HC Deb 17 October 1990 vol 177 cc1309-17

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the promoters of the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill [Lords] shall have leave to suspend proceedings thereon in order to proceed with the Bill, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament, provided that the Agents for the Bill give notice to the Clerks in the Private Bill Office of their intention to suspend further proceedings not later than the day before the close of the present Session and that all Fees due on the Bill up to that date be paid; That, if the Bill is brought from the Lords in the next Session, the Agents for the Bill shall deposit in the Private Bill Office a declaration signed by them, stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill which was brought from the Lords in the present Session; That as soon as a certificate by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office, that such a declaration has been so deposited, has been laid upon the Table of the House, the Bill shall be read the first and second time and committed (and shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been so read and committed) and shall be committed to the Chairman of Ways and Means, who shall make such Amendments thereto as have been made by the Committee in the present Session, and shall report the Bill as amended in the House forthwith, and the Bill, so amended, shall be ordered to lie upon the Table; That no further Fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on the Bill in respect of which Fees have already been incurred during the present Session; That these Orders be Standing Orders of the House.—

[The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]

9.28 pm
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

I shall be brief in asking the House to agree to the carry-over motion, but, with the leave of the House, I shall be happy to respond to points made in the debate if that is helpful.

Mine is a simple plea: do not dash the hopes of my constituents for a better future, for a better environment and for homes and jobs by voting against a motion that simply allows for full debate in the new Session. I hope that even opponents of the Bill will support the carry-over motion and welcome, as I do, the prospect of proper and full debate on Report.

I have been asking myself whether there are any reasons of any weight for refusing a carry-over. Frankly, there are not. There are, of course, important issues for us to debate on Report, and I shall refer briefly to two. First, there has been a great deal of argument about groundwater. There has also been a great deal of avoidable confusion and some disinformation, but groundwater is undoubtedly a matter of concern. I took the matter seriously from the beginning. When I found that the arguments were becoming technical and esoteric, I demanded the right to appoint my own independent expert to review all the evidence progressively, in order not to have to choose between the corporate view of the development corporation and its advisers on the one hand and the committed opponents of the Bill on the other. These matters will be debated further on Report, but let me give a succinct summary of the position today.

I remind hon. Members that impoundment is not to a level greater than the current position. The level of impounded water will be between the present high water level and the present low water level. I would certainly not support the building of the barrage if the evidence suggested that my constituents were under serious threat. If serious doubts about safety were to arise now or in the future, I should cease to support the Bill—so would South Glamorgan county council, Cardiff city council and others involved in the promotion of the Bill. But that is certainly not the case to date.

There is a continuing debate about detail, but that must not be allowed to obscure the fact that all available evidence continues to provide a reassurance that the original conclusions remain valid, that, combined with generous safety margins, they provide the basis for confidence in the future and that the selection of plus-4 to 4.5 m ordnance datum for the impounded level is reasonable and sensible. Details will rightly be the subject of debate on Report and of public debate when the additional studies are completed, but there are no grounds for general doubt which would justify refusing further consideration of the Bill.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

Is my hon. Friend saying that at this stage, in discussing safety, he takes no account of the urban swamp hypothesis which was put forward by Dr. John Miles in Committee and which it appears the Select Committee accepted?

Mr. Michael

I am aware of the evidence provided by Dr. John Miles and others and I have taken account of it. The conclusions which have been reached and which are supported by the evidence to date and the generous safety margins provide the basis for confidence in the future. The selection of plus-4 m to 4.5 m OD for the impounded level is reasonable and sensible. I have taken account of the evidence given to the Committee. I have taken independent advice and I state that with confidence. Were the position to change, it would be a different matter, but that is the position now.

The second major issue that has been debated, and which is of considerable interest to some of my colleagues, is wildlife. I can understand their concern, taken in the context of a general threat to estuaries, but, as I have pointed out frequently to colleagues and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, they are attacking the wrong case in opposing developments in Cardiff, because here their case is weak. However, that, too, can be debated on Report. We can also talk then about the artificial lagoon which is a major and significant attempt to reconcile development with conservation—indeed, it is a landmark in attempting to do so.

Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)

My hon. Friend said that the case of those who are concerned about conservation is weak. Surely he has read the examination in the Committee of the witnesses brought by the promoters of the Bill and the petitioners against it. There was general agreement that there would be considerable destruction of wildlife in the bay area and that we would be in breach of our obligations to protect a site of special scientific interest which is protected under the Ramsar convention and which is entitled to protection under the European directive on wild birds. There was consensus in the Committee. How can my hon. Friend say that the case is weak?

Mr. Michael

I know of my hon. Friend's great interest in these matters but, with respect, I think that he stretches the evidence given in Committee and the strength of the case made by the RSPB and those interested in wildlife. A number of issues need to be discussed, but, as I was about to say, I maintain that there are significant positive aspects in the attempts that are being made to reconcile development and conservation and that the barrage will bring positive effects in encouraging wildlife and a living environment in Cardiff bay. It will be appropriate for us to discuss those aspects on Report and when we have the conclusions of the Select Committee before us. Those two questions have been debated in the past, and I submit that in no sense are they matters on which to base opposition to the carry-over motion, which is the only motion before the House tonight.

The Bill's opponents have advanced further arguments. They say that they do not like the private Bill procedure. I agree. It is an antiquated procedure which requires amendment. The procedure has been diabolically unfair to the promoters, to me and to my constituents, so I share the concern about it.

People have said that they do not like development corporations. By and large, I agree with them, but in this case the development corporation is working in partnership with local elected representatives.

Other issues, such as the removal of the tip in my constituency, have been brought into the debate and a proposal to provide two new schools for the most deprived area in Cardiff even came under threat recently. I submit, however, that none of these matters provides any ground whatever for the refusal of the carry-over motion.

The supporters of the Bill are also involved with a number of other important issues, such as how to preserve existing jobs, how to bring good-quality new jobs to the area, how to provide affordable housing and housing for rent and how to balance the existing communities with the new communities that are to be created.

I remind the House that the whole development area is in my constituency and that, while groundwater may affect constituencies other than mine and new jobs will help other constituencies, most of the matters that I have listed affect my constituency and my constituency alone. However, for the purposes of tonight's debate, the important thing to remember is that they are not relevant to the Bill. Even if one has persuaded oneself that they are relevant to the Bill, one must nevertheless accept that they do not represent the slightest ground for rejecting the carry-over motion. I hope that even the Bill's opponents will accept that and will not indulge in spoiling tactics.

So far I have concentrated on the defensive arguments but there are many positive arguments in favour of the Bill. The hon. Member for Cardiff North (Mr. Jones) and I have sought to provide as much information as possible to hon. Members about the Bill's positive benefits, and I shall not take the time of the House by expanding on that information. The arguments against it can be fully explored on Report and we should set aside those issues which do not, in any way, justify a refusal of the carry-over motion. The positive arguments are far more important. The Bill will make possible the creation of a quality waterside environment. That potential has been proved by the development that has already taken place at Bute east dock, where we see fishermen and cormorants and where there is Dragon boat racing at the weekend. Local people make use of the place. They talk there and enjoy the environment. The same water quality will pertain in Cardiff bay once we have impoundment.

I was involved in the economic development of Cardiff for 16 years as a councillor before I came to this place. I was involved in the redevelopment of the central area of Cardiff, which is now acknowledged throughout the world to have been a success. I have been involved in trying to help small firms and businesses. The present development of south Cardiff and the bay area—the fact that people are coming into that area—is built on faith in the Bill's success and on the record of success that we have achieved in recent years.

This is my first opportunity to place a certain matter on record, albeit that it involves a slight diversion from the motion. In the latter part of the Committee stage, we heard comments about the Labour councillors who supported the development of south Cardiff and the barrage and, in particular, the three who were elected by ballot of their peers to be members of the Cardiff Bay development corporation board. I refer to the leader of South Glamorgan county council, Councillor Lord Brooks, to Councillor Paddy Kitson, who represents the most deprived area of the city, and to the late Councillor John Reynolds, the then leader of Cardiff city council. Between them, they provided more than 100 years' service to the city and the Labour movement of the area. I am sure that the remarks about a master-servant relationship to the board came from ignorance rather than malice, but it is sad that those remarks were made when Councillor John Reynolds had unfortunately passed away.

John Reynolds was a kind and gentle man; a lion in defence of the defenceless and when fighting for the future of the city that he loved and in the service of which he destroyed his own health. He had the toughness of a true friend, the courage to withstand and forgive the pettiness of others and, above all, an absolute integrity which made him a giant in the Labour movement of Cardiff in a way in which the author of the minority report clearly did not understand or appreciate. I ask the House to understand the way in which the Bill was supported by John Reynolds and the others who represent their fellow councillors on the board and the fact that the Bill has not commanded uncritical support from the late Councillor John Reynolds, myself, or the councillors of the city and county who represent the area. It has commanded the critical, careful and genuine support of elected representatives who are determined to do their best to achieve a real future for their constituents.

Therefore, I return to my basic and simple plea to the House—do not dash the hopes of my constituents for a better future, a better environment, for homes and for jobs by voting down the Bill on a motion which, I remind the House, simply allows the Bill to be carried forward for a full debate on Report in the new Session when any hon. Member can have an opportunity fully to discuss the issues raised in this important Bill.

9.41 pm
Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)

I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) that we all have that opportunity now, which is why some of us are choosing to exercise our right to object to the carry-over motion. We are objecting in principle to the Bill. It has already been examined by the House and our questions have not been answered. We know that it has been considered in Committee where many of its fundamental flaws were exposed. We feel that it is now time for the Bill to be stopped and to proceed no further. That is why we shall oppose it.

I was surprised that my hon. Friend used the term "spoiling tactics" to describe our opposition to the Bill—

Mr. Michael

My hon. Friend should not be surprised.

Mr. Davies

Apparently my hon. Friend wants to intervene and I am happy for him to do so. If he reserves for himself the right to promote the Bill in the House, he must recognise that others of us have the right to oppose the Bill. If he is suggesting that the House should approve a carry-over motion, he must recognise that others are equally entitled to oppose that. He is not doing his case any good to describe our principled and fundamental oppposition to the Bill as "spoiling tactics". We have made our root and branch opposition to the Bill clear throughout.

I should like to put on the record the fact that if we are unsuccessful in halting the Bill's progress tonight, it will not be the end of the matter. The Bill will return for its consideration motion and we shall oppose it again. We shall then table many many amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth will have to detain the House night after night and he will find that the coalition that has been constructed to get the Bill this far will come increasingly under pressure.

Many of us knew Councillor John Reynolds and, regardless of our views on the Bill and on the way in which he voted in his role as a representative in Cardiff, all of us deeply mourn his passing and associate ourselves entirely with my hon. Friend's comments. There is no dispute between us on that.

I have referred to the coalition that is supporting the Bill. It is as well to clear up this matter now because the carry-over motion will not be determined only by the dozen or so hon. Members who are present now, although those of us who are present shall listen to the debate and consider the options and the consequences and the future of the Bill. But when it comes, the vote will not be cast by people in favour of the Bill. It will be cast by the coalition that I have mentioned, consisting in part of Tory Members who will ensure that the Government's will prevails. The payroll vote is on call tonight. A moment ago the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was here; he has absolutely no interest in Wales, Cardiff or the barrage—

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

Or in agriculture.

Mr. Davies

I was coming to that—to judge by his speeches it is true.

We know that the payroll vote has been put on standby and will be wheeled out to try to obtain a majority.

The coalition also consists of Parliamentary Private Secretaries. I see the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) in his place—

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

I am the hon. Gentleman's Member of Parliament.

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman is not my Member of Parliament. He represents the constituency in which I temporarily reside. He will be pleased to know that I put up a poster in the window at every election urging my neighbours to put him out of a job. As it seems that he will play a crucial role in tonight's proceedings, I can assure him that I will put up two posters at the next election urging my neighbours to put him out of a job.

Mr. Morgan

As further evidence of the extent to which the Government are committing their prestige to this apparently private Bill, the White Paper on the environment published by the Government less than a month ago states, in the section on Wales, that

the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation was established in 1987 to secure the physical, social and economic regeneration of the South Cardiff area, including the former docklands. That is a bipartisan statement which presents no problem to any of us. The document continues:

The aim is to introduce new housing, employment and a better environment to the area". We have no quarrel with that either. It goes on: The strategy includes a proposal to construct a barrage across the estuary of the Taff and Ely as a key feature". We have no doubt that the Government support what should be considered a private Bill on which they should be neutral.

Mr. Davies

My hon. Friend is exactly right, as he invariably is in these matters. That is why the Whips Office and the Parliamentary Private Secretaries are conniving at producing an artificial majority to ensure the Bill's progress.

Another element in the coalition is represented by the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander), who I know takes a keen interest in environmental matters. But I also know that he has been on what we call a freebie. I am sure that he will correct me if I am wrong—I do not want to cast aspersions that I cannot justify—but I believe that he has been entertained at public expense down in Cardiff, where he was persuaded, no doubt, by the force of the arguments that he heard. I am sure that the five-course arguments and the brandy and cigars did not influence him at all. The fact is that he and many other Members have been entertained at public expense and we shall see tonight when the voting lists are prepared that those Members have stayed behind to cast their votes.

If this happened in local government, and people were influenced in any way when casting their votes, they would be prosecuted. All Conservative Members were party to the legislation that placed obligations on local councillors to declare their interests so as to ensure that their votes are not influenced by financial considerations, and to exclude themselves voluntarily from those considerations. That is a fairly seedy coalition.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth pleaded with us not to dash the hopes of his constituents for a better future and a better environment. Unfortunately, no one knows whether he is speaking on behalf of the majority of his constituents, because that has not been tested.

Mr. Michael

It is generally accepted in the House that hon. Members know their own constituents. I am quite confident about the matter and it has been tested at the ballot box because anti-barrage candidates stood in recent elections and were thoroughly trounced. I spend a good deal of time in my constituency and I have the pulse of the opinion there. My hon. Friend might bear in mind, as he considers the views of those who are more and more remote from the area that will be directly affected by the Bill, that it has the support of four of the five Members in the south Glamorgan area.

Mr. Davies

My hon. Friend asserts that his case is correct, but he has not introduced any evidence to substantiate it. I am not persuaded by such assertions. He spoke about anti-barrage candidates who have been beaten by Labour candidates. He is not so naive as to think that in local elections people vote on single issues. The fact that more than 400 people were prepared to vote for anti-barrage candidates is significant. I am debating on my hon. Friend's ground and it is not an area that I want to enter. However, I know that many Labour party members in his constituency have considerable doubts about the measure. Of course, at election time they will vote Labour because that is their primary commitment and loyalty. We would not expect them to vote anything other than Labour. I urge anti-barrage candidates not to stand.

Mr. Morgan

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Davies

I should like to develop my argument a little further before giving way.

We do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth speaks for all his constituents. However, we do know that a considerable body of opinion is opposed to this measure. Some people oppose it for reasons related to the environment. I am in that category. Some are opposed to it because they think that their homes are jeopardised, and some feel that such public expenditure cannot be justified. My hon. Friend should recognise that an influential organisation in Cardiff is opposed to the measure. I think that all hon. Members have received a submission from an organisation called Cardiff Residents Against the Barrage. The residents ask, "Can it be defended?"

Mr. Michael

Not all of them say that.

Mr. Davies

If my hon. Friend feels in any way slighted by his constituents, with whom he apparently enjoys such a close relationship, I shall remedy that because as soon as I have concluded this point I shall pass the leaflet to him. For the sake of other hon. Members who might not have received it, I shall read it. It states: Can it be defended if a parliamentary private Bill has to be carried over into a third Session? That is almost unprecedented and we know that the proceduralists in the House have produced reports expressing great concern at a single carry-over motion. However, we are now talking about a second carry-over motion and the Bill having to go into a third Session of Parliament. The Bill has been considerably damaged and we shall have to wait for action by a Minister if it proceeds. The residents say: Can the Bill be defended if the Commons Select Committee was unconvinced by the promoters' technical case to the extent that the final decision has been left to the Secretary of State for Wales? That statement is incontrovertible. The Committee examined the Bill in great detail and at great length. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth makes noises.

Mr. Michael

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Davies

I shall give way in a moment. The Committee considered the technical case and concluded that it was fundamentally flawed. It sent the promoters away, told them to carry out a further 12 months study, and said that they would have to present the findings to the then Secretary of State for Wales for a judgment about whether the scheme should proceed. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that that is hardly an overwhelming endorsement of the scheme.

Mr. Michael

It is ludicrous for people to argue that additional work should be subject to independent scrutiny and public discussion, and then to use the fact that it is subject to independent scrutiny as a reason for suggesting that there is weakness in the previous case. The openness of scrutiny is its strength. My hon. Friend might be a little more objective about the information that he uses, rather than taking what has been circulated by an organisation that does not take advantage of objective scrutiny in the information that it puts out, which is often not 100 per cent. accurate.

Mr. Davies

I assure my hon. Friend that, when I come to the letter that he sent to Members of Parliament, I will be objective, as I shall be when I come to the glossy publication produced by the promoters. In the meantime, the fact remains that the Select Committee that examined the Bill rejected the technical evidence presented on behalf of the promoters and was not satisfied. In other words, it believed that the barrage will cause considerable flooding in Cardiff. That is incontrovertible.

The residents who object say in their leaflet: Can the Bill be defended if the Select Committee could only reach a majority decision and still insists on major amendments? We know that the Chairman of the Committee expressed considerable doubt, and that at least one member of the Committee was so concerned about the evidence presented that he felt that the Bill should have been rejected, and that all the members of the Committee were so concerned that they collectively agreed considerable amendments. Even then, they decided that they would abrogate the responsibility of taking the decision and put it off for the Secretary of State to decide. We are now asked to be party to the Bill proceeding.

The residents continue: Can the Bill be defended if the objections of the majority of the 70-plus petitioners against the Bill have still not been satisfied? That case stands by itself. They continue: Can the Bill be defended if local polls show that most local residents are opposed to it, even though they have been given no chance to vote properly on the issue? Why does not the Cardiff Bay development corporation undertake, with the Cardiff city council and South Glamorgan county council, a referendum in the city of Cardiff? All the evidence could be given and residents could cast a vote on it. If that happened, we should have some evidence on which to base our claims that residents are for or against the barrage. If my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth acknowledges that residents who vote against it at election time are being given the chance to vote on the issue, why does he not now ask the CBDC to organise a referendum? I guarantee that if he accepts to be bound by the results of the referendum, and to withdraw the Bill if the vote is against it, I will agree to be bound by the results of the referendum and will withdraw my objection if the vote is for it. There cannot be anything fairer than that. It is important that residents be carried along. My hon. Friend will know that I have other objections, but I will make that pledge. My hon. Friend can intervene now if he wants. He does not want to take that opportunity, so perhaps we shall come back to it later.

The residents continue: Can the Bill be defended if one of he local MPs—one who is affected by many of these matters—and many local councillors are totally opposed to it? Can the Bill be defended if it is vigorously opposed on environmental grounds by the NCC and the RSPB? Can the Bill be defended if at least 12,000 inner-city homes"— with people who have already been affected by the horror of flooding—

will be affected by the damage compensation provisions of the Bill? Can the Bill be defended if even the promoters acknowledge that some 1,700 properties will suffer some degree of ground water related damage if the barrage is built, and others fear it will be more? Should you not find out more now about this controversial Bill and why the Cardiff Bay barrage should not be built? That is the view of local residents, not the view of Members of Parliament or those who have a particular interest and are pushing one case or the other. The individuals who are directly affected say that they do not want the carry-over motion to succeed.

Mr. Michael

It is the view of those who published the leaflet, not the view of residents within the area.

Mr. Davies

I offered my hon. Friend the opportunity to determine public opinion on the matter. I could not be fairer than that—