HC Deb 22 February 1988 vol 128 cc119-23

Ordered, That, at this day's sitting, the Motion relating to the Dartford-Thurrock Crossing Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. MacLean.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Mr. Bottomley

The hon. Gentleman has made his point and I shall not dissent from most of what he said.

The interest in the Bill seems to be growing in the House. Hon. Members from Essex and Kent who have been present throughout the debate have shown a clear interest, as the traffic starts in those counties. One can understand the interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn). I am sure that he would have spoken had he not been a member of the Government.

I pay tribute to the Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North accepted that wind-shielding would need to be redesigned. Although he would not claim to be an expert in bridge design or redesign, his conclusion would be accepted by most people. I know that the Select Committee spent much time considering that point, but with the extra evidence that the Government have made available, it would be common sense to accept that conclusion. Bridges across the Thames are not designed and redesigned in Committee. They need to be designed in such a way that the promoters and the concessionaires have confidence in them and can demonstrate that confidence to reasonable, objective people such as myself.

I have had to consider what is right. Although delay can matter, the key issues are whether the bridge will last and whether it will be safe. Clearly, it will last, and the Government consider that it will be safe. Obviously, different points of view have been expressed during the debate. There was a reference to cutting corners. We do not intend to cut corners. We want a bridge that will work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) who chaired the Select Committee, carefully pointed out the issues with which the Select Committee was concerned and explained the Select Committee's conclusions about the evidence that was put forward. His speech stands by itself and needs no comments from me. I emphasise that he dealt with the cost and the delay. He also spoke about the technical advisers to the Committee. Having read the way in which the case was put, I reckon that the best move would be for counsel's fees to decline daily, as the Select Committee proceeded, and for hon. Members' attendance allowances to increase daily.

My hon. Friends the Members for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) and for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) put their cases very well, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon). I shall not summarise the arguments put forward in favour of the Government's conclusion, which I do not deny was the same as that with which they started. However, we have ended up with rather better evidence for our view. I hope that I have put it rather better, or at least more briefly than it was put during the Select Committee hearings.

I must say to the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) that I did not hide the decision that the Government had taken in Standing Committee. The Government had not taken a decision in Standing Committee. Indeed, my opening speech led my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) to believe that the Government would accept full wind-shielding. It was only on my second attempt at explaining the Government's considerations that it became apparent that if the Government's further research confirmed that full wind-shielding was not necessary, the Government would come forward, in the open, on the Floor of the House, to ask the House to make a decision. It would have been wrong in Standing Committee, even if all the further work had been completed, to take out the amendment, or propose to take it out, when more than half the members of the Select Committee were not on the Committee. It is far better to do it openly if we decide to do that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley rehearsed some of the arguments about plastic covering that were put to the Select Committee. It is unnecessary for me to repeat those arguments. The conclusions reached by the independent engineer, at least independent of the DRCC and the Government, had given some weight to the views on the cost and the delay, and annex A helps to deal with the inter-relationship between the hours of wind-exceedence and the effect on traffic.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr.Dicks) made a robust speech. I am happy for him to pat me on the back, but some of the transfer of the approach suitable for a politician to a public official is wrong. I spend a lot of time with officials in the Department of Transport. They occasionally make mistakes, and I more frequently make mistakes, but together we serve the community well, and the same thing would apply if the Labour party were in government.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman would not be a Minister.

Mr. Bottomley

I am sorry to hear that. I thought that I would be a fixture, like a Speaker.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington that the Department had the benefit of expert advice on all aspects of the scheme through its consultant engineers for the project, Mott, Hay and Anderson. The contractors responsible for the construction of the bridge, the Cementation Construction Company and Cleveland Bridge and Engineering, have worldwide experience in major construction projects. They are advised by Sir William Halcrow and Partners Ltd. The bridge is designed by Dr. Engineer Helmut Homburg, who has contributed to the development of the cable staybridge type, and has been responsible for the design of a number of cable staybridges, including the Kessoch bridge in Scotland.

When my hon. Friend left his usual high standards was when he started to make jokes about people's names. I am exposed to that kind of joke rather often, and addressed to a fellow member of the European Community it does not go down too well.

Mr. Hicks

My hon. Friend should be careful about this point. When criticising the civil servant whom he so rightly defended, I was only using criticism that is already clearly in the minutes of the Select Committee.

Mr. Bottomley

I had not got on to dealing with what my hon. Friend said about an individually named civil servant. I was dealing with who was advising the Department and who was advising the concessionaires ad the people who designed the bridge. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that.

Mr. Selby, the project manager, reports to his director, who is an expert bridge engineer. Mr. Selby has served the Department well for 19 years, and I and the Department have every confidence in him, and I shall return to defend him if he is further attacked about the design of bridges. Bridge design concerns bridge designers, and they were reasonably well represented in the Select Committee.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

The Minister said that it was always the Government's intention to listen carefully to the evidence. In that case, will he comment on the report in the Financial Times on 15 December last year, long before the Standing Committee sat, which said: Parliament and politics: Bridge wind shield plan faces block. The Government is prepared, if necessary, to override any proposal by the cross-party Select Committee on the Dartford-Thurrock crossing that the planned bridge over the Thames should have a special wind shield. It seems pretty clear that the Government leaks had made it well known to the press that they were going to block the wind shield proposal whatever happened.

Mr. Bottomley

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman understands a word that he has read out. If I were the one who was recommending the decision to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I did not take that decision until after the further work and at the conclusion of the Standing Committee, any leak must have come from a very ropey old bucket.

The hon. Members for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) and for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) put forward arguments. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West said that we needed to show more respect for the Select Committee's conclusions. We have shown that respect in our response, I have shown it in my speech and it is shown in the further work that was commissioned. Design, finance and building contracts can work only if the design is safe. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am convinced that if the Government were to design, finance and build the bridge we would reach the same conclusion as we are recommending to the House tonight. I recommend that the House accepts the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 131, Noes 44.

Division No. 191] [10.12 pm
Alexander, Richard Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Amess, David Fookes, Miss Janet
Amos, Alan Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Arbuthnot, James Forth, Eric
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Freeman, Roger
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) French, Douglas
Atkinson, David Gale, Roger
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Gardiner, George
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Garel-Jones, Tristan
Bellingham, Henry Goodhart, Sir Philip
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Bevan, David Gilroy Gower, Sir Raymond
Boscawen, Hon Robert Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Boswell, Tim Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Bottomley, Peter Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Grist, Ian
Brazier, Julian Ground, Patrick
Bright, Graham Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Hanley, Jeremy
Burt, Alistair Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Butler, Chris Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Harris, David
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Hawkins, Christopher
Carrington, Matthew Hayward, Robert
Cash, William Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Chope, Christopher Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Conway, Derek Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Irvine, Michael
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Jack, Michael
Cope, John Janman, Tim
Couchman, James Jessel, Toby
Cran, James Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd &Spald'g) Key, Robert
Davis, David (Boothferry) King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Day, Stephen King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Devlin, Tim Kirkhope, Timothy
Dorrell, Stephen Knapman, Roger
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Lang, Ian
Dunn, Bob Lawrence, Ivan
Durant, Tony Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Fallon, Michael Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fearn, Ronald Lightbown, David
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lilley, Peter
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Porter, David (Waveney)
Lord, Michael Portillo, Michael
Lyell, Sir Nicholas Raffan, Keith
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Redwood, John
Maclean, David Rhodes James, Robert
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Riddick, Graham
Mans, Keith Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Shaw, David (Dover)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Miller, Hal Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Summerson, Hugo
Moss, Malcolm Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Neubert, Michael Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Widdecombe, Ann
Nicholls, Patrick Wood, Timothy
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Yeo, Tim
Paice, James
Patnick, Irvine Tellers for the Ayes:
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Mr. Kenneth Carlisle and
Pawsey, James Mr. Alan Howarth.
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Lewis, Terry
Boyes, Roland Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Caborn, Richard McAvoy, Thomas
Campbell-Savours, D. N. McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Michael, Alun
Dalyell, Tam Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Dewar, Donald Morgan, Rhodri
Dicks, Terry Mullin, Chris
Dixon, Don Parry, Robert
Dover, Den Patchett, Terry
Duffy, A. E. P. Pike, Peter L.
Fisher, Mark Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Flynn, Paul Reid, Dr John
Galbraith, Sam Ruddock, Joan
Godman, Dr Norman A. Skinner, Dennis
Golding, Mrs Llin Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Harman, Ms Harriet Stott, Roger
Haynes, Frank Wareing, Robert N.
Hinchliffe, David
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Tellers for the Noes:
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Mr. Ted Garrett and
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Mr. Bob Cryer.

Question according agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.