the harbour trust had enough financial resources and approved backing to provide all the money required for the development.

Mr. Hughes

That last remark might one day haunt some people. We do not know the exact cost of servicing, and we do not know what will happen. There is no doubt that the depth of water required for the proposed development is intended to generate increased traffic. Assumptions about where the cost will fall are serious.

I appreciate why the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan keeps moving round the Chamber, but I would appreciate it if his ideas did not move as well. We are receiving different signals about his intentions later this evening. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) said he hoped that he would not be driven to vote against the Bill. I hope that I am not forced to vote against it. The matter is in the hands of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan. He is in control of events. On his attitude depends how the Bill proceeds.

I enter a cautionary note. I have not had a chance to discuss the matter with the Chairman of Ways and Means, but I think that if the hon. Gentleman does not proceed far with the Bill this evening he may discover—as he might at Heathrow airport—that the plane has lost its place in the queue for take-off and that there may be a long delay. If the delay is too long, he may lose altogether. He must have a care that he does not lose his place in the queue for take-off and that his objective that the development at Peterhead should come to fruition is not lost because he has misjudged the mood of the House, tactics or the future. He will obviously have to take those into account.

One other matter of real contention is how far the alternative scheme has been considered and the stage of development that it has reached. The hon. Gentleman had a bit of a laugh about the article in The Press and Journal. He said that it published a 3 in square photograph of the development. To ask the House to believe that that was the sole available information on the alternative development is stretching credibility too far. An alternative scheme has been devised and tested on the hydraulic model. It has been found to satisfy the stated objective of the proposed new development. Such a scheme would have been acceptable to all the petitioners, although it fell short of the ideal compromise. That has been under discussion for some time. The fact is, as was admitted in evidence, that the Peterhead harbour trustees have never considered the options, and they have never been put in front of them.

I hope that the matter will not be decided simply on the word of either Mr. McCrea or Mr. Turner. We are not having a gladiatorial contest. This is a serious matter. We have the Peterhead harbour proposed scheme and the alternative schemes on the same scale. They are all produced in exactly the same form. If the matter is to be satisfactorily resolved, by far the best way is to allow a reexamination before a Joint Committee. If that were done, the matter could be examined, counsel could put the case, engineers could be cross-examined about the various schemes and we could come to some objective analysis.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be willing to allow the matter to go to a Joint Committee, where there can be a proper and free examination. That should be done with goodwill, not simply as an exercise to buy time. I know that the hon. Gentleman, like all hon. Members, is an honourable man, so I hope that we can look at the matter seriously. We want to see that reasonable developments are carried out. If those developments are to proceed at the quickest possible rate to the satisfaction of the hon. Gentleman's constituents and the fishermen, and to the joint satisfaction of those who represent other constituencies, and if a compromise can be agreed on, well and good, but let us have the matter thoroughly thrashed out.

I do not complain that the hon. Gentleman reads the brief that he has been given by the Bill's promoters—that is perfectly fair—just as he, I am sure, would not disagree with my right to put the brief put to me by my constituents. However, he is not in a position, and nor am I, to know for certain about wave heights and all the technical details that he began to go into. I trust Mr. Turner, the manager of Aberdeen harbour board, who is an engineer. There is no harm whatever in the matter being properly examined, and I hope that in everyone's interests the matter will be disposed of in the best possible way. That is in the hands of the hon. Gentleman. I ask him to accept my goodwill and that of others, and I hope that he will take that into account. I hope that Peterhead, too, will take that goodwill into account and will not wake up tomorrow to find that our goodwill has not been taken properly into account, because in the end it is Peterhead that will suffer.

8·35 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

I rise to support the Bill. I do so because as a Conservative I believe that competition is good for the customer. As a party we believe that it is right to encourage competition, and that every effort should be made to encourage competition which leads to efficiency and a better service to customers.

I was interested in what the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) had to say. If I understood him correctly, he was critical of the parliamentary commission. I think I am right in saying that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) was also critical of the way in which the matter had been handled.

It is becoming fashionable this week to criticise bodies that have been set up to conduct inquiries into Scottish affairs. If some hon. Members do not like the decision of a body, whether it is the parliamentary commission or the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, they attempt to have the matter retried. They do not seem to care about the merits of the case and whether they have been examined properly and fully by a parliamentary commission, as in this instance, or by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs.

I draw your attention to this, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because the hon. Member for Falkirk, East drew attention to the link between Gartcosh and Grangemouth and the effect that any improvements at Peterhead may or may not have. There is no doubt that that was his clever way—he is good at it and he does it fairly well—of bringing in a topical argument. He and I both know that a parliamentary commission is set up in the knowledge that it is not a high court but an endeavour to find some kind of parliamentary view and the facts.

We may not like what the parliamentary commission has done in this matter. It is true that the chairman of the parliamentary commission was one of the hon. Gentleman's noble friends. One can presume that the hon. Gentleman was unhappy with his noble friend. I imagine that he is equally unhappy with the Chairman of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee.

The need to improve the harbour facilities to make the harbour safer for those who presently use it would, I imagine, obtain support from all corners of the House. There seems to be substantive evidence that there are too many boats alongside each other, certainly at weekends, at times when the tidal and wave conditions present a real hazard in the harbour.

Here we have a harbour that is efficient and profitable, making profits of about £1 million a year. That profitable harbour wishes to expand. It is incredible that any Conservative should object to that. We spend so much time in the House considering how we can help the lame ducks of the world and improve their lot, and all too often we do not invest in success. Here is a successful harbour which, by all accounts, is the premier white fish harbour in the United Kingdom. The figures appear to confirm that. There is some common ground in this matter.

Although people may say that there are alternatives, they may not give the trustees the harbour that they want to take them into the next century. An investment of this magnitude is not for this year or next year, but for many decades ahead. It is only right that the trustees should consider changes that may occur, and the ships, directly or indirectly related to fishing, that may wish to use the harbour.

People may say that a berth that will take 10,000 tonnes is not necessary. I do not know about that because I am not a professional seaman. Yet if some years ago someone had said to me that the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth would not be plying the high seas today, I would have thought that they were talking nonsense. Those ships appeared to be the last word in seafaring. Who can say which ships will be directly or indirectly connected with fishing in the future?

There have been remarkable changes in the fishing industry. For example, off the west coast ports substantial Soviet vessels are carrying out various activities—I think that "factory ships" is the term used to describe them. I believe that the trustees have been responsible and prudent. I understand that originally they put forward proposals for a roll-on/roll-off facility, but then withdraw it. That does not surprise me because Dundee recently introduced such a facility which, I understand, is not—at this stage—obtaining the business for which it had hoped. Therefore, it would be unnecessary to include that facility at Peterhead—

Mr. Malone

I must put the record straight. The parliamentary commission amended the scheme to remove that facility. It was not removed at the request of the trustees. That puts a wholly different complexion on the matter.

Mr. Walker

I was fishing, and the fish rose to the bait. All that we hear is criticism of the commission. I wanted someone to say something good about it—so I am delighted that it has come from a hostile source.

We are trying to get at the facts, not opinions and views. The fact is that the commission is much maligned. It has no friends. I am doing my best to be friendly, so I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South for his intervention. I know little about this sort of fishing, but I have experience of other sorts of fishing. I know that if I throw the right bait, a fish will often rise when it is not rising for other bait.

Why are there so many objections to the scheme? It cannot be that there are fears that the harbour will be used by oil supply ships. After all, they are using an adjacent bay. It cannot be because there are fears that Peterborough will steal the fishing business of Aberdeen. We know from what has been said this evening and on other occasions that Aberdeen's fishing business is now 10 per cent. of its total business. Why are we meeting so many problems?

It is surely significant that a neighbouring harbour, Fraserburgh, does not object to the proposals even though it has similar business interests. It is a busy port, not far from Peterhead. The fact that it did not object to the proposals must tell us something. It did not object because it thought that it was a sensible scheme for the busiest port in Scotland.

The fishermen know something about risks and about the way in which they must invest for the future. They are looking to the trustees to provide them with safe harbour facilities. I mean not simply somewhere to put their boats, but all the necessary facilities of the quayside and all the necessary modern equipment that will meet the needs of a modern fishing fleet for the next 10, 20, 30 and 40 years. The proposals can only he beneficial.

Because Peterhead harbour is not part of the dock labour scheme, it is possible that it is looked on unkindly in certain quarters. As a Conservative, that does not worry me because I know that often the places that are not run in a manner that calls for any state supervision or that are not run in a way that suits out-of-date doctrine, are much better at doing the job. There are examples of that along the east coast. If Peterhead is to become an even greater success story than it is, I for one believe that this House should clearly say that the Bill commands our support on the merits of the case.

I do not ask the House to support the Bill on the basis of opinion. I do not suggest that it supports the Bill because the trustees will consult the regional authority about roads and so on. Everyone knows that, at the end of the day, the scheme must obtain planning permission, and regional authority support must be given for road networks. There is nothing odd about that—it happens with almost every project. Even the great design schemes of the Scottish Development Agency and other bodies require the co-operation, help—

Mr. Ewing

Not the enterprise zones.

Mr. Walker

I was very careful not to mention enterprise zones. I know something about the enterprise zone in Dundee. I shall not rise to the hon. Gentleman's bait—he cannot land me with that.

I accept that planning permission is not always required, and in some areas planning permission is simply a courtesy. Even if it is not granted, the scheme will still go ahead. However, Peterhead does not fall into that category. A proposal is being brought forward in the normal way, under the procedures by which we make changes to harbours. Even if the House agrees to the proposal, which I hope it does, the local authorities must be consulted to ensure that the scheme is in accordance with what they wish. I have no reason to think that Grampian regional authority is any different from Tayside, with which I deal and which is always helpful towards private enterprise schemes.

There have been suggestions that Peterhead is wrong to seek to engage in anything other than fishing activities. However, Peterhead has already become an important port for the export of grain and other bulk cargoes. Why should it not export those goods if it is the port that customers want to use? That is the important point. There is another small port on the east coast of Scotland, at Perth, which is no longer in my constituency. That port is also interesting. It was developed against the trend because it is well up river, but customers wanted to make use of it.

Mr. McQuarrie

Does my hon. Friend agree that the main reason why Peterhead has expanded its grain trade is that the people in the hinterland find it the most accessible port, and that they are saved the 35-mile journey to Aberdeen port if they can go to Peterhead or Fraserburgh, which is the adjoining port in my constituency?

Mr. Walker

My hon. Friend and I would not argue about choice, and customers being able to choose which port they want to use.

In any other area, if a successful organisation has generated capital and wishes to invest it and expand, there would normally be crowds of people demanding that we allow it. In Scotland, we want firms that provide employment and create export opportunities. If any firm came to the House and said, "We are not looking for public money. We generate profits and from them we can find the necessary finance to go ahead with our programme," I would be surprised if many hon. Members spoke against it.

What, then, makes harbours different? Historically, we have dealt with harbours differently from other industrial areas. The hon. Member for Falkirk, East shakes his head, but I cannot think of many instances where the House considers legislation of this sort.

Mr. Ewing

I was trying to restrain myself from interrupting the hon. Gentleman. In this case, the difference is that the Peterhead trustees want to develop an area which they do not own. We do not need to deal with other harbour extensions, improvements or expansions in this way in any other part of Scotland, because the port authorities own the area that they wish to develop. The hon. Gentleman is missing the major point that the Peterhead trustees want to develop an area which they do not own.

Mr. Walker

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention which spells out the matter clearly. However, I hope that he will agree that I was saying that harbours have been treated differently historically, and that we are considering a successful operation which wants to expand into an adjacent area. There is nothing wrong with that. Airports do it all the time and railway stations have done it. There are precedents, although not in recent times. At one time special legislation was needed to deal with railway stations and lines.

Similarly, we are considering a successful harbour run by trustees who wish to provide a better service for those in the hinterland, and to invest in facilities in the quayside that will provide modern grain-loading equipment of the highest order. The harbour board sees wooden-hulled and steel-hulled vessels siting along the quay wall in conditions that create hazards for the hulls, particularly wooden hulls. One does not have to be clever to realise that in some conditions hulls become vulnerable, and that that is not wise because harbours are supposed to be places of safety.

If one links that with the bulk and the grain facilities, it is clear that the harbour board's proposals, which have been examined by the parliamentary commissioners, are realistic and should be accepted. They will get rid of the congestion at present in the harbour, will provide better loading facilities, and will generally make the harbour better for the customers—the fishing vessel owners who want to use Peterhead harbour. I hope that the House will view the matter on its merits, and not from a narrow constituency point of view because that is not in the best interests of private interests or customers.

8·54 pm
Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

As I represent an area between Aberdeen and Peterhead, I have constituents who work at both ports and I have people interested in both harbours. My remarks seek to secure the best balanced development of the ports in north-east Scotland. I do not wish to see any port seriously held back from development.

At this stage, there is sufficient cause for anxiety to warrant a reference to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. Indeed, a letter from the British Ports Association to my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) makes the point succinctly. It states: The British Ports Association do not wish to express any views about the merits of this Bill or the issues raised in the enclosed statement from the Aberdeen Harbour Board. They do, however, suggest that it is most unfortunate that a responsible harbour authority should feel so strongly that the arguments against the development proposed in the Peterhead Harbours (South Bay Development) Order have not received a fair hearing. For that reason, we would ask you to consider whether it would not be expedient for the Aberdeen Harbour Board's petition to be referred to a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament so that this difficult matter can be looked at again. That is the view of most hon. Members who have spoken in the debate. Clearly, there is a serious point at issue which must be resolved.

The simple statement of the entrenched position of the extremes of either side will not bring the matter forward. A fair and reasonable assessment that there is a genuine difficulty must be made. The detailed submission from the Aberdeen Harbour Board does not merely take issue with points of fact, but shows an element of bitterness, which the House would wish to address properly. In one or two areas, the board feels that it has legitimate grievances which have not been fully dealt with.

Much has been made of the cost. An investment in excess of £13 million is no little sum, especially if that sum is merely to achieve the creation of a safe, less crowded harbour for fishing boats. No one will deny that investment is needed to secure safety and more space, but £13 million-plus is a great deal of money simply for that.

There are two ways to repay that investment. The first, on which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) has already touched, is that the users of the ports and the trustees will have to raise money to repay capital. Two obvious ways can be used. One is to ensure that the greater efficiency in the fishing harbour results in the generation of more revenue from fishing. It is probably asking a lot to think that that will be enough to fulfil the whole cost. What is more, there is concern that the fishing boat owners will find that their costs rise significantly to pay off the costs of the capital.

Much more likely is that the Peterhead harbour authority, having got excellent facilities with a wide range of versatile and alternative uses, will go out to get in extra traffic to generate the extra revenue. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) has rightly pointed out the success of Peterhead harbour in attracting other traffic. I am pleased to see that success and if I were persuaded that this scale of development is needed to enable the essential and normal development of the harbour, I might accept it.

However, a compromise has been proposed that will meet all the potential expansion needs of the growing traffic through Peterhead without creating a major new harbour on the east coast that will be in competition immediately not only with Fraserburgh and Aberdeen but with Montrose, Dundee and the Forth ports. It is worth reiterating what the EEC's findings were. The official journal for 31 January said that the port facilities in north-east Scotland already have surplus capacity and utilisation of the existing facilities is only around 50 per cent. It clearly points to one port going ahead only at another's expense, and it questions the contribution of new port projects to the region as a whole.

A question has to be asked and answered. The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) will no doubt have a positive answer. The question is where, if the expanded Peterhead harbour goes for new business, it will come from. If it is to come from new business that is not available to the existing ports, a closer investigation would wish to consider that. If, on the other hand, it simply draws it away from the other ports in the area, a major investment that does not create new employment or benefit has been made.

Mr. McQuarrie

If the hon. Gentleman is trying to make the case that the EEC has decided that there should be no further increase in facilities at ports in the north-east of Scotland, can he relate that to Mr. Turner's evidence to the commission that, for the next 10 years, Aberdeen harbour will spend millions of pounds in developing its facilities?

Mr. Bruce

There are two distinct points. I was quoting the EEC, but what is happening in Aberdeen harbour—I recently visited and toured both harbours—is investment in improving existing quays, clearing buildings, putting in better facilities and reorganising existing facilities to meet modern needs and technologies. The two things are mutually exclusive. I make it clear that I am not suggesting that there is no case for anything to happen at Peterhead harbour and that it should not be allowed to make investment to improve its facilities. Every hon. Member who has spoken recognised that Peterhead is ready to expand in that way. There is a difference in scale, timing and implication of these proposals.

The hon. Member for Tayside, North alluded only briefly to the existence of the dock labour scheme. This is not the time or place to discuss the scheme at any great length. However, the hon. Member said that the development should be encouraged on the ground that it creates competition. Whether or not we like it, the dock labour scheme is a restraint on competition. It matters not what a person's political views are—we have to accept that the basis of the dock labour scheme was to guarantee dockers work, and that ensures that the scheme ports have a cost. If the scheme exists, we have to accept that it is the basis of operation. Nothing will be done about it, but both the commissioners and the House should take notice of it.

Mr. Ewing

It is important to put on record the purpose of the national dock labour scheme. It was introduced in 1944 to replace the old casual labour scheme whereby men went to the docks in the morning and were sent back up the road with no work within half an hour. The scheme does not exclude competition—far from it, it guarantees the men a day's work and wage and replaces the casual labour scheme under which they had no such guarantee.

Mr. Bruce

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) but, as I said earlier, I do not think that this is the time to develop that point. However, I accept his contribution for the record. My point is that a port scheme port has a different basis of operation than a non-port scheme port. Given that a parliamentary commission is investigating the developments in a non-scheme port, it is legitimate to recognise its impact on other ports that are not operated on the same basis. I want the ports in the area to be developed, but the development of one port at the expense of another needs to be examined closely.

The Aberdeen harbour board's submission points to the extent to which it feels that its case has not been given a fair hearing and to the fact that its arguments have not been fully developed. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan was somewhat dismissive of the Aberdeen harbour board's compromise proposals. I do not presume to comment in detail on their merits, nor am I qualified to do so. However, I take seriously the submissions of a body that has been involved in port engineering for more than 40 years and that puts forward a scheme as a serious, constructive alternative. Such a scheme is worthy of consideration and it was put forward, I know, in good faith.

It would not be wrong to say that the Aberdeen harbour board would prefer Peterhead to do nothing at all; it would prefer no development to take place at Peterhead. That is not my view and I do not believe that it is the view of most hon. Members who are taking part in the debate. However, the board recognised that that view was unlikely to carry very much weight. It was too introspective and too self-interested. Therefore, it recognised from the outset that at best it would need to secure a compromise. However, it feels that the Peterhead harbour commissioners have not been willing to respond to its compromise proposals.

It states that the promoters have put forward a scheme which, if it were fully utilised, would allow them to compete with Aberdeen in all the major areas of port activity in which Aberdeen is concerned, not just in those areas where there is a small overlap. For example, it pointed out that one part of the new scheme could be used as an oilfield supply base. My understanding is that the Peterhead harbour trustees have said that that is true but that they would be prepared to give an honourable undertaking not to use it as an oilfield supply base.

There are two problems. If my earlier point about the financial pressure on Peterhead turned out to be true and the expansion of the North sea activities that is hoped for in the future were to continue, the temptation might become too strong and, if it were there and had the potential, the facility would be used. The Aberdeen harbour board said that a binding agreement that the facility would not be used would be acceptable to it, if it underpinned the gentleman's agreement that the Peterhead harbour trustees were prepared to give. However, it was unable to secure a binding agreement. Therefore it is left with a nagging concern that at some stage or another the entrance to the inner harbour at Peterhead will be used as another supply base. Peterhead is a major competitor of Aberdeen as an oil field supply base. Indeed, the south side of the Peterhead Bay of Refuge is probably the best oilfield supply base in the country, as it was custom built. Therefore, this is a point of legitimate concern.

The point at issue on the specific compromise proposals is that the harbour board feels that the proposals have been dismissed. I said earlier that the Aberdeen harbour board would probably prefer the Bill to be stopped altogether. During the next few minutes the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone) will have to consider on behalf of his constituents whether he wants the Bill to be killed or whether he wants a compromise to be secured. That is the danger he runs. It is important that he should seek to represent his constituents and to use his judgment and parliamentary skills in deciding how to secure the best outcome for his constituents.

The point that was made about the compromise proposal was that it was put forward by those who know something about harbours. They believe that it could meet all of the Peterhead harbour trustees' objectives. It would be considerably cheaper but it would not create a port that offered the same threat to the existence of other ports in the area as it is believed that the proposed development will pose. Although this scheme was discussed, it was never fully considered, and the chairman of the Peterhead trustees is on record as saying: Peterhead Harbour Trustees have never considered these options, they have never been put in front of Peterhead Harbour Trustees. That alone warrants a referral of the Bill to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament, because that alternative needs to be looked at before we can be sure which is the right and fair scheme that should go ahead.

These proposals should not be viewed in terms of Aberdeen versus Peterhead. I would not be representing the interests of my constituents if I supported such a duel, because I have constituents who work at both ports. My wish and objective is to see two strong, healthy, expanding ports to the north and south of my constituency. To that extent I do not wish my remarks to be judged in terms of Aberdeen versus Peterhead.

The harbour board in Aberdeen is dearly anxious to secure a compromise. Most hon. Members who have spoken want to see a Joint Committee examining this matter. If the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan holds out for the whole Bill, he runs the serious risk of getting no Bill at all. That is also the risk that the trustees run. The hon. Gentleman should make his own judgments on behalf of his constituents and should recognise that there is good will for Peterhead harbour on all sides of the House. There is a desire for a fair and just outcome. I hope that he will take that on board and will support reference to a Joint Committee.

9·12 pm
Mr. Gerald Malone (Aberdeen, South)

It is worth considering referral to a Joint Committee of both Houses. I should put it clearly on the record that, although I have a close constituency interest in this matter, no campaign is being waged either by myself or the Aberdeen harbour board to kill the Bill. Indeed, the Aberdeen harbour board has always been prepared to talk about compromises and it has put forward an alternative scheme.

The sad truth has been that for their own reasons, and perhaps acting on their own best advice, the Peterhead harbour board trustees have decided not even to talk. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) should bear in mind that this compromise has been offered and that it could best be discussed in a Joint Committee of both Houses.

On an occasion such as this, when there is such an overwhelming expression of the views of hon. Members, and when this is perhaps the best device by which to settle the issues between the parties, it would be unfortunate if that avenue of approach were not accepted by my hon. Friend.

Opposition Members are right to say that this matter broadly lies in the hands of my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan. If he is unable to tell me that he would like to adopt that line of approach, I would accept that because it is not my wish that the Bill should not get a Second Reading. However, Opposition Members will be only too well aware that the procedures of the House are such that one is perhaps obliged to adopt a line of approach that is not ideal in all the circumstances.

I repeat to my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan that the matter is in his hands and nobody else's. He has to represent not only one section of the community in his constituency; he ably and vociferously represents all points of view. However, some expressions of opinion in his constituency have not been in favour of the scheme.

There has been much disquiet about the way in which the parliamentary commission conducted its proceedings. When worries have been expressed on the Floor of the House, publicly and in the media it is important and proper that the House should consider the substance of those complaints and should consider the request for a referral to a Joint Committee. I do not suggest that, because we have to search far back into history for one example of a referral and to last week for another, we should simply say that the procedure should not be brought into play or that the practice has fallen into desuetude. Perhaps it is a shame that it has not been used more often to consider matters of this kind. There is genuine disquiet about the way in which the parliamentary commission conducted its affairs and that disquiet centres on several points.

Some of the implications of the inquiry's report were a little strange, as were the imputations cast on some of the evidence. One point that has not been raised in any detail is safety, which was considered by the commission. Important evidence on behalf of the Department of Transport was given by Captain Fellingham. I do not understand Lord Hughes' statement when he says: We took into account the report of the Department of Transport and the statement of Captain Fellingham which unlike the evidence of other witnesses was neither made on oath nor subject to cross-examination. That would appear to impugn the captain's evidence. However, what is not explained is that that is the normal procedure when departmental representatives give evidence to parliamentary commissions. Some aspersion has been cast on the fact that Captain Fellingham properly did not submit himself to examination and properly did not go on oath. If there was an impugnment of his evidence, and there would appear to have been so if one reads the statement of the noble Lord, we are right to consider whether that coloured the commissioners' judgment when they reached their conclusions. I suggest that it should not have done so.

Opposition Members have already mentioned the tour of Peterhead harbour by members of the commission and the fact that there was no opportunity for others to cross-examine on that evidence and no other representatives were present. It is odd that a parliamentary commission seeking to take evidence and to be independent should proceed in that way. A procedure that is akin to the tour of Peterhead harbour and is common practice in court proceedings in Scotland is known as a view. Some hon. Members will be familiar with that procedure. If the sheriff or those trying the case decide that it is important to examine the locus, all parties traipse off to the view. They go to see what the facts are on the ground or, as in this case, in the water.

In that judicial process, all parties and their representatives must be present. If that criterion is considered essential by the courts, a similar procedure should have been seriously considered by the commissioners. Perhaps they did not take a completely independent line when considering one of the most important pieces of evidence.

Mr. McQuarrie

I am sure that my hon. Friend does not wish to mislead the House. He said that objectors and their counsel were not allowed to take part in the tour by the Commission. In fact, all the objectors and their counsel took part in the tour of the area of the proposed works.

Mr. Malone

I must disagree with my hon. Friend; that is not my information. We must judge the sources of the information put to the House, but representatives of Aberdeen harbour have made the point vigorously to me and it seems to have been made vigorously to Opposition Members. My hon. Friend did not challenge the point when it was made by, I think, the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) and it is odd that he should choose to challenge it now.

My hon. Friend has an opportunity to concur with the will of the House, which is to have the matter investigated further. I do not intend to kill the Bill, but my hon. Friend must know the procedural risks that he is running. He would not be happy if he had to say that the Bill had been lost. I concede that the Peterhead harbour trustees are perhaps entitled to their legislation in an amended form and I should be sorry to see the opportunity lost.

The Court of Auditors of the European Commission reported in 1984 on the investment of about £15 million of European funds in port facilities throughout Scotland, and particularly in the north-east, over the previous 10 years. In its report to the Commission, the court said that port facilities in the north-east of Scotland were 50 per cent. under-used. The Commission had been investing not in port facilities that were necessary to cope with existing traffic or in port facilities that might be needed in the foreseeable future, but in port facilities which were substantially redundant. That fact is abundantly clear.

Not only European funds have been invested in ports in the north-east of Scotland. A substantial number of harbours in the area are maintained and supported by Grampian regional council, to the tune of £400,000 a year. In examining the economic case put by the promoters, we have to consider whether the facilities already provided in the north-east, substantially by public funds, will be used even less than they are at present.

I take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). If the Peterhead harbour trustees decide that they will spend this money and put forward this proposal, good luck to them. The trustees say, "Of course, it is our money. There will be no further call on public funds."

I draw the attention of the House to the history of this matter, because we need to go beyond the past six or seven months to note the intent of the Peterhead harbour trustees. When the proposals were initially considered, the Peterhead harbour trustees wanted a substantial injection of public cash to make the project possible. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan will not mind if I refer again to that well-known national organ, that most worthy paper, that accurate reporter of local matters in the constituency of my hon. Friend, the Buchan Observer, which has been quoted so lavishly with great success. An article on 11 September 1984 stated: Aid refusal angers harbour board". Of course the Peterhead harbour board trustees were not looking in September 1984 to fund the project from private funds—they were looking for public funds of £12 million, which they were not given by the Scottish Office. That was right. Mr. Buchan, the chairman of the Peterhead harbour board, reacted by saying: No way can we accept this without kicking up a helluva row about it. I am surprised that the board was not relying on private funding then and I suspect that it is not relying on the prospect of private funding now.

Mr. Bill Walker

Surely my hon. Friend must write this down as a success for the Conservative Government. Is this not what we have been trying to do for so long—stop people bleeding the public purse? Yet my hon. Friend is complaining!

Mr. Malone

I am certainly not complaining about that. I believe that, if the scheme is approved, we shall not have heard the last of the claims on the public purse for support. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North would agree that, if these funds were required in September 1984, they may inevitably be required again. I hope that my hon. Friend, who seems to know so much about this matter, will bear in mind the fact that the first time the Peterhead harbour board trustees called for a detailed economic analysis to be made public on this matter was April 1985 when a Coopers and Lybrand report was prepared and submitted in evidence. It is odd that a scheme that has been more than a gleam in the trustees' eyes for a substantial period should suddenly be subjected to a form of economic analysis.

Mr. McQuarrie

I am sure that my hon. Friend would not want to give the wrong impression about the Coopers and Lybrand report. I am sure that he will accept that the Peterhead harbour trustees were obliged to obtain a report from Coopers and Lybrand because the public inquiry had not been presented with anything on the subject of development.

Mr. Malone

The trustees were required to obtain a report because, until then, they had no idea of their economic case, except that they were looking for grants of £12 million from public funds. The Coopers and Lybrand report, which is a rather strange and scanty document containing many highly conditional conclusions and an economic analysis that is highly conditional with respect to much of the revenue that the trustees say will accrue if the changes are successful, is a little unlikely to prove true. It gives the game away, because, no matter how much my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan may say that the primary purpose of the development at Peterhead harbour is to improve the lot of fishermen, increase the safety of the fishing vessels and provide them with a safer harbour, if he reads the report he will find in one of the appendices of the economic analysis that the trustees are counting on increased revenue from cargoes brought into Peterhead harbour to fund the scheme if it were to be granted. It may have been represented to my hon. Friend that the main interest was to improve the lot of the fishing fleet. Of course, Peterhead harbour will look for more business beyond what it says is the purpose of the scheme—it will not look just for increased cargoes.

A gentleman's agreement was offered by Aberdeen harbour board when Mr. Turner gave evidence to the parliamentary commission. He said that he would be perfectly happy to accept an undertaking that there will be no increase in oil-related activities in Peterhead harbour. The commissioners decided to ignore that and hoped that Mr. Turner and the Aberdeen harbour board trustees would simply rely on the gentlemen's agreement. The Coopers and Lybrand report suggests that the Peterhead harbour board trustees are looking to go further than they say they intend, and I also say to my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan that in the circumstances it is difficult for Aberdeen harbour board trustees to attach tremendous credibility to any statement that the Peterhead harbour board trustees may make about the credibility of relying on a so-called gentlemen's agreement.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

In fairness to the trustees, surely the hon. Gentleman does not think that any harbour board would construct a harbour and confine it to fishing vessels. Obviously, it will go out of its way to make it as viable as possible. Whatever the arguments against the board may be, surely it cannot be faulted on those grounds.

Mr. Malone

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will understand that I accept that, if the proposal goes through, the board will use all its facilities as much as it can. The board is saying that that is not so. That is the point that I am trying to make.

What the board is seeking in the Bill goes way beyond any reasonable assumption of what it might require. I was interested to note that it has decided to seek a power to dredge in excess of 1.5 m more than it was seeking when the case was put before the parliamentary commissioners. We have to look carefully at the proposal. In Peterhead harbour it would be possible to berth the largest vessels if the power that the board is seeking in the Bill were exercised. There is no need for that. The board goes beyond its stated aim, and that is one more fact that suggests that it does not intend to stick to its declared intentions.

When the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) intervened, I was about to refer to the goodwill of Aberdeen harbour board. On its behalf, I must rebut the suggestion that has been made in the House that it has been intransigent and has not been prepared to listen, and put forward an alternative scheme in the most casual manner. An article in The Press and Journal and a small sketch were referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan. I say this with no malice to him, but I should like him to hear it. Aberdeen harbour board put forward the suggestion, in detail, to its counterparts in Peterhead, or at least it attempted to do so, and met with a rebuff. When I intervened in my hon. Friend's speech, I said that it was my impression that a meeting had taken place with Mr. Turner of the Aberdeen harbour board—

Mr. McQuarrie

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 119, Noes 53.

Division No. 27] [9.35 pm
Alexander, Richard Aspinwall, Jack
Alton David Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.
Amess, David Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)
Ancram, Michael Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Blackburn, John Jessel, Toby
Body, Richard Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Bottomley, Peter Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Kennedy, Charles
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Kirkwood, Archy
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Brooke, Hon Peter Knox, David
Bruce, Malcolm Lambie, David
Bruinvels, Peter Lang, Ian
Bryan, Sir Paul Latham, Michael
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A. Lawrence, Ivan
Buck, Sir Antony Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Butler, Rt Hon Adam Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Butterfill, John Lord, Michael
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) McCrindle, Robert
Carttiss, Michael McCurley, Mrs Anna
Cash, William MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Maclean, David John
Conway, Derek McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Coombs, Simon Malins, Humfrey
Cope, John Marlow, Antony
Corrie, John Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Crouch, David Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Currie, Mrs Edwina Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Dicks, Terry Monro, Sir Hector
Dorrell, Stephen Moynihan, Hon C.
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Murphy, Christopher
Durant, Tony Neale, Gerrard
Evennett, David Newton, Tony
Eyre, Sir Reginald Normanton, Tom
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Oppenheim, Phillip
Fookes, Miss Janet Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Fox, Marcus Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Freeman, Roger Pawsey, James
Freud, Clement Portillo, Michael
Garel-Jones, Tristan Price, Sir David
Gower, Sir Raymond Rifkind, Malcolm
Greenway, Harry Roe, Mrs Marion
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Skeet, T. H. H.
Ground, Patrick Stanbrook, Ivor
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Thurnham, Peter
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Waddington, David
Hancock, Mr. Michael Wainwright, R.
Harris, David Wallace, James
Heathcoat-Amory, David Waller, Gary
Hickmet, Richard Warren, Kenneth
Hind, Kenneth Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Hirst, Michael Wilson, Gordon
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Winterton, Nicholas
Howells, Geraint Wood, Timothy
Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Hunt, David (Wirral) Tellers for the Ayes:
Hunter, Andrew Mr. Albert McQuarrie and
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Mr. Bill Walker.
Jackson, Robert
Barnett, Guy Ewing, Harry
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Bermingham, Gerald Fisher, Mark
Boyes, Roland Foster, Derek
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) George, Bruce
Caborn, Richard Hardy, Peter
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Haynes, Frank
Campbell-Savours, Dale Home Robertson, John
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Clelland, David Gordon John, Brynmor
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Lamond, James
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Corbyn, Jeremy McCartney, Hugh
Cunliffe, Lawrence McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Dalyell, Tam McWilliam, John
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Madden, Max
Dixon, Donald Marek, Dr John
Eadie, Alex Maxton, John
Eastham, Ken Maynard, Miss Joan
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Michie, William
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Patchett, Terry Torney, Tom
Pike, Peter Winnick, David
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Rogers, Allan Tellers for the Noes:
Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood) Mr. Robert Hughes and
Skinner, Dennis Mr. Gerald Malone.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Question put accordingly and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Question put:—That the Bill be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses.

The House divided: Ayes 69, Noes 87.

Division No. 28] [9.50 pm
Alton, David Hancock, Mr. Michael
Barnett, Guy Hanley, Jeremy
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Hardy, Peter
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Bermingham, Gerald Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Boyes, Roland Home Robertson, John
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Howells, Geraint
Caborn, Richard Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) John, Brynmor
Campbell-Savours, Dale Kirkwood, Archy
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Lamond, James
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) McCartney, Hugh
Clelland, David Gordon McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Clwyd, Mrs Ann McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) McWilliam, John
Corbyn, Jeremy Madden, Max
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Malone, Gerald
Dalyell, Tam Marek, Dr John
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Maxton, John
Deakins, Eric Maynard, Miss Joan
Dixon, Donald Michie, William
Douglas, Dick Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Eadie, Alex Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Eastham, Ken Patchett, Terry
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Pike, Peter
Ewing, Harry Radice, Giles
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Rogers, Allan
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Fisher, Mark Skinner, Dennis
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) Spearing, Nigel
Freud, Clement Strang, Gavin
Garel-Jones, Tristan Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
George, Bruce Wainwright, R.
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Wallace, James
Winnick, David Mr. Gordon Wilson and
Mr. Malcolm Bruce.
Tellers for the Ayes:
Alexander, Richard Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Amess, David Holt, Richard
Arnold, Tom Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)
Aspinwall, Jack Hunter, Andrew
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Jessel, Toby
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Blackburn, John Kennedy, Charles
Body, Richard Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Knox, David
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Lambie, David
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Latham, Michael
Bruinvels, Peter Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Bryan, Sir Paul Lord, Michael
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A. McCurley, Mrs Anna
Buck, Sir Antony Maclean, David John
Butler, Rt Hon Adam McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Butterfill, John McQuarrie, Albert
Carttiss, Michael Malins, Humfrey
Cash, William Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Conway, Derek Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Coombs, Simon Monro, Sir Hector
Corrie, John Moynihan, Hon C.
Crouch, David Normanton, Tom
Currie, Mrs Edwina Oppenheim, Phillip
Dicks, Terry Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Dorrell, Stephen Pawsey, James
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Powley, John
Evennett, David Price, Sir David
Eyre, Sir Reginald Rhodes James, Robert
Favell, Anthony Rifkind, Malcolm
Fookes, Miss Janet Roe, Mrs Marion
Fox, Marcus Speed, Keith
Freeman, Roger Spencer, Derek
Garel-Jones, Tristan Stanbrook, Ivor
Gower, Sir Raymond Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Greenway, Harry Thurnham, Peter
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Waller, Gary
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Warren, Kenneth
Hanley, Jeremy Winterton, Nicholas
Harris, David
Hickmet, Richard Tellers for the Noes:
Hind, Kenneth Mr. Bill Walker and
Hirst, Michael Mr. Christopher Murphy.
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)

Question accordingly negatived.

To be further considered upon Wednesday 18 December.