HL Deb 14 March 1968 vol 290 cc362-73

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, in moving the Third Reading of this Bill, I do not propose in any way to make another Second Reading speech, but I should like once again to remind your Lordships that this Bill has passed through all its stages in another place and that the Special Report of the Select Committee on this Bill is lying on the Table.

I will take your Lordships' mind back to February, 1966, when there was an exhaustive public inquiry held by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, which approved the application of the promoters for this work. In the first paragraph of the Select Committee's Report it is stated: The Committee have met and considered the Bill and have heard Counsel for the Promoters and have examined certain witnesses and consider that the Bill should be allowed to proceed. I would add that no Petitions were presented against the Bill. On July 20 last, your Lordships passed an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill in the following terms: That it be an Instruction to the Committee to which the Bill is referred to consider how far the works proposed to be authorised by the Bill, or other provisions of the Bill, go beyond what is necessary to provide a harbour for pleasure craft and whether they are desirable or not having particular regard to the unique character of Brighton and its environs. Clause 40 of the Bill confers powers to develop certain works and areas on the foreshore, and the Committee state, in paragraph 3 on page 3 of the Report: While considering them in general in the context of the Bill, the Committee had in mind the terms of the Instruction they received from the House. The Committee"— that is, the Select Committee— are convinced by the financial evidence they have heard that the construction of such a Marina as is proposed would not be feasible without the additional income expected to accrue from the development of the foreshore as set out in the Bill. In the words of the Committee's Report, they are convinced that Brighton would be highly suitable as a site for a Marina. It is an established centre; it is within easy reach of London by road and rail; it would draw its clientele from a large and populous catchment area, which includes South London, Sussex and the greater part of Surrey. It is moreover geographically a convenient mooring for those wishing to cross the Channel or sailing along the coast from the Solent. My Lords, I shall certainly listen carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, has to say in his opposition to the Bill. However, I would remind your Lordships that on March 6 the noble Lord, in a Question to Her Majesty's Government, asked: when they propose to introduce legislation to safeguard measures approved by the House of Commons from frustration by delay or defeat in the House of Lords. I need hardly go further. On the Motion which is now before your Lordships' House, he is endeavouring to hold up the Bill on Third Reading. Apart from his change of view, I would say that at this stage to oppose the Bill is almost an insult to the Select Committee, which was a very strong one and has taken a great deal of trouble over it, as can be seen by reading the evidence, and which produced a conclusive Report. I would add that I have received telegrams supporting the Bill from the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce and from the Junior Branch, and also the Brighton and Hove Hotels' Association and the Brighton Fishermen's Protection Society. I commend this Bill to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Teynham.)

3.29 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Motion for the Third Reading, to leave out "now" and insert "this day six months". My Lords, this is the "last ditch"—a subject upon which your Lordships are no doubt authorities. It is also the first ditch, because this is the first time the House has had any opportunity of considering this Bill in principle. I am going to say a word or two, kindly I hope, about the Committee, but first I should like to disillusion those of your Lordships who think that we have had any previous opportunity to consider this Bill. I would not for a moment grudge Lord Teynham his excellent joke, but he knows quite well that the words of the Question to which he referred and which were taken from an Election Manifesto, had no reference to Private Bills; and when this particular Bill was before the House on the last occasion I said quite clearly that I had always been in favour of both Houses having their say on Private Bills. I think that works. I looked to see, because I had served on two Joint Committees of the Lords and Commons on this matter, whether I had always held the same opinion, and I found that I had. Of course the noble Lord's remark is a good joke, but it is no more.

I turn from that to remind your Lordships of what the principles are in this sort of case. This is an unopposed Bill which went before a Select Committee with an Instruction and on which the Select Committee only heard one side of the case. They heard only counsel for the Promoters and such evidence as the Promoters thought fit to adduce, with one exception—or, rather, two—which I will mention in a minute. In 1955, on July 14, at column 780 of your Lordships' Hansard a similar case arose on an opposed Bill which had indeed had a very full discussion on both sides in the Committee. A noble Member of this House put it this way, and I should like to adopt his words: May I humbly suggest that it is the duty of this House carefully to scrutinise every Private Bill when it reaches the Floor of the House and amend it …"— this was after the Committee hearing— … if there is reason to believe that a serious mistake has been made; and I maintain that, in this particular case, a mistake has been made. I beg to press the Amendment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14/7/55, col. 780.] The noble Member in question was Lord Teynham, and I agree with what was said on that occasion: I think he was perfectly right. I quite agree one has to say that there has been a serious—I do not say necessarily mistake, but a serious question before the Committee.


My Lords, it may be true that I have considered moving an Amendment on Third Reading, but I certainly never moved on Third Reading an Amendment that a Bill "be read this day six months." That is a very different proposition.


It is a quite different question, with respect to the noble Lord. The question I am considering is this: Are we debarred from discussing and voting on this Bill by the fact that it has been sent to a Select Committee, who heard only on side of it—that is all they could hear—and when, as I maintain, it raises some serious questions of public policy? And I say, with Lord Teynham of 1955, contrary to Lord Teynham of 1968, that we are bound to do it and should do it.

There was no opposition to the Bill on Second Reading. There was a reference to the Committee, and a Division about an Instruction, and I think I am entitled to say that, if this is the "last ditch" it is also, for that reason, the first. As to the progress of the matter in the Commons, I make no comment because I do not think it is right, on the whole, to make comments about proceedings in another place. I am not altogether happy about it, as your Lordships may conclude, but I do not think it ought to weigh one way or the other. I think that on a Private Bill which raises important questions the Promoters and the other people concerned are entitled to the opinion and the decision of both Houses; and I have always said so.

Your Lordships will gather that I think there are serious questions involved, and I classify them as three. The first one is the financial side, with which I propose to deal. I do not expect that everyone sitting here to-day has read through, as I have, three volumes of the evidence before the Committee; that is much too much to hope for. I will be fair, and I promise your Lordships that I will try to put the points I have to put fully, fairly and frankly, and I can do no more than that. Besides the question of finance, which is in the circumference of this Bill a very vital one, there are two other aspects about which I propose to say very little, if anything, though they matter a very great deal. One is the question of amenity; and it will not have escaped your Lordships' notice that that very prominent planner, perhaps the leading planner of the country, Lord Holford, who is a resident of Brighton, has changed his mind about this scheme during the course of the proceedings and is now in favour of rejecting the Bill.

The third question is, also, I think, a very serious one, but it is one that was not of course before the Committee; that is, whether, at this time and in the general economic position of the country (I say this without imputing blame to anyone about it), it is right that so much of the national resources should be deployed in this particular venture in Brighton when they might well be required and used to better national purpose in some other part of the country, and possibly for a scheme of a different kind. I want to be quite clear about this: I have never opposed a yacht marina; and I do not oppose it now. I have questions to raise about it, but not of a type of general opposition.

I turn to the financial aspect of the matter. The Select Committee read their Instruction, in my opinion quite rightly, as at least including this question. The Marina itself and the necessary buildings around it would cost so much. They would yield a return of so much. The inspector of the Ministry had found that that would not be a viable proposition—or at any rate he got very near to it—and the Committee were therefore called upon to consider whether they agreed with that. The alternative put before them, if they did not agree with that, was that they could agree with the larger scheme put forward in the Bill. Logically and sensibly there ought to have been two questions. Both of them, I would say, were included in the Instruction to the Committee. The first question was this: was as the smaller proposition viable? I am going to admit in a moment that it certainly was not. The second was: Was the larger proposition viable? If neither proposition was viable, then the Bill ought to have been rejected; and what I am going to suggest to your Lordships, on the financial side, is that the larger scheme is not viable.

I want to be quite clear what we are talking about. There is a model outside your Lordships' Chamber—I expect that a great many of you have seen it—and it shows a variety of buildings between the cliff and the sea. Those buildings are of two kinds. First of all there are the works specified in the Bill itself, and secondly the works which were mentioned in the planning permission and which are brought into the scope of the project, not by being specified in it but under Clause 40, which is an extremely sweeping clause giving the Promoters power to do a very great deal. I think I had better read the clause to your Lordships—it will not take a moment. The clause runs as follows: Subject to the provisions of this Act the Company may lay out and develop any lands to which this section applies"— and there is a later subsection applying really to the whole scheme— … by the erection thereon of buildings and other structures and works, including without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, car parks (either over or underground), filling stations, hotels, restaurants, club premises, offices, theatres, cinemas, casinos, dance halls, ice rinks, playgrounds, boatyards, bowling alleys, shops, houses, flats"— and so on. Nothing could be more sweeping than that.


My Lords, would the noble Lord—


My Lords, I think I am probably going to say what the noble Lord wants me to say.


My Lords, would the noble read the next proviso?


Certainly. I was going to say this, if the noble Lord would allow me to put it in my own words. The only limit in Clause 40 is the need for planning permission. Clause 40 itself is quite wide enough to cover all sorts of things.

Let us be clear about planning permission. It is no more than planning permission, and it does not take into account broad national economic considerations. That, at any rate, is how I understand it, and I am sure my noble friend will correct me if I am wrong. It is a much more limited thing than the permission that is given by this Bill. Planning permission can be given for one thing and, if that permission fails, or for one reason or another does not operate, it can be given for another thing afterwards. Whatever may be said at the time, if this project were to get half completed and pressures were put on the Ministry, whatever the Government of the day, to allow this much or that much more, it might be exceedingly difficult to resist. I think your Lordships will see the probability and the force of that. That is the language of that part of the Bill.

Let me now turn to the financial questions, which, if I may suggest it, are really quite simple. One dislikes having to quote figures, but they are fairly clear, I think. I will give only round figures. To produce the works that are in the Bill, or covered under Clause 40 and by planning permission, would cost £13½ million. It would cost almost exactly half of that to produce the Marina itself and the works around the Marina which are really necessary for its proper operation. Those are the two capital figures. The small scheme would yield a return of between 5 and 7 per cent. That was the evidence. I concede at once that there is no doubt whatever that that would not be a viable proposition. The larger scheme would, so the evidence went, produce a yield of, at the most, about 10 per cent. The question I put to your Lordships is: Is that a viable proposition? I have the answer from the evidence before the Committee. The Committee were quite clearly told by the principal witness, a director of the promoting company, that 10 per cent. was not even "a starting figure", as he put it.

The 10 per cent. had been arrived at on the evidence of the so-called independent expert, who was in fact an expert of high standing and who for some time had been retained by the promoting company. He said that if the buildings that were put up in this place were let, not at a ground rent but at full market value, it would produce a return of 10 per cent., on the footing that the highest likely charge was made for the yachts in the Marina. When he was asked about this (I think I should prefer to quote his evidence, which is quite short), he said that 10 per cent. was no use. He was then asked by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morton of Henryton, who certainly smelt a rat, even if he did not follow the animal quite into the depths of its lair afterwards, what he would require if he was to go on with the scheme.

The answer is to be found at page 18 of volume 2 of the evidence, which I will read to your Lordships. The Report is as follows: LORD MORTON OF HENRYTON: You have no doubt heard or seen the figures which have come from the last two witnesses?"— they were the two independent experts mentioned in the Committee's Report— A. Yes. 2. They are based on letting everything. A. Yes. 3. Is it in the least likely that your firm could be satisfied with simply letting everything and nothing more? A. We would not be. 4. You have indicated to some extent the sort of lines on which you might proceed? A. One thing we must do is to go further into these figures and into the details of the general planning of the whole of the backland development area. When we came into the picture the cost given then was based on development designed or planned in 1965. This is basically out of date at the moment"— He refers again to the 10 per cent. as insufficient. Then he is asked by Lord Morton of Henryton: 6. I suppose it would be unfair to ask you what sort of return you would anticipate? A. I am quite prepared to tell you. We would look for at least 15 per cent. My Lords, these are large differences and they raise questions which I think merit consideration. The 15 per cent. would amount to about £2 million, and that is an addition to be made to whatever figure is attributable to shops and dwellings in a total of £850,000 for the buildings. There is therefore going to be a very large increase indeed, even if the further investigation does not show that there has been a further increase since 1965.

What it comes to in plain English is this. This witness, Mr. Martens, who was the principal witness (and may I say at once that he was an absolutely honest witness) was quite clear that he had not made up his mind to go on with the scheme; that it needed further investigation, and that he required a return larger than has ever been mentioned before your Lordships or in another place. This is the first time that that particular cat has come out of the bag. The rat may have had something to do with it; but let us not dwell on that. Various questions arise. If this Bill goes through the promoting company will have six years in which to make up their minds whether or not to go on. Then they will no doubt begin on the Marina.

Some of your Lordships may feel that Brighton will get the Marina anyhow. I do not agree, for two reasons. First of all, these are highly intelligent and experienced businessmen. I do not ask your Lordships to accept that they will go on and build the Marina, which is the unprofitable side of the project from their point of view, until they know whether it is worth while going on with the profitable part, which is the buildings all about the foreshore. I do not mean merely the necessary buildings; I mean the whole shooting match of buildings. Therefore, if they are going to jib, the point at which they will jib first will be at or before the end of those six years. Of course they can wait, and during that time you will have what I suppose is the rough equivalent of a kind of planning blight on the area: nobody will know whether or not they are going on. There is nothing in the Bill that obliges them to go on, and one does not expect to find it there. They may then start on the Marina and complete it. They then may find—and this is again possible—that they have made a mistake and that the building of the further shops and dwellings would not be worth while. What would be the result? Brighton would get its Marina, but it would get an unprofitable Marina. The whole object of this Bill is to put up on the foreshore works and buildings which, in effect, will subsidise the Marina and pay part of the charges which would otherwise be paid by yacht owners. I do not necessarily object to that, but I do not see why Brighton wants to be saddled with such an unprofitable object as the Marina by itself, and I cannot imagine that it does.

We are being asked to-day to accept what I would call a half-baked scheme while the promoters look into it to see if it is all right, and to accept it in the knowledge that there are very heavy odds against it. I mentioned the shops and dwellings because the promoters in their evidence explained that they did not know about casinos, hotels, restaurants, and so on—perhaps not even about an oceanarium about which we heard on a previous occasion. They would all be let and their only interest would be in shops and dwellings. The fact is that the additional £1 million or more has to be found from the shops and dwellings. I have not had an opportunity to find out what is the housing situation in Brighton, but your Lordships will appreciate that there are people living in Brighton who will not be able to afford the astronomical rents which will be charged in this development. And they will be astronomical rents, since the perfectly honest witness whom I mentioned said quite clearly that if it was worth doing at all it was worth doing on a big and expensive scale. I agree with him.

This has a bearing on the other point which I mentioned. One wonders whether it is right, in view of the circumstances which face this country at present, to authorise the spending of so much money in the prosperous South-East and in a prosperous town such as Brighton. I am well aware that one cannot take all the workmen and materials from this end of the country and move them to another area, but I know that it is sound economics that if one spends £13 million of public or private money on the South-East coast, then one makes a deployment of the natural resources which hinders one in doing the same sort of thing—or indeed anything—costing the same sort of amount in other parts of the country. That is the real question which lies behind this matter. I know that it is very difficult to persuade people that a complicated proposition like this is right. If you have anybody among you for a time, you get to know the kind of person he is, and perhaps your Lordships will trust me when I say that I have not the least doubt in my own mind that this is a half-baked scheme—not that it necessarily will fail, but that the risks of failure are so large that at this stage it ought not to be authorised.

I wish to say a word or two about the Committee. I am sorry for the Committee. They were given an impossible task to carry out. One knows from experience in these matters that if you hear the evidence of one side who are represented by counsel and you have nobody to cross-examine—if, for example, you are sitting as an arbitrator or in this case as a Committee and have to shift from trying to put the points which were not put by counsel to the position of trying to act in a semi-judicial capacity in considering the whole matter—you have your work cut out. I do not think that the Committee could have done it. I think they did their very best, and I admire them for it. They tried desperately hard to be fair all the time. I think that in the circumstances they did all that a collection of highly intelligent human beings could have done. The position in which they found themselves was not their fault; it was the fault of the circumstances of the case, and in my opinion it was due to a defect in the procedure of the House. I will not go into that matter, but I would say to your Lordships that it would be singularly unfair—not to any individual, but to the national interest—if your Lordships were to accept the conclusions reached within those limits and on that sort of evidence and not to take into account the broader points which I have been putting before your Lordships to-day.

I will say nothing about amenity. I know that many noble Lords feel very strongly about this matter, and I will leave them to deal with it. I have taken up enough of your Lordships' time. I conclude by saying that at the bottom of all these considerations is not just the question of authorising a half-baked scheme which in a few years' time may leave Brighton and the citizens of Brighton in a lot of trouble, but the question of deciding as a responsible Chamber that we ought not to give special powers—since that is what a Private Bill does—for this expenditure of money at the moment. I do not hold it against the Promoters that they are a subsidiary of a company which has 210 subsidiaries, one of which has an unspecified number of additional subsidiaries, but it must be inherent in this kind of business to start on projects which, perhaps at an early stage or perhaps later on, you find will not work and which perhaps you even doubt yourselves. This is all part of the game, and nobody in this mixed society in which we live would object to it. I certainly should not object. But when you are asked to involve not only the national consideration which I have mentioned, but a large town and the amenities of the South-East coast, then you are gambling, not with your own profits and money out of your own pocket, but with the national right. It ought not to be allowed.

I have done my best to be fairly concise. I hope that I have not been a crashing bore. I have tried not to be nasty to anybody, for there is no reason to be nasty. I repeat what I said about the Committee. I see the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, sitting opposite and I know that he will jump on me if he wants to; but he will not persuade me to jump on him. I say the same about the witnesses. I have no quarrel with the very limited evidence—limited because the valuers were not asked anything about what amount could be made by operating the shops and houses—which was given quite honestly and by men of experience. I am not sure that the Committee finally answered the whole question which had been remitted to them, but it was in a general form. They answered it in the way it must have appeared to them at the time, until they heard this evidence from Mr. Martens. The cat was out of the bag, and it was back again pretty quickly. I hope that in coming to a decision to-day your Lordships will bear in mind the antics of the animal. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Leave out ("now") and insert ("this day six months").—(Lord Mitchison.)

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