§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Dorrell.]11.17 pm
§ Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)
From discussing one highly volatile substance, alcohol, we now move to discuss other highly volatile substances—chemicals. I make no apology for telling the Minister of State, Department of Energy that my purpose is to try to persuade his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, through him, not to grant the planning application lodged by Shell Chemicals UK Ltd. to construct a pipeline from Grangemouth in my constituency to Carrington near Manchester and on to Stanlow at Ellesmere Port. The purpose of such a pipeline would be to pipe from Grangemouth the total ethylene output from the Mossmorran chemical plant in Fife.
I thank the Minister of State, Scottish Office for being present, as he recognises that such a pipeline would have serious job implications for Central and Fife regions and beyond. My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) has a constituency interest, as many of his constituents work in the petrochemical industry at Grangemouth. Also, part of the Mossmorran plant is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie). I thank both Ministers and my hon. Friends for their courtesy in attending.
First, I will relate the history of the application. In 1977, when the chemical plant at Mossmorran was first mooted, there was a public inquiry in Dunfermline. That inquiry went on for day after day and the advocate representing the companies involved was Mr. James Mackay, now Lord Chancellor.
Day after day, promises were extracted from Shell UK Ltd. and another company, which is not involved in the pipeline application, that in exchange for permission to construct the chemical plant at Mossmorran in Fife, downstream chemical industries would be established. To date, those industries have not materialised, for good reasons which I understand. That change has come about because, according to Shell UK Ltd.—I accept its view—there has been a tremendous upturn in the demand for products which use ethylene as their chemical feedstock. Those products include low-density polyethylene, which is a base material in the manufacture of the carrier bags used by Marks and Spencer and by other companies in the manufacture of plastic containers. Lubricants and other such by-products are also produced.
Against that background, Shell UK Ltd. lodged a planning application with Fife regional council to double output of ethylene at the Mossmorran site, and permission was granted earlier this year. The company then submitted to the Secretary of State for Energy the application to construct a pipeline.
I say in all friendliness to the Minister of State that if that permission is granted, gone for ever will be the possibility of establishing downstream chemical industries—for instance, factories manufacturing clingfilm and lubricants—in the Fife or Central regions, especially in my constituency at Grangemouth. A promise that was made in 1977 is in danger of not being honoured.
In an exchange of views with Sir George Sharp, the former regional convenor in Fife, Mr. Donald McQuaker, personnel manager of Shell UK Ltd., went on record in the Sunday newspapers as saying that it was true that the 295 company had made those promises to the people of Fife but it had discovered that retired or redundant miners were not capable of the high-skill technology jobs to which I am referring. That is an insult to Fife miners who had to give up their jobs because the pits closed and who gave all that they had to ensure that the chemical plant was constructed at Mossmorran. I therefore criticise Mr. McQuaker's comments about the Fife miners.
There is another piece of the history to the application in which the Minister will he interested. In 1977, when the plant was constructed at Mossmorran, the original application to construct a pipeline to pipe ethylene from Mossmorran was submitted by Shell UK Ltd. on the basis that the pipeline would run from Mossmorran with a landfall in north Berwick, continuing down to Carrington and on to Stanlow at Ellesmere Port, where it is now proposed to construct a pipeline.
Objection was made to the application by the Fife and Central regional councils and those of us who in those days were the parliamentary representatives of the constituencies involved. We took our objections to the then Secretary of State for Energy, now my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who then represented Bristol, East. He refused that planning application and would not allow the company to construct the pipeline along the proposed route.
As a result of that refusal, the pipeline constructed at that time runs from Mossmorran in Fife across the river Forth and follows the same corridor as the oil pipeline to my constituency and the BP refinery and chemical plant in Grangemouth. That is why the ethylene is piped from Mossmorran to Grangemouth. When Shell wants to pipe some of that ethylene south, it rents space in an existing pipeline owned by BP. I understand that, because Shell now has permission to double the output capacity at Mossmorran, the rented pipeline does not have a large enough capacity to permit the company to pipe the whole of the output south. That is a dangerous state of affairs, because if the company is given permission to construct the pipeline, the chances of any downstream industry being established in Fife, in my constituency or in the Central region will have gone forever.
My constituents and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Falkirk, West and for Kirkcaldy have to put up with the environmental inconvenience of chemical plants. We are prepared to do that, and I do not make that comment by way of complaint. In return, however, we want the downstream industries established in our area when there is an increase in demand for the derivatives of ethylene, but we are not getting them.
I sometimes think that, apart from my two hon. Friends who are here, I stand alone on this issue, although my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), who spent many days at the public inquiry, has authorised me to say tonight that he supports the stand that I am making.
I do not understand the attitude of Fife regional council. The Fife director of planning produced a document in which that authority said that it would not object to the application. It said that the maximum number of downstream jobs that would be created was "only 200". We in Fife and Central region are not so well off for jobs that we can afford to turn our backs on 200 jobs. Indeed, if the Minister managed to secure 200 jobs in 296 the area, he would be organising a press conference, complete with television cameras, to make the announcement, and I would congratulate him on his achievement.
The Government must examine the position objectively and the Secretary of State for Energy must turn the application down. The whole future of Fife and central Scotland is at stake from the point of view of downstream chemical industries. I do not see why the people there should tolerate the environmental inconvenience, only to find that when downstream industry jobs become available they are not established there. Shell is cheating the people whom I represent. Although that view may not be held generally and may seem a harsh criticism, I profoundly believe it to be true. If Shell had been true to its word, as given to the public inquiry in 1977, the application for the pipeline would not have been made.
The Scottish Office has a part to play in trying to persuade the Secretary of State for Energy not to grant the application. I am talking not just of Fife and Central region, but of the interests of Scotland generally, and I ask that the application be refused because our downstream future is at stake.
I want to give the Minister time to reply to my submission, so I will finish by saying that Grangemouth is a difficult area to which to attract jobs. The Minister of State, Scottish Office knows of our difficulties in attracting alternative industry. Our industry is petrochemical-based and my experience has been that, unless we can attract petrochemical jobs, we have little or no chance of attracting any jobs.
I pay tribute to Asda, which has built a massive warehouse, not in Grangemouth but on the outskirts of the town. However, that is the exception rather than the rule. If we do not get the downstream industries into Grangemouth or Fife, the chances of getting alternative industry are extemely remote. When the Minister reports the matter to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State who will make the decision, I hope that he will persuade him to throw the application out and to make Shell UK honour the promise that it made at the public inquiry. My constituents will be grateful to him, and that attitude will go well beyond my constituency. It will continue for years to come among the families who will enjoy employment in those downstream industries.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. Does the hon. Gentleman have the agreement of the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) and of the Minister to speak?
§ Mr. Canavan
I want to support my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) briefly and to remind the Minister of State that not long ago, there was a Minister of State, Department of Energy called Hamish Gray. He opposed the building of a pipeline that would have brought many jobs for the people of Scotland. Ironically, we now have a Minister of State who is proposing the building of a pipeline that will export many jobs from Scotland. I advise the Minister to beware. What 297 happened to Hamish Gray? He has disappeared into political oblivion, and perhaps the same will happen to the Minister of State.
If the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East on the building of the pipeline come true, it will mean the disappearance of many jobs and potential jobs. I hope that the Minister will bear in mind not only the job and economic implications, but the political implications for his own party, especially in the light of recent events. On behalf of the people of Falkirk district, I urge him to bear these matters in mind and to abandon the ridiculous proposal to build an expensive pipeline which will pipe jobs out of Scotland and especially out of Falkirk district.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Energy (Mr. Peter Morrison)
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) has had the opportunity to raise this matter, which very much concerns him and his hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan). It is a serious matter, but on a slightly lighter note, I must tell the hon. Member for Falkirk, West that I have no plans to go into political oblivion just now. However, I have plans to look at every issue carefully and to make a decision having heard everything.
We have an important subject to discuss and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) has departed, because I know that it is a matter that he takes seriously, which is why he was here earlier.
The hon. Member for Falkirk, East has taken a personal interest for a long time in the industrial developments in his constituency. Certainly, the proposed ethylene pipeline is of particular interest to the hon. Member, as he pointed out in such a cogent and articulate fashion. As he said, the pipeline will carry ethylene from his constituency to what used to be my constituency before a boundary reorganisation.
Ethylene is a very valuable North sea by-product and the pipeline will carry it, according to the proposals that have so far been put before me, in a safe and economical manner. We have high levels of unemployment in my area and I understand why the hon. Member for Falkirk, East explained that there are potential employment consequences for his constituency if the proposal goes ahead. If I was the hon. Gentleman I would have raised the matter in exactly the way that he raised it. The hon. Gentleman is concerned about the employment prospects in his constituency and I understand, given the potential that may arise as a result of the building of the pipeline, why he has raised the subject tonight.
It is fair to put it on the record that, in the past year alone, the number of unemployed in the constituency of the hon. Member for Falkirk, East has dropped by about 650—about 18 per cent. While we always wish for the number to drop even further, the number of unfilled vacancies at jobcentres in his constituency has increased by almost 40 per cent.—much more than in Scotland as a whole. In the context of the whole of his constituency, I hope that the hon. Member for Falkirk, East will welcome the improvement in employment prospects over the past year.
298 The hon. Member for Falkirk, East specifically asked me to make a recommendation to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy about the proposed pipeline. Perhaps it will be helpful if I go over the background to the project.
As both the hon. Member for Falkirk, East and the hon. Member for Falkirk, West will be aware, Shell Chemicals UK Limited submitted its application under the Pipe-lines Act 1962, on 1 March 1989 for authorisation to construct a cross-country pipeline from Grangemouth to Stanlow for the conveyance of ethylene. It wishes to start construction in the spring of 1991, finishing in autumn of the same year.
The pipeline would be 406 km, or 254 miles, long and 273 mm, or 10 in, in diameter and it would operate at a pressure of 1,435 lb per square inch. It would be designed to convey 610,000 tonnes per year.
Shell has to date received no objections to its proposals from local planning authorities. However, it does not follow that there will be none, because in a number of cases Shell's proposals have not yet been placed before the full planning committee.
As hon. Members will know, ethylene is a major feedstock for the petrochemical industry and is used in the manufacture of plastics, detergents, paints, anti-freeze, man-made fibres and many other products in everyday use. Ethylene is manufactured at the Fife ethylene plant from North sea oil and gas feedstocks. It is a highly flammable gas at normal temperatures and pressures.
Shell has plans to carry out a major expansion of its polyethylene plant at Stanlow and it sees the pipeline as providing the most economical method of transporting the ethylene feedstock from the Scottish refineries to Cheshire. Shell has considered alternative means of transportation, but they have been rejected on safety or economic grounds. Transport by sea appears uneconomical and less safe, since specialist dockside unloading and storage facilities would be required in addition to the ethylene tankers.
Except at the northern and southern extremities, the route passes through essentially rural, sparsely populated land. Known areas of potential development have been avoided. Remotely operated buried valves for isolation purposes to limit any potential leakage would be installed at approximately 16 km intervals. Two intermediate pigging stations and one pumping station would be installed—the latter approximately 11.5 km south-east of Carlisle.
Shell has indicated that agreement in principle has been reached with 95 per cent. of the owners and occupiers along the route. Shell was required to carry out an environmental assessment and to submit an environmental statement in accordance with the electricity and Pipe-Line Works (Assessment of Environmental Effects) Regulations 1989. This has been discussed with interested parties such as the Nature Conservancy Council and its requirements incorporated.
The environmental statement, a copy of which the hon. Gentleman will have, and which will be available to the public, describes in detail the manner in which Shell proposes to construct the pipeline and the steps it would take to mitigate its effect on the environment. Once constructed, the pipeline would not restrict normal agricultural activities.
Shell was required to consider the overall safety of the proposed pipeline in a safety evaluation which was 299 reviewed for us by the major hazards assessment unit of the Health and Safety Executive. Due to the hazardous nature of ethylene, the pipeline has potential for harm. However, on the basis of the safety evaluation, the Health and Safety Executive sees no reason for refusal of the application on safety grounds. As it is entirely without prejudice to the Secretary of State's right subsequently to refuse the application, we decided that Shell's application should be allowed to proceed to the next stage, which involves public notices.
As required by the Pipe-lines Act 1962, Shell has been instructed, first, to place notices regarding its application in the London and Edinburgh gazettes, the major national newspapers, and 30 local newspapers; secondly to serve notice on the 28 local planning authorities along the route; thirdly, to serve notice on every landowner and occupier through whose property the pipeline would run; and, fourthly, to serve notice on a number of utilities and other authorities as directed by the Department of Energy.
Copies of maps showing the pipeline route and of the environmental statement will be available for inspection by the public at the Department of Energy and at local planning authority offices. Objections—this will be important to the hon. Gentleman—may be made to the Secretary of State for a period of 28 days after the notices are published. All representations received by the Secretary of State during the 28-day period will be carefully considered. The notices are to be published commencing with the national press today, as it happens, with final notices on 3 November in local papers.
Shell has identified a growing need for ethylene-based products into the 1990s. It operates in a highly competitive market and it must therefore seek to achieve the most economic solution to the increasing demand in order to meet the challenges of the open European market.
300 Construction of the pipeline would involve a work force of up to 2,000 for six months or so—of course, not all in the hon. Members' constituencies. Up to 500 might be recruited locally. Although temporary, that would result in a significant injection of capital into the local economy. The number of personnel permanently involved with the maintenance of the pipeline after construction would be approximately six. Shell's existing plants at Stanlow and Carrington currently have spare capacity and are capable of expansion to meet demand. We understand that the number of additional employees required would be approximately 20.
At a time when the Scottish CBI is foreseeing a small downturn in investment and job prospects, it gives me great pleasure to see a major local employer—in this case Esso—planning a £200 million investment for its Fife ethylene plant. The two-year construction of the plant extension will provide work for up to 2,000 people. The development will increase employment at the plant by 10 per cent.—all of whom are being recruited in Scotland—and also lead to a 10 per cent. rise in the number of long-term contractors on the site.
It is clear that the increased capacity planned for the Mossmorran plant, which has led indirectly to Shell's need for a new pipeline, will bring more jobs to Scotland. [Interruption.] That is so. It is not realistic to expect the relocation of a major petrochemical complex from the north-west of England, but there is a very positive message for Scotland in Shell's planned investment in the new pipeline. It offers the best possible long-term assurance for the future of the ethylene plant at Mossmorran.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at sixteen minutes to Twelve o'clock.