HL Deb 25 October 1956 vol 199 cc1086-112

3.49 p.m.

LORD TEYNHAM rose to draw attention to the increasing industrialisation of the Solent shore between Portsmouth and Southampton, with special reference to the proposed construction of a new oil refinery at Hook and its serious implications on the matter of defence: and also the probable destruction of the amenities in the surrounding areas for the people who live ill these great towns; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, at first sight, one might say that this Motion may appear to be of only local importance, but I should like to emphasise that its subject matter is a good example of bad planning or, perhaps I should say, lack of planning, which is all too often to he found in various parts of the country at the present time. I hope that this Motion will serve to put the nation on its guard.

May I deal first with the question of defence in this matter? In the event of another great war, I suggest that there is little doubt that the oil refinery at Fawley would be a major target for the enemy. It could hardly be otherwise. And. yet we hear from the Press and elsewhere that the Government are contemplating giving planning permission for a similar refinery to be built less than four miles from Fawley, and on the opposite bank of Southampton Water. I think it was in June last year that I put down a Question to ask Her Majesty's Government if it was true that the Southampton Harbour Board had approved in principle the plans for the necessary oil jetties, and if planning permission had in fact been granted. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who I understand is going to reply for Her Majesty's Government today, assured me that no application for planning permission had in fact been made and that in any case a public inquiry would be held first. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether any further developments have occurred, whether the large shipping interests in the area have been consulted, whether the Chamber of Shipping has been made aware of the proposals in this area and whether planning permission has in fact been requested. or perhaps even granted.

I suggest to your Lordships that, with the advent of atomic warfare, surely it is better to spread our risks about as much as possible. An atomic bomb in the Fawley area would certainly destroy both refineries if they are to be situated so close together. There is little doubt that damage or destruction of both refineries would make the rehabilitation of the Southampton area far more difficult than if only one refinery were involved. From the point of view of defence alone I suggest that a second refinery should really not be allowed at all. I also believe that when the second refinery was first mooted the Southampton Harbour Board rejected the scheme as a danger to navigation, but it seems that the Harbour Board have now changed their views, as they have approved in principle the location of the oil jetties. No doubt the Harbour Board have received expert advice, but even now there is congestion of shipping in the approaches to Southampton Water, with oil tankers lying off for discharge and this congestion would undoubtedly be increased if an additional refinery were established in that area.

Then what about the dangers of silting in the approaches to Southampton Water, which may well happen with the construction of the new oil jetties? It may well mean a continuous shallowing of the main channel which it may be difficult to maintain at a proper depth, even by constant dredging. Are we to have the passage of our largest liners endangered for the sake of American dollars? Why cannot the proposed refinery be sited elsewhere, perhaps in an area where industrialisation has already taken place? It may well be that the particular American company concerned has threatened to erect their plant in another country if planning permission is refused, but I suggest that it would not be difficult to find another American company who could equally well install a refinery in another part of the country.

Let me give your Lordships some other considerations, apart from the important question of defence. I think the Minister of Labour will agree with me that there is already a shortage of labour in the Southampton area. Labour is fully occupied in the docks, aircraft factories and so on. and also in the new factories, owing to the industrialisation which has taken place since the war. I think it is true to say that the refinery at Fawley draws many of its workers from towns as far away as Bournemouth and Reading.

The establishment of a new refinery would also mean that valuable horticultural land would have to be sacrificed, not only to erect the refinery but also to allow a large building estate to be put up to house the workers. I think I am right in saying that the Hampshire County Council are very much against this scheme, not only because of shortage of labour but also owing to the destruction which would occur to the very important strawberry crop, which is perhaps the finest in the world, and the supply of vegetables to the Southampton and Portsmouth areas.

May I also draw your Lordships' attention to oil pollution in this area. which is day by day getting worse? Only very recently a large area of oil was found in the Solent extending to almost one square mile, and there is no doubt that the beaches are getting worse and worse. Are we to have more fouling of the beaches and the destruction of the amenities of the people? Holiday makers from all over the country come to the Solent area and the Isle of Wight. Are we to have the beaches made untenable and the area turned into an industrial area like the River Thames? Are we to have all those hard-working people, the seaside landladies, ruined and hotels put out of business because of the American dollar? It is no use mincing matters in these affairs, because I know that big monetary issues are involved and it is very easy for proper judgment to be swamped by ponderous clichés like in the national interest". I hope we shall not hear those words to-day.

There is yet another large interest which will grievously suffer if this project is allowed to continue: that is, the yachting industry. In some quarters it might be thought that to speak of the yachting Interest is merely selfish carping by a moneyed and privileged class who have no regard for the interests of the country. Let us look at this picture a little more closely. Since the war, there has been a tremendous increase of interest in yachting. I wonder how many of your Lordships are aware that we have nearly 4.000 youngsters in training in the cadet class, agar: from other classes. The sport to-day is certainly not confined in any way to rich people, and a large proportion of these cadets graduate from their small boats into small cruisers. The Solent area is perhaps the only sheltered area round the South Coast where they can yacht in safety and within reach of the large populated areas.

I need hardly add that sailing and yachting are of great importance to us as a maritime nation. Where should we have been in the last war without the yachtsmen to man our small craft arid to command ships as large as destroyers? What would have happened at Dunkirk if the yachtsmen had not been there to take out a great deal of the Army? I cannot believe that any Government would wish to destroy this great maritime training which largely flourishes in this area. Not only would another refinery in the Solent area destroy this training, but it would also put out of business the many yacht yards which build and maintain our small coastal craft for the naval service. The effect of the construction of the new jetties will be undoubtedly to force all the small craft out into the main channel. This will be a constant danger to our large ships using these waters, which is surely a grave warning to the Southampton Harbour Board.

Apart from all the interests I have already mentioned, there is yet one other very important one. Do we wish to destroy the amenities of the people of Portsmouth and Southampton by destroying the countryside outside their doors where they go for health and recreation? The proposed refinery will do untold harm to these amenities and will complete the ruin to the approach to the Port of Southampton which, I would say, is one of the wonders and delights of our visitors when they come into this country. We see them lining the rails of their ships to appreciate the beauties of England. In the words of the famous musical play, Call Me Madam: Oil, oil, oil, but surely not at the expense of our heritage and our children's heritage. I wonder whether any of your Lordships has suffered from the appalling smell and noise which emanate from these refineries and which local inhabitants will have to bear twofold if this scheme is allowed to go forward.

Apart from all this, I would remind your Lordships that factories for synthetic rubber arid a chemical factory are already going up alongside the present Fawley works. Netley Hospital, I believe, is to be pulled down to make way for further factories, and we shall shortly witness the complete industrialisation of Southampton Water unless steps are taken in time. My Lords, I suggest that we should not destroy one of the fairest bits of England without second thoughts, and I earnestly request Her Majesty's Government to make the Solent area between Warsash and Portsmouth a national park, even though that area may be only a narrow strip bordered by the sea. I beg to move for Papers.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, if, during the course of the observations which I shall venture to address to your Lordships upon the Motion which is before you, I take a somewhat different view from that expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, I hope the noble Lord will not think that I do not appreciate the great national importance of the Motion that he has put upon the Order Paper. Although in his wording the Motion has a local flavour, he has rightly said that the matter is of great national importance; and if he will permit me to say so, I having some intimate knowledge of the area, I do not think he could have found one thing more to say against the proposition. But on matters such as this, it is never all black or all white: there is always a balance of judgment. I would venture to put before your Lordships some of the facts on the other side. I would ask your Lordships to look at the general picture just for one brief moment.

I hold the view that this country is at the crossroads in its economic life. I do not think the seriousness of the present position of this country can be exaggerated. We have here the industrialisation of Southampton Water, which I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, started before the First World War. Immediately after the First World War, the scenic beauty of the Fawley side of Southampton Water had already disappeared. I lived in the area for thirty years. But we have seen the birth and growth of a great new industry. During the course of eight years we have seen the output of the Oil-refining industry in this country grow from ½ million tons to last year's total of 30 million tons. Now to look to the future. As the noble Lord has said, starting within the next year there will be the growth of a great new industry alongside, and dependent upon, the oil-refining industry—I refer to what I think is known as the petrochemical industry.

Let us take this question of Southampton Water and its industrialisation. Since the end of the last war, what has it meant to this country? These are facts that I would ask your Lordships to weigh carefully. Let us take the installation of the refinery at Fawley. The Esso Petroleum Company, who built it, have already spent £45 million, which represents the major expenditure of the huge dollar influx into this country. That expenditure saved this country 150 million dollars worth of refined oil which we should have had to bring here every year had it not been for that refinery. The immediate project is to spend another £22 million in extensions to that refinery which, when they are finished, will mean a saving in dollar expenditure of 200 million dollars a year—not an insignificant amount in regard to the economy of this country. At the present time, the refinery is employing about 3,200 individuals, and within the next twelve months it will employ approximately 4,000.

As the noble Lord has said, right alongside there is a project by the Monsanto Chemical organisation, who are to build an £8½ million factory; and again, the larger part of that expenditure will be by dollar investment into this country from America. The gases which the noble Lord has mentioned will be piped from the Esso refinery to the Monsanto factory, and will be used to start a new chemical plastic industry in this country, exporting about 45 per cent. of its production, the bulk of which to-day we have to bring from Germany. That, too, will employ about 1,500 people.


If the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt him for one moment, I am sure that he will agree with me that we can save just as much money and earn as many dollars in a part of the country other than Southampton Water.


I am coming to that; I will not escape any point that the noble Lord has made. I am coming to the point of: where do we go from there? The noble Lord has already mentioned, quite rightly, the International Synthetic Rubber Company, which again is using the gases that are normally wasted but are now to be piped "over the fence." This project is going to produce—the plant itself is going to cost between £5 million and £8 million—somewhere in the region of 50,000 tons of synthetic rubber a year, just as much as we are importing to-day from America. If we do not have to import that rubber from America, we shall save 30 million dollars a year; and the project will employ about 1,000 people.

Those are some of the hard facts of what the industrialisation of the Fawley side of Southampton Water has meant to this country in the last eight years. I do not think that, in the present state of our economy, we can just brush that aside. The noble Lord's Motion specifically mentions the new oil refinery on the other side of Southampton Water. I understand that the capital investment there will be about £35 million to £38 million—of which, again, the bulk will come from America in the shape of dollars. I do not know whether we are in a position to "turn up our noses" at dollars at that rate. Quite frankly, I can see the same development upon the Hook and Walsash side of Southampton Water as is to-day taking place on the Fawley side of Southampton Water, because it is the scale and the up-to-date automation that is going on in these modern refineries that allows the by-products and the gases to be used in chemical manufacture of all kinds, and one is dependent upon its close proximity to the other.

I have briefly given your Lordships the facts. as I see them, showing how this industrialisation, about which the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, complains, has made a major contribution to the economy of this country and how it has borne new industries—our vital need. I should have thought that that was the very thing this country wants. Development of this nature, coupled with the prospect (of which I am unashamedly and wholeheartedly a supporter) of European free trade, kindles in my breast a spark of optimism for this country that was fast dying; and if I were again a young man, as I was thirty years ago, and about to start in the Southampton area, it would give me all the encouragement in the world; because since before the First World War I have always said that the natural development of Southampton Water was such that it would in time become a second Birkenhead. And after thirty years my words then have proved right.

Ever since I can remember, there has always been the spectre of unemployment in that area. I remember that during the time of the 1945 Distribution of Industry Act, when I had the honour of being spokesman in your Lordships' House for the Board of Trade, and when the development areas were my special care, Portsmouth was a fringe area for scheduling as a development area, and Southampton was not far off. The reason was that, from time immemorial, Portsmouth has been a one-trade city; and with the slightest whisper of disarmament, which I hope, please God, we may see in our lifetime, the spectre of unemployment in Portsmouth raises its ugly head; because take the dockyard away from Portsmouth and there is nothing else there. Southampton is the same.

The noble Lord, quite rightly, says that there is no unemployment in the area to-day. Perhaps he will tell me where there is unemployment—and hope that we shall always be in the position we are in to-day. But once we take the shipping away from Southampton, Southampton has no other industry. Southampton is the No. 1 passenger port of this country. It has the finest ocean passenger terminal in the world. But do not be misled by that, because the money never stops there: it goes through, The only prosperity Southampton ever has is from the money that is paid to the crews and clock workers; the money that comes from the "Queens" is in London within one hour and forty minutes. So I welcome this project. I welcome it as a major contribution to the much needed diversification of industry in the area. The noble Lord talked about the horticultural industry of that area, about which I know something— the most precarious livelihood there is, I should think. My information is that the small horticultural owners and workers welcome this industrial development. At least it will give them some alternative occupation, and very likely the only occupation they could possibly have in the winter time.

The noble Lord has said that the Hampshire County Council are opposed to this development. That is news to me, because the Hampshire County Council, as the planning authority for the area. are now planning to build houses for another 10,000 employees. I have never heard that they are against it. When the noble Lord comes to the question of amenities, I find myself far more in agreement with him. But where does one go? I understand that the Esso Petroleum Company have wanted to put up another refinery in one of the areas mentioned by the noble Lord, one that is at present industrialised. But the Ministry of Housing and Local Government say, "You cannot go there. The place where we want you to go is somewhere else." Then up goes the cry: "You are going to spoil the only decent piece of coast line that remains in South Wales." One of the biggest cost factors of oil (and we all have to pay for it) is ocean transportation—hence the tendency for tankers of 80,000 to 100,000 tons. One cannot take them up any by-creek. They cannot even get up the Thames. Southampton Water is one of the few available places. Milford Haven is another. The noble Lord could very rightly make precisely the same speech about destroying the amenities of Milford Haven—I suppose one of the most delightful spots on the Pembroke coast.




No? Well, at least: it is a delightful spot. So where does one go? I have heard that one should put an oil refinery where the prevailing wind will blow the smell away. I should not mind that if I were an oil refinery expert, or a seller, if only it would blow the prevailing customers there too; but the unfortunate part is that the further one gets away from industrialisation, the higher are one's costs of transport. So I have often asked myself: where does one go?

When the noble Lord talks about pollution of air and water I am 100 per cent. with him. We have to make some very stringent conditions about those two matters. I am informed, contrary to what the noble Lord says, that the Monsanto Chemical plant which is projected and is to cost somewhere about £8 million will be smell-free. That is my information. I am told that the scientists are reducing other sources of pollution as hard as they can. When Her Majesty's Government introduced the Oil in Navigable Waters Act I welcomed it, and I hope that they will steadfastly go on with their efforts in that direction. But the trouble is that the oil pollution of our shores does not come in any great degree from refineries situated in this country but from ships that fly the flags of countries which have not the same idea of the niceties and the rightness of things that we have. That is the trouble, and my sympathies are with Her Majesty's Government that they have not been able to get more countries to join in this effort to stop oil pollution. I will not mention names, but there are countries which have refused to sign the convention, and they should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for their refusal.

Another pleasant duty I had in 1945 was to sit on the Committee that inquired into the whole question of the administration of the New Forest. That was when the Fawley oil project was really nothing more than paper, and I begged the New Forest interests, the Commoners of the New Forest, to permit the Forestry Commission to plant a belt of trees in depth right along from Totton to Calshot, in order to shut off the industrialization scene on the shore. But that was the time when the New Forest Commoners were determined that the Forestry Commission should plant one more tree only over their dead bodies, because it would encroach on the grazing land for their cattle. And at that particular time, I believe I am right in saying. they had one head of cattle per thousand acres. The answer is to be found now in skilful landscape architecture. I would not for one moment deny the importance of yachting. I look upon yachting as an asset to this country. I think there is nothing better than to spend a day at Cowes during yachting week —I have done so many a time. But, if I had to make the choice, I do not think that I could weigh that very heavily in the scale against the future economic prosperity of this country.

The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has spoken of danger to shipping. He asked: Why should we jeopardise the safety of our great liners for American dollars? I think that is rather an exaggeration. The Southampton Harbour Board, which is responsible for the navigation of shipping in Southampton Water, is composed of representatives of every shipping interest, including the owners of the "Queen Mary" and the "Queen Elizabeth." If the representatives of the Cunard Company and other great shipping companies who sit on the Southampton Harbour Board do not know what they are talking about when they give planning permission for piers for tankers, I am afraid that I am not going to be so presumptuous as to tell them.

My last point is one with which I deal with some trepidation, because I hesitate to put myself before your Lordships as an expert on defence matters—certainly not compared with the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, who has spent so much of his life in Her Majesty's Navy. But I came to this conclusion years ago—that if we, as a nation, on this Island of ours, with fifty-one million people to keep at a decent standard of living, think we are going to keep them at that standard of living by "taking in each other's washing"; if we do not lift our sights above the shores of this country; if we try to plan our economy with our eyes on a future war, we shall be just sunk without trace.

In my view, the place from which to defend Southampton Water is about 500 miles to the South-East of it. I lived there through all the blitz, and if war does come in the future I do not think it will matter very much whether there is one refinery or twenty refineries in that area. I suggest that it would not be proper to-day to take that aspect into consideration and to jeopardise the great duty which rests upon us to see that we break loose from the shackles which are fettering us to-day, and lift our sights. I welcome this project. I think that one of the finest things that has ever happened is the influx of this capital into this country and the building of new industries. But, with Lord Teynham, I press Lord Mancroft to see that those in authority are ever alert to ensure that this project, and any other like it anywhere in this country, is so carried out, the installations so built, that, while the amenities of the ordinary citizen are preserved, at the same time economic competence is maintained.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say a few words in support of Lord Teynham's Motion. My natural inclination is to believe that amenity and beauty should be only exceptionally sacrificed to economic pressure and not vice versa—which I think has rather been the gist of the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. The arguments against the setting up of this refinery have been put very clearly and objectively by my noble friend Lord Teynham, and I think they are overwhelmingly convincing. After all, we have the example of Fawley behind us; we are not guessing; we know what is going to happen. We know that we are going to have hideous buildings and installations; we are going to have a horrible smell; we are going to have the waters polluted by oil. So far as I can see, the Hook project must duplicate all this. It will thus complete the destruction of most of the amenities of the Solent. Southampton Water will become an industrial shambles comparable to the lower reaches of some of the London rivers.

I ask myself what Ministries are in favour of this scheme? Is it possible that the Ministry of Labour is in favour of it when there is already a grave shortage of labour in that area? I wonder whether the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food favour this scheme which is going to deprive the country of three hundred acres of the best horticultural land? Lord Teynham has touched on the Ministry of Defence angle. It seems to me that they really cannot favour the siting of two important targets so close together. Leaving out of the question an atomic bomb, I should have thought that this would provide a perfect "right and left" for conventional bombing.

I am sure there are a great many interests who are prepared to oppose this scheme. My information is that the Hampshire County Council is definitely against it, though the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, does not quite agree with that. One body which is very much against it, naturally, is the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. Then there are the Royal Yachting Association and all the local yachting interests, and the people who build yachts and repair them They, obviously, are very strongly against it. Though not a yachtsman my. self, I have a great many friends who are, and I should like to put in a word for those people who are keen on sailing. We must realise that if a refinery is put up at Hook it will be accompanied by a jetty, or jetties, which, owing to the shallowness of the water near the shore, will reach out nearly a mile into the Solent. As Lord Teynham has said, this would interfere with the activities of the sailing clubs who have their headquarters in the Hamble River. They would be forced away from the areas near the shore where they now sail into the main shipping channels. which up to now they have been told to avoid and have, in fact, successfully avoided.

When the talk is of sailing and yachting, I think a great many people are inclined to regard it as a rich man's recreation—it seems to have some sort of link-up with Sir Bernard and Lady Docker or Mr. Onassis. But, of course, that is not true at all. There are literally thousands of ordinary people now who sail small boats, and it is a very good recreation indeed, It is healthy, and it keeps people off the roads at the week-ends. I would add that the Solent is the only sheltered piece of water south of the Border within reach of the great centres of population, in which people can moor their small boats. Already, as the result of Fawley, a certain amount of oil is discharged in the area—oil which fouls yachts and sails, for which the owners get no compensation, even if the offending tanker is identified and found. Also, as my noble friend Lord Teynhan has said, the beaches get covered in oil. I believe that after high tide they are filthy and children are unable to play on them their holiday games. or lie about on them. This new refinery will make things twice as bad.

I have said a word about those opposed to the scheme, and I think I should say a word, too, about the parties who are in favour of it. I suppose that the only party in favour of it is the American oil company and perhaps the British Treasury. Owing to the advantages of the site, the American oil company, I understand, refuse to go anywhere else in England, and have stated that, if not allowed to use this site, they will have to put up their refinery somewhere in Europe. I know what my answer would be to that kind of pressure. My noble friend said that it was possible that another oil interest would be prepared in time to establish another refinery in a different part of England which is much more suitable for the purpose from a national point of view.

I understand that planning permission has not been applied for, but I also understand that the oil company is already buying land—farm land. Some of us will remember that after the First World War, in the United States of America prohibition was got quietly under way by the "pussyfoot" method, without anybody knowing what was happening. I hope that this debate will ensure, at least, that everyone knows what may happen to these 300 acres of agricultural land and the consequences for the Solent and Southampton Water. It may be argued, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has argued very ably, that the balance of payments has been improved by turning the south of England into one large factory, which this scheme would certainly help to do. But what is the point of being prosperous when there are no amenities on which to spend your money? I think that we should thank my noble friend Lord Teynham for putting down this Motion and for leaving Her Majesty's Government in no doubt of what public opinion and local opinion are on this matter.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, I make no apology for speaking in this debate, because I live in the Isle of Wight; I have a boat at Yarmouth; I am Commodore of the Solent Yacht Club and I know, and my family have known for a long time, what the Solent is and what is happening there now. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Teynham put down this Motion. It was not an easy one to put down because, as has been said, there seems to be an idea that yachting is only for the rich. Not at all; the number of small boats in the Solent run by quite small people must be over a thousand. This new plan of extending across the Hamble will have a serious result: the Hamble will be closed. Consider for a moment where else yachtsmen can go. They cannot get into many of these harbours; Cowes Roads is more or less closed, and there remains only Yarmouth—all the others are too small. Hamble has been our great centre and now it is to be shut. And it is to be shut because of a "big proposition".

I am not going to argue for or against from the point of view of national security, but I would say that, having been in the Royal Air Force and in the Air Ministry, I cannot believe that it is a wise thing to put all our eggs into one basket. There was a man, more famous than the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who sat on the Government Front Bench, the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, who, when we were in great danger, had to break up the defences of this country by dispersal. For instance, all the Rolls-Royce engines were being made in one place. Do not think that by joining everything together we shall get great strength. One of the means by which we won the war was dispersal, to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, is opposed. He wants us to concentrate everything in one area, and he has poured ridicule on the idea that this refinery might be erected in some other place, such as Milford Haven. He tried to say that it was a prettier and better place. Why bring that up?


My Lords, if the noble Lord wishes to quote me, I am sure he would not do me the discourtesy of doing so incorrectly. I did not say that this project should be moved to Milford Haven. I said that when the Esso Petroleum Company wanted to erect another refinery, and wanted to put it in the place advocated by the noble Lord. Lord Teynham, they were not allowed to put it there; they were sent to Milford Haven.


I apologise to the noble Lord, of course, if I misquoted him, but I am going to quote him again, because I thought he made a dangerous speech on our defence policy by advocating that we should put everything in one place.

I also do not understand what he meant by this business of "dogging" dollars. I was surprised to hear from those Benches that the whole question was one of dollars —and therefore of being subservient to another country. He might have been the Chancellor of the Exchequer speaking. He might have been Mr. Dulles speaking —everything had to be subject to the commands of the White House. I cannot believe that that is right. It is no good the noble Lord saying that he lived there for so many years; I know that he lives in Berkshire now. Regardless of the Bills which we pass, regardless of the wisdom which has been shown in many places as to how to stop it, oil pollution remains a serious matter. The oil in the Solent is a very serious matter, and will be made increasingly worse. The blocking up of the Solent will not only affect the Solent itself. After all, the Cunard and the White Star came from Liverpool down to Southampton. If both sides of the entrance there are entirely devoted to this oil company it will mean dollars to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, but the loss, perhaps, of these big ships, the "Queens." They may well have to go, because if we have these big tankers coming in, we shall not have these big liners coming in, too. By all means, get rid of Southampton as a port for shipping, and for the big liners; turn it entirely, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, wants to, into an oil refinery.


That is not a fair statement.


It is as fair as I can possibly make it, because the noble Lord intimated that that is the intention. It is going to be a big oil refinery place, and these big tankers will come there. if it is really necessary, and if the Government say that there is no alternative, of course, from the national point of view, I accept it, although I would remind your Lordships that there are other sources of power besides oil, the same as there were other sources of power than coal. Oil followed coal, and atomic energy may come now. This may not be the Last answer in power. I am certain that great damage will be done by going forward with this scheme, and I deprecate it unless it is absolutely necessary, from a national point of view, and is not merely something done at the dictate of the White House.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord who introduced this Motion I know this area as a beautiful one, but my chief reason for supporting the noble Lord is on the grounds of agriculture. For some years now, and particularly when I was connected with agriculture, I have spent a great deal of time fighting the loss of good agricultural land. My thesis— I cannot say that it has had the success that. I could have wished for it—always was that, unfortunately, each case was fought individually on its merits. People would come along and say that outside a certain city they must have playing fields; they agreed that it was good agricultural land, but insisted that they had to have it. Then some industry would come along and insist on having good agricultural land elsewhere and then other land would be required by the military, or perhaps for planning of new towns. What people did not realise was the steady loss of our best acres that was continuing all the time.

In this case it is particularly tragic, because not only is this good agricultural land, but it is good horticultural land, and whatever my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth may say about the precariousness of the horticultural industry, I would point out that large fortunes are made in that industry and it is vital for the national interest to grow fruit and vegetables. There is no more concentrated use of the acre than in horticulture. Here we have this magnificent area, producing vegetables and fruit for Southampton and Portsmouth, and there is this threat to take it over completely. On that ground alone, I would ask Her Majesty's Government whether they cannot reconsider this plan. My noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth made a powerful speech on the advisability of getting all the dollars we can, but surely there are other places where this refinery could be situated. I bitterly resent what is a kind of blackmail by this company, if what we have heard this afternoon is true. They say: "If you do not give us this spot that we prefer we shall go elsewhere." I do not think this country should be dictated to in those terms.

Quite apart from the importance of the horticultural industry, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, on the aspect of defence. To a layman—I claim no expert knowledge—it does seem to be asking for trouble to put our biggest refineries next door to each other, so making a great target of Portsmouth, Southampton and Fawley, and these refineries on the coast close to the Continent. Unless military experts can show that that is a good thing, it does seem to me, as a layman, to be an arch folly. Then there is the obvious issue of amenity, into which I will not go in detail, because it has been so clearly put by other speakers. However, I do feel that the area of the New Forest, the Solent and all that part of the country is one of the beautiful assets of England. It is where the Americans who spend their dollars in London arrive. Do we want them to arrive in these big ships—if the ships can still use the Solent—and see nothing but oil refineries? Then we must remember that once leave is given for this refinery it will not be merely one refinery on this coast but everything else that follows: houses for the workers, shops for them to buy their goods, schools and playing fields for their children—in fact, a great industrial area. I wonder if that is really what we want to make.

There is one last point that I should like to mention. I wonder if the oil company, or whoever has been looking into this matter, have considered the question of water. As will be well known—my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth will know this, particularly, as an expert on these affairs—millions of gallons of fresh water are needed for refining of this type. When Fawley was put up, one of the great problems was how to get enough water to be used. I think there were plans to take it from the Beaulieu River, but this was found to be totally insufficient. Then there was a project to take the water out of the Solent and to make it suitable for the purpose, but that again was found to be utterly uneconomic. As a result, the water finally had to be brought from Christchurch in huge pipes. I wonder whether consideration has been given as to where sufficient water will be obtained to supply not only this great refinery but the industry which will automatically collect round it. I do not want to detain your Lordships longer, but I do ask Her Majesty's Government to look at this carefully and to consider the many interests which will be prejudiced and sacrificed if this scheme goes ahead.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that a warm welcome should be given to my noble friend Lord Teynham's Motion by all, or perhaps I should say nearly all, those who desire to preserve what still remains of the English countryside, and especially by those who, like myself, have the good fortune to reside in Hampshire. That county is one of the most beautiful counties in England, and so far it has escaped any extensive industrialisation. But one thing is almost certain: if this project goes through, a township will immediately grow around it. That involves houses, schools, shops, cinemas, and so on. Light industries will certainly be attracted to both sides—the Southampton and the Portsmouth sides —and it will not be long before the whole of that coast line is built up and becomes an industrial area. That can be foretold without any great stroke of imagination.

I think we should take a warning from the experience of, say, South-East Lancashire, where, as a result of industrial development in the nineteenth century and onwards, city has flowed into city, and town into town, and now an area north-east of Manchester is one vast agglomeration of bricks and mortar. Incidentally, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, if I understand him rightly, expressed the hope that Southampton would become a second Birkenhead.


Not the hope—I said I always predicted it would.


I am glad the noble Lord has qualified it like that. When I heard him say "hope", I have a slight knowledge of Birkenhead and I could not share his hope for one moment, so I rather hoped he would be a false prophet. As has been pointed out by my noble friend, the area between Southampton and Portsmouth is at present practically unspoilt. It contains some of the most lovely houses and churches in the county, and it provides essential breathing space and a recreation ground, not only for visitors from elsewhere but for the people of Southampton and Portsmouth.

I was glad to hear the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, stress the importance of agriculture. This is an important agricultural area. No doubt its monetary value cannot be assessed in terms of dollars. to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, referred; none the less, it is a considerable producer of food and fruit, of which we are none too plentifully supplied in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Jessel, referred to the loss of 200 acres. I wish it could be only that. With the whole scheme coming into operation, and the industrialisation which it can be confidently predicted will come to pass, it will not be 300 but many thousands of acres that will be lost. That would be a grave thing, not only materially but from the moral point of view of the country. There is also the question of agricultural labour. It is short enough now, and likely to become far shorter in an industrialised area.

Two of the most beautiful rivers in England flow into the Solent, the Test and the Itchen. Can they be guaranteed against pollution? I am not at all sure that the present factory is not contributing to it, and another one would undoubtedly double the risk. I was glad to hear the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, refer to the question of water. Already there are grounds for thinking that the whole water table in Hampshire has been seriously lowered, and, of course, the few people who enjoy angling—although they are probably millionaires—are somewhat to be sympathised with if they find the water in their streams becoming less by degrees every year. There is also, of course, the point about the general water supply to houses.

As regards the location of this refinery, I am not convinced by what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said. He said that the American concern, if denied the use of this site near Southampton. would "throw up the sponge" and go elsewhere.


That is a statement I would never make. The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, mentioned that.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon; I attributed the remark wrongly to him. But from what has transpired in the debate the impression in my mind, and I think in the mind of the noble Earl opposite, is that if the Esso Company cannot get this site they will go elsewhere, even out of the country. I should be very much surprised if that were so, 'because I cannot see why Southampton should be the only site available or suitable. It occurs to me, without any expert knowledge on the subject, that the East coast might well provide the facilities. Looking at a map, one would ask: what is the matter with the Humber area, somewhere between Grimsby arid Immingham, which is already industrialised, and where the winds are favourable for taking the smell out to sea? At any rate, if this is a business proposition in Southampton, there is no reason why it should not be a business proposition in other parts of England.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has made great play with the monetary side of this—the financial issues involved. It is perfectly true that, measured in terms of dollars. probably the balance sheet would show a larger amount of dollars earned from this project than from agriculture. But as we all know, there are many other considerations to take into account. Even assuming, which I do not for one moment, that this enterprise cannot be carried out anywhere else in England, my vote would be given for the retention of the diminishing agricultural resources of this country and its recreational facilities. In that connection, I would ask: what will it profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his own soil? In conclusion, I would ask Her Majesty's Government to keep a watchful and suspicious eye on this project. It has not yet matured, and I hope that the Government will do all they possibly can to prevent it from maturing.

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to take part in this debate this afternoon, and I rise for a few minutes only to bring to your Lordships' notice one specific point which I do not think has been fully dealt with. From my early days in serving in Portsmouth in the Royal Navy, I recollect that there is an extremely complicated system of tides and that, as a result, the Solent area is very prone to silting. In fact the harbour authorities concerned have to spend large sums of money each year, and employ many dredgers, in order to keep the channel (free for the large vessels mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sherwood. As I understand it, it is now proposed to build long jetties at the entrance to Southampton Water, and it is well known from experience in other parts that low jetties of this nature are apt to cause serious silting. The only reason why I have risen is to ask my noble friend Lord Mancroft whether this aspect has been considered with the harbour authorities concerned.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Teynham for bringing this most important Motion before the House for discussion. It goes far beyond the boundaries of Southampton and Portsmouth. We are grateful to him, for the reason which the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, put before us. He told us that the Americans were jockeyed, as it were, into prohibition by methods of "Pussy-footing." I had not realised that that was the origin of the phrase. Within the memory of most of your Lordships, it is probably true that, more than once in this House, we have complained that schemes of considerable size and national importance have suddenly materialised before we have realised what has happened. We have complained and have then been told that it was too late to do anything about it, and that we should have "said our piece" earlier. I myself more than once joined in that sort of complaint over such places as Carlton House Terrace. Nobody can complain now that your Lordships, and indeed the country, are not fully alerted to what is afoot in Southampton Water. As a result of this debate, the public will have a good opportunity of threshing out the pros and cons.

Let me very briefly put the situation as it now stands before your Lordships, to enable your Lordships to have some idea of what has been decided and what still has to be decided. The Regent Oil Company who, as your Lordships know, are the link with Caltex in the distribution of this oil, are an American concern; and they have been for some time interested in the building of a refinery in the United Kingdom. In 1951, they applied for and were granted an Industrial Development Certificate (which, with apologies to the Imperial Defence College, I will refer to as "I.D.C.") for a site near Hook. They did not proceed with this project and the I.D.C. therefore lapsed. In May of this year, after some preliminary discussions with the Board of Trade, the company again applied for an I.D.C. for the same location at Hook. There followed several discussions with the company at which the possibilities of building a refinery elsewhere were, of course, most carefully explored. One can imagine that it was not easy to reach a decision on this important application.

Her Majesty's Government, however, agreed that the I.D.C. should be granted, on the clear understanding that planning permission would subsequently be required. The I.D.C. was issued on September 7 last, and it was made perfectly clear to the company that not only would they need to secure planning permission but that a public inquiry was more than likely to be held. I think I suggested this to the House in answer to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, a few weeks ago. To date, the company have not actually applied for planning permission, but my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has directed the Hampshire County Council to refer to him for his decision any such application that may be made. So far as I know, therefore, the Hampshire County Council have not yet made up their minds finally about this matter. I can add this: that before any final decision is reached, a public local inquiry will most certainly be held.

May I say a word about this Industrial Development Certificate, just to refresh your Lordships' memory on what it means and its importance. Under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, an industrial firm which wants to develop land by the erection of industrial buildings over 5,000 square feet in area must obtain an I.D.C. from the Board of Trade. Without this I.D.C., application for planning permission would not be valid. An I.D.C., therefore, such as has been granted. is simply evidence that in the opinion of the Board of Trade the development in question can be carried out consistently with proper distribution of industry. That is what it means. Before the Board of Trade issue an I.D.C., there are, of course, consultations, both regionally and at headquarters, with all other Departments interested in the application. In the case of this proposed oil refinery at Hook, all these consultations naturally took place.

Let me make this clear. The fact that an I.D.C. has been issued in the case of this refinery should be taken as prima facie evidence that the Government are satisfied that there are good reasons for siting it in this locality. But there is this important and overriding fact: the I.D.C. is, of itself, of no value unless planning permission is eventually obtained. Now, therefore, let me say a word about planning permission. In this case, my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has said that if and when application for planning permission has been received, he will hold a local public inquiry. At this inquiry, applicants and the local planning authority will be invited to make representations, and third parties will also be able to make known their views. All the matters to which the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, and your Lordships have referred will, of course, feature at this inquiry.

No planning decision on this case be taken until the public inquiry has been held and until the Minister is in full possession of ad the facts. Your Lordships must not assume that the fact that an E.D.C. has been granted will prejudice the ultimate decision on planning permission. I can convince your Lordships of this, I think, by telling you that since 1949 there have been over 200 cases where planning permission has been refused after an I.D.C. has been issued. In the case of a project of the size and importance of the proposed oil refinery at Hook, it is obvious that the Government themselves will have to take the final decision. I have no need, I am sure, to tell your Lordships that the Government will take into consideration everything that has been said in the House:his afternoon and the matters to which your Lordships have drawn attention, all of which will also be no doubt well ventilated at the inquiry.

There is the defence aspect to which all noble Lords have referred this afternoon. My noble friend Lord Gosford, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, has heard all the observations of your Lordships and taken careful note of them. and he and I have had several conversations on this subject already. Then there is the danger to navigation in Southampton Water, to which the noble Lord, Lord Sherwood, particularly referred—though I think, if I may say so, he painted an unnecessarily gloomy picture of the "Queens" and 100,000-ton tankers playing "Tig" up and down Southampton Water. It is a very real problem. There is also the question of silting, to which the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, referred. There is the problem of the loss of horticultural and agricultural land, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Soulbury, and the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, referred.

There is the pollution of air and water and the destruction of the amenities now enjoyed by the local inhabitants. The noble Lord, Lord Jessel, was particularly eloquent on that subject. There is the danger to the yachting industry and to the maritime training of cadets and others. Here, I have sympathy with the noble Lords, Lord Teynham and Lord Sherwood, though my yachting interests happen to be at Itchen in Chichester Harbour. There is the effect which the refinery may have on the proposal that the area should become a national park. There is the question of the local employment situation, particularly in respect of agricultural labour, which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and the noble Viscount, Lord Soulbury, touched upon. Finally, there is the point which all your Lordships have mentioned, the economic advantages or disadvantages of siting this refinery in the United Kingdom rather than in Europe. All these matters will come before the local inquiry and will, I am certain, be thoroughly ventilated. All interests will be heard and, I suspect, heard very loudly and clearly.

At the same time, the Government must also bear in mind the overall fuel and power demands in the United Kingdom, demands which, as your Lordships are well aware, are growing rapidly. I do not need to stress the important part which petrol and petroleum products will have to fulfil in meeting the nation's needs for fuel. There are, I think, obvious advantages in siting oil refineries in the United Kingdom to avoid expenditure of dollars and other foreign currency on importing oil. We have to consider the importance of the Regent Oil Company's project in this setting. The Government must also have regard to such matters as the need for deep water channels and adequate berthing facilities for the very much larger type of tanker which we shall see in the future, and which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, brought to our notice. It is a point which is much in the news nowadays. Also, the noble Lord mentioned the need for adequate supplies of water and proximity to the main centres of distribution.

My position is this: that I cannot possibly give any indication of what may be the ultimate decision of the Government in this case until the inquiry has been held. It would be quite wrong for me to express, before the public inquiry is held, any views which the Government may hold at the present time. It would obviously prejudice the inquiry and that would be quite an improper thing to do. Equally, I think I must say this. The fact that the I.D.C. has been granted, after consideration by Her Majesty's Government, may reasonably be taken as indicating the inclination of the Government to grant permission for this project. I put it no more strongly than that. I must make it perfectly clear, however, that the Government have certainly not closed their minds on this matter in any way at all. They will pay great attention to what your Lordships have said, will listen most carefully to what is said at the inquiry and will consider the outcome of that inquiry. I am afraid I cannot say any more than that; indeed, I think it would be improper if I were to go any further than that. I hope I have given your Lordships a full indication of the seriousness which Her Majesty's Government attach to this matter and I can assure the House that the views of your Lordships will be carefully considered.

The trouble really is this, is it not: that this Island is too small for all the things we want to do in it. I propose, however, to ignore the anonymous note which one of your Lordships has just passed to me, asking: "Why not put the refinery in Christ Church Meadow?" My Lords, the trouble is that in all cases such as this, somebody has got to give way: none of us likes to give way if it happens to concern him. The only thing upon which we are all agreed at the moment is the importance—indeed, the national importance—of this question.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful for the remarks that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. I realise the difficulties facing the Government in saying much more than has been said, but I should just like to say this: when we do have a public inquiry, I hope that it may be possible to have as the official conducting it not somebody from the Minister's Department but an independent person. I think it would be far better, and we should be much more likely to get a result which the public would understand. I cannot say that I support in any way the views put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I was a little disappointed to hear from him that he was one of those who were quite prepared to have industrialisation, irrespective of anything that might interfere with the amenities of the area. I am sure he does not mean that.


Either I am getting inarticulate or the noble Lord's hearing is getting defective. I made the special point that I found common ground with the noble Lord on the question of amenity, and I gave my reasons why. I do not know how he can say that I want industrialisation at the cost of all amenity.


I will not pursue the point this evening, but certainly the noble Lord's remarks gave me that impression. In view of the remarks of my noble friend Lord Mancroft, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.