HL Deb 15 April 1986 vol 473 cc543-53

3.3 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Gray of Contin)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

It will be recalled by those who were present last week that I explained the position of the Government as far as this legislation is concerned. The Government are required to facilitate discussion on the progress of the Bill while adopting a neutral stance on the content. I outlined in some detail what the position of the Government was when I spoke on Second Reading. That position is unchanged, apart from the fact that your Lordships saw fit to give the Second Reading of the Bill a substantial vote of approval by 96 votes to 27. The position of the Government on the Bill is unchanged.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Lord Gray of Contin.)

On Question, Bill read a third time with the amendment.

Clause 2 [Short Title]:

Lord Galpern moved the Amendment: Page 1, line, 14, at end insert ("and shall come into force on 31st May 1986.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is fundamentally different from that moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, last Tuesday which sought delay of the debate on Second Reading until after the Lothian region elections. If this amendment is carried this afternoon the region would be given the necessary powers to construct the Western Relief Road, but the date at which the powers could be exercised would be delayed until 31st May 1986. It is difficult to see what harm would accrue to the promoters by a few weeks' delay. On the other hand, the delay would save money for the ratepayers in the event of a change of control after the 8th May elections.

As I understand the position, three contracts have been placed already and, according to a report in yesterday's Scotsman, a fourth contract was scheduled to be approved by the transport committee yesterday and by the full council on 1st May. In the same edition of the Scotsman the regional council's convener, Mr. Brian Meek, is reported as having said: as far as I am concerned as long as there is a majority of people on this council who are in favour of the road, then the road will go ahead". He added that there was a strong possibility that Labour would cancel the project if it gained control, but that would not be his responsibility.

How can he discard the responsibility as a convener of a regional council of 49 members? Surely as a leader it is his responsibility to look after the interests of the ratepayers who elected him. Knowing as he does that the contracts could be cancelled at a tremendous cost to the ratepayers, I would suggest that in these circumstances his duty is clearly to delay signing the contracts until after the elections.

He has been warned by his chief executive, Mr. Graham Bowie, that any contracts that were let would be a liability. Mr. Donald Mackenzie, who is the Scottish organiser of the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors, has declared that if a contract were awarded a contractor would be well away within one week of approval". He added significantly that a company's involvement would be quite extensive and it would have a case for a claim. Such claims could be very substantial.

It seems to me that in view of the controversy over the proposed road, the forthcoming regional council elections may attract as many parties as fought in the recent Fulham by-election, but I am particularly interested in the Liberal-SDP Alliance manifesto. I quote from the Glasgow Herald of 9th April which said: Alliance sets objectives for local election. A more local open … form of local government was promised yesterday by the Liberal-SDP Alliance in the Lothian region as it opened its campaign for the elections on May 8. Speaking at a news conference in Edinburgh, Liberal Councillor Donald Gorrie said it had been an interesting and difficult time for the three Alliance members who have held the balance of power in Lothian for the past four years". The significant part is: The Alliance was now aiming to win control over Lothian and if elected would concentrate on giving people a bigger say in the local decisions which affect them. The Alliance wanted to create the conditions in which local communities could have more influence over decision-making".

In my opinion the amendment presents a golden opportunity to noble Lords of the Alliance in this House to support the sentiments expressed in their manifesto by voting for the amendment and so giving the electors in the Lothian region the chance to air their views on the road to the fullest extent on 8th May, an opportunity denied them by the unusual procedure adopted by the council in the promotion of the Order Confirmation Bill. Over 300,000 people in 38 organisations have expressed their opposition to this particular Bill and to the form in which it has been conducted. I beg to move the amendment.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, the noble Lord has called upon me to respond to his quite extraordinary appeal. The Alliance of course are all for open government. The fact is that if we respond to his amendment it means that forever and ever we must await a fresh appeal to the electorate before anything is done. The fact is that the three Alliance members, who are not committed to this to start with, have examined this matter with enormous care. I do not think that on any single measure more parliamentary time in Committee has been spent for many years on examining this. They have gone through it with a fine toothcomb for 17 days in both Houses' committees of examination; and I cannot remember how many days they have spent—perhaps even more than 17—on the initial measure. If we are to await every succeeding election to give the electorate a chance to reverse the decision, it appears to me to be absolutely and completely ludicrous. I have re-examined the position with the said Donald Corrie only yesterday and his fellow Alliance counsellors. They have again produced evidence to me and I am absolutely certain that the decision of this House was correct in the light of the evidence examined and re-examined, and I have no hesitation in saying that the correct democratic course is to reject this amendment which I really cannot understand.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend Lord Galpern in his statement. I believe that he put it extremely clearly and we must remember that he was part of the commission that looked at the problem. In the last week I have endeavoured to find out more about one particular part of the decision—and I speak following on the speech of the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin. The more I have examined and the more information I have, the more I realise just how important this decision is to the Lothian Region now and in the future for quite a period ahead.

I hope not to speak for more than a few minutes but I should like specifically to discuss a question that was rather brushed over last time and I am afraid that it was my fault and all our faults as much as that of the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin. That was the question of what really was meant by the "covenant scheme" and was what was involved in the covenant scheme for local authority expenditure. I had some difficultly in finding out about it. I do not think that it was a secret; it was just that people did not seem to know a great deal about it; but I was rather surprised at just how complicated it was.

Apparently, it is that a local authority decides on its capital expenditure for a particular job and then, if it has not got an allocation within its capital expenditure, it then contacts and makes a contract with a vehicle company to undertake the works. The payments are structured so that the authority can defer making payments for a period of anything up to 21 years. Once the authority has selected its tenderer, the vehicle company enters into a contract with the district council or the regional council and the vehicle company pays the contractor in the usual way. The vehicle company raises the money to make payments by going to the open market and its security is the covenant that it makes with the local authority to pay in the future. The local authority promises that it will pay back in the future.

3.15 p.m.

I am advised that the Secretary of State has stated that, under a deferred payment contract, payments will count as capital expenditure only in the year in which they were made and not in the year in which the work was done. There are grave implications in this, I believe, for Lothian in the future. The Secretary of State, on the other hand, has added that not only would the actual expenditure on the works count as capital expenditure in the year that the payments were made, but also the costs of deferring that expenditure. These costs include interest costs incurred by the vehicle company when borrowing money on the open market to finance the work.

I also understand that in certain cases this could increase the demand for future capital investment consent to two or three times (because of the interest charges and the time lapse) the initial cost of the building. This could greatly prejudice the capital expenditure possible in future years. So our reason for the amendment is even more obvious, I believe (or should be so) to the House. If at the elections in May, the Lothian region changes its political complexion and a new council takes a choice either of cancelling the contract signed rather hastily, in a matter of days, and incur full penalties, then that is one thing it can do. It can cancel the contracts and incur penalties or it can accept the contracts as they are under this covenant scheme and land itself in very heavy capital commitment which could seriously affect its other programmes (the ones they had promised the electors) when they were coming in after the election.

It is a very important point. It is not simply a road. It is a very important political point which will decide what Lothian region will be able to spend over the next 20 years or, at least, it will take out a large slice because the increase in costs could be anything from two to three times the initial capital cost of the road. Therefore, I believe that for the sake of a few days, we should allow this contract to be thought over again, and allow the council elections to take place. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, that this would mean that at every instance you would need to take another referendum. This is very special. The whole of this debate has been very special from the day it started, using the wrong procedures in many ways because Lothian Council thought that they could hustle it through under that procedure.

We are now at a stage that we are asking for less than a six-weeks' delay on something that has been going on for a long time to allow the people of Edinburgh to make a decision until the way is clear for the new local authority of whatever complexion to make a decision and I very much hope that the House will support my noble friend Lord Galpern in his amendment.

Lord Wilson of Langside

My Lords, I have listened attentively to what both the noble Lords, Lord Galpern, and Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove have said. I have the greatest difficulty in appreciating what relevance it has in the context of your Lordships' consideration of this Bill at this particular point in the parliamentary process. The issue of the Edinburgh's Western Relief Road has surely been exhausted so far as the Parliamentary processes are concerned; for everything that could conceivable be inquired into has been inquired into painstakingly and carefully by two parliamentary commissions; and both commissions have reported in favour of the Western Relief Road.

The fundamental question for these parliamentary commissions, albeit they came to their conclusions by a majority—in the one case of 3 to 1 and, in the other, of 4 to 2—was this. Is the preamble to the Bill, which is the Bill which is before your Lordships, proved or not? Both these inquiries heard evidence in support of the proposition that the preamble to the Bill which sets out the necessity for this road was proved, and they heard evidence which contended that it was not proved. Both, after exhaustive inquiries, concluded that it was proved. The Bill now comes before your Lordships for Third Reading.

In the background to all this matter, there was here and there a touch of farce. It derived from a little local party dispute, primarily between the Labour and Conservative parties. I suggest that if your Lordships were to approve this amendment it would serve to bring this farce out of the background and into the foreground in your Lordships' House. I would ask your Lordships to oppose the amendment if, unhappily, the noble Lords, Lord Galpern and Lord Carmichael, do not see the sense of withdrawing it this afternoon. I think it is a pity that we should have to deal with an issue of this kind quite unnecessarily, when your Lordships are waiting, I am sure with some anxiety, to hear a Statement on another matter of less local concern.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Galpern, has endeavoured with care to show that he is raising a new and different matter today in this amendment; that is, different from the amendment which we considered in this House exactly a week ago. I do not myself see much difference between the two amendments. Both of them would delay until next month the start of the execution of the project in question.

The amendment last Tuesday was rejected by an overwhelming majority of this House. However, I appreciate the apprehension which has been expressed in the past few months by various bodies and individ- uals concerning the consideration of the proposal for the Western Relief Road. Those apprehensions were that the historic buildings in the centre of Edinburgh might be damaged by too much traffic arriving at that point.

If I thought that would happen, I should have opposed this Bill. It is a matter of judgment, but if that were to happen it would nullify what I and others have done over the years to try to protect the centre of Edinburgh, and in particular the Georgian new town. But I believe those fears are unfounded. I shall not repeat the arguments, which were made in a fairly lengthy debate a week ago. I shall simply say that I believe it to be quite wrong to allow this amendment to be accepted today.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, unfortunately I could not be present at the Second Reading of this Bill, but of course I read with the greatest care all that went on and I noted, as has been pointed out several times today, that the Bill was given a Second Reading by a large majority. It was a large majority at nine o'clock in the evening; but, never mind, it was a large majority.

What I think is quite clear to all your Lordships is this. This question of the Edinburgh bypasses has gone on for a long time—30 or 40 years. Secondly, it has taken up an inordinate amount of parliamentary time, partly, I think, because the issue got off in the wrong direction. Thirdly, it is now a political football, and that is bad when what we are trying to get right is the wellbeing of the city of Edinburgh, both from a traffic point of view and, even more important, from an amenity point of view.

It is on the amenity point of view that I remain extremely worried. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said about his opinion; but his opinion goes counter to the best judgment of all the bodies concerned with such matters in the city of Edinburgh. I do not have to recall them all—I think there are 38 in total—but there is the Cockburn Trust, the National Trust for Scotland, the Scottish Civic Trust, the Scottish Civic Trust of Edinburgh and all the others. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, said that in his opinion they do not count. I wonder whether that is right. I am the more disturbed when I know that in a short time there is going to be opened what is known as the Sighthill bypass, which is going to show whether that bypass will not do a great deal of what is wanted in relieving the traffic congestion for which this particular bypass is proposed.

Therefore, I find myself in a great dilemma. I find myself not wanting, in a sense, to support the amendment, which will delay matters for only a short time; and it may well be that even without it, though it will cost money, after the elections in May we shall see the same results anyhow. But, on balance, I feel that the judgment of the amenity societies is so important, and the fact that we do not know what is going to happen on the new bypass which will open later this year is so important, that, for better or worse, we should support the amendment. That will at least give us a little more breathing time.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I was chairman of the joint committee and sat with the noble Lord, Lord Galpern, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, for 17 days, looking at the very issues which the noble Earl, Lord Perth, has just mentioned. Those of your Lordships who attended the very full debate we had last week on the Second Reading may remember that a number of us went into the various areas that were discussed by the committee. We looked very carefully at the objections of the environmental bodies who were against the Bill. Their particular and very special concern is that the road which your Lordships are now discussing would bring more traffic into the centre of Edinburgh.

I am bound to tell your Lordships that we listened to a very full discussion of that and appreciated that the technical experts who were speaking for Edinburgh District Council and the other petitioners, as well as those speaking for Lothian Regional Council, could not agree. They said they could not prove that there would be more cars coming into the centre of Edinburgh. In view of that, we felt that the fears, now that the road has been adjusted in many ways (and there have been many alterations to the roads since the original design was made) are unfounded. As a result, the joint committee agreed the preamble of the Bill and rejected an identical amendment to that which we have today, by a clear majority of four votes to two.

I really think that the time for detailed arguments is past. The road is designed. Most of the tenders have been accepted and everything is ready to go. The noble Lord, Lord Galpern, said it would save money if the road is cancelled. Of course it would: if you do not build a road, it is a lot cheaper than building it. But the point is that vast amounts of ratepayers' and taxpayers' money has already been spent on research, design, consultation and responding to consultation.

Important environmental and traffic improvements in Edinburgh await agreement that the road is to be built, because they could not happen unless there is such a road. Those measures were published last week and are awaiting public consultation once the decision is taken. Large sums have been spent on paying legal counsel on both sides in this protracted argument. The cost of the new financial arrangements, about which the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, read his piece, entirely depends on how the region uses this facility. They have got it in order to give them greater flexibility. After all that, it has been suggested that your Lordships should ask the people of Edinburgh to reconsider the whole matter and to do so amid all the other issues that will be raised in an election campaign.

The Bill has been extremely carefully scrutinised, according to a procedure agreed by Parliament. After a full debate, it was passed, unamended, by another place. After a very full debate your Lordships also rejected an amendment similar to this one. I ask you now to reject the amendment and to pass the Bill this afternoon.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, it has been suggested that everything is ready to go. It strikes me that that is rather taking for granted the result of parliamentary discussion. Everything is ready to go and yet just a week ago the people who propose to build the road went to the Scottish Office to ask for another £10 million because they did not have the money required under the guidelines to get started. That was the reason for the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, about the unusual proceedings and the fact that the funding of the road is not being guaranteed by the Government but is being done under a covenant.

Let us get this clear. Why is the Bill here at all? How many cases have there ever been of this procedure being used? As far as I can gather, there has been only one where the planning aspects of a road have been incorporated with the moving of a railway. The only reason for having a Bill such as this is under the Transport Acts when a railway is being moved. I gather that British Rail has no objections to the moving of the railway. It would have been a simple matter. The measure could have gone to a committee or it might even have been dealt with on the nod in the House. The normal procedure in respect of a planning application for a road is for the Secretary of State, if he feels that there are objections, to call it in and ask for a public inquiry. He appoints a reporter who would hear all the evidence on the spot.

The regional council decided not to do things in the usual way. It decided on that road in the procedures committee, sometimes with a majority of one and sometimes that one was the chairman's casting vote. In its wisdom, the regional council decided not to submit the application to the usual scrutiny of a public inquiry, in which the Secretary of State appoints a reporter who hears all the evidence, sights and balances it, gets everyone on both sides to agree to the facts, sets them out and makes a report. Is it not farcical that we have discussed this matter twice and yet not once have we have had a report before us?

I can understand the bewilderment and bemusement felt by my noble friends and noble Lords on the other side of the House because we have not had one report from the commissions. It was the regional council, which so narrowly got itself into this matter, that decided on this procedure. I think that it was a former Minister of this Government who just the other week said that he deplored the procedure; that it was fundamentally wrong and should never be repeated. I agree with that.

The road is a contentious local issue. One Conservative MP who reresents West Edinburgh is for it and another MP who represents Central Edinburgh is against it. The matter has been sent to us and most of us know nothing at all about Edinburgh.

The noble Earl, Lord Perth, is right in many ways, but he made one mistake. He talked about an Edinburgh bypass. This road is not an Edinburgh bypass. That is the tragedy. It may help the people of Corstorphine, but not entirely, because the zoo will remain there. Murrayfield will remain in Murrayfield. Tyne Castle, where Hearts play football, will remain where it is, off Gorgie Road. There will always be trouble there. Anything that we do will do limited good.

What will the road cost? It will be £44 million plus interest, which I gather is £56 million over the period. Under the new covenant procedure, it will cost an extra £13 million. Four miles of road will cost over £100 million. It will disturb a cemetery. It will take three holes from a golf course and shift the traffic from one place to another. It has been said time after time by the experts that the road will not produce any more traffic. Does any noble Lord know of a new relief road that did not produce more traffic? Of course the road will produce traffic and that traffic will go into the very centre of Edinburgh, opposite the Usher Hall, with the castle just in front of it. That is what the contention is about.

I suggest that we would be wise to give the time until 31st May. The elections are in a fortnight. Let the people of Edinburgh speak and decide. They are the right people to do that. I suggest that we should accept the amendment that was tabled by my noble friend Lord Galpern.

3.37 p.m.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, I do not propose to detain the House because, if I sense the mood correctly, there are other matters to which your Lordships would wish to proceed. Let me briefly say that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, inasmuch as the noble Earl, Lord Perth, made a mistake; in fact, he made two. When he was enunciating those who were opposed to this measure, he failed to put the other side of the case and to say that strong representations have been received by the regional council on behalf of the Transport and General Workers' Union which strongly supports it.

Lord Ross of Marnock

A section of the measure, my Lords.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, the TGWU strongly supports what the regional council seeks to do. The financial situation is a matter entirely for Lothian Regional Council. It has been discussed with the Government, and the Government are in sympathy with what the council seeks to do.

On Second Reading I outlined the Government's position in detail. I feel that we must now proceed.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, I have been told by the noble Lord that I made two mistakes. I accept that I made the first mistake. It is not a bypass; it is a relief road, with all that that means. On the second point I made no mistake. I said that the amenities societies were against it and that is what counts, not the TGWU. That is all I wish to say.

3.39 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided; Contents, 69; Not-Contents, 161.

Ardwick, L. Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. [Teller.]
Barnett, L.
Bernstein, L. Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Blyton, L. David, B.
Bottomley, L. Davies of Penrhys, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Dean of Beswick, L.
Caradon, L. Denington, B.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Mulley, L.
Ennals, L. Nicol, B.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Northfield, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Oram, L.
Fitt, L. Perth, E.
Gallacher, L. Plant, L.
Galpern, L. [Teller.] Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Glenamara, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Gormley, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Scanlon, L.
Heycock, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Serota, B.
Hughes, L. Soper, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Stallard, L.
Jacques, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Jeger, B. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Strabolgi, L.
John-Mackie, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Kagan, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Kirkhill, L. Tonypandy, V.
Leatherland, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Underhill, L.
Lockwood, B. Wallace of Coslany, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Mellish, L. Wheatley, L.
Milford, L. White, B.
Mishcon, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Molloy, L. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
Airedale, L. Fraser of Kilmorack, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Gainford, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Gardner of Parkes, B.
Allerton, L. Gibson-Watt, L.
Ampthill, L. Gisborough, L.
Atholl, D. Gladwyn, L.
Attlee, E. Glanusk, L.
Auckland, L. Glenarthur, L.
Aylestone, L. Gray of Contin, L.
Banks, L. Grey, E.
Beaverbrook, L. Gridley, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.
Beloff, L.
Belstead, L. Hampton, L.
Bessborough, E. Hankey, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Hayter, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Henderson of Brompton, L.
Butterworth, L. Hill-Norton, L.
Caithness, E. Hives, L.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Home of the Hirsel, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Hooper, B.
Campbell of Croy, L. Hunt, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Hunter of Newington, L.
Cathcart, E. Hutchinson of Lullington, L.
Cayzer, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Chelmer, L. Ilchester, E.
Chelwood, L. Kaberry of Adel, L.
Cobbold, L. Killearn, L.
Coleraine, L. Kimball, L.
Cottesloe, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Cox, B. Kinnoull, E.
Craigavon, V. Lane-Fox, B.
Crawshaw of Aintree, L. Lauderdale, E.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Layton, L.
De Freyne, L. Lewin, L.
Denham, L. Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, E.
Denning, L. Long, V.
Derwent, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Diamond, L. McFadzean, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Mackie of Benshie, L. [Teller.]
Drumalbyn, L.
Effingham, E. Macleod of Borve, B.
Ellenborough, L. Malmesbury, E.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Mancroft, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Mar, C.
Elton, L. Margadale, L.
Erne, E. Marley, L.
Ezra, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Faithfull, B. Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.
Fortescue, E.
Mayhew, L. Shannon, E.
Merrivale, L. Sharples, B.
Mersey, V. Shaughnessy, L.
Middleton, L. Simon, V.
Milverton, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Monk Bretton, L. Smith, L.
Mottistone, L. Somers, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L. Stedman, B.
Munster, E. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Nugent of Guildford, L. Strathspey, L.
Onslow, E. Sudeley, L.
Orkney, E. Suffield, L.
Orr-Ewing, L. Swinton, E.
Pender, L. Terrington, L.
Platt of Writtle, B. Teviot, L.
Porritt, L. Tordoff, L.
Portland, D. Trefgarne, L.
Rankeillour, L. Trenchard, V.
Renton, L. Tweedsmuir, L.
Ritchie of Dundee, L. Ullswater, V.
Rochdale, V. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Rochester, L. Vernon, L.
Romney, E. Vivian, L.
Rugby, L. Walston, L.
Sainsbury, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Sanderson of Bowden, L. [Teller.] Whaddon, L.
Whitelaw, V.
Sandford, L. Wilson of Langside, L.
Sandys, L. Winstanley, L.
Seear, B. Young, B.
Selkirk, E. Ypres, E.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, I beg to move the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Gray of Contin.)

On Question, Bill passed.

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