HC Deb 18 February 1986 vol 92 cc246-57 7.15 pm
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 5, line 27, leave out '8/' and insert '5/'.

In the discussions between the Aberdeen harbour board and the Peterhead authorities, the chairman of the Peterhead trustees had earlier agreed to the amendment and, therefore, I hope that it might at least be accepted. I give notice that when we get to amendment No. 4, I will seek your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with regard to a manuscript amendment to delete "6/" and insert "7/".

It is necessary before dealing with the specifics of the amendments to give some background so that nobody is in doubt about the reasons for them. No one should be in any doubt that, despite the efforts of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) to trivialise and personalise the issue, the amendments are not hostile to the development at Peterhead. The amendments, if carried, would still allow the trustees' objectives for safer and better port facilities to be achieved. Nor should anyone be in any doubt that the objections to the scale of the development come from ports other than Aberdeen.

The amendments in my name have the approval of the Forth port authority and of the Dundee port authority, and the support of the Aberdeen stevedoring company. The amendments would still protect the harbour entrance, calm the waters of the inner and south harbours at Peterhead, increase the length of the cargo berths by 250 per cent., greatly improve facilities for the fishing fleet and allow any known deeply laden fishing vessel to berth. They would also allow for the handling of grain ships up to 6,000 tonnes. The evidence given by the Peterhead harbour master, Captain Auld, which appears on page 765 of the report of the inquiry of the parliamentary commissioners of Tuesday 7 May 1985 is consistent with that.

The amendments are tabled in a genuine spirit of compromise which holds out the prospect of advantage for Aberdeen, but would still meet the stated aims of Peterhead. I resent the intemperate manner in which the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan described these amendments as "wrecking amendments". I hope that, even at this late stage, he will accept them. His personal attacks on Mr. John Turner, the general manager of Aberdeen harbour board, are in very bad taste. Mr. Turner cannot respond in kind, but I say on his behalf that he has sought only to do his job properly. I, however, am able to respond to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan's personal attacks on me. I speak for the interests of Aberdeen, although not under any instructions or orders of the Aberdeen harbour board. I must examine the evidence and form a judgment.

I was deeply resentful when I was telephoned at 7.30 this morning by BBC Radio Aberdeen to be informed that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan had accused me on the radio of double-crossing him last week. Had he made that charge in the House, I believe he would have been asked to withdraw it.

On Second Reading the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan scuttled around the Chamber, advising those of us who were waiting to take part in the debate that he was agreeable to the Bill being referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament for further scrutiny. I was happy with that proposition and prepared to accept the findings of such a Joint Committee, whatever the outcome.

With the knowledge that referral was on offer, I truncated my speech, and I believe that other hon. Members did likewise. Indeed, although we can only speculate, if our speeches had not been so short the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan might not have received the assent of the Chair when he sought to move the closure motion. For reasons that have not been explained to the House, the hon. Member resisted the motion to refer the matter to a Joint Committee of both Houses. In that he was successful, so the will of the House was that the matter should not go to a Joint Committee. Of course, I accept the will of the House.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I believe the hon. Gentleman is reporting a private discussion. Is that in order?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

There has been nothing out of order in that respect so far.

Mr. Hughes

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. No doubt the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan can give his own response later.

Given the background which I have described, I utterly refute the charge of double-crossing. Such a charge might well be levelled against the hon. Member if there are to be any such charges.

Following Second Reading, I hoped and believed that bilateral discussions would take place between representatives of the two harbour boards. Discussions have taken place, but they have not achieved agreement. That is unfortunate because we had hoped that that would happen.

The hon. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) asked if it was in order to repeat private discussions, but the discussions have not been in private. The matters have been referred to by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan in both The Press and Journal and the Evening Express in Aberdeen; they have also been referred to by him in conversations on the radio. Therefore, I am saying nothing in the House which has not been said elsewhere.

There have been many discussions among Members of Parliament with constituency interests. That takes me to the events of last Wednesday when the Bill was set down for further parliamentary discussion. During the days immediately preceding Wednesday there was talk of assurances being offered by the trustees of Peterhead harbour board that it would not handle oil-related traffic. As the assurances were not available in writing, efforts were made to ensure discussion on the Floor of the House so that we could find out exactly what the assurances were.

The hon. Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson), to whom I have given advance notice that I would bring his name into the proceedings, is in his place. He put his name to the amendments which stand in my name on the Order Paper so that we might discuss the matter further. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan has made no secret of the fact—indeed, he has stated publicly—that he warned off his hon. Friend. One of the less colourful phrases which he used was that the hon. Member for Fife, North-East had never seen a fish, except on a plate.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)

The hon. Gentleman is talking absolute rubbish. He knows perfectly well that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) represents a fishery constituency. If he were to get his facts right, he should be referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth). He should read the Order Paper and find out exactly what is on it. Obviously he knows so little about the matter that he cannot even get the basic facts right.

Mr. Hughes

That demonstrates the problem we have had in trying to resolve the matter amicably.

Mr. McQuarrie

The hon. Member should get his facts right.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Member had better keep his peace until the time comes for him to speak. I had a pet Great Dane and a pet Doberman Pinscher. Taming a Buchan bulldog is no problem, so he had better behave himself. The hon. Member said that he had publicly warned off his hon. Friend the Member for Fife, North-East.

Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, North-East)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having told me that he would refer to me. May I say to him, as briefly as I can, that I have never been bullied by anyone to do anything in the House which I do not want to do, and I do not propose to start now. I disapprove considerably of the repetition of loose tittle-tattle and of conversations imagined or overheard in the Lobby outside the Chamber. At the time to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, I had a conversation with my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie), when I told tuna that I was happy to be available for bringing together disparate interests if it would bring about peace in the dispute about fishing harbours. However, I was not prepared to stand in the middle of an argument between two interests where I did not have a direct constituency interest. My constituency interest is in both Peterhead and Aberdeen harbours being available to my constituents when they want to use them.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think we should get back to the amendment.

Mr. Hughes

My remarks are germane to the amendment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I take your point. If the hon. Member for Fife, North-East cares to look up the Aberdeen Press and Journal and Evening Express he will find exactly what was said.

So that the issue might be resolved and so that we might have a discussion on it, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) was invited or encouraged to put his name to the amendments to protect the position. But he was persuaded that the assurances which were talked about last week were acceptable, and he withdrew his name. That left me. late last Wednesday night, with the position on the amendments and on the motion in relation to Third Reading unprotected. Therefore, I put my name to the blocking motion and to the amendments, for two reasons. First, I wanted to ensure that we might have a discussion on the matters and obtain the response of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan. Secondly, I wished to see in writing or, more specifically, to read into Hansard the assurances which were apparently on offer. As the editorial in the Aberdeen Evening Express put it last Thursday: He could do no less. Indeed, I could do no less than make sure that my constituency interest was protected.

At 6.25 pm today I was given a copy of a letter headed and addressed to Mr. John Turner, general manager, Aberdeen harbour board, which says: PETERHEAD HARBOURS (SOUTH BAY DEVELOPMENT) ORDER CONFIRMATION BILL In consideration of the Aberdeen Harbour Board withdrawing all their objections to the Peterhead Harbours (South Bay Development) Order Confirmation Bill, I am empowered by the Trustees of the Harbours of Peterhead to confirm that they have agreed: `We will not seek oil related work for the Peterhead Harbours in the foreseeable future'. We trust that your Board will find this acceptable as has already been indicated by Mr. Gerald Malone, M.P.

We now have the assurances in writing. They may well be consistent with the initial statement given by the promoters of the Bill. That is not fully acceptable to Aberdeen harbour board. I shall have to make my own judgment, but before giving that I would welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan. Throughout the period in which we have discussed the Bill we have sought to get consistency among the ports on the east coast of Scotland and to ensure that the objectives of Peterhead harbour trustees have been met, and to do that in the absence of any Government policy or guidance about port facilities available on the east coast which we all know are grossly over capacity.

The amendments are worth while and should be acceptable. They have been put forward in a genuine spirit of compromise and agreement, with one harbour board being willing to consider the problems of the other. I hope a reciprocal case may be made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan.

7.30 pm
Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

I should like to put on record my interest in this Bill and speak about the implications of the amendments and the eventual outcome. One of the saddest things about the progress of the Bill is the degree of bitterness that appears to have been generated between two neighbouring harbour authorities on the east coast of Scotland. That has not been an edifying event, nor is it in the best interests of port management and port authorities. Neither of the authorities emerged smelling like roses. The other thing we have witnessed is that it has caused a degree of animosity between Members of the House with neighbouring constituencies who have legitimate interests to defend. I do not want to dwell on that point. That animosity is regrettable, because the objective of all hon. Members must be to secure good neighbourliness.

I should like to see a development that could go ahead without threatening the survival of a neighbouring port while ensuring that another port is not unreasonably held back. The House will realise that in every sense of the word I am the man in the middle, because my constituency has Aberdeen harbour just outside on the south and Peterhead harbour just outside on the north. For that reason I am interested in the success and prosperity of both ports and I regret the conflict that has arisen.

I was interested to hear the contents of the letter that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) read, giving the assurances that seem to make the specific point that Peterhead harbour trustees will not seek to run an oil base in the foreseeable future. While that could not be regarded as a legally binding statement and is open to interpretation, I feel that it is a declaration of good faith. I think that Aberdeen harbour board is more concerned about some of the other activities at Peterhead harbour. They are legitimate activities in which Peterhead is already actively engaged, and it would be unreasonable not to allow those activities to develop.

There is now an element of compromise, and it is unfortunate that we could not get that compromise earlier. It is also unfortunate that we have had a number of false arrangements. Without those the Bill might have gone through the House to greater satisfaction all round not exactly without blood on the floor, but without so many sparks flying between individual hon. Members and between the relevant port authorities.

I hope that we will be able to make progress and allow this Bill to go ahead. That will be a clear statement that Peterhead is seeking to develop its own business in its own right and in its own way to the greater good and prosperity of the north-east of Scotland, and not in a way that is aggressively predatory on its neighbour, because that is clearly not in the interests of the ports of north-east Scotland.

I am as anxious as any other hon. Member to hear the reply of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie). I hope that he will reply in a constructive and conciliatory fashion that will enable us to proceed, to ensure that the development of Peterhead can go ahead, and that good relations will be restored between Peterhead and Aberdeen port authorities. Those things are in the interests of all of us who represent the north-east of Scotland.

Mr. Henderson

Like the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), I am anxious to see both these harbours operating effectively, and I am even farther away from them than he is. A number of fishermen from the east use both harbours and I share with the hon. Member for Gordon the anxiety that there seems to have been a falling out between these harbour authorities. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that neither of the authorities is smelling like roses. Aberdeen harbour would be a busier place and would have greater trade if it was not for the restrictive practices that we have seen there for too many years. Peterhead would do better for itself and better by the fishing industry if it did not overfill its fish boxes.

It may well be that for reasons of parliamentary practicality my hon. Friend or the harbour authorities will make arrangements to bring about peace and get the legislation through. I deplore the fact that that kind of deal is necessary for the reasons that have been advocated. It is a case of one interest using the difficulties of parliamentary procedure and private legislation to pursue its interests in the House. Private legislation procedures were designed to give legitimate room for objectors to plans that directly affected people in the locality. That is not the kind of thing included in some of the suggestions put forward.

If a local authority or harbour trust or any other owner of a harbour wants to carry out harbour works and has to bring in a provisional order or an order of confirmation, leaving aside whether such a thing ought to have to be done in every case for harbour works, there should be some understanding that the harbour authority must be allowed to do what is necessary for the benefit of its harbour and for the community in which the harbour is set. The considerations about whether a harbour owner should or should not be allowed to carry out the work should be decided on how the work will affect people in the immediate vicinity and not people some distance away who are pursuing commercial interests of their own.

Mr. McQuarrie

I regret that it is necessary for us to come back to the House to deal with this matter yet again. I regret also that I must take issue with the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) for his unwarranted attack upon me. It is quite unfair and untrue for the hon. Gentleman to say that I had an agreement before the end of the Second Reading which I did not honour. He knows perfectly well that the two votes taken in this House on 16 January were taken on the closure. He has only to look at the record to see that 119 hon. Members voted in favour of that closure.

The following vote about a referral to the Joint Committee was also defeated. Those two votes reflected the will of the House, and the following day I spoke to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North in the Committee Corridor and I asked him, "What is your position about this Bill?" He said, "As far as I am concerned it is finished. I will accept the will of the House. When it comes to consideration and Third Reading I will not oppose it." I accepted that as the word of an hon. Member.

I spoke to the hon. Member on Wednesday and he gave me to understand that if an assurance was given by Peterhead harbour trustees that they would not seek oil-related work in Peterhead harbour after the extension was completed, that would be satisfactory to him and he would not oppose the consideration and Third Reading. I obtained the assurance about oil-related work from a majority of the trustees and I brought down to the House that evening—

Mr. Robert Hughes

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McQuarrie

No, I will not. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my argument. I brought to the House that evening a copy containing signatures of the majority of trustees of Peterhead harbour and I handed a copy to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North. In that document is the very wording that the hon. Gentleman has quoted from the copy of the letter which he says he received this evening at 6.25. The Peterhead harbour trustees said: We will not seek oil related work for the Peterhead Harbours in the foreseeable future.

Mr. Robert Hughes

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) has confirmed my impression of last Wednesday, that he got assurances from the majority of the trustees. That is different from an assurance by Peterhead trustees that they had held a formal meeting to assent to that. It was to clear up that confusion that I put down the blocking motion. The hon. Gentleman confirms exactly what I said earlier.

Mr. McQuarrie

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments, but I want to clear his mind about the situation. He must accept that he asked me to be assured that this declaration of intent, if I can call it that, given by Peterhead harbour trustees would be in his hands before the Bill was called in the Chamber last Wednesday. I got that assurance because time was short and I had to get the assent of the various Peterhead trustees. There was certainly no time to hold a meeting of trustees. Mr. Colin MacRae, the trustees' clerk, went to all the trustees and obtained their consent to the wording.

Paragraph 8 on page 2 of the statement on behalf of the promoters in support of Second Reading and against the motion to refer the Bill to a Joint Committee—which statement was available last Wednesday in the Vote Office—states: The Trustees do not conduct any oil-related business and they have no intention of doing so when the harbour has been extended. The additional berthing space is required for fishing vessels and general cargo boats. Oil supply-boats are served either in the adjacent Bay of Refuge, which is not managed by the Trustees, at Aberdeen, where the berthing capacity is far greater and the facilities are more suitable, or elsewhere. What greater guarantee could the Aberdeen harbour board and its general manager, Mr. John Turner, want? That was a statement of intent, which was available to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North and other hon. Members. Hon. Members got what they wanted, but they persisted in their objections.

The objections persisted because Aberdeen harbour board was determined that the Bill would not see the light of day in the House and in the other place. If it could maintain its blocking actions, it was determined to do so. As proof, I refer to the letter sent by Mr. John R. Turner to the chairman of the Peterhead harbour board on 15 January 1986. Its most pertinent sentence states: We still have many friends in both Houses of Parliament, many of whom have not yet shown their hand. We have enough experience to know that that is a threat. It is not the language of compromise. It is a threat—"Do as I do, or I shall get you." The letter continues: Your Bill could still be talked out, or continue to be repeatedly blocked. Is that the language of compromise? I do not think so, nor would any hon. Member who listened to that statement.

For that reason, we have been faced with a great difficulty, which should never have arisen. The Bill was given a careful Second Reading. It was debated from 7 pm to 9.40 pm, and hon. Members had an opportunity to speak. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North suggested that he curtailed his speech, but I remind him that he spoke for 18 minutes that night and sat down when he felt like doing so. He was not compelled to do so. He had finished his speech and, as far as the House was concerned, he had said his piece.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North has tabled four amendments. On amendment No. 1, if no dredging is permitted beyond 5.5 m below mean low-water springs, the first 40 m of the new south quay—work No. 3—would be at a depth of less than 8.5 m at mean low-water springs. This would exclude ships in the 6,500 tonne class which draw 7 m or 7.5 m. Allowing 1 m for rough weather, it is essential to have a depth of 8.5 m.

Despite what the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North said, there are no objectors to the Bill, apart from the Aberdeen harbour board. No hon. Member has been given the power to object on behalf of other authorities. Other authorities made their objections known during the public inquiry, but they have not sought to reiterate that objection on Second Reading. The views of Aberdeen harbour board were heard through the medium of hon. Members.

A depth of 5.5 m below mean low-water springs is insufficient to enable the new south quay to take vessels in the 7,000 to 9,000 tonne range. The Aberdeen harbour board does not act, as it has purported, on behalf of residents. The chairman of the Peterhead harbour trustees and Captain A. D. Auld have confirmed that at no time had the trustees suggested a compromise in any unofficial meeting with the chairman and the general manager of the Aberdeen harbour board. They found it impossible to reach agreement with the Aberdeen harbour board, despite holding a number of meetings. The Peterhead harbour trustees did lead evidence on the requirement for the depth of water needed to take the size of the vessels envisaged.

Amendment No. 2 proposes to shorten the length of the proposed new south quay by more than half from 303 m to 125 m. This will restrict the class of ship that can enter the harbour. About 90 per cent. of the ships in the 6,500 tonnes class are 135 m in length. They could not be moored beside a quay of only 125 m.

If amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are accepted, the maximum size of ship that the harbour could accommodate would be about only 3,000 tonnes. This would seriously damage the scheme's economic viability, as the ships now using the harbour to load grain are greater than 3,000 tonnes. Most of the cost of the works is attributable to dredging and blasting. Contrary to what has been alleged in the Aberdeen harbour board's notes on its amendments dated 16 January, which it sent to hon. Members, it will be impossible to bring in a ship in the 24,000 tonne category, or anything like it. Such a vessel would have an average draught of 11 m and a length of 180 m. Even at high water, such a ship would be aground when berthed beside the new quay.

7.45 pm

The Aberdeen harbour board and its representatives are fully cognisant of the fact that it is impossible to handle vessels of more than 9,000 tonnes at its south breakwater quay. Vessels above that size require the assistance of tugs, which Peterhead does not possess and has no intention of acquiring. Perhaps that is another guarantee that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North would like. Vessels of this size would call only occasionally at the port. The Peterhead bay harbour already handles such cargoes. The Peterhead harbour trustees have never handled this type of trade, nor can they possibly do so. Because of the draught of such vessels and because the entrance to the harbour is on a lee shore, vessels of such size could not be manoeuvred. Construction of the south breakwater is expected to create a berm at approximately 8.5 m, give or take a metre or two, and Aberdeen harbour board knows that.

I turn to amendment No. 3. For purely technical reasons, a downward limit of deviation of 1.5 m is needed. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North has proposed a deviation limit of 0.5 m. Underwater rock blasting creates an inverted cone-shaped hole and the varying and unpredictable nature of the seabed makes it impossible to blast economically within a range of 0.5 m. The downward limit of deviation has been agreed with the Department of Transport. Ground conditions will require the removal of small pockets of soft or loose materials to gain a good foundation, and 1.5 m should be adequate — 0.5 m would certainly not be adequate.

The trustees have demonstrated that they have no intention of handling vessels of the 24,000 tonnes rate and that those vessels will be handled only in Aberdeen. The vessels that require a larger draught are needed to move grain. Aberdeen harbour board has said that grain work is declining. If that is so, why has the port of Aberdeen constructed a grain quay at the expense of several million pounds? The Grampian regional council has decided that because the grain comes from the hinterland it should be handled by regional harbours covered by the Grampian regional council. A letter from the Buchan branch of the National Farmers Union of Scotland in connection with the extension to the quay states: Grain has been exported from the port for many years, building up to 150,000 tons of barley and 25/30,000 tons of other grains, coming close on 200,000 tons per annum…We believe that to maintain the high standard experienced over many years…the extension of the harbour is essential. The branch has no hesitation in wholeheartedly supporting the proposal of the Peterhead harbour board.

Amendment No. 4 asks that the depth of water within 5 m of the north face should not exceed 6.5 m. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North has referred to that. About 260 m of work no. 3 on the new south quay will stand in an existing natural depth of 8.5 m and more. Rock infilling to provide the foundation to the new quay will restrict the depth to 8.5 m, but for the trustees to have to fill in the seabed more than that deliberately to restrict the draught of vessels cannot be justified. Allowing for an underkeel clearance of one, 6.5 m at mean low water springs would accommodate a vessel of about 3,000 to 4,000 tonnes. However, coupled with amendment No. 1, not even a vessel of that size could be accommodated at the new south quay. Amendment No. 4 contradicts amendment No. 1.

I have given the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North the assurances that he seeks in respect of the oil-related work that Aberdeen harbour board does not wish to be removed from its port. That assurance has been given to the hon. Gentleman in the statement that was available in the Vote Office and in a letter. If the hon. Member were really interested in the welfare of the fishermen, he would realise that the extension is paramount to them and not to any other trade, although it is allied to others. The extension is being built for the benefit of the fishermen. I hope that having heard my comments the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North will not divide the House, but that he will withdraw his amendments and allow the Bill a safe passage.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

If delaying the Bill last Wednesday served any purpose, it was that at least at 6.25 pm this evening we received an assurance from the Peterhead harbour board trustees that they would not seek oil-related work in the foreseeable future. It is interesting that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) should say in his closing remarks that the developments were primarily to ensure the safety of fishing vessels. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), and the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) and I agree on the need to ensure the safety of fishing vessels. The amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North would meet that requirement. If the safety of fishing vessels using Peterhead harbour was the only matter at stake, the amendments could safely be accepted. Every fishing vessel that uses or is likely to use Peterhead harbour could continue to use it with more safety after the development if the amendments in terms of water depth, tide levels and rock blasting were included. The amendments would not jeopardise safety. They would add to the safety of fishing vessels using Peterhead harbour and the proposed new south bay development.

Safety is not all that is at stake. The safety of fishing vessels is not the centrepiece of the Bill. We must be openly honest with ourselves and realise that the purpose of this privately promoted legislation is to extend Peterhead facilities into an area of land that the Peterhead trustees do not own. That has provoked the legislation and not developments that might take place at Aberdeen, Grangemouth, Leith or any of the Forth ports. Those developments take place on land owned by the Forth ports authority. The Peterhead harbour authority does not own the land on which the development is proposed. The Bill has been promoted not primarily in the interests of the safety of fishermen, but to expand the facilities at Peterhead to take in vessels of a greater tonnage.

I accept what the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said about grain exports. I am glad that the Peterhead harbour trustees have put assurances in writing, not only to the Aberdeen harbour board but to other ports. I suspect that Montrose is also involved. I am glad that the Solicitor-General is with us in the debate. I am grateful that those assurances have gone to other ports that depend heavily on oil-related work to sustain employment. I know that Mr. Turner, the general manager at Aberdeen harbour authority, would welcome the assurance of Peterhead harbour trustees that they will not seek oil-related work in the foreseeable future.

The Peterhead harbour trustees will be held in the years to come to the commitment that has been given in writing and that has now been put on the record of the debate. That is important for Aberdeen and Montrose and any port on the east coast of Scotland that deals with oil-related work. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) for objecting last Wednesday to the Bill going through on the nod, because that has given us the opportunity to place those guarantees on the record.

When the harbour master at Peterhead, Mr. Auld, gave evidence to the public inquiry chaired by Lord Hughes, he made it clear that vessels of a tonnage not exceeding 5,000 were envisaged—in other words, vessels used for the export of grain. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan was talking, not of vessels under 5,000 tonnes, but of ships between 5,000 and 7,500 tonnes. That makes a massive difference to grain exports. While I am prepared to accept the Bill tonight, I would be failing in my duty to the east coast ports which at present handle grain exports if I did not register my fear that the development of Peterhead harbour to take vessels up to 7,000 tonnes for exporting grain can have only a detrimental effect on the trade in grain from east coast ports.

Mr. McQuarrie

Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that a grain exporter on the Forth, in Grangemouth or Montrose, would transfer grain all the way to Peterhead for export, rather than export it from those other ports? The only reason why the docks are being extended is to accommodate the grain brought from the hinterland to be sent out from Peterhead, and the importation of lime and fertiliser, which is solely for my constituency and others near Peterhead.

Mr. Ewing

With great respect — usually when a politician says "with great respect" he is about to describe the person about whom he is talking as lacking in knowledge—I am sorry to tell the hon. Gentleman that his intervention betrays his lack of knowledge about what is happening in our ports at present. Exporters do not pay the road haulage costs between the point where the product is produced and the port of export. That is why our ports are suffering so much from the grid system, under which the ship owner pays the road haulage costs from Perth and further afield, not to Peterhead, but to Felixstowe.

Of all goods for export which have their manufacturing base in Scotland, 75 per cent. are exported from Felixstowe. They are not exported from Scottish ports because the vessel owners find it cheaper to pay road haulage costs to Felixstowe than to have the vessel steam to Grangemouth, Leith or Montrose to collect the goods. I doubt whether the Peterhead harbour trustees will pay the road haulage costs of grain exporters from Tayside, Fife, Central region, south-west Scotland or another agricultural area, which seems to be what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting.

Mr. McQuarrie


Mr. Ewing

I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman has been rather impetuous. He must remember that when Peterhead is developed it will be a non-scheme port, and so will trade at a distinct advantage to the scheme ports on the east coast which are part of the national dock labour scheme. However the hon. Gentleman seeks to present his argument, Peterhead harbour will be at an advantage.

Mr. McQuarrie

The hon. Gentleman must not seek to put on the record that the Peterhead trustees or I are endeavouring to estabish a system under which they will pay for grain to come to Peterhead from any part of Scotland. They have no intention of doing so. The hon. Gentleman should not put across a message for which there is no justification. He is being extremely unfair to the Peterhead harbour trustees and to me to suggest that. He knows perfectly well that that is not so. He is not even sowing a seed which is a possibility. What he has said is unrealistic and most unlikely to happen.

Mr. Ewing

I admire the authority with which the hon. Gentleman speaks on behalf of the Peterhead harbour trustees, and I hope that in years to come that authority will be backed up by their actions. We can only wait and see, as a former Prime Minister once said.

The possibility of oil-related work no longer worries me, but grain export work gives me cause for serious anxiety. The hon. Gentleman said that Grampian regional council thought that all grain from Grampian region should be exported through what he described as regional harbours, whatever that means. I should have thought that Aberdeen was a regional harbour in the Grampian region, so I am not sure what he means. If the Peterhead development is to be justified financially, and if there is to be an adequate return on the £17 million capital investment — Conservative Members are always in favour of that—

Mr. McQuarrie

£13 million.

Mr. Ewing

It will be £17 million before the job is finished. Big capital projects have a nasty habit of exceeding the original estimated cost. If the development is to be justified financially, the farmers in the region will have to grow far more grain than at present, and I do not believe that that is possible. That is what leads me to fear that grain will be drawn from other ports on the east coast to Peterhead. While I shall allow the Bill to go through tonight, I do so with fear and no little trepidation.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I understood that amendment No. 1 was acceptable to the chairman of Peterhead harbour board, and that amendment No. 2 was not to be moved because it would represent a concession by Aberdeen harbour board.

I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie), and I share many of the fears of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing), who is worried about both oil-related and non-oil-related traffic. We now have assurances, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman confirmed the views of individual trustees which were presented to me on a piece of paper last Wednesday. We are here tonight precisely because that piece of paper was not good enough and because I wanted assurances in a proper form. I have fears not only for the future of Aberdeen but for the viability of Peterhead. I also have fears about the viability of the east coast ports in Scotland and for all the ports in the country because of gross over-capacity. The Government ought to have stepped in with a proper ports policy.

I know the constituency of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan extremely well. I have many friends and relatives there. The suggestion that we were in some way trying to disrupt Peterhead and stop it having safe refuge and safe harbour is nonsensical.

Having heard the assurances, and despite the fact that they are not totally acceptable to the Aberdeen harbour board, at the end of the day I and the House must justify our decisions and I must make my own judgment. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill to be read the Third time tomorrow.

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