HC Deb 14 July 1986 vol 101 cc734-71

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now considered,

7.1 pm

Mr. Ken Weetch (Ipswich)

I beg to move, That the Bill be considered on this day six months.

The consideration stage of this Bill has been given quite and exciting send off. It is not often that I read what I have always loosely regarded as being an up-market newspaper —Lloyd's List. It is not essential reading for me, but I read it today and it gives an exciting trailer about the Bill. It states: It has been one of the hardest fought non-Government Bills to have come before the House of Commons in recent years, involving issues of fundamental difference for the two sides of the House — private versus public enterprise, a planned economy versus laissez-faire, and to some extent, the position of the trade unions, particularly in the dock industry". As part of this exciting preliminary, the article names the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) and myself as two of the leading dramatis personae in the debate. Therefore, whatever the course of the Bill, we can at least say that it has had an exciting introduction.

In opposing this consideration in principle, and in debating the Bill on Report, one is for all practical purposes doing two things. The first is making a judgment on the Committee's conclusions after that Committee had heard weeks — in fact, months — of evidence and a variety of sumbissions from the promoters and petitioners. Secondly, this stage of the legislative process offers the House an opportunity to argue detailed amendments now that we have seen the Bill as amended. As the debate progresses, my hon Friends and I will speak in more detail to the new clause and the amendments that have been selected.

The Bill is likely to prove a watershed in private Bill history, because during its legislative passage there was dissatisfaction in some quarters as a result of certain things that occurred during the procedure on the Bill. That has prompted thoughts which I understand may assume more formal procedural shape about the whole privatte Bill procedure.

At present, the point I am making is that careful scrutiny is needed because the whole procedure enables commercial companies, such as the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company, and absentee landlords, such as Trinity college, Cambridge, to make a profit out of commercial development while at the same time they are able to circumvent normal planning procedures.

I have formed the conclusion that this Bill and others can be a backdoor way around normal planning obligations that a developer would have to undertake through the normal framework of planning procedures. It is my view that the entire private Bill procedure, as experienced from the history of this Bill, ought to be examined.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)

Did the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company have the option of taking any course other than through the private Bill procedure?

Mr. Weetch

I would have preferred the whole thing to go through the normal local planning procedures, but I appreciate that intervention. I should point out that I took no part at all in the Committee debates. I did not even go to hear evidence, because as the main opponent I kept out of it altogether. I believe that the advantage of the normal local planning procedures is that they enable more local people to be involved.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Surely the company could have put the outline in the Bill and proceeded with it following a local planning inquiry if the go-ahead was given. That would have offered the objectors the best of both worlds. They could have objected to the principle on the one hand and the details at a planning inquiry on the other.

Mr. Weetch

My hon. Friend is authoritative on these matters. I certainly accept that his suggestion would have been a much better alternative. However, there is consensus about the fact that we should have procedures under which the maximum number of people can give opinions and make objections if they wish to do so. There should also be the maximum local involvement in a development such as this.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

As I understand it, the Bill gives general development order status to the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company so that it becomes its own planning authority. I hope to speak later about the virtues of the port of Liverpool. One of the problems there is that the same powers exist. That has resulted in a scrap shredder being erected opposite residential properties without the need to consult the local community or the local authority. That proposal has been opposed not only by myself and the Labour party but also by local Conservative Members of Parliament. It has also been unanimously opposed by the local authority, yet there is nothing that we can do about it.

Mr. Weetch

My hon. Friend is anticipating a number of points that I shall make later.

I have tabled amendments that indicate that for a long time the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company has been exempt from planning procedures. I shall quote chapter and verse from schedule 12 to a planning and development order dated 1977 to show that that is so. At this stage I content myself by saying that my hon. Friend has a point that will he developed later in the debate.

There is no need to go over much of the old ground. I say that because many issues arising from the Bill provide new subject matter for fresh debate. That brings me to the brass tacks of my case. I dispense with further preliminaries and come to the main conclusions that were announced at the Committee Session on Wednesday 12 March this year. In stating the main conclusion, the Committee said, in essence, that the Bill should proceed and made several other points that would command general assent in the House.

First, on page 2 of the minutes, the Committee stated: The Committee believes that for commercial and strategic reasons Britain must have ports which are capable of providing the service that is expected of them in the market place by the users. That is absolutely right and a conclusion of fundamental truth. Secondly, the Committee said that there had been a strategic shift of port capacity to the east coast, and that is absolutely true. Thirdly, it said that since the port was due to expand in a north-westerly direction up the Orwell estuary in an area of outstanding natural beauty, a higher standard of proof was needed than in an average case. The Committee made those three points well, and they are all unexceptionable. The main pronouncement certainly was not.

The crux of the case for the Committee's conclusion is given on page 4 of the Committee's minutes, in the penultimate paragraph, which states: The only real alternatives, it seems to us, to Felixstowe are Southampton, London and Harwich; but these ports have a variety of problems which discourage their growth and they have not shown any active intention to expand the provision of container berths. It therefore appears that there is no alternative port to Felixstowe. If that is the substance of the case, the proposition does not reach the first fence because, apart from any interpretation of the evidence, it is factually untrue. The proposition from the conclusion is that Felixstowe is the only real practical possibility for the expansion and development proposed in the Bill. That contention is so manifestly unsound that it might have been proposed in error. However, it is on the record, so I shall examine it closely.

According to the Committee, Southampton, London and Harwich are not suitable for this type of growth because certain problems discourage their growth and they have no active intention to expand. During the debate, hon. Members will speak in favour of ports in other parts of the United Kingdom and the Committee's contention will be examined in rather more detail than I can examine it now. 1 can give the House only one example, which related to Harwich and the Harwich Parkeston Quay Bill which is now in Committee.

On Second Reading of that Bill the hon. Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale) said: 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."—[Official Report, 28 April 1986: Vol. 96, c. 718.] That seems strangely at odds with the Committee's main conclusion that Harwich has no intention of expanding, therefore leaving Felixstowe as the only alternative. Not only is that contention unsound, but it is factually inaccurate and does not stand up to the evidence. At the end of the day we are arguing about a more fundamental principle, because a private Bill should stand the test of an examination of realistic alternatives, which there never was because of the Committee's faulty conclusions.

7.15 pm

Quite the reverse is the case in respect of Harwich and Parkeston quay. Three hundred and thirty acres of mud-flats are to be reclaimed, a substantial sea wall is to be constructed, and four deep-sea container berths are to be created for handling 100,000 containers a year. The overall cost of the investment is £100 million. If I relate that factual information to the Committee's conclusion, far from being discouraged, and far from being devoid of an intention to expand, the evidence suggests that Harwich has every intention of expanding and that there is the intention of creating a deep-sea container complex that will rival Felixstowe itself. I am on record as supporting the Harwich Parkeston Quay Bill. If we are to have a substantial deep-sea port in East Anglia, it should be at Harwich, not on the Orwell estuary, because there are few, if any, environmental problems in Harwich.

All my argument stems from the factually incorrect information in the Committee's minutes. The conclusion reached on the evidence about a central problem, which this Bill and other Bills like it set out to explore, is at issue and is critically important. I and many other hon. Members were seeking guidance from the Committee on the problem. It is the Government's overall intention, from a general statement of their environmental policy, that this and other developments like it should not go ahead where environmental matters are at stake, unless there are overriding reasons of national importance. What is the flow of evidence and reasoning for overriding national importance in this case? What development should be allowed in the Orwell estuary to be consistent with it and with its designation as an area of outstanding natural beauty? That question should have been answered, but was left as much unanswered at the end of the Committee's proceedings as it was at the beginning. The Committee gave us no guidance whatever.

I remind the House of the factors that come together in the Orwell estuary. Besides being an area of outstanding natural beauty, it has been designated as a site of special scientific interest, a site of international importance under the Ramsar convention on international wetlands and an area identified under European legislation as of importance for bird conservation. The key question for the Committee, which is not only of particular interest but of general principle, is: what economic case can override environmental factors of that order and significance? It has to be pretty formidable before we can accept that there is such an overriding national interest.

Mr. Sayeed

That point is dealt with on page 2 of the evidence given on Wednesday 12 March 1986 to the Committee, in paragraph 4. Both the petitioners and the promoters agreed, although there was disagreement as to the exact figures, that there would be a need for three deep-sea container berths by the mid-1990s, if not sooner. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the Harwich and Parkeston quay, even if that Bill is passed, will not have been built by then. It was accepted by both petitioners and promoters that there was a national need. Given that only Felixstowe was prepared to fulfil that need, the Committee decided to allow the Bill to proceed.

Mr. Weetch

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that information. Although I do not agree with the conclusions of the Committee, I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues for the diligence with which they examined the information. There was a mountain of work, to which they stuck to the end. Credit is due to them. The hon. Gentleman's intervention may help to underline my next point.

The conclusions revolve around what is the overriding national interest in the matter, and this was the central point of argument in the Committee. Critical evidence on the subject was given and argued in the sitting of Tuesday 25 February this year. The argument was not only of particular importance. It was of general importance. I have looked carefully at the evidence. When we debated the Bill some months ago, I gave my opinion on what the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company had put forward and I shall not go over that again, but certain things emerged.

First, what was being argued by the company was not in the national interest, but was in the commercial interest of the shareholders. It is not to be assumed, even in an emerging laissez-faire economy, that the interests of shareholders are always identical with those of the community. Secondly, the national interest could never be determined because there was never any yardstick by which to measure it. All the evidence as to future trends and variables, such as alternatives to Felixstowe, contained a vast amount of speculation in which one person's statistics were often as good or as bad as those of another.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Have the Government not consistently withheld information on their calculation of what a fixed Channel link will mean in terms of taking container traffic from the deep-sea ports? The Minister has repeatedly been asked that question and has refused to give an answer.

Mr. Weetch

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I shall come on to deal with what the Committee did and did not do in debating the fixed link and cargoes of transhipment. Some of the evidence gives at least a partial sign of lack of thinking on that point.

On balance, this is a matter of one overriding national interest against another. Port facilities are a national interest, as are conservation, an area of outstanding natural beauty, an SSSI, international wetlands and bird conservation. The company never demonstrated, because Solomon himself could not have demonstrated, the balance of interest between those two factors. At the end of the day, it is a matter of judgment and opinion. The company could never prove beyond all reasonable doubt that there was a case for expansion, because it is not possible to prove it. What is more, the company could not even prove the case on the lower standard of the balance of probabilities, given the evidence that it submitted.

Given that statistical and economic trends turn on matters of opinion, where the company has a commercial axe to grind anyway, an examination of the evidence shows certain things. The main aim is said to be the development of deep-sea container facilities, but the main growth of deep-sea trade has been due to the penetration of containers into deep-sea cargo, most of which, according to the economic ports experts, is virtually complete. Development can come about only from substitution and intrusion into the employment and trade prospects of other ports.

Secondly, as time passes, less containerisable cargo remains, and at the end of 1984 only 1.8 million tonnes remained to be containerised. In terms of port capacity, this represents between two and three deep-sea container berths. Not only have I looked at the evidence, but I have had a number of people who are quite used to port and traffic statistics looking at what the Committee had before it. In coming to its conclusion the Committee ignored other factors — for example, the Channel tunnel fixed link, which will consume a good deal of political time in the House before we are finished. The Committee ignored transhipment via France, which at present is not important but will be an unpredictable factor when the Channel tunnel opens. There is no consensus on what will happen if that ever sees the light of day.

Mr. Sayeed

If the hon. Gentleman reads the evidence given to the Committee, he will find that the Committee asked specifically for figures after allowance was made for traffic going via the Channel tunnel.

Mr. Weetch

I am just about to quote from the evidence given by the managing director of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company in response to the questioning by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fachett) on 4 December 1984. On page 15 my hon. Friend asks Geoffrey Parker, the managing director: Before we leave the point about the Channel Tunnel, whatever form that takes, I assume that the company has made some projections as to the likely impact of various schemes upon your trade at Felixstowe. That was a good question.

The Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company had come to prove its case for an overriding national interest, but had made no projections about the possible effect of the fixed link on trade. I do not know whether people who read these things and who are experts in port matters think that the company put up a strong case. When one complicates the case and asks why Felixstowe and not somewhere else, given the environmental obstacles to development, the case for the expansion of Felixstowe becomes pretty gimcrack.

Too many environmental questions have been left unanswered. This expansion in the Orwell estuary should riot proceed, because too many environmental factors come together all at once. Even if it were only an area of outstanding natural beauty, that would be enough to throw great doubts upon it, but since it is a site of special scientific interest and has been indentified under the Ramsar convention, and since the European directive is also involved, all these other aspects are also involved. If ever there were a case for the environmental interest, on the balance of advantage and the evidence, being stronger than the economic and commercial interest, this is a clear example of it.

7.30 pm

The Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company does not have a very strong case. I relate that to the Government's written answer on 29 July 1982 about areas of outstanding natural beauty, when the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) said: The Government agree with the commission's view"— that is the Countryside Commission— that, in general, it would be inconsistent with the aims of designation to permit the siting of major industrial and commercial development in AONBs. Only proven national interest and lack of alternative sites can justify any exception." —[Official Report, 29 July 1982; Vol. 28, c. 708.] Nobody can argue that the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company proved its case beyond all reasonable doubt. Emphatically that was not the case.

A good deal of the environmental evidence was put to the—

Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Before the hon. Gentleman reaches what I divine to be his peroration, does he not think that the statutory duty that is laid upon the county council and the district councils to look after environmental matters has been effectively discharged, in so far as those local authorities are now satisfied and have withdrawn their objections to the Bill? Why does he think that he knows so much better than the elected local authorities Of the area?

Mr. Weetch

I can answer that question directly. To its shame and eternal discredit, the local authority that had most of the responsibility for scrutinising this legislation which short-circuits the planning procedures — namely, the county council — never even petitioned against the Bill. To go back a little into the history of the county council's scrutiny, the county council's planning committee rejected the whole idea because it was contrary to the terms of the Suffolk structure plan. However, by political jiggery-pokery the county council managed to get it pushed into a siding and then agreed not to petition.

The county council stands accused of dereliction of duty. At the end of the day, it had a responsibility to scrutinise the legislation on behalf of the ordinary people but it never did so. It is also a fallacy to argue that just because Suffolk coastal district has dropped out it is satisfied with the Bill. It may have been satisfied with the compromise that was reached, all in all, but that is not the same as saying that the authority is satisfied with the Bill. My view is that it will come to regret the fact that it did not scrutinise the matter more closely.

Mrs. Clwyd

I am most interested in my hon. Friend's account, but does he not think that the question of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) was most peculiar? It seemed to imply that it is wrong to criticise conclusions that are reached, however the) may be reached, by a local authority, be it a district council or a county council, because it consists of elected representatives. Does my hon. Friend think that the hon. Gentleman would show the same restraint and would fail to criticise Labour local authorities for their actions, because they, too, are composed of elected representatives? Does he not think that it was a very odd question?

Mr. Weetch

Yes, I do indeed. Right from the start there have been all sorts of odd things about the Bill, and I have no doubt that there will be odder things about it before it is finished.

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

Before my hon. Friend leaves his point about the planning requirements, although he has dealt effectively with the attitude of the Suffolk county council to the Bill, surely the crucial argument, to which he may he about to refer, is that, because of the private Bill procedure, those who would have objected under the normal planning procedure have had an incredible cost and burden imposed upon them and feel very unhappy about the fact that they have been deprived of the ability to make their case effectively. I think my hon. Friend will agree that those who have petitioned against the Bill are still very unhappy in many respects about it.

Mr. Weetch

Yes, that is a fair point. The private Bill procedure that was used in the 18th century for the various enclosure Acts has not changed very much. It is antiquated and is not consistent with the standard of democracy that we are entitled to expect in 1986. I am advised that the private Bill procedure is to be looked at critically, so I shall not stray further down that path.

When one considers the effect that the expansion of this port will have on the environment, however gallant, imaginative and expensive may be the efforts that are made to landscape, ameliorate and disguise the effects of the intrusion by this commercial development, they can never restore the quality of the environment that will inevitably be lost. At best, the landscaping will be only limited in value. It will require half a generation to take effect. Even though it will create peripheral screening, it will be something that is quite unnatural in an area of outstanding natural beauty, with estuarial scenery that is of critical importance to East Anglia. Whatever is done, it cannot alter the change that will take place to the view from the river.

Finally, on ecological grounds, Trimley marshes, with the qualification about their development—this is the area that is to be substituted for what will be lost—will never be a substitute for Fagbury flats. As the Bill is an environmental disaster, my hon. Friends and I have concentrated upon tabling a series of amendments which might yet, if passed, limit some of the environmental damage to the area. I oppose the Bill.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

As I understand it, the motion before the House is That the Bill be considered upon this day six months. I am not sure whether that is the motion to which we are speaking at the moment.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

Wrong again.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

The motion before the House is that the Bill be considered. It is now being considered.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

I am obliged. I wished to be clear that it is not the dilatory motion that we are debating. As the promoter of the Bill, I am anxious that it should be considered and completed as soon as possible. It is right that I should comment on some of the extraordinary allegations by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch). Not to put too fine a point on it, his speech and the efforts of his colleagues tonight are designed not to protect the environment, to advance the cause of the other Suffolk ports, or to protect the national interest, but to wreck it for the worst possible reason—revenge.

Dr. Oonagh McDonald (Thurrock)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Eldon Griffiths

No, not until I have made my point.

Mr. Fatchett


Sir Eldon Griffiths

I shall also give way shortly to the hon. Gentleman. There is plenty of time this evening.

I said that the principal motive of the hon. Member for Ipswich and his colleagues is revenge, and the reason is clear. The militant London end of the Transport and General Workers Union has never forgiven the port of Felixstowe, the dockers of Felixstowe and the local branch of the TGWU of Felixstowe and East Anglia for having worked during the abortive dock strike. It cannot forget that, and it is determined, if it can, to get its own back on a private enterprise port that continued to work and on the dockers who continued to assert their right to go to work during a strike when there was no proper ballot. That is the principal motive of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. There is no argument about that. The hon. Gentleman is trying to wreck the Bill out of spite.

Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) to cast aspersions and to allege that Labour Members are not interested in opposing the Bill for environmental reasons but oppose it only at the behest of a trade union? May I ask what your ruling is on that point, Mr. Deputy Speaker?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is a matter for debate. Various allegations are made every time I take the Chair. It is a matter for debate, and certainly not a matter for me, fortunately.

Mr. Fatchett

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) to attribute motives to my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch)? I listened to my hon. Friend's speech carefully and I enjoyed it thoroughly, but at no stage did he refer to the London docks or the TGWU—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is a question of alleging various motivations behind speeches. That is not a matter for the Chair.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

I now give way to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald).

Dr. McDonald

I thank the hon. Gentleman for having the decency to give way at last. He made some utterly disgraceful allegations — allegations that were without substance — about our motives. Many of us have a constituency interest in the matter, because we represent dock areas where jobs may be adversely affected. What right has the hon. Gentleman to suggest that we are not acting properly in our capacity as constituency Members of Parliament, and only in that capacity, in raising issues which will seriously affect our constituencies? What right has the hon. Gentleman to make such absurd and disgraceful allegations? After all, let us face the fact that many of the hon. Gentleman's speeches are made because he is a paid representative—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) will be trying to catch my eye, but she has made her first speech.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

I was referring primarily to the hon. Member for Ipswich, but if the cap fits the hon. Lady, she should wear it. I now deal with the hon. Gentleman's speech before I come to the substance of the matter before us.

Mr. Fatchett

We shall all enjoy the hon. Gentleman's speech but it would be helpful if he could clarify his preamble before he deals with the points raised by my hon. Friend. In that preamble he said that the motive was to wreck "it". I was not sure, because the sentences got mixed up, whether the reference to "it" was to the Bill or to the national interest? Or does the hon. Gentleman equate the Bill with the national interest?

7.45 pm
Sir Eldon Griffiths

I have not yet reached the national interest, but I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that I shall.

I was dealing specifically with the motivation of the hon. Member for Ipswich. I have been at a loss to understand why he still tries to wreck the Bill. If I believed for one moment that he had the support of the people of Suffolk, I would understand it, but of course the local authorities, the county council and the Suffolk Coastal district council in whose territory the port lies, have all considered the matter in the greatest detail and with the greatest care. They are clear that it is in the interests of the people of their areas that the Bill should become law. There can be no suggestion that the hon. Gentleman is representing the considered best interests of the people of the area. It might be thought that at least he is representing Ipswich, but unfortunatly in this case that is not true either. The local authority in Ipswich has never petitioned against the Bill. It was open to it to do so, but it chose not to.

Mr. Weetch

Ipswich borough council never petitioned against the Bill because it put its trust in me to oppose it. I have done that right from the start to the best of my ability.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

The hon. Gentleman can put a gloss on it, but the fact is that his borough authority decided not to petition against the Bill. It might have been thought that because Ipswich is a municipal port and, in the early stages at least, its chief executive, Mr. John Evelyn, was unhappy about some of the navigational aspects of the Bill, at least the Ipswich port authority would have petitioned against the Bill. But it did not do so. As a result of the debates in the House and negotiations that took place between the promoters and the port of Ipswich, a happy compromise was arrived at, and consequently the port of Ipswich has no objections to the Bill. I must start by asking who it is that the hon. Gentleman represents in his desire to wreck the Bill.

Mr. Weetch

My electors.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

The hon. Gentleman says his electors. Let us consider that. Many people in Ipswich vote Labour. They voted the Labour members of the Ipswich port authority into office. I take it that that is what the hon. Gentleman would regard as local democracy, but that elected local authority has not opposed the Bill. Moreover, in Ipswich many people, as in Felixstowe and the rest of that part of Suffolk, work in the docks industry. If they are not dockers they may be haulage people or employed in the service industries that support our ports industry. What is their view? The TGWU in East Anglia, including those who democratically represent the dockers of Felixstowe and Ipswich and the rest, are clear that they want the Bill to be passed.

They have said that their local Member of Parliament's objections to it are frivolous and malicious. That is their view, not mine—[Interruption.] I do not have to rely on the views of the trade unions, the local authorities or the people of Ipswich. I am saying only that it is difficult to understand whom the hon. Member for Ipswich represents. There is virtually a full house against him. The local authorities, the dockers union and, as far as can be discovered, the people of the area are against him. One is therefore entitled to ask whom he represents and who has put him up to try to wreck the Bill.

One can draw no other conclusion than that the hon. Member for Ipswich is seeking to wreck the Bill because a certain militant section of the Transport and General Workers Union, totally unrepresented in East Anglia or by the dockers of Ipswich, Felixstowe or Harwich, put him up to wrecking the Bill. There can be no other explanation. The hon. Gentleman said that the question whether Felixstowe's expansion was in the national interest had not been properly considered. Apparently, he has not thoroughly studied the work or report of the Private Bill Committee.

I have with me the Chairman's conclusions. Indeed, I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) is in his place, and he was also a leading Member of that Committee. But the Chairman said: The Committee believes that for commercial and for strategic reasons Britain must have ports which are capable of providing the service that is expected of them in the marketplace by the users and we should not be content just to have ports which are there to transship goods to and from continental ports … There has been an agreement in certain aspects as far as figures are concerned, though I am bound to say there have been a number of assumptions on both sides that have been made as far as future growth is concerned, but certainly there was agreement … that Britain may need two or three more deep-sea container berths by the mid 1990s … there was disagreement as to where these berths could be developed. It is clear, and I think beyond doubt …that port customers have transferred from the west coast of Britain, and it would he unrealistic to suggest that they are going to return there. The only real alternatives, it seems to us, to Felixstowe, are Southampton, London and Harwich".

Mr. Allan Roberts

They are wrong.

Mr. Griffiths

I am quoting the Committee's report, not mine.

It continues: but these three ports have a variety of problems which discourage their growth and they have not shown any active intention to expand the provision of container berths. It therefore appears that there is no alternative port to Felixstowe, and since we accept the national need for expanding deep-sea container provision, we believe that that need does exist, that then there is a case for expanding Felixstowe in the national interest. In the opinion of the Committee, therefore, the commercial case for Felixstowe expansion is sufficiently weighty to satisfy us that the development of Felixstowe should be allowed. I read out such a long quotation simply because the hon. Member for Ipswich alleged that the national interest had not been adequately considered. But the Committee weighed that question carefully and made a measured judgment. I have quoted it, and it is clear-cut.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

The people from Southampton could not make any observations to the Committee because, as a result of the procedures, they were not aware of the Bill's promotion at the very time when they should have been submitting their objections. But Southampton has permission for one, if not two, additional berths to take that sort of trade. The House recently debated proposals for Harwich, which would allow further development. I understand that there are also proposals for Tilbury and for places along the north coast such as Hartlepool and places on the Tyne. But the Committee heard none of that evidence because of the problems involved in trying to submit petitions and in trying to understand the procedures of the House.

Mr. Sayeed

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Griffiths

Of course I shall give way—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) should not intervene in an intervention or we shall get nowhere.

Mr. Griffiths

Perhaps I should continue for a while, and then give way later.

My response to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) is that I was dealing with the allegation by the hon. Member for Ipswich that the national interest had not been adequately considered. I demonstrated, I think beyond peradventure, that the Private Bill Committee spent a lot of time considering this issue and came to the unequivocal conclusion that the development was in the national interest. The hon. Gentleman may disagree with the Committee, but I hope that he will accept that the allegation that it did not consider that question has fallen to the ground.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish has said that there may be something going in Southampton, Hartlepool and elsewhere, and that is fine. But his next point did not do the port of Southampton justice. He virtually said that it was so uninterested in its own future that it did not even know that it could give evidence before the Committee. The Committee opened its doors to anyone with a view.

Mr. Sayeed

Does my hon. Friend agree that any Committee that sat for six months would be hard pressed not to hear evidence on behalf of other ports, even if it did come via petitioners against the Bill? The evidence shows that the petitioners made the case for Southampton, London and Harwich, so we had access to information. But we also found, if I remember correctly, that container berths in Southampton had been decommissioned and car berths had been put in in their stead. There are other points, which I hope to make later.

Mr. Griffiths

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. However, having given way to almost all and sundry, I should like to draw my remarks to a conclusion.

I hope that I have disposed of the argument that the national interest was not considered. It was, and the Committee reached a conclusion.

The hon. Member for Ipswich also spoke about the environment. I must say that, listening to him, I did not recognise the reality. There was an enormous amount of discussion and debate between the promoters and the petitioners about a whole range of environmental questions. On Second Reading, I said that I would not be a party to the Bill's passage unless the Bill enhanced the local environment. I can say that as someone who was one of the first Under-Secretaries of State for the Environment. As I understand it, the promoters have agreed with the county council, the district council and with many of the other petitioners, on a substantial environmental improvement of which they can be proud. The hon. Member for Ipswich should recognise how much good has come from those negotiations.

8 pm

This development affects 0.25 per cent. of the total 150 square miles in that area which has been designated as being of outstanding natural beauty. The Felixstowe extension will affect about 98 acres of poor low-lying land of very heavy clay. It is separated by a clay wall from approximately 140 acres which comprise a small area of salt marsh with creeks. The extent of the environmental impact of which the hon. Gentleman is complaining is 0.25 per cent. of that area.

In close co-operation with Trinity college, whose concern for the environment is not in doubt, the dock company has agreed to carry out a large programme of landscaping which includes proposals to plant approximately 500,000 new trees, creating approximately 85 acres of additional woodlands. The dock company and Trinity college have agreed a detailed schedule with Suffolk county council safeguarding the public rights of way, a new viewing area, development control, highway improvements, light and noise control, and providing free off-the-road lorry parking.

As a result of the representations made by petitioners, there is also to be a 176-acre nature reserve at Trimley marshes, plus the saltings and the sea wall. The dock company will provide £130,000, and Trinity college a further £10,000, to cover the initial establishment costs and subsequent management expenses of the new reserve. These are major environmental improvements.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

If this is all so good, why has the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds felt unable to accept the compromise? I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not claim that it, too, is in the pay of the London militant dockers.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

I shall discuss the bird people later.

In addition to the environmental improvements already mentioned, the Bill also substantially restricts the further development of Trimley marshes. I was glad to see a negotiated arrangement requiring the company to operate the proposed new works so as not to exceed specified noise levels. These will be monitored and enforced by the Suffolk Coastal district council.

The environment has been fully safeguarded. Indeed, it has been enhanced. That is why Suffolk county council, and the Suffolk Coastal district council, which have been deeply concerned to protect the environment, have agreed to support the Bill. The extraordinary thing is that, with the solitary exception of the Royal Ornithological Society, everybody, including environmentalists, supports the Bill.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish asked me a question which, as an admirer of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, I must answer. I have a letter from Mr. Stuart Housden, the head of conservation planning, and parliamentary agent for the RSPB, to Suffolk county council. In fairness to the House, I should say that the society is not fully able to withdraw its opposition to the Bill, nor voluntarily to enter into a compromise.

Mrs. Clwyd

Why not?

Sir Eldon Griffiths

Because it is concerned that to do so might be interpreted as a weakening of our resolve to defend such sites in the future". That was the reason given by Mr. Housden for the society's inability to withdraw its objection.

Mr. Housden's letter to Suffolk Coastal district council, which the hon. Member for Ipswich slurred in his speech, began: I would like to thank you for your efforts in negotiating with the promoters of the above Bill. I know you have worked hard to find a satisfactory outcome to the concept, proposed by the Dock Company, of an alternative wetland at Trimley Marshes. It is our understanding that the promoters offered an area of 176 acres of arable land on Trimley Marshes for conversion to grazing marsh together with some 20 acres of sea wall and saltings, the whole area on a 99 year lease. The company offered the money, and a shooting-free zone of 400 yards around the site was also agreed. The management of the reserve would be in the hands of the county council, the district council, or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The letter continued: The RSPB considers that with suitable management, such as that practised by ourselves at Elmley in Kent and elsewhere, it would be possible to create a worthwhile reserve on Trimley marshes that would probably attract birds in nationally significant numbers. That statement by the RSPB hardly represents 100 per cent. opposition. I continue: The reserve could not compensate for the loss of SSSI land at Fagbury … Nevertheless, a reserve at Trimley would be of considerable ornithological interest and superior to anything possible at Levington. Unlike the hon. Member for Ipswich, the RSPB takes a positive, balanced and measured view of the matter. The society recognises the gains, and regrets some of the losses. Although it is unable to abandon its opposition because of its future position, it lends no support whatsoever to the hon. Gentleman's slur on the county council.

No doubt other hon. Members have a great deal to say. I can only repeat that the Committee weighed the national interest carefully. The environmental considerations have been protected, and the promoters of the Bill have arrived at sensible compromises. The Bill should proceed and the hon. Member for Ipswich does himself no credit in continuing his efforts to wreck it. The Bill offers East Anglia the prospect of more modern ports. It offers the people of Suffolk more prosperity and many more jobs. It offers the nation an opportunity to ensure that the great globe-girdling container lines of tomorrow will continue to stop in Britain, and will not simply divert to Rotterdam or even Le Havre, leaving our country to be a contributor by short, cross-Channel support lines.

The House must decide whether it is in the national interest to ensure that we shall have a port of world standard. If this Bill was offered to Liverpool, Southampton or Bristol, they would jump at it and none of the hon. Members representing those areas would try to wreck it as has the hon. Member for Ipswich.

When the Japanese, the French, the Dutch and the Germans see that, at no cost to the taxpayer, we have the opportunity of investing substantial sums in the modernisation of our ports, which would create many more jobs, and ensure prosperity, which I am sure Opposition Members would wish to see, but that the House of Commons is trying to wreck such a possibility, they will think that we are mad. I believe that hon. Members will not accept such wrecking tactics, and I hope that they will resist the efforts of the hon. Member for Ipswich to destroy the future of Felixstowe.

Mr. Alllan Roberts (Bootle)

I very much regret the personal attacks made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) on my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) whose integrity is beyond dispute. To present my hon. Friend as someone who is being manipulated by mindless militants is to have an imagination beyond Mr. Derek Hatton's wildest dreams. My hon. Friend is recognised throughout the Labour party as a masterful model of moderation. There may be some on whom the mud might stick, but my hon. Friend is not one. He is fighting a campaign on behalf of his constituents, which every fair-minded hon. Member recognises. He has fought for Ipswich and its people for some years, as general election results in his constituency have successively shown, often against the national swing.

However, there is no doubt what motivates my opposition to the legislation. The Bill should not be considered further because it will detract from every other port in Britain. Britain already has too many deep-water facilities. If the Bill becomes an Act not one new job will be created. Jobs may be created in Ipswich or in that area, but each of those jobs will be taken from another port, including the port of Liverpool which I represent.

There are a number of reasons why I oppose the Bill. First, some aspects of it will he environmentally damaging to the area where it is proposed to site the facilities and my hon. Friends will be dealing with the environmental considerations later.

I have experience in Liverpool of how the kind of general development order planning powers, which are proposed in the Bill, affect local communities. I referred earlier in an intervention to the scrap shredder which will be sited in my constituency. That affects not only my constituents in Bootle but those of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton). Strangely enough, he was a member of the Committee which considered the Bill and he did not oppose the general development order planning powers. Yet at the same time he is supposedly campaigning alongside myself against those powers as operated by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board in the port of Liverpool because they will affect some of his voters and environmental damage will be caused if a massive scrap shredder and scrap mound are erected in an area where, in similar circumstances to this Bill, there is a nature and bird reserve and a wonderful vista.

Also surprisingly, the hon. Gentleman accepts the Committee's conclusion, to which the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds referred, that only three options are ruled out — Southampton, London and Harwich. He does not seem to consider all the ports on the east and west coasts. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds said that he did not want Britain's ports merely to ferry cargo across the channel, between the south of England and the continent, but to compete with the large ports of Europe. If that is so, deep-water facilities do not have to be sited in the south; they can be sited anywhere—on the east coast or, dare I say it, on the west coast. They can be sited at Merseyside in Liverpool. To suggest that Southampton, London and Harwich are the only other options and that they are the only ones that the Committee has considered, is to fail to consider what is in the national interest.

Is it in the national interest to develop a port which will result in job losses in an area of high unemployment such as Liverpool and which might take trade away from Merseyside? That cannot be justified when Britain already has enough port facilities to meet any future projections.

I am also opposed to the legislation because clause 4 is headed: Dock Workers Employment Scheme not to relate to any part of limits of dock". The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds said that if the Bill were on offer to Liverpool we would jump at it. I assure him that that is not the case. Any legislation that destroys the dock workers' employment scheme would not be jumped at by any scheme port in Britain. The Bill does not simply extend the port of Felixstowe; it extends a non-scheme port. It will mean the use of non-scheme labour.

8.15 pm
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

The hon. Gentleman knows my interest in the port of Liverpool. Is not one of the major reasons why the Bill was initiated in the first place the fact that a non-dock labour scheme port, as against the labour scheme ports, is able to charge lower landing charges, because it is not burdened with the dock labour scheme? Therefore, will he reconsider what he has just said?

Mr. Roberts

I hope to prove that Liverpool is now one of the most successful ports in Britain because it has a dock labour scheme. If non-scheme ports were developed there would be considerable difficulties and problems with labour relations, which would penalise the ports. If one considers the success of the freeport in Liverpool, developed by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, one sees that it has become Britain's premier freeport. In its first year it handled £24 million-worth of goods from more than 300 companies, and volumes in the first quarter of this year show that traffic through the United Kingdom's largest freeport will far outstrip its first-year figures. Individual consignments of cargo and complete shiploads are creating work for employers of the port of Liverpool which would otherwise not have been available.

Let me tell the hon. Gentleman why that is the only successful freeport that the Government have established that has been successful. It is because it is a scheme port and before it was established the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board negotiated with the Transport and General Workers Union an agreement of what was scheme work and what was not.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman was tempted by the intervention, but we must get back to the Bill.

Mr. Roberts

I accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not want to be ruled out of order by simply speaking about the port of Liverpool and not discussing the Bill.

I and many of my hon. Friends who have constituency interests in representing ports other than the port of Felixstowe have a legitimate right to oppose the Bill and the port's development since the Committee did not consider all the alternatives and it is not in the national interest to develop extra deep-water facilities in a country that already has too many.

The Seaforth container terminal and the grain terminal in my constituency are successful and under-used. Yet at a time when there are such massive facilities under-used, the Government who believe in the free market are telling us to create more facilities which might or might not be under-used and might not only be under-used but may take jobs away from other ports even more hard hit than Felixstowe.

For the reasons that I have given, the Bill should not be further considered. It is an extension of a non-scheme port, it gets round planning arrangements, which I know can cause tremendous problems, it is not in the national interest to have ports closing, and the legislation will have environmental consequences.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

In my years in the House I have been recognised as a supporter of the city of Southampton, and that city revolves around its port. I feel that I am the champion of a port which, over the years, has suffered some ill luck, some bad management decisions and some serious misjudgments by the unions.

Only three years ago the port was at a standstill, but I am happy to say that it is now making good progress and is the major port for the import and export of cars. Two weeks ago, through my good offices with the Taiwanese Government, we were able to arrange a twinning with the Taiwanese port of Keelung, which is in the 1 million containers a year category. We hope to encourage more Taiwanese shipowners, not only the Evergreen Line, but Yang Ming and OOCL, to use our container ports. At present, most Taiwanese owners use Felixstowe, where they have a three-year contract on advantageous terms. An extension of Felixstowe would deal a blow to Southampton's hopes of revival.

In the good old days of the European Parliament, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) appointed me chairman of transport and regional planning for Europe. We should have grasped the nettle firmly at that time and worked out a common ports policy in which the checks and balances would have been settled.

Checks and balances are essential. Is it wise to create a giant container port when increased employment in that area will result in more unemployment in other areas? I do not say that Southampton cannot meet the challenge, because I believe it can. We have tremendous advantages over Felixstowe, including a wonderful geographical position and almost a double tide which remains high for some hours. We can easily work deep draught container ships and there is no delay in services at the Southampton container port.

The over-provision of container berths will present problems, even though we in Southampton feel that we may not be able to cope with what we hope will be the future demand. We are making progress on the container side. It may be said that we are looking for the cessation of competition, but this all goes back to the Government's lack of a common ports policy.

The well-being of our ports and the need for continuity and encouragement of our work forces are important. We are a nation of seafarers and we need a comprehensive ports policy. I have often told my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that if we had had a debate on a common ports policy, even for only three hours, we might have been able to resolve some of the anomalies that are creeping in.

Of course Felixstowe would like to develop another 730 or 750 acres of land. Southampton does not have 750 acres to develop, though we could provide a useful service with only another 30 or 50 acres.

It will be wrong for the Government to support the Bill, which must stand on its own feet. I oppose it, not because I am opposed to the private sector or to the fact that Felixstowe is not a member of the national dock labour scheme — though that gives it an advantage — but because the Bill is not related to the United Kingdom's ports requirements. As a seafaring nation, we need to keep our ports alive. Should we do that by providing increased competition at every hand? No. We must create an adequate ports policy by negotiation and dialogue and by planning for the future.

I am sure that the Bill will receive the assent of the House, but I shall not support it, because it is the product of convoluted thinking. The idea that we need another 730 acres of container berths is sheer nonsense. We could provide many acres of container facilities in Southampton. Our work force is bringing its costs down to the Felixstowe level, despite the fact that Southampton is a national dock labour scheme port.

Even my friends in the Transport and General Workers Union would agree that having to pay for jobs that are not required is a financial handicap. Southampton has been a scheme port for a long time and has suffered for that reason.

The suggestion that Felixstowe competes with us is inaccurate, because we compete under a liability. We have always stressed that fact. The new Associated British Ports company has said that it would welcome the abolition of the national dock labour scheme, but the TGWU is wedded to it. However, this is not the time to discuss that subject. I have told my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that anomalies must be cleared away and that there must be free competition and no political or financial bias against Southampton.

I note what the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts), who has left the Chamber, said about the freeports. That was an imaginative Government scheme. I hope that the Government support it, although it contains some curious anomalies. I thought that the freeport scheme was only the beginning of the advantages for Southampton, because Felixstowe was excluded from the list of freeports.

I hope that tonight, whatever the outcome of the vote, we shall all agree that before long there must be a debate on a national ports policy. I am sure that the Department of Trade and Industry will welcome that. I am certain that all responsible hon. Members representing a port area will want to know that the future of that port is openly discussed and that there is no need to send letters to colleagues. I hope that the national scheme will take precedence over the private Bills.

8.30 pm

I am sad. I am not always keen on the people with whom I have to go into the Lobby. I do not mean that in a derogatory sense, but it is embarrassing for a well-known moderate Right-winger to be seen in the Lobby with the other side. When we come to vote I shall be forced, reluctantly, because of the lack of a national ports policy, to oppose the Bill. Southampton needs every promotion and support that the Government can give. I am sure that the Bill is not the way to promote Southampton's cause.

Dr. McDonald

I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill). He defended his constituency interests properly and legitimately. I only wish that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) would understand that many of us are here because we intend to defend our constituency interests.

I want to discuss the minutes of evidence taken by the Committee on Wednesday 12 March 1986. I wish in particular to talk about page 2 of those minutes, which deals with the principle of the Bill. The minutes say: The only real alternatives to Felixstowe are Southampton, London and Harwich. But these three ports have a variety of problems which discourage their growth and they have not shown any active intention to expand the provision of container berths … There is no alternative to Felixstowe … Since we accept the national need for expanding deep-sea container provision we believe that the need does exist and that there is a case for expanding Felixstowe in the national interest. I want to discuss the reference to the national interest and the alleged lack of any active intention by Southampton, London and Harwich to expand the provision of container berths.

I do not presume to comment on Southampton's position, because that has already been done and it is not in my constituency. I shall not presume to comment on Harwich. However, I shall discuss the port of London, because the major part of it is located in my constituency. Tilbury docks are responsible for 17 per cent. of the total national container traffic in this country each year.

It is alleged that Tilbury has taken no active interest in developing container traffic. That is not true. It is useful to consider some examples from the series of press reports provided by the Library in computer printout. On 7 June this year the Port of London Authority's Tilbury docks announced that it had won another major shipping service and said: The first vessel on Baco Line's well-established revolutionary barge and container service between Europe and west Africa was successfully handled in dock over the Easter weekend.… PLA was pleased with the fast turnaround performance effected by the workforce on this initial ship. Further ships were expected in the next few days and in the coming months. A port authority does not make such an announcement if it is not interested in developing container traffic.

I can give more examples of the developments at Tilbury. Tilbury does not confine itself to container traffic, but is developing all sorts of other services such as roll-on, roll-off ferries, linking Tilbury to Zeebrugge. It does not concentrate particularly on container traffic.

Lloyd's List reported in September last year on the privately owned, multi-purpose west African terminal at Tilbury. It said that it is rapidly gaining a reputation for fast ship turnrounds and a productivity handling rate that compares with the top continental ports. At certain times the 108 PLA … registered dockers load 100 tonnes of cargo and 15 containers an hour which is the highest productivity rate in the Port of London. Another attraction of WAT is its total flexibility". That is obviously an extremely important consideration. The west Africa terminal handles 10 shipping lines from all over the world, in particular focusing on trade with west Africa.

The report went on to say that by the end of 1985 the west Africa terminal expected to handle … 100,000 tonnes of container cargo. This should be sufficient to reach a break-even position. The report added: In July last year the Port of London Authority announced that the last great untapped market—China… was beginning to fulfil its potential. The expansion in the market is now being reflected in increased container sailings to the People's republic. At the end of this month there will be a weekly service from Tilbury to south east Asia and China. That is just a random selection of examples of expansion in container traffic at Tilbury. It is all facilitated by the agreement of the Transport and General Workers Union to work flexibly to ensure a fast turnround for the ships and to ensure that Tilbury is competitive. How does that fit in with the claim that Tilbury has shown no active inclination to expand container berths? It is nonsense.

The managers and workers — not just the dockers, but the white collar workers—want to develop container traffic at Tilbury. Tilbury has the facilities to do that. Furthermore, Tilbury has an important location and realises the need to develop all the potential of that location. It is next to the Dartford tunnel and the M25 which encircles London and connects to the main motorways to the north and south of England. Therefore, it is an extremely important location and Tilbury is well aware of the need to expand and exploit that potential in the development of its container traffic. As I have said, management and workers alike are determined to do that. Therefore, the claim in the Committee's evidence is patently untrue. I do not see how the Committee can seriously have considered evidence and reached a conclusion of that kind. It should have made sure that it had gone through every item of the expansion of container traffic in Tilbury to clarify the truth or falsity of the claim that it was making.

I can understand the reference in the evidence that the ports have a variety of problems. For example, Transport pointed out in March and April 1985, in a special detailed survey of United Kingdom ports—I wish that it was the sort of thing that the Committee had read, because if it had done so it might have come to different conclusions—that there are problems of the past. The spokesman for the PLA who was interviewed for the article made it clear that the PLA was aware of the problems. He stressed that the strikes of 1984 had, fortunately, caused far less damage than was at first thought and that the port had recovered very quickly from them.

The Port of London Authority has, of course, to cope with the burden of historic debt, and that presents the PLA with a problem in the development that it would like to see take place. It considers that the Government could take a much more active part than they do by providing money to dispose of the problem of historic debt. However, that does not prevent Tilbury from endeavouring to develop in every way possible. In fact, the article goes on to report the refurbishing of the London cruise terminal, as it is now called, where 100 passenger ships call in at Tilbury every year. It adds: The port has also been encouraged recently by a healthy amount of short-sea container traffic". That is a significant statement, made in a detailed survey about what is going on in United Kingdom ports. One can only conclude that in this part of the evidence the Committee did not know, and perhaps did not care about, what was going on in other United Kingdom ports as long as it could reach this facile and false conclusion about the lack of interest in developing container traffic in other parts of the country.

Mr. Sayeed

Has the hon. Lady read the evidence to which we listened? If she has, she will recognise that the statement that she has just made is incorrect.

Dr. McDonald

If the Committee had fully considered the implications of the kind of evidence that I have just put before the House, it could not possibly have reached such a conclusion, unless the conclusion had nothing to do with the evidence.

Mr. Sayeed

Answer the question.

Dr. McDonald

I have answered the question. When the hon. Gentleman finally gets up to make his own speech, rather than intervening in everybody else's, I should like to hear how he managed to ignore evidence of that kind, because it certainly cannot lead to the sorts of conclusions that the Committee arrived at, as the hon. Member for Southampton, Test and myself are making clear. After all, it is the port of Southampton and the port of London which the Committee primarily attacked in the conclusions that it outlined.

Inevitably, as a constituency Member of Parliament, I have to look at the implications of the development at Felixstowe for Tilbury docks itself. It is worth the House bearing in mind that we are looking at the development and extension of a port, broadly in the south-east of England, East Anglia, where there are already 19 ports of various kinds in operation. That is a large number of ports and it is just a small proportion of the number of ports and docks facilities throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. As the hon. Member for Southampton, Test said, there is a need for a proper national ports policy. I shall come back to that when I speak about whether this development is in the national interest.

8.45 pm

In Tilbury docks there are now 1,200 dockers and 1,400 white collar workers. It is the largest employer in my constituency. Of course, it is not just a question of the number of people who are directly employed by the docks. The presence of docks, especially if they are functioning well, gives rise to all kinds of ancillary employment. The ratio to which it gives rise is generally estimated at 3:1. There are all kinds of workers involved in my constituency, whether they be members of Customs and Excise, police, pilots, tugsmen, lightermen, carpenters or electricians, or whether they are providing various kinds of service for the port. All their jobs depend on the continued healthy existence of those docks.

I know that very often people get the impression that unemployment does not occur in the south-east. However, unemployment in my constituency is running at about 16 per cent. and there are over 7,000 people out of work at present. Any squeeze on Tilbury docks through the development of a huge and unnecessary container facility at Felixstowe docks could lead to further unemployment in my constituency, not just directly in the docks, but throughout the constituency. That is one important reason why I am taking part in the debate. The last thing that I want to see is any further growth in unemployment in my constituency. We have already suffered enough over the past seven years, where we have seen unemployment more than double in Thurrock. We do not wish to tolerate any further unemployment, especially when it arises out of an ill-considered scheme of this kind.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

There is nothing to prevent the hon. Lady's port and the dockers from providing a better service. If they provide a better service, surely the container traffic will go there and not to Felixstowe. Is she afraid of competing?

Dr. McDonald

Listening to the hon. Gentleman's contributions to the whole of this debate, I fail to understand why he is involved in a Bill such as this when he knows nothing about the subject. He does not understand what is involved in the number of ports in this country. It is not a question whether I think that Tilbury can compete. I have spent a great deal of time explaining how hard Tilbury is pushing in terms of competition and how it is striving to develop the container facilities that it already has, making sure that the maximum flexibility in working is achieved so that a fast turnround service can be provided.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) says that ports should be built and should compete with one another. Each extra port that is built will destroy a part of the environment. The worst thing that could happen would be for the Felixstowe project to go ahead and to be unsuccessful. That would result in the natural habitat of the bird life being destroyed, and at the same time no jobs would be created. That would be the worst of all worlds.

Dr. McDonald

I agree with my hon. Friend. I am trying to get across to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, who does not seem to understand these issues, that adding to over-capacity merely transfers jobs from one area to another.

Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan)

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) and I have crossed swords on this issue on a number of occasions. The hon. Gentleman prays in aid of the fact that he was once the Minister with responsibilities for the ports. God help us all if he had those ministerial responsibilities now. My hon. Friend arid the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) are saying that there is only so much capacity for our ports to handle. The fundamental issues are where that capacity lies and where strategically the nation wants it to lie. Neither I nor the hon. Member for Test is prepared to accept that the entire movement of shipping and cargo capacity should be channelled through one East Anglian port. That would not be good on national terms. My hon. Friend is saying that present capacity is such that we need a balanced approach in the way in which distribution is arranged between our ports. If we develop Felixstowe, we shall put out Southampton and Tilbury, and that is something that my hon. Friend and I cannot accept.

Dr. McDonald

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. We must be thankful that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds is unlikely ever to be responsible again in a ministerial capacity for our ports. At least that will prevent damage being done in that way. If the apparent instructions of the chairman of the Conservative party to Tory agents are to be believed, it seems that a general election can be expected in June 1987. When the election takes place, we shall all welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) as the new Minister with responsibility for our ports. We know that we shall then have a sensible and coherent policy that will take national interests into account, as well as the national development of our ports.

Mr. Hill

I think that the argument is commercial and not political. Over-capacity in any commodity means that those who are trying to buy the commodity—in this instance container cargoes — have a much stronger weapon for pushing the price down and down. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) and others are saying that Felixstowe is making a good commercial practice of containerisation. With over-capacity, however, it could find its prices being forced down by Chinese, Taiwanese and Hong Kong shipowners, who have no respect for the national interest and who look for the best possible contract for their container traffic.

Dr. McDonald

The hon. Member for Test has made an extremely interesting intervention. He is looking to the consequences of the extension of container facilities at Felixstowe. If the extension takes place, other ports will be pushed into difficulties, and when that happens it is likely that we shall find ourselves with a white elephant.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) has said, we cannot develop and extend port facilities in isolation. Account must be taken of container lorries, which will need suitable roads. If these roads have not been made available before the development and extension of the port, they will have to be constructed. Some of the evidence that was presented to the Committee suggested that communications between Felixstowe and the rest of the country had been vastly improved. I have a personal acquaintance with the roads in that area, and I accept that there have been some improvements, but the roads are not really adequate to allow heavy traffic to travel between Felixstowe and the rest of the country.

Apart from the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish about the bird sanctuary, I think that considerable environmental damage will result. It is damage that need not be imposed by the development of Tilbury. A motorway network is already in place and greater use could be made of the river. The river should be used to a far greater extent, because it is a natural motorway throughout London. If we were to develop existing ports where a road network has already been established, and where, as at Tilbury, there is a natural link that could be used to a greater extent so that goods could be transported up and down the river—lorries could be used from the various stages along the river—we would lessen the environmental damage done by the development of ports and remove the possible damage of the development of the container berths at Felixstowe.

Mr. Fatchett

I am interested in the development of the economic argument, especially as it attaches to the national interest. If there is surplus capacity and we add to it, we may well have the impact to which my hon. Friend has referred, which would involve redundancies and port closures. There is another possible impact, or a combination of the two. If marginal costs are spread over a lower level of demand because of the surplus capacity, they could increase. That would make British ports uncompetitive with foreign ports. Therefore, rather than being in the national interest, it may be against the national interest to extend our capacity when there is a surplus in demand. The result would be to make our ports more expensive vis-à-vis our competitors and we would lose jobs in another way, through a combination of possible port closure and redundancies or from a loss of trade with other countries. Would my hon. Friend comment on that possibility?

Dr. McDonald

That is an extremely important point. My hon. Friend said that British ports may become less competitive than continental ports. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are aware of the fact that British ports already find it difficult to compete with continental ports. That is not due to a lack of facilities or because of problems caused by strike action or disagreement about what does or does not constitute dock work. The source of the problem of competing with continental ports arises largely from the fact that continental ports such as Rotterdam or Hamburg are heavily subsidised by local authorities or by central Government. That makes it very difficult for British ports to compete.

9 pm

The fact that some ports in Britain have been so successful in ensuring that container and other port traffic comes to British ports, shows the extent to which people are prepared—I mean management and employees—to work together. The danger that arises—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Is the hon. Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) making an intervention?

Dr. McDonald

I am not, Mr. Speaker. I am making my speech.

Mr. Fatchett

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The intervention was mine.

Mr. Speaker

I am sorry, I have only just entered the Chamber.

Dr. McDonald

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) gave way to temptation and made a rather long intervention. However, I hope that that will not prevent him from catching your eye later in this debate, Mr. Speaker, because I am sure that he has an important contribution to make.

Mr. Sayeed

Before the hon. Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) leaves her central point about capacity and surplus capacity, does she accept that it is not simply a problem of the amount of capacity but a matter of where that capacity is located? As I represent Bristol, I know what it means to build capacity in the wrong place. One reason why the Committee was in favour of the development was that Felixstowe demonstrated that it was in the right place to take the traffic which was heading for western Europe. Does the hon. Lady accept that the problem is not whether we can use redundant or other capacity in Liverpool, Bristol or other ports which ships do not want to use, but rather that the only alternative to Felixstowe would be Rotterdam, Antwerp or Bremen?

Dr. McDonald

I do not agree with one word of the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I have already said that in the whole of the south-east —I use the term in a broader sense than it is normally used — there are 19 ports. Tilbury docks in my constituency is well placed to deal with traffic from western Europe and elsewhere. The important point is whether the docks are well placed in terms of ease of distribution of goods once they have been unloaded. The important point that I was trying to make is that Tilbury docks is ideally located, with motorway and railway provision in place. Furthermore, the river is under-used and is another means of distributing goods once they have been unloaded.

Mr. Stott

I was interested in the intervention of the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed). I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, representing that constituency and the port of Avon, understands that Rotterdam, Antwerp and Bremen are very heavily subsidised by their national Governments. Tilbury, Felixstowe, Harwich, Liverpool and Southampton pay an undue burden of light dues, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) has already referred. It is because they have to do that that they are on the margins, and uncompetitive with the rest of Europe. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's argument about competitiveness should be directed towards the unfair competition of the European ports against our ports. That is the point that my hon. Friend is making.

Mr. Speaker

Before the hon. Lady replies, I remind hon. Members that the debate is about Felixstowe.

Dr. McDonald

Yes, Mr. Speaker. I was referring in particular to the conclusions of the Committee's evidence, where it was claimed that not only Southampton, London and Harwich had no active interest in developing containers, but that the only port that should be developed in that way was Felixstowe, and it was in the national interest so to do. It is that part of the claim in the conclusions of the evidence that is the matter for dispute. That is why one has to go into the issues not only of the location of various ports around the country, but why some should be developed better than others.

The hon. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) said in his intervention that location was what mattered for Felixstowe. The point that I have been making is that location, in the sense that he meant it—that is, ease of access for western European traffic — was much too narrowly defined. Location has to take into account ease of distribution. Anyway, location is not the only point at issue in relation to competition with continental ports because there is also the issue of subsidy for continental ports, which is done either on a local authority basis or a central Government basis. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's argument that because Felixstowe is in a particular geographical spot, it should be developed, is much too narrow a view of what it means to develop a ports policy in the national interest.

Mr. Sayeed

That is not the point that I made.

Dr. McDonald

It is what it sounded like. Either that or the hon. Gentleman simply cannot put his points clearly.

I now wish to turn my attention to the claim that the development of Felixstowe is in the national interest. I should also like to refer to what the Government have said. On page 1 of the Government's report on the Bill, they state: The Government's policy towards port developments is that port users are best served by allowing ports to compete with each other on price and quality of service, and that the distribution of traffic and the pattern of future developments should be determined primarily by commercial considerations. It follows that Her Majesty's Government does not consider it appropriate to attempt to lay down a detailed plan or framework for the operation and development of Britain's ports. That is the Government's attitude towards the Bill. Obviously, no one disagrees with the point that ports should compete with each other on price and quality of service. There is no dispute about that.

However, the paragraph implies that the Government abrogate their responsibility entirely, with no plan and no framework for the operation and development of Britain's ports, as though it should just be left to accidental commercial interests, when the development of a ports policy affects so deeply the nation's economic development.

Mr. Hill

This is where ports policy fails so utterly. About three years ago, there was talk of developing Falmouth into a giant container port. Geographically, it would be excellent—it would make Felixstowe seem a second-class port. Everybody knows that there is another 12 hours steaming to get to Felixstowe, and when international carriers work out their costs, they do so on steaming times. The Falmouth container port fell with a whimper, however. Nobody heard the end of it.

We might be going wrong in that a ports policy might rely on the Government paying for the infrastructure. We must consider what geographical locations will suit the type of trade and client that we hope to attract. If we could develop that into a reasonable formula, we would have no hesitation in saying that Falmouth is unacceptable because of lack of infrastructure and that Felixstowe is unacceptable because it is congested and another 12 hours steaming time away. There might be many other reasons why we would say, "Here is a balanced ports policy. We have thought it through and this is the answer."

Dr. McDonald

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, but it is not just a matter of picking out the best development from a geographical point of view or on grounds of infrastructure. I have dealt with that in regard to Tilbury. A development must be the best from an economic point of view. Any port serves as a growth point in the economic development of an area. If a port collapses, many port-related activities, which are often extremely indirectly connected, collapse as well. That can lead to the economic collapse of a whole area.

Mr. Stott

You have asked us, Mr. Speaker, to concentrate our interventions on Felixstowe, but I contend that the Bill could not have been debated on the Floor of the House if the previous Secretary of State for Transport had not withdrawn section 9 of the Harbours Act 1964, which included the words "national interest". I am interested to know where the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) was when I debated this matter late one night, when we objected to the withdrawal of section 9. Ports could not have been developed without the Secretary of State's permission, but the Secretary of State withdrew section 9 to allow this Bill to proceed.

Dr. McDonald


Mr. Speaker

Order. Before the hon. Lady responds, I must observe that we arc debating consideration of the Bill and we should not go wider than that.

Dr. McDonald

This procedure would not previously have been allowed to extend to Felixstowe, as any dock extension worth more than £3 million had previously to be referred to the Secretary of State. It had then to be considered whether such a large development would be in the national interest. I was about to make that point, but my hon. Friend did it for me.

I object to this procedure being used for such an extremely important development which should be considered only in a national context. It is a very large development. We already have more than adequate container berths throughout Britain. Not all are operating at full capacity, but there are ways in which the Government could ensure that they did. We have already mentioned some of the possibilities in that connection. That should be part of the Government's policy. It is wrong that the development at Felixstowe should take place as a result of a private Bill, when in terms of employment and continued economic growth it will adversely affect the constituencies of many hon. Members on both sides of the House. In many cases, it will prevent economic growth in other areas which hitherto has been sadly lacking and which has cost us dear. It is wrong that a Bill such as this should come before the House in this form. The Government should consider what kind of container development should take place and where.

9.15 pm
Sir Eldon Griffiths

The fact is that a private company wishes to spend its own money on expanding a port, yet it requires the consent of the House of Commons to do so. But the House need only consider whether there are sufficient public objections to prevent that expenditure. It is not for the House to tell people how to spend their money—simply to say that they ought not to do it if that is what the national interest requires. The Committee considered that matter very fully.

Dr. McDonald

But plainly the Committee did not reach adequate and acceptable conclusions. The hon. Gentleman said that the Bill was about a private company spending its own money. That is true so far as it goes, but in doing so it damages not only the national interest but employment prospects in other constituencies and other dock areas. The private company will not pick up the bill for that. Public money is inevitably spent as a consequence, and that is the issue about which we are concerned. It does not seem that that matter was properly considered by the Committee.

Infrastructure is not privately provided. That must be provided by the state and by taxpayers' money. I am not saying that in this case the private Bill procedure is illegitimate. I am merely saying that the Government are sidestepping their responsibilities. They ought to be concerned with national ports policy. They should not have made the kind of statement they did in response to this Bill, that the Government does not consider it appropriate to attempt to lay down a detailed plan"— we could perhaps argue about the word "detailed"— or framework for the operation and development of Britain's ports". Personally, I would prefer the word "framework". It is mad for a Government to say that a framework for the development of Britain's ports is not their responsibility—

Mr. Stott

It is absolutely crazy.

Dr. McDonald

No other European Government would take that view.

Mr. Stott

Absolutely correct.

Dr. McDonald

They would take the view that the development of a framework for their ports was a Government responsibility. Indeed, they take it so seriously that they make sure that funds are provided by using more than one method of providing such funds.

Given their response to this Bill, the Government are behaving quite disgracefully. They have refused to face up to the fact that extra container berth capacity will add quite unnecessarily to total container handling capacity in this country. They have given up the sort of responsibility that a Government should have. The Minister looks vaguely puzzled, as though it could not possibly he the Government's responsibility to concern themselves with a framework for the development of ports. All I can say is, thank goodness he will not be doing the job for much longer.

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

It may be helpful if I intervene briefly and restate the Government's position, which is that we are neutral about the Bill. The Government came under some attack from the hon. Members for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) and for Wigan (Mr. Stott), who aided and abetted the hon. Lady from a sedentary position. She did not need much aiding and abetting, but he supported her nevertheless. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Transport said in a speech on 13 May, the Government have a ports policy. It is different from that of the Labour party, but that does not mean that it is not a policy.

Dr. McDonald

It is not a policy.

Mr. Spicer

As the hon. Lady conceded—

Dr. McDonald

It is not a policy.

Mr. Spicer

The hon. Lady is now saying that it is a policy, so at least she agrees on that, although it is a policy with which she disagrees. I thought that part of the thrust of her argument was that there was no policy. Our policy is to allow ports to compete freely for traffic at a price and to provide what services they can.

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) suggested that capacity was some finite concept which, through the grand design of some Labour planning authority, would be parcelled around the country, presumably with various criteria attached to it. I think that the hon. Lady accepted that when she allowed his intervention, but that is not how we see the matter. We do not see capacity as a finite concept. We believe that by competition and making our ports more efficient than ports abroad we can attract more business and so extend capacity.

The Government are neutral on this Bill, as they are on nearly all private Bills, but we shall not accept from the Opposition that we have no policy towards ports. Our policy on this matter, as on others, is infinitely preferable and more beneficial to the country than anything which the Opposition can offer.

Mr. Stott

What is the Government's policy?

Mr. Spicer

The Government's policy is to provide the context in which ports can flourish.

Mr. Stott

That is meaningless.

Mr. Spicer

It certainly is not meaningless.[Interruption.] I shall come to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill).

As is normal practice with private Bills, the Government take a neutral position on this Bill. Arguments for and against the Bill have been deployed and, as is customary, we argued in favour of the Bill being considered in Committee. The position now is that the merits of the Bill have been thoroughly examined by the Committee where witnesses were heard and questioned, in some cases at great length.

The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) was sufficiently generous to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) — and I think that his generosity also extended to my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Thornton)—on his diligence. I must quickly put it on record, as he did, that he did not agree with my hon. Friends' conclusions. He said that they had been diligent. Indeed, they have broken some sort of record because they had 23 sittings in which to assess the evidence.

The Committee examined not only the detail but the evidence on which the basic clash of interests could be judged. As has been stated, the interests were those of the industrial use of the site and its scientific importance as a conservation area. The Committee has recommended the passage of the Bill with various important amendments and safeguards. The House is not very likely to get a clearer judgment on this admittedly difficult clash of interests. The Government accept that that is the difficulty.

As the Committee has taken this view, and as the procedures for dealing with private Bills are there, the Government must recommend to the House that the Bill be allowed to proceed. On that basis, I make such a recommendation.

Mr. Hill

Before my hon. Friend sits down, will he clear up a point? He said clearly that the Government —rightly so—were prepared to see commercial interplay between ports so that the survival of the fittest and most efficient would be the aim of a ports policy. In other words, he is saying that we in Southampton would have to compete with Felixstowe as a commercial entity, and we are prepared to do that.

I know that the Government are a little worried that the Jones-Aldington agreement, which was made some years ago but has never been reviewed, puts an unfair financial bias on the port of Southampton. If my hon. Friend is clear, as I am sure that he is, that future Government policy will mean that the National Dock Labour Board, or the national docks programme will be resolved by Parliament at some later date, I can find no opposition to his argument. However, at the moment, we are commercially disadvantaged simply because we have a private company, privatised by the Government —Associated British Ports—which still has the hangover of the Jones-Aldington agreement, which has meant that there is a financial bias. If my hon. Friend will give me the understanding that at some future date, perhaps many years hence, this anomaly will be resolved, I can agree with him.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This debate is about Felixstowe rather than Southampton.

Dr. David Clark

We oppose the Bill. I am sorry that the Minister felt it appropriate to support further consideration. When it was proposed, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), with whom I have engaged in many debates over the years, made one of his weakest points. He made a rather strange speech, which was an odd way to advocate to the House the Bill that he was offering on behalf of the promoters.

To make the allegation that we were opposing the Bill simply because we were in the pay of the London dockers was most disingenuous, and most unworthy because that is not his normal way of approaching debates. However, when I heard the weakness of his case, I realised why he had to make personal attacks on my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch), who has strongly argued the case against the Bills with great skill and determination.

I want to deal mostly with the enviromental objections to the Bill. The case is not as it was presented to the House by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds. First, I must add my voice to those of hon. Members on both sides of the House who have tried to set the case for the expansion of Felixstowe in the general context of our ports policy. No mention has been made of it, but at least in passing I must mention that in the north-east of England there are ports that would have liked to receive adequate consideration. However, the Committee did not, we feel, consider their case adequately.

9.30 pm

When the Committee looked into the matter it forgot Britain's defence strategy. It is widely acknowledged that this country's defence capability involves, as part of its commitment to NATO, the defence of the Greenland gap and the reinforcement of Norway. That can be achieved only if there are viable ports along the east coast of England, not only in the south-east. That argument also militates against the Bill.

The twin arguments against the Bill relate to the environment. Although this issue has been debated in the past, the Opposition believe that there is new evidence and information that ought to be considered and that the information is of such a character that the Bill ought not to be allowed to proceed.

The area that is the subject of the Bill is a key part of the River Orwell site of special scientific interest. It has been notified under and is subject to the safeguards in section 28 of a very inadequate Act. Nevertheless, it is the best that we have. I refer to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. In the early 1970s the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds had a good record on the environment. He is familiar with countryside and environmental legislation. Hence, I was surprised by his disregard of the environmental arguments against the Bill.

Apart from our national obligations, since the time when the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds was a Minister in the Department of the Environment a further international dimension has been added, mainly in the form of the European Commission directive relating to the conservation of wild birds. There is abundant evidence of the national and international standing of the area that we are discussing in terms of its bird population. It is a very special area, and its designation as an area requiring special protection above its SSI status was made under the EEC directive relating to birds. This was noted by the Committee and verified by it. This piece of land is designated as an extra-special area. The Government's adviser, the Nature Conservancy Council, recognises its status and has proposed officially to the Minister that it should be listed. The former Secretary of State for the Environment noted this status in Hansard on 18 July 1985.

All this information was available to the Committee, but there is scant evidence that its members took full account of the international gravity of the area's status and of the nature conservation issues when they weighed in the balance the national need and the local need for deep-sea containers. I make that point with force because there are dangers in the private legislation procedure. I refer the House to the minutes of evidence of 22 January 1986. Mr. G. J. Parker was cross-examined on behalf of the promoters of the Bill by Mr. K. Standring, representing the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Mr. Standring asked: I have only one final question to ask you. You may not be able to reply to this, and please say so if it is outside your competence. Could I ask: If you gain the powers sought under this Bill, would you expect your new Act of Parliament to over-ride the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act as regards that part of the Bill site which is a site of special scientific interest? Mr. Parker answered: Much as I hate doing so, I have to say that it is outside my field of competence, and I do not know the Act. Mr. Ryan, counsel for the promoters, intervened helpfully and said: I suspect that that is within the field of competence of lawyers, and I am advised that the answer is 'yes'. This private Bill has been through special procedures, and tonight the promoters want us to give it further consideration. They acknowledge that it will override a national Act which also has international connotations. The result can only be a serious risk that this Government and Parliament will yet again have action taken against them by the European Commission. The Bill needs further consideration and serious amendment before it can be taken any further.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds made great play of the fact that there had been no environmental opposition. But the Government's advisers, the Nature Conservancy Council, discussed all the implications and the fact that the estuary would lose its international importance for wildlife, and in particular for grey and ringed plover and turnstone and said that, having received the Committee's report in March, it had advised the Department of the Environment that there are no sites on the Orwell estuary with features comparable to those at Fagbury Flats and that the passage of this Bill would prejudice Britain's international obligations towards nature conservation. Thus there are serious environmental arguments against the Bill, which have been propounded by no less an authority than the Government's own Nature Conservancy Council.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

The hon. Gentleman has put the matter with great seriousness and clarity. However, in all these matters, a difficult and sensitive balance must be struck. Nearly all economic development has an environmental impact, and the House must balance the advantages and disadvantages. The crucial point is that none of the environmental bodies is any longer petitioning against the Bill. That is not to say that they approve it in full, but they accept that the balance of advantage does not lie in opposing it. Although there is some environmental loss, there is also much gain in the new arrangements that have been agreed between the promoters and the petitioners.

Dr. Clark

The hon. Gentleman has made a serious point. As we both know, one of the major problems for environmentalists is the potential conflict between economic growth and conservation. Every case must be considered on its merits, but I pray in aid the arguments deployed so well by my hon. Friends the Members for Ipswich and for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald). They argued that there is no national interest. Indeed, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) argued that too. We are trying to balance two conflicting interests: environmental features that are nationally and internationally recognised, and local private commercial interests. In that situation, the balance clearly comes down on our national and international obligations.

I know that in defence the hon. Gentleman will say that all that is taken into account and that it is recognised that there must be some environmental improvement. As the hon. Gentleman has already said, and as the Bill's promoters tell us, no fewer than 500,000 trees will be planted, which would ultimately create approximately 85 acres of additional woodland. But that in itself destroys the raison d'etre of the creation of a site of special scientific interest.

The area has not been created as a special area because there are trees. If one wanted to do that, one would do it in Thetford forest or Kielder forest. It has been designated as a special site because of the mudflats and the estuaries; because of the particular landscape which is attractive and important to the ecological balance of the birds. No matter how many trees, they do not help the issue. Indeed, by planting the trees the situation may be worsened.

The Bill is ill conceived. It should not proceed this evening because there are far too many damaging environmental factors which have not properly been taken into consideration.

Sir Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)

I wish to support my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) in his hard work in promoting the Bill. Unfortunately, I have not heard all the debate because I was unable to be here at the beginning, but from some of the interventions that I have heard hon. Members seem to have been pleading for their own port for some reason or other. The Government are right to say that commercial interests should be the paramount consideration in the location of a port.

I remember sitting on the Committee which considered the legislation to nationalise the ports in 1969. I am glad that we stopped it. But then again, the Labour party's policy led to the National Ports Council and the kind of policies that it is advocating and to which I have listened today and, indeed, when we discussed the Harwich and Parkeston Quay Bill which I introduced.

Mr. Stott

The Opposition did not oppose that.

Sir Julian Ridsdale

I am grateful for the support that I received, but my point here is that it is right that this Bill should go forward. I pressed for the Harwich Parkeston Quay Bill because I believe in competition and I am willing to have competition across the estuary from Felixstowe because we can compete commercially with that.

The National Ports Council led to wrong investment in the wrong parts of the country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) rightly said, it was in the wrong location. The majority of our trade today is being done with the continent, including Germany, and the attraction is to trade through Tilbury— I welcome the fact — and through London, Harwich and Felixstowe, the east coast ports rather than those of the north-west and the west. That is why I find it logical to support the Bill.

I heard the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) talk about NATO policy, but it was a weak point because Harwich and Felixstowe could easily reinforce Norway; our lines go to Esbjerg, Oslo and Bremerhaven.

We are to have a Channel tunnel, but our natural trade routes are to Germany, Holland and Belgium. There is a user commitment to deep-sea container ports and it is right that the House should support the Felixstowe development. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill), because his views are against the commercial policy that is right for this country.

The natural flow of container traffic, which has been going to Rotterdam, Bremerhaven and Bremen, is through Felixstowe and Harwich. If we do not get that trade, we shall have only the short-distance traffic and will lose foreign exchange. That is why I have no hesitation in supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds.

9.45 pm
Mr. Fatchett

I hope that the hon. Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale) will not mind if I do not take up his arguments.

I served on the Committee on the Bill, though not through the whole process, and I did not take part in the final decision. I put on record my appreciation of the work done by the hon. Members for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) and for Crosby (Mr. Thornton). That work has been noted and has created the context for our debate.

Some of us disagree fundamentally with some of the Committee's conclusions, but we do not question the integrity of the hon. Members who reach those conclusions. Our debate shows differences between us on interpretation and matters of policy, but there are no doubts about the integrity of those who served on the Committee. It is important that that fact should be borne in mind as we consider the Bill.

Mr. Sayeed

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks.

Mr. Fatchett

I shall not develop the mutual admiration society further or it will become dangerous.

The private Bill procedure is relevant to whether there should be an expansion at Felixstowe. Two crucial issues have arisen in the debate. The first is whether it is in the national interest to have this development at Felixstowe and the second is the environmental considerations involved.

The Secretaries of State for the Environment and for " Transport presented a report on the Bill in our 1984–85 Session. Paragraph 2, dealing with the economic issues, states: It follows that Her Majesty's Government does not consider it appropriate to attempt to lay down a detailed plan or framework for the operation and development of British ports. We can draw a number of conclusions from that paragraph. Most Opposition Members fundamentally disagree with that view. We do not believe in a laissez-faire approach to the development or otherwise of British ports.

However, it follows that it is not inconsistent or illogical for the Government to say that the private Bill procedure is appropriate for the Felixstowe development. They can argue that the private Bill procedure is appropriate for all ports that may want to expand, because the Government have no view on whether expansion is a good or a bad thing. The Government have no policy and no view. They are empty-minded about our ports industry.

It is appropriate to argue that the economic interest can be dealt with in a private Bill, but I am not convinced that the environmental issue can be dealt with in the same way. In an annex to the report from which I have already quoted reference is made to the Secretary of State's response to the Countryside Commission's report of 1980. The report states: The Government agree with the Commission's view that in general it would be inconsistent with the aims of designation to permit the siting of major industrial and commercial development in AONBs. Only proven national interest and lack of alternative sites can justify any exception … Each case must be determined on its merits. That is a fundamental rule of our planning system. I emphasise the words "of our planning system."

In this case the private Bill procedure did not allow the opportunities for full democratic participation and involvement that the planning system would have allowed. The private Bill procedure creates a set of difficulties and constraints for those who object. Those constraints are expensive and require detailed knowledge of the House and its procedures, and of procedures connected with private Bills. A planning inquiry does not work in the same way. Those who object to a decision would, under the planning procedure, have had the opportunity to make their case and to object. If they had had that opportunity in this case they would have felt more at ease with the Secretary of State's decision.

I do not say that objectors would have agreed with the decision because any Secretary of State must take decisions which will offend some people. However, the planning procedures are well known, well tried and well trusted. Over the years people have developed confidence in those procedures. I think that those procedures should have applied in this case. I feel strongly that the private Bill procedure used by Felixstowe is not the most appropriate.

The strongest criticism that can be made of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company is that it abused the private Bill procedure to bypass normal planning procedures. That is a strong criticism. The company did not meet that criticism in Committee or in public discussions.

I can see the justification for the private Bill procedure on the economic front, but environmentally there is no justification for it. The planning procedure should have been used, the Secretary of State should have had a role and the fullest democratic participation should have been allowed.

The economic arguments have dominated the debate. The company has argued that to gain approval for the development it needed to show proven national interest in the development. I contend that that case has not been made out, either in Committee or in tonight's debate.

There was a substantial feeling in Committee that the company defined the national interest as the interest of the company. If the company makes additional profits that might not be in the national interest. The definition of national interest is one about which we can have a great deal of argument. There is no evidence whatsoever to make a simple corresponding link between the interest of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company and the national interest.

I was disappointed on many occasions in Committee when I felt that the company had the opportunity to broaden its argument and lift the horizons of the debate but failed to do so and went for an easy option saying that what was good for Felixstowe was good for this country. Surely, that cannot be the case.

I shall now look at another aspect of the economic argument. If this country were short of port capacity there could be no argument that we would need a development such as Felixstowe. Whether that development would take place at Felixstowe or some other port is another question but, if we were short of capacity, the argument for development would be very strong. However, the Government's document prepared for the Bill contains no suggestion that we are short of capacity. Paragraph 5 says: It is often stated that there is already excess capacity in British ports and that the creation of further capacity will be wasteful. If that is so, where is the overriding national interest for the development of Felixstowe? My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) developed this argument at great length, in great detail and with great cogency. I put one notion to my hon. Friend which I think is important and we should bear in mind. If we have surplus capacity, the tonnage costs will increase simply as a result of that. We shall not be efficient. We shall not be using our capacity to the optimum level. Therefore, almost inevitably, if we add to the capacity we shall increase our marginal costs and have to take one, two or a combination of decisions. Our ports will close down and we shall have redundancies in, for example, Southampton, Liverpool or London.

Mr. Stott

It will also cost money.

Mr. Fatchett

Indeed, it will cost money in terms of a definition of the national interest because public money will be involved. The Government say that they have no interest in port capacity or port development. How sensible it was to hear the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) point out that infrastructure costs fall on the public Exchequer and the public purse. The Government cannot divorce themselves from potential infrastructure costs and therefore, by definition, must have some interest in those costs.

I shall further develop the point about marginal costs. It seems to me that by extending our capacity we could render ourselves less competitive than our European rivals. In those circumstances we could be responsible for reducing this country's ability to compete and reducing the number of jobs that will be available in British ports. Those who have tried to make the economic case in terms of the national interest have failed to do so on a number of occasions this evening. In terms of the overriding national interest the evidence is very strong indeed.

I shall now comment on what has happened in the port industry over recent years. That will show the weakness of the economic argument.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

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 140, Noes 38.

Division No. 254] [10 pm
Ancram, Michael Ground, Patrick
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Hanley, Jeremy
Batiste, Spencer Haselhurst, Alan
Beith, A. J. Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW)
Best, Keith Hayes, J.
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hind, Kenneth
Bottomley, Peter Hirst, Michael
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Holt, Richard
Bright, Graham Howard, Michael
Brown, M. (Brigg amp; Cl'thpes) Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Buck, Sir Antony Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Chapman, Sydney Howells, Geraint
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Coombs, Simon Jessel, Toby
Cope, John Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Corrie, John Jones, Robert (Herts W)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Key, Robert
Dorrell, Stephen Kirkwood, Archy
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Durant, Tony Latham, Michael
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Fletcher, Alexander Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fookes, Miss Janet Lester, Jim
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Forth, Eric Lord, Michael
Fox, Sir Marcus McCurley, Mrs Anna
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Freeman, Roger MacKay, John (Argyll amp; Bute)
Gale, Roger Maclean, David John
Garel-Jones, Tristan McLoughlin, Patrick
Goodhart, Sir Philip McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Gow, Ian McQuarrie, Albert
Gower, Sir Raymond Major, John
Greenway, Harry Malins, Humfrey
Gregory, Conal Malone, Gerald
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Marland, Paul
Mather, Carol Sims, Roger
Maude, Hon Francis Skeet, Sir Trevor
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Speed, Keith
Merchant, Piers Spencer, Derek
Meyer, Sir Anthony Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Monro, Sir Hector Stanbrook, Ivor
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Stern, Michael
Moynihan, Hon C Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Neubert, Michael Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Nicholls, Patrick Terlezki, Stefan
Normanton, Tom Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Norris, Steven Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Osborn, Sir John Thornton, Malcolm
Page, Sir John (Harrow W) Thurnham, Peter
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian Viggers, Peter
Pollock, Alexander Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Portillo, Michael Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Powell, William (Corby) Wallace, James
Powley, John Waller, Gary
Proctor, K Harvey Watson, John
Rathbone, Tim Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Rhodes James, Robert Whitfield, John
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Wiggin, Jerry
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Wilkinson, John
Rossi, Sir Hugh Winterton, Mrs Ann
Rowe, Andrew Winterton, Nicholas
Sackville, Hon Thomas Wolfson, Mark
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Wood, Timothy
Sayeed, Jonathan
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Tellers for the Ayes
Shersby, Michael Sir Eldon Griffiths and
Shields, Mrs Elizabeth Sir Julian Ridsdale
Bennett, A (Dent'n & Red'sh) McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Bermingham, Gerald McKay, Allen (Pemstone)
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) McWilham, John
Campbell-Savours, Dale Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Chope, Christopher Maxton, John
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Pike, Peter
Cocks, Rt Hon M (Bristol S) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Prescott, John
Dalyell, Tam Raynsford, Nick
Dewar, Donald Robertson, George
Eastham, Ken Sheerman, Barry
Fatchett, Derek Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Forrester, John Smith, C (Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Foster, Derek Stott, Roger
Godman, Dr Norman Thompson, J (Wansbeck)
Hill, James Torney, Tom
Hogg, N (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Wareing, Robert
Home Robertson, John
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Tellers for the Noes
Kennedy, Charles Mr Ken Weetch and
Lamond, James Mrs Ann Clywd.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Question put, That the bill be bow considered:

The House divided: Ayes 132, Noes 38.

Division No. 255] [10.12 pm
Ancram, Michael Cope, John
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Corrie, John
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Currie, Mrs Edwina
Beith, A. J. Dorrell, Stephen
Best, Keith Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Boscawen, Hon Robert Durant, Tony
Bottomley, Peter Fairbairn, Nicholas
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Bright, Graham Fletcher, Alexander
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Fookes, Miss Janet
Buck, Sir Antony Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Chapman, Sydney Forth, Eric
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Fox, Sir Marcus
Coombs, Simon Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Freeman, Roger Moynihan, Hon C.
Gale, Roger Neubert, Michael
Galley, Roy Normanton, Tom
Garel-Jones, Tristan Norris, Steven
Gow, Ian Osborn, Sir John
Gower, Sir Raymond Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Greenway, Harry Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Gregory, Conal Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Pollock, Alexander
Ground, Patrick Portillo, Michael
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Powley, John
Hanley, Jeremy Proctor, K. Harvey
Haselhurst, Alan Rathbone, Tim
Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW) Rhodes James, Robert
Hayes, J. Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Hayward, Robert Rowe, Andrew
Hirst, Michael Sackville, Hon Thomas
Holt, Richard Sayeed, Jonathan
Howard, Michael Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Shersby, Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Shields, Mrs Elizabeth
Howells, Geraint Sims, Roger
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Jessel, Toby Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Speed, Keith
Jones, Robert (Herts W) Spencer, Derek
Kennedy, Charles Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Key, Robert Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Kirkwood, Archy Stanbrook, Ivor
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Stern, Michael
Latham, Michael Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Terlezki, Stefan
Lester, Jim Thompson, Donald (Calder V
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
McCurley, Mrs Anna Thornton, Malcolm
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Thurnham, Peter
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Viggers, Peter
Maclean, David John Wakeham, Rt Hon John
McLoughlin, Patrick Walker, Bill (T'side N)
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Wallace, James
McQuarrie, Albert Waller, Gary
Major, John Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Malone, Gerald Whitfield, John
Marland, Paul Wiggin, Jerry
Mather, Carol Wilkinson, John
Maude, Hon Francis Winterton, Mrs Ann
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Winterton, Nicholas
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Wolfson, Mark
Merchant, Piers Wood, Timothy
Meyer, Sir Anthony
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Tellers for the Ayes:
Monro, Sir Hector Sir Eldon Griffiths and
Morris, M. (N'hampton S) Sir Julian Ridsdale.
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Lamond, James
Bermingham, Gerald McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Buchan, Norman McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) McWilliam, John
Campbell-Savours, Dale Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Chope, Christopher Maxton, John
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Pike, Peter
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Prescott, John
Dalyell, Tam Raynsford, Nick
Dewar, Donald Robertson, George
Eastham, Ken Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Fatchett, Derek Smith, C(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Forrester, John Stott, Roger
Foster, Derek Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Godman, Dr Norman Torney, Tom
Hill, James Wareing, Robert
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Home Robertson, John Tellers for the Noes:
Hoyle, Douglas Mr. Ken Weetch and
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Mrs. Ann Clwyd.

Question accordingly agreed to.

It being after Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill stood adjourned.

To be further considered tomorrow at Seven o'clock.