§ 3.28 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CROMARTIE
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This Bill, which is of Scottish application only, is intended to facilitate the authorisation of works at "marine works", a term which, as defined in the Harbours Act 1964, includes transport harbours in the Highlands and Islands and fishing harbours throughout Scotland. It has become clear over the past few years that for most sea services to the Scottish islands the right answer to their need for efficient transport at reasonable cost lies in the introduction of roll-on/roll-off vehicle services to replace conventional passenger and cargo ships, and the operators concerned are committed to a substantial programme of investment in suitable vessels as quickly as can be undertaken. They have, however, run into major delays in the provision by local and harbour authorities of appropriate terminals to fit the new vessels. This difficulty arises to a considerable degree from the complex private legislation and other procedures contained in a number of different Statutes which go back to 1847, governing the authorisation of pier and harbour works. The result is that in practice it can take up to two years from a decision by a public authority to build a new ferry terminal, or to modify an existing one, before work on the site can even begin. This, not surprisingly, has provoked criticism from the operators concerned, becauses it seriously delays the introduction of the new services they have planned. As these services will be more efficient than those they replace, the delay withholds the benefits of the services from the island communities to be served and also affects either the operators' financial position or, where the service is subsi- 422 dised, holds up possible economies in Government support expenditure.
The legitimate outside public interest in harbour works to be undertaken by public authorities must of course be recognised, and where there are objections there must always be full opportunity for them to be heard and properly considered. This inevitably involves delay, but it is only right that this should be so; the proposals in the Bill in no way exclude such consideration. What is undesirable is that, even where there are no objections. work cannot in many cases begin because of the cumbersome procedures which have to be gone through before the local or harbour authority can obtain the powers it needs. Powers may also be obtained by Private Legislation Procedure, the continued availability of which is in no way curtailed by the Bill.
Among the other proceedures available is the relatively simple and expeditious one of conferring power contained in Section 7 of the Harbours, Piers and Ferries (Scotland) Act 1937. Under this procedure the Secretary of State is able to authorise improvements in connection with marine works after public advertisement and consultation with interested Government Departments. If there are objections they have to be considered by the Secretary of State, who may arrange for a public inquiry into them before construction is authorised. If there are no objections, authorisation can be given immediately, provided consultations have been completed. The difficulty is that this procedure can be used only when the Secretary of State is satisfied that the cost of the work to be undertaken will be below £100,000.
Because of the substantial increase in construction costs since this limit was set, and the fact that roll-on/roll-off facilities are more expensive to provide than traditional harbour facilities, many roll-on/roll-off ferry terminals cannot be provided for this amount. The figure of £100,000 dates from 1968. The original 1937 Act stipulated a limit of £5,000; this was increased to £25,000 by a Private Member's Bill, the Harbours, Piers and Ferries (Scotland) Act 1953. It was further raised by Section 152 of the Transport Act 1968, to £100,000. The Bill raises this figure to £200,000, a cost limit within which most minor vehicle ferry terminals could be constructed. For a longer term 423 the Bill also provides that the financial limit could be revised by an Order made under the 1937 Act subject to Affirmative Resolution of both Houses. It would not be appropriate to attempt to extend the provisions of this Bill to cover work on harbours which are not marine works, as this would raise wide issues of policy. Indeed, in the interests of the United Kingdom Department it would add to the length and complexity of the amending Bill and might make the Bill controversial in Parliament.
The District Councils' Association of Scotland, the Convention of Royal Burghs and the Association of County Councils in Scotland were all consulted by the Scottish Development Department during the preparation of this Bill. All three organisations welcomed the proposals, though the Association of County Councils originally suggested that the new limit under which works could be approved under the 1937 Act should be raised to £500,000. It was explained to the Association that this would significantly alter the purpose of the Bill by extending Section 7 of the 1937 Act to encompass works of a scope far beyond that hitherto authorised under that Section, thus making the Bill potentially controversial in Parliament and thereby jeopardising its progress. This explanation was accepted.
As the Explanatory Memorandum makes clear, the Bill does not involve any additional expenditure of public money. Indeed, by simplifying procedures it should produce a distinct, though unquantifiable, saving in staff, time and cost, particularly legal fees, for both local and also central Government. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved. That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Cromartie.)
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, I wish to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, on having brought forward a measure about which we may say what we so often have the opportunity of saying about Scottish Bills—that it is a useful little Bill. I would also congratulate the noble Earl on the excellence of his drafting, if I did not have a suspicion that he had the assistance of a Government Department to enable what might otherwise have been a little Government 424 Bill to come forward a little earlier than otherwise it might have done. In fact, my Lords, I have a suspicion that if the noble Earl had drafted the Bill himself he would have managed it in fewer words; it would have needed a shorter speech to explain it, and it might well have accomplished exactly the same purpose. The purpose of the Bill is so very simple; namely, to restore the value of the work that may be done to something approximating to what could have been done for £100,000 a few years ago. I think that perhaps the most useful part of the Bill is Clause 1(2) which enables alterations in the amount to be made in future by Order instead of its being necessary to wait for an opportunity to bring forward a fresh Bill. I am quite certain that there is not even the slightest hint of Party controversy about this measure, and I am delighted to give it my support.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ BARONESS TWEEDSMUIR OF BELHELVIE
My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Cromartie on the introduction of this Bill and to say how glad I am that it has been warmly welcomed by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. He will, perhaps, not be surprised that I also warmly welcome the Bill, and I should like to put on record that if it reaches the Statute Book it will without doubt benefit the Highlands and Islands particularly in respect of transport. Also, it will be very useful to the fishing industry.
I think I should say that without doubt there is need for a comprehensive measure designed to codify and amend the existing body of Statutes much of which is archaic particularly in its application to piers and harbours, for which, of course, the Secretary of State for Scotland is responsible. Work on this has begun but it is complex and a considerable time will elapse before it is complete, not least because of the repercussions on legislation which it will have, probably throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. Therefore this is an interim relief to the situation and my noble friend has very clearly and comprehensively explained the provisions of the Bill. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, I should like to say that we, as a Government, welcome the proposals in the Bill to allow future adjustments of the financial limit in Section 7 of the 1937 Act to be made by 425 Order subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament. Therefore I commend the Bill to your Lordships because I believe that it will be likely to speed the improvement of the sea transport services on which the Scottish Islands depend and will assist the fishing industry throughout Scotland.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, as an occasional user of these services which will benefit by work undertaken under the provisions of this Bill I feel bound to add a few words in support of it. Only those who have to use the services to the Western Isles realise how very immediate is the need to improve the conditions for the unloading of vehicles and improving the piers and ferries. On a voyage this year it took an hour and a quarter at Coll to unload nine cars, and the arrival at later ports was accordingly late. I must tell your Lordships that on the way back I sat down to breakfast at 7 o'clock in the morning, again at Coll, and found myself sitting opposite to an old lady who had joined the boat at Barra at 3 o'clock in the morning. I had caught the boat at Tiree at 5 o'clock. The old lady found out that I was a Conservative and she said, "What you people are trying to do is to rub the Island of Barra off the map." I hope that when she reads this Bill when it becomes an Act she will realise that the noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Cromartie are not of that intent.
§ THE EARL OF CROMARTIE
My Lords, I should like merely to say, "Thank you" for giving the Bill such an easy passage. I entirely agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and I thank the Minister very much for her compliments
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.