HL Deb 28 January 1975 vol 356 cc378-451

3.3 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill now be read a second time. The need for this Bill must be seen against the background of North Sea oil development and its implications for our economy, and in moving its Second Reading it is necessary for me to remind the House of something of that background.

The development of our offshore oil resources is both a necessity and an opportunity. It is a necessity because the sooner we become self-sufficient in oil the sooner our balance-of-payments position, and hence the economy as a whole, can have a chance to recover from the devastating effects of the increase in the price of imported crude oil which is now five times as much as it was just over a year ago. The Government's aim is that by 1980 we shall be producing oil at least equivalent to our domestic needs. The opportunity in North Sea oil development is one which, if fully grasped, will create valuable new employment potential, both in direct employment and by the so-called "spin-off" effect. It will, in particular, contribute to the diversification and strengthening of the industrial and commercial base of the economy—particularly at present in Scotland where for reasons of location the onshore effects of North Sea oil are being most closely experienced.

One of the Government's tasks is to ensure that the right balance is struck between, on one hand, gaining maximum economic and other benefits, and, on the other, ensuring minimum damage to the environment and the social fabric of affected communities. All these considerations demand a co-ordinated Government strategy for the benefit of all our people. That strategy includes measures for participation and taxation which are or will be the subject of separate legislation. The Bill before the House has its own important place in that strategy. The policy underlying this Bill was set out in the Statements of August 12th last year by my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Energy. The most immediate objective is the speedy establishment of a viable and competitive concrete platform construction industry. This is needed to ensure both that our targets for producing oil are achieved and that this country shares in the prosperity of a new industry. The designs of platform most favoured by the major oil companies operating in the North Sea have, however, extremely demanding coastal site requirements. It is the Government's view—and it was the view of our predecessors—that this situation demands special legislative measures.

Briefly, the Bill has three important purposes: first, to ensure that land is made available for onshore developments which are essential to the task of getting the oil landed quickly; secondly, to ensure that operations which must take place afloat in deep sheltered waters—for example, the later stages of platform construction—are properly regulated ; and, thirdly, in the longer-term, to ensure that land no longer needed for these developments is restored or put to another use in the best interests of the amenity and general prosperity of the area. Clauses 1 and 2 and Schedules 1 and 2 are concerned with the public acquisition of land. The Secretary of State will be empowered to acquire, by agreement or compulsorily, any land in Scotland for any purpose connected with the exploration for or exploitation of offshore petroleum. Refineries are, however, specifically excluded. For certain specified purposes which are concerned with the crucial links in the chain of oil exploration and exploitation, he will be able, in cases of urgency, to proceed by a special procedure involving the making of an "expedited acquisition Order".

The Government have made it clear that the initial intention is to restrict the use of the powers of the Bill to taking into public ownership those concrete platform sites which are technically suitable for concrete platforms of the favoured designs mentioned in the Statements of August 12th last year, and which at the date of the introduction of the Bill were not yet operative. More recently it was confirmed that the acquisition powers under the Bill would be exercised in relation to the sites at Portavadie, Campbeltown and Hunterston on which planning decisions by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland were recently announced. I should make it clear that the powers of acquisition would be available in relation to existing sites, but where these are well established and operating efficiently public acquisition is not envisaged; although if that situation changed the position would have to be reviewed. In particular, I repeat the assurances given during the passage of the Bill in another place that the Government do not intend to use their powers to interfere in sites and developments where at present satisfactory arrangements have been worked out on the basis of private legislation promoted by the local authorities concerned.

Another point which I wish to emphasise is that the Bill has no effect on and makes no change in the present planning law. Unlike the previous proposals put forward by our predecessors, we are not interfering with or in any way overriding planning procedures for the sake of speedy development. We have now expressly provided in the Bill that planning permission must already have been given for the use of land before the expedited procedure can be used. A further safeguard is that an expedited order is made by a Statutory Instrument which is subject to Affirmative Resolution in each House. In this connection Clause 1(7) will be of special interest to your Lordships. Under the Standing Orders of this House relating to Special Orders, a Statutory Instrument subject to Affirmative Resolution which affects private rights and interests would proceed as a hybrid measure and would thus be open to petitioning and consideration before a select committee. As the House will realise, this procedure can be protracted. In the special circumstances of oil development, therefore, and bearing in mind that planning permission will already have been obtained, the Government consider that, exceptionally, expedited Orders—which are designed for use in situations of urgency—should not be subject to the hybridity procedures. This decision has not been taken lightly or without a full consideration of the arguments. I hope, therefore, that noble Lords will accept that, viewed against the background of the other safeguards to which I have referred and of the Bill's general purposes, the decision is the right one.

Clauses 3 to 7 and Schedule 3 are concerned with the control and regulation of sea-based "relevant operations". The immediate purpose is the completion and testing afloat of concrete production plat-forms in deep sheltered water close inshore. The Secretary of State is em-powered, after consultation with authorities and organisations concerned, to make sea designation Orders designating areas within which control of such works and operations may be exercised. The system of control will be effected by granting licences for operations, and by making regulations covering such matters as the control of navigation, the safety of the public, the prevention of nuisance and pollution and the safety of fishing. A licence under the Bill will be necessary before any "relevant operations" are carried out in a designated sea area, and the exercise of any such operation without a licence or in contravention of the terms of a licence will be an offence. Contravention of the regulations will also be an offence. The enforcement of these licence conditions and regulations may be delegated to an existing harbour authority or local authority.

It is envisaged that designated sea areas will be close inshore and well within present territorial limits. It is not possible at present to identify any of them with certainty. We shall need to have further discussions about this with the platform constructors, planning authorities and harbour authorities. Present indications are, however, that we may need to have designated sea areas in parts of the Clyde Estuary, in Loch Fyne, and, perhaps, in the Inner Sound of Raasay. Fears were expressed in another place and in the Press about the possible adverse effects of the system of control within designated sea areas, but I hope these have now been set at rest. For example, the Government do not accept that the interests of the fishing industry will necessarily be adversely affected by the designation of sea areas or by the system of control of operations within them. The fishermen's representative organisations will be fully consulted before any areas are designated, so that their legitimate interests can be fully taken into account in subsequent decisions and actions. I should also like to make clear that nothing which is done in relation to sea designation orders made under the Bill, or any action flowing from them, has any effect on the rights of innocent passage under international law. More generally, the object is to control and regulate operations which should otherwise take place in an unregulated way to minimise their impact on the area concerned.

Clauses 8 and 9 deal with the very important matter of reinstatement of land after its use for oil-related purposes has been served. The Government are determined that the mistakes and neglect of the past—and I am not talking about our predecessors but referring to the more remote past—which have bequeathed to us vast areas of industrial dereliction will not be repeated. The Secretary of State, therefore, has a duty, after consulting the local authorities and amenity bodies concerned, to reinstate land, so far as is reasonably practicable, to its original condition. He can either carry out the work himself or can contribute to its cost. Alternatively, again in consultation with the local authorities, he may convert the land to another use. According to circumstances this could either be a recreational use or a new industrial use to take continuing advantage of the employment potential created by the original investment. Clause 9 provides a new power for planning authorities to require a developer to provide or guarantee funds to meet the cost of reinstatement of privately-owned land which is being developed for oil-related purposes, where a planning permission has been given subject to a condition requiring such reinstatement.

Clause 10 empowers the Secretary of State to carry out works on land held for the purposes of the Bill or in designated sea areas and to defray or contribute towards the cost of such works. Clause 11 enables the Secretary of State to make loans or to guarantee the repayment of loans to assist persons to carry out relevant operations. The object of these clauses is to give the Secretary of State a flexible range of methods by which developers can be assisted to carry out the speedy development of platform sites so that they can be well-placed to tender for orders in the forthcoming and vitally important round of ordering for 1977 float-out. The arrangements to be adopted at any particular site will be determined in negotiation with the contractor concerned. The basic principle is that the Government's outlays will be recovered by way of site rent or in lump sums, and the amount outstanding at any time is subject to the limit set in Clause 17(2) of the Bill.

The final provision to which I should like to refer expressly is Clause 12. This clause, among other things, makes it clear that an expedited acquisition order may be made in relation to any land which is held "inalienably". No doubt this provision will be fully debated in Committee, but it is perhaps as well to stress that under present legislation there is already a means—involving a special procedure—whereby "inalienable" land may, with Parliament's approval, be compulsorily acquired. What the Bill does in relation to the expedited procedure is to substitute one form of Parliamentary approval—through the Affirmative Resolution procedure—for another. I would also emphasise that planning approval is a necessary prerequisite and in the planning context the inalienability of the land will have been a factor taken fully into account.

I do not think that I need detain your Lordships with an explanation of the later provisions of the Bill, though when he winds up my noble friend Lord Balogh will be happy to deal with any points noble Lords may raise. Although this is a short Bill, the Government regard it as a vitally important part of their total oil strategy. The developments for which provision must be made are crucial to the national economy but have far-reaching social and environmental implications for those parts of Scotland where, for good geographical reasons, they must go. The task facing the Government is to allow these vital developments to proceed quickly while at the same time retaining adequate controls and safeguards in the public interest. The underlying need for legislation to enable the Government to carry out that task has not been seriously questioned, and I hope that your Lord-ships will welcome the measure and give it a speedy passage. I commend the Bill to the House. My Lords, I beg to move.

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

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and to know that I shall be dealing with him on Scottish affairs, because I am well aware how much he has done personally to help the interests of Scotland in handling business in this House over many years. As he delicately indicated in his speech, I am in a unique position to tell the House something about the background of these proposals, having been Secretary of State for Scotland when the first commercial oil field in the North Sea was discovered and announced, and during the time when new kinds of application for planning per-mission were coming in in the subsequent years for building platforms, in particular—installations with which we were un-familiar in this country. And the exploration is bound to continue because during those 3½ years the new discoveries, and the new technologies, were being announced almost every week. I believe that further exploration around our shores will reveal further discoveries, probably around the West coast, the Celtic Sea and even further South.

The first British oilfield was announced only 3½ years ago. No oil has yet started to flow, although massive investment has been necessary for the preparations. I was faced with a serious situation requiring a short, urgent Bill at the beginning of last year. I was able to make a Statement about this in the other place on 31st January—only about a week before the General Election was announced—and I am therefore very sympathetic with the problems which faced the Government which succeeded in Office.

But the Conservative Government's Bill would have been different in two or three most important respects. Our Bill would have provided a small but important and urgent modernising addition to the planning Acts to shorten the proceedures for a limited number of special cases. The planning process would then have absorbed less time but it would not have been dispensed with. We were keeping the planning processes but merely super-imposing an adjustment. The present Bill, as the noble Lord has confirmed, does not do that. So far as I can see, it could still take up to two years to decide a planning matter. An inquiry on one site might have to be followed up by a further inquiry at another site. Therefore, the proposals that our Bill intended are needed, unless the Government are proposing to dispense with the inquiries without altering the Acts. I do not believe that is intended.

Secondly, our Bill was addressed to platform building sites and pipeline terminals. That is what it would have dealt with had it been published. The present Bill provides for an expedited acquisition order procedure which is restricted to certain installations of that kind, but the rest of the Bill applies virtually to any project connected with offshore oil. It therefore goes very much wider than the proposals we were to make. This Bill seeks to shorten Parliamentary proceedings rather than shorten the earlier planning stage which, as I say, could still take up to two years.

Offshore oil—and here I fully agree with the noble Lord—cannot be a panacea for our economic ills; but it will be a vital and welcome new factor in our economy. Our supplies will be safe from threats from abroad; we will have an extra source of energy and, above all, our balance of payments will benefit dramatically. But oil is expensive to obtain, particularly in the hostile conditions of the North Sea. This Government, and the last Conservative Government, are both agreed that we need to get this oil soon. The Middle East War in October 1973, and the fourfold increase in the world price of oil which took place later—which has now gone up further—made it clear that it was necessary to do something towards the end of 1973, and we had to move quickly.

Although technology is having to advance to meet the challenge of drilling in deeper water, and in more difficult conditions on the seabed, it should be possible for us to be self-sufficient regarding oil by about 1980. Doubts have been thrown upon this. Some have pointed out that the oil-producing countries in OPEC, particularly the Arabs, having forced up the world price of oil, could bring it down just when our North Sea oil is coming fully on stream. That could affect the profits to be made. I do not believe it affects our objective of getting the oil as soon as we can up to 1981. Then doubts have also been raised about depletion, and about whether we would be going too fast. Here I believe it is right to put no restriction on the companies up to 1981, so that they can aim for full production during that period, because every day of the week what they are spending in exploration is costing them millions of pounds, and we need the oil. After about 1981 we can then consider the optimum depletion rates which this country can follow in using up a most valuable fuel.

Then it is sometimes asked: should we be using this new resource by burning it? I am sure that in the years ahead we shall be using it more for other more important uses, making chemicals, plastics and even food, and using it less as a fuel when other fuels, such as nuclear power, come more into use. So that accepting these three qualifications for the future, it is still clear that we ought to go for self-sufficiency as soon as possible. It was obtainable by 1980, and it is clear from the noble Lord's speech that the Government are still aiming for this. Whether their taxation and public ownership proposals will have the effect of slowing down the operations now going on is a matter we cannot be sure about, but it will come up in the discussion of another Bill, the Oil Taxation Bill, now in the other place. But, given the situation at the end of 1973, I and my colleagues were then determined to help those engaged in this enterprise, and there are only a few people in the world who have the necessary expertise to get on with the job at the speed required. The drilling continued. The proved oilfields, as they were discovered, had pipelines laid to them and the means of pumping oil and controlling it were installed and started.

This brings us to the platforms. These should not be confused with rigs—the mobile drilling exploration units, which are much smaller. Sometimes they are loosely called "rigs", particularly as "rig" is an easy headline word. I am talking about the platforms and also the modules which go on top of the enormous jacket which stands on the floor of the sea. The modules contain the accommodation and the machinery, and if we in Britain get the orders for building the platform jackets—themselves each worth something like £30 million—we are much more likely to get the valuable orders for the machinery and the accommodation, the pumping and other installations which go in the modules and complete the platforms. This is of special interest not only to British industry, but also to the Glasgow area of Scotland, an area where there are engineering firms and, unfortunately, high unemployment. In Scotland, we are particularly concerned to promote employment and business in that area.

The first planning applications were for platforms constructed in steel. For the first year or so these were the only ones for which permission was sought. Between December 1971, when the first application was granted, and February 1974, planning permission was granted for no less than nine platform building sites in Scotland. These were for steel platforms, except for one which was a hybrid steel and concrete proposal on the Clyde. That has now been expanded to three berths. There was also a platform building site in England, on Tees-side, at Graythorp, which received planning permission.

There were few objections to these proposals and they were looked into. Only one of these cases needed an inquiry, because on the whole they were suitable places and steel platform building is not so exacting in the conditions required for a site as the others which came forward later. There were no delays in the granting of planning permission in those 10 cases for the operation of constructing the platforms. Delays were caused by other factors, such as changes in design and industrial troubles, but not from planning permission.

Then came the change in technology and requirements for the oilfields, and applications came in for concrete platforms. These had to be very large and solid and needed deep water and other special conditions. There are seven designs which the Government have accepted in their Paper of 12th August, which was referred to, but certain of these concrete platforms require the kind of conditions which could be found in Britain in only one area, and that was the Loch Carron area in Scotland. Among other things, they required a towing out depth of 40 fathoms. The Firth of Clyde, where many of us would have liked more of this work to go, has an exit of only about 25 fathoms. If there was not a building site cleared in the Loch Carron area, then it was only Scandinavia, and Norway in particular, which would provide the alternative. This is what brought us to the Drumbuie question, which I am sure many noble Lords were concerned about and will no doubt refer to today in this debate. When that was applied for, and also another site at Loch Carron, at Kishorn, it raised the dilemma that Drumbuie was Scottish National Trust property and was inalienable. Kishorn was not but it was only five miles away and had the same objections, and was objected to by the National Trust also. The firms were hoping to float out their platforms in 1976, next year, in order to be able to get from the oilfields oil which Britain needs in 1977 and 1978.

That was the situation. Although planning permission or Article 8 change of use had been granted for 10 platform building sites before February 1974 without causing any delays, the advancing technology required for the deep-water oilfields narrowed down the number of possible or suitable places on the British coastline for such special sites and for pipeline terminals. Existing planning procedures could have caused delays up to two years in some cases. As my Statement of 31st January last year confirmed at the time, I was not concerned about which of the four possible sites at Loch Carron was selected, whether it was Drumbuie, or Kishorn five miles away, or another. But there was an important national interest that planning permission be granted for one of them, and without months or years of undue delay. It was as well that that fact should be made sooner rather than later. In the event, Kishorn, near Drumbuie, was chosen, but late in the day, last September. Meanwhile, Norway and Sweden had been deciding on similar cases in their beautiful fjords in a matter of a few days, instead of months and years. Some of the orders had been going there and we were losing some of the valuable oil—it was being delayed ; it could have been obtained in 1977 and 1978. That was why at the end of 1973 were were working out the proposals which I announced on 31st January.

As regards the planning procedures, written representations were to be made as in most planning cases, but in certain special cases without a public inquiry. Had such provisions already been on the Statute Book then I am sure that the Loch Carron decision would have been taken in the way it was—exactly the same way—with platform building allowed at Kishorn but not Drumbuie, although at least one year earlier. Had our proposals not, as it happened, been followed immediately by a General Election and a change of Government, I believe a short Bill would have gone through by May of last year and enabled work to have begun last summer, and this would have saved many months.

There are, from time to time, many complaints about planning procedures, I think South of the Border as well as North. But I believe most people agree that in the most contentious cases it is because one has to wait too long before hearing the result. Anxiety among objectors is prolonged for many months. Promoters sometimes are much more concerned to get the answer, even if it is No, so that they can move to an alternative and consider that, rather than to be left waiting and not knowing what will happen while their competitors abroad are collecting the orders. In the case of Drumbuie, the oral hearings of the public inquiry took five months and then after that it took four months for the report to be submitted and the decision to be taken. Together with the weeks of notice required before a public inquiry, that took up best part of a year, and that was only one part of the planning procedure.

Strictly speaking, I believe there should also have been an inquiry for Kishorn because the National Trust among others had objected strongly to that. But the Government decided to take a decision on that matter without a public inquiry. Our proposals would have enabled that to happen with Parliamentary approval. Parliament, of course, was not sitting last August and September, and the Secretary of State decided on Kishorn on 18th September. It so happens that on the same day the General Election was announced, and therefore it was swamped in the Election news, and, of course, there was no opportunity in the subsequent weeks for the questions to be raised about why there had not been an inquiry and so on. I make no complaint about that. The Government timed the announcement well from that point of view. But what happened was what we had foreseen, which was that one Loch Carron site was needed and one Loch Carron site was decided upon, but in the meantime at least three orders had gone abroad in the summer of 1974, and were mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary, Department of Energy, in the other place.

My Statement and the supplementaries on 31st January tried concisely to make clear that we would have aimed for one site, not necessarily Drumbuie, out of the four possibilities. In our Bill we also wanted to avoid proliferation and to make some provisions for infrastructure and dealing with the social impact on remote areas, and also for reinstatement of the land afterwards. The Government's Bill proposes also to tackle these points. Being myself, if I may say so modestly, fairly well known in Scotland as a conservationist, a naturalist and a lifelong member of several wildlife bodies, my aim was to ensure that everybody had the opportunity to put his case fully, but not to spend months or years doing it. So my Statement made it clear in January of last year that three companies had applied for two sites at Drumbuie and Kishorn. There were also other sites, including the Crowlin Islands. One Loch Carron site was to be concentrated on. But I also gave the inquiry on Drumbuie which was taking place the choice of continuing or stopping, in view of the new point about the national interest which I was announcing.

I should like to correct a discrepancy which has occurred in this matter. In the debate in the other place the Minister of State, Mr. Millan, on 19th November, at column 1111 of the Official Reports stated: … a decision on an application for a platform site at Drumbuie was before the then Secretary of State, Mr. Gordon Campbell, who indicated that the new powers would be used to allow what he regarded as essential development there. Of course that is incorrect. It was the Loch Carron area, not Drumbuie. He went on: The then Conservative Government proposed abrogation of the planning procedures and the specific planning inquiry which was then taking place in Drumbuie. If I may quote from my Statement, I said quite the opposite. This is at 31st January, column 627 of the Official Report of the other place: I accept that the parties at this inquiry may well feel that this announcement of Government intention has substantially changed the basis on which the inquiry has been proceeding and it may be that they would wish to seek an adjournment to give them an opportunity to reassess their position. If so, no doubt they will indicate their wishes to the Reporter."— that is the equivalent of the inspector in England and Wales— If, however, parties wish it, I would see no objection to the public examination of the arguments for and against the grant of planning permission on the proposed site at Drumbuie being continued meantime. And certainly I am anxious to ensure that the objectors to the site are afforded full opportunity to put their views. I then went on to say that I was prepared to consider making a contribution to the expenses of the objectors. I also note that in the other place on 14th January 1975, at column 258, the Minister said: The problem in Drumbuie was that there was a public inquiry going on and the Government did not want all the facts of that situation to be explored because they were frightened there might be an adverse report, which is what in fact happened. I hope that the noble Lord—and I acquit him entirely of any misunderstanding himself—will make sure that his colleague recognises that that observation should be withdrawn. No doubt he said it inadvertently, but in the light of what can be read in Hansard—my actual statement—it is incorrect. Much more important, it is a reflection upon the semi-judicial role of the Secretary of State as a planning Minister and could bring into disrepute the system which Parliament has carefully constructed over the years. The facts are that I had no prejudice in favour of any particular site in relation to any of the others, and they did not formally come to my notice because the inquiry was not finished and the report not made to me before the Election took place.

The firms concerned in that area with the special concrete platforms of course were affected. The one at Kishorn has gone ahead. One of the others at Drumbuie has gone to Campbeltown and of course had to modify its proposals. It is having to make special arrangements because of the tow-out depth of water being about 25 fathoms, which I mentioned, and to finish off its work by towing the product round to Loch Carron and finish the assembly there. I have spent a little time on what I believe to be a very important case history in which the National Trust and other amenity bodies were very concerned—and I know that noble Lords on both sides of the House were concerned with that case, too. My home happens to be nearby and I know many of the platform sites for which planning permission has been given, and it is therefore a matter on which I can personally give an account.

In the future new technologies may replace even these concrete platforms as seabed installations. For example, I believe that in years to come on the bed of the sea there will be installations operated perhaps by remote control and without men having to live in them. But they are some years ahead, and they could not affect the vital need to extract and win the oil up to 1981, which is the period we are particularly considering. I urge the Government to be flexible in their approach and not to make too rigid plans. Two and a half years ago only steel platforms were being considered. If some rigid plan had been made concerning the coastline in relation to steel platforms it would have been out of date in a matter of weeks when the new designs for concrete platforms came in. The options should be left open to allow for changes and for new technology and new discoveries in the future. I believe that 1975 is going to be an experimental year. Several new designs of platform will be, or should be, coming out and will have to be floated out around the coast of Scotland and then positioned.

There is one group in Scotland which I should mention which is against going as fast as we can up to 1981. Some of them suggest that the oil and gas should be left below the seabed. I am referring to the SNP. They are putting forward the argument—and your Lord-ships should know about this—that Scotland ought to be a completely independent country, like Norway. Scotland would then need little more than about 10 million tons of oil to be self-sufficient and uninterested in further oil in order to ease the balance of payments. Apart from the selfish appeal to ignore the rest of the United Kingdom—as I believe this is—it is not practical. Trade and industry in the United Kingdom are very closely knit and cannot be disentangled and separated overnight, even if this were desirable, which I do not believe it is. Therefore, the United Kingdom balance of payments is vital for the Scottish economy, and it is in the Scottish interest that this oil should be obtained up to 1981 and that there should not be delays. Many of the jobs envisaged which come from platform building and other sides of preparation of the oilfields will come to Scotland and will benefit Scotland. The "little Scotlander" attitude is parochial, unsound and misleading to the people of Scotland. It was exemplified in the February Manifesto of that Party by the odious question, "Do you wish to be rich Scots or poor British?" My Lords, I think we would all agree that we would reject that question.

I am surprised that the Bill should be restricted to Scotland. Our proposals would have extended it to the United Kingdom, or certainly to Britain—England and Wales. Briefly, the reasons for this are that exploration is starting in the Celtic Sea and no doubt will start elsewhere around our coasts, and already one platform building site has produced a platform from Tees-side. Apart from platform building requirements, I believe that the coastline of Wales provides the same kind of conditions as the coastline of Scotland. There are also pipeline terminals to be considered and it would be a ridiculous situation if the oil were available to be pumped out of an oilfield in, say, the Celtic Sea but there were still planning procedures going on about finishing off the pipeline and enabling the oil to come ashore.

If this Bill goes through—and I hope something will go through though not necessarily in this form—I believe that in due course England and Wales should be prepared to face the fact that the same kind of problems may arise South of the Border. The main cause of delay in the British programme in these six years is likely to be the failure to build special platforms in time. Some oil which could have been extracted in 1977 has already been delayed. A Bill is required to provide a modernising addition to planning procedures, if we are not to be left behind by competitors in the jet age. This Bill does not do that. There are some generally acceptable provisions such as those on reinstatement, and there arc also unnecessary provisions on compulsory purchase by the Government.

As a nation, we cannot afford to miss I the oil bus. When new technology again requires special sites in the urgent national interest, we shall need a less antiquated system in certain planning cases so that objectors can put their cases fully but the decision comes within weeks rather than years.

3.50 p.m.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, during Question Time earlier this afternoon it was said from Her Majesty's Government's Benches that it is their policy to save paper. I think that one piece of paper which they might have saved is this Bill which they have published. Even if it passes through your Lordships' House and becomes an enactment, I believe that it will continue to flutter down the corridors of power as a piece of waste paper, getting around people's feet and not necessarily helping them on their way. Why I think that this Bill is unnecessary, and why we on these Benches have stated in another place that we believe it to be unnecessary, is that many of the provisions which are sought by this Bill already exist. For instance, the ability of the Secretary of State through one means or another to acquire, by compulsory purchase, sites that are necessary for development within the Highlands already exists. The Highlands and Islands Development Board has powers of compulsory purchase which it has never been found necessary even to think of using for this kind of purpose.

I am delighted to hear that the aim of Her Majesty's Government is self-sufficiency in oil. Of course, people from all Parties and all parts of Great Britain must agree that self-sufficiency is essential, because we have already mortgaged this amount by allowing the balance of payments to remain so adverse for so long. We must meet our commitments and, from that point of view alone, self-sufficiency as an aim is essential. From the point of view of ever getting back to a satisfactory economy, an ecenomy upon which we can afford to create a better way of life for the people of this country, self-sufficiency is also an essential aim. Therefore I am sure that people of all political persuasions in your Lord-ships' House will applaud the aim to achieve self-sufficiency quickly, efficiently and with minimum damage.

My Lords, I ask what it is that in the past has held up the provision of suitable sites upon which to build platforms and construct terminals and other adjuncts to the process of extracting oil from the North Sea. Quite frankly, it is the question of planning procedures. If this Bill were to attempt to accelerate the planning procedures, to attempt to streamline the procedures in such a way as to keep the safeguards but to do away with the unnecessary delays, then I think that we on these Benches would support it. Certainly I for one would support it.

However, I feel that this Bill is opening the stable door after the horse has died of old age, because the planning procedures are being kept in their present form. This has been emphasised not only in the Preamble to the Bill, but again this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. Indeed, it was emphasised in the debate in another place by the Under-Secretary of State for Energy, who said that planning permission would be a sine qua non of the operation of the Bill. Therefore, so far as speed is concerned, we gain nothing at all from this Bill. We gain speed only if, after planning permission has been provided, it is our intention to take particular sites into public ownership.

The Bill goes on to designate certain sea areas in Scottish waters. Again, the powers to do this are very largely unnecessary. Most of the controls which will be exercised in the sea areas where the concrete platforms may well be constructed and assembled can be provided through harbour orders. Indeed, this is emphasised by the fact that if the Government use the powers contained in this Bill they intend, very often, to hand over the powers that they then acquire to harbour or port authorities to administer on their behalf. Again, therefore, I consider that this Bill is seeking to acquire powers for the Government which are very largely unnecessary.

I should now like to ask the question: why is this Bill applied only to Scotland? This question has already been asked. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has asked it and I think that many other noble Lords will ask the same question later this afternoon. Why is it that only in Scotland does one have to acquire these extraordinary powers? Why, for instance, does not the coast of Wales require protection from the depredations of construction sites or pipeline terminals? Why is not the coast of England considered to be worth preserving by nationalisation once it is needed for the construction of oil terminals? If this Bill is justified for Scotland, I feel that it should be applied to the whole of Great Britain. I believe that this is not a matter where the expertise of the Scottish Office is so great that the whole question must be put in their hands. If it is a matter of importance, I believe that it is of importance in England or in Wales just as much as in Scotland.

I also feel—and, again, I feel that this point of view is supported by those who sit on these Benches, particularly by the Liberal Party in Scotland—that it would be better to give powers of this kind to local authorities along the lines of the Shetland and Orkney Bills. The Shetland and Orkney Bills have done the job extremely well. There is no evidence that the Shetland Bill has not been of great benefit to the Islands, and will not be of benefit to the oil companies working into and out of Shetland. If, therefore, powers are required to be taken, I believe that it is better to take those powers and to give them, for administration purposes, to local authorities rather than to centralise them in St. Andrew's House.

In short—I want to speak shortly on this Bill, because my noble friend Lord Henley will be speaking later on certain aspects of it which we find very unsatisfactory from a constitutional point of view—I feel that this Bill does nothing to accelerate the procedures. It does not increase or decrease in any way the protection afforded by the public inquiry procedures under the planning Acts. I believe that many of the provisions which are included in this Bill already exist. The provisions for acquisition in the Highland areas of Scotland already exist. The provisions for making reinstatement part of the conditions for planning permission already exist, and could have been applied to the planning permission granted to any construction site or oil terminal. Therefore, I feel that this Bill is largely unnecessary and in many respects is unsatisfactory. I am comforted only by the thought that, as I mentioned earlier on, I do not believe that it will be possible to use it very much and I hope that its use will be kept to a minimum.

4 p.m.


My Lords, this Bill creates a conflict in my mind, and perhaps in the minds of other noble Lords—although I hasten to say that it is not the conflict raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, at the beginning of his speech when he decided that it might be waste paper and therefore could be torn up. The conflict lies between our need for economic and industrial development and a degree of self-sufficiency, and a need to foster higher standards of living and employment on the one hand and our desire for the maximum preservation of our natural environment on the other hand—and anyone who remembers the shale oil, the old shale bings and the derelict communities will know what can happen. Oil is a passing heritage; land is an eternal heritage. So we must work towards a policy whereby we can achieve the maximum use of the minimum number of sites—sites which will provide a permanent continuity of employment even when the present need for them is gone.

I should like to look for a short while at the wider scene of which this Bill is part. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy spoke about the delays in obtaining planning permission. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will know, as I know, that the Government must do something about these planning inquiry procedures. One thing, of course, is to overhaul completely the schedule of Reporters of sufficient distinction and try to get more. Another thing is to try to take steps to ensure that these reports are expedited. How many of us have waited, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, said, far too long for the result of an inquiry? But there is a great deal more wrong with the present procedure. So far as I know, no Government have seen fit to award expenses to the objectors even when they have convinced the Reporter of the rightness of their objections and even when, as is so often the case, the objector is a charity or a similar body of people with very limited means. Too often the question of expense allows a wealthy promoter to override by default genuinely proper conservation cases which nobody can afford to fight. Again, although it may be essential, one sometimes asks oneself whether all this trouble and expense of convincing the Reporter is to be thrown away when the findings of an inquiry are turned down by the Government of the day.

To my mind this Bill makes important decisions; decisions taken in the context of the need of the oil industry. But consider the wider perspective of which this Bill is but a small part. What are the true needs of energy for Britain and how should these co-ordinate one with the other to the best advantage of all for the future and with the least damage to the environment? Who shall guide the development in the future of all the resources of power, not all of them limit-less but now available to this generation, and resources to be made available to future generations? Almost on a non-sense note, a start could be made by cutting out the nonsense of oil, coal and gas competing one with the other for customers, for the real problem which must now be solved lies much deeper.

All available sources of power must now be evaluated and given priorities and a place in meeting our needs. Let me mention some of them. Oil we are talking about today; and its life is limited. Coal is vital to Britain; its life is longer but it is not limitless. Nuclear power is progressing, but we are not yet sure whether the dangers of nuclear power, and especially of too many nuclear power stations, may well outweigh the advantages. Wind power is virtually untried, but Britain is one of the windiest major nations. I am told that the extractable wind power on the West coasts of England, Scotland and Wales could provide something like a quarter of our present electricity requirements. Noble Lords may not know, but I understand that in 1958, just as the Electrical Research Association was beginning to find out the basis of wind generation design, Government finance was withdrawn. There are other possibilities. Though solar energy in this country will perhaps always complement rather than supplant fossil fuels, with the increased prices of these fuels the development of solar energy—again more or less dropped fifteen years ago—should once again be encouraged by the Government, both as a source of power at home and a source of exports abroad.

The possibilities are limitless. The harnessing of tides—admittedly expensive—may well have some value. Hydro-electric power and pump storage has perhaps not much further to go in this country, but more sources will come. The answer to who should examine and recommend these priorities has already been given in a most valuable report issued jointly by COENCO, the Royal Society of Arts and the Institute of Fuel under the heading Energy and the Environment. Not only doss their report for the first time briefly evaluate these sources in one single booklet, but they suggest the formation of a permanent energy commission financed by the power industries themselves, who would be able at all times to give expert advice which is essential to Governments in formulating the right power policy. In the words of paragraph 31 of their report: The function of the Commission should be not to lay down policy but to determine the options open"— options based on the availability, the cost, the life and the polluting effect of all sources of power.

I will conclude, my Lords, by making one point on the Bill. There are really two provisions that cause me some worry. I do not believe that the preliminary planning application can in fact be adequate ventilation or safeguard prior to an expedited acquisition order, if only because, according to my information, if 1973 and the first half of 1974 is any guide, 66 out of the 184 planning applications were called in by the Secretary of State and did not go to public inquiry at all.

Finally, my Lords, a Bill of this nature must, however urgently required, draw the line somewhere. If the public good, the provision of the right to prosperity, the sanctity of the law, are to mean anything, then surely land gifted as inalienable land should be excluded from the sweeping powers of the expedited acquisition order. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, there are already Parliamentary safe-guards. If this principle is breached once it will be breached again—perhaps this time for a new road—and unless this type of inalienable land is excluded, posterity will have been denied many lands that have nothing, and will never have anything, to do with the oil industry.

4.11 p.m.


My Lords, I think the Government are to be congratulated on the form in which this Bill has reached your Lordships. I read the Bill before it was debated in another place, and I must say that at that time it frightened me. Since then, in another place the Government have given careful and conciliatory consideration to a large number of Amendments. The Bill is very much improved. If I may add as an aside, we could do with a little more of this sort of attitude from Government. We have become accustomed in this House to having Bills handed down to us from on high, which we are expected to take through without Amendments being listened to or really considered seriously. The result of the Amendments to this Bill in another place is that we now have, to put it mildly, a far less objectionable Bill than it was and, indeed, in many parts it is a good Bill. May I express the wish that the Government will follow the excellent precedent which they have set themselves, and that when the Bill leaves your Lordships' House it will not be merely good in parts, but good in all its parts.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, made a passing reference to the Party to which I belong, so I am sure your Lordships will excuse me if I ask the noble Lord one question which has puzzled me. I have been puzzled by the attitude of the Conservative Party to the Bill now that it is before your Lordships' House, because in the other place the Conservative Party (when the Bill, as it seemed to me, was a thoroughly bad one) voted most enthusiastically for the Second Reading—or so it seemed to me ; I may be wrong. Then, the Bill having been considerably and by general admission improved, they voted against it on Third Reading. Could we have some clarification of the attitude of the Conservative Party to the Bill in your Lordships' House?


My Lords, if I may interrupt now, because I will not be allowed to speak again in this debate, the Party to which I belong did not in the other place vote for the Bill. They did not vote at all on the Second Reading, but expressed the hope that improvements could be made to it. The sort of improvements they wanted were very much greater than those that were made. The Conservatives made it clear that they did not think the Bill would carry out the purpose for which they thought it was needed, and which the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, mentioned, which was to make sure that the planning procedures were shortened in certain cases. They made their point clear by voting against the Third Reading.


My Lords, if the House will forgive me for interrupting at this stage, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, is making the not unreasonable assumption that on Second Reading the silence of the Conservatives meant consent.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for his explanation. I think I shall leave that point now.

In my view, there are still enough objectionable parts of the Bill to make it very much in need of change. Naturally, I think the biggest bone of contention is, and has been, the expedited acquisition order. As this order has been explained to us in this House, it appears to be so harmless that it does not really matter. But when one reads about it in the Schedule to the Bill it does not appear to be at all harmless. I mention this point in passing; perhaps we can return to it in more detail in Committee. It is gratifying that the ordinary processes of obtaining planning permission still apply, but as the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, said, I wonder how much of a safeguard this is in certain circumstances.

I mention this with knowledge of my own home village where, three years before I went to live there, a perfect monstrosity in the form of a distillery was erected by the Distillers Company. On asking all sorts of local people how such a thing came about, they all said that they did not know this horror was to come until it was actually going up in front of their very eyes, by which time they had no chance to object. I have heard this from ordinary members of the public, and even from county councillors. So it seems to me that planning procedures can sometimes be circumvented in a way which I hope they will not be in relation to this Bill.

My Lords, coming now to the points which will be dealt with in more detail in Committee, I hope the Government may find some means of quantifying the losses of such people as crofters with common grazing, and inshore fishermen. It should not be beyond the wit of man to do this, although once more we may be told that it is. Some people have already said that it is beyond the wit of man to do it, but I cannot think why. The fisherman who loses part of his fishing grounds is surely as entitled to compensation as a landowner who loses part of his land. They are both victims of the same process in that they lose part of their livelihood, or even part of the pleasure of living where they do.

Another point which I should raise is on the duration of the Bill. It is generally admitted that this Bill is being introduced in a period of crisis, because of the disturbing situation in which Great Britain and, indeed, the whole of Europe finds itself today. But, by definition, a crisis is not a continuous state of affairs. A Bill brought in because of war or, in this case, because of international blackmail by certain countries—including the Arab countries—should, in my view, be limited to the probable duration of the emergency. If the emergency continues, of course the Bill can be continued. As I understand it, the probable duration of the emergency in this case would be five to seven years. A Bill containing, or even appearing to contain, draconian measures such as these should not be allowed to proceed indefinitely. I hope that we may find means of amending it accordingly. I would echo what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, about inalienable National Trust land. The noble Lord dealt with it thoroughly, and I will not follow him any further on that.

My Lords, finally I should like to say that, however this Bill emerges from your Lordships' House, I hope it will be of benefit to Scotland and to the Scottish people. I say this advisedly, because it is a Scottish Bill. As such, it must stand or fall by this yardstick. It seems to me that certain Scottish products do not bring much benefit at all to Scotland. I have mentioned whisky before in your Lordships' House. It is difficult for me not to do so, as I drink it and live next door to the distillery which I mentioned earlier. It does not seem to me that the whisky industry benefits Scotland very much; it benefits the Exchequer and the various companies who own the distilleries, many of which are in foreign hands. It is understandable that the Scottish people should question whether this discovery of oil will be of long-term benefit to Scotland, and, in view of past history, such questions are justifiable. I trust that past history in certain respects of Scottish industry will not be allowed to repeat itself. I have faith that, at any rate the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will not allow this to happen if he can help it. I am sure your Lordships would not wish to see it happen. The Bill will be judged by the Scottish people not only on its final form after passing through Parliament, but by the way in which it is implemented and by the benefits which Scotland rightly expects from it.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, may I congratulate the noble Lord on his excellent speech. My intervention is not merely for that purpose ; it is to raise a point that he seems to have missed, which is very unlike him. I am not sure whether the Front Bench may have missed it, especially a friend of mine, a noble Lord who has already spoken. It is that a great change has taken place in the position since last Friday. The Bank of England has taken over Burmah Oil, and by taking it over, of course, it is now to some extent on the edge of control of very much bigger companies than Burmah Oil, which at the moment is in rather a sad position. I will not mention names—no names, no pack drill—but I think the development has to be very carefully watched by Scotland. While the Bank of England has made a very wise and a clever move and has not done itself any harm financially, it is in a very strong position because there are a great many reasons—


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Strange, could arrange to have the clock put on so that we may all know for how long he is speaking, as we can only presume that he has changed places with Lord Wynne-Jones.


My Lords, I think I have only one sentence to add and then I will sit down to everybody's relief. This is important. I hope that the noble Lord and his Party will study these moves ahead, because they can make a great difference to Scotland.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, in looking at the list of speakers in this debate, I see that I really have to make a statement of disinterest in this matter. I need scarcely say that I am not a Scotsman, although I have lived in Scotland ; I find myself the only person involved in this debate who lives permanently south of the Border, but the subject itself is an extremely interesting one, and the fact that it affects Scotland makes it also a matter of some interest to me, because of my past, I having lived for a time in that country. I was very interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, say what I never expected to hear a Scotsman say, that he was horrified at a distillery being put next door to him. I think at one stage he went on to say that whisky did Scotland no good. But surely Scots appreciate only too well that, like the Welsh, they have done their best by contributing to the whole world and not simply to their own country; whisky is one of the gifts Scotland has given, and occasionally made use of. One assumes that the Scots will be equally pleased that oil is used elsewhere, but not reluctant, I hope, to use it themselves. So they would in that way continue to get what I think they usually succeed in getting; that is, the best of all worlds.

This Bill is obviously one of considerable importance with regard to the development of the whole of the exploration and utilisation of the North Sea. This is quite essential. The Bill has been criticised by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, on very similar grounds, that it really does not do anything effective. On the other hand, the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, criticised it because he was afraid it might do something too effective. One really is faced with an enormous difficulty in any legislation of this type.

If the Government were to come forward with a Bill which did not allow for any kind of planning control in the preliminary use of land, what an outcry there would be! I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, would be furious about such a thing, and so would Lord Craigton. I think an enormous number of people would be shocked if there were no planning permission required at all for the use of land. Obviously, any process of inquiry takes time. It is quite clear that the only way in which you get things done instantaneously is by dictatorial methods. It is obvious that if a Minister were given complete power to do anything he wished he, and he alone, would be to blame if it were not done instantaneously. So we must accept that there should be some planning in the first place.

I am not a planning authority—I mean in the sense of an authority on planning rather than the body which does it. But we all know that the planning authority has a responsibility for ensuring that land is used for an appropriate purpose. If, in the opinion of the planning authority, the land would be inappropriately used for the type of purpose mentioned in this Bill, surely it would be wrong for the Minister to try to go ahead against the will of the planning authority. There may be some simpler procedure which still retains the effectiveness of planning control. But I cannot believe that we in this country would tolerate the use and development of sites like the ones which are proposed in this Bill, without planning permission being given in the first place.

What the Bill does is to say that when planning permission has been given an expedited acquisition order can then be made. In other words, the Government are doing away not at all with those things which are necessary to ensure that land is properly used, but are ensuring that no further delays take place. This, surely, is the most that we can tolerate being done in a democratic society. If we are prepared to go further and say that we scrap all democratic controls, that we leave everything to a civil servant or a Minister to decide, then all I can say is that I am a little surprised that this suggestion comes forward from the Liberal Benches.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord, but I did not suggest giving dictatorial powers to anybody. The planning procedures would still operate. So far as the local planning authority was concerned, it would still operate its planning procedures. It is only in the appeal procedures at a later stage that one could achieve expedition.


My Lords, I am not sufficient of an authority on this matter to get involved in detailed argument on this matter, but the noble Viscount specifically made the point as I understood him, that the Bill is not really necessary because the real delay takes place in the planning. I would suggest that the real delay takes place later, although delay inevitably takes place at the planning stage, and I find it difficult to believe that we can avoid that delay.

However, if we go ahead from that point, if we accept that the Bill is necessary, and I should have thought this was common ground—it seems to me perfectly clear from what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, said, that the previous Conservative Government equally felt that some Bill was necessary and that he himself was deeply involved in this ; if I may say so in his presence, it was very delightful to have him speaking to us and giving us in such detail the previous history of this Bill—then we want to be sure that it not only does all those things which are expected of it, but also enables things to be done in the future.

If the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, will forgive me for coming back to what he said, at one point he said that the emergency was a short-term one. In one sense, Yes, but in a deeper sense, No. In the sense that we are trying to bring about a fairly rapid development of the oil resources of the North Sea there is a short-term problem, but oil will be coming ashore for many years to come and almost inevitably there will be the necessity for further platforms to be built, or further devices of one kind or another for obtaining the oil.

We do not yet know what are the oil resources of the North Sea. Some of your Lordships may have noticed in a seminar which took place about a month ago that a professor of economic geography at the University of Rotterdam, Professor Odell, said that in his view, from all the information he was able to obtain, the oil resources were two or three times what had been stated by the oil companies and other experts. He may or may not be right, but the important point is that there is little doubt that the resources are greater than those at present declared. They always are in the oil world. We cannot be certain of the amount of oil which is there, but I would predict that we shall be extracting oil from the North Sea for many years to come. Therefore, the problem is not entirely a short-term one; it is not a matter of waging war against the OPEC countries, it is rather a matter of ensuring that we get the proper development of this valuable resource.

There is one point about which I am not clear in the Bill, and that is Clause 1(3). The purposes for which land may be acquired under this Act shall not include the refining of crude petroleum, except so far as is necessary for its onward dispatch. I can understand the Government being reluctant to trail their coat too obviously in front of possible objectors and saying "We are going to restrict ourselves in this way". But is this really a necessary restriction and is it a wise restriction? Speaking not as an oil expert, I think that there might be a good case for having an oil refinery where one brings the oil ashore. If this is the case, I do not see why the Bill specifically states that oil refineries are excluded from such sites. Does this mean that, even if it were considered desirable to have an oil refinery on one of these sites, this Bill, when it becomes law, will prevent it from being done, or that there would have to be a new Act in order to allow it? If so, I think that this was an undesirable clause to have included but perhaps I have misunderstood it and I have no doubt that my noble friend who is to reply will be able to clarify this point.

There is one other small point which I noticed. When we come to Clause 8 there is reference to the reinstatement of land. This is an excellent and desirable thing, but if what I have said is right about the duration of this whole scheme, we are not likely to see its end within five years or even within ten years. It may go on for a considerable time. It may become a semi-permanent feature of the areas where these sites are being developed. In any case, I think that it is the experience of all of us that, whenever a Government Department starts something on some land or any kind of property, it is very reluctant to give it up.

I remember that when I went to the University of Newcastle in 1947 I noticed in the central building of the University a walled-off section. I asked what this was, and was told that it contained a lift which had been installed in the First World War when the building was used as a hospital for emergency purposes. This lift had been installed by the War Office and the War Office considered that they still owned the lift; they would not allow it to be used and would not allow it to go back to the university. It remained walled-off from 1918 until, I think, 1951, when we finally got permission to take down the wall and reconstruct the lift. This is the kind of thing that often happens, so when it comes to this question of reinstatement of the land it is a nice pious statement. I like piety. I am very glad that my noble friend Lord Balogh is so pious also, and I think that this will be a monument to his piety, but perhaps little else.

4.37 p.m.

The Earl of WEMYSS and MARCH

My Lords, I think that at least we should be moderately grateful to Her Majesty's Government for bringing in this Bill. It is highly desirable in order to clarify the conditions under which sites for these vitally important production platforms and other things should be acquired, held, managed, and, what is vitally important, cleaned up afterwards. To co-ordinate all this difficult operation surely State ownership must be the best. But I must say that it is perhaps a little academic at this late date. Things have changed very much since the former Secretary of State for Scotland, Lord Campbell of Croy—who it has been a pleasure to hear in the House today—proposed to bring in a very different kind of Bill from this one. At present there seem to be sufficient sites not only for steel platforms but also for the concrete ones which need deep water, and even for the celebrated Norse monster, Condeep.

Particulars which I have—which I believe are accurate and up-to-date—show that we have now in the country (including one in England), five sites for steel production platforms, of which four are operational. We have eight sites for concrete platforms, including one which is a "three-at-a-time" site, and that makes ten berths. So far only four of these are operational, and there are two more sites for concrete which are now the subject of planning applications, both in the Clyde area. Even without these possible other two, it seems that the requirements stated in the Department of Energy Paper published on 12th August last year—which has already been referred to—have been at least fulfilled. It is strangely difficult to reckon up these things accurately, but that Paper, if I read it correctly, seemed to ask for nine berths for concrete, including the triple one at Ardyne Point which I mentioned and the one other which was available at that time in August. As I say, there seem to be ten available.

Curiously enough in the context of the present Bill, these berths are all at present in private ownership of some kind, and the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has told us that it is not envisaged that any of them should be acquired by the public. Perhaps the noble Lord in his reply will be able to explain this rather strange seeming contradiction. But my own concern is with something different: one point to which reference has been made. I wanted to declare my interest as the President of the National Trust for Scotland, but my interest is also the interest of millions of other people. The honourable gentleman Mr. Bruce Millan said in Committee in another place that a certain subsection in this Bill—now Clause 12(3)—was put in for the avoidance of doubt. Allow me to assure him and your Lord-ships that on the contrary it has aroused a great deal of doubt, widespread and deeply felt, among many people. The very idea that the inalienable land of the National Trust for Scotland—or, indeed, that of the National Trust in the rest of the United Kingdom, were it to be involved in some way later—should be subject to a special compulsory acquisition procedure, is a very worrying idea, whatever its technicalities.

Inalienability is a most important factor, something that brings a great degree of public confidence to our work. It is no exaggeration to say that in these difficult and changing times, when so many things seem to be on the point of dissolution, that this is one of the areas to which we can firmly cling and hang on to. This power which the Trust has to keep its land inalienable is, I honestly submit to your Lordships, something which is not subject to abuse because the country already has a special Parliamentary procedure for overriding the inalienability, if required, in the national interest.

I acknowledge—gladly and gratefully—that Her Majesty's Government respect this inalienability. It was one of the factors in the mind of the right honourable gentleman, the present Secretary of State for Scotland, when he made his decision not to allow the Condeep site to be developed at Drumbuie last year. I am glad to acknowledge the extreme care and attention shown by Mr. Ross and I am very grateful to him. May I say that, in spite of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, even the Drumbuie inquiry did not take two years. Thank God for that !


My Lords, may I say that I was not suggesting that that inquiry did. The procedure ran about a year and a half, but it showed what could happen, particularly as there could have been yet another one, and eventually this led to a final decision on a site being accepted at Kishorn, five miles from Drumbuie. What I suggested was that the same decision would probably have been taken by me, but a year earlier, if the procedures had been shorter and had not absorbed so much time.

The Earl of WEMYSS and MARCH

I thank the noble Lord. I will not argue with him on what is past and gone, but I acknowledge that any case of this special compulsory acquisition would be, as has been made clear, after the planning procedure had been gone through. Surely this provides even less reason to change the present Parliamentary procedure for the next steps, and to put a different Parliamentary procedure in its place. It is likely in an actual case (if we can imagine one) that by the time the planning decision was given the Trust would realise that the loss of the land was inevitable; that it was in the national interest to let it go and that it must surrender the site. Therefore it is likely that the Parliamentary process would not involve a bitter, last-ditch, long-drawn-out resistance at all, and the public would continue to be as much reassured as is possible that the inalienability was still in the special care of no less a body than Parliament itself.

In practice, moreover, this suggested acquisition of the coast land, or any part of it, of the National Trust for Scotland is most unlikely to be needed. We own only about 40 miles of the whole Scottish coastline, including the inaccessible and stormy rocks of St. Kilda and Fair Isle—unlikely places—and most of the rest outside Loch Carron (and I am not denying the existence of Loch Carron) in my submission is not likely to be found suitable. Why, therefore, must Her Majesty's Government win even the thin edge of this most undesirable wedge which is not in the least required and which quite needlessly frightens many of us very much indeed?

Even since the time of the Committee in the other place the position of site availability has changed. Additional permissions have been given. I earnestly hope therefore that the Government will, at the Committee stage here, accept some Amendments designed to leave the National Trust for Scotland's land in its present position of inalienability; inalienable, but never sacrosanct against the proved overriding national interest which, quite rightly, must prevail.

Finally, may I express pleasure and thanks that in another place the honourable gentleman, Mr. Bruce Millan, promised (col. 426 of 10th December) that this legislation will not be used as a precedent for similar provisions in other legislation. I hope that when he replies the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, will be able, unequivocally, to confirm that promise here and to say in particular that it will not be used as a precedent for legislating against the inalienability of National Trust land in any other part of the United Kingdom outwith Scotland.

4.47 p.m.


My Lords, it is a particular pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Wemyss and March, particularly in view of his position with the National Trust. I know that he will not take it amiss if I quickly declare an opposite interest which I have in this subject, in that for the past year or so I have been advising a company which still needs a site and which has a prospect of orders. But may I also say what a pleasure it is to be in the same House as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, whom I did not know politically in the other place and whom therefore I have only heard speaking in Parliament for the first time today. We all enjoyed his crystal-clear description of the Drumbuie-Kishorn situation and of the planning issues involved. I would only share the regret of my noble friend Lord Wemyss and March that his Bill was slaughtered when the present Administration took Office.

Of course, the dilemma in the present Bill is that the Government have switched their attack from the planning procedures, which we should all like to fore-shorten, to the Parliamentary procedures. Perhaps they have looked up a quotation from Emerson that came to my mind a day or two ago. He said that, in politics and in trade bruisers and poets are of better promise than talkers and clerks". At any rate, the Bill does measure the Government's confusion and delay, and I believe that their policy in the field of energy is one that has degenerated into slow panic and bewilderment. I would say, confusion now hath made his masterpiece. This Bill is just about a year late. The compulsory purchase procedures were already in the Bill lying on the Government's desk when they took Office. Two months passed in perplexing silence until Mr. Ross said that there might be need of nothing more than mere administrative changes within the then existing law. A third month passed, and Mr. Millan told us that his Administration had rejected the Bill which they found waiting for them because it had been specifically directed at the Drambuie situation. If that is not a misstatement I do not know what is, considering it was a United Kingdom Bill designed to deal with Cornwall and Wales and the Lancashire coast as well as the coast of Scotland.

Another three months passed, making six so far, until there came the Government Statement of 12th August, but, as this was made while Parliament was in Recess, it was not effectively available to be comprehended and chewed over by Parliament until last October. At that time, we in Parliament were confronted with a major Government Statement, the first of its kind, which made two points: first, that Britain urgently—and this is nine months after they took Office—needed up to more than five sites to win a significant proportion of the 1974–75 orders and, secondly, nine months after they took Office, this pearl of unpredictable wisdom was laid before us: "Britain needs a coherent Government strategy". My Lords, it still does. Nine whole months were required for the Government to make this view known to Parliament. Nine whole months were lost, and here we are, a year all but a few days after my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy's Statement in another place about the previous Government's Bill, One is reminded of the West Highlanders who say, when taxed with being a little slow, "Mañana, that puts a real rush on you".

My Lords, the gravity of the delay was admitted as far back as six months ago, for the Government's Statement made it plain that each platform provides 500 jobs on site for two years, to say nothing of spin-off. They went on to say that a single year's delay—and we are speaking now six months after they said that—on the first platforms would mean a cut from 25 million to 5 million tons of oil a year landed in 1975 and a deferment of benefit in balance of payment terms of the order of £750 million, We were told then—and it is worth recalling now, since the Government Statement is mentioned in the first lines of the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill before us today—that every platform order lost abroad meant a loss of about £45 million-worth of work, even if sub-contracting were largely done in this country. They also said that orders placed between August 1974 and August 1975 could make a difference, of well over £200 million-worth of work for British industry and a similar amount on the import bill"— in other words, £400 million all told. Those are not trifling figures, even for this Government.

The state of play, as I understand it—and I heartliy agreed with my noble friend Lord Wemyss and March that it is very difficult to keep an exact tally of these matters—is that there are at present nine concrete platforms under construction for the North Sea; that is, the United Kingdom and the Norwegian sectors together. Of these nine, two-thirds—six platforms —are being built in Norway, Holland and Sweden. So, out of a potential £405 million worth of orders and 4,500 jobs for two years for Scotland, we have lost two-thirds. In other words, we have lost £270 million-worth of work and 3,000 jobs. The three platforms being built in these islands are being built for the Frigg, the Cormorant and the Brent fields (Platform No. C). The six that we have lost include two more for the Brent field and one for the Frigg. Surely, we could and should have had these orders.

My Lords, last August the Government expected 13 new orders for concrete platforms in the year 1974–75 and 45 up to 1980. We are surely entitled to ask this question of the noble Lord who will wind up and who is always so helpful with critical facts and judgments in this general field: Are those figures which I have used right? How many concrete platform orders have been placed in the United Kingdom? Is it in fact the number I used; that is, three? How many concrete platform orders which we really ought to have had have gone overseas, and how many orders do we still expect to get in the year 1975?

My friends in the industry tell me that the main reasons why platform orders are going abroad are: first, the difficulty of site acquisition; secondly, delays in delivery dates due to labour troubles, and, thirdly—which brings me to the Government's self-confessed need for a coherent policy in this matter—uncertainty about the Government's overall policy in regard to petroleum revenue tax and participation. Both these last burdens are, of course, to be imposed retrospectively on licensees who took up the job of exploration under very different conditions.

While some 60 per cent. of the discovered reserves lie in the Forties, the Brent and the Ninian fields, which are themselves so large that they need not be adversely affected by a 60 per cent. level of petroleum revenue tax, the remaining 40 per cent.—which is after all nearly half—lies in a dozen smaller fields, none of which is large enough to absorb petroleum revenue tax at the rate suggested, with the 150 per cent. "up-lift" level originally suggested. The smaller fields could even prove un-economic to develop. Indeed, the Government have themselves warned us in paragraph 4 of their Statement last August that the rate of platform orders would partly depend on the rate of development.

Little wonder, then, in all the circumstances of tax and participation uncertainty, that companies hoping to develop the smaller fields are busy reappraising their investment programmes and, in a number of cases which I shall quote, have postponed their platform orders. I have checked this as far as I can and in at least six cases this is so. For example, Mobil have deferred at least one platform order for the Beryl field; Occidental are certainly in doubt about their arrangements for Claymore and Piper together, and there is even talk about incurring the penalty clause for cancelling a platform because of these fiscal uncertainties. Amoco, the American Oil Company, have shown similar anxieties in regard to the Hutton field, and it is really not good enough for Government publicity officers simply to write that off as part of a war of nerves between the oil companies and the Government. The fact is that the smaller fields, with a likely output of 200,000 barrels a day, are not likely to be in a position to sustain the sort of tax rates which have been talked about. There is the Total Company which has met misfortune with regard to the first platform in the Alwyn field, and I understand is now facing delay on the second. Phillips we hear are having second thoughts about Maureen and Josephine, and Union Oil of California about the Heather field.

My Lords, there is another aspect of all this which is, shall I say, administrative. One does not have to talk to many people in the industry without learning that the Offshore Supplies Office and the Scottish Office are not exactly the cosiest of bedfellows. I draw your Lordships' attention to a quotation in The Times of 9th January. I quote: The Department of Energy said yesterday that, with the best will in the world if planning consent does not go through for the proposed yards"— these were three yards that were waiting for planning consent and have since had it— … then the number of platforms required for 1978 production could not be built. The spokesman continued"— and I quote his words as quoted in The Times: 'The problem of getting sufficient platforms for oil exploitation to meet the Government's target rests with the Scottish Office. We, in the Offshore Supplies Office are very conscious of the need but planning procedures in Scotland being what they are, we must go through the channels.' There are overtones there which are not difficult to discern. Questions have also been raised about the situation at Hunterston. Is it indeed the case that the Government—the Scottish Office—have found it necessary to commission new consultant studies? If that is so, what are they about? How long will they take to be provided and indeed, how does the prospect of them affect the current site situation at Hunterston?

I believe—I have believed, and I have stated my belief more than once in your Lordships' House—passionately in the need for a bi-partisan approach to the whole subject of offshore oil. I have pleaded before, and I will plead again, that neither in this House nor in another place should there be such deep, controversial and even bitter division as has done incomparable damage to the steel industry. I have declared more than once that I believe that the carried interest principle is right for future licensing, though I deplore it retrospectively, and I have urged my Party to recognise the common sense of that. I personally believe we should help this Bill through as quickly as possible.

My Lords, it was Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, who on his way to the scaffold, being chased by the London mobs thirsting for blood, cried through his carriage window: The greater the mischief, the better the sport. There is no sport in this mischief. My Lords, I implore the Government in dealing with the oil companies concerned to respect the competitive reality of the exploration and production opportunities elsewhere, especially in the United States, and to be true to their own words of last August, namely: The economic consequences of risk of the loss of oil production … are demonstrably so serious that the Government must take what steps they can to guard against it.

5.4 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl who has just sat down spoke with very great feeling about the delays, frustrations and uncertainties of the oil companies, and it is about the Bill's attempt to try to make good some of those frustrations and difficulties that I want to talk tonight. I wish to refer only to the accelerated procedure, which, in a way, is a Committee point. It has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, but it seems to me to raise questions of such grave constitutional significance that I want to air it on Second Reading. The Bill makes provision for the accelerated acquisition procedure, under which a public inquiry may be dispensed with. I want to deal with the form of Parliamentary approval to which this procedure should be subject. I do not object to the Government's having compulsory powers, but I do object to those powers being exercised without the usual safe-guards. The procedure involves the making of an order subject to Affirmative Resolution. There is nothing wrong with that, but this order, which the Bill calls an "expedited acquisition order", is subject only to an Affirmative Resolution procedure which has been truncated by exempting it from the Special Orders procedure.

May I remind noble Lords how this operates? I would not do so, but for the fact that at least two noble Lords, I suspect, do not necessarily understand it. The noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, said after the explanation of the expedited acquisition order that he felt it was harmless, and I am bound to say that when I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, I felt that possibly both the technicalities of planning and the technicalities of Parliamentary scrutiny had escaped his understanding. This is a public Bill, but part of it deals with private interests, and when private interests concern matters of environmental importance of the highest kind, then they become of great public concern.

When an order such as this requiring an Affirmative Resolution is made, and when it affects private interests and particular interests of private bodies as well as private individuals—it may well be charities, it may be local authorities or amenity societies—then that order is a Hybrid Special Order and is subject to the Special Orders procedure under Standing Order 216 of this House. Under that Standing Order the Hybrid Special Order can be examined by a Select Committee, objections can be made and witnesses called to examine it. There are rigorous conditions which must be satisfied under the provisions of Standing Order 216, which is a long one.

My Lords, the machinery of Standing Order 216 is cut out under Clause 1(7) of this Bill. The Bill thus excepts these Orders from the provisions of hybridity, and there is, therefore, no opportunity to object, except by throwing out the order. It cannot be examined by a Select Committee. The machinery of this Special Orders procedure is operated on behalf of both Houses of Parliament by this House alone. I think the reasons for that are that this House has a great deal more ' time than the other House, and also that there is, perhaps, a special relationship with the whole Private Bill procedure in this House. May I remind noble Lords that in 1973 the Joint Select Committee, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, advised us very strongly to look with great care to avoid the bypassing of this procedure, except when it was absolutely necessary.

Let us look at the precedents, in so far as they exist, for bypassing this Hybrid Special Orders procedure. There are two precedents and, as I shall try to show your Lordships, I do not think they amount to much. There was also a third attempt to do the same thing which was defeated in your Lordships' House. The first precedent which I can find is the Manoeuvres Act 1958, which bypasses the special hybridity provisions, because there is in the Act ample and sufficient means for objecting to orders made under it. The second precedent that I can find is the Water Act 1973. This is in no way comparable; because the provisions in the Water Act 1973 are dealing not with people's rights but with the membership of Water Boards.

The third precedent, or non-precedent, is this: in 1964 it became apparent that the Local Government Act 1958 contained various provisions about county boundaries which could be the subject of a Hybrid Special Order—although six years had passed before it was noticed that this was so. The then Secretary of State stated in this House, through the Procedure Committee, that it would be reasonable in this case for the Hybrid Special Order provisions to be an exception. The Procedure Committee, of which I was a member, looked at this. In order to make quite certain that we had the best advice, we asked for evidence from Dame Evelyn Sharp; and at the end we were satisfied that there already existed in the Act sufficient and ample opportunities for objection to enable us to say that it was reasonable that an exception should be made. The Procedure Committee of this House reported accordingly. Such was the feeling that this was a constitutional impropriety that when this Report came before your Lordships it was thrown out on a Division by something in the order of 80 votes to 50. No small part of the argument was put by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, who spoke at some length. There are no other precedents that I can find, certainly not in peacetime, where this procedure in Parliament has been bypassed.

My Lords, unlike those which I have cited, this Bill has no provision whatever for objecting. If one looks at the provision in Clause 1(7) and if, furthermore, one looks at Schedule 1, one finds that it allows the Secretary of State to dispense with any inquiry and also allows him to refuse to any person an opportunity to be heard. Surely, my Lords, if that is what the Secretary of State is to be allowed to do with regard to any public inquiry outside Parliament, there is all the more reason that it should be possible in Parliament to be able to scrutinise the Order properly—because, under the Bill as it stands, both inside Parliament and outside Parliament any objection can be effectively stopped.

I do not expect the noble Lord who is to reply to this debate to be fully advised as to these two questions I have raised ; but it is no argument to say that the ordinary planning permission procedures have been followed. As I understood it, when he raised this point in his introduction, the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, made something of the fact that planning permission will need to have been obtained before any of this Parliamentary process came into play at all. I, myself, was equally uneasy about the previous Government's intention, as explained by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, to alter the planning procedure itself instead of dealing with the matter through Parliamentary process. I go along with the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, who felt that the preliminary planning procedures themselves were not strong enough to deal with the kind of objections which I have in mind. I cannot believe that a Bill with powers as wide as this one should be exempted from the process of Parliamentary scrutiny. Even if good reasons for that exist, surely it should not also be possible for the Secretary of State to refuse a public inquiry or to hear an objector.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I think he may unwittingly be misleading the House. My reference to planning procedures was to emphasise the fact that in those cases where public objections were raised there would have been a very full examination in the planning procedure ; and that it was not necessary to go over substantially the same ground again in a second inquiry on a compulsory purchase order. Unhappily, experience has shown that a second inquiry usually covers a great deal of the ground which was covered in the first one.


My Lords, I apologise if in any way I have misled the House. I did not misunderstand the noble Lord, Lord Hughes; I take his point. What I am saying is that I go along with the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, who, I think, said (I forget his actual words) that the preliminary planning applications were not a sufficient safeguard. I go along with that; and that is why I feel that it is constitutionally improper for Parliament to abrogate from itself the further scrutiny which it is allowed under Standing Order No. 216.

In repeating that, I hope that I have not in any way misled your Lordships; for if that is wrong under the Bill surely, constitutionally, it is wrong under any Bill. The fact that there are virtually no precedents at all for doing this—I think I was able effectively to demolish the first two precedents that I gave; and the further precedent, the one that might have been valid, was demolished by your Lordships' House—reinforces my contention that this is a gross constitutional impropriety. In any case, I do not accept the urgency about which the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, pleaded so effectively; but that is another matter. I am concerned only with the point of the Parliamentary procedure. I do not expect the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, to be able to answer this point fully this evening. I intend to put down amendments both to Clause 1(7) (which I hope to delete, because I think it is a gross constitutional impropriety) and to Schedule 1, paragraph 2, which allows the Secretary of State, in effect, to block any objections outside Parliament. I hope that I shall have your Lordships' support from all sides of the House when I move these two Amendments.

5.17 p.m.

The Duke of ATHOLL

My Lords, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Henley, will forgive me if I do not follow him into the by-ways of Standing Order No. 216 of this House; although as a member for very many years, although no longer so, of the Special Orders Committee of this House, my instinctive reaction is to support him in his efforts to delete Clause 1(7). I must admit that until he raised the matter I had not realised that it was such an innovation as he has shown it to be.

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot welcome this Bill; although it is now much more acceptable than when first introduced in the other place. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, I have written large in my notes: "Is it necessary?". There are in Scotland five oil production platform sites. In addition, another eight have been approved and two (at Finnarts Bay and Port Kil) are under construction. If we look further afield, no less than 20 production platforms are under construction for the Northern North Sea and four have been delivered. Of these, 19 are in the British sector of the Northern North Sea and one is in the Norwegian sector.

There are, I know, other oil-related items covered by this Bill, the most important of which are pipelines, but, so far as I am aware, getting wayleaves for these has never presented any difficulty. So I would ask once again, my Lords: is this expedited process really necessary? I fully realise that it would be difficult for the Government to drop this Bill and that in some ways it might represent a useful reserve power. But in the light of developments which have taken place since it was first introduced, I hope they will be prepared to amend it still further than has been done already.

I should like to declare an interest in that I am on the executive committee of the National Trust for Scotland. One of the amendments which I hope will be made to this Bill concerns recognition being given to the special position of land declared inalienable by either National Trust, and particularly by the National Trust for Scotland, so far as this Bill is concerned. Only 0.7 per cent. of Scotland's coastline belongs to the National Trust and therefore only 0.7 per cent. can be declared inalienable by that body. The situation having now stabilised, it is unlikely that this special procedure of the expedited acquisition order will be used on National Trust land. I am presuming that having turned down the planning application for Drambuie, the Government will not suddenly change their minds and decide that it is desirable to build oil production platforms there after all. Drumbuie is really the only likely part of National Trust land to be used for these platforms, and I therefore hope that the Government will accept an amendment leaving the inalienability of National Trust land subject to the procedures to which it has always been subject—to wit, the special Parliamentary procedure.

I should like to point out that the National Trust for Scotland is not necessarily against development with safe-guards, as was recognised by the Minister of State, Mr. Millan, in another place on 10th December last year in col. 423 of Hansard, when he said: The National Trust itself can feu inalienable land for development, and it does that to a considerable extent. As I understand it, the Trust has done that for other pieces of land in the Drumbuie area. The difference, of course, was that what had been feued was for small-scale developments. I think I am right in saying that these were nearly all housing or other developments which would, in the opinion of the executive committee of the National Trust, do no harm to the scenery or amenities of the area and were desirable for the people living there. This is very different from what was proposed in the planning application to build oil plat-forms.

In addition to the point on inalienability made by my noble friend Lord Craigton, the main reason why I hope the Government will change their minds is that I am sure it is a threat to the good will of many people who might in the future leave very desirable properties to the National Trust, thinking that by doing so the properties will be safe from undesirable development for all time, subject to the special Parliamentary procedures to which inalienable land belonging to the Trust can be compulsorily acquired. This inalienability for Trust land has lasted for 70 years in England and over 40 years in Scotland, and so far there has been only one compulsory acquisition in England and none at all in Scotland. I think it has worked well. It was specially set up by Parliament for this purpose, and I think it would be a great pity if it were overturned by this Bill.

I should now like to draw attention to the reinstatement clause, Clause 8. I welcome it very much and, although I think the Bill is unnecessary, if it should be considered necessary it is Clause 8 which makes it so and not Clause 1, as I gather the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, thinks. I commend the general tenor of Clause 8, but what worries me about it is that, so far as I can make out from reading it, the local authorities and the Secretary of State are the people who decide in the first place whether it is desirable to re-instate land, and only when they have decided that do they consult with other appropriate bodies. I feel that they ought to consult with other appropriate bodies, such as the Countryside Commission and the agriculture and forestry interests and, if by any chance they want to take any National Trust land, the National Trust, before they decide whether it is desirable to reinstate the land in its original form or whether it might be better used for some other purpose. I very much hope that at the Committee stage we shall have the chance to amend Clause 8 in that way.

There is only one other point to which I should like to direct your Lordships' attention; that is, that the Bill has no terminal date. I am not in agreement with the Scottish National Party on every subject but, as I understood the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, they think that this Bill should be given a life of from five to seven years. I would entirely agree. In seven years' time we shall have enough sites for building these platforms to stabilise our oil production in the North Sea. It is much better to build them in a few places rather than in a plethora of places, and I should have thought that, certainly so far as acquiring land for sites is concerned—and I suspect also for the building of pipelines if it were ever necessary to use these powers for them, which I doubt—in seven years' time this Bill will have more than served its purpose. The only clauses which I should be sad to see go at the end of that time are Clauses 8 and 9, but provided that sufficient funds have been set aside for reinstatement I do not think that would really matter.

I have some other minor points but these can wait until we come to the Committee stage of the Bill. Once again, I should like to ask the Government: Is this Bill really necessary now? The position has altered quite considerably since it was introduced and it is altering all the time. I personally think we have overcome the main hurdles of finding sites for building these platforms, and I should have thought this was a Bill which could either be quietly dropped or amended still further as it goes through your Lord-ships' House.

5.29 p.m.


My Lords, it is a convention of your Lordships' House that English Peers do not or should not take much part in legislation concerning Scottish Bills. It is an elastic convention and, in any case, to a large extent it has not been followed this afternoon, because although so far most of the speakers have come from the other side of the Border, one has come from the South of the Border and another of your Lordships, who is no longer in his seat, comes from across the Welsh border. So I think there is room, at any rate, for one more Englishman to speak in the debate this afternoon. The cases where principle is involved are the ones where the convention should give way. There are two important matters of principle involved in the Bill. They have been touched on more than once this afternoon, particularly the problem of the elimination of inalienability about which I feel very strongly. I want to say rather more than has so far been said. Secondly, there is the important constitutional point to which the noble Lord, Lord Henley, has adverted and described so competently, if he will allow me to say so.

I was a member of the executive committee of the National Trust of England—

The Earl of PERTH

My Lords, before the noble Lord continues, he referred to a convention, but I am not at all clear that there is any such convention. Certainly, speaking for myself, when we come to Scottish matters, it is always a very welcome occasion when an English or Welsh Peer feels it appropriate to intervene. I hope that what the noble Lord has said it not taken as something which is a convention in the House, because I do not know of it. I apologise for having intervened, but I thought it was important to make that point.


My Lords, as I said, it is rather an elastic convention; but on a number of occasions, when English Peers have intervened on essentially Scottish Bills, they have to some extent apologised and found reasons why in their case there was something to be said. In this case I feel that matters of general importance, of principle, are involved which not only permit English Peers to take part, but which require that some of them should do so. It appeared from the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, that there are reasons why this Bill should be introduced into England. Obviously if the Executive—and this is an Executive measure—get away with this measure there will be a great temptation for them to introduce Bills with the same constitutional weaknesses, from the legislative point of view, and strengthen the Executive's position as established in this Bill.

As I was on the point of saying when the noble Earl intervened, the work of the National Trust in this country has been one of my great interests throughout my public life. The clause which abolishes inalienability in Scotland is obviously aimed at the Scottish National Trust, who are great friends of the English National Trust. It is obviously worrying the headquarters of the English National Trust that this clause should be in the Bill and, even more, that it may go through. I hope that we shall eliminate this point in the Bill when we get to the Committee stage.

I find it almost unbelievable that it should be there in respect of Scotland, because the Scottish National Trust's properties are practically all on the West coast, a coast not suitable for most of this work. It is because of this Drumbuie inquiry, in which the Scottish National Trust was involved, that the matter came about at all. It is rather hitting below the belt to bring it in because of that, because it was not the Scottish National Trust which made that inquiry take so long. The value of the inquiry stands out because clearly the Secretary of State carefully considered the evidence. If this Bill had been on the Statute Book at the time he would not have had to do that. It makes the point which the noble Lord, Lord Henley, was asking us to consider, that there ought to be much more careful scrutiny than the expedited acquisition Order, introduced by this Bill, would provide.

In England we have been building up the National Trust properties on the coast line for very many years. One of the proudest matters in which I have been involved with the National Trust was Enterprise Neptune which has added nearly 200 miles—and compare this with the short distance which the noble Earl, Lord Wemyss and March, told us about, which the Scottish National Trust owns on the West coast!—to the existing National Trust properties round the coasts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Just think of an envious acquisitive Department of Energy looking around at the English coastline for places which they can acquire if this inalienability clause is to disappear! Think of the almost half a million members of our National Trust, many of whom have made their own contribution to the work of the Trust, either in cash or land, waking up to realise one morning that what they had taken to be an inalienable piece of National Trust land has now been taken for use in connection with oil-winning.

I remember the late Lord Dalton when I was discussing the new Silkin Planning Bill with him in the 'forties. I asked him whether he thought there was any need for the National Trust to go on in the way it was, particularly in the Lake District, and he replied: Whenever you can get hold of land in the National Trust get hold of it, my boy; it is then safe. At the time he was talking to me there had not been in the history of the National Trust—then a period of nearly 50 years—any occasion on which the special Parliamentary procedure had been brought in to decide whether some National Trust property should be taken over by the Executive in the national interest. At that stage he said: The land is safe once it is in the hands of the National Trust, whereas planning permits can come and go and be changed. Do not rely too much on planning. He had not been Minister of Planning himself at that stage! He continued: What you want to do is get the land into the hands of the National Trust if it is a valuable property. We have relied on that. Our half a million membership is a strong force, not a strong political force in ordinary Party politics but rather a force in the community. I therefore beseech the Government to alter their minds on this point, because people will not be so ready to help the National Trust, help it with money and donations of property, if they feel the properties are no longer safe.

Regarding the other part of the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, described it so ably and well that I do not think there is much need to add to what he said, except to say that I am not sure that he brought out the fact that these cases are quickly decided in your Lordships' House. Select Committees very seldom take more than two or three weeks. I believe that the figure for which that period is exceeded is put at about 5 per cent., and it is certainly not more than 10 per cent. Even in those cases, the period during which the matter is before the Select Committee is very seldom longer than one or two or three months. It is quite absurd. It is a classical example of straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel to suggest what has been suggested about the normal procedure, which was so strongly underlined by the Brooke Report—about which we had a debate not so very long ago in this House, led by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, who I am sure would have been in his place this afternoon had he not been struck down by influenza. As the noble Lord, Lord Henley, has reminded us, the Brooke Committee underlined the exceptional importance of this particular Standing Order of your Lordships' House. And now we are asked in effect to tear it up; a blunder, because it is only a Select Committee which can make the proper sort of inquiry. The ordinary statutory procedure which is followed both in the other place and here, and which is to be used under this Bill, does not enable evidence to be heard or details to be inquired into on an objective basis, which of course is the whole objective of this Select Committee procedure. That is a reason why it should not be abolished.

Many who have spoken this afternoon consider that this Bill is largely unnecessary. I agree with them. This new expedited acquisition procedure is in my view a very dangerous precedent. We have never had anything of the kind in ordinary peace-time England. I am not sure we went as far even during the war years when there was a Defence of the Realm Act and the Executive were granted very extreme powers indeed. In my submission to your Lordships' House, it is very dangerous in times of peace, and in times when, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, pointed out, we are getting on quite well with acquiring the necessary platforms for the winning of oil. Does anybody really think that the existence of this Bill on the Statute Book will increase rapidly the flow of oil? Of course it will not. It is absurd to suggest that as a result of a revolutionary type of Executive procedure of this kind. It is the sort of procedure that would have delighted the hearts of the Stuarts when it was only Parliament which stood up to the Executive in a way it is tending to cease to do. It was in Parliament that Pym and Hampden opposed action of this kind by the Executive, which was endemic in the 17th century and is tending in some ways to be endemic in the 20th century also.

The procedure for Select Committees is part of Parliament's control over the Executive. When this Bill was first introduced it had the Negative Resolution procedure, which the Minister must have known would attract unfavourable comments. Why did he put it in? Why did not he give from the beginning some kind of Affirmative Resolution procedure, which afterwards he introduced more or less as a matter of grace? I think that was a rather disingenuous procedure altogether. Obviously the object of the exercise was to enable him to give something away. He must have known from the very start—after all, he is a politician of some standing—that Parliament would not accept the Negative Resolution Procedure in cases of this kind. He left a little leeway in which he could then generously allow the Affirmative Resolution Procedure. But having allowed it, he cut it down to little more than half its worth, if indeed that. Speeches in your Lordships' House or in the other place are not so valuable as actual evidence which is produced before a Select Committee. So I entirely agree with those of your Lordships who have pleaded with the Government this afternoon to amend the Bill (obviously they cannot withdraw it altogether) by restoring the right to make properties inalienable to the National Trust—in Scotland in the case of this Bill, but of course that will do it by implication to the National Trust in England ; and also by accepting the full constitutional position of the Select Committee in your Lordships' House. Improved in these ways, this Bill, although in some ways still unpalatable, would at any rate be satisfactory to me.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise to your Lordships for not being here at the start of the debate. I was unfortunately delayed by the diversion of aircraft in Scotland due to rather heavy storms up there. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for not being here to hear his speech, and to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, whom I very much welcome to this House as an old personal friend. Although I am not in a position to congratulate him upon his speech, I can at least say that I hope to hear him speak often in the future and am looking forward to doing so. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, nowadays, in this present generation, partly as a result of oil, needs to apologise. These days there are so many Englishmen coming up to Scotland to work and for gain that we are now quite accustomed to them. We are not offended by them at all and in fact we have begun to learn that they can give us some quite useful advice. I can assure him that we have absolutely no resentment that he should have come into this debate.

The points I wish to make are on the fringe and I trust they are both points which have not been covered so far in the debate. What I particularly want to welcome is the part of Clause 3, concerning designated sea areas, which gives protection to fishermen. This is very important indeed. There have been some unfortunate incidents, and in certain cases considerable losses of money, through fishermen fouling some of the hardware that has been left behind or is knocking about on the seabed. There is one point on that matter on which I should like elucidation from the Government. Does the phrase "United Kingdom waters" cover the whole of the United Kingdom Continental Shelf? It is a point about which certain people would like to be informed. With very little amendment this Bill could be a charter for fish farming, whether in the sea or on fresh water. At the present moment the extension of fish farming in Scotland is hampered by what might be called administrative difficulties, not unlike those experienced in the original work of oil developments in Scotland, but at the moment I do not propose to pursue this red herring.

My second point relates to what one might call the scientific development. In this very complex, all-pervading expansion of new industry in Scotland there is, as there must inevitably be, a great deal of cross-operation between different Government Departments. In the past there can be no question but that some of these cross-operations have been to the detriment of getting on with the job. They have caused a certain amount of delay and sometimes exasperations. It appears that at the present moment this is not a trouble at all, and I want to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on the amount of co-operation that appears to be taking place between a variety of Government Departments.

The point which I can crystallise for this aspect was announced in the Scotsman of 20th January, that the Department of Energy is making a grant towards a building for petroleum engineering education at the Heriot-Watt University for the teaching of postgraduate students. Involved in that grant are not only the Scottish Office but the Department of Energy, the University Grants Committee and the English Department of Education. The setting up of this Department involved nearly half a million pounds of Government money, and has been done with an extraordinary degree of smoothness—something that one has seldom experienced except, perhaps, in wartime. It has enabled this Institute of Petroleum Engineering to be put up along-side the Institute of Offshore Engineering, a gift from the Wolfson Foundation the immediate object of which is to meet the needs of industry. These two things, together with an exchange of staff between them, mean that we are able not only to help the industries concerned with oil development but also to educate the men who will operate as managers.

My Lords, the Heriot-Watt University is not the only university which the Government are helping. I should like to take this opportunity of saying how much is appreciated the help given by the Government to Aberdeen University which is working on the economics as well as the geology of the subject, and to Strathclyde University where work on the uses of petroleum and extremely valuable work on the extraction of protein from petroleum is going forward. A most important aspect which, as yet, I do not think is getting support from the Government, lies in the work of the medical school of Dundee University, where the medical problems of underwater technology are being studied—fundamental and important work which, so far as I know, has not been done anywhere else in the world. These developments will train young men, and we can reasonably look forward to the time when there will be Scots in the top jobs of the ancillary sciences to the extraction of oil, just as at present we are having to use young men trained in Houston and in Oklahoma.

My Lords, this is a very promising development and I want to congratulate Her Majesty's Government upon the way these matters are going forward. These jobs for the Scots in the oil industry are a little like reverting to the position in the early years of this century when every engineer in every ship was a Scotsman.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, the kindest thing one can say about this Bill is that the Government have tried hard and that the Bill has been much improved in its passage through another place, although the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, was dissatisfied with one of the Amendments which the Government kindly put in at the request of the Opposition and their own side in another place—which just shows that you cannot please everybody however hard you try. It has been interesting to see how few friends the Bill has attracted this afternoon. We understand and we applaud its underlying purpose, if that is to speed up the development of the oil off our Continental Shelf by short-circuiting some of the more cumbersome procedures. But, my Lords, I think we should remember that circuits can get overloaded and that short-circuits are dangerous and can lead to blown fuses. The trouble is that the Government have chosen a respectable objective as a peg on which to hang a whole rag-bag of regulations, the scope of which appears to me to be ill-considered and the far-reaching implications of which may well be undesirable once they are appreciated. However, in the process they have retreated from tackling the kernel of the problem which has been mentioned time and time again this afternoon, the problem of the planning delays. We all recognise that these are extremely difficult problems, but it remains that for various reasons most noble Lords this afternoon have emphasised that they believe that the procedures suggested in this Bill are unnecessary and will not achieve many of the objectives which the Government have set out to achieve.

I think the first inconsistency lies in the very title of the Bill. Why is this a Scottish Bill? Have not the Government heard of the gas-fields off the Norfolk coast? Are they unaware of the oil terminal at Milford Haven? Do they not know that there are producing oil wells in Dorset, not far from the South coast, and that the Celtic Sea is being actively drilled at the present time? It was heartening to me to see the number of noble Lords from South of the Border who took part in this debate because they had the good sense to recognise that we were here discussing what should be a United Kingdom Bill.


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting him. He has mentioned the Celtic Sea and the possibility of developments there, but is he seriously suggesting that Cardigan Bay is a suitable place for having this kind of site? I have lived along that coast, and it does not shelve rapidly enough to create the kind of mooring that would be required. This is much more readily available in the Scottish lochs.


My Lords, I take completely the noble Lord's point, and if he will bear with me for one minute I shall try to show why I think that the Government's attitude on this matter is inconsistent. However, I do not necessarily disagree with what the noble Lord has said. We have had the benefit of a lucid explanation of the Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, which we might not have had had it not been treated as a Scottish Bill. However, we cannot escape the nagging suspicion—and I hope that it is unworthy of the Government—that in the confidence that there is this unfortunate, mutual, self-denying ordinance operated by Peers on either side of the Border they are hoping to sneak this measure through as a Scottish measure and then to apply it to the whole of the United Kingdom.

The inconsistency to which I was about to refer when the noble Lord made his comment is that we find the Minister in another place saying on the 10th December (col. 279)— The only conceivable use for the Bill in the immediate future is in relation to Scotland because the deep waters which are required are unique in the United Kingdom to Scotland". However, later on we find the Minister in another place saying on 14th January (col. 226): Basically, we face the perennial problem of legislation which is trying to deal not only with what we know now but with what is likely to happen. In a world where fast-changing technology is one of the hallmarks of the oil industry, we must be careful not to limit the powers to what is required now. A little later on (col. 227) he said in, I thought, a charming and revealing comment: The difficulty is that we want to give our-selves a certain amount of elbow room". Governments can have sharp and rough elbows at times, and I suggest that to say that one wants to limit this Bill to Scotland simply because current technology postulates Scottish sites is totally inconsistent with trying to take the very wide powers which are adumbrated later on in the Bill because we do not know quite where we are going. Would not we have done better to have called this a United Kingdom Bill and to have limited its scope very much more than we already have to what I might call the foreseeable future?


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that if we had made it a United Kingdom Bill, almost certainly we should have had the view expressed from the Benches opposite: "Why do you apply this Bill to the United Kingdom when the only type of waters available for this purpose are in Scotland? While there is a great deal of change taking place, are the Government preparing for geographical as well as economic change?"


My Lords, I would not have thought that there was any need for geo-graphical change in what I am suggesting. Already we have seen in the case of the original sites that were required for the Condeep, where they were talking about 40 fathoms, that, admittedly under pressure, they have been able to build very similar structures with a tow-out depth of 25 fathoms. It is quite reasonable to suppose that this kind of development may continue. Furthermore, one of the matters we are complaining about is that this Bill deals with many other aspects—anything associated with the extraction of oil. As the noble Lord will be well aware, there has been a good deal of argument about the exact terminology, and I dare say we shall come back to it in Committee stage; namely, what part of the oil industry this Bill is all about.

Furthermore, my right honourable friend in another place, the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, and also the erstwhile Leader of the Liberal Party, have pointed out on more than one occasion that legislation should deal with specific problems rather than attempt to be all-embracing. We are making the law of the land, and under these circumstances it has been said many times that the guarantees of the Government, in whatever good faith these guarantees are given, are of extremely little value. It is the law that we make that matters.

Fears have been expressed that one of the underlying purposes of this Bill is more back-door nationalisation. I welcome the statement that the noble Lord made in opening this debate today about the Government's intentions regarding sites where development is already taking place. However, I do not regard these intentions as wholly reassuring. What the Government are saying is that they will not take over these sites so long as they are running satisfactorily and are being properly managed, but could the noble Lord tell us what he means by "running satisfactorily" and who is to be the judge? It is very easy for the Government to say that they are not satisfied with the conduct of a site; they appear to be judge and jury in this issue and can take over any of these sites at any time they like, despite the undertakings which have been given by the noble Lord. Lest noble Lords think that I am tilting at windmills, I should like to remind them of, what was to me, a very disturbing passage in a speech which was made in another place by Mr. Millan on the 19th November. He said (Official Report, col. 1117]: The Department of Energy is, however, responsible for platform construction and for the oil industry. It has the technical expertise for evaluating different designs and ensuring that site preparation work, to which the Government might be contributing, is consistent with future uses of a site. That Department therefore has a major role to play in the management of sites. The Departments concerned will work closely to achieve the Government's objectives, and a suitable management structure is being developed for that purpose". I do not know exactly what the Government mean by that kind of statement, but I hope sincerely that they are not saying that after a modest five or seven years' experience in the oil industry, the civil servants who are being rotated around Departments every two or three years are seriously setting themselves up as a superior body to pass judgment in the face of the fifty years' dedicated, devoted expertise of the whole of the world's oil industry? If they are, God help us! because nobody else will help us.

Having got that off my chest, may I move to a slightly less contentious area where I believe the Government have genuinely tried to tackle an extremely difficult problem. Several noble Lords have raised it this afternoon. It concerns the safeguards which can be sought for public and private rights. In particular, I understand that it is quite a precedent to try to look for compensation for public right. There is even this grey area in Scotland of the rights of crofters. I suppose one might describe that as a semi-public right; it is not a private right and it is not a wholly public right. This is a point which has been raised by a number of noble Lords and we see the difficulty. Therefore we shall do our best to help the Government to find the right answer. So far, I think we have probably achieved about the right balance.

Equally, we accept that something in the nature of a sea designation Order will be needed. It is a logical thing to have, but we need clarification of the possible compensation for loss of public right which will be given to fishermen. I have mentioned already common grazing, and we have amenities such as wild fowling, access to beaches, and so on. The question of compensation for public or private rights also affects mis-givings which have been mentioned to me regarding the question of the elimination of actions for nuisance. If one is to remove the right to defend one's property or one's livelihood against infliction by bureaucracy then one must surely put generous compensation in its place.

We have had, predictably, a number of noble Lords who have spoken eloquently about the question of inalienable land. I may say that I always admire the way in which they can trot out the word "inalienable", which I find extremely difficult at any time of the day, let alone after six o'clock in the evening! I sincerely hope the Government will accede to the passionate request that we have had from all sides of the House to remove this from the Bill. I suggest the situation is different from what it was when the Conservatives announced a year ago that they were to introduce their Bill. I do not want to develop that point; my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, who knows much more about it than I do, explained exactly what the situation was then; but can we not revert to saying that, on the very rare occasions when it is likely to be necessary to take inalienable land, this should be the subject of a totally special order on its own? The immediate urgency has surely passed, so do we really need to risk the kind of upsets which are implied by that clause in the Bill at this juncture? I suggest we do not.

We have also heard a number of comments on the question of reinstatement. I am sure that we all applaud the Government's assurance about their laudable intention to avoid residual dereliction. No one will argue with that, particularly if the principal sites we are discussing are to have a relatively short life. Here I should like to agree somewhat with the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, in suggesting that while we have been talking about these sites having a comparatively short life I should think it extremely likely that they may have a great deal longer than most of us imagine; we may well be speaking about a 40 years' life for them.


Let us hope so, my Lords!


My Lords, as has been mentioned, one of our purposes was to establish the technology in Scotland which may ultimately be exported. If that is so, it is likely that the life of these sites will be extended even further. Nevertheless, it is right that reinstatement should be tackled and I think there are practical problems about the proposals in the Bill. I also think there is yet another inbuilt contradiction in the attitude which the Government are taking. I understand that one of the practical problems is the question of posting a sufficiently long-term bond. I gather there is no real precedent for doing this kind of thing, and clearly this is the sort of action which is going to be necessary to avoid the possibility of a company ultimately being able to "welsh" on the kind of responsibilities which are being imposed upon it at the time when it undertakes the development.

Then there is the difficult question which I think was also raised by the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, which is deciding exactly what works should be carried out in the course of reinstatement. After all, it is quite likely that some of the work which will have been done on the site is in fact a desirable amenity which would remain a residual benefit and which we would not necessarily want to eliminate in its entirety. Then it would not be a very intelligent thing to do to insist on total reinstatement. Many of us are aware of the example of the marina at Stavanger in Norway which was created out of a basin used for building an offshore concrete platform.

It is here that I think the Government's intentions become less than clear because they speak about retaining the sites which they have taken into public ownership and using them for some other purposes. This is on the totally understandable grounds that once you have disturbed the social fabric—and "social fabric" was the expression used by the noble Earl, Lord Wemyss and March—by introducing a major industry into a rural area, it possibly would be a great mistake to disturb it again by removing that industry once it had been established there. Instead one might try to bring in some other follow-up industry which would use the same sort of amenities.

Does not this impose something of a problem as to what, in those circumstances, you are going to do with the reinstatement bond? What would happen to the obligations of the initial developing company if it were decided not to reinstate? It may be this is essentially a Committee point, but I think we have a problem here. Then one wonders whether we are not trying once again to look too far ahead in some of this legislation. Would not it be true to say that because platform building is a lengthy process we should have adequate warning of the run-down in a platform building yard? And would not this give us enough time to bring in special legislation if we wanted to alter the original purpose for which the order to take over this land had been made? Could not the Government then come back to Parliament and say, "We want to continue to keep this site in public ownership for this purpose, which is different from the purpose for which we originally took it over"?

At any rate, I hope that these decisions will so far as possible be left with the local authorities, who are sensitive to the local needs. Therefore I am reassured to hear from the noble Lord that there is no suggestion that the planning procedures should not operate to the full in connection with these sites. I hope I am right in thinking that this will still apply after a site has been taken into public ownership. Strictly speaking, planning procedures do not apply to land which is owned by the Crown or by the Government, and it seems to me to be essential that the local authority should at least be the arbiter of the first instance when we are proposing to change the use of the site which is being taken into public ownership.

Could we try to clarify the slightly complicated position which obtains on what has become known as the Crichel Down procedure. Are we in fact going to arrive at the slightly anomalous situation that if you are returning land which you have taken over but have not altered, then you have to offer it back to the original owner; yet if you take land, use it and reinstate it back to its original condition you do not have to offer it back to the owner? This is a slightly complicated point, and probably the noble Lord will not be able to give us an answer today. Nevertheless, I think it is a fair question, and one that ought to be clarified.

While we are speaking on this subject, a number of noble Lords, notably the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, speaking for the SNP, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, made the point as to whether we need to make this Bill an indefinite sentence. Should it not have a time limit? The noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, suggested the period of the present emergency: fair enough—until we become independent (we hope) of oil imports by 1980.


I thought the noble Lord was going to say "of England"!


I hope that does not happen, my Lords! In passing, on reading the repor of the debate I was delighted to see that one of the noble Lord's honourable friends in the other place got his or her metaphor slightly mixed in waxing lyrical about the situation whereby Scotland had been raped by the Mother of Parliaments—which is something I should love to see.

My Lords, I have left to the end the very important question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. We were very pleased when the Government changed their mind and agreed that the expedited acquisition Orders would be made subject to Affirmative Resolution procedure instead of Negative Resolution procedure. But then they added Clause 7(1) which, as the noble Lord pointed out, practically nullifies this concession and takes away with one hand what was given with the other. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, pointed out that in fact these special procedures have rather a good record in this House because of the time they normally take. This is often more like three weeks than three months, which brings us back to demanding why this Bill is necessary.

Two important constitutional issues are raised, as the noble Lord said, to which we shall have to address ourselves on Committee stage. If we accept that this Bill can abrogate certain constitutional processes under Standing Order 216 in connection with expedited acquisition Orders, are we not in this way admitting the thin end of the constitutional wedge, which could set a precedent for a great deal of other legislation? Secondly, while I am not suggesting this House should be unduly touchy, is there not at least a doubt that this clause in fact constitutes an interference with the procedures of this House? To their credit, the other place left it very firmly for us to discuss these issues. At the Committee stage I think we shall need some guidance on both these points from the constitutional lawyers.

My Lords, I am sorry that this has become a rather long and rambling speech. I said at the outset that we were none too happy about the Bill, even if we applauded its basic objective. I believe it is mistimed, that it is too late; I think it is misplaced, and misdirected. I think at times it is even downright mischievous. But while we shall not oppose the Second Reading, there are quite a number of points that I hope we shall manage to get put right in Committee.

6.24 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, who is no longer here, and to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, for enabling me to dispense with my obligatory apology that as an ex-Hungarian I am speaking on a Scottish subject. Nevertheless, I tender such apologies as may be required of me. Having heard some of the speeches, I think it is necessary to say that we are discussing today the Offshore Petroleum Development (Scotland) Bill, because on hearing some of the contributions to the debate one felt a rather tenuous connection between the Bill as it stands before us and the speeches.

We have had a long debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, said, it is a very difficult debate to sum up. The whole problem is a very complex one. We are faced with people who do not want us to accelerate, and there are those who think we have not accelerated enough. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, for his kind speech which added balance in the attack on the Bill. There has been an unmitigated attack on the Left, the outriders of feudal land tenure; and, on the other hand, there has been the industrialists wanting to plunge us into some horror like the 19th century. Between these two, I feel I am in good company with my noble friend Lord Hughes.

There is, of course, a great problem. The Party opposite has performed a feat that in my opinion it was almost impossible to perform; that is, they have bettered their performance in the other place. They contradicted each other, they contradicted themselves and, in the end, by attacking each other, they eliminated their criticism. That can certainly be said of the winding-up speech of the noble Lord opposite. However, I am sympathetic with him on this score, because it obviously is a difficult matter to sum up. My last effort at summing-up was a disaster.

There is, on the one hand, the problem of environmental protection which has been clearly brought out. Obviously, passionate beliefs are held in this respect and these are well-founded in the history of this country. In Scotland, and perhaps even more so in the North of England and in Wales, the ruthless advance of the first industrial revolution caused blight which will still be with us for generations. In an overcrowded island like Britain, a balance must be struck between the need to increase or maintain the supply of goods and services, and the effects on the lives of those who may have to suffer so that the country is able to produce those goods and services which since the war we have had in insufficient quantity. Both Governments have shared these difficulties. The problems are especially difficult when most of the direct and indirect environmental results are concentrated by virtue of geography into particular parts of the country.

I must remind all those noble Lords who feel that Wales and England should be included in this legislation, that the problem of making semi-submersible and fixed concrete structures requires sites adjacent to deep water and that these are to be found only in Scotland. At the moment the legislation is absolutely essential, and we are trying to do our very best. In this context, may I say that we are leaning over backwards to consult, persuade and cajole—not to force. For instance, there is the question of the reinstatement of land. Some interesting questions were raised on this, which I hope we shall be able to answer in detail in writing. But may I quote subsection (2) of Clause 8 of the Bill, which says: Subsection (1) above shall not apply where the Secretary of State is satisfied, after consulting … the aforesaid authorities; that is to say, at each point there will be consultation with local authorities. It is prescribed that there should be consultations. I am at a loss to understand the libertarian revolt against this very poor and rather weak Bill. The debates in another place have produced the safeguards which we all find indispensable in controlling this development. As the speech of my noble friend Lord Hughes clearly demonstrated, that aspect has received special attention. No repetition of the blight of the 19th century will be permitted as a result of the new revolution in our energy situation which we have undergone in the last few years.

In order to put the problem in its true perspective, I shall concentrate on the importance of the socio-economic needs of the country, and in particular Scotland, for a new burst of activity and prosperity which we all desire, and yet of which so many seem to lose sight when they take their own case. After our debates here and the debates in another place, and the flood of speeches, articles and books on the economic problems of Britain, I hope I may be permitted to refer to the economic background very briefly.

Although this country, at any rate for me, is much the pleasantest, most humane, and most balanced place to live, the industrial expansion we achieved in the last thirty years was insufficient to meet the expectations of a people who were promised "a land fit for heroes to live in" and that sort of thing. We have not been able, either after the First World War or after the second, to live up to this. I am the last person to argue that the happiness of a country can be measured simply by its gross national product or even by national income. At the same time, an insufficiency of resources, particularly for education and health services, does contain the threat of further and intensified social and economic problems.

Our prosperity has been menaced periodically by our inability to make ends meet in relation to foreign countries, and this tendency has in the last two years been aggravated by the sudden increase in the cost of energy imposed on the world by the oil-producing countries. The result of this was a worsening of our terms of trade of gigantic proportions, and a fall in available resources of our own—that is to say non-oil—of between 3 and 5½ per cent. In order to make good this fall, which has been insufficiently appreciated in this country, we have borrowed at an unprecedented rate.

The continuing discoveries in the North Sea of hydrocarbons—both gas and oil—have revolutionised the outlook. Indeed, so far as gas is concerned, we are today in an exceptionally favourable situation, which should be further improved as the Northern gas fields come on stream. We are, among the industrialised Western countries, the only one which has the opportunity to produce oil and gas equivalent to our needs within the next four or five years. The impact on the balance of payments will, of course, be phenomenal, and the steps which the present Government are taking will ensure that the nation receives a fair and adequate share of the prosperity to be gained. Otherwise, of course, the balance of payments improvement would be jeopardised.

The noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, referred to the delays, et cetera. But most of these delays are not due to causes connected with this Bill. On the other hand, the previous Government's intentions, so far as I can make out—I have not seen the papers; we are not allowed to see our predecessors' papers—would have left the oil companies too large a share, in my opinion, of the profits. The present Bill deals, therefore, with an exceedingly important aspect of the oil development strategy, with particular significance for Scotland. While every precaution must be taken to avoid a free-for-all development, it is absolutely essential to emphasise the urgency of getting the oil ashore. In this we have no difference of opinion. The exploration and development of oil and gas fields should produce a new industrial import saving and export opportunity for this country, again of very great magnitude.

From a Scottish point of view, it would be intolerable not to seize the investment and employment opportunities offered by the new offshore supplies industry and to build up an industry which could bring new prosperity to large areas of Scotland, even after the North Sea has been developed and needs less new structure and services. All over the world, from the Bombay High, which I visited two weeks ago, to the Phillipines, from the Aegean to the Atlantic seaboard of the US, from Peru to Argentina, exploration is on the way for further offshore oil resources stimulated by the present price of oil. It would be a shameful loss of opportunity if this country, which is so well placed for developing new techniques for the recovery of oil from deeper and deeper waters, did not play an important part in this.

Learning, however, comes by doing. If we have to rely, as we have had to do too much in the past, on Japanese and French pipes, on Norwegian semi-submersibles, on Dutch pipe-laying barges, then indeed the boom will evaporate before it has even started and Scottish employment will continue to drop. This must not happen. This Bill, by trying to strike the right balance, giving new opportunities yet maintaining the essential rigour of the planning process, will enable this development to proceed. I think a number of noble Lords do not seem to have been aware of the fact that the rigour of the planning process will be maintained.

One can criticise the Government for wanting to have too much consultation in the regions and too little concentration in the centre, but you cannot say both that the Government wish to exert an undue influence and at the same time deplore the lengthiness of the safeguards which the planning process in the region itself provides for the lowly subject. This Bill, by striking the right balance, giving new opportunities but maintaining the essential rigour of the planning process, will enable this development to proceed. It should, therefore, be considered as a total package. Some individual clauses or subsections may be subject to criticism, and we shall obviously consider them with the utmost care in Committee I think that the modifications which have been introduced in another place, which the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, and others acknowledged, show that the Government are fully aware of the importance of having the right balance. Perhaps differences of opinion will arise between for instance, myself and the noble Lord opposite, but nevertheless I think we can work together on this Bill to make it satisfactory all round.

So many and such important and complicated points have been raised that I shall be able tonight to answer only a few. As regards the rest, we shall go through Hansard with my noble friend Lord Hughes, and try to answer them in writing. This touches especially on the very complicated question of inalienable land.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment to remind him that we are supposed to be taking the Committee stage of this Bill on 10th February, and to urge on him, if he is going to write to us with replies to some of the questions we have raised, that it is desperately important that we get the replies in reasonable time to consider whether or not it is necessary to put down Amendments at the Committee stage.


My Lords, I shall certainly do my best, and I am sure the officials of my Department, who are listening intently to your Lordships' speeches, will keep us up to the point.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, on whose rapid passage to the Front Bench I congratulate him, has raised a number of problems. The gravamen of what he said—and it is perfectly justified—was that we had lost a great deal of time. However, the interesting fact is that if there is any responsibility for orders going to foreign yards it lies fairly and squarely with our predecessors. Only one order, that for Claymore in August 1974, has been given during our time in Office. Other orders about which great difficulties seem to have arisen were the responsibility, among other people, of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord as he has mentioned me, how does he account for the two orders in May, 1974, which were referred to by the Parliamentary Secretary in the other place?


My Lords, if the noble Lord thinks that an order can be influenced in two-and-a-half months, that we could have done anything in two-and-a-half months when we did not even have a majority in another place and never had a majority in this place either, then I beg him to think again. Apart from the Drumbuie case there has been no occasion for extensive planning delays. This whole picture, and the torrent of statistics from on high from the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, is really mistaken. His erudition is such that I once called his statistics "The ink which enables the squid to escape". I have apologised to him already for this rudeness, and I apologise again, but I must say that his speech was all-embracing but not very communicative.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for giving way, and for the knowledgeable reference to the ink of a fish. It is normally a cuttlefish, but this time it is a squid. I am also glad to hear that the noble Lord is in good form, as usual. Before he sits down, could he tell us whether my figures were right about the number of concrete platforms which are under construction for the North Sea in this country and out of this country, because that is a critical figure to have? I wish the noble Lord well in his ecological and zoological explorations.


My Lords, the present position is that three steel oil production platforms have been located—




My Lords, ten further orders will be placed for oil pro-duction platforms, of which the majority are likely to be concrete. We know of one for Andrew—Cormorant 2, Beryl 2, Alwyn 1, Alwyn 2—and others.


My Lords, the question I was trying to get at is whether or not it is the case that at this moment there are nine concrete platforms under construction for the North Sea—the British and Norwegian sectors together—and of those nine only three are being built in this country. Can the noble Lord confirm or deny that figure?


My Lords, I do not have the figures here, but I shall communicate with the noble Earl. If he asks me a Question then it can go into Hansard and I shall give him all the information he wishes to have. On the whole, platform sites have not been the most important bottleneck. The important bottlenecks are more to do with manpower problems and technical difficulties, the technical changes which had to be introduced.

I must turn now to the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, because his lead was followed on all sides of the House in complaining that this Bill is unnecessary and that it is too restrictive. This may be unfair, because I am on the Front Bench and he is not, but may I ask him to let me have some substantial reasons for his view that adequate powers already exist. If he can give me those powers I shall do my utmost to publicise the fact. My officials and I did not think that there was the kind of power that we and our predecessors wanted. Moreover, he contradicted himself by congratulating the Shetland Islands on their special Bill which gives precisely the kind of powers that we are now taking for Scotland as a whole.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, I shall follow the noble Lord's example and try to write down the figures, which I do not actually have, and send them to him. I do not think that it would be difficult to prove, but I am certain that if the noble Lord were to read my speech in tomorrow's Hansard he will see that I have given the outline, which I can fill in with figures, of how I believe that satisfactory powers exist. As for the question of congratulating the Shetland and Orkney people on having their own Bill, the difficulty with the Bill at present before your Lordships' House is that it is a Bill to do things centrally by Central Government in a planning matter, whereas I should like to see the planning matters dealt with at local authority level, which is where the planning powers at present lie and where the planning examinations are made. I have made these points in my speech, and if the noble Lord will refer to it again he will see what I meant.


My Lords, I most diligently read all the debates in order to derive knowledge and enlightenment, but again I must say to the noble Viscount that we are being criticised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, for having given too much power to the local authorities, in that we have shortened the Parliamentary proceedings, and left the local safeguards intact.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, may I try to explain where we are obviously not understanding each other. In a planning procedure such as, for instance, at Drumbuie, at Dunnet Bay, or Nigg, or anywhere else where a planning matter has been considered by the planning authority (for instance, a local authority), there is first of all a procedure whereby the locally-represented members of a planning authority consider the whole question from a purely local point of view. At that stage the views of both the people wishing to promote the development and of local people, and of any other interested parties, can be heard and made known to the local planning authority.

If the local planning authority decide to support this then they may well give planning permission or, alternatively, as has happened in many cases, apply to the Secretary of State for a Section 8 permission to vary the existing planning permission on that land. It is at this stage, when the Secretary of State is considering it, that the delays occur, and usually not when the local authorities are considering the matter within the normal local authority planning procedure.

Several Noble Lords


Viscount THURSO

I am sorry, my Lords. I think that I have made my point clear enough.


My Lords, I must come to the defence of the Scottish Office. It is not at that stage that the delay arises. The delay arises where there are objections to what the local authority has decided. There is an appeal to the Secretary of State against the giving or refusal, as the case may be, of planning consent, and a public inquiry is held. That is where the delay takes place. The part of the procedure which is being asked for in this instance is to obviate the same sort of delay happening a second time if compulsory purchase is required.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for having made it unnecessary to continue this inter-Scottish difference of opinion. Both the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, referred to the coast and asked, "Why not England, why not Wales?" The answer is simple. Unlike Norway we do not have many sites—maybe ten—which are fit at present for this kind of activity. We do not want to have them multiply. We want strict control and reinstatement. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal. We intend this Bill to enable the Secretary of State, if he so wishes, to give a new life to land which has been used for this purpose, and which ought to be used for another not envisaged when it was taken over. I hope that I have expressed myself clearly.

Neither Wales nor England has the right sort of coast. One of the answers to the thoughtful speech of the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, is that because Norway has so much more coast suitable for providing the right kind of facilities there have been many fewer difficulties involved. They obviously did not have the sort of difficulties and delays which were imposed upon us. These delays are awkward, we all agree, but in a democracy one obviously has to undergo these processes of persuasion. It is perhaps not absolutely unconnected that the Conservative Party did not do particularly well in Scotland, because they wanted to over-ride awkward but necessary consultations.

May I take the point on the improvement of the planning process which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Craigton? A review of this procedure is now under way and we hope that we shall be able to produce a report very shortly. The noble Earl, Lord Wemyss and March, referred to the fact that under this Bill we shall in any case have one kind of Parliamentary process against another. I am not convinced by the eloquent plea of the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, that an affirmative debate, especially in this House, cannot produce the real truth just as well as the old process. The National Trust may declare any place inalienable without any sort of appeal to anybody. For the noble Earl, Lord Wemyss and March, to claim that this is a particularly democratic process by which four or five gentlemen—or maybe it is 15; I do not know—can declare some piece of land inalienable, is going a little too far. I do not believe that people are always the best judges in their own case, and very often the National Trust is a judge in its own case.


My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Wemyss and March is not here, may I tell the noble Lord that it is the Council of the National Trust that has to prove the inalienability of land on the advice of its Executive Committee? The Council of the National Trust consists of about 60 individuals, some of them elected by the membership of the National Trust and some nominated by various bodies, such as the County Councils Association, the Saltire Society, the archaeologist bodies, et cetera. Not until this has been done can any land be declared inalienable, and then only when it belongs to the National Trust.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, for that explanation. I merely have to substitute "60" for "15".

I think we have had a most interesting and useful debate. If I may presume to try and sum up the reactions of the House to the Bill, I think that what has emerged is a qualified approval—perhaps not very enthusiastic—of many of its provisions, with certain reservations stemming from concern about the Government's intention in seeking these powers. I hope that what I have said in answer to the various points which have been raised during the debate will have set some of those misgivings at rest. One can but hope. I would ask your Lordships to bear in mind that the Government's job in a democracy is to consider the needs of the people as a whole, and to map the way forward on that basis. In the context of oil development, that is exactly what we have tried to do in this Bill. We must bear in mind at all times the general background into which this Bill is set. We must constantly remind ourselves of the necessity of North Sea oil, and the opportunities that North Sea development can bring to Scotland and to the nation as a whole. My Lords, I commend the Bill to the House and I beg to move.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.