HC Deb 28 April 1986 vol 96 cc714-48

Order for Second Reading read.

7 pm

Sir Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)

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

Before I deal with the principle of the Bill, may I remind the House of the distinction between the Second Reading of a public Bill and a private Bill. "Erskine May" says:

a public Bill being founded on reasons of state policy, the House, in agreeing to its second reading, accepts and affirms those reasons; but the expediency of a private Bill, being mainly founded on allegations of fact, which have not yet been proved, the House, in agreeing to its second reading, affirms the principle of the Bill conditionally, and subject to the proof of such allegations before the committee. Where, irrespective of such facts, the principle is objectionable, the House will not consent to the second reading; but otherwise, the expediency of the measure is usually left for the consideration of the committee. In general, the principle of the Bill is to create new quays, vital for our growing trade, with no damage to the environment, and to reclaim land which will become valuable industrial land with admirable port facilities in an area which has a high level of unemployment. I hope that no hon. Member will wish to vote against that principle. Of course, there are matters in dispute, but, as "Erskine May" advises, the expediency of the measure is usually left for the consideration of the committee. I trust that the House will follow that advice.

The principal object of the Bill is to authorise the development of Bath Side bay, Harwich, which lies between the existing harbour facilities at Parkeston quay to the west and Harwich to the east. The development will consist of the phased construction of a quay wall fronting the river Stour across Bath Side bay. In addition, approximately 330 acreas of tidal mud flats will be reclaimed. Once constructed the quay wall will provide four deep-sea container berths and facilities for handling approximately 100,000 containers per annum.

It is expected that the first container berth could be in operation within 18 months of the work beginning and the construction of the remaining three container berths will take place when required to meet commercial shipping demands.

It is exciting that the Bill, which creates quays as they become necessary, offers the first real prospect for the development of Bath Side bay, a project first proposed in the 1850s and a development by a company that has the resources to finance such a project.

The anticipated cost of the construction of the sea wall and the reclamation is £33 million at present-day prices. The overall cost of the development is expected to be in the region of £100 million at present day prices.

To the south of the port area will be a substantial area of land suitable for industrial and commercial use. Implementation, in association with the construction of stage two of the Dovercourt bypass, will ensure adequate road access.

Naturally, with the high rates of unemployment that there are in north-east Essex, I welcome the development. Many of my constituents are watching expectantly for the employment prospects that are likely to arise from the Bill, not only in the port itself but in the industrial and commercial area directly to the south of it.

Therefore, the House would bear a grave responsibility if, for some unfortunate reason, this evening it denies a Second Reading to the Bill, especially now that there is the capital and momentum to move forward from the considerable progress that has already been made since the new management took over responsibility for the port of Parkeston quay, Harwich.

Last year, thanks to quick decisions being made by the new management and help from the Essex county council, a substantial part of the land behind the proposed first berth and around the shore line of Bath Side bay has already been reclaimed with the necessary consents but without statutory powers, as the opportunity arose to acquire a large quantity of good quality material recovered from the dredging of the main channel of Harwich harbour. That reclamation was carried out by the Harwich harbour board with the present company's consent. It amounts to approximately 25 per cent. of the total area of the bay previously covered by water at high tide.

As the Second Reading of the Bill has already been blocked, and although this would be better taken in Committee, I should explain that there was a previous Act called the Bath Side Bay Development Act 1972 in which the Ear1par Development Company Ltd. obtained powers for the reclamation and development of port facilities in Bath Side bay. The works to be authorised by this Bill are on what is virtually the same site as those authorised by the 1972 Act. It is for that reason that the Bill proposes the repeal of that Act, which has never been implemented. Indeed, there is no way in which the 1972 Act could be implemented without the agreement and participation of Sealink Holdings Ltd. as it is the owner of a major part of the land lying above low water mark within the area designated for development in the Act. There are no provisions in the Act whereby Earlpar can acquire Sealink Holdings Ltd's interests other than by agreement.

Harwich Terminal Holdings, the holding company of Ear1par, makes much of the point that the 1972 Act authorised reclamation by sealing off the bay from the main river channel, in the first instance by the formation of a bund across the bay. It says that that was required by the Essex river authority, but investigation of the relevant papers shows that that is not so, rather that the river authority was concerned that if Earlpar were to proceed with reclamation in that way it should show that it had adequate funds to complete the job, so that the sealing off operation would not be left incomplete and without the subsequent back up of landward reclamation.

There is no specific provision in the 1972 Act to require reclamation in that way, but the works then authorised specified bunds stretching across the bay and would not be apt for the method of reclamation now proposed—reclaiming the bay progressively from the eastern end, keeping the reclamation of the landward area in step with any extension of the quay face.

The scheme of development authorised by the 1972 Act is, in the view of Sealink Holdings Ltd., impracticable as it involves the cost of comprehensive reclamation of Bath Side bay in the first instance before any deep water port facilities can be provided.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

What section of the 1972 Act says, first, as my hon. Friend has just told us, that the method proposed is not provided for, and, secondly, that the method that he has just described is provided for?

Sir Julian Ridsdale

I shall give my hon. Friend a reference if I have the leave of the House to reply to the debate.

Harwich Terminal Holdings also complained of discourtesy, in that the Bill has been promoted without notice to it. There is a long history of negotiations, culminating in the proposal made on behalf of Harwich Terminal Holdings that it should sell the 1972 Act for £7.24 million. After considering this proposal, put to it by merchant bankers on behalf of Harwich Terminal Holdings and Earlpar, a letter was written by Sea Containers on 20 March 1985 informing them that the company had decided that it could proceed without the assistance of Harwich Terminal Holdings or its associates. There were further discussions, but these were inconclusive. I am satisfied in connection with the deposit of the Bill that due notice was served on Earlpar in respect of the intended repeal of its 1972 Act.

Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company is promoting its own Bill to authorise extension of its container port. I was glad to speak in support of its Bill last year I hope that it will agree in principle to this Bill and that any worries that it may have about the phased development of Parkeston quay will be ironed out in Committee. This also applies to the concerns of some of my constituents about the right to use Gas House creek and the adjoining Gas House quay. I am glad that negotiations are in progress with Trinity House, with a view to solving points of difference amicably.

Finally, may I remind the House again that the principle of this Bill is to create new quays, with no damage to the environment, and to reclaim land, some of which will become valuable industrial land with admirable port facilities in an area that has very high unemployment. I sincerely trust that no hon. Member will wish to vote against that principle and will be willing to let matters of dispute be for consideration of the Committee, as ' Erskine May" advises. I, too, underline the need for urgency in coming to a decision.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)

I do not want to delay my hon. Friend's initial speech. I hope sincerely that later he will have the permission of the House to answer the debate, but I should not like him to sit down now without saying what, if any, consideration has been given by the present owners of Sealink to providing compensation for Earlpar. My hon. Friend referred to the sum of £7.24 million, but I am sure he will agree that that figure is now dead and gone and that since then there have been no further negotiations.

Sir Julian Ridsdale

I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised that extremely important point. Sealink and Harwich Terminal Holdings are conducting negotiations upon that matter. I have been informed today that Harwich Terminal Holdings said that it did not wish to have a meeting with Sealink Holdings because it would not be a meeting between the heads of the companies at which an agreement could be reached. I am glad to be able to tell my hon. Friend that Sealink Holdings said in reply that it is perfectly willing to have a meeting to conduct negotiations on this matter with the heads of the companies concerned. I think that that covers my hon. Friend's point. The promoters of the Bill are naturally anxious to reach agreement with Harwich Terminal Holdings upon this question.

Mr. Fairbairn

If I may pursue that point with my hon. Friend, assuming that the House gives a Second Reading to the Bill tonight, does he take the view that Sealink's bargaining position will be strengthened and that that of Harwich Terminal Holdings will be weakened, or does he take the view that it will be left as it is? If he takes the view that it will be left as it is, what is the haste for a Second Reading of the Bill before the settlement?

Sir Julian Ridsdale

The haste is because of the momentum that has been created in Harwich. I pointed out in my speech that there is a very high rate of unemployment in Harwich and that there is an urgent desire to reclaim the land in order to create industrial land in Harwich that a company, with reasonable assets, will wish to take up.

Mr. Fairbairn

What about the bargaining?

Sir Julian Ridsdale

I shall deal with that point. First, however, may I underline the urgency of this matter. Those of my hon. Friends who are faced with a rate of unemployment that is similar to that in Harwich will agree with me that I ought to do my best to urge them to give a Second Reading in principle to the Bill. "Erskine May" advises that this is a matter of expediency.

As for the negotiations, I think that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) will agree that the first price asked for the Bill was extremely high. I do not wish to put myself in the middle of the negotiations, but I know the proprietors. Having listened to the debate and having looked at the facts, as I have done, I am sure that they will want a reasonable agreement to be reached with Harwich Terminal Holdings. It is impossible for me, as a middleman, to say more than that, as I have no responsibility for the matter. All I ask my hon. Friends to do is to concentrate upon the principle of the Bill. If they object to it, they will wish to vote against its Second Reading or to talk the Bill out.

I wish to underline the need for urgency in reaching a decision. The fall in the price of oil should create a great demand for British manufactured goods throughout the Community and worldwide. The creation of these port facilities would result in Harwich being able to take shipping from any part of the world. A container port would be created on our east coast which would result in great advantages not only for my constituents but for Essex and the country generally.

For these reasons, I hope that the House will give a Second Reading to the Bill and that on the question of expediency it will follow the advice of "Erskine May" and deal with those matters in Committee.

7.18 pm
Mr. Willie Hamilton (Fife, Central)

I beg to move,

That the Bill be read a Second time upon this day six months. Hon. Members may wonder why a Scottish Member should move a motion. They might be even more curious—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but the motion that he sought to move has not been selected, and, indeed, is not normally selected.

Mr. Hamilton

I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was about to explain why the motion standing in my name is supported by five hon. Members of Scottish origin—even if they are not all Scottish Members. One of them represented a Scottish constituency, but now represents Southend, East. I do not know their motives in supporting the motion. Indeed, I am rather embarrassed to find myself in such undesirable company. I hasten to add that I have had no consultations whatever on the matter. However, I have had some private conversations with the hon. Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale), and I think that he understands my position fairly well. I have no objection to any hon. Member who seeks to further his constituency's interests, especially if there is any prospect of creating jobs in an area—like many others—that has high unemployment.

I should make my position clear. My active interest in private Bill procedure was excited by the strange and unsavoury story of the Felixstowe Bill and by the experiences of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) when she served on the Committee dealing with that Bill. On 12 February, we had a lively debate following a motion from the Chairman of Ways and Means to reduce the quorum in order to expedite the Bill's passage. During that debate, I and other Opposition Members revealed that the Bill's promoters were major financial contributors to the Tory party. We also sought to show how antiquated and unsatisfactory private Bill practice is. The procedure was, and is, open to abuse of one sort or another.

On that occasion, history was made when the Chairman of Ways and Means, as you will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, moved that motion and implied that an inquiry into that procedure would be initiated. Those debates were obviously read in Harwich, because a lady wrote me a long letter, saying that the Bill illustrates the deficiencies of Private Bill procedures to an even greater degree than the Felixstowe Bill. In an informed way, she then eloquently explained why the Bill should be rejected. I need not go into the details of that letter now, but she said that the Bill was promoted by Sealink Harbours Ltd., which is a United Kingdom company with a Bermudan holding company headed by Mr. James Sherwood, of Channel tunnel fame. The implication is clear.

That lady suggested that some inquiries might be made about Mr. Sherwood and his activities vis-a-vis the Conservative party, following the relationship that we established between the company promoting the Felixstowe Bill and the Conservative party. She made several points, and said that the plan would threaten the outstanding conservation area of old Harwich and Gas House creek, which abuts the conservation area.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

As always, I have listened with respect to the hon. Gentleman. He has referred to the private Bill procedure. Surely he is aware that his informant's objections could be properly dealt with in Committee. Does not the hon. Gentleman adhere to that view? If not, why not?

Mr. Hamilton

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was present when we debated the Felixstowe Bill, but we then pointed out the wholly antiquated and unsatisfactory nature of that procedure. Four hon. Members were appointed to the Committee and were compelled to attend, on penalty of being fined. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley happened to be serving on the Committee debating the Gas Bill as well. She made the very relevant point that her constituents were much more concerned that she should attend the Committee debating the Gas Bill and the privatisation of the gas industry than that she should attend a Committee debating the Felixstowe Bill. She asked me what she should do, and I told her not to attend the sittings of the Committee on the Felixstowe Bill. She did not attend the latter, and she then received stern letters from the authorities saying that she must attend. I told her not to and she decided not to attend.

At that point, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) also refused to attend, and the Chairman of Ways and Means, whose duty it is to see that private Bills get through, moved a motion reducing the quorum to, I believe, three. That meant that there were two Conservative Members and possibly one Labour Member if he or she could be found. Those three hon. Members were to determine a matter of crucial national interest. Opposition Members all said that the procedure was absurd.

It is ridiculous that a matter of national policy should be determined by three or four Back Benchers who have been compelled to attend and to hear hour after hour of droning from highly paid counsel and QCs. The only people to laugh at our private Bill procedure are parliamentary agents and counsel. They are making money out of it. It is time that that came to an end.

I am under no illusions about what is happening. I support the hon. Member for Harwich in his attempt to create jobs. I would support any hon. Member who tried to do that. The Bill raises several points that could be raised in Committee, but then that procedure is unsatisfactory.

Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I introduced the Felixstowe Bill and followed its Committee stage with interest. The hon. Gentleman is a very good constitutionalist and Member of Parliament. But if he believes that private Bill procedures are out of date and anachronistic, would it not be better to go through the proper procedures for changing them than to recommend to his hon. Friends that they should, in effect, go on strike?

Mr. Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman is also a skilled parliamentarian and must understand that there are limits to what a Back Bencher can do. An investigation into the private Bill procedure is in hand, but meanwhile we must take what steps we can to prevent or inhibit that procedure's smooth operation, and to influence that Committee's proceedings. The private Bill procedure must be radically changed, because it is at present absurd.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware, being a Scottish Member, that it is not unusual to be on more than one Committee at a time. That means that the Committee which the hon. Member does not attend does not do its work properly or effectively. An examination of procedure is long overdue.

Mr. Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman supports my view. The more hon. Members who take that view, the more pressure can be put on the Chairman of Ways and Means to make a radical change and to end the nonsense. I am not worried about forcing a vote today, so long as the protest about the absurdity of our procedures is put on the record.

The Bill proposes to repeal the Bathside Bay Development Act 1972 which operates until 1992 and was obtained through the private Bill procedure. The Bill repeats the substance of that Act's provisions. The Bill is proposed by Sealink Harbours Ltd. The powers of the 1972 Act are vested in the Earlpar Development Company Ltd., which has now petitioned. The chairman of that company happens to be the Earl of Lauderdale—Patrick Maitland, as I knew him many years ago in the House. I am in strange company.

The Earl of Lauderdale has written to me and seen me. He has a financial interest, which he has frankly declared. He has given me information which is not readily available. This is a complex matter which underlines the undesirability of dealing with such matters in a private Bill Committee, which we now have to tolerate.

Mr. Fairbairn

As someone with vast experience of the procedure, who has been both perspicacious in observing it and critical of it, can the hon. Gentleman tell me whether he knows of a precedent for the proposal that one private Bill should be brought before Parliament by one interested party in order to extinguish the inalienable rights granted by Parliament to another party?

Mr. Hamilton

I do not think that there is such a precedent. A private Bill was passed by the House in 1972 and this, another private Bill, seeks to repeal that measure. That is reprehensible and undesirable and the House has the power to stop it.

The 1972 Act and the Bill relate to the reclamation for harbour development of more than 250 acres of tidal mudflats west of Harwich, fronting the Stour-Orwell estuary. The engineering feasibility of the reclamation project was first established by the Earlpar company, which negotiated over the years with British Rail, the freeholders, to undertake the work on a development agreement, then a lease of the reclaimed land. The development was obstructed by the requirements of section 9 of the Harbours Act 1964. That required Government consent for any harbour works involving capital investment above a certain amount. Consent was dependent on a recommendation by the National Ports Council. This, in turn, required the company to demonstrate that it had a contractual user commitment in bankable terms to ensure that the capital could be both serviced and redeemed. The prospective user had to be willing to undertake to make "X" use of the harbour, at "Y" dues, over "Z" period—all this for a harbour not yet built, on land not yet reclaimed.

The section 9 requirement was not repealed until the Ports (Finance) Act 1985. However, the freehold of that site today, having been passed by British Rail to Sealink, had through privatisation passed by July 1984 to Mr. John Sherwood's American Sea Containers Ltd. The sale was carried out under the Transport Act 1981, which requires any purchaser of Sealink's harbour interests to take over related liabilities as well as assets. The liabilities included an enjoyment of 15 years of technical studies determining the feasibility of a reclamation project and geophysical conditions for harbour development. They had been made freely available by the Earlpar company to the freeholder, British Rail, in the light of successive letters of intent.

Sea Containers Ltd. has so far ignored Earlpar's offer to sell the company's assets and the benefit of the studies as well as introduce a user, both to make a firm commitment and to help fund the development. Instead, Sea Containers has chosen to seek to obtain these benefits for nothing by a private Bill—[Interruption.] I see that the hon. Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale) disagrees with me. I hope that he will make these matters clear later because they are sore points to petitioners against the Biil.

The Bill ignores the environmental protests of those in Harwich who are worried about protecting and using Gashouse creek at the east end of Bath Side Bay. I understand that the petitioners, on their behalf, have been refused a hearing before the Committee on Opposed Bills to be set up should the Bill obtain a Second Reading. Environmental rights will thus be eliminated without being heard. The creek was specifically protected under the 1972 Act.

The hon. Member for Harwich mentioned Trinity House interests. I am not sure whether those interests are protected, but, according to my information, they are likely to be ignored by the Bill. Trinity House has petitioned, and I understand that negotiations with the promoters are proceeding. I understand that the port of Felixstowe has also petitioned on the ground of anxiety about the effect which piecemeal harbour development will have on the estuarial regime. I do not know whether that is so. It needs explanation, and I hope that the hon. Member for Harwich will explain.

That interest was protected by the 1972 Act which this Bill proposes to repeal. The regime is also threatened by increasingly high tides while the volume of sea-going freight handled on the estuary has risen by about 50 per cent. in the past five years.

The Bill describes the original 1972 Act as spent or of no practical utility". The hon. Member for Harwich said that. At the time that Sealink was being privatised, the Harwich harbour authority undertook dredging operations in the estuary and, at the instance of the Earlpar company, was persuaded by British Rail to deposit the spoils on Bath Side bay to start off the reclamation. Nearly one third of Bath Side has been filled in as a result. The parliamentary powers which protected this operation from interference by others—for example, the dumping of harmful refuse—existed in the 1972 Act. Therefore, that Act has already proved its relevance and value.

When I got the letter from the lady in Harwich and also the representations of the Earl of Lauderdale, I received, as a consequence, a letter from the parliamentary agents, Sherwood and Company, of Queen Anne's Chambers, Westminster, which asked me to give my reasons for objecting to the Bill. I simply replied by enclosing a copy of the long letter which I had received from the lady in Harwich. I deleted her name and address because I did not have her permission to use it. I also explained my views, in principle, on the private Bill procedure.

The lady subsequently apologised to the hon. Member for Harwich because she had made some incorrect allegations in her letter which she later withdrew. I had stirred up a hornet's nest which I regret. I do not regret my part in these proceedings. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) had put down a blocking motion on the Bill, to which I added my name. I consulted my hon. Friend about the terms of the letter and my hon. Friend asked me to put my name to the blocking motion because there was something irregular about it. That is confirmed to some extent by the letter from the lady in Harwich. I shall end with a fairly lengthy quotation, but I believe it is important to get it on the record.

Mr. Fairbairn

Let's have it all.

Mr. Hamilton

In due course I may allow the hon. and learned Gentleman to see the letter.

The letter states: Why are Parliament and the people of Harwich subjected to the introduction of this Bill? There is no doubt in my mind, and that of others, that this is only their first foray into the conservation area. At present, you may know, the seamen here are on strike due to redundancies and the loss of Sealink's freight contract to Felixstowe. If you consult the Unions here, you will find that they have further fears, particularly regarding intrusion of foreign crews and workers, and yet this town would become `Sealinkville', wholly dependent on Sealink if this Bill were enacted. Questions were asked in Committee on the Felixstowe Bill concerning the Promoters' donations to Tory Party funds—Mr. Sherwood has friends in high places—it might be interesting to put the same questions to him. If this Bill goes to Committee, I hope the same questions will be put to Mr. Sherwood as were put to the relevant people who promoted the Felixstowe Bill.

The letter continues to consider the role of the Crown Estate Commissioners which was not mentioned by the hon. Member for Harwich: Yet another aspect is the Crown Estate Commissioners. I have been attempting to investigate the ownership of land delineated in the Book of Reference to the Bill, as the Promoters can list any land as theirs or reputed to be theirs with no proof of ownership, the system relying entirely on someone petitioning to say it is not; such research is also lengthy, which the procedural timetable does not allow for. The Crown Estate Commissioners state that they are already negotiating with Sealink about making their land in Bath Side Bay available to Sealink. This seems incredible with an Act over the area still in operation and a Bill just introduced; I trust that they will not be permitted to transfer it to Sealink whilst the Bill is before the House. My other information from them"— that is, the Crown Estates Commissioners— concerned the bed of the Creek which Sealink purport to own. They say this was transferred to the United Land Company in 1871. They agree with my contention that the bed of a tidal river so far as the tide ebbs and flows is vested in the Crown and that when it is granted or acquired with this grant or acquisition passes intrinsically the public right of navigation and fishing right and rights ancillary thereto over the locus of the grant or acquisition.

Mr. Fairbairn


Mr. Hamilton

I shall just finish the paragraph: They state that the custodian of such rights on behalf of the public is the Attorney General. I trust that the Attorney General will enforce these rights in the case of this Bill.

Mr. Fairbairn

This may seem a strange question for one Scottish Member to ask another about the law of England but, given that the lady is right about these matters, do the regalia majora and regalia minora apply to the shores of England as they do to the shores of Scotland and are the shores the rights of the Crown and not the rights of the proprietor?

Mr. Hamilton

I do not know. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman should apply for membership of the Committee. I will recommend him for that because clearly he has many pertinent questions to put to the promoters of the Bill.

I shall finish the quote:

I think, as you do, that the fight for reform in Private Bill procedures is a fight for some democratic representation for common people in these matters. Justice is not being done and the interests of a multinational company are being given not only precedence but almost sole hearing. Private Bill procedures in Bills such as the Harwich Parkeston Quay Bill are no longer democratic in any acceptable sense. I entirely agree with that proposition; and that is why I am making this speech. I want it to be put on record —I hope other hon. Members will put it on record in the course of the Bill—that, unless we get this procedure reformed and modernised, we ought not to allow private Bills to go through the House under this procedure.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

I also want the procedure reformed. Does the hon. Gentleman think that it is right that he should tell the House that the letter he is reading is from Mrs. Cullen, who was originally a petitioner against the Bill? Her petition was struck out by the Court of Referees. Her locus was disallowed by the procedures of this House because she does not claim any other right but as a member of the public. Since the Court of Referees has taken that view, does the hon. Gentleman think it is proper to seek to import her objections when the proper procedures have said that they are not revelant?

Mr. Hamilton

I do not know, but she has made some valid arguments in the letter, which ought to be recorded. I have not asked her permission to quote the letter and I have deliberately sought not to identify her, but the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) has, and he may be right. The principles on which she is acting are sound. She believes that there are rights of individual citizens which are being treated in a slipshod manner and that citizens are unable to put their arguments to a Committee of the House. Such people's interests are not being protected as they should be.

These are matters of fundamental national interest and they should not be dealt with in this feudalistic way, which gives only the lawyers acting on behalf of the promoters or the petitioners a fair deal. If I put that on record and repeat it every time that a private Bill is considered in the House, the message might eventually lead to radical change in the procedure.

7.50 pm
Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) has been a Member of the House for a long time and has a great knowledge of procedure. Anything that he says on that subject must be listened to with respect. I had a little sympathy with him at one stage, but he did not answer my question. I am not concerned who the lady is. As the hon. Gentleman did not have her permission to reveal her name, he properly did not do so, but he did not deny the allegation of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) that her case was not thought to be justified and that her petition was rejected by the Court of Referees.

I did not want to go into that, for the reason that my question was not whether the private Bill procedure is as well framed and conducted as it should be, but whether, bearing in mind the objections that the hon. Gentleman voiced on behalf of the lady concerned, he nevertheless thought that these matters could properly be considered in Committee under the existing private Bill procedure.

I have always understood that to be the case. I should have thought that the Earl of Lauderdale could make such objections as he has in Committee, irrespective of whether or not he has an interest in the matter. Surely we are interested in arriving at objective truth, discovering where justice lies and what is the right thing to do, and that can be done in Committee.

Mr. Bill Walker

My right hon. Friend has also been a Member of the House for a long time and is experienced in procedural matters. Does he have any experience of a private Bill being introduced to remove a private Act?

Sir Bernard Braine

No, I do not recall any such precedent. Perhaps that ought to be considered, but I do not believe that it should delay the Bill's passage. The point could be considered in detail in Committee.

I am speaking as a senior Member for the county of Essex because I support what my colleague of many years' standing, my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale), is doing. He has been a doughty campaigner for the north-eastern part of our county, and he is as anxious as others in that area that nothing should stand in the way of a scheme which will bring undoubted benefits to our county as a whole.

Essex is expanding. Our population will grow well beyond the year 2000 and the development of the M25 and the M 11 means that we shall experience considerable growth in business and industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) nods agreement, for he knows that this development will enable goods to reach the continent more speedily through the east coast ports. The Bill would facilitate much more than port expansion next door to the existing container handling complex at Parkeston—or to improve employment opportunities in my hon. Friend's constituency.

The good effects will be felt throughout our county. That is why the Essex county council strongly favours a swift decision. Indeed, it is quite remarkable that the first container berth is expected to be ready within 18 months of the start of the work and that three more are likely to follow. The project is linked to the provision of substantial additional land for industrial and commercial development and the construction of the second phase of the Dovercourt bypass. Some work has already been undertaken, and we are now raring to go.

In short, the project is likely to lead to a substantial increase in container traffic, which will stimulate business in an area far beyond Harwich, extending to south-east Essex, mid-Essex and the former metropolitan Essex, which is now in Greater London. That development is needed now.

I do not propose to go into my hon. Friend's moderately argued case in detail. Perhaps there are objections which ought to be heard in accordance with our established private Bill traditions and procedures, but the right place for that is in Committee. I did not agree with all of the conclusions reached by the hon. Member for Fife, Central, but he adduced some arguments that we should note. However, that has no bearing on the desirability of the Bill's swift passage or on the urgency of the work to be done. I hope, therefore, that the House will support the Bill.

I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich, on behalf of my part of Essex, for his skill and efficacy in bringing this matter before us.

7.59 pm
Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)

I sympathise with the points made so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale) about employment in his constituency. During the past few months, I have had considerable experience in piloting private Bills through the House, fortunately successfully.

I also subscribe to the views expressed by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). Something must be done about private Bills, which are in many cases ridiculous. It is an abuse of the House for them to be brought here instead of being dealt with through normal legislation, which is possible in local government.

Having taken much interest in this issue and read the Bill thoroughly, I shall devote my remarks to what I consider to be the unfair treatment which Earlpar Development Company has received from the new owner of Sealink and what has taken place since the Bath Side Bay Development Act 1972 was passed. I shall endeavour to respect the statement by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich that discussions are taking place between Sealink and Harwich Terminal Holdings, whose wholly owned subsidiary is the Earlpar Development Company.

Clause 23 and the second schedule to the Bill would repeal the Bath Side Bay Development Act, granted by Parliament under the private Bill procedure in 1972 and extended by the Secretary of State for Transport to run until 1992—a further six years. The Act was granted to Harwich Terminal Holdings, but the wholly owned subsidiary of that company was the Earlpar Development Company, which was incorporated in 1970.

Harwich Terminal Holdings is a petitioner against the Bill. It owns Earlpar Development Company, along with a development account asset worth about £700,000 at historical cost. That represents cash outgoings and obligations in respect of expenses incurred in preparing and advancing the reclamation and development scheme with which the Bill and the existing Act have been concerned for nearly 15 years.

The original Act and the Bill deal with the powers, as the hon. Member for Fife, Central pointed out.

Mr. Fairbairn

Will my hon. Friend advise me whether there are any proposals in the Bill to compensate the original company for the work it has done in the meantime when the new company takes over its permanent powers?


I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will bear with me, because I intend to take that issue fully into account.

The original Act and the Bill deal with the powers to reclaim about 250 acres of tidal mud flats called Bath Side bay, fronting the Stour-Orwell estuary opposite Felixstowe, between Harwich on the east and Parkeston quay on the west. The freehold of Parkeston quay and Bath Side bay was passed by British Rail to Sealink, which on privatisation was bought by the Bermuda-registered American company, Sea Containers, on 27 July 1984. Sealink is a promoter of the Bill to establish its powers to carry out the reclamation and the harbour development while extinguishing those powers established by the 1972 Act, which was granted to the Earlpar Development Company.

When buying Sealink, Mr. James Sherwood, the president of Sea Containers, could not obtain more than the Transport Act 1981 authorised British Rail to dispose of. Nor could he escape whatever liabilities were included in the package. This is a very important factor. Parliament authorised British Rail to sell its Sealink Harbours undertakings, including all property rights and liabilities of that part of Sealink which applied to Parkeston quay. Among those assets was the freehold of Bath Side bay's mud flats. That asset embraced its inherent potential for reclamation and development. Purchase of that development potential could mean nothing without a clear and sure liability for all the related engineering studies and the other works that had advanced the physical feasibility of the reclamation scheme during a period of 12 years.

Reclamation and development of the Bath Side bay had been dreamt about and rejected as, at worst, impractical, and, at best, uneconomic, for many years. But about 1968, Robert Earley and Partners—now Earley Campling Lee and Partners—later in association with the Earlpar Development Company, commissioned studies which in 1969 were explained to British Rail. Thus was first established the feasibility of the scheme. That and a series of soil surveys, hydrological studies and other investigations were commissioned by the Earlpar Development Company, it having the copyright, which was made freely available to British Rail on the clear understanding—repeatedly confirmed—that the Earlpar Development Company would carry out the scheme.

As regards British Rail, and later Sealink, it lay with the freeholder to grant a development agreement so that Earlpar Development Company could have access to the tidal mud flats in the first place. That development agreement was to be followed by a lease of the land once it had been reclaimed.

British Rail was throughout sympathetic, even enthusiastic, but anxieties about competition and a greed for extracting the maximum reliability inhibited progress. The consultant's—Earlpar Development Company—first approach was on 22 October 1969, and it was rewarded with a sympathetic reply from British Rail early in 1970, setting the tone of the relationship which would exist for the next 14 years.

The letter from British Rail read:

I assure you that if any useful developments could be introduced into the Bath Side area at Harwich, the Board would be only too pleased to assist by making land available. Our past considerations of this matter have always led us to believe that the cost of reclamation would be prohibitive, but since your company appear to be sure that more modern methods of reclamation will make this a feasible proposition, you may rest assured that the Board do not wish to place any obstacle in your way. A series of letters and meetings followed, during which, in April 1971, British Rail confirmed its intent to the point that Earlpar enjoyed its support for the Bath Side Bay Development Bill, which was enacted in August 1972. One and a half years later, in February 1974, draft heads of intention were agreed in a 10,000-word document of 34 pages. The worst sticking points were British Rail's protectionist requirement against Earlpar's port servicing trade with Benelux or any port in France as far west as Boulogne. But, despite that, three letters from the British Rail chairman, Mr. Richard Marsh—who is now in the Upper House—confirmed British Rail's readiness to proceed.

Progress was impeded by the Harbours Act 1964, because no port development above a certain capital cost could proceed without section 9 consent, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Fife, Central. The Government would grant this only after consulting the National Ports Council. That body needed a bankable, contractual user commitment to prove that the user was ready to guarantee the use of X facilities over Y number of years at Z cost. This had to be in terms sufficient to service and later to redeem the capital invested. Such a commitment was required for a harbour that was unbuilt on land that was then unreclaimed. That inhibiting requirement remained in force until it was repealed by the Ports (Finance) Act 1985—about the time that Sea Containers approached Sealink.

As far back as 1972, Earlpar's first application for a section 9 consent was refused, but the company was invited to return with a further application. That was submitted in April 1974 but rejected eight months later. The grounds for rejection were political: that such a private enterprise project could not be allowed to pre-empt the then Government's policy of nationalising the ports.

By the autumn of 1977 the company was back in negotiation. British Rail gave a letter of support for a third application for section 9 consent, but the application failed because British Rail's terms for a trading clause to protect its narrow shipping interests, Benelux to Boulogne, were found to conflict with article 85 of the treaty of Rome.

British Rail proposed funding the development itself, employing Earlpar as its agent, with its Act. British Rail finally withdrew from this plan because of the trading climate, but gave yet another letter of intent dated June 1980 to enable Earlpar to try once more for section 9 consent and to help it in raising the finance. Four months later the then Secretary of State for the Environment extended the powers of the 1972 Act until 9 August 1992.

In July 1981 the company was at last given a section 9 consent for reclamation alone. The company also received British Rail's proposals to extend its letter of intent to take account of the new situation. Unfortunately, progress was inhibited by the prospect of Sealink being privatised under the Transport Act 1981. As long as privatisation was pending, no finance could be firmed up.

The purchase of Sealink by Sea Containers on 29 July 1984 was quickly followed by Mr. James Sherwood's public announcement that he meant to reclaim Bath Side bay and to develop that whole frontage as a major new port complex in competition with Felixstowe across the water. Mr. Sherwood's company took over at a favourable time because, thanks to Earlpar's warning, initiative and plans, the British Railways Board, the Harwich harbour authority and the Essex county council all saw the danger of a missed opportunity.

The harbour authority had been planning to dump at sea all the rich sandy spoil dredged up in deepening its estuary channel. The authority agreed to put the spoil ashore at Bath Side and thus get the reclamation started. The dredging was carried out by Harwich Harbour Conservancy Board, and deposition of the spoil on Bath Side was funded by Essex county council, as it was then, to prepare for the Dovercourt bypass road. It was done with the consent of Sealink which, to be fair, was the freeholder, but it was also done with the authorisation of the Secretary of State for Transport. That authorisation was given on 29 November 1984, and he cited section 34 of the Coast Protection Act 1949.

The company had a large number of contacts with the authorities and they certainly require to be spoken about, because it has to be proved that Earlpar has been unfairly dealt with by this new company, Sea Containers.

Mr. Fairbairn

My hon. Friend spoke about section 34 of the Coast Protection Act 1949 and said that it was used by the Secretary of State to obtain the necessary powers or to frustrate the company. Does my hon. Friend think that was a proper thing to do, or does he think that it demonstrates the fallacy and falsehood of the Bill?

Mr. McQuarrie

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his comments. He is quite right. The action by the Secretary of State demonstrates the fallacy and the shortfall in the Bill.

The chronological summary of Earlpar's progress commences in October 1969 and continues until the summer of 1974 when negotiations with the British Railways Board and its property division resulted in British Rail making a clear statement of its wish to proceed.

In 1972, the first rejection of the application for section 9 consent under the Harbours Act 1964 took place. In April 1972 the company was granted planning consent, and in 1973 draft heads of intention were proposed by British Rail. In 1974 the second rejection on political grounds of a section 9 application occurred. In February 1975, this phase of talks with British Rail was concluded. From February 1975 until the end of 1977 efforts focused on securing a contractual user commitment to satisfy the essential requirement for National Ports Council support for another section 9 application. In 1978 and 1981, further conversations took place with British Rail to try to arrange an agreement.

Mr. Fairbairn

My hon. Friend is rushing through these matters. These important negotiations were an attempt to create employment by redeeming this land and making port facilities. The negotiations were important. They are not matters that we can pass over just by saying that they took place in those years. Why was there no acceptance of a matter about which we are being asked to pass a Bill to make possible immediately?

Mr. McQuarrie

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for drawing attention to that. I have no wish to delay the House, but equally I have no wish that the House should not hear what should be said about this Bill. If my hon. and learned Friend feels that I am rushing through it—as he knows, it is my wont to speak fast rather than slowly—I shall endeavour to speak a little more slowly for his benefit. I agree that these are important matters. Important discussions took place. They cannot be taken lightly, and I do not want to give the impression that they were rushed. A lot of detail was covered in the discussions and I shall come to that during my speech.

In 1978 yet another section 9 application was made. It was frustrated when it was discovered that restrictive clauses in the proposed Bath Side bay agreement protecting Sealink traffic from Benelux to Boulogne would conflict with article 85 of the treaty of Rome.

In 1979, British Rail proposed that it would make a direct investment in the project. That was a clear indication of British Rail's confidence that Earlpar was on the right track with the project. Unfortunately, negotiations proved abortive during 1980 because of the heavy front-end loading of the scheme and the forecast of delayed returns. British Rail issued a further letter of intent in 1980 and it was later given an extension verbally. In August 1980, the Bath Side bay Development Act was extended to 1992. In July 1981, section 9 consent was granted for reclamation only. At that stage efforts were focused on raising funds, but these were inhibited by the privatisation programme included in the Transport Act 1981.

In March 1984, there was news of the Harwich Harbour Conservancy Board's plan to dump at sea spoil obtained from estuarial dredging. From April to July of 1984 there were intensive negotiations with Sealink, the Harwich Harbour Conservancy Board and Essex county council to ensure that the spoil was used for partial reclamation. Authorisation to dump the spoil on Bath Side bay was given by the Department of Transport in November 1984. On 27 July 1984, Sealink sold to Sea Containers Ltd. At that stage, further conversations with Harwich Terminal Holdings Ltd. were brought to a halt. In November 1984 dredging started and spoil was deposited according to the plans of Harwich International Terminals. In March 1985 a conversation with Sea Containers was closed by Sea Containers.

Sir Julian Ridsdale

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons for the breaking off of the negotiations was the absurd price of £7.24 million asked by Harwich Terminal Holdings for the work that it had done beforehand?

Mr. McQuarrie

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing that to my attention. It is an important matter.

Mr. Bill Walker

My hon. Friend has considerable experience of the construction industry and he knows what happens when work is partially completed. He will be aware of the importance of technical information. Is it his experience that one starts negotiations from a bargaining position and that no one expects the first bargaining position to be accepted?

Mr. McQuarrie

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention.

I reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich by saying that the original offer, on the advice of Hambros bank, was to ask for compensation of £7.24 million. Sea Containers did not even entertain discussions with Earlpar, the development company, because the conversations which commenced in March 1985 were closed by Sea Containers without any offer of compensation.

In July 1985, contact was resumed and there was a meeting with Mr. James Sherwood at which HIT was invited to make new proposals. In November 1985 proposals were put forward by HIT, but Mr. Sherwood did not respond. It is unfair to suggest that HIT asked for £7.24 million—a request which was thrown out by Sea Containers and Mr. James Sherwood—without making any alternative proposal. Had there been some form of negotiation on meaningful terms of a financial return to HIT for nearly 15 years of work, we would not be discussing these important issues tonight.

Sea Containers found everything necessary for partial reclamation to begin when it took over, and at no expense to itself. It also found a library of technical feasibility studies which over the years Earlpar had made freely available to British Railways Board's engineers as well as to the Harwich harbour authority and the Anglian water authority. In the light of no fewer than five demonstrations by the British Railways Board of its manifest intention that the Earlpar project should go ahead, eventually Earlpar placed no embargo on material, nor thought of stressing its own copyright.

I turn to the company's contact with Sea Containers. Following the takeover of Sealink, Earlpar made contact with Sea Containers to discuss collaboration on the outright sale of its company and its Act; the rights to the studies conducted over a period of nearly 15 years; and the score or so of consents that Earlpar had obtained. It was advised by its merchant banker, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich has said, to propose a figure of £7.24 million as compensation for nearly 15 years of work. That was rejected by Sea Containers in the spring of 1985, and the matter has gone no further.

Sir Julian Ridsdale

I think my hon. Friend is wrong in saying that the matter has gone no further. I said when I addressed the House that at this stage negotiations have been offered at top level between the two companies. The offer was made that the negotiations should take place tomorrow. Does my hon. Friend agree that the issue should be taken up in Committee and that it should not be used as a reason for opposing Second Reading?

Mr. McQuarrie

I am sure that my hon. Friend does not want to mislead the House. Perhaps he is not in possession of the information with which I have been supplied. I do not suggest that he is wrong or that I am wrong. The information that has been conveyed to me, no later than this afternoon—indeed, earlier this evening—is to the effect that negotiations are not in hand, not even with the junior members of Sea Containers. If my hon. Friend can give the House positive information on who is conducting the negotiations and which member of HIT or Earlpar is involved in them, it will be for the benefit of the House to hear it.

Sir Julian Ridsdale

I have in my hand a letter dated 28 April 1986 from Sherwoods. The final sentence reads: Should your clients wish to pursue this, it is suggested that they make an approach to Mr. Sherwood or Mr. Bray direct.

Mr. McQuarrie

I shall address myself to that alleged letter in due course. I can tell the House that as far as I am concerned there is no such letter in existence. That is the position of Earlpar.

Mr. Fairbairn

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If, during the course of Second Reading of a private Bill, a company had offered a financial inducement to those who are resisting it to resist, is that not improper?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

This matter can legitimately be debated on Second Reading, but it is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. McQuarrie

I hope that I have not got my hon. and learned Friend wrong. I hope that he is not suggesting that any negotiation between the parties, even at this late stage, is irregular. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich has said that he is in possession of a letter, but I can tell him that Lord Lauderdale, to whom the hon. Member for Fife, Central referred, has told me that no such letter exists as far as his organisation is concerned. I must take the word of the noble Lord who has had so much to do with the Bill.

Sir Julian Ridsdale

That shows how much better this could have been dealt with, if my hon. Friend had allowed it, in Committee rather than on Second Reading. I am pleased to say that I have this letter, dated 28 April, which is in reply to a letter of 28 April from Dyson Bell and Co, acting for Lord Lauderdale.

Mr. McQuarrie

I hope that there will be a little time for my hon. Friend to respond to some of the points that have been raised, so that he can tell the House what the letter says about financial compensation to Earlpar. Some of us feel that an injustice has been done to a company that has spent nearly 15 years developing something and then, because some big brother has taken over the place, has been thrown out without any question of compensation. That simply is not on, and I regret to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich that that is the pertinent point that I am trying to illustrate.

Mr. Fairbairn

This has now been going on for a long time. Can my hon. Friend speculate on how it has come to pass that a letter, offering to negotiate, came from the other side on 28 April which, if I am not mistaken, is tonight?

Mr. McQuarrie

I am grateful for that point. The letter is in response to a request for negotiations made several weeks ago. As soon as the names went down on the blocking motion, Sea Containers finally saw fit to make a sign to Lord Lauderdale and his colleagues that it wished to have talks. It did not get beyond that. I know that my colleagues and other hon. Members are anxious to speak, but the case must be proven, and Mr. Sherwood has an obligation to Earlpar that he has not so far honoured.

Mr. Sherwood and his assistant, Mr. David Bray, met Earlpar's directors in July 1985 for a further discussion. Mr. Sherwood spoke of the possibility of a new private Bill, and he was warned that it was certain to run into difficulties, if only because of its conflict with the present Act. He finished by inviting Earlpar to make a new proposal, which it did. In November, Mr. Bray repeated the invitation to the chairman of Earlpar's holding company, Mr. Anthony Reardon-Smith, to write in with his suggestions for discussions with Sealink that week.

In the meantime, Earlpar has received approaches from a British shipping company of worldwide standing, eager to develop a container facility at the port, eager to do business through Earlpar, and able to play a significant part in funding. What is more, it is eager to give employment in an area which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich has said, has high unemployment.

Sealink's plan, as explained to Earlpar at the meeting in July and as is implicit in the Bill, is to develop the harbour works piecemeal, working eastwards from Parkeston quay as user commitments become available. As Sealink has lately been losing user commitments to Felixstowe, the introduction of a substantial potential user should have been of interest, as well as being a sign of Earlpar's continued readiness to co-operate on reasonable terms.

Earlpar sent proposals on 28 November 1985 to Mr. Bray, from whom it received no acknowledgement, let alone a reply. In recent weeks, since a petition against the Bill was deposited, Sealink has said that the proposals have been answered by telephone—not by a letter, in a good business way—rejecting Earlpar's proposals. Earlpar has said that it can only say that that is the case. It had no communication from Mr. Bray until a message was passed through Sealink's parliamentary agents a week ago, after a proposal put forward in November 1985.

Let me now summarise my conclusions. It was Earlpar that convinced British Rail and then Sealink of the feasibility of the scheme. Earlpar has provided, and owns, the critical engineering studies enabling the project to go forward. The company's powers have another six years to run. Thanks to Earlpar's initiatives, one third of the bay has been reclaimed at no cost to Sealink. In turn, that may have modified the capital cost of the reclamation and development project by up to 30 per cent.

The historic obstacle to Earlpar's scheme—the requirement for section 9 consent, based on a bankable contractual user commitment for a harbour, as yet unbuilt, on land, as yet unclaimed—no longer obtains, because Earlpar has done a first-class job. Earlpar has a sound and potential user, eager to do business on starting the port development and supplied with ample resources.

No doubt the promoters have ample resources of their own, but the very range of their interests could be an argument against coherent supervision. Their attitude to the matter is likely to be distracted by association with a mixed bag of divergent interests. Apart from five other Sealink harbours—Stranraer, Heysham, Holyhead, Newhaven and Folkestone—and some 12 ferry routes, they include entry to the leisure markets with the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, ownership of several former British Rail hotels, as well as one in Venice, a protect for a Peking-Hong Kong version of the Orient Express, not to say tourist steamers on Lake Windermere, the "Gourmet's Discriminating Guide to London" and the Illustrated London News.

This resort to the private Bill procedure to secure repeal of an Act enjoying another six years to run should not be permitted as long as the company that has spent nearly 15 years developing the project has not been compensated. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich must give us a firm guarantee that positive steps will be taken. I do not consider that the Committee is the place for that undertaking to be given. It must be given on the Floor of the House. If he does not have the information, I ask him to endeavour to get it from wherever it is available. Unless he can give us that information, the Bill should be rejected out of hand.

8.38 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Michael Spicer)

At this point I shall briefly tell the House the Government's view on the Bill. It is the traditional view for all Bills of this type.

The Government have considered the contents of the Bill and have no objection to the powers sought by Sealink Harbours Ltd. A few minor drafting points have been raised in correspondence with the promoters, but I have no reason to believe that they will not be cleared up satisfactorily.

The debate has already shown that the issue is not without controversy. The speech of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) have certainly left that in no doubt. As has been pointed out, there are four petitioners outstanding against the Bill. The Government's position, which is traditional, is that they will have the opportunity to present their objections to the Private Bill Committee. The Committee will undertake the function given to it by Parliament to examine in detail the issues involved, with the advantage of being able to hear expert evidence.

Therefore, as is traditional for the Government in the circumstances, I recommend to the House that the Bill be given a Second Reading, and—

Mr. McQuarrie

I am surprised to hear my hon. Friend say that the Government are supporting a private Bill. Surely the Government are supposed to stand apart from private legislation.

Mr. Spicer

Perhaps I did not stress it sufficiently clearly, or perhaps my hon. Friend did not hear me say, that the Government, as is traditional with private Bills, believe that the matter should go to the Private Bill Committee which, as my hon. Friend knows, has substantial powers to amend the Bill. The Government take the view—to that extent they are neutral—that that is the best forum for private Bills to be discussed in detail.

Mr. Bill Walker

Have my hon. Friend the Minister and the Department of Transport had an opportunity to consider in depth the implication for private legislation if subsequent legislation to repeal Acts which give companies powers is introduced? If so, what is the Department's view?

Mr. Spicer

The Department is not responsible for the business of the House. As my hon. Friend knows, the matter is under consideration. I am advised that the Committee could consider that point. It has the powers to do so. I have listened with great interest to the debate about whether this is the best procedure, but it is right for the Department to have a view on the matter.

Mr. Fairbairn

Surely even the Department of Transport must occasionally speak to the Department of Trade and Industry. Is it not horrified if General Motors, as an American company, is not to be allowed to interfere with our beloved British Land Rover, and that an American company is to be allowed to interfere with a company created in 1972? It is not that we are handing something away. We are revoking an Act of Parliament which gives to a British company something that an American company wants an Act of Parliament to revoke.

Mr. Spicer

My hon. and learned Friend makes an interesting point which he will undoubtedly make to the Committee. Parliament has laid down that the matter should go to a Private Bill Committee, and that is the only point that I seek to make. Because of that view which is traditionally taken by the Government, the Government believe that the Bill should be given a Second Reading.

8.44 pm
Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan)

I, too, wish to make a short intervention in the family argument on the Conservative Benches. It is clear who has drawn the short straw.

It has been interesting to listen to the proceedings thus far, especially the intervention of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) in his gesture of contrived anger about what is going on between an American company and a British company. I participated in the proceedings on the Bill which became the Transport Act 1981. My hon. Friends and I told the then Minister that something like this might happen. I did not see then the massed ranks of the Conservative party opposing the privatisation of Sealink, the Sealink Harbours and British Rail interests in the matter. I shall come to that in a moment. This evening I do not intend to arbitrate in the row between Earlpar and Sealink—two well-heeled, rich companies which have their advocates in the Tory party.

It is right to say that the private Bill procedure needs to be examined. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) outlined many points with which most hon. Members agree. It is anachronistic that we should proceed in this way during the second half of the 20th century. Parliament needs to examine its procedures more closely in future.

The question about section 9 of the Harbours Act 1964 was raised by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie), who duly read his brief word for word, and my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central. That particular section was removed by statutory instrument in an hour and a half's debate in the House some time ago. I spoke against its removal because it was one piece of legislation which would prevent piecemeal port development from taking place.

We in the Labour party are worried that we have no ports policy of any description. I make that point every time I stand at the Dispatch Box. The removal of section 9 makes possible piecemeal ports development all over the place without regard to the United Kingdom's total tonnage capacity, to the damage that it may do to other existing ports or to the proper considerations of a marine and port policy. My arguments on that are firmly on the record, so I need not repeat them now.

As I understand it, the arguments are not the same as they were when we were opposing the development of Felixstowe, which we did for many reasons. First, Felixstowe was being built on a site of outstanding natural beauty. I do not think that that is so in this case. Secondly, the site of Felixstowe was an area of special scientific interest. My hon. Friends deployed those two arguments against the extension of Felixstowe.

The third argument, which I used, was about overcapacity in the ports industry. There is too much capacity, and any further piecemeal development, no matter where it occurs, is bound to have a knock-on effect with other United Kingdom ports. That is why we need a proper ports policy which will take into account the capacity of containerisation, and can designate where ports are and are not developed. If we keep developing the east coast, it will mean west coast closures and Channel port problems. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) says that that is not so, but he knows as well as I do of the difficulties that may occur at Ipswich because of the development at Felixstowe. I do not wish to provoke him to his feet because I do not wish to say much more. Nevertheless, it is worth bearing in mind that we do not have a proper ports policy, and we do not seem to know where we are going.

Mr. Sherwood who owns Sea Containers and Sealink is a promoter of the Channel tunnel—strange bedfellows. His scheme did not find favour, but one did—the rail-only Channel Tunnel Group scheme. The freight shipped through the Channel tunnel on railway lines will affect the amount of freight likely to pass through British ports. We should carefully consider whether to give permission to further harbour developments while we bear in mind that the Channel tunnel will be built.

I do not object to the Bill being given a Second Reading. Hon. Members will have their day in Committee when all the points of the hon. Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale) will be discussed. It is sad that we do not have a clear policy on our direction in the ports industry.

Mr. Fairbairn

What is the Labour party's policy? What is its policy for Perth harbour?

Mr. Stott

It is clear that the hon. and learned Gentleman does not read Labour party publications or documents on transport policy. He has not read the latest publication in which we explain a series of options. We are developing a strategy for the ports industry. The hon. and learned Gentleman appears to be concerned, but I do not know where he was late on that night when we discussed the statutory instrument that removed section 9 of the Harbours Act 1964. If he felt as I do, he should have supported my hon. Friends and me in arguing for its retention.

If section 9 had been retained it would not have been possible to undertake these developments without requiring the Secretary of State to give his approval. Presumably, the Secretary of State would give his approval only if he thought that the development of a particular harbour was in the national interest, not in the interest merely of the promoter calling for the development of that harbour. Harbour development should be conducted not on a piecemeal basis but on a national basis first. On the east coast, the two big fat cats of Harwich and Felixstowe are fighting it out in the interests of no one but themselves.

8.51 pm
Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Until the interventions of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott), the debate had been a contest between Essex and Scotland. I am a Suffolk Member with a riparian interest, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale) knows, because Felixstowe and Ipswich are Suffolk ports and share the same haven with Harwich. I have taken a close interest in the matter and at the weekend read with interest the promoter's arguments and some of the arguments of the petitioners. We have been treated to some views that do not appear in any petition against the Bill but reflect the concerns of those at Earlpar who previously were involved in the engineering works in the Bathgate area.

I support the Bill and urge the House to give it a Second Reading. I stand firmly with my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich, who put the matter, as is his custom, succinctly and well. I support the Bill for local reasons. Harwich, with its unemployment level, needs investment and will benefit from the jobs created by the measure. It is no small matter that the legislation proposes total investment of about £100 million, of which about £33 million will be on construction. That is bound to result in hundreds of jobs, which must be something of which the House will approve. That is more important than the debate about who gets what with respect to Earlpar and the promoters.

Mr. Fairbairn

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Sir Eldon Griffiths

I shall give way, but I want to make a relatively serious and short speech. I do not want to become too involved in legalistics with my hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Fairbairn

I shall not be legalistic. My hon. Friend claims that expenditure of £100 million is proposed in the legislation. I took the trouble to read the Bill and it makes no such proposal. Where does my hon. Friend suggest that that proposal is made?

Sir Eldon Griffiths

I did not say that and, if my hon. and learned Friend had been listening, he would not have imagined it. I said that the project involved expenditure of about £100 million. I am in favour of that.

I am in favour of the Bill for local reasons. I say, as one who was a transport Minister for a number of years, that, if British Rail had continued to be the manager of the port of Harwich, it would not have achieved the investment level now proposed. I have nothing against British Rail, but its management of the port of Harwich was not good enough. I, for one, am glad that Sealink has taken over the facilities. That is part of our privatisation policy, which I believe is successful. I am glad that private enterprise is providing for Harwich what public enterprise so lamentably failed to do for so long.

I support the Bill also because it is right to have competition among the haven ports. The port of Ipswich is efficient in handling relatively small, specialist cargoes, and I know it well. The port has developed and its progress is assured, especially with the new highway system that the Government have managed to provide for it and the other haven ports.

By any measure, Felixstowe is one of our great national success stories. It has come from nothing in the 1953 floods to being arguably the most efficient port in western Europe. It is a jewel in the east Anglian crown. Felixstowe's progress, when the private Bill on Felixstowe is supported by the House, will further the improvement of our ports industry in the haven area. It is right that there should be competition. As Harwich, too, comes forward, the industries and businesses of east Anglia will have a choice and an opportunity to use Ipswich, Felixstowe or Harwich. We shall have riches in our ports industry, and that will be good.

Felixstowe has raised some objections. It is concerned about whether there should be a seawall or a bung. The promoters say that shelving sand will be sufficient. I do not know the answer, but I am sure that the two ports will work together intelligently to find a sensible answer. I hope that the Committee will form a view on the best engineering solution to that problem. I have read with interest the views of those who wish to look after Gas House creek. That is a perfectly proper matter for the Committee to consider, as I am sure it will. I believe that proper provision will be made.

I am not impressed by the arguments of Mrs. Cullen, whose petition was disallowed by the Committee referees. I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). I share his concern about the need to modernise our private Bill procedure. I have sat on enough private Bill Committees, and avoided sitting on more, as the House will understand, to be well aware of the disadvantages of that procedure. I hope that when the House considers private Bill procedure it will not throw out the baby with the bath water because many of the private Bill Committees achieve a profound examination of matters that it would be impossible for us to handle on the Floor of the House. I believe that on balance it is a good procedure and should be changed only cautiously and sparingly. The detailed questions about the Bill can and will be handled intelligently either by negotiation or in Committee or both.

Above all, I support the Bill because it is in the national interest to help the development of East Anglia. In the previous century East Anglia was a forgotten region. It was cut off by the Fens and by poor transport. Today it is Britain's new frontier. It is a fortunate area in that our trade has turned around to the European ports. I believe that 58 per cent. of our trade is with the European Economic Community. Felixstowe, Ipswich and Harwich have certainly benefited from that. East Anglia is also fortunate in that the great research and development centre of Cambridge is beginning to spill over high-tech and biotech into our market towns and provide new, modern and competitive industries. We are also fortunate in that as Stansted develops to the south it will provide us with a new regional airport. I am not in favour of a large Stansted. I have opposed it. However, a modest development at Stansted will complement the tremendous development of the ports and the benefits of academia coming from Cambridge university into our regions. It must be right in a developing region such as East Anglia that the ports industry should go ahead to assist British exports.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Wigan ended by taking a neutral view about the Bill and commending the House to give it a Second Reading so that it can be considered in greater detail in Committee. During my time as a transport Minister, when I had a particular responsibility for ports, I put large sums of Harbours Act money into two of our main west coast ports—Liverpool and Bristol. There was about £45 million for the west dock in Bristol, which was much more money in those days than it is today, and, as I recall, I put a further £40 million into Liverpool to build the new Seaforth dock. There was tangible evidence of investment in the western ports in the belief that they would benefit from modernisation. I am sorry to say that in Liverpool most of it was thrown away by restrictive practices, bad management and the general mood of the country looking more and more to the east. Similarly, although the west dock in Bristol has moved forward—you were very conscious, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at the time of the development in that area—I am not convinced that the money in question would not have been better spent if it had been put into the modernisation of the port of London and perhaps of Felixstowe, too.

Any national ports policy has to take account of the fact that our trade is now to the east. The great world girdling container vessels, which will stop only once in north-west Europe, must have a port in this country where we can handle the goods with speed and efficiency so that they are attracted to come here and not simply to Rotterdam. On a national level, there is only one place where those ports can be provided—that is, on the North sea where they can compete with Rotterdam. It is an unfortunate fact of geography—I say this as someone who was born and grew up in the north-west and who wrote his first essay about the great docks of Liverpool when I was a schoolboy—that our economic structure has altered. We now look more to the east than to the west. Therefore, any national ports policy must comprehend the building of modern and efficient ports within the East Anglian region.

I should like to make this suggestion. Like many others, I have toiled on private Bill Committees. I think, if I am not mistaken, that the first that I sat on, which was one of the longest, concerned your constituency, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It was about the building of a steel jetty from south Wells in such a fashion that it would have intruded on the maritime environment of the area that you so elegantly represent, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the event, it was one of the many private Bills which, although passed, bit the dust, and the jetty was not proceeded with. You were one of those who opposed it, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Private Bill Committees are not the easiest and the best way to proceed, but the matters which have been fairly raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie), and which no doubt will be raised by other hon. Members who have still to speak, concern Earlpar's problems. There is an issue. Some compensation should be paid. But surely this is a matter for negotiation between the firms. It is not strictly a matter to be dealt with on the Floor of the House. The Committee is the best place to do it; the two firms are the best people to do it. I hope very much that justice will be done between them, but that is no reason for opposing the Second Reading of the Bill in the House.

9.6 pm

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

I should like to start from the point with which my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) finished. He said that there is no reason for opposing a Bill on the basis of a failed negotiation. I cannot agree with him at all. He represents the Police Federation and constantly speaks of the rights and morals of law and order, so I find that a strange point for him of all people to make.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

This is not criminal law. It is civil law.

Mr. Fairbairn

No. Although my hon. Friend may not know it, the civil law also starts from a moral stance. That is the moral stance of equality. It is exactly the same in the civil law as in the criminal law. The point is that there should not be handed to one party a weapon that makes it impossible for the other party to obtain its rights. That is the position that I find so constitutionally unacceptable about the Bill.

I find it extraordinary that Parliament, by whatever procedure—but, in this case, by a private procedure—should have passed an Act of Parliament in 1972 which gives this power to a specific company. I shall read part of the Act to demonstrate what Parliament said. It was

An Act to empower Earlpar Development Company Limited to construct and operate works at Bath Side Bay, Harwich; and for other purposes. I share this feeling with many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), for whom, as he knows, I have a warm regard and with whom, oddly enough, I happen to agree on many matters. That may not be something which, in the evening of his time here, he would wish to be on his curriculum vitae. I am sorry, but it is something that will have to be written in. I agree; I find the procedure extraordinary. Nevertheless, Parliament had the capacity to grant to a company an Act of Parliament. After all, let us not forget that the business before the House, before 7 o'clock, was about empowering the shipbuilding industry to borrow hundreds of millions of pounds. That Bill was on two sides of a sheet of paper. We are dealing with an Act of Parliament, passed in 1972, which has 31 pages, 36 clauses, and a schedule. If Parliament took the trouble to pass an Act in 1972, granting powers to the Earlpar Development Company to construct and operate works at Bath Side Bay, Harwich; and for other purposes. which extend to 1992, it is a strange constitutional abuse of procedure that someone else should ask Parliament to remove those powers.

One cannot leave something in a will and then say, "By the way, I am terribly sorry, but my second cousin has come along and asked that the will be cancelled." We have given powers to the company to do certain things until 1992. Parliament cannot come along now and say, "We are terribly sorry, old chap. We have a big brother who wants to take those powers from you without compensation."

I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale) whether there had been any negotiation as his reply might have cleared my mind. I asked him furthermore whether, in his view, the bargaining position in the negotiations would be altered by the passing of the Second Reading of the Bill. My hon. Friend could not answer either question, but he said in answer to one of my hon. Friends that a letter, which offered negotiations, had been sent on 28 April which, if I am not mistaken, is today.

We have heard in several of the contributions to the debate that there was a moment at which Earlpar Development Company, on the advice of its financial advisers, suggested that £7.24 million was the proper price to pay for the work which had hitherto been done and would be of benefit to those who inherited.

I do not know whether that figure is correct, whether it is an exaggerated price, absurdly high or absurdly low. I do not know how that figure relates to the work and I do not wish to develop that matter. However, if I am told that someone has seen my name, the name of the hon. Member for Fife, Central, the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Fletcher) or the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) on the Order Paper stating that the Second Reading should be in six months time and a letter arrives on that day saying that negotiations will take place, I can only say that nothing would be or could be more equitable. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich could give me a satisfactory explanation—and I will give way if he wishes to do so—why, on 28 April, negotiations were suddenly offered.

As a lawyer I have always represented the law of Scotland and, without offending any Front Bench Members or any other Member of the House, let me say that that law has a more equitable and also a more sceptical approach to equity. I find it very odd that an offer should be made for negotiation on the day when it looked as if someone might block the ability to extinguish the rights of the other party to have any claim. If the rights granted by Parliament in 1972—these are the rights, the absolute rights, the only rights under this complicated Act passed on 9 August 1972—are extinguished or prospectively extinguished by the passing of this Second Reading, the letter of intent of today, so belatedly entered into, would immediately be withdrawn and not acted on.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

I appreciate my hon. and learned Friend's apprehension and I, too, would be most unhappy if this Second Reading were, as it were, to close the door to the negotiation of the proper compensation that I think all of us would wish to achieve. But does not he accept that a Committee of the House can, if it is not satisfied with the arrangements that are proposed, throw out the Bill and the promoters will be back where they started? Therefore, there is no question of a prospective extinguishment of the rights of the original developers; rather it is a matter of whether my hon. and learned Friend is prepared to trust a Committee of the House to arrive at a just approach.

Mr. Fairbairn

I am interested in that concept of jurisprudence. I find it extraordinary, because if there had ever been any genuine intention to negotiate, a letter saying so would not have been dated today. It would have been proceeded with months ago, indeed, more than a year ago. The company would have said, "We are going to take over from you an asset." Indeed, it would not have needed a private procedure at all; it could have been bought. Therefore, I am sorry to say to my hon. Friend that I do not accept that concept at all.

Is my hon. Friend seriously saying to the House that a Committee will throw out a private Bill? We do not know who will be the members of the Committee. Is he saying that they will form a sort of civil court of their own and that, if they are not satisfied that there has been a proper civil award for work done and contractual obligations due, they will throw out the Bill? I have never heard such an extraordinary concept.

I know that we are the High Court of Parliament, but we are a High Court of Parliament that does not perform the allotment or aggregation of civil claims. When the High Court of Parliament looks like blocking a Bill for six months to concentrate the mind, in the same way that hanging does, I cannot understand why my hon. Friend should suggest that all of a sudden a Committee of the House of Commons, composed of we know not whom, should say, "We shall throw out the Bill because we are not satisfied that a civil claim, with which we have no right to deal, is not satisfactory." I have never heard such an extraordinary concept.

It is inequitable and wrong that a Bill of Parliament under private procedure should be allowed to deprive another company, which has done all the work, of its just claim and that another company, if this Bill were to be enacted, should get all the benefit. That is the most extraordinary concept of jurisprudence that I have ever heard.

If my hon. Friend genuinely means that, why has my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich been unable to answer my question about whether, if we pass the Second Reading tonight, the negotiating position of those in whose favour the Act was passed in 1972 will be improved or worsened by the passing of Second Reading?

Sir Eldon Griffiths

It will be exactly the same.

Mr. Fairbairn

My hon. Friend says that it is exactly the same. I do not think that it is exactly the same. As I am a Jacobite episcopalian, who thus has a certain scepticism about motivation, when I see that the offer to treat is dated 28 April after it had been seen that there was opposition, I say to myself, "Exactly the same, eh?" Let us suppose that none of us had put down our names.

Sir Julian Ridsdale


Mr. Fairbairn

Let us suppose that there was no question of this matter being delayed for six months. Would people say exactly the same?

Sir Julian Ridsdale

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for giving way, particularly because he is labouring the point that this letter is dated 28 April and that this is the date when negotiations have been carried on. I have in my hand a letter from Sherwoods about the Bill which is dated 14 April. It says: When we considered with you at the telephone today a possible date for the proposed meeting to discuss the issue raised in your client's petition against this Bill, it appeared that the three alternative dates offered by the promoters would not be convenient. We have since obtained further instructions and are now able to offer the afternoon of Tuesday the 29th April. Please let us know whether a meeting in our offices at, say, 2.30 on that date would be acceptable.

Mr. Fairbairn

I am most obliged to my hon. Friend. I was hoping that an hon. Member would raise that date, too. It was the date when the hon. Member for Fife, Central was joined by Conservative Members on the motion that this Bill should not be considered for six months. I was waiting for the corroboration and was frightened that it would not come. But there it is. We have been persuaded that, because of this matter, an offer to treat has been made.

Mr. Sayeed

Will my hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Fairbairn

In a moment.

When I examine witnesses, I try to understand the motivation of those who give evidence before me. When on the day that it is seen that there may be opposition—14 April—somebody sends a letter and when on the date of the Bill's Second Reading another letter is sent about dates being awkward, all I can say is that in six months' time a date when it is not awkward may have been found, when it would be more convenient not to snatch the baggage. I am sorry to say that I find the evidence ever more convincing that this is an attempt to steal the baggage. I shall develop that point later when I look at both Bills, having first given way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Sayeed

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for giving way. I am sorry that he appears to demonstrate a lack of trust in a Committee of the House. He suggests that a Committee is not permitted to attach conditions to a Bill. However, I have already sat for 24 days on the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill. The proceedings have not yet been concluded, one of the reasons being that although we are prepared to support the Bill in principle we have attached conditions and the Chairman will not sign the Bill until those conditions are met. A Committee of this House, which I believe all right hon. and hon. Members should be able to trust, should be able to attach conditions that ensure an equitable agreement between the promoters and the objectors to the Bill.

Mr. Fairbairn

It has been suggested, I think, that I would not trust a Committee. I would trust Committees to do many things, although I am not sure that I am willing to list them. However, I do not expect a Committee to say that a Bill will be granted provided that the compensation that should be paid for the extinction of the 1972 Act is £122,000,846, £648,000 or whatever. It would be meaningless and inappropriate for a Committee to say, "And we expect you to come to an equitable agreement."

I have served on many Committees, and on perhaps more than my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed). I am confident, particularly given our eccentric procedures, that they frequently reach a decision that is quite different from that intended by any of those serving on them. Therefore, without casting any aspersions on the honour and excellence of our Committees, I would not trust a Committee to come to an equitable conclusion when one party hopes to take from the other powers granted to it by an Act of Parliament until 1992.

It is not right that this procedure should be used by one company to take from another powers granted to it by Parliament. That is fundamentally objectionable. I might also find it fundamentally objectionable that Parliament should grant the first company any powers, but that is another matter. However, I am certain that Parliament cannot grant rights to one company in a full Act of Parliament and then remove those same powers in an Act of Parliament that makes no reference to the previous Act, other than occasionally to imitate its language and to refer in schedule 2 to

1972 c. xxxvi Bath Side Bay The whole Act. Development Act 1972 When I studied jurisprudence, private international law and constitutional law, I became aware that one could not grant powers and rights under a private Act—and possibly even under a public Act—and then pass an Act that repeals the first Act without any reference to compensation for the rights under it. Something cannot be confiscated without any compensation for it, and that is borne out by nationalisation Acts, Appropriation Acts and even by compulsory purchase orders. Whether an Act is private, or is a private Act that involves something such as compulsory purchase, as was the case with the Forth Bridge and Tay Bridge Acts, compensation is provided for the powers granted against those involved. But where is there any mention of compensation in this Bill? Where does it demonstrate the extinction of rights granted by Parliament in 1972? Hon. Members may say that this is a private family row, and may ask what Scotland has to do with East Anglia. The answer is that Parliament is a place of principle. It is astonishing that anybody should agree, in the wake of the recent idiotic political, anti-American little-Englandism, that an American company should be allowed to come to Parliament to take away from a British company, whose managing director is Scottish—that does not matter—powers granted to it without any reference to compensation.

Some say that the Committee can always deal with that, but this is the Chamber in which our rights are held. I do not believe that the hon. Members for Wigan (Mr. Stott) and for Fife, Central believe that if one loses in this Chamber one's ideas are safe in the next. As a lawyer I do not say to my client, "It does not matter if you lose in the first court because there is always the appeal court." That is not the order of events. If one does not win in the first court, one's chances thereafter are extremely doubtful. It is a question of tossing the coin. The principle must be decided here and not left to some unknown and undecided Committee, the composition of which we do not know.

Comparing the Act and the Bill, I am torn between two concepts. The first is that the Bill is a crib and the second is that it is a bad crib. The reason is that the powers granted under the 1972 Act which empower Earlpar Development Company Ltd. to construct and operate works at Bath Side bay are to be snatched from that company to allow Sealink Harbours Ltd. to construct works and to acquire land at Bath Side bay. The powers are approximately the same. The Bill also extends the limits of jurisdiction to Parkeston quay. Slightly different language is used, but we are talking about a snatch.

We are talking about a strange concept, because in private legislation all the suppositions and premises are stated, but they are in question. One states one's views and the Bill is the end result. It is interesting to note the comparisons between the two measures. The 1972 measure proceeded on the basis of a genuine proposition. It was said that the company had been formed for certain purposes and that existing port facilities and allied services—in the counties of Essex and East Suffolk are insufficient for present and future needs. That proposition is not contained in the Bill. The Act stated: it would be of national benefit and local advantage if improved and additional facilities and services were provided". That proposition is not in the Bill. If the hon. Member for Wigan believes in the fantasy concept of a national ports policy, it may well start off by saying that in the counties of Suffolk and Essex the ports are insufficient for present and future needs and it would be of national benefit and local advantage if improved and additional facilities and services were provided: To that extent, the 1972 Act provided a marvellous blueprint for a national ports policy. I notice that the Harwich Parkeston Quay Bill makes no claim upon either local requirements or national interests. To that extent, I hope I may get a nod of recognition from the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) for a policy I do not approve of—that is, if he is not too engaged with his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), whose interest in this matter I know to be crucial.

It is important to compare the two pieces of legislation. When we read the meat of the legislation in section 2 we understand what the authorised works are. In the original Act, the authorised works meant works described in and authorised by section 4 of this Act. In the new Bill it means

the works and operations authorised by section 4 of this Act. In other words, this Bill is a crib of the original Act to thieve the benefits. That thieving process was suddenly discovered, apparently, through a matter of negotiations 14 days ago and again today.

The company under the original Act meant Earlpar Development Company. The company under the new Bill means Sealink Harbours Limited. If that is not plain downright theft by a company which decided to negotiate when it realised that there were some people who proposed that Second Reading should not happen for another six months, I do not understand what brought it to the wisdom of negotiation so coincidentally 14 days ago, and when another letter went out on this very day because the dates were not convenient—the day of the Second Reading.

There are many matters which are imitated. One is not imitated and I would be interested to learn from the winding-up speech what makes the difference. In section 2(3) of the original Act, there is a phrase of some importance: All directions, distances, lengths and widths stated in any description of works, powers or lands shall be construed as if the words 'or thereabouts' were inserted after each such direction, distance, length and width". If one considers the new Bill, which for once does not plagiarise the original Act, it states under clause 2(2): All directions, distances and lengths stated in any description of works, powers or lands shall be construed as if the words 'or thereabouts' were inserted after each such direction, distance and length. I do not know whether this is a one-dimensional scheme which is being proposed under the Harwich Parkeston Quay Bill.

I should like to know how the concept of width disappears in measurement, or are we to take it that the Committee will be composed of philosopher kings? We are told, "Leave it to them." It is like Socrates' republic. It was a marvellous idea, but they could not find the philosopher kings to put it into practice. The Committee is to work out compensation and equity and will say that this is all the most marvellous concept that the world has ever seen.

In advance of the philosopher kings being selected, how was it thought in the Harwich Parkeston Quay Bill that all directions, distances and lengths stated in any description should be construed as if the words "or thereabouts" should apply to them, but not the width? Width evidently has to be absolute because, under the 1972 Act, it also had to be "or thereabouts".

The Committee which is to have these powers of remarkable insight might be told by Sealink that the pier will be 180 yd long, 60 ft deep and 640 in wide. The Committee might say, "We will not allow the Bill to proceed unless you provide us with a pier which, in a micrometer screw gauge is 640 in wide because, 'or thereabouts' will not do. It will do for depth and it will do for length but it will not do for width."

I understand that the Committee will be able to negotiate in what must be one of the most difficult arbitrations—the worth of the work done by the company. That arbitration is quite outside the powers and rights of any Committee. Nevertheless, it will apparently have to say, "Ah now, come to width, old chap. There is no 'or thereabouts' about that. Unless you can provide your pier sand plan, bunch, munch or bung, or whatever it is, to the amount that we say, you do not get your Act", because the company has not taken the power to say, "or thereabouts".

If I am told that the Committee is to be so wise that it will arbitrate in what would seem to me, if I was given the brief as a Queen's Counsel, an extremely difficult financial negotiation and that it will be able to refuse the Bill if an arbitration which it believes is equitable is not reached, I must ask on what basis it will make that judgment. I should have thought that it would be extremely easy to make that judgment because those who propose the Bill to extinguish rights granted by the 1972 Act will have no reason to negotiate at all.

Sir Julian Ridsdale

As it appears that I shall not be given the opportunity to reply, I should like to tell my hon. and learned Friend that I only wish that Lord Lauderdale had come to me as the Member of Parliament for Harwich who helped him considerably with the 1972 Bill and told me the facts and figures. I would then have been able to arbitrate between him and Sealink. That course was never followed by the noble Lord. I was suddenly confronted by the £7.2 million and by this new Bill. I am anxious to ensure that the sorely needed jobs of my constituents will be there. Some of the things said by Scottish hon. Members are not correct, and I hope that they will have the confidence to rely on me not only to look after my constituents whose jobs are under threat but also to see that a fair arbitration takes place.

Mr. Fairbairn

I am obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich, and I take his remarks seriously. My hon. Friend will note that the motion that stands in my name and the names of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and of my hon. Friends the Members for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie), Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Fletcher) and Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) makes the proposal that Second Reading should be postponed for six months.

There is in Scotland at the moment an arbitration about a hospital. That is a matter of no greater complication than this matter. It is estimated that that arbitration may take 12 years. If my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich thinks that six months is a long time in the life of an arbitration, I must tell him that I do not. I say with the greatest sincerity that it is a short time for any development that might come about in his constituency to provide jobs.

In that six months, if my hon. Friend can reach an equitable agreement after arbitration for work done under powers granted by Parliament which persist for another six years, I will be more than happy when he brings his Bill forward in six months time to do all that I can to ensure that every Scottish company and every asset is directed towards creating work in his constituency. Every hon. Member of whatever party wants to create work in his constituency.

It is not that I do not trust my hon. Friend, but given the history of non-negotiation and sudden negotiation it is clear that there is no real intent to negotiate by those who seek to extinguish the powers granted by Parliament to the Earlpar company. I would not be a party to the Second Reading of any Bill, public or private, that sought to remove powers and rights granted to a party where there was not in the whole Bill any mention of compensation or arbitration.

It may be of interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich to have regard to the 1972 Act in which the matter of arbitration is specifically mentioned. My hon. Friend says that he will use his good offices to arbitrate and at the same time introduces a Bill to extinguish rights granted by Parliament. The Act granting those rights specifically deals with the matter of arbitration. The hon. Member does not mention arbitration, but gives his word as the result of a letter written on the day when those of us who are asking that this matter be postponed for six months happened to put our names down. There was another letter today, but that has not been received by those to whom it was sent because they are taking part in this debate.

I am sorry to say that, notwithstanding all the generosity within my heart, I do not believe the good will of those on behalf of whom my hon. Friend speaks. However, I shall believe in the equity and honour of those on behalf of whom he speaks if tonight we decide that the Bill's Second Reading should be postponed for six months. I do not know the procedures that apply in the consideration of these matters and perhaps the hon. Member for Fife, Central does. However, if we are successful and the Bill is not considered for a further six months, we may come to know within the rules of the House that by chance and coincidence rather than chastening the matter has been resolved. That might be tomorrow, next week, or in two months' time. If that happens and if there is anything that we can do to hasten the building by one company or the other of the facilities that will provide employment in my hon. Friend's constituency, I am sure that we shall do it.

If my hon. Friend wishes to have employment in his constituency, what is wrong with the contracts that were entered into to undertake developments under the powers given by Parliament in the 1972 Act, which would provide employment in my hon. Friend's constituency? What is so special about employment that is created by Sealink, the American company, and what is so poor about employment by Earlpar?

I do not know what steps my hon. Friend took. He may have been industrious, and, if he was, I shall applaud him. He may have taken steps with the Department of Transport and other Departments to stop all the blocking of attempts by Earlpar to continue its development over the years. If my hon. Friend is so concerned about employment in his constituency, I do not know whether he took those steps. What I do know is that I can see a rogue deal at a great distance.

We are discussing a minor private measure which involves a principle which my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and others have raised in the House. We have heard much about the patriotism of the British people being shattered. It is a terrible concept that Americans should own a British company or invest in Britain in any way. This is a private measure that seeks to allow an American company that is based in Bermuda to take from a British company based and registered in England—I use "England" in its proper sense, but there is suitable Scottish representation and guidance—powers that have been granted by Parliament, and to do so without compensation. I find it extraordinary that my hon. Friend should propose that the House should approve a measure which goes contrary to all the principles that are held by those on the Government Benches.

Mr. Stott


Mr. Fairbairn

With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, removing something from somebody by legislation without compensation has never been conceived, even by Socialism, or achieved in the House, and I hope that it will never be, although it is sometimes threatened.

It is contrary to the principles of Conservative Members, and to the concept announced with apparently shattering effect on the Government and Cabinet, that a foreign company based in Bermuda should be in a position to take away from a British company its right to development. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds may be right in saying that East Anglia is, in some way, the heaven on earth of Great Britain, but that is not the view that I have formed. I thought that Scotland had certain advantages that were rather greater, especially in Perthshire and the port of Perth, which has great capabilities that I hope the hon. Member for Wigan will not forget in his national docks policy.

The English often forget that Scotland also has an east coast. There is no particular advantage in East Anglia that there is not in east Lothian, east Perthshire or east Fife. The greatest European trade, and the cause of Christianity coming to Scotland in the first place, was the trade between Flanders and Fife. They missed out East Anglia, and did so wisely, if the East Anglians are as perverse as they appear to be in introducing legislation that attempts to remove from those who are granted them by Parliament powers on trade and development, without compensation or without reference to compensation.

It is extraordinary to use a private Bill to attempt to extinguish powers granted by an Act of Parliament merely by referring in schedule 2 to the extinguishing of a whole Act without compensation or justification, extent or reason. There is no question that the work that has been done under the 1972 Act was passed, in good faith and in confidence, to British Rail and by it to Sealink which was, to all intents and purposes, British Rail. That being so, the company should have been rewarded.

Why is it claimed, as I think that it has been by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich, that some negotiations are available, which were put in prospect when we tabled the motion objecting to the Bill, suggesting that six months is not too long a time to do a little arbitration? If there was no claim by the Earlpar company, Sealink has nothing to fear and, if it has a claim, it is outrageous that Parliament should be asked to extinguish that claim through legislation. That is a constitutional wrong of which the Minister should take account. For Parliament to extinguish a civil claim by legislation is wrong. If there is no civil claim, why is the company negotiating, and why is it trying for an Act of Parliament to extinguish that claim? That is why—

Sir JulianRidsdale

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 98, Noes 16.

Division No. 160] [9.59 pm
Alexander, Richard Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Amess, David Bright, Graham
Atkins, Robert (South Ribbie) Brooke, Hon Peter
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)
Best, Keith Buck, Sir Antony
Bevan, David Gilroy Burt, Alistair
Biffen, Rt Hon John Butterfill, John
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Carttiss, Michael
Blackburn, John Chope, Christopher
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Colvin, Michael
Bottomley, Peter Coombs, Simon
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Cope, John
Cormack, Patrick Newton, Tony
Cranborne, Viscount Norris, Steven
Crouch, David Onslow, Cranley
Dalyell, Tam Penhaligon, David
Dorrell, Stephen Powley, John
Dunn, Robert Rathbone, Tim
Durant, Tony Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Emery, Sir Peter Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Eyre, Sir Reginald Sackville, Hon Thomas
Fookes, Miss Janet Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Forth, Eric Sayeed, Jonathan
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Shersby, Michael
Greenway, Harry Sims, Roger
Gregory, Conal Skeet, Sir Trevor
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Ground, Patrick Squire, Robin
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Harris, David Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Hayes, J. Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N) Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Jessel, Toby Thurnham, Peter
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Knowles, Michael Viggers, Peter
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Waddington, David
Lester, Jim Wallace, James
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Watts, John
McCrindle, Robert Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Maclean, David John Whitfield, John
Malone, Gerald Wolfson, Mark
Marek, Dr John Yeo, Tim
Marland, Paul Young, Sir George (Acton)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Mather, Carol Tellers for the Ayes:
Maude, Hon Francis Sir Julian Ridsdale and
Neubert, Michael Sir Eldon Griffiths.
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) McQuarrie, Albert
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S) Maxton, John
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Prescott, John
Dixon, Donald Sheerman, Barry
Duffy, A. E. P. Skinner, Dennis
Eadie, Alex Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Evans, John (St. Helens N)
Gourlay, Harry Tellers for the Noes:
McCurley, Mrs Anna Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn and
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Mr. Bill Walker.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative, Because it was not supported by the majority Prescribed by Standing Order No.32 (Majority for Closure.)

It being after Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.