HL Deb 26 July 1993 vol 548 cc956-8

2.59 p.m.

The Earl of Stockton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they can confirm that, in the event of compensation being paid to Newport Docks as a result of the M.4 relief road, any such payments (either directly to Newport Docks, or through the Welsh Development Agency) will be made public and will not include an element intended to fund the reconstruction of the principal entrance lock to Newport Docks.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, any compensation so arising would be paid strictly in accordance with the appropriate statutory provisions. However, it is not normal practice to make public the sums of money involved.

The Earl of Stockton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Can he assure the House that the terms of the contract for the Usk river crossing will be strictly drawn up and rigorously adhered to? The taxpayer will thus not be asked to fund the highest road bridge—61 metres—facilitating navigation in the UK or be offered a spurious cheaper alternative which will allow the lock reconstruction to be funded at nominal cost.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, it would be quite improper for a government department to inflate the level of compensation, whatever the circumstances.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity afforded by the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, to ask the Minister to ensure—this is extremely important— that a level playing field is maintained between port activities on both sides of the Severn. Can he assure us that, while the figures may not he published, there will be a strict adherence to what the Minister said?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I can assure the House that there is a level playing field between the two ports which the Question involves. An article in the Western Mail at the end of last week showed a major customer removing business from Newport to Bristol.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, perhaps the Minister could use a self-denying ordinance not to use the phrase "lever playing field". Can I remind the House that Lords and Headingley are by no means level?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I will take due regard of what the noble Lord says.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, can the House be assured that the Welsh Office will have regard to the anxieties of all interested parties? Is he fully aware of the depth of the anxieties of the environmental organisations—including the CPRW and the RSPB —and the villages along the three possible routes regarding the irreparable damage which may be caused to the environment by the relief road?

While there is considerable support for the concept of the relief road, can the Minister confirm whether or not the construction of the relief road will involve an environmental cost? In view of those concerns, is the noble Viscount able to confirm that an environmental impact study is being or will be undertaken in order to measure and assess the damage? If so, who will undertake it? Will there be an opportunity for all interested parties to offer evidence to the study? Finally, when will the study be completed?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, the relief road proposals are at a preliminary stage. Two of the three routes currently the subject of public consultation cross Newport Docks. All three could affect navigation capability within the docks and within the River Usk. No decision on a possible route corridor will be undertaken until the outcome of the current public consultation is known. I believe—if I am in error I shall write to the noble Lord—that environmental impact studies will be made in accordance with normal practice and that it is normal practice in all such undertakings to prepare such reports.

The Earl of Stockton

My Lords, in view of that reassuring answer, can my noble friend explain why any compensation should be paid to the beneficiaries of such a major infrastructure advantage? People will gain direct motorway access from the dock gate.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, compensation is likely to be payable to the Newport Docks Authority, the company owned by Associated British Ports plc, under various statutory provisions. They are primarily the compensation Acts of 1961 and 1973, the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965 and the Planning and Compensation Act 1991. The level of compensation will depend on the route chosen.