HL Deb 21 October 1971 vol 324 cc488-94

3.34 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I warmly support the Motion moved by the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees that this Bill should be recommitted. It relates to a matter which has aroused considerable concern in Anglesey, as some of us are well aware; and as there is such a wide discrepancy between the evidence first tendered and that now referred to by my noble friend Lord Royle, I hope that the Committee will reconsider the matter. Could I be given some indication as to the kind of timetable? Will this subject be able to be dealt with fairly rapidly? A great many interests are concerned, and a good many people would be glad to have a reasonably early conclusion of the matter.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say just a word or two on this Motion. As I understand it, the information that was given to the Committee was the best information available to Shell or to anyone else, and it was only as a consequence of further inquiries that some new information came to light. Indeed, in fairness to the company concerned and to the county council, I think it ought to be made clear to your Lordships that they then volunteered this information, so that people would not come to any conclusion under any misapprehension. It ought to he made clear that there was no attempt to hide any evidence: in fact, it was evidence that had been discovered by the Promoters and the Anglesey County Council, and the Shell Company were only too happy and ready to provide this information to the Committee if they were going on to any further consideration of the matter.

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, as one of the two members of the Committee who did not feel that the Bill should be allowed to proceed unless subject to a Planning Inquiry Commission, it is perhaps appropriate that I should say a word. It would be logical and tempting, but not I think appropriate, to make a Third Reading speech, saying how much more able such a Commission would be to investigate the technical questions raised by the new evidence than any Select Committee. None the less, it seems right that our Special Report should be corrected, if necessary, before the Committee send the Bill (if they do send it) to Third Reading. We have put on record that we heard that the probability of a large amount of oil escaping during the transfer operation was remote. I confess that I was not convinced. Obviously, this new evidence brings the contention of the Promoters more into doubt. The House as a whole cannot assess new evidence or hear both sides upon it. Therefore it seems right that the Bill should be recommitted.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, may I ask one question about this subject which I think is of importance? The evidence that will be considered is in amplification of what has already been tendered to the Select Committee by the Shell Company, and it is obviously correct that these figures should be considered, notwithstanding the fact that I must say, looking at them, that there are very few oil spillages of any cones- quence. Most of those mentioned by the noble Lord were of less than half a ton, and very few of them resulted in beach pollution. But there is a question that I think is important if we are to have another look at this matter, and that is that if the oil is not brought into a single buoy mooring, as proposed in the Bill, presumably there will be an increase in the volume of traffic coming into the area outside the Mersey Estuary and of oil being transferred to smaller tankers so that it can go into the unloading point of the Stanlow Refinery. As I understand that the purpose of this terminal is to bring in supplies, ultimately to be used in the refinery which is to be expanded over a period of years to a throughput of something like 14 million tons a year, it seems to me important that one should consider not only spillages that might result from the single buoy moorings in the light of the evidence that has been mentioned, but also the comparative figures that could be expected if tankers of 200,000 tons and upwards were coming into the area of the Mersey Estuary and there being lightened to 75,000 tons in order that the ships could get to the existing terminal. I should have thought that there was an equal risk of spillage, and possibly a greater risk, from these transfer operations, than by taking the oil through single buoy moorings. I hope that the Select Committee will hear that in mind during their considerations.

It is a good idea that a fresh look should be taken at the problem from another point of view, and that is that if the timing of the Planning Inquiry now proceeding is such that it will have completed its work and the information arising therefrom can then be made available to the Select Committee, obviously the Committee will be able to reach a better conclusion than would be possible in the absence of that evidence. This would be a most helpful procedure. But I should like to be assured that adequate attention will be given to the other problem that I mentioned, the spillages during transfer between one tanker and another if the terminal is not built.

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, it might be for the convenience of the House if I gave notice now of my intention to move an Amendment on the Third Reading of this Bill. I apologise to the House if it makes confusion worse confounded: it is a complicated matter. It has nothing whatever to do with Shell's new evidence about spillages, which is a completely different matter. The point I am on is a completely separate one. When I and, no doubt, many other of your Lordships first saw this Bill we thought, "Well, our Select Committee will deal with that and will come to a clear conclusion and will be able to recommend to the House what ought to be done. "We have heard from Lord Moyne that they did not come to a clear conclusion, that they were divided; and, if I understand him aright, two of the five members of the Committee believe that the Bill should not proceed unless and until the choice of the place for the single buoy moorings is endorsed by a planning inquiry commission. I do not want to go into this matter too deeply now as the proper time is on Third Reading, but a planning inquiry commission is—


My Lords, with all due respect, the planning inquiry commission can have no jurisdiction over this particular area; they can deal only with the installations.


My Lords, this is a point which we can debate on Third Reading, but I believe that the House would be within its powers if it were to suspend the passage of the Bill into law unless and until what was proposed in the Bill has been endorsed by a planning inquiry commission. I may be wrong about that, and if I am later proved to be wrong I shall not move the Amendment: but at the moment I believe that the Amendment would be valid and would stand up.

The purpose of the Amendment would be to get a planning inquiry commission. This is a form of super-planning inquiry introduced by the 1968 Planning Act and which has never yet been used. I have given a good deal of thought to this, having been concerned with the Act in the first place, and I have reached the conclusion (which is a personal one) that this would be a very suitable case for the first planning inquiry commission. The Town and Country Planning Act says in Section 62(2)(b) that the sort of thing which may be referred to a plan- ning inquiry commission is a matter where: the technical or scientific aspects of the proposed development are of so unfamiliar a character as to jeopardise a proper determination of that question unless there is a special inquiry for the purpose. A single buoy mooring is not simply a buoy in the sea: it is a great deal more than that and has many parts. First of all, there is the buoy in the sea; then there is a pipeline connecting the buoy with the land; then the pipeline comes ashore at a certain place and there is a small installation there. It then runs further inshore, where there is storage, and from the storage there is a pipeline to the refinery where the oil is to be handled. In the case of Anglesey, that pipeline has to cross the Straits from the island to the mainland to traverse the whole of North Wales and, as at present proposed, will fetch up at Stanlow in Cheshire. No local planning inquiry can consider all these elements. Only a planning inquiry commission can do so, and since this is a technology which is entirely new to this country, it seems to me that it fits very well with the intention of the 1968 Act.

My Lords, I will go no further at the moment. If there had been a Third Reading to-day I should have moved the Amendment now, but since there is not. for a reason which I consider a very good one, I shall move the Amendment when the Third Reading of the Bill takes place.

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, may I express the feelings of, I am sure, many noble Lords that we ought to be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for giving us notice that he has it in mind to move this Amendment. I think we should also thank him for making just now the Second Reading speech which he was unable to do when we had the Second Reading. I have no intention to-day of re-making my Second Reading speech. still less of anticipating my Third Reading speech.

The situation is very simple. I understand that Shell produced at the inquiry the evidence that they had available. I have no interest to disclose, except that I have 100 shares in Shell Transport, but I do not act for them in any way; I am simply an enthusiast for this project. Shell were then pressed to make further inquiries. They did so all over the world, and they came up with further information and, in all frankness and honesty, disclosed it. I do not wish to anticipate what may be brought out by learned counsel before the Select Committee when it has been re-established, but it is interesting to note that there is in fact a technical difference of some substance between pumping oil from the shore into a tanker—that is, loading it over great distances from very strong pumps which maximises the danger of rupture—and bringing it from a tanker ashore for a very short distance by means of pumps that are very much weaker and under very much better controlled conditions However, these are matters which will come out before the Select Committee. What matters, surely, my Lords, is that anxiety and disquiet should be allayed and the Promoters are eager that this should be so: anyone who wishes well to this project must wish the same. Therefore, I should like to support the views of the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, the noble Baroness, Lady White, and the noble Lord, Lord Royle, on referring this back to the Committee in question.


My Lords, may I say one word, by leave of the House, before the Lord Chairman of Committees replies, referring to what my noble friend Lord Kennet has said about the planning inquiry commission. Our Report deals with the matter in paragraphs 14 and 15, and the nub of the situation is that: It is within the power of the Secretary of State for the Environment acting jointly with the Secretary of State for Wales, and no one else, to set up such a Commission and the Committee note that this request has already been made and has been refused.


My Lords, may I thank all noble Lords for their support for the Motion to recommit this Bill to a Select Committee. On behalf of the House, I should like particularly to thank all noble Lords who have already served on this Committee and have spent a number of days on its work for their willingness to meet again to hear further evidence.

In answer to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady White, I can assure her that there will be no unnecessary delay, as a result of the hearing of further evidence, in the passage of the Bill through Parliament. It is proposed, if your Lordships agree, that the Select Committee should meet again on December 7 and it should be possible to take the Third Reading in your Lordships' House before Christmas.


That is a long time.


I believe that meets the convenience, so far as it is possible, of everyone concerned with the Bill. The noble Lord. Lord Avebury, asked whether the Select Committee would consider spillage from ships in addition to the evidence which it could hear about the single buoy moorings. The Committee will be confined to a consideration of the evidence which it has been instructed by the House to deal with, and it will not he in a position to consider any other matter. But the matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred is certainly one which could have been dealt with by the Committee during the original Committee stage of the Bill. I believe that I hear some indications to show that this is a matter that was considered by the Committee at this time.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.