HL Deb 24 November 1960 vol 226 cc899-918

5.10 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the reasons for which your Lordships find yourselves in the somewhat unusual position of defeating the Second Reading of a Private Bill were explained a few days ago by the Lord Chairman of Committees, and I understand that he is going to say something further after I have sat down. However, I am afraid it means that I shall have to give a fairly detailed explanation of the objects of the Bill, but I will try to fee as brief as possible.

This is a Private Bill introduced by the Esso Petroleum Company; it has the blessing of Her Majesty' s Government, and it has passed through all its stages in another place. The main purposes of the Bill are quite simple: they are to build two underground pipelines, each about 75 miles in length, to carry the petroleum products—I shall use the word "products" throughout, because this does not deal just with petroleum— from their refinery at Fawley in Hampshire, the first pipeline to come from Fawley to the West London area, including London Airport, and the second to run from Fawley to the new Imperial Chemical Industries works at Avon-mouth on the River Severn in Gloucestershire.

The main reasons in both cases for these pipelines are these: first, an underground pipeline is the safest method of carrying petroleum products; secondly, it is the cheapest method. This is of the utmost importance to those companies and firms in industry who buy the petroleum products, and particularly to those industries (such as we shall hear about later in the case of Imperial Chemical Industries) which are heavily engaged in an exceedingly cut-throat war in the export market. The third reason why these pipelines are being built—this is one that is most dear to my heart—is that it will make a really favourable contribution towards solving the difficult problem of road congestion.

May I deal briefly with the first pipeline from Fawley to the West London area and to London Airport, The present method of getting the petroleum pro- ducts from Fawley to this large industrial area of West London—and it is becoming an increasingly bigger industrial area— is threefold. The products are, first of all, put into an ocean-going tanker and are then taken to Purfleet on the Thames; they are then transferred to barges and taken to a depôt at Fulham, and they are then put into heavy road tankers and distributed all over the area. This is neither economic nor, if it can be avoided, very sensible. There is an increasing demand for oil products in that area and, without this pipeline, the numbers of road tankers will be rapidly increased.

In planning future distribution in this area, it is intended, if the Bill goes through, to build at West Bedfont, to the south of London Airport, a large new storage depôt, The pipeline will come to this storage depôt, and smaller pipelines will be laid from the storage depôt into the present storage tanks at London Airport. I would again emphasise that this will mean fewer road tankers, if any, entering the congested area of London Airport. It is estimated that this pipeline will carry approximately one million gallons a day of turbo fuels, gasolenes, kerosenes and gas oils, and will be of a sufficient size to cater for increased demand, as the fuel storage depôt can contain 20 million gallons. Apart from London Airport, when this pipeline is built, instead of the tankers coming through the west area of London, distribution in the London area will be roughly as follows: tankers from the new storage depôt going to the northwest and south-west of London will not have to pass through the London area at all; and tankers distributing to the north and south of the new depôt will not have to go through central London at all. On the present distribution, it is estimated that this will mean that on the roads in the congested Fulham and Hammersmith areas there will be 170 heavy tankers fewer per day.

So much for that area. May I now come to the Fawley-Avonmouth pipeline. The Imperial Chemical Industries have bought a site next to the River Severn, near Avonmouth, for the construction of a large industrial plant for the manufacture of products derived from petroleum-based chemicals, and arrangements have recently been made between I.C.I, and the Esso Petroleum Company that the Esso Petroleum Company will produce a continuous flow of ethylene, from which Imperial Chemical Industries will make ethylene oxide to produce glycol and other derivatives. For the I.C.I, work to function properly, this flow must be absolutely continuous. About half the resultant chemical produced I.C.I, will use in the manufacture of "Terylene", and the other half will be used in the manufacture of explosives, detergents and intermediates for a wide range of products.

As I said earlier, it is essential that I.C.I, should get their fuel not only in a continuous flow but as cheaply as possible, because these chemical products are a most important export and the cost must be cut to the utmost. The method of an underground pipeline is the only practicable method of conveying this fuel to the I.C.I, works. There is an alternative of a temporary nature that is not practicable over a long term. For a time it could probably be done by a continuous flow of specially designed 24-ton road fuel tankers, and the product would have to be in a refrigerated liquid form. But that really is not sensible: it is extremely expensive and the vehicles are not yet constructed. In the long run it would be far too expensive as a permanent feature. Those are the two pipelines which, in my submission, should be built as soon as possible. Imperial Chemical Industries are taping theirs will be built as soon as possible; in fact it must be. To provide all this, new works have to be built at the Esso Petroleum Company refinery and any delay would most certainly have serious repercussions on the export trade.

May I say one short word about the Parliamentary progress of this Bill? As soon as the Bill was deposited in another place, a pamphlet was at once issued to every landowner, local authority, gas board and others who would be affected by the pipelines, setting out in full what the company hoped to do, and negotiations to meet difficult points started at once. In the other place, after these many negotiations had been satisfactorily settled, seven Petitions were deposited against the Bill. The negotiations went on, and so satisfactory were they that by the time the Committee stage was reached in another place there was only one Petitioner left. During this period of negotiation with landowners and others there were constant conferences with Government Departments who were making recommendations for Amendments for additional safeguards, and so on; and by the time the Bill was sent to your Lordships—and at this present moment—there were no Petitioners at all against the Bill.

It may be of interest to your Lordships when I say that apart from these negotiations which were carried on successfully with landowners and others, successful negotiations were carried on with the following bodies, so that it cannot be said that the Esso Petroleum Company have not tried to meet every objection that has been put forward: 5 county councils, 12 county district councils, 24 statutory water undertakers, all the gas boards and electricity boards concerned, the National Farmers' Union, the Country Land Owners' Association, the National Federation of Property Owners, the British Transport Commission, the Southampton Harbour Board, the Thames Conservancy, the river boards and drainage authorities concerned, certain brewery companies, the Anglers' Co-operative Association, the Sand and Gravel Association and, as I have already said. Government Departments.

As far as possible all necessary Amendments to the original Bill are in the Bill at the present time, as it arrives in your Lordships' House; but owing to suggestions by Government Departments and as a result of one or two further negotiations the Esso Petroleum Company will ask your Lordships in the Committee stage of this Bill to put in further Amendments, which are mostly additional safeguards. The company have gone far farther over this matter of safeguards than would have been supposed from precedent—because there have been other pipelines. The Government Departments have been very helpful but also fairly tough, and those negotiations with Government Departments have been successful. I confidently recommend the Bill to your Lordships, not only because I believe it is now in proper form but also because I believe that the urgent passing of this Bill is very much in the public interest. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a,— (Lord Derwent.)

5.24 p.m.


My Lords, it is not the intention of my noble friends to put any obstacle in the way of the passing of this Bill, and speaking for myself I would say that it would ill become me to do so, because I am one of the landowners who had to grant an easement to this company over a length of land in Middlesex. We are quite content to accept the decision of the Select Committee. We are sure they investigated the position very thoroughly. The only reason for moving the Instruction which I propose to do shortly is that considerations of broader national interest arise out of this Bill which we think should be suitably ventilated. We have no intention of opposing this Bill.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I hope it will be for the convenience of the House if at this stage I say a few words on this Motion. First of all, I should like to make clear to the House as factually as I can the short history of this Bill, in so far as it has not already been dealt with by the noble Lord who moved this Motion. I think I should mention that this was what we call a "late" Bill: that is, it was deposited after the statutory date which occurs annually and before which all Private Bills have to be deposited; and it was for that reason that I did not mention it in the small Committee of your Lordships' House which discusses Private Bills at a meeting held towards the end of January in each year.

I should also add that the Bill was read a first time in another place on May 13 last. It thereafter failed to pass through all its stages before the end of the Session. It was therefore necessary that it should be carried over from the last Session to this Session. That was done by a Motion in another place which was subsequently agreed to by your Lordships; and it thereafter had its First Reading in this House on the 10th of this month. It had been my intention to-day to make a statement to your Lordships under Standing Order 91 about this Bill, because undoubtedly it is one which is of public interest and considerable importance and therefore is one which in my judgment would merit such a statement; but in view of the general interest which has been shown in the Bill and the publicity in newspapers and in other places which has been given to it, I do not think that a further detailed statement is called for to-day. On the other hand, if there is any further information which your Lordships desire about the Bill, needless to say either the noble Lord who moved this Motion or I will do our best to give it.

There is one more thing that I should like to say. Under Standing Order 92 of the Standing Orders relating to Private Bills, I am authorised, if I see fit, to report to the House that an Unopposed Private Bill (and this Bill, as the House has already heard, is unopposed) should be proceeded with as an Opposed Private Bill. In view of all the circumstances I have decided to make such a report to your Lordships and I shall do so in due course. That will mean that in spite of the fact that there are no Petitions set down against the Bill it will be dealt with by a Private Bill Select Committee in the Committee rooms upstairs; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, has mentioned, it is apparently intended to move some Amendments there. In my judgment, that would be a better course than for this Bill to be dealt with as it otherwise would by the Unopposed Bills Committee, so I propose to make such a report in due course. I hope that what I have said may be of some assistance to the House and, as I have said, if any further assistance is wanted I will do my best to give it.

On Question, Bill read 2a.

5.30 p.m.

THE EARL OF LUCANrose to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to which the Bill may be referred—

  1. (a) to consider whether public general legislation relating, to the laying, maintenance and operation of pipelines is desirable in the national interest, and
  2. (b) to assure themselves that no permanent damage will be done to the amenities of common land and areas of unspoilt natural beauty.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion that stands in my name—that it be an instruction to the Committee to do two things: to consider whether public general legislation on this subject is desirable, and, secondly, to assure themselves that no permanent damage will be done to the amenities of common land and areas of unspoilt natural beauty. This is, as the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, said, an unusual step and I apologise for taking up your Lordships' time with it, but I hope your Lordships will agree with me when I have spoken that the matter is of such importance that it should be dealt with in public on the Floor of your Lordships' House.

It is, of course, a fact that this is a Private Bill, which is what raises the whole question of the future of pipeline legislation in the country. A Select Committee of another place to which the Bill was referred dealt with a number of provisions, which I think were all concerned with the rights of landowners and the rights of individuals. They made a Special Report, in which they recommended that Private Bill procedure should not be used for such measures in future but there should be another system of Provisional Orders, laid before Parliament. But their objections and their Special Report were directed almost entirely to the question of the rights of individuals. They were not empowered to call witnesses or to consider the wider national implications of this question. That is my justification for taking this step to draw attention to the two aspects I have mentioned.

Perhaps it would be convenient, as the second one—to require an assurance that no permanent damage will be done to common land—is short and simple, for me to deal with that first. The first that I knew of this matter was when a public notice appeared in the papers on April 1 from the company, and what caught my eye was a list of commons over which the company were asking for power to construct their works. The first thing I read concerned Chobham Common, in the rural district of Bagshot, and the estimated area which the company required was 68 acres; over commons in the New Forest 52 acres were involved, and there was a list concerning other commons in Wiltshire and other counties amounting to, I think, another 70 or 75 acres. There were 200 acres of common land over which the company were asking for powers to build works.

Clause 48 of the Bill has a number of provisions governing the negotiations with county councils. I am quite sure that it is the intention of the Esso Petroleum Company to take the greatest care to safeguard the amenities, and evidently I the Select Committee was of the opinion that there was no danger to be apprehended on that score, so I am quite sure that the matter has been well looked after. But it seemed to me that a matter of 200 acres of the valuable common land of this country—we have not too much of it—was involved, and your Lordships are always very sensitive when there is any question of tampering with common land. And, in spite of the provisions for reinstatement and so on, I think we should have an assurance, and I hope the Committee will give this matter some thought before Parliament permits this very wide power to the company for the purpose of constructing their works.

Having said that, I come back to the first instruction as to whether public general legislation is desirable. I should say that in; another place the Minister of Power stated this [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 625, col. 1303]: …the Government believe that it is most important that an examination should take place on the general problem of pipeline development. In fact, he said, they had already begun to examine this problem, to examine procedures they think should be followed in future in regard to these matters; and he undertook to make a further statement to the House when the examination was complete. I wholeheartedly welcome that statement. But, really, it is the first sign Chat the Government are aware that we are on the threshold of a large revolution in transport; and, indeed, if it had not been for some (Members of Parliament who raised the matter on the Floor of another place perhaps the Minister might not have made any such statement.

In this country pipelines are quite a novelty. It is a coincidence that in the last two days we have had information of another 50-mile pipeline that is proposed to be constructed from the East of London to the West. Three or four other pipelines have been built in quite recent years, one from Milford Haven to a refinery in South Wales, one or two from the Manchester Ship Canal to other refineries. There are at least two, I believe, which were built by the Government during the war as war measures: one from the West across to the East of Scotland and one, we believe, though the details have never been, published, from the Bristol Channel to somewhere in the Home Counties. So there are pipelines existing already, but relatively in this country the movement is in its infancy. Abroad there have been far greater developments: I believe, in America, already on a very large scale. The French, we read, are proposing to pipe either gas or petroleum across the Mediterranean from Africa to France. One sees all sorts of possibilities. If liquids can be transported into France, wines could be transported across the Channel to England. Other liquid products could be transported from Dublin across the Irish Sea to London. There is no limit to what we may expect in the near future. But all that we are familiar with here are the gas and water pipelines.

What is the characteristic of this new method of transportation? It is the continuous flow of liquids or gases—and, indeed, I am told, now solids, too. Solids can be made to flow in either compressed air or liquid. I believe coal can be floated along pipelines under pressure, and flour, sugar, cement, and all those kinds of things, which already we are beginning to see carried in tanker wagons. The next thing is that we shall see such things—well, we shall not see them; they will be going underground in pipelines, and we shall merely turn on the tap. Looking far ahead, perhaps, the contemporary house a hundred years hence might well have taps for all manner of things. Milk, of course, is a product that might, within a very short time, come along pipelines from the West Country to the centres of consumption. There seems to be almost no limit. This is technical detail; and I stand subject to correction, but I am told that you can propel different types of substances one after the other along the same pipeline. In other words, when you have finished sending your fuel oil along, you send a plug along and you follow that up with, say, petrol, or some other fluid. I believe that any kind of substance that will travel you can send along the same pipeline.

My Lords, that opens up the possibility of using trunk pipelines with feeders to serve a number of industries with a number of different products. It is not necessary for each supplier of a product to lay his own pipeline: one main pipeline could be leased, perhaps, for certain periods by different organisations to supply different commodities, with, of course, very great advantage. We can all see the advantage flowing from this pipeline in the way of reduction of the number of heavy tankers on the roads, and we all welcome that wholeheartedly. We are told that it is a safe method; we are told that it is economical. That term is a bit difficult to define. Economical compared with what? Cheaper than what? Cheaper than freightage in road wagons? Cheaper than freightage in railway tanker wagons? Cheaper than seagoing or river-going tank vessels? What does it mean, "economical"? And how much is being saved? That is one of the words that is used very loosely, and one would like to know a little more what is meant. Perhaps the Government know exactly what it means and exactly what the economic advantages of this method are, and will tell us.

Of course, we have to face disadvantages, because if we introduce a new method of transport it means that we throw out of use other methods—other men, materials and capital investment which are being used now and which will fall into disuse. That, of course, is something beyond the horizon of the individual company that promotes a Bill such as this, but it is a matter upon which the Government ought to know already what the relative advantages and disadvantages are. I say that for this reason—and I am keeping this statement almost non-political because I think it is a technical matter, and there is no need to bring ideology in—if the Government wish to leave it entirely to private enterprise, I see no alternative but a repetition of the disasters that happened to this country in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

When the canal era began, there was a mania for canal building. Everybody went in for building canals wherever they thought there was a profit to be made, regardless of the national interest. They were built haphazard, they were built of different gauges, and there were hundreds of different ownerships—in fact, complete chaos. And it resulted in a system, or something you can hardly call a system, that fell victim very quickly to the competition of the railways. In the same way, in the nineteenth century the railway building mania resulted in an enormous waste of effort and capital, and left us, in the twentieth century, with a tremendous backlog and an out-dated system that we are still struggling to bring up to date. After all, my Lords, if you allow anybody to take powers to build a pipeline, it is like giving them powers to build a private motorway. It is giving them powers over the countryside and over private individuals, to construct their own way, their own road, with nothing else but their own vehicles allowed on it. We could not possibly consider that. Why, therefore, should we consider allowing pipelines to be built by purely private enterprise?

I suggest that there are four principles that ought to be observed in guiding and controlling this new phase in the industry and the economy of the country. First of all, the public interest must be overriding. It must override everything, including, I would say, private profit. The noble Lord said that it is essential for I.C.I, to get their raw materials as cheaply as possible. Of course, I agree that they should be got as cheaply as possible, provided that, by so doing, the interest of all the rest of us—the public, the people—is not prejudiced. Secondly, there roust be a co-ordinated network of pipelines. You cannot allow unnecessary duplication such as would inevitably arise with a "free-for-all". We already know that there are two oil companies which are arranging pipelines to London Airport, and there is already one pipeline from an oil depôt at Milford Haven to a refinery in South Wales. But we shall find that the Esso Company, who are building a refinery on the north shore of Milford Haven, will want to lay pipelines also to South Wales, probably for distribution purposes. We shall get endless duplication of that sort unless the Government have some pattern which they want the development to follow.

The third principle is that I think pipelines should be constructed for a common user. In other words, the builder should not have the exclusive right to propel his own products through them. He should be compelled to allow other persons and other interests to hire the pipeline for the purpose of taking their own products. Finally, my fourth principle is that they should use, wherever possible, existing tracks and facilities. Where there are Government pipelines laid down during the war, obviously they should be used. They should be linked up to the points of origin and points of destination of the new enterprise. Where there are not existing pipelines, then I think the promoters should be required to use, wherever possible, existing wayleaves and tracks, so as not to have to cross agricultural land or building land, disturbing private owners and everybody else.

We read that this latest proposal for the East-West pipeline is going to use, for a good part of its length, the main Northern Outfall Sewer and the Regent' s Canal, and go through the Islington Tunnel, along to Paddington and the Grand Union Canal. That means that no fresh wayleaves will be required, and in many oases the pipe can be laid quite simply and very cheaply along towpaths, or even perhaps in the bed of a canal. Where there is a railway line serving more or less the route of the pipe, the ground at the side of the tracks could be used for this purpose.

My Lords, I think those four principles are what we ought to aim at. The Government ought to have a pattern in their minds—a policy for a nationally integrated system. But I wonder whether they know as much as they ought to know about this. I wonder if the various Ministries (because although the noble Lord, Lord Mills, is replying, there are many Ministries involved in this matter) have been set on to thinking about these problems, or are they being taken by surprise? The fact that the Minister has said that the examination is only now under way makes one suspect that the Government were rather taken by surprise and that they were not ready with the full information they needed. What technical information have they got? Have they examined the problems of developing the system with trunk lines, feeder lines, common user, breaking gauge, the feasibility of laying different kinds of track where there are buildings in water, and so on? Have they made an economic study of where the traffic is going to move? Where does liquid traffic originate; and where does it want to go to, and in what quantities? Do we want a main pipeline up the centre of England or one serving all the ports, the industrial areas, or what? One hopes that the Government have had that problem in hand and have made a study of it.

Then have the Government studied the economics of the matter? Have they thought of what will happen if pipelines take away existing surface traffic? We do not know how much liquid is carried by road. We know that the British Transport Commission carry something like 10 million tons of bulk liquid every year. What will be the effect of removing freight on that 10 million tons, or part of it, from the revenues of the Transport Commission? To what extent do they think the construction of a system of pipelines will generate new revenue-producing traffic, and to whom will the revenue go? Surely, if it is a national pattern of pipelines, it should be under national control and should, in fact, be a national enterprise, not a private one.

My Lords, I have spoken a long time, but I hope that your Lordships will agree with me that this is a matter of enormous importance. The possibilities are almost incalculable. It is an entirely new system. We need a revolution in our ideas about shifting liquids and other substances, and we are looking for some sign that the Government also appreciate this fact.

5.56 p.m.


I will detain your Lordships for only one moment. I hope that you will not instruct the Committee to deal with this matter, because it seems to me that a Committee consisting of five noble Lords, specifically set up to examine a Private Bill, is not a full Committee to study public policy, as the noble Earl has enunciated this afternoon. The Committee is set up only to study this particular Bill. Of course, a great many pipelines are being constructed by Gas Boards these days under Parliamentary powers. They make a mess, but it is all properly reinstated. I think that that aspect is given adequate safeguards toy the Bill. I have served upstairs on many Select Committees, and I know that they do not much like being given directions of this kind. I agree that this is an important matter. But I should have thought it was a matter of general policy with which a Select Committee on a Private Bill were not capable of dealing. There are no objections to the Bill now, only some Amendments to be put in; and I should not have thought this was necessary.

5.59 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say a few words in support of my noble friend' s argument on these very important matters. There are, of course, two quite separate points involved. The one in which, in a sense, I am more interested, though in one way it is the less important, is the second one, namely, the problem of safeguarding the amenities. I think the Esso Company have, in fact, done a good deal to get into consultation with the amenity societies. On the whole, I think they have taken the advice given and that the situation is reasonably satisfactory. But it is important that our Committee should make certain that this is so. I wonder if the Lord Chairman could tell us whether it is possible for the Committee to send for officers of the Commons Society or of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, or of other organisations which specialise in these problems, to make sure that they are satisfied that every-thing has been done which ought to be done.

I am sure that my noble friend Lord Lucan is right. We are at the beginning of a vast extension of this sort of thing. At the time the railway capitalists were proliferating all over the place, if our ancestors had known what was going to happen, as we know now, 100 years later, I am sure they would have been alive to the need for inventing a protective method to prevent many of the eyesores and monstrosities which followed from the unremitting laissez faire methods of those days.

I realise the truth of what the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, said: that it is difficult to saddle a major policy problem of this kind on a Select Committee. But obviously it is a matter which should be looked at carefully by a strong Committee of some kind. I hope that some member of the Government will be able to assure us that the Government have this matter very much in mind and that in due course—I hope a very quick due course—they will appoint some sort of Commission to examine the whole problem and lay down lines of policy. In a most admirably constructive part of his speech, the noble Earl himself indicated the principles which might well be taken into account, and I hope that the Government will be able to assure us that they are doing something on those lines to safeguard the situation.

6.4 p.m.


My Lords, I have a certain amount of sympathy with the second part of the proposed instructions to the Committee—namely, to assure themselves that no permanent damage will be done to the amenities of common land and areas of unspoilt natural beauty. These are important words, and I would stress the word "permanent". Perhaps my sympathy is due to the fact that I come from Devon, where there is many a mile of unspoiled moorland.

There are one or two clauses of the Bill to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention. Clause 15, which grants the company power to construct certain works, goes on to say, in subsection (4): The Company shall lay the pipeline where it crosses any street at such a depth that the pipeline will have a minimum cover of four feet. So far as I can see, it is nowhere mentioned in the Bill that the pipeline must be underground all the time. I can understand its being underground under streets in towns, and the noble Lord, Lord Derwent (who, I am sorry to see, is not in his place) said that it would be underground; but I can see no mention of this in the Bill. I trust that, for the sake of amenity, the pipeline will be always underground.

Clause 20 grants the company power to construct additional lines of pipes "as and when occasion may require." It seems to me that here is another opportunity where the land can be disturbed and the amenities spoiled. Farther on, in Clause 22, the company is authorised to replace and relay the works authorised by Clause 15. I perfectly well realise that this is necessary in the case of damage, but here is another case where damage can be done to the amenities of the countryside. Then under Clause 26, the company may at all …times make trial borings …for the purpose of ascertaining the nature of the soil"— that is, within the limits of the definition for the pipeline. Again, these borings can cause some interference with our countryside, as I have seen around Paris and in South-Western France, where borings have been made while seeking for oil. I sincerely hope that the Company will very much bear in mind this question of preserving the amenities of our countryside.

Finally I would refer your Lordships to Clause 34, which says that The Company shall provide and maintain markers in streets at such places as may be prescribed by the highway authority and in other appropriate places indicating where the pipeline has been constructed or placed. I understand perfectly well that that is an important provision, if you are constructing an underground pipeline; but there seems to be no reference to the need for these markers to be as unobtrusive as possible. This is important and perhaps something in this respect could be inserted in the Bill. My Lords, I do not in any way oppose this Bill, but I can but regret that this pipeline should have to come about. It may be a question of the lower cost of sending these liquids by pipeline, and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Mills, who is to reply, may be able to give some comparative costs with regard to transport by pipeline and by railway. I have the question of transport by railway particularly in mind because I think that it is regrettable, when British Railways are carrying less and less minerals in rail tankers, that these liquids should have to go by pipeline and not by rail.

6.9 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to intervene only because the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, asked me a question. As I understand it, the question was whether a Select Committee on Private Bills has the power to' send for witnesses from outside and to hear them. The answer is in the negative. They cannot do that. If I may say so, it is for that reason, among others, that I suggest, as was more than hinted by the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, that a Select Committee on a Private Bill, which is limited in number and in other ways, is not really an appropriate body to deal with such a wide subject as has been adumbrated by the noble Earl. Lord Lucan, this afternoon. But it is for the House to decide. I thought it would help if I answered the question which was put to me.

I would just add this. The Select Committee will have as their primary function the duty of satisfying themselves that the promoters have proved the preamble to the Bill, as of course is the case with all Private Bills. That always has to be proved before some Committee or another; and so it will be in this case. I should like particularly to draw attention to paragraphs 4 and 6 of the preamble to this Bill. Those two paragraphs will, among others, have to be proved sufficiently to the satisfaction of the Select Committee. That is the main task which the promoters will face.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, may I be permitted to say what an interesting and helpful speech we have had from the noble Earl, Lord Lucan? I can say straight away that the question of the national interest, which, of course, would include effects on the railways, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, will certainly be in the forefront of the mind of my right honourable friend the Minister of Power in looking at this problem. In the discussion on the Second Reading in another place the Minister of Power expressed the view that it would be in the national interest if the present Bill went forward. But he added that the Government were undertaking an examination of the general problem of pipeline development in the United Kingdom, and he said that he would make a further statement to the House when this examination was completed.

I can inform your Lordships that this examination is taking place in conjunction with all Government Departments that ought to be consulted. Information has been collected about the plans of the oil companies and others for laying pipelines in the future. It may interest your Lordships to know that beyond the present Esso Bill there is no immediate project in sight sponsored by an oil company or a chemical manufacturer. The noble Earl referred to a proposal which we have seen in the Press, but in view of the general feeling in Parliament that Private Bills are probably not the best method to use, the Government could not support this project, at any rate at the present stage, while these problems are being examined by the Minister.

The noble Earl mentioned four important points, and I will see that they are brought to the attention of my right honourable friend the Minister. But so far as his inquiry is concerned, your Lordsihips may like to know the position. Views have been sought from outside bodies, including the National Farmers' Union, various associations of property owners and landowners, the local authority associations, the oil industry, as a body, and the Association of British Chemical Manufacturers. The bodies selected have generally regarded the problem as sufficiently important to require very careful consideration with their members, and many of the replies have only recently ' been received. The problems of policy, law and procedure are difficult, and the advice proffered by outside interests, as will be understood, is often divergent. The Minister, as I have said, is considering all these problems, in consultation with his colleagues, and in particular is giving serious consideration to the proposals for introducing new legislation. The Minister in another place said that he would report to Parliament as soon as he was in a position to do so. I hope that, in these circumstances, your Lordships may not wish the Select Committee to duplicate this work and that the first part of the noble Earl' s Motion may be withdrawn.

The second part of the Motion deals with the important question of amenities. This particular pipeline which the Bill is about will be laid underground and will do little, if any, harm to amenities. As the noble Earl pointed out, the line crosses the New Forest, for example; but its routing has been changed in full agreement with the Verderers of the New Forest and the Forestry Commission. For the rest, the Bill has been discussed by the company with all the local planning authorities along the route, and I understand that they are all content. That is presumably why none of them is petitioning at this stage. So I suggest to your Lordships that the amenity question has, in fact, been fully looked after.

I suggest that it would not be right, in principle, to ask the Select Committee to undertake a task which falls properly to the local planning authorities and which seems already to have been well done. In short, while sympathising with the object of the Motion, I hope it will not be pressed; and I think the noble Earl can rest assured that his object has been attained toy other means. It is desirable that this project, which is of urgent national importance, should go forward with as little delay as possible, and again I hope the noble Earl will withdraw his Motion. I do not think it is quite the time—and I should certainly want further notice—to go into the problems that have been raised about the cost. I agree ' with the noble Earl that the phrase "it is more economical" is a very loose one. But these things have to be worked out, and people who are going to sink their capital in large projects of this kind, costing a great deal of money, have to be reasonably sure that they will benefit by them. It is for the Government to look after the national interest.

6.19 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his friendly speech. I am reassured to some extent. When the examination referred to by the Minister of Power is complete, I hope it will be widely publicised. I hope we shall know then what Her Majesty' s Government really have in mind for the future, because I am quite sure, as the noble Lord said in his closing words, that the Government' s job is to safeguard the national interest. That, I hope, will be written in letters of fire—




—above every Minister' s desk. It was never my intention to hold back or obstruct the Bill, and there is sound sense in what several noble Lords have said: that a Select Committee of your Lordships in a room upstairs is not really the body to which to confide a rather large matter such as I have raised. With that, I ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill committed to a Select Committee.

House adjourned at twenty-one minutes past six o' clock.