HL Deb 03 May 1923 vol 53 cc1077-81

Order of the Day read for the House to be again put into Committee.

VISCOUNT LONG OF WRAXALL had given Notice to move, That the said Order he discharged and that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, when the Motion was first made for the House to go into Committee on this Bill I made some remarks, in the course of which I said that my original desire was to refer the Bill to a Select Committee for reasons which I gave at the time. I can only say now that those reasons are strengthened by everything that I have heard since. I did not adopt that course then, because I thought that if such a Motion were made I ought to have put it. down on the Second Reading. I did not care to avail myself of a method of that kind at the last moment. But in the time that. has since elapsed the Government have given further consideration to this question, and I understand that they will be prepared to-day to accept the Motion which stands in my name.

On the previous occasion I warned your Lordships and the Government that the great harbour and dock boards, the shipping companies, the railway companies, and oil companies were all profoundly exercised in their minds by the provisions of this Bill. Since then I have heard—though I have not taken the trouble to verify it—that the great Association of Municipal Corporations is also very much exercised by it. This is a formidable array of opposition to a little Bill of this character.

The noble Marquess who is now leading the House (Lord Salisbury), in his reference to my remarks on the last occasion, said that he was sure we should all agree that there must be some control—in the hands, I suppose., of the Committee of Imperial Defence, or some of their officers—over the establishment of these storage tanks for oil. I do not know that I should be prepared to agree that there must be absolute and unlimited control, but I should be perfectly prepared to agree that nothing should be done which is likely to be troublesome to the defence of this country, without full consultation with the representatives of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and without good reason being given if their suggestions are not accepted. But may I point out that from my own knowledge, gained when I was at the Admiralty, the selection of sites for the storage of oil is surrounded by very great difficulty, because you cannot go here, there, or anywhere. You are limited, in the first place, to a site which will be approachable from the water, where the storage tanks can be filled from the barges or tankers that come alongside, and where also the oil can be discharged into the ships which want it for their motive power. There fore, the actual selection of the site is very limited indeed.

Then I was told by one of the advocates of a change in the law that it was desirable that these storage tanks should be placed in hollows, or in a wood, or some hidden place. It really is impossible. I speak with some experience on this subject, because it was a matter which exercised us more than any other when I was at the Admiralty. I assure the Government that there is, in reality, a choice between two alternatives, and two only: the one is the erection of storage tanks, as they are now, above ground, and the other is to put them below ground. The latter must be ruled out, because the expense is prohibitive, and, unless you are going to encourage all the great companies to have the maximum of storage in this country, you are going to revert to the old, haphazard policy which preceded the war, and which produced the consequences that I referred to on a previous occasion.

I hope that if this Motion is adopted and the Bill is referred to a Select Committee, they will give it their very careful consideration. They will, at all events, be fortified by evidence which they can call, and which, of course, could not possibly be summoned if the Bill were considered in Committee of the Whole House. I would only ask the Government to be good enough to examine one allegation that I make. I cannot state it as a fact, I have not verified it, but I firmly believe that, if they will cause inquiries to be made as to the various storage centres for petroleum in this country, they will find that, to-day, the one which is the most likely to be open to attack, and therefore to expose us to difficulty, is one of those erected by the Board of Admiralty themselves, and I am not at all sure that it was not during my time, and that I was not partly responsible for it. But, as a matter of fact, wherever you put these storage tanks it is quite obvious that they must be a source of danger. They are very conspicuous and they are hideous things. They are in a cluster, and they cannot, therefore, escape notice. But we must have them, or we shall run short of oil again, as we did before. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Order for the House to be again put into Committee be discharged, and that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee.—(Viscount Long of wraxall.)


My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. After very careful consideration of what he and others have laid before the Government they are prepared to accept this Motion. For that very reason I shall not discuss now a matter which is to be referred to a Select Committee. We recognise that it is of the very greatest importance that the oil storage of this country should be increased, and we look forward in the near future to a very large augmentation of the present storage of oil. On the other hand, the very fact that the increase takes place lays an additional obligation on the central Government to see that in time of war these storage places are not exposed to air attack. I should not like your Lordships to carry away the idea that that danger is a small one. It is not a small one. We earnestly hope that there never may be another great war, but, should there be, the danger would be very considerable. Therefore the matter is of importance. What is necessary is to reconcile these two desiderata—the increase of oil with as much freedom as possible, and at the same time as little danger to the oil as possible. It was for that reason that the Government brought in this Bill, in order to give the central body—it may be the Home Office, or it may be another Office—some control.

But it would be a most disastrous thing if it were thought that the Government were trying to force this provision upon the country without due consideration. And the more my noble friend and others tell me that there is a feeling lest some injustice should be done, or some act of impolicy committed, and that this is felt not only by the great oil interests, but even by the municipal bodies, the more convinced I am that there should be some sort of inquiry which will command public confidence before the Bill is further proceeded with. I have the confident hope that if your Lordships are willing to send this Bill to a Select Committee the result may be that everyone who is interested may have his say, and may lay what he has to contribute before the Committee, so that when this Bill passes, in whatever form, it may command such general consent that no feeling of bitterness may remain. It is in that spirit that we consent to the Motion.

May I add that I think I may confidently rely upon my noble friend and others to see that no undue delay will take place through the setting up of this Committee? Such a thing never does take place in your Lordships' House really, but, at the same time, I think it right to say that we desire to pass this Bill quickly into law, and we hope, there, fore, that your Lordships will co-operate with the Government to that end.


My Lords, I should like to say one word of thanks to His Majesty's Government for the manner in which they have treated this somewhat difficult business. Those with whom I have consulted in regard to this Bill, never had it in mind that His Majesty's Government did not desire to see the greatest possible quantity of oil brought to the country both for the purposes of defence and of commerce. Far from it. The situation became a difficult one because a Bill which, at first sight, was merely a Departmental Bill gradually assumed new aspects of greater and greater importance as it was examined by one and another of the great industries of the country. It was discovered, not only by those who scrutinised the Bill outside but by His Majesty's Government, that there were questions relating to defence and matters of great importance to the commercial community which had not been sufficiently considered when the Bill was first introduced into your Lordships' House. I am certain that His Majesty's Government, by dealing with this measure in a benevolent manner, will have secured an inquiry into an important matter relating to defence and that good will undoubtedly come out of evil. I am confident also that the oil industries and other great industries of the country will show their acknowledgment of the Government's method of dealing with this Bill to-day by doing the best they can to facilitate the Inquiry by the Select Committee.


I am very much obliged to my noble friend.

On Question, Motion agreed to: Order discharged, and Bill committed to a Select Committee.