HL Deb 15 April 1970 vol 309 cc524-45

6.42 p.m.

THE EARL OF LAUDERDALE rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will take urgent steps to implement the National Ports Council's MIDAS proposal which has already been under study for nearly three and a half years. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. The critical word in the Question is "urgent", which is made even more apposite to-day after Mr. Crosland's statement in another place foreshadowing a further two to two and a half years' delay on top of the three and a half years already spent in advancing the MIDAS proposal. The bulk carrier is doing for seaborne trade what the airliner has done for travel. Our geography is being reshaped by ships' scale, and we face a dimensional explosion. Two-thirds of the world's sea-borne trade is now in bulk ships. It has grown by some 77 per cent. in seven years. There are more than 60 ships afloat to-day above 200,000 tons, as against 17 a year ago. More than half of the building now being done is in this class. There are some 7 tankers now on order above 300,000 tons; a provisional order has been placed for one of 400,000 tons, and there are responsible experts who foresee the scale rising to somewhere between 450,000 and 500,000 tons around 1975.

These immense ships carry bigger cargoes faster, further and more cheaply. And versatility comes with size even to the extent, for example, that bulk carriers are now able economically to bring coal from the United States to the Ruhr, and return with shiploads of Volkswagen. But they need deep water terminals, which means very deep water. This is some-thing which Britain has, but which the Channel and North Sea ports of Western Europe can only obtain by dredging an ever-shifting, and still not fully comprehended, sea ocean bed. This means that we in these Islands have, given us by nature, a capability to disembark raw materials, whether for our own use or for that of our neighbours, more cheaply than our neighbours and in a fashion that offers us critical cost advantages in inter-national trade.

The McKinsey Consultant Organisation, in their study a few years ago on containers, said that the cuts in transportation costs now possible through modern technology could save Britain "many millions of pounds per annum". The same consultants went on to say: The chance of enjoying such savings could induce international firms to concentrate their manufacture here in order to exploit these available economies of scale.

In other words, our Island, athwart the delta of the Rhine, could indeed be the very best bridgehead for the whole Eurasian archipelago. But the crux is deep water, flat land beside it, good transport links and labour availability for industrial development alongside. And when we are talking about deep-water sites, we are talking at this moment of 10 to 20 fathoms. But who knows what we shall be requiring in perhaps ten years' time?

This is the maritime industrial development area idea which, in shorthand, is known as MIDAS, and which was brought to the Government by the National Ports Council in 1966. This is a problem which we have to look at in the context of our competition with Europe. Seaborne trade to these Islands is around 250 mil- lion tons a year, of which about 175 million tons are oil. That compares with a volume of about 320 million to 350 million tons a year of bulk cargoes going to the North Sea and Channel ports. This is happening although those Channel and North Sea ports are growing relatively shallower each day. None the less, our port traffic by volume has risen by only 11 per cent. in the last five years, as against 33 per cent. for those of Western Europe. Benelux, with one-third of the working manpower that we in these Islands have, already exports by value more than the whole of Great Britain. One-sixth of our grain already reaches these Islands from Rotterdam. The first imports of Australian iron ore for Scotland are to come the same way.

On this form Britain could simply end up at the end of feeder services from Europe. Little wonder: for they were vigilant while we took our rest. Hamburg, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Dunkirk, Le Havre, set out to win the big ship cargoes. That is how some 85,000 land acres of industrial estate have been prepared beside these harbours for processing sites be-side the deep water, to serve a hinterland of about 150 million people between the Baltic and the Alps. That figure itself suggests that these Islands of ours could very well support somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 land acres of MIDAS.

The urgency of its provision is borne out nowhere so eloquently as in the evidence submitted by the Thames Estuary Development Company to the Roskill Commission only a week or two ago. I take leave to quote one passage from that evidence: Unless there is a similar type of development within the United Kingdom on a scale comparable to that of Rotterdam, there is a danger that the concentration of traffic will be increasingly directed towards those Continental ports, with the result that United Kingdom traffic might increasingly take the form of trans-shipments from the Continent, leading to a cost disadvantage to British importers and exporters. There is also a danger that industry, which would otherwise come to the United Kingdom, would tend to move to those ports.

Those words come from the very brilliant chief of planning of the Port of London Authorily, Mr. N. N. Ordman, in the course of the Thames Estuary Development Company's submission to the Roskill Commission, and his words carry great expert weight.

The MIDAS idea is really an economic catalyst as we move from a paleotechnic steam, iron, coal age into a high-energy society of oil and chemicals. Oil companies are for ever seeking deep-water sites for refining white spirits, middle distillates and heavy fuels, and their ad-vent to coastal sites invites the construction nearby of coastal oil-fuelled power stations which, subject to the pricing mechanism of their operations on a national scale, would enable them to provide power more cheaply and, in so far as they are coastal sites and therefore able to take cooling water from the sea, to dispense with the ugly cooling towers. This is a factor which I have no doubt will appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, with his known interest in environmental problems which we know and respect so deeply.

The petrochemicals industry in Europe has been growing at the rate of 15 per cent. a year for a decade, but in Britain, although it is also growing at twice the current industrial rate, its growth is for ever falling shorter and shorter of that in Europe and elsewhere. The National Economic Development Council's "little Neddy" on the chemicals industry has drawn particular attention in recent weeks to the handicap under which the British petrochemicals industry suffers—namely, the burden of power costs—and thereby to the situation which coastal power stations, fuelled by oil brought by the biggest carriers to the cheapest sites, could alleviate. It is a matter of interest, too, that Benelux, at this moment, has no fewer than 88 chemical plants under construction, at a total capital cost of the order of £450 million.

There is the context of the problem, and now comes the tale of delay because, as I said a moment ago, the bulk carrier is doing for seaborne trade what the air-liner has done for travel. Opting out of the air age would be unthinkable; and to skimp or to go to sleep on MIDAS would be every bit as bad. To do so would be to liken our port provision to that of a bus stop on the route to Piccadilly. The Government have been coy, when accurate—and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will not mind my drawing attention to one or two little slips. The noble Lord told this House on February 24 that the National Ports Council first raised the whole matter with the Government in April, 1967; but if he will turn to the Ports Council's Annual Report of 1966, paragraphs 54 and 55, he will see that in fact the matter was raised the previous year. A full year later—that is, in November, 1967—the consultants, Halcrows, were commissioned to pick physically feasible sites, but otherwise so little happened within that first year that by the end of 1967, when the National Ports Council were drafting their annual report for that year, they drafted the warning, in paragraph 23: Time is not on our side: planning must proceed apace.

Another six months passed, and in April, 1968, Halcrows, we now learn, reported. Apparently their report (and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Kennet will be kind enough to enlarge on this matter when he comes to reply) went to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, if one of his Written Answers to one of my Questions is apprehended aright. May I ask the noble Lord, in passing: does a senior official of the Ministry of Transport still preside over the interdepartmental working group that handles these matters and reports to his Ministry, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government? What Departments and bodies are represented on that working group? Dodging a question like that, as was done recently, by saying that it is not customary to give information in the detail for which one has been asking, only has the effect, if I may put it to the noble Lord in the nicest possible way, of increasing doubts and queries from outside.

The question has been raised whether the Halcrow consultants were ever seen face to face by this interdepartmental working group. When one asked the question, the answer was that such information is not customarily made available. Did the working group see Halcrow or did they not? If they did, when? The word is widely around that Halcrows have never even been inter-viewed and cross-questioned and cross-examined by the working group; and failing a firm, clear statement one way or the other it is natural for people to put the less favourable interpretation on the situation.


My Lords, Why?


My Lords, the noble Lord has asked why, and I readily give way because there has been some mystery about Halcrow. The very fact that it is said that Halcrows have not even met the working group rather suggests to some minds that the working group itself has not been, throughout its life, quite as active or zestful as it should be. That leads me to another point; one wonders whether the working group, so far as we know of it, is quite a strong enough body, or a sufficiently high-level body, for the purpose in question. My mind goes back to Chiefs of Staff Committees during the war, and I wonder whether something on a much higher level would not in fact serve the purpose better.

However, whether that is so or not, some two years after the matter had been brought up by the National Ports Council we had the same Council's Progress Report made available last April, which showed the Council driven to exasperation. Its very title page carried a note of urgency, carefully indented so as to catch the reader's eye, over the signature of Sir Arthur Kirby, who wrote: This is a planning task in which the N.P.C. are anxious to play a full part. —suggesting that they were not, at that stage, being allowed to do so. Of course other pages in the Progress Report make it clear that the decision on the aluminium smelter sites was taken without at any rate much consultation with the Board's Council, as if the MIDAS idea had never been mentioned.

This, however, did not inhibit Her Majesty's Government, who were quite bland about it. Two and a half years after the start, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, told my noble friend Lord Jellicoe in this House, on April 30 last: I do not think the noble Earl should read into the words of the National Ports Council any criticism."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30/4/1969; col. 926.] At about the same time I had a letter from Mr. Shore saying that I was "pitching it a bit strong" when I talked of " delays ".

But at any rate delay, one thought and hoped, had come to an end when on July 17 last year there was news at last, and Mr. Shore told Parliament that the Halcrow study "has" established physically feasible sites, and the D.E.A. Press handout on the same day said, "Now" that Halcrow's "have" established suitable sites the way "is" open for further study. It suggested that the Halorow study had only just come in, instead of being at that moment some 15 months stale.

Then there was a further obscurity. We were told by Mr. Shore—that is, Mr. Shore the obscure—that the Government had "started a further series of studies" about the industrial implications and the economic costs and benefits of such pro-jects—in the plural—which made local authorities think that already a comparative study was going on; the more so as Mr. Marsh the previous November had already written a letter grading the 10 sites, other than the Clyde, that were later listed: grading Medway, North Humberside and South Wales as Grade A; Weston-super-Mare, the Upper Forth, Invergordon and Lune as Grade B; and the Wash, Tay and Tees as Grade C, without, it must be said, giving any indication quite why they were so graded.

Here, again, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will forgive me if I draw his attention to a slip in an answer of his to a supplementary of mine on March 26, when he said that the sites studied were those that had been listed. It is widely known that Swansea was studied, and also Stornoway, but they were not listed. Was Foulness and Maplin Sands considered by Halcrow, or St. David's Bay and the possible reclamation of the Goodwin Sands, or Fort William, or Annat Bay, or Loch Hourn? And if they were not considered, why were they not considered? No doubt the noble Lord will be able to help us on those points.

Anyhow, there came a happening at last. For after Mr. Shore's promise of a series of studies we received a happening after all the long trail of non-events, in the fact that more than two years from the start, and more than a year after the Halcrow report, a commission was given to Professor Peston to under-take a feasibility study of a cost benefit analysis. My first comment on that commission is that it seems to suggest that reason can come only out of the barrel of a computer. Surely what we need in this matter is not more complicated and more erudite and more recondite studies of cost benefit, useful at points as those may be, but a simplicity of approach to problems of acknowledged priority. I must say here that there is just a sense in Mr. Crosland's Statement to the other House on Monday that at least some priority is being given to the matter at last.

The Peston Report has, at any rate, made its appearance, but it seems to ignore our exceptional British geographic advantages, with the natural deep water that we have and the consequential potential in international trade that we may expect from it. Speaking for myself, after a rapid reading, because it is not easy stuff to digest, I do not consider that paragraph 62 quite makes the case for spending, as we now learn, another two to two and a half years on these further studies. I would suggest to the Government that the matter might be hurried up, perhaps in a different way.

If the Government were to list the criteria that are proper for a MIDAS, and were to invite estuarial or other authorities to bring consortia together, rather of the kind of TEDCO in the Thames Estuary, to bring up a scheme and pre-sent it to the Government, one would then have studies going on simultaneously, in perhaps half-a-dozen places in Britain, relating to the different situations which the Peston Report itself points out obtain in different parts of the country. Surely one would then be able to gather, in these estuarial consortia, help, advice and in-formation from private enterprise sources which might not be forthcoming to a Government inquiry.

In any event, a cost benefit analysis could not have forecast Rotterdam's de-velopment, if only because at the time Rotterdam's development was planned nobody had any idea that petrochemicals were going to grow the way they have. And quite recently a new development at Rotterdam of the order of £15 million sterling triggered off within six months an investment by private enterprise industry of no less than eight times that amount, which was not, and could not have been, predicted. The crux of a cost benefit analysis is less the conclusions than the premises, and every quantification, as Professor Peston himself makes quite clear, stands upon a value judgment of some kind. So if the Government are determined—and I sense from Mr. Crosland's Statement that they are still in some respect thinking it over—to go ahead with a cost benefit analysis, I plead that it should not be limited simply to the kind of discounted cash flow arithmetic which is implicit in Professor Peston's proposal, but should consider the indirect social and economic factors, perhaps following the methodology that has been associated with Professor Klaassen of the Netherlands Economic Institute.

The Peston Report also lays consider-able stress on the fact that you cannot do a cost benefit analysis simply in the abstract; it must be related to particular sites. If that is so, why can we not know the criteria on which the listed sites have been listed? There are quite extraordinary anomalies here, because it seems that both the Humberside and the Severnside Studies have had access to Halcrow, but the Tayside Study has not. It is certainly the case that the desk study of the Wash and the desk study of Morecambe Bay have not had access to Halcrow, let alone statutory bodies such as the local authorities which must be involved, if only from a planning point of view; and the Highlands and Islands Development Board which has asked more than once to be given a sight of the document. To assess the projected cost benefit analysis we shall need to know the premises, anyway, so why be so secretive about Halcrow, even if it was ignored for a long time? There is reference in Mr. Shore's Statement last summer, and also in the Peston Report, to "other studies". What are these? What is their purpose? Have they produced any result, and if not when are they expected to do so?

Time is foreshortening. Oil and petrochemicals companies that seek refinery sites are not in endless supply. We must intercept those which remain. Traffic patterns become established through time; this is particularly so of containers and the grain trade, and it may well be of ores. The British Steel Corporation's decisions on future terminals and green field sites and the like, mightily affected by the deep water position, are beginning slowly to take shape.

Finally, if we were to enter the Common Market without having our own MIDAS ready by that time, both British and foreign investments would tend to settle in Europe rather than here. And in Europe there is much to attract them: an £85 million scheme at Le Havre, a £40 million one at Hamburg and a £20 million one at Amsterdam. My Lords, I plead with the Government to modify, if they cannot altogether drop, their impossibly antiseptic detachment, and to make up their minds to get on with it. Sir Val Duncan a couple of years ago said—and I quote: The world is developing in compound interest terms of timing. My Lords, time marches on: beware lest it march past.

7.11 p.m.


My Lords, I should like quite briefly to support what the noble Earl has said about the need to examine, and to examine quickly, the economic advantages of a development of the kind which he has described. I should first declare a very special interest in this matter as Chairman of the Thames Estuary Development Company, to which the noble Earl referred. This company has already carried out—not completed, but carried out to a far-advanced stage— a study of a development of this kind.

When I saw the Question that the noble Earl had put down, I was a little surprised, coming from those Benches, that he had suggested that Her Majesty's Government should take urgent steps to implement proposals of this kind; but I can see that he was not perhaps thinking of physical implementation so much as getting things moving. I feel that we urgently want to know the Government's view about these proposals, because a project of this magnitude cannot possibly be undertaken without the blessing of Her Majesty's Government. Any such proposal must obviously be fitted into the overall picture of economic development. The Government have a special interest, of course, in regional planning; they have a final say, in many cases, in local planning; and, of course, under the Harbours Act any development of this kind would require the approval of the Minister of Transport.

When I read the reply given to a Written Question in another place on Monday, I was, and am still, a little mystified about what was meant. It is said that it is proposed to undertake a further "cost/benefit study of the MIDAS concept." But as the noble Earl has pointed out, and as is set out very clearly in Professor Peston's report, it would be meaningless to evaluate the concept in the abstract. It seems to me that the next step ought to be to examine specific proposals, whether they come from public authorities or from private enterprise, or from a combination of both, which is what in fact my own company is.

I am far from convinced, my Lords, that a cost/benefit analysis really gives a reliable answer, and if it is going to take from two to two and a half years to get the answer I just wonder whether it is worth waiting for. After all, the answer that comes out of one of these analyses must depend entirely on the assumptions which are made and which are then put into the analysis, and most of these can only be more or less well-informed guesses. The technique can, I submit, be used more effectively in com-paring alternative propositions, but even then the comparison is likely to be distorted if the assumptions which are made turn out to be incorrect. Let us by all means use these modern techniques to the extent that they are valuable, but we must not forget that eventually an enterprise of this kind involves a judgment.

There is a special reason why I am rather doubtful about the value of these very theoretical economic analyses in this case; that is, that the success of a venture of this kind will ultimately depend upon decisions to take advantage of the facilities provided by a very few large concerns. If this was something in which you had a large number of smaller or medium-sized concerns, then I would accept the fact that a theoretical analysis might lead to the right answer, because some firms would perhaps take their judgment one way and some the other. But when it depends upon decisions by a few very large firms, I believe that there is no way of assessing the economic prospects except by going to those large firms to try to find out whether they will in fact support the venture when it is undertaken.

As the noble Earl has said, time is most definitely not on our side in relation to the competition already being felt from the big European developments, and I would venture to say that to have a further theoretical analysis, spending two and a half years on it, is quite unacceptable. I much prefer the suggestion which the noble Earl has made, that in fact several studies should be undertaken by different organisations, by different people, in relation to separate sites. These can be undertaken simultaneously by the promoters; and thereafter a comparison of the results, particularly if the criteria have been laid down, as the noble Earl has suggested, would be a comparatively simple idea. I therefore hope that when the noble Lord comes to reply he will be able to give us some encouragement in this matter; to say that the Government are prepared to look quickly at this broad proposition and give some guidance to those who are interested in it as to whether they should spend more time on developing these ideas and putting them into practice as soon as possible.

7.18 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to thank my noble friend Lord Lauderdale for asking this Question this evening. He has drawn attention to a matter which is highly technical, which could be extremely expensive and which, obviously, to the average person is most obscure and not particularly interesting. Yet it is none the less very important for that reason. It is a particularly appropriate moment that my noble friend has chosen to raise this Question. Not only was the Peston Report published by the National Ports Council last week, but also, as we have heard, there was a Written Question in another place on Monday asking what the Government had in mind. Of course, the Written Answer was nothing more than very bare bones, and I very much hope that the noble Lord, when he comes to answer, will expand it and put a great deal of flesh on the bones.

My Lords, my particular interest in this matter stems from the fact that I was Chairman of the National Ports Council in 1966, when, in the Annual Report of that year, we first brought the subject to light. I propose to speak only very briefly, but it may be of interest to your Lordships to know how it arose at all. A small team of senior officials on the staff of the National Ports Council had reason to go to Europe, and when they came back, having visited a few ports, they amazed us with the figures of development which they had heard talked about by the various Continental port authorities. I take no personal credit for the concept; but I and my colleagues saw at once that there was something import-ant in this, and we did what we could to press it forward, bearing in mind the current trends in shipping and port construction to which my noble friend, in his excellent speech, has referred, and also the whole question of industrial development and inland transport generally. So I did what I could to push the thought forward.

If I may be absolutely frank, I must say that I feel a sense of disappointment that so long a time has elapsed between 1966, when the subject was raised in our Annual Report, and now; with nothing to show for it but some interesting re-ports. The history of events is, of course, in the Peston Report and my noble friend has described it. Remembering the enthusiasm of my colleagues (and 1 am speaking particularly of the staff of the National Ports Council at the time) I cannot imagine that there has been any delay in that quarter. One must ask onself what is the explanation for the delay. Here again, I hope that the noble Lord, when he comes to reply, will say something about this. He may not agree that there has been any un-reasonable delay. But there it is. On the question of delay, there is the fact that, as I understand it, the Peston Report, which was produced at the end of last year, was handed to the Government in December, 1969. Yet it is only this week that we have had from the Government any indication as to their reaction to it. This seems to be quite a long time. It is several months, and I should have thought that something should have been said sooner.

A great deal has been said about the question of urgency. I think we need to be quite clear in our minds why there is urgency—if "urgency" is the right word after three and a half years. I think that the answer comes up clearly in the Peston Report. It was no more than a feasibility study and, as the Report itself said, "only a first step". A MIDA may appear to have certain very obvious advantages, essentially those of economy of scale, both at sea and on land; but I readily recognise, enthusiastic as I was about it at the beginning, that this initial assessment could be super-ficial and illusory. The Report says, in paragraph 57: It is easy to point to Continental experience and by analogy assert that it is immediately translatable into policy making in the U.K. It continues: There are, however, characteristics of the Continental countries which are significantly different from the U.K. It may be that here I am reading in-correctly between my noble friend's lines. It may be that I do not entirely agree with him at this point. I believe that further assessment and study are necessary. The Report says, in paragraph 2: It is meaningless to evaluate the 'M.LD.A. concept' in the abstract. One could quote elsewhere from the Re-port emphasising the need for proper cost-benefit analyses. This is what I personally want to see pressed on with— but with considerable vigour and urgency. I realised before I saw the Answer to the Question on Monday that these cost-benefit studies would take time. I see that the suggestion is that the time will be two and a half years. I must say that, without these studies, I find it difficult to think that anyone could justify the immense cost, in cash, effort and, maybe, social and industrial upheaval, that any one of these projects could so easily bring about.

On the other hand, it may be that the MIDAS concept is right. It may be that it will stand up to all that we associate with Midas in classical history: it may be something that is worth its weight in gold. But we cannot tell. It is only a superficial view. Therefore the sooner a start is made on a very broad scale and a very broad front, the better. I agree with the wise words of my noble friend Lord Simon that these studies must be on the broadest possible front so that they can all be brought to a conclusion at the earliest possible time. If there is some-thing in the concept, then let us go ahead. If there is not, let us forget about it. I do not see how we can start, as it were, putting bricks and mortar together straight away; but on the limited objective of very careful studies, I am in agreement with and anxious to support my noble friend in his Question. I look forward with great interest to hearing what the Minister has to say on it.

7.27 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene briefly to congratulate my noble friend Lord Lauderdale on what I found to be not only an informed but an arresting speech. I am intervening with diffidence, following as I do two people perhaps more qualified than anybody in this House (and, I think, outside it) by their knowledge and experience to speak on this matter. From the moment I read about this concept in the National Ports Council Report four years ago I found it one of the greatest interest. My noble friend Lord Lauderdale has given examples that we have witnessed in the last decade or so of the massive port developments on the Continent: the Rotterdam, the Antwerps, the Dunkerques, the Le Havres of this world. There is also the development at La Fos near Marseilles, and similarly in Japan at Kobe. He has also sketched for us the frightening vision that if we are not careful there is at least the possibility that Britain could end up at the end of a rather sleepy maritime branch line.

I would grant straightaway that what we have seen abroad, the circumstances of the Continental countries and ports, may not be directly comparable to our own. I would grant, too, that this is a question which involves difficult economic judgments. I would further grant that it is one with considerable and widespread implications. Therefore it is not some-thing on which we, as a country or as private industry, should rashly embark. But, having said that, I must agree that the Government cannot be accused of proceeding rashly in this matter. There has been a very long delay since this proposal first saw the light of day in 1966. Therefore I should like to sup-port those noble Lords who have already pressed for an indication that the Government not only are fully aware of the potential of this concept but are really determined to get ahead with it, to get ahead with the necessary study or studies (I am not going to come down as between one concept of a study and another) and to give a real indication that they are proposing to do it as a matter of urgency.

Whichever way the further studies are tackled, they are bound to be a fairly long job; although I do not accept for one moment that they need take 2½ years. But, accepting that they are likely to take some time, I believe it is clear that the sooner they can be started the better. I hope, therefore, that when in a second or two the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, ends this discussion with his reply, he can inform us that the Government are pro-posing to start now.

My Lords, the MIDAS concept sounds rather an abstruse one. On seeing my noble friend's Question on the Order Paper, a number of noble Lords asked me, "What is MIDAS?" Were one to question a passer-by outside the House this evening I am certain that he would not have much idea. But, abstruse though it may sound, it is not a little matter; it is one of great potential significance for the economy, for our international trade, for our industrial development, for our maritime future and in its planning implications. I should like, in conclusion, to say that I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, can, in his reply, assure us that the Government are treating it as a matter of great potential significance and of real urgency.

7.32 p.m.


My Lords, what we have to know is whether MIDAS do in fact live up to their name—the name of the deity who turned everything he touched into gold; because if there is the least risk of his turning everything he touches into lead or dross, we should be better not to have one. It is indeed an abstruse concept. It has not been defined in the debate. I do not know whether the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, would agree with me if I defined MIDA as a very large port for very large ships drawing a great deal of water, surrounded by a very great deal of primary industry using what comes in the ships, and a very great deal of secondary industry using what comes out of the primary industry—all supported by a very great deal of Government investment. If that is indeed what it is—and I think it is—then we need to proceed with some caution, because I am not at all sure that there has yet been one any-where in the world which is clearly a success.

Nevertheless, my Lords, I have listened with considerable sympathy to the argu-ments put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, suggesting that a MIDA should be developed in this country as soon as possible, but with rather less sympathy to the allegations that there has been any undue delay. I will deal with that question later. There is no doubt that the concept is an imaginative and potentially a highly rewarding one. The National Ports Council is, without doubt, to be congratulated on the work it has done to bring this concept to public notice, and on sponsoring the pilot feasibility study by Professor Maurice Peston, of Queen Mary College, which was published last Friday. The Secretary of State for Local Government and Regional Planning has already announced (it has been referred to in our discussion) the Government's decision to institute a full cost-benefit study of the economic and industrial aspects of a MIDA in this country along the lines suggested by Professor Peston in his pilot study.

The Government agree with Professor Peston that this is the only possible method to determine whether a MIDA, as I have defined it, would be a good use of scarce resources and a real service to industry in this country. I am now able to announce that this study will be carried out by a small team, working at Queen Mary College, in the University of London, once again under the direct guidance of Professor Peston himself. The study, as noble Lords have reminded the House—and complained—is expected to take some two to two and a half years to complete. I understand that this seems a long time before a firm decision can be taken on the question. We should not forget, however, that a MIDA could, and indeed almost certainly would, entail a very large diversion of the resources of this country, both public and private (and that the public resources would be in hundreds of millions of pounds there is not the least doubt), into a very different pattern from what would otherwise occur; and would have economic and social effects lasting at least until the end of the century, and in all probability be-yond. It would be intervention in a very big way indeed.

The simple fact, my Lords, is that there is no way yet for us to make up our minds on the desirability of a MIDA in this country. Its creation would involve an amalgamation of port development and industrial planning generally. Thus, the creation of a MIDA would have to be carried out, on the one hand, in the wider framework of national port development generally and, on the other, in the context of location of industry policies.

There is one significant difference in the way the next study, the full cost-benefit analysis, is to be carried out from the way suggested in the pilot study. It will start by assessing the likely demand for deep-water location for those industries using the raw materials which can be brought in by large tankers or carriers, and of those secondary industries which are in turn the largest users of the products of the primary industries. During this stage of the work, which will necessarily involve a great deal of discussion with industry, some consideration of particular sites will be necessary, since individual firms will not be able to discuss matters totally in the abstract. All the same, this will be solely for the purpose of testing the basic concept, and it is important to be clear that no selection between particular sites will be made by the study.

It is of course by no means certain that it will be possible to make the study as complete as we should like. Professor Peston himself pointed out that there are major uncertainties surrounding the outcome of the further research in-volved, since it will be breaking new ground. The study will therefore be carried out in stages, and the significance of the results obtained will be assessed as it goes along. In any case, whatever happens, the information gathered will be of great value to the port investment policy and related fields of planning, and should add considerably to our knowledge of industrial linkages and industrial location. But what has to be established is whether, in a mature, com-pact and highly industrialised economy such as that of Britain, the arguments for MIDAS are as strong as they may be in other parts of the world.

This is particularly so in view of Continental experience. Rotterdam, which noble Lords have cited as the success story par excellence in this field, is not a typical MIDA—lindeed, it is not a MIDA at all, as I have defined them. It is largely an attractive port, and the industrial development which it has attracted was not intended by the Dutch Government. On the contrary, the Dutch Government has sought to discourage much of it in order to achieve a more balanced national distribution of industry. Many of the maritime industrial plans elsewhere on the European Continent seem to have been prompted as much by a spirit of "keeping up with the Joneses" as by anything else, and it remains to be seen whether most, or indeed any, of them are going to yield an acceptable return on the investment.

Of course this does not mean that further work on exploring the MIDA idea in this country is not well worth while: it is; and that is why the Government are going on with the study. The decision which was announced by the Secretary of State the other day shows our determination to ensure that the future pat-tern of port development in Britain is as good as it can possibly be. But it does mean that the only way to deter-mine the issue lies in this thorough-going study of the concept in the circumstances of this country. We cannot rely on the experience of other countries, as Professor Peston himself points out in his preliminary Report, the one published last week, when he says: It is easy to point to Continental experience and by analogy assert that it is immediately translatable into policy-making in the United Kingdom. There are, however, characteristics of Continental countries which are significantly different from the United Kingdom. Among these are the extent and nature of trade, the extent and nature of inland trans-port, the availability of land, the availability of labour and the type, size and location of domestic markets. The fact is, my Lords, that Rotterdam has an entrepot feed right down into Switzerland. It has the whole hinter-land of industrial Germany at its back, and many hundreds of miles of internal transport. Of what British port or port location could that be said?


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that aspect of the Peston studies that are now to go forward, can he say whether the Government will look again at the idea that it might be broken down for greater facility and speed into the kind of estuarial consortia projects mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon? Secondly, since Peston has referred to the need to look at particular sites which may be considered, will the noble Lord say something about the possibility of disclosing more about the Halcrow Study and the possibility of publishing it, inasmuch as anyone's assessment of the Peston premises must go back to assessment of the Halcrow premises? Finally, since the noble Lord was kind enough to assume my consent to his definition of MIDAS, would he bear in mind also the concept of linear development from coast to coast, as put out in the "Oceanspan" document in Scotland, and have that transport pattern in mind as well?


My Lords, there is no doubt that the Peston Study will look at all possible transport patterns. On the question of publication of Halcrow, the noble Earl has been most pressing over recent weeks, but I do not think it would mean very much to anybody if it were published, because there is going to be no decision taken and no proposal for a decision made for two or three years yet. When there is a proposal for something to be done, then everything which is relevant will be published and there will be the fullest public discussion. At the moment, we do not even know whether it is economically a good thing to do, so what is the point of publishing physical considerations about sites on which it might be done? That seems to be premature.

If I may turn to the way in which the Government have handled the exercise so far and why some three and half years have elapsed since the project was first mooted by the National Ports Council, we have necessarily had to proceed by stages: first ascertaining that the necessary sites existed in this country and then examining the economic and industrial case for the conception itself under British conditions. As the Peston Study has shown, considerable specialist resources and original research work are needed to make a proper judgment of that case.

I hope that I shall not be expected to rehearse the progress step by step. Indeed, it would be improper for me to do so. The noble Earl pressed me once again, as he did at Question Time, to say who is a member of what group, from what Department the official chairing of that group was chosen and who has been talked to by an Inter-departmental Committee and who has not. I was sorry that the noble Earl should have thought my silence on this point indicated anything to conceal or any ill-will. The noble Earl should know, as I am sure the House does, that in this case, were I to give him the precise details— and there is no reason why I should not— anything I gave would establish a course which would become inconvenient and might in certain cases be dangerous to the national interest, and it would be hard to draw the line. That was what lay behind my remark at Question Time a few days ago; that it is not done, and I hope that the House will agree that it is not done for a good reason. The noble Earl said that the MIDAS idea was first mentioned by the National Ports Council not, as I said in answer to a recent Question of his, in 1967 but in 1966. It was indeed in their Annual Report for 1966, which was published on April 26, 1967.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for giving way. I do not want to make a fuss about a minor point, but if the noble Lord will refer to that Report he will see that the Council say that it was proposed to this Government in 1966. But it is not a major point. I only wanted to draw his attention as nicely as I could to a slight inaccuracy.


My Lords, the point is related to one I was about to make on the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, in whose balanced intervention I was interested because of his great experience in these matters. He complained that the Peston Report had been received in December, 1969, and there had been Government reaction to it only now in April, 1970. I am all for speed in Government action but I think that to have reacted quicker than that would be a little precipitate. When a Report is received, it is usual for the Government to delay announcing their reaction or decisions until the public can read the Report and this, of course, involves publication. I do not think that four months is an excessively long publication time.

The noble Earl called for simplicity of approach. No, I do not think so. It would be wrong to adopt any simplicity of approach to such an intensely complicated matter. He also asked for some priority to be given to the matter. It has not been deprived of priority during the last three years. It is a vast concept and it will not be deprived of priority in the next two years while Professor Peston is preparing his big Report. To go faster would be foolhardy, especially when there is an enormous amount of money at stake. On the question of the proceedings so far, perhaps the House will accept my statement that I have looked into the question carefully and personally, and I am satisfied that to have gone faster could have led to a misuse of national resources on a very large scale. This is still true. To go faster than is proposed now could lead to a misuse of national resources.

I am sure that the House is grateful to the noble Earl for having raised this matter. When I resist suggestions that we have been dragging our feet, it does not mean at all that we do not welcome questioning from Members of the House, or from anybody else. Such things are always healthy. I should like to conclude by telling the House that my personal position is that I hope this turns out to be a starter on economic grounds, because it as a beautiful and imaginative notion.