HL Deb 13 March 1990 vol 516 cc1511-7

6.10 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington

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

As at Second Reading, I draw the attention of your Lordships to the fact that I am the deputy chairman of Teesside Development Corporation, the promoters of the Bill. It was inevitable that such a major project would attract petitioners concerned about a number of aspects of the possible effects of the work to be carried out. The corporation's board was aware of the possible objections and immediately set in train studies to deal with them.

Most, if not all, of the petitioners were satisfied before or during the Committee stage of the Bill.

Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that the Government, in establishing urban development corporations, had two broad objectives. The first was to clear up dereliction. The second was in so doing to create employment. The Teesside Development Corporation has responsibility for the biggest area of all the urban development corporations. Indeed I believe that the area is greater than all the other areas combined. I mention that because I believe that an imaginative scheme such as that contained in this Bill is essential for the development of the Teesside area.

Developer confidence in Teesside is extremely high at present but development of the Teesdale site is crucially dependent on the infrastructure proposals incorporated in the Bill. Already a long list of interested developers are concerned to know that the infrastructure will be provided at the earliest possible date. There is no doubt that confidence will be disspated if lengthy delays occur with the Bill.

We are talking about some 8,000 jobs and an investment which will exceed £350 million, all of which will require the provision of roads and bridges. Initially there was particular concern about wildlife and water quality. In order to satisfy that concern, the corporation undertook to carry out further tests and to make the reports available to all interested parties. That undertaking has been honoured.

When I tell your Lordships that the National Rivers Authority, the Nature Conservancy Council and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have been satisfied, together with local organisations, I hope it will be agreed that the most strenuous efforts have been made to ensure that legitimate objections have been met.

I wish to pay tribute to the work of the Select Committee under the most admirable chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Benson. I was present at most of the committee's sittings and it would not have been possible for any committee to be more thorough or comprehensive. There was no aspect which was not subjected to the most rigorous examination. That in itself—quite apart from the other matters that I have mentioned—gives me the utmost confidence in recommending the Bill to the House.

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

Lord Benson

My Lords, I was the chairman of the Select Committee which examined this Private Bill. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, for the comments that he has made. The committee of which I was chairman felt that there were a few small matters to which I ought to draw the attention of the House merely by way of information.

There are four such matters. The first two are entirely procedural. The second two are individual to the Bill itself. First, we felt some anxiety at the length of time it takes to pass a Private Bill through the machinery of Parliament. The Bill was lodged in November 1988 and we were told—and it seems likely—that it will not go through the second Chamber until the end of this year. That will be a period of two years. I know that there are some special features about the Bill; but that is a very long time.

The process is very costly and the administrative expenses of the developer continue all that time. It is a subject that has already been examined by the joint review on Private Bill procedure which reported in 1988. It considered whether there might be a single Select Committee instead of two. I do not propose to go into that. I merely make the point that we thought it was a very ponderous machinery.

A more important point arose. One of the petitioners might have given evidence that could be of crucial importance in considering the Bill. However, the petition was withdrawn before the Select Committee sat. But in the course of the Select Committee we were told that that petitioner might present his petition in the second Chamber and it might then have been of considerable importance. We felt embarrassed that we were reporting to this House without hearing what that petitioner said because if his evidence was of crucial importance we might have given a wrong or misleading report to the House. Again I do not know what the solution is, but I mention that procedural point which I consider important.

The second procedural point is this. We found very early in our proceedings that it was a technical Bill. We needed the proofs of evidence of witnesses beforehand so that we could study the proofs, understand the technical problems and ask the right questions. It would also have the advantage of preventing one of the parties to the Bill ambushing another. In this respect I think that I am pushing at an open door. The Joint Committee on Private Bill procedure recommends that procedure in its report. I hope that it will be adopted in future. I am sure that it will help Select Committee procedures.

The first of the individual points relating to the Bill was a matter of importance. The Bill was lodged in November 1988 but the environmental impact assessment was not lodged until May or June 1989. There was no evil intent in this. I think that the developer—the promoter of the Bill—was anxious to go ahead as quickly as possible. The fact remains that that delay meant that a great deal of time and cost were spent by petitioners who examined the Bill without having that assessment before them. I believe that I again push at an open door. The joint review procedure recommended that the assessment should always be available at the time that the Bill is lodged. If that were done as a routine, it would be helpful.

The last point with which I wish to bother the House is a small matter. One of the petitioners had a great many clauses in the original petition. However, when it came before the Select Committee for examination, most of them were dropped. The petitioner concentrated on one subject only. That was a request that we should delay our hearing for three to four months. It was a perfectly fair request, not made with any ill intent. However, we were well into the procedure of the examination of the Bill. If we had been told that that was the only point that he wished to raise we could probably have settled that simple question of postponement very quickly and easily. If that had been so, we could have saved a good deal of time and expense.

I do not wish to trouble your Lordships further. I thought that those matters were worth drawing to your Lordships' attention, and the Select Committee having considered carefully, also felt that I should do so. Of course, I have put those matters in a letter to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, the Chairman of Committees, so that he may be aware of the points.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

My Lords, perhaps I may say a few words in view of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Benson, raised these procedural points. He and I have corresponded and I believe that we are agreed on many aspects of the points which he put forward. On the other hand, as he knows, there are difficulties and we are doing our best to sort them out.

First, I thank him and his committee for doing a first-class job, as the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, said. Sometimes we find it difficult to get people to serve on these committees as the work is quite exacting, and we are very grateful to this committee for its hard work over a three-week period.

Many of the matters the noble Lord raised were commented on by the Joint Committee of both Houses on Private Bill procedure. However, I realise that some of the procedural points are very difficult to solve. It is true that it is a fairly cumbersome procedure which goes through two Houses, but, on the other hand, one of the conclusions of the Joint Committee was that many Private Bill procedures seem to support promoters rather more than the petitioners. There is a slight balance of advantage to the promoters. Anything which seeks to push that balance further to the advantage of the promoters is not very welcome. Any idea of a single committee may not be as happy a solution as it appears at first glance.

As the noble Lord said, in two instances he is pushing at an open door. The Joint Committee recommended that written proofs should be exchanged and we hope that that will be the position in future. Also, it was agreed that it can be helpful for petitioners to indicate at the outset any change in their position since a petition was deposited.

Furthermore, we are now giving active consideration to the Joint Committee's other recommendation in favour of the deposit of environmental assessment statements with works Bills. Indeed, that would have assisted the committee on the River Tees Bill, and again, I hope that that will be put right in future Bills. Therefore, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for putting those points on the record. It is always useful to know the experience of the Select Committees and I repeat that I am most grateful to him for the work of his committee.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I appreciate and acknowledge the protocol in these matters; namely, that this is not a party issue but a Private Bill. Nevertheless, speaking from the Front Bench, I am pleased warmly to welcome this Bill and I wish it a speedy and unharmed voyage through another place. I am certain that not only has my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington performed a useful function but he must feel a great deal of satisfaction and pride, in view of his connections with the broader community of Teesside, at the part which he has played in this very useful piece of legislation.

I was also interested in what he said about taking the advice and guidance of the National Rivers Authority, the Nature Conservancy Council and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I did not hear him say this but I understand that the committee was able to take into account and incorporate into the Bill, as amendments, matters which could be described as protection clauses for the conservation interests in the Bill.

This is a matter which is all about jobs and economic regeneration. Nevertheless, I know that the area of Teesside has suffered dreadfully from dereliction and appalling landscape and environmental detriment in general over the years as part of the aftermath of the industrial revolution. I believe that it is very good that the promoters of the Bill are anxious to play their part. As the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, has told us, this measure is designed to produce 8,000 jobs and to bring into the community hundreds of millions of pounds of investment which will be good not only for the investor but also for the community.

I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Benson, said about the aggravation of delay. There cannot be a Member sitting in your Lordships' House who at some stage has not felt frustrated by such delays. I also listened to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who said that easy solutions do not appear to these problems and, if they appear to be easy, on examination they are not always the ideal solutions.

As regards the Private Bill procedures, we must be exceedingly careful not only that they are used properly but that they are not abused. There has been much dissatisfaction at the fact that sometimes the route of a Private Bill is abused by promoters who can avoid scrutiny in other places by promoting legislation through Parliament. Therefore, there is a duty on both Houses to be even more vigilant than they may otherwise be to ensure that the Bill is properly considered. I am certainly very pleased that we have this Bill. From my knowledge of the North-East I can appreciate the energy, drive and initiative of the development corporation in promoting this Bill. I give it a very warm welcome.

Lord Reay

My Lords, it may be helpful if I give the House a brief summary of the Government's position on the Bill now brought before us for Third Reading. The Government fully support the objectives of this Bill. The successful development of the Teesdale site is crucially important to the Teesside Development Corporation's strategy for the regeneration of the area. The Government are satisfied that the construction of the barrage and bridges will maximise the investment potential of this site and will be cost-effective when set against the wider benefits of the scheme.

The Government have examined the detailed economic appraisal of the corporation's proposals for this site, and on the basis of the cost estimates contained in that appraisal have agreed to make up to £57 million of grant-in-aid available to Teesside Development Corporation to implement the scheme if Parliament so agrees.

Since Second Reading, a considerable amount of research has been undertaken into the environmental and ecological implications of the barrage. Officials have been studying this research and have largely concluded that ameliorative measures proposed by Teesside Development Corporation to counteract any possible adverse effects of the barrage are likely to deal with these effects in a satisfactory manner. A further statement will be made when the Bill is considered in another place.

The committee of your Lordships' House has allowed the Bill to proceed after detailed scrutiny. For petitioners and others who remain dissatisfied with the provisions of the Bill, there will be a further opportunity for them to petition against the Bill in another place. I hope, therefore, that in the usual conventional way your Lordships will agree to allow the Bill to proceed.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a third time.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. In so doing, I wish to thank all noble Lords who have made contributions to such an important measure. I must pay special tribute to the speech this evening of the noble Lord, Lord Benson. We are aware of the most valuable contribution which he always makes to the work of your Lordships' House. I hope that the important and constructive points that he made will receive due notice by the authorities of the House. They would lead to improvements in the manner in which we conduct our business and, therefore, in the quality of the legislation.

I was delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, intervened to bring immediate consideration to the important points made by the noble Lord, Lord Benson. I appreciate that there are difficulties—things are never quite as easy as one imagines—but I hope that those concerned with such matters will take due notice and give serious consideration to the points raised by the noble Lord. His chairmanship was as good as any that could have been undertaken in such circumstances.

I wish to make only one point about the presentation of the Bill. The development corporation is aware that some people and organisations believed that all the necessary tests should have been completed before the Bill was presented. That is an understandable viewpoint. However, the corporation—and as deputy chairman I share responsibility—reached its decision to proceed with the Bill before the results of all the tests were known in the knowledge that the initial but major studies were favourable. There were two postponements in order to meet objections to the environmental assessment and the statement was ready by June.

I was born in the North-East of England and I have lived there all my life. During my time in another place and in your Lordships' House much of my effort has been directed towards improving the quality of life in that area. I believe that the measure before us this evening will make an important contribution towards that objective in a part of the region which sorely needs that improvement. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Normand of Easington.)

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.