Orders of the Day — WELSH SHIPPING AGENCY BILL [Lords] (By Order)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd June 1964.

Alert me about debates like this

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

7.1 p.m.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

Does the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) wish to speak to the Question?

Photo of Sir Frank Soskice Sir Frank Soskice , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent)

Later, Mr. Speaker, if I am fortunate enough to catch your eye.

Photo of Mr David Webster Mr David Webster , Weston-Super-Mare

I beg to move, to leave out "now" and at the end of the Question to add "upon this day three months".

I wish to express my deepest opposition to the Bill. I object to the Bill for a large number of reasons. Perhaps I can first set them out as briefly as possible and then elaborate on them. The Bill would ruin the economy of Weston-super-Mare and Clevedon and other communities on the north lateral of Somerset. I object to the manner of presentation of the Bill. I consider that it would be a disadvantage to the Port of Bristol and other Bristol Channel ports, and that it would create an imbalance in the national docks structure of the country. Finally, I believe that the financial provisions, or calculations or estimates are inadequate and insufficient. This is a rather ambitious selection of reasons for opposing the Bill, which has been put down as Private Business.

May I, first, refer to my constituency. I have no reluctance whatever about speaking on a constituency matter. I think that I have shown in the short title to my objections, if I may so put it, that my complaint against the Bill is very wide and deep indeed. Therefore, I have no reluctance in going in detail into the afflictions which would result from the Bill in my constituency. Much as I stand for the amenities in Somerset, this is not simply a matter of protecting amenities such as trees in various attractive parts of Somerset. The matter goes very much deeper than that.

We are considering here one of the most desirable coastlines in the whole of England If anyone doubted that, he could have seen this weekend thousands of motor cars going to this part of the country. It has two towns which make most of their living out of being seaside resorts and giving pleasure to a wide range of people. That is illustrated by the number of hon. Members who have had the kindness to attend this debate. This is not simply a constituency matter between my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Sir T. Leather) and myself.

My constituency, Weston-super-Mare, is the major seaside resort on the north side of south-west England. Places like Clevedon, Sand Bay, Brean and Berrow possess amenities on which the economy of my constituency is based. That is the first thing that I should like to stress. It is not simply a case of cutting down a few trees or upsetting amenities to a certain extent. We are here dealing with the livelihood of thousands of people in my constituency. This is the best reason that I know why a constituency member should speak up strongly on this subject.

This is an area of wide renown. It is one of the principal holiday areas. A very considerable element of the population of Weston consists of people who went there on their holidays many years ago and were so delighted with their experiences that they made it their home. This is a strong reason why people in many other parts of the country should wish to protect the amenities and beauty of this area so that in time they may go to live there.

Another consideration is health and the fact that there are many charities in Birmingham and the Midlands which have retirement homes in Weston. They have written to the town clerk of the borough expressing the deepest concern about the future of their investment in the borough. Also, a new institution for the blind is to be opened very shortly in Weston. The opening will be graced by the presence of Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra.

This shows clearly that this is not simply a selfish desire to prevent progress. It is a desire to preserve the amenities, the way of life and the economy of the area and those things which many people up and down the country cherish in their old age and periods of infirmity. These are very strong reasons why the House should not give a Second Reading to the Bill without the most serious thought.

Even if this were only a constituency problem, I should still be very proud to raise it and to try to resist the Bill, because I consider that one of the functions of this House is to repel the encroachments of what I shall for politeness call "the invisible man". Many people in my constituency have been worried about the Bill. It comes from a source remote from themselves and it will have a devastating effect on the economy and decencies of the area. I will explain later why the word "decencies" has been chosen with the greatest care. It is our function in this House to repel the "invisible man" when he seeks to spoil large parts of the country. We hold this task in trust for our constituencies, and we are very proud to discharge it.

I understand that my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is to reply to the points which are made in the debate. I hope that he will do so in time for us to say what we think of any assurances that he may give. I thank him for his courtesy in visiting the area this weekend, so that he could see the problem for himself. I know that he is a greatly overworked Minister, and I pay tribute to him for having the goodness to see the problem in the area for himself. I warn him, however, that, despite the fact that he has done this, and that he has the most disarming way of dealing with objections to anything that he proposes, he will have to say something very substantial before he satisfies us.

I had the great pleasure of serving with my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on the Harbours Bill, which brought into effect the National Ports Council. I appreciated very much the great wisdom and sagacity which he showed in piloting through Committee a Bill which, in parts, was very difficult and contentious. In certain cases he made considerable concessions. I hope that he is in a concessionary mood this evening and that he will tell us something really substantial and give us time to consider it fully.

It would be wrong for my hon. and gallant Friend to use the argument that it would be bad to throw out the Bill, as I should like to do, because this is the first Measure due to be put to the National Ports Council. That would be about the worst argument possible. If the Bill is worthy of going to the Council, we should send it there. My submission is that the Bill is not worthy of being sent to the Council and is not worthy of consideration by this House. When we have a good Measure to send to the Council, we can send it there.

It is wrong to say that we set up machinery like the National Ports Council so that there may be a body to vet these matters. It is the duty of the House of Commons, and a duty which nobody here will shirk, thoroughly to examine these matters in principle before allowing them to go any further. It is not only our duty to our constituents, but it is also our duty to the national purse, because a very considerable amount of money is involved here. All of us in the House tonight are here because we believe in our Parliamentary institutions. That is a very good reason why we should give the Bill the most thorough scrutiny and not let it pass till we are thoroughly satisfied that the damage which we fear will not, in fact, materialise.

Now to come to the technical matters of my objection. The jetty will be built into the Bristol Deep from the Spencer Works in the constituency of the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) and will travel for about 4½ miles right across the fairly shallow water which is mostly over sub-strata of mud. Then it will come within a mile of Portishead and half way across what is known as the Bristol Deep, a channel which is, I think, slightly less than one mile across; my understanding is that it is 10 fathoms deep.

My hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North has considerable objection to this jetty going right across. I think that every one of us has a different kind of objection from the objection which I shall raise. My hon. Friend's objection is because of what he fears will happen to Portishead. What I am worried about is what is to happen farther down the river. We are here dealing with a river with a very fast tidal flow and with a very high rise and fall in the tide; the rise and fall is between 40 ft. and 50 ft. in the spring tides; and there is a current of between seven and eight miles an hour—and I say miles an hour and not knots—during the spring. The only bigger tide in the world, I understand, is the tidal flow in Fundy Bay.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North, with his wide knowledge of Canadian tides, could give us a graphic description of the power and force and of the rise and fall of the tide in Fundy Bay. I have seen it, when I was in Canada 20 years ago, when I was learning to fly. I think that a better illustration would be to go to the top of Mont de St. Michel and watch the tide come in along the Breton coast with a force and power which would knock a man over in no time.

There are three possible things which the steel company has done nothing whatever to explore—or, certainly, if it has it has kept its findings to itself; it has done nothing whatever to explain this to the towns up and down the Somerset littoral, to show them that their fears are unfounded. What will happen if these piers are built? These are heavy things, though not solid structures, which will hold a vessel the size of the "Queen Elizabeth" or the "Queen Mary". There will be gaps between the piers which will be piers as of a bridge. What will happen? What will happen, for instance, if these piers cause turbulence and the highly fluid sand or mud collects underneath the piers, and becomes a bank eventually over a number of years? Of course, it will not happen overnight. The result will be that the Bristol Deep, seven miles across at present and 10 fathoms deep, will have a tide of higher velocity flowing through.

What consideration has been given to the effect of this power and force of the tide in the Bristol Deep? It would scour out the whole of that channel with effects which we cannot foretell. Remember, we are considering what is to happen with vessels the size of the "Queen Elizabeth" and the "Queen Mary", which, I think, would be permitted to turn in this channel and tide only during the two peak times of the tide each day. There are two tides each clay, I appreciate that. This will make it more difficult for the other vessels which are already using the Port of Bristol to get through, and we think that that is a considerable reason why we should be against the introduction of the Bill.

This, in my opinion, is the worst possibility which can be urged against the jetty if it were to be built. The Bill is so inadequately prepared that no one really knows whether or not these fears and doubts are true. I am not against progress. I was as much as any a supporter of my hon. and gallant Friend during the passage of the Harbours Bill, but I want to make sure that this is progress and not obstruction. If this worst possibility does not come to fruition—and I fully accept that it is more probable than not that it will not come to fruition—we can still say that no research has been made about it, and that is my objection, because there is bound to be some change in the current, there is bound, in my submission, to be some effect, like the venturi effect, upon the primary current which goes up and down the Bristol Deep, and we in Weston cannot tell what effect it will have upon Weston and Cleveland if the current should be deflected.

If this were to occur the net result would be substantial. The economy of my constituents would be completely ruined. It is based upon the tourist trade of a seaside resort, and this is a place where people retire because of that beach and because of those amenities, and if the beach were to be gouged out by the primary current there would be the ruination of the whole of my constituency. I can think of few better reasons for opposing a Bill of this nature.

Again, I would stress that the promoters of the Bill have done it by stealth, not by consultation and not in co-operation. It is the duty of hon. Members, the duty of one and all of us, to protect our constituencies against this type of treatment. Among other reasons this is a reason—the manner of its presentation—for asking the promoters to take the Bill back again, and not to treat our constituents or the House in this way, which I consider to be not above reproach.

Another thing I should like to know is what is to be the result on the secondary currents—not the primary current which goes through the main Bristol Deep and out into the sea, but the secondary currents which come in with swirling force? The reason we want to know about this is that two or three years ago my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry for Housing and Local Government—I am glad to see him here—opened, and did so extremely well, a drainage pumping station in Weston. This pumping station is at the south side of Weston and pumps effluent to a considerable distance out into the main channel. I think that the text used by the parson was, "Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts". Anyhow, the fact that my hon. Friend blessed the occasion with his presence showed that the Ministry approves this method, and I think that the Ministry was satisfied that the sewage would be properly macerated by the further action of the deep waters of the Bristol Channel.

When this was done, at considerable expense, the Borough of Weston had a model built. The idea was to see what exactly would be the result of pumping untreated sewage into the middle of the Bristol Channel. The borough was satisfied that no damage would be done. We had a model built. That is more than Richard Thomas and Baldwins can do. It has done nothing to satisfy our doubts about this very grave problem, and it is this lack of courtesy and lack of cooperation which this House should stop straightaway.

If the secondary current were deflected, this sewage might come back on to the beach of Weston-super-Mare. During the last two months we have had experience enough of the type of illness that can occur through lack of cleanliness and if this occurred, and we had that type of publicity in Weston-super-Mare, it would ruin the constituency which I have the honour to represent.

I have submitted these reasons as purely constituency points in urging that the Bill should be rejected unless something can be done radically to alter its character and to ensure that people who live in Weston, who come there on holiday, who seek to retire there, or who are sent there to recuperate in hospitals after serious illness, should not have their interests damaged.

I have mentioned the manner of the proposal. I deplore it most deeply. In the opinion of the officials and councillors who represent Weston-super-Mare it has been done by stealth and not by consultation. I believe that when these mighty and powerful bodies are entrusted with a vast amount of the taxpayer's money they might at least have the courtesy, when they run the risk of ruining the economy of a population of 60,000, to say, "This is what we propose to do. Will you care to give us your views on the subject?" But no, it was done by stealth.

I do not believe that there was any direct communication about it. There was certainly no invitation to meet them. There was not the slightest attempt to build a model and to see whether these doubts and fears were groundless, or could be allayed. This is the "invisible man" again, and it is the duty of the House of Commons to protect our citizens against him.

It is said that this is a matter which requires speed and urgency. If so, why did they not think of this a year ago and not wait until this late stage to become suddenly aware of the fact that if Richard Thomas and Baldwins, at the Spencer Works, is to exist in this modern age of the super-carrier it must have a big jetty to accommodate large vessels? Did the company not think about this when the place was built? Apparently it was an afterthought.

This business of rushing to the House of Commons and saying that this is a matter requiring attention with the greatest speed and urgency shows that there was either a lack of forethought, or that the people concerned are being disingenuous and are trying to rush things on our constituents. Either way, it does not reflect with advantage on those who ask us to pass a Bill of this kind. It suggests to me that the Bill should be put back and thoroughly reconsidered and the matter brought before the House again.

The postscript of the statement made on the Bill states that: In view of the admitted urgency of the problem it is submitted that the Bill should be given a Second Reading and that the objections of petitioners be inquired into by a Select Committee. It is very nice of the promotors to think of that at the last possible moment in the dying weeks of a Parliament. Why should they not have consulted the petitioners before and saved a great deal of public money by satisfying the petitioners on these points? They should come back to the House when they have made their consultations, got their facts right, and given due consideration to all the points and the long-term economies involved in this project.

I turn now to the question of the Port of Bristol. Although I do not have the honour to represent Bristol, I am sure that nobody would accuse me of being an enemy of the Port of Bristol Authority. On many occasions in the past I have wearied the House in making pleas for the Authority on the question of the Portbury project and on what the Lord Rochdale Report had to say about the Upper Severn Authority. I hope that I am a good friend of the Port of Bristol, but if the Authority thinks only of the fees that it would obtain if the end of the jetty were in Bristol water, it is making quite a wrong assessment of any benefits which would redound to the Port of Bristol from this scheme. It would not be the first time in the history of this country that the Port of Bristol had decided that the immediate financial benefit was better and more important than a long-term judgment.

Photo of Mr Stanley Awbery Mr Stanley Awbery , Bristol Central

The hon. Member will be aware that no one in Bristol has expressed an opinion in favour of the jetty because of the financial circumstances.

Photo of Mr David Webster Mr David Webster , Weston-Super-Mare

I am grateful to the hon. Member. If the end of the jetty was in Bristol Deep the Bristol Port Authority would receive the dues. It has been suggested to me that the Port of Bristol would back this project financially. I will withdraw if that is not correct. I would remind hon. Members, however, that when, 130 years ago, Isambard Kingdom Brunei went to Bristol and made a far-sighted proposal for the modernisation of the floating docks there it was turned down on economic and financial grounds rather than on operational considerations. I speak as an unbiased Scotsman on this subject, but anybody who knows Bristol knows that as a result it lost ground to Liverpool and ceased to be our major port on the West Coast. Therefore, if the suggestion made to me were true, it would not be the first time that a short-term financial consideration had been preferred to long-term benefit

I am very much at sea in these matters, but my view is that if the end of the jetty comes into the centre of the Bristol Deep, which is 10 fathoms down, the whole of the main fairway, only a mile across, into the Port of Bristol would be cut nearly in half. The jetty can be used only during the two peak hours of the tide. During that time vessels of the size of the "Queen Elizabeth" would be swinging across the Bristol Deep and obstructing the passage into the Port of Bristol. This is my argument and I have submitted to my hon. and gallant Friend that Bristol needs the Portbury project for its development.

This is a most imaginative and far-reaching project. We should be proud that an imaginative Port of Bristol Authority has put forward a project which, to use a road transport analogy, is rather like a C licence-user type of dock where an oil refinery and a smelting company will have their own vessels coming into their own ports. Presumably, like the super ore carriers which will use the jetty in the Bristol Deeps, these vessels too will be very large. They will come into Portbury and will take up a great deal of space in the fairway which will be obstructed by the jetty and by the turning of vessels of their own size.

Lord Rochdale's Committee turned down the Portbury project. All hon. Members representing Bristol have pressed hard that the project should be accepted so that these imaginative plans can go ahead and so that, with Bristol in the forefront, the south-west of England shall have dock facilities unrivalled in any other part of the country. I believe that these are important factors.

This proposal was turned down by the Rochdale Committee. My hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has undertaken to reconsider that decision and there is a fascinating article in The Times on the Port of Bristol which tends to question the Portbury project. Those of us who have the interests of Bristol at heart wonder how the Port of Bristol would benefit from having this jetty right across the middle of the fairway.

Photo of Mr Stanley Awbery Mr Stanley Awbery , Bristol Central

I remind the hon. Gentle man again that Bristol did not ask for the jetty. The suggestion came from the steel company.

Photo of Mr David Webster Mr David Webster , Weston-Super-Mare

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that clear. I am saying that I hope that, although my hon. Friend has not the power to withdraw the Bill, because he did not promote it—although we know that he had something to do with it somewhere—he will have it taken back for reconsideration of the site of the jetty. If it is in the Bristol deeps, the jetty will frustrate the development of the port not just for 130 years, as did the decision of the then city fathers that they could not afford to build a new floating dock, but for ever.

It will stultify the progress and development of Bristol if this Bill is rushed through the House. It is a matter deserving the deepest consideration. That is another reason why we should consider it most carefully—not necessarily leisurely. I do not want to stand in the way of progress, but there are other places where the jetty could go and where it would not have the effect I have described on my constituency or of gouging out the Channel and making it deeper and more difficult to navigate. Nor would it have an effect, sited elsewhere, on the primary currents of the north coast of Somerset or on the secondary currents which bring the drainage back.

Perhaps it could be sited at the Newport Deep, or somewhere else. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who cannot be here for reasons which the House will appreciate, has told me that the British Docks Board is considering the prospect of a central port of entry, a central jetty, in South Wales. Surely, in all these contexts, it would be wrong for us prematurely to shove the Bill through before there has been full consideration of all these very serious matters.

The Port of Bristol is to be complementary with South Wales ports. Bristol is an importing centre and the South Wales ports exporting centres. If Bristol port development is blocked, then imbalance will be created in the area and the development of the South Wales and south-western sections of the docks will be stultified. If that happens, what of the efforts of the Rochdale Committee to get a modern docks complex, well balanced between the various requirements of the country?

In addition, we know that there will soon be overstrain in the South-East. There is already too much population in too little space. If we prevent the development of Bristol and South Wales Ports, more population, more goods and more commerce will go to the Port of London, making the congestion in what Cobbett called the "great wen" even worse and more acute. This is not something which we should allow by the twinkle of an eye.

This is a matter of local significance. It is also of regional significance for Bristol and it is certainly one which could have wider significance for the economic and social development of the country as a whole. One of our functions is to look after the taxpayer's money. This is an aspect of the matter which gives me the greatest concern. We are given an estimate of £18 million. How do we know whether it is accurate? My guess is that the cost would be at least £25 million. I cannot quote anyone directly, but I have heard confirmation of that figure by experts. How was the sum of £18 million estimated? Should we approve it?

We are asked to rely for this financial, commercial and economic estimate on people who built a steelworks, completed within two years ago, and were apparently not even aware of the presence or existence of the super ore carrier. Basil Mavroleon and other shippers have been advocating the super ore carrier and the super oil tanker for years. I do not know whether the people who built this steelworks were pushed into going to that part of Wales or not. If they were, those who pushed them must surely have had ideas that they would need a jetty many miles out into the centre of the Bristol Channel. When people make a blunder of this magnitude and put a steelworks in an area without giving it proper dock facilities, and then supply us with an estimate of the cost of that jetty, we must consider it carefully and ask more about it.

This is not a matter that we can shove on to a Select Committee or to the Ministry. I laboured on the Estimates Committee for four years and I know what happens when we shove financial and economic responsibility on to a Department. I respect the Ministry's integrity and ability, but this House, if it gives up its right to question matters of the purse, of granting millions of pounds of public funds to any authority that can never again be questioned about its use will be doing something to bring Parliament into disrepute. It will not be carrying out its task.

I have spoken far too long, but this is a matter of very great constituency importance. There are very many reasons why we should ask for the Bill to be taken back and looked at afresh with a view, perhaps, to moving the site of the jetty. There are regional as well as constituency reasons. There could be conomic ruin for many thousands. There are matters of the manner in which the Bill has been brought before the House—a manner not in accord with the best of democratic methods of consultation and discussion with the people involved. Finally, national finance is involved.

For all these reasons, I express my deepest disappointment with the Bill. I hope that it will be taken back and thoroughly redrafted. I hope that that is what my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us.

7.39 p.m.

Photo of Mr Stanley Awbery Mr Stanley Awbery , Bristol Central

I congratulate the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) on the fair and reasonable way in which he put his case against the building of a jetty in the Bristol Channel. We have to consider other matters as well. We shall be importing 7 million tons of ore through the Bristol Channel annually, and 22,000 tons of iron ore are to be discharged every day of the week. Some means has to be arranged for that discharge. Whether it is to be a jetty or a central port is a matter for consideration. I want to criticise the proposal for a jetty and follow up what the hon. Member has said.

I was discussing this matter in the House a fortnight ago, when I said that in certain places jetties were suitable for the larger ships now being constructed so long as there was no port able to accommodate large iron ore carrying ships and large tankers. For instance, a few years ago a jetty was built in Milford Haven and has been admirable for the discharge of oil. Oil discharged there is pumped through tubes to Swansea, which is 60 miles away, and this is a very satisfactory arrangement. But it could not be done very well with iron ore. The circumstances in Milford Haven are also very different from those in the Bristol Channel. At Milford there is deep water and a sheltered haven with very little rise and fall of the tide, and the movement of ships alongside the jetty very slight, certainly not be compared with movement in the Bristol Channel.

I agree with what the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare said about the difficulties of jetties in the Bristol Channel. Although he has mentioned several, one which he has not mentioned is that the tidal flow in the Channel is about 5 or 6 knots, while the up and down movement of ships when fast to the jetty would be pronounced. The turning of a ship when she had completed discharging would be the most difficult time, because the ship would have to move out into deep water and turn in deep water when light, when she might catch the wind more easily than she would when loaded and when she might find the tide running against her. A fair wind comes up from South Wales, and six days out of ten there is a south-west wind which would make it most difficult to turn the ship, so that she would either have to go down the Channel stern first or turn round, both very difficult operations.

At present, there are deep water channels not only into Bristol but into Newport and. Cardiff further down the Channel. No one knows what would be the effect of a jetty four and a half miles long on tidal flow and on the movement of sand and mud. Instead of washing mud to Weston-super-Mare, it might wash sand, which would make Weston a much better seaside resort. A jetty of this length would be in danger from shipping in the Channel. A ship colliding with a jetty, or even a pier reaching to the jetty, might put the jetty out of commission for many months. There is also a danger to shipping. These are among the factors which will have to be considered by the engineers.

I know that this is a permissive Bill and that it does not say that a jetty must be constructed. It simply gives power to the steel company to construct the jetty. Calculations will have to be made and a scheme will have to be submitted to the Minister, who will then be responsible for deciding whether the jetty should be built. In this way, the buck will be passed to the Minister instead of to a committee.

I want to go further than the Bill proposes. I want the committee to consider the building of jetties at Newport or Cardiff, or Port Talbot, and whether they would be necessary to the steel industry and for the benefit of the country.

Photo of Mr Hugh Wilson Mr Hugh Wilson , Truro

Is not that the very thing which the National Ports Council is considering—the whole question of port facilities for South Wales and how it will best be served?

Photo of Mr Stanley Awbery Mr Stanley Awbery , Bristol Central

I was about to point out that it is not a case of each port asking for the construction of a jetty for the importing of oil. Each port wants to become the central port for importation. I understand from the Press that Cardiff is to spend £50,000 on having an agency go into the question of whether Cardiff could be made the central iron ore importing port. Barry, next door, cannot afford to spend £50,000 to have a firm going into such questions, and nor can Port Talbot.

Why cannot the Minister arrange for a committee, representing all the ports in the Bristol Channel, and perhaps outside ports, to decide whether a jetty is necessary, or one port is necessary? Could not such a committee make its recommendations to the Minister?

Photo of Mr William Wilkins Mr William Wilkins , Bristol South

I am interested in this proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Awbery) to form a committee to inquire into this matter. However, I am a little doubtful about the possibility of a committee coming to any decision. I have in my hand a report, which my hon. Friend knows about, of the Severn Barrage Committee, which was set up in 1933 and of which I was a member from 1936 to about 1946. In 1945 it had not come to any conclusions, or, at least, no work had started on any proposed Severn Barrage. I hope that my hon. Friend will not pursue this idea of having a committee. I would rather leave it to the judgment of the Minister.

Photo of Mr Stanley Awbery Mr Stanley Awbery , Bristol Central

I understand that a committee is to be set up to go into the problem. Instead of each port advocating its own case to the Minister, it could put its evidence to the committee and the Minister would be able to make a decision on the basis of the recommendations of such a committee. Cardiff, Newport, Barry and Port Talbot are all prepared to spend money on pushing their own arguments for being the importing port. I have my own personal opinion about which is best, but I shall not express it tonight. This is a matter to be considered by a joint committee.

Although I shall vote for the Bill, because it is permissive and does not tie us down to anything except a further inquiry, what we want is a further inquiry by the engineers about what it is best to do—

Photo of Mr Edwin Leather Mr Edwin Leather , Somerset North

Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that if he votes for the Bill and it goes forward a further inquiry is precisely what he will not get? He will get the Bill, full stop. That is the whole object of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Stanley Awbery Mr Stanley Awbery , Bristol Central

I must misunderstand the Bill. When the Bill is passed, it will permit a committee to prepared a scheme which ultimately will be submitted to the Minister for his approval. What I am saying is that a committee should go into all the facts so that when its report is made we shall have an opportunity to oppose or accept its recommendations.

The building of the jetty might affect amenities. Even the engineers who would construct the jetty cannot tell us before hand what effect the jetty would have upon the flow of the currents and the opening up of new and the closing of present deep channels. These are hypothetical considerations. If we build a jetty and throw up all the mud on Weston-super-Mare, it will be too late then to reverse the position. I want the engineers and all who have the ability to give great consideration to this problem.

The main problem is to decide whether to develop enough jetties or to develop a port. If we develop jetties, we shall then have to construct a dry dock large enough to take all the ships, otherwise there would be no dry dock to undertake underwater repairs. I suggest that the committee should consider the idea of one central port in South Wales—I would agree with whichever was chosen—where the ore can be distributed to the two works.

Photo of Mr William Robson-Brown Mr William Robson-Brown , Esher

It is not feasible, economic or practicable to choose one of the South Wales ports for the importation and discharge of all the ore for all the steel companies. One steel company would benefit and all the rest would be handicapped in perpetuity. Railway carriage from Cardiff to the new works at Newport or from Cardiff to Port Talbot would be out of the question and would put the company at a disadvantage.

Photo of Mr Stanley Awbery Mr Stanley Awbery , Bristol Central

If we had one central port, Cardiff or Barry, the two steelworks would be thirty miles each side—thirty railes East and thirty miles West. The railway carriage from the central port would be thirty miles to each of the steelworks. I do not see any trouble in that. Freightage of ore to the steelworks would pay for the upkeep of the jetties. If we had one jetty in Newport to carry the iron ore from Newport to Port Talbot, 60 miles, we would soon have to have another jetty at Port Talbot. We should have the same difficulties and obstacles at Port Talbot as in Newport. Then Cardiff would come along saying, "We want a jetty for steelworks in Cardiff". Then, when we had built the jetties, we should have to construct docks for the larger ships coming in with general cargo and construct a ship-repairing yard to repair the ships bringing in the oil and iron ore.

I suggest that the committee should give consideration not only to this four-and-a-half mile long jetty, but to whether one jetty or three jetties are necessary. If they are, then let us construct the jetties, but I think it will be found that it is far better to reconstruct one of our ports and build a large modern port like that which, as the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare said, Bristol is building.

A few years ago Bristol prepared a scheme at Portbury, bought the land, and prepared its plans for an entrance to a dock 1,400 ft. long by 140 ft. wide. There is not an entrance in South Wales larger than 100 ft. It is preparing that dock for the future. When Portbury is constructed, it will not be a port for iron ore in the Bristol Channel. It would be absurd to consider discharging iron ore in Portbury and sending it to the steelworks. We must have a jetty or port in the Bristol Channel, and I suggest that a committee should give serious consideration to this problem.

I have written to Lord Rochdale's Committee and expressed my opinion as to what should be done. I have had a reply from the Committee, but it wants a great deal of information that no one but an experienced engineer can give. I cannot tell it what the cost of these proposals would be or give it the engineering information which is required. A committee set up by the Minister for this purpose could do that. It would have the weight of the Minister behind it, be financed by I the Minister, and we should get an unbiased report whether it would be better to lave a jetty or a port.

7.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr Stephen Hastings Mr Stephen Hastings , Mid Bedfordshire

I respect the motives behind the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), who defended a constituency interest with great eloquence and after a great deal of study. We have just heard a speech from the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Awbery), from which, as I understand it, he favours a jetty or facilities for unloading large ore carriers somewhere in the Bristol Channel. I think that he would like this to be at Cardiff rather than anywhere else, whereas my hon. Friend, when he opposed the Bill, did not in fact disclose where he would have it but was determined that it should not be where it is proposed in the Bill.

I owe my hon. Friend some explanation as to how I became interested in the Bill. I approach it from a very different point of view, perhaps more remote, and I am certainly not concerned to the same extent as my hon. Friend with the amenities; nevertheless I think it is a point of view which is legitimate, quite apart from the argument in which we are involved. It so happens that I am a director of a firm which for some time has been engaged in trying to bring off a major export deal to South America—to Brazil—and the difficulty was the Brazilian payments, which anyone with dealings recently in that part of the world will know are adverse from our point of view. It was difficult to get payment for something that might have amounted to an export of £7 million or more to this country. The solution might well lie in the importation of Brazilian iron ore, which, incidentally, is the cheapest on the market in the world. This may prove difficult, if not impossible, for the single reason that freight charges on our ore carriers from Brazil are so high and uncompetitive that it may make it impossible and certainly render it extremely difficult.

This was my introduction to the problem of freight charges and it caused me to take an interest in this Bill. May I quote one figure to illustrate what I mean. The Port of Newport, indeed Bristol as a whole, as I understand it, can take ore carriers up to 23,000 tons, and on a ship of that nature there is a freight charge of 20s. per ton for ore. If it were possible to use a ship of 60,000 tons—and such a ship is being used by our competitors—the charge per ton would be reduced to 14s. It surely would be a good thing from the point of view of the economy as a whole and trade far removed from the steel industry, such as the deal in which I and the company to which I belong was engaged if these rather inflated freight charges by world standards could be reduced.

Photo of Mr Brian O'Malley Mr Brian O'Malley , Rotherham

I am aware of the difficulty in which the Handley-Page Company finds itself, but is the hon. Gentleman aware that it is not solely a question of the size of the carriers which results in a price of 60s. a ton for the carrying of Itabira iron-ore from Vittoria instead of a 30s. rate freight? It is a question of disastrous long-term charter arrangements which Bisc (Ore) Ltd. have got into. Is he aware that with British carriers Bisc (Ore) Ltd. recently contracted to supply the German steel industry with iron-ore from Itabira at 30s. a ton freight, while the same British ore carriers are charging 60s. a ton freight to British companies?

Photo of Mr Stephen Hastings Mr Stephen Hastings , Mid Bedfordshire

The hon. Gentleman is well informed and I have noted the figures which he has quoted. I shall look them up again in HANSARD. I submit to him, as I think he himself implied, that the size of the ore carrier is a relevant factor—I think I should be out of order if I allowed myself to be led into an interesting discussion which the hon. Gentleman predicates—and accounts for a substantial part of these high charges for freight. I would welcome any Measure likely to bring down these charges overall and make our steel industry even more competitive than it is already. I believe that this Bill is designed to do that in a particular sector. Therefore, I believe it worthy of consideration by the House and I hope that it will go through.

As I understand it, there are four alternatives. There is the Port of Newport, where the authority is neither able nor willing to undertake the alterations which would be necessary to allow in ships of this size. Secondly, there is Port Talbot. Legislation was incorporated in the British Transport Docks Measure which has gone through the House in connection with that. Thirdly, there is this question of the Bristol Deep. My hon. Friend expressed some doubt about the amount of capital cost—£18 million or £20 million,—but at least the exercise has been done on the advice of first-class consultants, and £18 million was the figure put forward. I understand that the position of the jetty and the scheme has been specifically recommended by Dr. Allen of D.S.I.R., and that is no light matter.

The fourth alternative, Cardiff, has been raised by the hon. Member for Bristol, Central. If we discount Newport and consider only the other three, to me Cardiff seems by far the worst bet. I understand that the British Transport Docks Board at Cardiff opposed it and only the Cardiff Corporation—and perhaps the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) who unfortunately is unable to be present to take part in this debate—favour the site at Cardiff. A figure of £18 million or £20 million may or may not be correct in respect of Bristol Deep. But we have not the faintest idea what would be the cost of a new harbour which I understand would be necessary at Cardiff if these ships are to be taken there.

Photo of Mr Stanley Awbery Mr Stanley Awbery , Bristol Central

Surely we could get the estimated cost of a new harbour or port in the same way as it is possible to get the cost of a jetty.

Photo of Mr Stephen Hastings Mr Stephen Hastings , Mid Bedfordshire

I am saying that I have seen no figures. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has, and if so I am sure that he will tell the House the cost of a new harbour at Cardiff. My hon. Friend questioned the figure of £18 million put forward in respect of the jetty which we are discussing. The consultants may be right, but we do not have the cost for Cardiff.

Photo of Mr Brian O'Malley Mr Brian O'Malley , Rotherham

Is the hon. Member aware that perhaps he is attaching rather greater importance to the question of port facilities in the case he mentioned than they deserve? As I understand it, the firm which would import the Itabira iron ore in payment for the £7 million worth of aircraft in which the hon. Gentleman's company is concerned could charter foreign shipping at 30s. a ton and the difficulty is that Bisc (Ore) Ltd. is charging 60s.

Photo of Mr Stephen Hastings Mr Stephen Hastings , Mid Bedfordshire

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, who is well aware of an export deal in aircraft which could be of considerable significance to the economy of this country. I am not talking of that. I am trying to discuss the various alternatives, of which this Bill is one. There could be other ways of solving the problems of Handley-Page and Brazil and so forth, but that is not what I am discussing.

To revert to Cardiff specifically, goodness knows I am no expert on steel, but no one would deny that if the Cardiff scheme were adopted it would involve double handling whereas the scheme at Port Talbot or Bristol Deep would not. From the point of view of Spencer Works and Richard Thomas and Baldwin, if the Cardiff alternative were adopted in place of this scheme it would add 5s. a ton to the cost of ore shipped across to the Spencer Works, a most important factor in their costs, as anyone would agree.

It may be that later in the debate we shall hear a plea for British Railways and their real and well-justified attempts to compete, but even with the most modern ore-carrying trains which are under consideration if not already used on the railways, the capacity would be limited and would not cancel out the difference in cost which I have just indicated. So here we have three alternatives, discounting Newport, of which Cardiff seems to me certainly to be the worst and we know least about it. For Port Talbot enabling legislation has already gone through the House and it would seem only commonsense and economic sense that enabling legislation—as has been pointed out that is all that is being requested tonight—should go forward for Bristol Deep. It is up to the National Docks Council to choose between these alternatives. This perfectly sensible alternative has been deeply considered by the best consultants, and there is no doubt in my mind that it should go forward for consideration on the same basis as Port Talbot.

My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare—he has had to leave the Chamber—believed that this Bill had been brought to this stage with a certain amount of—the word he used was "stealth". I am not sure that he was really justified in using it. I have done my best to check up, and I understand that as soon as the company concerned knew that there were objections it called a meeting with the Somerset County Council and explained the case. The county council was not satisfied as I can readily under stand. Subsequently there was another meeting on 1st January and 2nd March of this year with the Portishead Council, and again the company tried to explain its position. As a result of that there were a number of objections—

Photo of Mr Stephen Hastings Mr Stephen Hastings , Mid Bedfordshire

My hon. Friend will have an opportunity to put his case, if he is lucky enough, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to catch your eye.

I understand that as a result of the second of these meetings the company concerned went into a study of both dust and noise. It went to Dunkirk, which is perhaps the best comparable installation, and to Colvilles at Glasgow and to Birmingham. An accoustics team from the Imperial College of Science made a study at Dunkirk and the company's own engineers studied the question of dust. They went into this matter as deeply as they could, and after what seems to me to have been a thorough consultation with the local authorities this the conviction of the company—although it understood the worry expressed by my hon. Friend—that scientifically these difficulties are not likely to occur.

In a matter of five years' time it is likely that we shall be importing into the South, into this country, well over ten million tons of ore instead of the three million to five million which we are considering at the moment. This, as I understand it, would be beyond the capacity of the jetty which we are considering tonight at Bristol Deep and also beyond the capacity of Port Talbot. We have no idea what the capacity of 'the new harbour at Cardiff would be, and we cannot argue about it. But if we take Bristol Deep and Port Talbot, then within five years in all probability we shall have to turn to another alternative to take the extra imports which undoubtedly will come.

The logical and sensible way of doing that would be to implement the second scheme put forward by the two companies. If we began with Bristol Deep we should turn in five years' time to Port Talbot, or vice versa. This is most favoured by the steel companies. They are not unimportant in the matter, and if it is a question of having a port with double handling not under their control or a jetty or port under their control, then it is more efficient and more economic from their point of view to take the latter. Accepting that in five years' time we shall have to stretch the capacity of even these deep water facilities which we are considering tonight, it is a good deal better to begin with one of the steel companies' solutions, either Port Talbot or Bristol Deep, and then move to the other.

Finally, it seems to me that we must make up our minds clearly about what we are legislating for. Let there be no question that we are legislating for some sort of hidden help or subsidy to British Railways. Let there be no question that we are legislating principally for any local interest. Of course that is important. But what is more important is the future of this industry, which is basic to the prosperity of the country.

I am not discussing miscalculations of the past; they may have occurred and they may not, but I am not in a position to say. But what is certain is that these charges must come down if the industry is to remain competitive, and I submit that in the light of that, a sensible view is to let the Bill go forward for consideration.

8.12 p.m.

Photo of Sir Frank Soskice Sir Frank Soskice , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent)

I think that I can put the points which I should like the House to consider on the Amendment fairly shortly. This is not the Minister's Bill and in a sense it is hardly he who can be taken to task for any shortcomings in its formulation. Nevertheless, the position, I think I understand rightly, is that under the terms of the Bill as it stands—an enabling Bill, as it is frequently described—the works cannot be carried out until the Minister's consent has been given to their being carried out.

Before he gives that consent he will have the advice of the National Ports Council, who will be considering not merely this project but this project against the background of the importation of iron ore into South Wales as a whole. That is a position which offers considerable safeguards to those who have particular anxieties about the form of the Bill. But I must confess that I still do not feel at all happy about the Bill as drafted. My attitude to the Amendment, if it goes to a Division, will depend, very largely—and I think rightly—on what the Minister says in answer to the debate.

It is common ground on both sides of the House that the predominant question is the public interest. Each of us has his constituency interests. I have a very obvious constituency interest in that the people of Newport depend to a considerable extent upon the prosperity of Newport docks. As far as I can, speaking as the Member for Newport, and consistently with the public interest, I should naturally like to see as much of the traffic as possible centred upon the Newport dock, in my constituents' interests. But the question which the House is debating is, how can this importation of iron ore be best carried out in the national interest? One considers that question against the prevailing consideration that it is obviously much more economical to import ore in these very large iron-ore carriers than in the much smaller carriers which have hitherto been used.

That being the situation, my first anxiety is that I want to be assured by the Minister—I think this is within his province—that alternative schemes will have been fully taken into account before he gives his consent to the use of the powers which the Bill confers. An alternative scheme which I particularly have in mind is that which may emerge—I put this point to the Minister when we were discussing the Transport Commission Bill—as a result of the dredging experiments being carried out by the Transport Commission Dock Board in the vicinity of Newport. The Minister knows the scheme. The experiments which are being carried out may produce—I do not say that they will produce—an alternative scheme which would be both cheaper than the scheme embodied in the Bill and just as effective.

I want therefore to be assured by him, if he is prepared to give me the assurance, that that alternative scheme will be thoroughly taken into account before he authorises the works to be carried out under the Bill. It has not yet been finally formulated or put forward, and in the circumstances there is nothing which at the moment he can consider as a fully detailed scheme, but I hope that he will so adjust the time-table that the Docks Board will be able to arrive at their final conclusions in such a way that that scheme can be fully taken into account. I hope that he will find no difficulty in giving me that assurance.

The second consideration which I should like to put to him turns upon the use to which the jetty is to be put. The Preamble to the Bill recites that what is necessary is the most economical method of transporting from overseas the large quantities of raw material required at the Richard Thomas and Baldwins steelworks. That is the basis on which the Bill is introduced. My criticism of its terms is that there is nothing which I can discover in the enabling provisions which limits the use to which the jetty can be put to the importation of iron ore. As far as the Bill is concerned, it could be used for any importation of which it is physically capable. Equally, there is nothing to prevent it from being used for the export of materials if that should be taken into account by those who operate it.

Speaking, again, as the Member for Newport, and I hope not taking too parochial a view about it—the people of Newport largely depend on Newport docks for their welfare—I hope that the Minister will say that certainly no sanction would be given by him for the exercise of the powers for purposes other than that se: out in the passage which I have read from the Preamble. It should be only for the importation of iron ore, and possibly some similar bulk product such as oil, hat the jetty should be used. I hope that the Minister will assure me and those who are immediately concerned that he will not give his consent to the user of the jetty for any other purpose than that purpose, and specifically that it should not be used for any exporting purpose even if it is physically capable of being so used.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

Will my right hon. and learned Friend elaborate on this point? I heard it but did not understand it. If this jetty is established at very great capital cost, why should it be prevented from being used for other purposes for which it is suitable?

Photo of Sir Frank Soskice Sir Frank Soskice , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent)

For one important reason—that it is only for this purpose that the Bill is introduced. I do not know whether my hon. Friend heard me read a passage from the Preamble which states that the whole purpose is to secure the most economical transportation from overseas of iron ore. That is the purpose of the Bill, and it seems to me to be wholly unreasonable, if the Bill is introduced for one purpose—and that is in the Preamble, and it is the motivating intention which inspired its introduction—that there should be any question of its being used thereafter for some completely different purpose. I reinforce that conviction by saying that if it is used for the purpose of exportation or importation of other commodities it may have a very serious effect upon the prosperity of the Newport docks which are immediately adjacent to it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South East (Mr. Benn) smiles and he may justifiably do so, but besides being I hope a loyal servant of the public I am also the Member for Newport. I say, frankly that the interests of Newport are not necessarily or completely alien to the public interest. It is in the public interest that the citizens of Newport should enjoy well-being, and there are docks which are ready to provide that well-being for them if they are fully and amply used. I add that considerable sums of money have been spent recently in improving the facilities there, and the public interest would not be well served if the facilities which Newport docks are able to afford were not used to the full. I hope that I have satisfied my hon. Friend that my point of view both looks to the public interest and also looks to something which is closely identifiable with the public interest—the interests of my constituents.

Photo of Mr Stephen Hastings Mr Stephen Hastings , Mid Bedfordshire

Is it not a fact that discussions have taken place between the company and the Newport Port Authority on this point and that Newport is quite happy on this question of other goods?

Photo of Sir Frank Soskice Sir Frank Soskice , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent)

I do not wish to reflect for a moment on those who are responsible for the conduct of Richard Thomas and Baldwins, but I am asking for the highest form of guarantee which I can get—that the Minister should say that unless there is a positive and specific undertaking given to him, or unless there is some provision introduced into the Bill to make it impossible to use the jetty for purposes other than the import of iron ore or cognate products, he will not authorise the user of the power.

I agree that there have been, if I may say so, some rather informal undertakings given. I do not doubt their sincerity. No doubt they are perfectly sincere. But as the highest form of security, I should like to see the Bill amended, if it is given a Second Reading, to limit the user to which it can be put to the purposes which I have indicated. Naturally, if the Minister says that he would not authorise the use of the powers for purposes other than that particular purpose. I should have thought that that was an equally reliable guarantee. I hasten to repeat that I am not for a moment seeking to throw any doubt upon the bona fides of those who have taken part in the somewhat unofficial conversations which have hitherto been held.

The other point I make is the general engineering one. I ask the Minister again to refuse any consent which he can give until he is satisfied that the various problems which were indicated by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Awbery) have been properly explored. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare was trying to alarm me—he may think that I am alarmist by nature—but he very courteously handed to me certain notes which he had received from the experts who had advised him. He called my attention to one matter which particularly concerns Newport. I am most anxious that what he brought to my attention will be fully considered by the National Ports Council and by the Minister himself before he decides whether his consent will be given.

I think that the best way to bring the point to the attention of the National Ports Council and the Minister is to read a short extract from the notes which the hon. Gentleman gave me. I am looking at the matter now from the point of view of the engineering risks which have been previously touched upon by hon. Members, and this is the point which particularly concerns Newport. The expert advice runs—I do not think that this is the ipsissima verba, but this is the effect of it— There is every reason to believe that the structure would impede the tidal flow over a part of the Channel known as the Welsh Grounds. Increased siltation would occur there, with disturbances in the Newport Deep area and the eventual elimination of the Newport Deep by deposition. That expresses the anxiety which the hon. Gentleman has inspired in my mind, and I greatly hope that the engineering risk adumbrated in that sentence will be fully taken into account.

There are other engineering risks. I have had put to me by persons who, presumably, are in a position to know that, if one tries to make fast a large ship against a jetty when there is a very heavy tide running and there is a substantial rise and fall, it may be extremely difficult to carry out the operation, and it may, indeed, involve risk if it is attempted. I do not know whether this has been fully considered, and I hope that before any consent is given, we can be assure that it will be taken into account.

Generally speaking, I should criticise the Bill on this further ground. Again looking at the Preamble, if one asks who is to be the harbour authority, the Bill, not unnaturally perhaps, states that the harbour authority for this jetty is to be what is called the company, that is to say, the Welsh Shipping Agency Ltd., which is a subsidiary of Richard Thomas and Baldwins. The harbour authority, of course, will be the body continually responsible for the conduct of the operations connected with the jetty, both now and in the future. It is, I suppose, the authority which will continue to be associated with it and responsible "for its management.

Is it altogether satisfactory, considering that this is simply one point of import in a whole complex affecting all South Wales, that it should be the company which is the harbour authority? Would it not be more satisfactory, perhaps, if some other outside body such as the docks board were substituted for the company? The advantages of this—I simply throw it out as a suggestion—would be that the harbour authority which had the jetty area under its supervision would also have other areas, for instance, Newport, within its province of responsibility. Therefore, I suggest, it would be in a much better position to take a more global view of this matter and to see that the general interests of South Wales were served as best they can be in the importation of iron ore. Again, I am not for a moment suggesting that this very great company would act other than in what seemed to be the best public interest when acting in its capacity as harbour authority.

Photo of Mr Norman Cole Mr Norman Cole , Bedfordshire South

I am trying to understand this. Surely, all the water in that vicinity is at present in the jurisdiction of one harbour authority or another. I understand that the jetty head itself would be within the jurisdiction of the Port of Bristol, so I do not quite follow why Richard Thomas and Baldwins would be constituted another authority, called the company under the Bill.

Sir F. Sockice:

The reason why I make that suggestion arises again from the Preamble. The relevant part of the Preamble is to be found at line 10 on page 2: And whereas in order to enable the Company to control and protect the said works so far as they are not situate within the port and harbour of Bristol it is expedient that the Company be constituted a harbour authority as in this Act provided". Thus, there is a kind of joint harbour authority, Bristol and the company, and I was wondering whether it would be a more satisfactory arrangement, so that the general public interest and the wider considerations could be taken into account, if the docks board were the harbour authority for the jetty as a whole. I simply throw it out as a suggestion. From the point of view of my constituents, we should regard it as more satisfactory if we could think that there was, as it were, a wider spread of authority in the harbour board responsible for the jetty.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Is it not true that nothing can be done under the Bill without the consent of the Minister, who himself will be consulting the National Ports Council, which we have recently set up, which will take into account all the wider issues about which my right hon. and learned Friend is now speaking?

Photo of Sir Frank Soskice Sir Frank Soskice , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent)

My answer to my hon. Friend is this. What he says is perfectly true, but, sc far as I can see, there is no power to make the docks board the harbour authority unless the terms of the Bill are amended. If the Bill is accepted as it stands, there must be a harbour authority which is either Bristol or the company, and it would not be possible to implement the proposal I am advancing without a substantial change in the terms of the Bill. I am putting forward that proposal simply as a possible way to improve the situation.

Those are the considerations which I put to the House. As I say, my own attitude on the Bill will depend largely on what the Minister is able to say and what assurances he can give. I shall be glad to hear him.

8.3 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett):

I intervene at this stage without intending any discourtesy to hon. Members who still wish to speak. It has been impressed on me by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Sir E. Leather) that he wishes to be allowed to wind up the case for the Amendment and have the final say to reply to any points which I make in explaining the Government's view. This being so, I thought that it might be convenient if I were now to say what the Government think about the Bill.

The urgent need to improve facilities for shipping iron ore to South Wales was stressed, as the House will remember, in the Rochdale Report, and that view is not challenged, I think. Neither is it seriously contested that this can be achieved only by constructing terminals for giant ore carriers and, as well as that, by minimising the handling costs, when the ore is unloaded and taken to the steel works.

It has been estimated by the promoting company that about 10s. a ton would be saved on the average ocean freight rates if carriers of 65,000 tons or above could be used. The combined capital cost of the projects proposed under the Bill and under the British Transport Docks Bill, which the House has already passed, has been put at about £30 million. If we assume a total import of, say, 200 million tons during the first 20 years after the projects have been completed, the burden of the capital charges will be rather less than 5s. a ton during those 20 years, after which they would end. Moreover, capital charges do not escalate, in contrast to the operating costs, inseparable from double handling, which do escalate.

I have begun with this very brief summary of the economic case for separate deep water terminals for each steel works because there has been some tendency—we have heard it in the speeches today—to deride the whole idea of having separate terminals and to assume that a common terminal must be better. Perhaps it would be better, but that has yet to be proved. The Bill, as has been said, is no more than an enabling Measure to permit the construction of a deep water jetty at which giant ore carriers could discharge ore which is destined for the great steel works at Newport. The Measure, as the House knows, has already been considered in another place, where the arguments for and against it were exhaustively examined. While allowing the Bill, their Lordships inserted a new Clause, and it is that new Clause which makes it clear beyond doubt that the proposed works may proceed only with the consent of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport.

My hon. Friends who are backing the Amendment tonight do not wish the case that they have deployed against the Bill to be examined by a Committee of this House. They wish to see it rejected out of hand and hon. Members denied the opportunity of challenging the views of their experts, which they have passed on to us tonight at second hand.

Some play has been made of the fact that an earlier Bill promoted with the same object was withdrawn. I refer to what was known as the Newport Deeps scheme. The reason for abandoning that scheme was twofold. At best, it could have provided for carriers not exceeding 65,000 tons and, even so, subject to some tidal limitations. Yet the tendency for ships to grow in size continues, despite the wishful thinking of those people who are always at hand to tell us that finality has been reached. The second and more serious objection to the Newport Deeps scheme was that further study showed the channel to be unstable. One of the great advantages of the present scheme is that it makes use of a deep water channel known to have been stable since 1774, or so I understand.

As the House knows—it has been repeated in the course of the debate—these two projects by no means exhaust the possibilities open to us to achieve the general purpose of providing modern and efficient ore terminals in the Bristol Channel. They are distinguished, though, from the rest by virtue of having been put forward and backed by the steel companies concerned, and it is for that reason that they are in a more advanced state of planning than are the rival schemes.

I must emphasise again that it is by no means certain that this particular scheme, or indeed the scheme promoted by the Docks Board, will be adopted. It will be the task of the National Ports Council to examine each of the schemes that have been put forward to the best of its ability and" advise the Government on which is most worthy to be accepted. If it is eventually decided to adopt some entirely different scheme, I have little doubt that the necessary authority would be sought by means of the machinery established under the Harbours Act, rather than by promoting another Private Bill.

Hon. Members may therefore ask how it came about that this Bill was promoted. The reason is the same as that which I gave in the debate on the Docks Board Bill. At the time when the Welsh Shipping Agency project was put forward, we could not be certain that the Harbours Act would reach the Statute Book during the life of the present Parliament. Furthermore, the Harbours Act procedure, although cheaper and more flexible from the point of view of the promoters, is not necessarily any quicker. We estimate that a harbour empowerment Order for a scheme of this nature, which, the House will observe, ' has not commanded the unreserved support of every Member present, might take anything up to a year to get through.

This means that, had we advised the the promoters to proceed under the Harbours Act procedure, they would probably have had to wait until the middle of 1965 for their Order. If, however, it is eventually decided to go forward with this project, it is highly desirable that an earlier start should be made.

That brings me to the question: what will be the consequences if the House agrees to read the Bill a Second time? The answer is that all the objections about which we have heard so much this evening, and about which we shall hear more, unless I am very much mistaken, will be argued before a Private Bill Committee in the normal manner, and if, eventually, the Measure reaches the Statute Book it will enable my right hon. Friend to authorise the work to go forward without delay, should this be so decided, some time before the end of the present year. If, on the other hand, the House of Commons rejects the Bill tonight and if, notwithstanding that, the Government eventually reach the conclusion that a scheme of this nature is unavoidable, the necessary empowerment Order will have to be promoted later this year and will hardly be obtained before the autumn of 1965.

Perhaps I may refer briefly to some of the points which have been made during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) said that the livelihood of thousands of his constituents was at stake, and we had to listen for some time to learn the reason why. He told us that the first reason was a fear that the régime of the Estuary might be changed. That, of course, is a matter for the experts, and I can only say that my hon. Friend's views are not shared by the leading authorities in the country on these matters. They did not convince the Committee in another place and I think that it will be for a Committee of this House, in due course, to listen to those views under conditions in which the experts can be cross-examined.

Photo of Mr David Webster Mr David Webster , Weston-Super-Mare

Will a model be built so that this can be proved or disproved?

Photo of Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett , Croydon North East

I want to comment, first, on the remarks of the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Awbery). If the régime of the estuary did change, who knows what golden sands lying to the north of this jetty might be magically transferred to the mud of Weston-super-Mare? He suggested that the Port of Bristol would be adversely affected. If so, why has the Port of Bristol Authority not objected or petitioned against the Bill?

My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare now asks why there is no model. This, again, is largely a matter for the experts, who can be cross-examined. However, the brief answer is that the suitability of the main channel in and out of the Severn Estuary is not regarded as being in question by any authority of which I know and, therefore, a model is unnecessary from the point of view of the immediate local conditions of the jetty.

On the other hand, if one wanted to investigate the effects on the Estuary as a whole it would be necessary to make a model covering, perhaps, 25 to 30 miles of the length of the Estuary, and I understand that no reasonably sized model could represent the size of the river piles because, on such a scale, they would be microscopic. The experts are confident—and I mean the leading experts—that the régime would not be affected. My experience of these experts is that they have a habit of being right.

It might assist if I place an analogy before hon. Members. I remember when we decided on an artificial harbour for the great invasion operation. Something which worried us more than anything else was whether the whole thing would silt up within a fortnight. We asked the Prime Minister, who was my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), if experts could be assembled and consulted. I remember being told that that would be a waste of time, because they would not give us a definite answer. As it happened, they gave an absolutely positive answer—quickly, and they were right. This is, therefore, a subject about which more is known than the layman might realise.

Another point which my hon. Friend did not make—although I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North will make it, so perhaps I had better answer it now—is that there would be no objection if the promoters would agree to a 20 degree shift of the angle of the jetty. I have heard this suggestion several times before. I cannot speak on behalf of the promoters and I cannot possibly give an undertaking on this matter because this, too, is something for the experts.

Sir John Howard's company is at present engaged on a contract for investigating the seabed at the end of the jetty, and what can be done will depend on the results of their investigations. My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare said that the Newport Docks, it was hoped, could be enlarged. That was one of the reasons which I said had been given; that it had been hoped for a long time that the Newport Docks could be enlarged, but that it had proved impractieable to take ships of this size. That has been gone into carefully and it involves difficulties which, by common consent, are insuperable.

My hon. Friend said a great deal about the damage this might do to the Portbury project. It is not true to say that the Rochdale Committee turned this down. It did not give it a high priority, but the National Ports Council and the Rochdale Committee are two different bodies. I am quite confident that the Port of Bristol is capable of looking after its own interests in this matter, and if it thought that this project would conflict with its ambitions and hopes I am sure that it would have petitioned against it.

The hon. Member for Bristol, Central recognised the need for jetties, but was alarmed at the difficulties involved in this project, and was inclined to favour the Milford project, which will be examined. Here, again, it is a matter for expert opinion, but I can say that on the ship handling side the harbour master at Bristol has naturally been consulted by the promoters. I have discussed the matter very briefly with him, and he is confident that these difficulties can be successfully overcome. From my own personal experience of handling big ships I have no doubt that he is right. Difficulties will doubtless be experienced, but I am sure that, as the months go by, those concerned will find as they gain in experience and confidence that the conditions in which ships can be brought alongside and cast off will be widened.

The hon. Member for Bristol, Central said that the engineers could not say what effect the jetty would have on the estuary. I have answered that to the best of my ability. My answer is the same as that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) rightly expressed the crucial importance of freight rates, and gave an indication of the trouble the promoters have been to to investigate some of the technical objections. If this House tonight allows the Bill a Second Reading, I have no doubt that those hon. Members serving on the Committee on the Bill will have cause to regret, perhaps, that quite as much trouble has been taken, because I am sure that those proceedings will be prolonged and detailed.

The right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) made, if I may say so, a characteristically fair intervention. I shall refer to it later, but perhaps I could comment how on two points that he made. He asked for an assurance that the alternative Docks Board scheme would be carefully examined before this scheme was adopted. I can give that assurance, of course, because all the facts will be laid before the National Ports Council, but it is only right to say that, up to date, the dredging experiments that have been carried out are most discouraging. There are very much greater difficulties.

Perhaps I should say, in passing, that one of the advantages from the point of view of the promoters is that no dredging is involved in the present scheme. The main channel is kept dredged by the flow of water—

Photo of Mr Stanley Awbery Mr Stanley Awbery , Bristol Central

All the ports are now vying with each other for the opportunity to become "the" port. Advice has been received from Cardiff, Newport, and the others. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman had a joint committee covering the whole lot, there would be one advice.

Photo of Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett , Croydon North East

I think that for all practical purposes we have a joint committee in the form of the National Ports Council, which will sift all these projects. As a matter of fact, it is now doing so.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also asked for an assurance that the technical doubts raised tonight will be explored. I can give that assurance; they will be explored. They have already been explored once in another place at very great length—I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman has seen the tome of all the evidence. They will be explored again if the Bill goes forward to a Committee of this House, then by the National Ports Council and, of course, if any reasonable doubt remains, if the National Ports Council in tendering its advice expresses some doubt, they will have to be explored once again by experts commissioned by the Government.

The course of the debate shows quite clearly that opposition and doubt come from two entirely different quarters, largely unrelated, and I wish to say something, first, about the objections coming from my hon. Friends representing constituencies on the south side of the Bristol Channel. These objections found expression in a newspaper campaign of exceptional virulence which was conducted by the Western Daily Press and Times and Mirror. To give an idea to those hon. Members who have not had the pleasure of reading the newspaper, some of its expressions have been: An Affront to Nature"; "viciously and criminally ludicrous"; "vicious vandalism"; and "Rape of the Bristol Channel. A leading article was headed: Judas, thy initials are P.B.A. —because the Port of Bristol Authority did not oppose the scheme—and it also said that the scheme would turn the Channel into a noisy, dust ridden annexe of industry.

I hope that my hon. Friends will not go quite as far as that. But if what has been written in that newspaper were to be believed, the execution of this project would be a terribly disastrous thing for Portsihead. Although I have a powerful imagination, I am bound to say that I could not imagine how this project could subject the constituents of my hon. Friend to misery and hardship.

Accordingly, I paid a brief visit to Clevedon and Portishead the day before yesterday to see what grounds there could be for supposing that this jetty would destroy the amenities of those very attractive places. I have come back unconvinced that there is much substance in the complaint that the amenities of Portishead will be ruined, and I cannot see how people living in Clevedon could be affected at all.

It has been suggested that the project would do violence to the sensibilities of the residents and holiday makers on æsthetic grounds. That can only be a matter of opinion. There are many people who regard ships as objects of beauty. Evidently Portishead is well aware of this, because while I was there I acquired a brochure which was called an official guide, price Is., and on page 7 we are told that Portishead lies beneath wooded hills which shelter it from the cold winds and faces the coast of the Bristol Channel, where the tides are so deep that the stroller may see the big ships passing to and fro, only a few feet away. On the other hand, lest it be thought that Portishead is a kind of National Trust beauty spot, turning to page 16 of the same brochure, under the sub-head "Industries", I read: As a site for additional industry Portishead has much to offer. It has been argued, and I suppose it will be argued again, that if the scheme goes through Portishead will become a sort of second Pompeii, that it will be submerged in dust. It has been said that the inhabitants of this part of the coast of Somerset will be disturbed by the noise of the unloading apparatus. These matters were extensively examined in another place and if this House allows the Bill to have a Second Reading they will be extensively re-examined in Committee.

Everything that has been said tonight, and I would prophesy that everything that will be said tonight, depends upon expert opinion. But the evidence that has been presented is hearsay evidence. Moreover, it is hearsay expert evidence, which, I hope the right hon. and learned Member for Newport will agree, is the worst kind of hearsay evidence. What assurance do we have that my hon. Friends have correctly interpreted the views of the experts? What opportunities do we have tonight of cross-examining the experts as they will be cross-examined if they appear before a Committee?

I submit, therefore, that these objections on the grounds of amenity are not so decisive as to rule the project out of court without any further inquiry. Yet that is what my hon. Friends are asking the House to do tonight by seeking to deny the Bill a Second Reading.

Photo of Mr William Wilkins Mr William Wilkins , Bristol South

Surely the hon. and gallant Gentleman is not telling the House by inference that an iron-ore jetty such as is proposed is a thing of beauty and a joy for ever?

Photo of Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett , Croydon North East

I did not refer to the beauty or otherwise of the iron-ore jetty. On the other hand, I do not think that it would do great violence to the view as a whole. It is well over half a mile away from the nearest point of the coast. True, it obstructs the view from the nearest point of the steelworks on the opposite shore. But during the time that a ship is lying alongside, people will see the ship and not the jetty.

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

Could my hon. and gallant Friend tell the House from which place in Portis-head the best possible view of this jetty could be obtained?

Photo of Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett , Croydon North East

I would rather not be drawn into that. I think I know what is behind my hon. Friend's question, but I think that I will be silent on it.

May I turn to the objections or the doubts which have been expressed by hon. Members opposite? Before I do so, I should like to say something about the point of view of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who is not here tonight. I am sure that had he been here he would have advocated the advantages of a central unloading place at Cardiff. I was grateful to him, when the British Transport Docks Bill was before the House, for what I think was his wisdom and restraint in withdrawing his opposition to that Measure. We all understand his perfectly legitimate constituency interest in wishing to see the establishment of a great ore terminal at Cardiff.

It is regrettable from the Government's point of view that this possibility should have come so late into the field. Nevertheless, it is being looked at with great care, and I am sure that the hon. Member will be encouraged by a letter which I feel entitled to refer to and which by now he will have received from the Chairman of the Docks Board making it clear that the resources of that organisation are now being placed behind the necessary investigations. It may be that, not for the first time, this dark horse entered at the last moment will win the race. If so, the Government, who have no partiality in this matter will rejoice with him in the result.

I turn to the attitude of the right hon. and learned Member for Newport, whose constituency is chiefly affected by the Bill. We know that he must be in favour of the best scheme for carrying the ore to these works on whose prosperity the prosperity of so many of his constituents depends. He may question—indeed, he has questioned—whether this is the best scheme. So do I, and so do the Government, and that is why we have referred the whole matter to the National Ports Council.

But the House is not being asked to adjudicate today on which is the best scheme. Technical criticisms, to which I have referred, have been advanced against these proposals. I do not propose to deal with them any further tonight, because this is not the proper time to do so and neither am I the proper person to answer them. They are matters to be thrashed out by the experts and, under the Private Bill procedure, I suggest that the time for that is in Committee rather than on the Floor of the House.

Photo of Sir Spencer Summers Sir Spencer Summers , Aylesbury

Would my hon. and gallant Friend explain why the House is asked to give a Second Reading to the Bill in advance of the investigations to which he has referred, and why the experts have not presented a unanimous view about what the House should be asked to do? Some of us are in difficulty about the order in which things have occurred. Could my hon. and gallant Friend enlighten us on the matter?

Photo of Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett , Croydon North East

I do not know whether my hon. Friend was present in the House when I began my speech—

Photo of Sir Spencer Summers Sir Spencer Summers , Aylesbury

I could not be here, unfortunately.

Photo of Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett , Croydon North East

:—but I tried to explain that. I pointed out that the reason why we want the Bill, although we still have not decided whether it is the best method, is that a very considerable delay will result in putting these works into effect if we have to proceed, eventually, by the Harbours Act procedure. We should therefore like to have the powers to go forward with this scheme should it be advocated.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Summers) said that the experts should be agreed. The promoters are satisfied that they could convince us, as they have convinced the Committee in the other place, that this is a practicable scheme. On the face of it, we think that there is a prima facie case showing that it is a practical scheme, but if my hon. Friend wonders whether the experts are satisfied as between one method in the Bristol Channel and another, that is a matter which will necessarily fall to the National Ports Council to consider.

My hon. Friend may think that it is a little odd that we should be considering the Bill before it has been to the National Ports Council, but I must point out to him that at the moment we are in a transition stage between the old system, when new harbours could be promoted only by a Private Bill, and the new Order which was only legalised by the Harbours Act.

As I explained before my hon. Friend came in, the reason why we advised the promoters not to abandon the Bill, but to go forward with it was that we had no means of being sure that the Harbours Act would reach the Statute Book in the life of this Parliament. I do not know whether I have answered my hon. Friend's point.

Photo of Mr William Wilkins Mr William Wilkins , Bristol South

I am obliged to the hon and gallant Gentleman for giving way. He has been very kind in giving way. I wonder whether he would refresh my memory, as one who was a member of the Standing Committee on the Harbours Bill. Was there not a provision in that Bill for matters which were referred to the harbour authorities to give consideration to representations which might be made to them?

In other words, what I am asking is if, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said, this proposed jetty scheme were to be referred to the Harbours Board would it be possible for objections, from local authorities, or even objections on behalf of interested parties, to be made to the Harbours Board?

Photo of Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett , Croydon North East

The answer is "Yes", if the project were going through by means of an empowering Order under the Act, but, equally, if we are able to put to the National Ports Council a measure which Parliament has already approved by a Private Bill, it would not be necessary, strictly speaking, for the matter to come back to this House at all. I shall come back to that a little later.

What I should like to do now is to reply to the other point which the right hon. and learned Gentleman made, namely, the damage which might be done to the trade of the existing Newport Docks if some of his fears were to be realised. On this, I should like to say two things. First, the House may have noticed that the Docks Board is presenting a petition which, if it is accepted by the Committee of this House, would have the effect of restricting the use of the new jetty to the importation of iron ore. It is proposing a new Clause.

Secondly, and without prejudice to whether the petition succeeds or fails, the House should not assume from the wording of the Preamble to this Bill that it is intended to establish the company as an independent harbour authority empowered to compete with the Docks Board for trade of every kind. If necessary—I stress, if necessary—there would be ample time, before the works could be completed, to make a harbour revision Order defining with greater precision than is defined in this Bill the relationship between the company, the port authority and the procedure of the Docks Board.

I think that at this stage it is only right to tell the House that we have just received advice from the National Ports Council concerning the future of these authorities and, indeed, of certain other port authorities in the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend expects to announce the Government's attitude towards this advice very shortly. Hon. Members will understand that I cannot anticipate the announcement, but, meanwhile, I can at least assure the House that we are alive to the risks which the right hon. and learned Gentleman apprehends, and we shall take care to see that they are avoided.

Photo of Mr Stanley Awbery Mr Stanley Awbery , Bristol Central

Are we to understand that the procedure of the port authority could be changed, or might be changed, or that the Government are considering changing it?

Photo of Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett , Croydon North East

I do not think that anything I have said would justify the hon. Gentleman reaching that particular conclusion.

Photo of Mr Stanley Awbery Mr Stanley Awbery , Bristol Central

I misunderstood the hon. and gallant Gentleman.

Photo of Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett , Croydon North East

I Have not said a word about that.

I shall say no more about the merits or the demerits of the Measure before the House. It has come before Parliament simply because it embodies the first practical scheme for this area which has been evolved. Certainly, it presents considerable engineering difficulties, and yet these are no greater than have been overcome in other countries, and there is no reason to doubt that they could be overcome by this country.

As I have said before, this project will be examined by the Ports Council in accordance with the Harbours Act which, I would remind the House, reached the Statute Book only 12 days ago. It will be examined in comparison with other Bristol Channel schemes which have been laid before the Council, and I have every confidence in the ability of the Council to submit unbiased and well-informed advice; and I hope the House will share that confidence. If, and only if, the Council recommends this scheme as both sound and necessary, will the Government consider putting it into effect. Before so doing we shall certainly ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government to arrange for further consultations with the local authorities who believe that they would be adversely affected.

I can give one further undertaking, because we realise that if the House were to give a second Reading to the Bill and the Government were forced to have recourse to the procedure under the Harbours Act a further debate in the House would also be forced, and, therefore, we shall take no action to implement the Bill without giving the House of Commons an opportunity to debate our proposals in the light of the recommendations of the National Ports Council when they are received. I realise that such a debate should not take place until early in the life of the next Parliament, but whatever the outcome of the General Election I feel confident that an undertaking of this sort would be honoured.

I have gone as far as I can to allay the fears and suspicions which have been voiced in the debate. I have done my best to show why the Government recommend the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. It is not because we have any particular preference for the Agency's proposals, or that necessarily they will be endorsed or put into effect. We cannot say at this stage. We shall have to wait and see.

Our reasons for hoping that the Bill will go through can be summarised in two sentences. If it is defeated and if, m the end, a scheme on these lines proves to be essential in the interests of the steelworks, a grievous delay will result before it can be carried out. It surely would be inconsistent for Parliament, in the middle of June, to establish a statutory Council to examine proiects of this sort and then within the month to prejudge what is almost the first major issue to go before that Council.

9.6 p.m.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

It is not usual for an Opposition back bencher to thank a Minister for intervening early in a debate, but I sincerely thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport for his speech. It has enabled mine to be a great deal shorter. With a broadside, the hon. and gallant Gentleman has sunk most of the opponents of the Bill.

Most of the hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have a particular interest in the Bill, and I admit that Bristol would enjoy the benefits of the dues from the pier if it were built in accordance with its provisions. At the same time, I shall try to persuade the House that I look at this matter from a different point of view. Here is an essential technical development in the steel industry and the port industry of the country without which it will not be possible for the British steel industry to develop in future, without which we shall not be able to compete with our competitors, and without which we shall not be able to take advantage of the economies of scale.

I do not want to introduce a controversial note, but it should not pass beyond our observation that here is a nationalised industry which has had the foresight to see the necessity for new equipment to bring in large iron-ore carriers and that it has been opposed on amenity ground by two hon. Members opposite. I agree that one of them has not yet spoken, but I can see from the expression on the face of the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Sir E. Leather) that he intends to speak on the amenities. But his is a much more serious matter than that.

To be impartial, I want also to criticise my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) for having associated himself with the proviso which Newport seeks to add to the Bill to prevent this jetty from being used for other purposes as well. He knows that our party is pledged to allow nationalised industries to develop freely in the future and not to put limitations on them, like the limitations put on the railway workshops which prevent their competing with private industry. If this jetty is effective, and it can be used for other purposes as well, it is right that when the legislation is passed it should be freely available for more general use.

I appreciate the point of safeguarding the interests of Newport, but it will be a grave mistake for Parliament, legislating for a new pier and jetty which may last many years into a situation which one canont foresee, to write into the Measure any limitation on its possible use when we know that it might well have useful commercial purposes of a more general kind.

Then we come to the points raised by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), who made a most moving constituency speech which, I think, influenced the whole House. His big anxiety was that there would be an obstruction by the piers in the deep water and that silting might move towards his constituency. He painted a gloomy picture of Weston-super-Mare being denied its sand and bombarded with its own sewage and asked the House to reject the Bill, as I understood him, on those grounds.

But, as the Parliamentary Secretary has said, these are not things which the House of Commons, with all its wisdom, can decide, on the Second Reading of a Private Bill. The Bill has to go through a lot of machinery. The National Ports Council has to look at the whole question of whether or not this is a good scheme. Then there are the various harbour authorities involved. Other bodies have already found this to be a sensible proposal. The Port of Bristol itself would never have given the scheme its blessing if it was likely to endanger the Portbury development. The Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Transport and other Departments would never have allowed the matter to get to this stage if they had thought there was sufficient substance in the hon. Member's objections to justify real anxiety.

I am only appealing for the Bill to be given a Second Reading. If we do not do so, we shall be denying ourselves the opportunity of subjecting the fears of the hon. Member to detailed scrutiny by expert witnesses who can in turn be cross-examined. It would be quite wrong not to take that opportunity.

The Parliamentary Secretary has said that, if the Bill is defeated or talked out, it may well be that a grievous delay will be imposed upon an industry fighting to maintain its competitive position in the world. Although I have the greatest respect for this House and its value as a debating Chamber, it is at its weakest when it is seeking to decide on a Second Reading debate a highly complicated, technical question which, with the greatest respect to all hon. Members present, we cannot be qualified to judge ourselves.

We do not know whether the effect of these piers would be to alter the régime of the Estuary, or whether it would be possible for ships of this size to be able to tie up easily without obstructing the deeps which give access to the Portbury development. We cannot know all these technical matters but we can appoint a Committee to go into them in detail, consulting the experts and finding out on our behalf.

Whatever the constituency interests involve, I hope that hon. Members will not seek to prevent the House from sending the Bill to a Committee. The hon. Member for Somerset, North intends to reply on the Amendment. I say to him that it would be a grievous blow against a great industry and an important port interest in the whole of the Southwest, South Wales and Bristol area if he were to talk the Bill out and prevent it being fully considered.

The hon. Member has been a popular Member in his constituency and I respect him for championing the cause of the constituency that he feels he was elected to serve. But he would be doing no service to his constituency if, in one of his last speeches in this House—he is, unhappily, to leave us—he were to prevent the House from reaching a decision, of a preliminary character only, on a Bill of such great importance to the area which he and I have the honour to serve jointly.

Therefore, with these considerations, and allowing for the fact that these things ought to be looked at more fully at a later stage, I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

9.14 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edwin Leather Mr Edwin Leather , Somerset North

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). While I appreciate his thought, I believe that all the unknowns he has referred to are very good arguments for coming precisely to a conclusion opposite to that to which he came. I will endeavour to show why that is so, and also why I have every intention, on grounds both of constituency and national interest and in principle, of endeavouring to stop this Bill by any methods which are open to me to do. I believe that it is my bounden duty to do so.

We have had—and I am very grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for giving us—one major step forward in this controversy. In his peroration—and this is the first time that-this has been even mentioned—he pledged that before any final decision was taken, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government would be consulted. This is a major change. One cannot help wondering what has been going through the head of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government throughout the course of the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) made the complaint—a complaint made firmly and strongly by all of us who are Members of Parliament for the constituencies concerned, by the Somerset County Council and every other local authority concerned—that the Bill has been put forward—my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare used the term "in stealth"—certainly in a way in which the procedures and safeguards of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and planning authorities at every level have been completely circumvented, and by which they have been prevented from presenting their views. This is a fact.

I say without hesitation that it is further a fact that had the planning authorities been consulted—were it not for a sheer fluke in the law that the Bill should have reached this stage without the planning authorities being consulted—we would not be debating it tonight, because the Government would not have given it their support. Every one of the planning authorities involved is bitterly opposed to the Bill. In every single case—and there have been many in the 15 years that I have been in the House—when planning permission for any kind of industrial development whatsoever has been sought in this area, the local planning authorities have turned it down and, on appeal, successive Ministers of Governments of both parties have upheld the local planning authorities in protecting the area from industrial development.

May I make it perfectly clear at the outset that I reject the argument, put forward with great sincerity, particularly by the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East and by my hon. and gallant Friend, that if we oppose the Bill we are in any way opposing the progress of the great steel industry and this particular company? I should like to make it abundantly clear that those of us concerned have nothing but good will towards this company. Indeed, it is notable that we are talking about supply of the Spencer Works. No doubt in common with a number of other hon. Members, on Wednesday morning it will be my sad duty to attend a memorial service for Sir Harry Spencer, after whom the works were called. He was an old and valued friend of mine for many years, and so are many of those involved. I wish them and their company and their industry and this works which bears the name of a dear old friend of mine nothing but good. I wish to do nothing which would prevent the development of the most modern and economic facilities for ore loading for themselves, or any other steelworks.

But I do not believe that this scheme will do it. I believe that this is the worst possible scheme which could have been brought forward. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) said that there were three alternative schemes. I suggest to him that he has not been very well briefed. There are many more than three alternative schemes. The three largest and most imaginative schemes which have been put forward did not appear on his list at all.

I am entirely in favour of the Spencer Works, and any other works in South Wales, having the best possible facilities and the most economic equipment avail able for the unloading of iron ore so that they may do their job in the national economy and compete in the markets of the world. My argument is that there are at least half-a-dozen schemes avail able for study and that this Bill is completely premature and—

Photo of Mr Edwin Leather Mr Edwin Leather , Somerset North

Let me finish my sentence—and that in fact a number of other schemes are considered by many experts to be much more attractive and likely to achieve the object we all wish than the one and only very limited scheme which appears in this Bill.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

If the hon. Gentleman is so certain that the expert opinion which he has stated is against this proposal is so overwhelming, why does not he think that the case will be rejected by a Committee of this House which examines all the details? Why does he think that it may not be rejected by the National Forts Council, and why does not he think that the case would subsequently be rejected by the Minister? He has all those safeguards and opportunities to put his opinion. By seeking to talk out this Bill, he is showing to the House that he does not really believe in his own case at all. He is not prepared to put it before those experts.

Photo of Mr Edwin Leather Mr Edwin Leather , Somerset North

With respect, that is a complete misinterpretation of the position. I believe that this Bill should not be allowed to go forward, not because I fear expert judgment, but because I think that to allow to be put forward with the support and authority of this House of Commons the one scheme above all others which I profoundly believe to be a bad scheme, the one scheme which tramples on the rights and interests of my constituents without opposing it, would be a gross dereliction of my duty as Member of Parliament for Somerset, North.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire did not even mention the three most important schemes, ideas, plans—call them what hon. Members will—which have been put forward to deal with this very real problem of modernising the facilities for the unloading of iron ore in South Wales.' I do not pretend to be competent to judge which of the schemes is the best. I am not competent to say whether some may be very good or others may be hopless. But I do say that there are other schemes and, therefore, it is quite wrong to argue that if we do not have this scheme we would damage iron ore unloading projects in South Wales.

Photo of Mr Stephen Hastings Mr Stephen Hastings , Mid Bedfordshire

Can my hon. Friend tell the House whether the alternatives he has in mind were put forward to the Committee in another place? If not, are they really serious at this stage?

Photo of Mr Edwin Leather Mr Edwin Leather , Somerset North

Yes, they are extremely serious. They were all discussed in the evidence in the Select Committee in another place. No doubt if my hon. Friend studied it he would find it as enlightening as I did.

There is a scheme to put a high level transporter conveyor across the River Usk. There is the Usk barrage scheme. There is a scheme for a floating harbour for Newport. The argument about whether the regime of the Newport Deep is very unstable and that in the Bristol Deep completely stable is not at all the clear and simple argument that my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary made out. One could produce all sorts of experts on these matters to argue passionately for both cases. I am not arguing one way or the other, because I do not know. I am pointing out that the argument of my hon. and gallant Friend that the whole weight of expert evidence is on one scheme and not the other is not correct.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

The hon. Member is misrepresenting what has been said from the Front Bench. The Minister made it clear when he said, "I am not saying that this is the best scheme for dealing with the problem. All I am asking the House to agree to is that experts should be allowed to judge"—instead of the matter being settled by the single opinion of the hon. Member, which is what he is attempting to do if he tries to talk out the Bill.

Photo of Mr Edwin Leather Mr Edwin Leather , Somerset North

I am obliged to the hon. Member for assisting me so ably and helping me to talk out the Bill, but he has completely mistaken my point. My point was in relation to the Parliamentary Secretary's comments about the Newport Deep scheme. If the hon. Member reads HANSARD tomorrow he will see that my hon. Friend's opinion is that its régime was unstable, and he went on to say that the régime in the Bristol Deep had been known to be stable since 1775. It is in relation to that specific point that I am saying that the evidence is not at all as clear and one-sided as my hon. Friend suggested that it would be. There is another scheme known as the Llanwern Docks and Jetty scheme. There is a scheme for setting up conveyor belts from a jetty running into Newport Deep. There are half-a-dozen possibilities, all of which have their supporters and experts who think that they should be given a chance to solve the problem.

The tragedy about the Bill is that this is the one scheme which completely overrides the rights and interests and the lives of thousands of our constituents in Somerset, completely defiles our countryside, completely spoils one of the finest residential areas left on this coast and—a point which has been argued before and which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary made no attempt to counter—which has been put through without any consultation whatever and against the strongest possible opposition of all the planning authorities concerned. That is not a matter of argument but a simple statement of fact. The whole question of the relationship between the Bristol and Newport harbour authorities is still completely in the melting pot.

I suggest that the scheme is quite premature. I went so far some months ago as to suggest to the officers of the company that if only they would adjust the angle of this jetty some 10 degrees to 15 degrees all our objections to the Bill would fall. I went as far as to say that I personally would accept the odium of endeavouring to squash the opposition in my constituency if they would do this. Alas, for reasons which have never been explained, they refused to do so. I will explain in a few moments why a change in the angle of the pier would make such a tremendous difference.

Next, I want to deal a little more thoroughly with the whole question of urgency and whether it is true that if the Bill does not go through tonight we shall in some grievous way be harming some scheme which is of extreme urgency. I believe that this argument can be completely defeated on several grounds. The first is that this is not the only company concerned with the problem of importing iron ore into South Wales. There are two others. Where are their Bills? What evidence is there that they have felt that the urgency of their economic need is so great that they must take up the time of the House by putting through a Private Bill under this procedure to solve their problems? They have done no such thing. Neither of the other two companies, whose problem is identical with that of the promoters of the Bill, has seen fit to put forward a Bill. The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East argued that the Bill must go through tonight in the national interest in order to help this one company. What about the national interest of the other two companies who are placed in precisely the same position? I suggest that the facts speak for themselves.

My hon. and gallant Friend was nice and courteous in his comments to us. He enjoyed himself having fun at the expense of the Members of Parliament for the County of Somerset and the local authorities in our constituencies. But I say with the best will in the world that he did not attempt seriously to deal with the very grave objections arid difficulties which we have. He dismissed the question of the régime and whether the sand would go under the beach at Weston-super-Mare, or whether it would end at Cheltenham or somewhere at the other end of the Severn, with an airy wave of the hand. The important point is that nobody knows. We cannot prove that this will do damage. I pray that it will not. But it is not good enough either for the promoters of the Bill or for the Minister to tell the House, "The promoters say that it will be all right, so get on with it." In fact, no tests have been made. Questions have been put to the Hydraulic Research Station at Wallingford. They confirm that their opinion has not been asked and, secondly, that it would take at least three years to carry out satisfactory tests to find what the effect of the construction of this jetty would be.

I suggest that to proceed with a project like this without having the faintest idea what the effect would be is highly irresponsible. In their statement the promoters would lead the House to believe that the Bill has the highest authority in their own industry. Paragraph 7 of the statement, which I presume was circulated to all or many hon. Members in the last couple of days, specifically says: The promotion of this Bill has been approved by the Iron and Steel Board and by the Ministries of Transport and of Agriculture. A notable omission—not by the Minister of Housing and Local Government.

In this statement, as in the Bill itself—I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is aware of this—the words "Minister of Housing and Local Government" appear on no occasion and in no place.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

I am glad of the opportunity to explain that. The reason is that we believe in hearing evidence before we come to a decision. The proper place for the evidence to be heard under this procedure is before a Select Committee which takes the Committee stage of a Private Bill. Although I sympathise with what my hon. Friend is saying on behalf of his constituents, I suggest to him that this procedure is the very best which we have in the rules of our House for this purpose.

My hon. Friend has misinterpreted my hon. and gallant Friend a good deal. What my hon. and gallant Friend has said all the time is, "Let us hear the experts and let us have a chance to cross-examine them". He has not at any time said that this is proven.

Photo of Mr Edwin Leather Mr Edwin Leather , Somerset North

With respect to my hon. Friend, that is completely beside the point. His Ministry is not represented in a Select Committee of the House of Commons. The local planning authorities would not be represented in a Select Committee of the House of Commons. If we are to take his interjection seriously, what my hon. Friend is saying is that his Ministry does not care and that he is not prepared to do anything to protect the interests of the planning authorities. This will come as a great shock to the planning authorities in Somerset.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

My hon. Friend knows very well that, if this were a straight planning issue, there would be a planning inquiry at which all the evidence would be heard. It would be quite wrong and, indeed, impertinent for us to hold an inquiry when the procedure lays down that this is a matter for a Committee of the House of Commons. It is not fair for my hon. Friend to suggest that we do not care or are callous about the matter. What we are doing is respecting the authority of the House of Commons in the matter of a Private Bill, which is different from the planning procedure.

Photo of Mr Edwin Leather Mr Edwin Leather , Somerset North

My hon. Friend has done nothing whatever to reassure me on this point. I am very happy to follow him into the planning procedure. I do not know whether the view of his own officials and of the many elected councillors who sit on the planning bodies of Somerset have been made clear to him. From the tone of his interjection I judge that they most certainly have not been.

The reason why my hon. Friend's Ministry has not at any stage been involved in this unfortunate matter is a sheer fluke, because of a technicality in the law which until now no one has ever noticed. In all our planning legislation, debated at length and passed by the House of Commons, nobody has ever thought to include any provision for things built over water. If someone chose to build a jetty 4½ yards long from the coast of Somerset, the whole majesty of his Ministry would come into play and the procedure of tribunals and public inquiry would have to operate. But we are in the ridiculous position that a jetty not 4½ yards long but 4½ miles long, a jetty completely altering the whole vision of the Somerset countryside and coming within a mile of the coast of Somerset, can be put up without his Ministry even being consulted because the law just never happened to cover that eventuality. I do not believe that it will be very long before some Government will amend our planning laws to deal with the matter.

My hon. Friend must know, and the officials who advise him must know, how strongly all the planning authorities in Somerset are opposed to this Bill. He must know also that until now, in every case in which the Somerset planning authorities have objected to industrial development in this area, his Ministry have upheld them in their judgment. We must be given some very strong reason why the practice and experience of 18 years of saying to private citizens, "You may not put up a works there, you may not build a petrol station here", is now to be thrown out of the window, and without even an explanation, his Ministry says, "You can turn the whole area into a dockyard and the Ministry will not complain about it". That is the effect of this Bill.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

My hon. Friend has been telling me what I know, and I shall now tell him what he knows. He knows perfectly well that, if something comes up as a planning matter, my right hon. Friend does not support a planning authority as such or go against a planning authority as such; he holds a local inquiry and hears both sides of the issue. What my hon. Friend is suggesting, with respect, is that we should go through this procedure knowing that this was a Private Bill and that, before a Select Committee of the House, the same evidence would be heard, perhaps in even more detail, under the procedure laid down. I put it to my hon. Friend that this would (a) be entirely superfluous and (b) be somewhat impertinent; and it is quite unfair for my hon. Friend to draw the conclusions he does.

Photo of Mr Edwin Leather Mr Edwin Leather , Somerset North

We have been through this three times already. I shall not pursue it further. I still do not accept what my hon. Friend says. In closing this phase of my speech, I refer my hon. Friend to the remarks of the Secretary of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, which also is petitioning against the Bill, that this jetty would be a monumental snook cocked at the Somerset coastline". That is the opinion of all the planning authorities, and that is the view which hitherto my hon. Friend's Ministry has always supported.

I want to refer to the position in Portishead and say why we feel so strongly about this jetty and why I think that the planning provisions which my hon. Friend prefers to ignore are of the very essence and core of the problem. The coastline of Somerset runs roughly north-east and south-west from Bristol. The coastline of South Wales runs roughly straight east and west. The area from Portishead south is an area which the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, in its pamphlet circulated last year with the county plan, says is an area of great landscape value and all scheduled for residential development only. This on paper up till this moment has been the policy of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, a policy, I repeat, which in all the years I have been the Member for this constituency it has rigidly enforced. My hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport enjoyed himself by playing with Portishead's little pamphlet. He referred to the fact that there is industry in Portishead. This is true. My hon. and gallant Friend said that he went to Portishead on Saturday and looked round. I suggest to him that if he really did look round he must know himself that the point he made, although an amusing one for debate, is most unfair to the argument.

The fact of the matter is that the headland in Portishead comes out to a point, and north of that point is an industrial area referred to in the pamphlet. South of that point and the other side of a substantial hill, completely separated from the industrial area is, alas, the area affected by the Bill. If the jetty proposed in the Bill were to come out north of the headland in the area of the Portishead power station and of the docks and the factory, we would have no argument. This would be perfectly reasonable.

However, if my hon. and gallant Friend looked at the ground and the water, as he says he did, he must also know that that is not the case, alas. The head of this jetty comes out the south side of the point and right in the middle of what the Ministry of Housing and Local Governmen calls an area of great landscape value". It is, in fact, an area populated almost entirely by older people. There are many such areas in this country; it is a beautifull piece of seaside where people, very often those who are not too well, have gone to retire in peace and quiet and enjoy the benefit of the sea air. I repeat that the Bill would turn that area into a dock yard.

Photo of Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett , Croydon North East

What I cannot understand—I am sure that my hon. Friend will explain it—is why one discharging jetty two-thirds of a mile away from the area will destroy the peace and quiet.

Photo of Mr Edwin Leather Mr Edwin Leather , Somerset North

I am only too happy to explain to my hon. and gallant Friend. It is my next paragraph. I do not think that it is appreciated by many hon. Members, even those who have listened to the debate, that what the citizens of Portishead will have put clown in front of them is not the point end of a jetty. The jetty comes out from the South Wales coast no less than four and a half miles. It then turns at right angles and runs exactly parallel down this residential section of Portishead, less than a mile from the coast. The jetty is to be 1,800 feet long, 100 feet wide and 200 feet high out of the water. I suggest to my hon. and gallant Friend that if this project were one to put an industrial installation, a dockyard or a gas works, of this size and stature into the nicest residential district of Croydon, he would take it much more seriously than he is indicating he takes it tonight. This is completely altering the character of this district. This jetty, 1,800 feet long, will operate day and night, will take ships up to 65,000 tons, two at a time. It will be covered by a conveyor system, with cranes, grabs and dock machinery. This will be put down in an area which the Ministry of Housing and Local Government now protects as one of great landscape value.

It is no exaggeration to say that this is building a dockyard—with all the chaos, confusion and dust that goes with it—yet my hon. and gallant Friend rode off gaily, even superficially, in respect of an area where 6,000 people, mainly elderly, want to live in peace and contentment. Their interests have been utterly and cynically disregarded in the promotion of this Bill, and I find it shocking that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government should seem to regard the whole thing as a great joke.

Photo of Mr William Wilkins Mr William Wilkins , Bristol South

Would the hon. Member elaborate a little on this point of his objection? I speak as one who has had some apprehension about the aesthetic effects of this jetty on the whole of the estuary. Do I understand the major objection of the people in the area to be simply that of noise? Is he saying that if the jetty were sited to the north of its proposed siting there would be no objection from those people; that wherever the jetty is sited other than there he would have no objection? I am sure he is aware that if the only objection is the noise nuisance that would rather undermine the thoughts I had had on the subject.

Photo of Mr Edwin Leather Mr Edwin Leather , Somerset North

I am grateful to the hon. Member for mentioning that and for allowing me to make the point clear. I entirely agree with him.

Photo of Mr William Wilkins Mr William Wilkins , Bristol South

The hon. Member said that if the jetty were sited further to the north he would not object. Is that right?

Photo of Mr Edwin Leather Mr Edwin Leather , Somerset North

With respect, I did not say that I would not object to that. I said that the objection I had raised would fall to the ground. Nevertheless, other people would object strenuously. I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving me this chance to make myself clear; and if I misled him I apologise.

Photo of Mr Edwin Leather Mr Edwin Leather , Somerset North

Certainly, including, I presume, the hon. Member, who objects on aesthetic grounds. I am trying, in the limited time available, to make a specific case for people in the area feeling terribly worried about the siting of this jetty. If the Bill gave a series of schemes my objection would fall to the ground. Unfortunately, it does not. It is confined to one specific scheme and I am putting a specific objection to it.

The Minister dealt with the objections of noise airily and dismissed them as being of no purport. I suggest, with respect, that that is not accurate. This will be a dock 1,800 ft. long. It will take two or three, if they are of a smaller tonnage, tankers and will work day and night, year in and year out. As we have heard, the tide will rise and fall between 40 and 50 ft. The ore is not to be unloaded out of these ships by suction pipes or conveyor belts. According to the Bill, it has been found practically impossible to devise a conveyor belt scheme that could cope with a rise and fall of the ships of 40 ft. to 50 ft.

According to the Bill, and according to ' the evidence given to the Select Committee in another place, this job will be done by 20-ton grabs. To suggest that one can drop 20 tons of iron ore a minimum of 20 ft. and sometimes up to 60 ft. without making an appalling din is really to ask us to believe that black is white. It must be noisy, and we all know that it must be noisy.

Photo of Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett , Croydon North East

I am sure that my hon. Friend does not wish to mislead the House. The grab will not drop the ore into a ship that is going up and down but on to a conveyor belt, which remains at the same height. I cannot enlarge on it now, because this is not the time or place, but the expert evidence is to the effect that the noise level will be, anyhow, a mere fraction of the normal traffic noise level in Portishead.

Photo of Mr Edwin Leather Mr Edwin Leather , Somerset North

With respect, that evidence has been expertly challenged in the Select Committee already, and just did not stand up. According to the evidence given by the promoters of the Bill, the drop would be 20 ft. With the ships, rolling as they frequently do roll in this passage of water—as the hon. Member for Bristol, Central says, the wind comes roaring down the channel—and with these 20-ton grabs clanging against the sides of the ships, to suggest that that can be done without noise is, I repeat, to argue that black is white. We all know perfectly well that dockyards are extremely noisy places—and I should have thought that my hon. and gallant Friend knew that better than most of us.

The promoters have not carried out any noise tests—any noise tests—in this area whatsoever. They have refused to do it. The local authorities have carried out tests with quite conclusive results—I can only presume that my hon. and gallant Friend has not been told about them. In fact, foghorn sirens and various other noise-making equipment were put on a drilling rig precisely on the spot where the No. 3 works of this jetty are proposed. The result was a flood of complaints all night long from all sorts of people in Portishead who were kept awake.

This will go on, off and on, all night, every night of the year. This is not what my hon. and gallant Friend chose so gaily to dismiss as hearsay expert evidence but the results of practical tests. Under examination in the Select Committee in another place the promoters' own witnesses agreed that between 45 and 50 decibels at night would be what they called "objectionable". To suggest that this project can be carried out without creating at least 50 decibels of noise at night is ridiculous.

Furthermore, I would point out that this is over water and expert evidence has been called to deal with this point. Sound is well known to travel much more clearly over water than over land. Evidence that it does so was produced before the Select Committee and was not challenged by the promoters. It could not be challenged, because this is a phenomenon we all know perfectly well. We have all experienced it. Particularly on a still night—we have all heard it—sound over water from people in small boats or on the other side of a lake, a mile away, carries distinctly.

The independent acoustic expert called by the county planning authority to put forward an expert view summed up his evidence like this: In my opinion there will be a continual sound of machinery in operation interspersed by loud bangs when the material is dropped or the grubs hit the side of the vessel. I repeat, this goes on day and night. I suggest to my hon. and gallant Friend that to brush it off with a wave of the hand and to suggest that it does not matter is completely to ignore the fundamental rights of the people whose lives are affected by it.

The same applies to dust. My hon. and gallant Friend waved the dust risk aside and said that it will not arise. But there are all kinds of evidence, as well as common sense, to show that the dust risk does exist. Again the promoters of the Bill have carried out no tests whatsoever either to prove or disprove that there will be a risk of dust pouring into the homes of the people at Portis-head and Redcliff Bay. We are simply asked by the Parliamentary Secretary to accept that the promoters' own engineer says, "I do not think there will be any dust", and this is supposed to be good enough for this House. I do not think it is good enough for the House of Commons.

All dust is known to be very small. Particles of 12·5 microns in size are

recorded in this country as having been carried up to 7,000 yards in a 10 m.p.h. wind. The height of the take-off point on this jetty at low water mark will be 200 ft. above the ground. Is my hon. and gallant Friend dismissing this as being of no significance? In the evidence of the promoters it was calmly and blandly said that it was very unusual for the wind to be blowing in the direction of Portishead. This again is completely untrue. It is known to be untrue on the facts. The weather records for the area concerned show that over the last ten years the wind blew directly from the area of this jetty right over the town of Portishead on an average between one in every three and one in every four days.

I suggest that this is further evidence of the completely irresponsible and ill-considered way in which this Bill has been put forward, and is a further reason why this House should not give it cognisance in any way. If we do so, whatever safeguards are urged tonight, we all know perfectly well that on the next occasion when it suits any Minister of Transport it will be argued, "The House of Commons gave it a Second Reading, old boy, so you know that they must 'lave approved it." This is what will happen. We all know it, and it is sheer humbug to suggest that it will not.

No one can say precisely what effectc the building of this jetty will have on the régime. We do not know what damage it may create. We fear that it may create a great deal of damage; we do not know. But it is not good enough for a Minister to come to the House and say, "We do not know, but we do not think it will be very much"—

Photo of Sir William Anstruther-Gray Sir William Anstruther-Gray , Berwickshire and East Lothian

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir William Anstruther-Gray) rose in his place and claimed to move. That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 151, Noes 2.

Division No. 112.]AYES[9.59 p.m.
Agnew, Sir PeterBeaney, AlanBowen, Roderic (Cardigan)
Arbuthnot, Sir JohnRenn, Anthony WedgwoodBox, Donald
Awbery, Stan (Bristol, Central)Bingham, R. M.Boyle, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward
Barlow, Sir johnBirch, Rt. Hon. NigelBraddock, Mrs. E. M.
Barter, JohnBourne-Arton, A.Braine, Bernard
Brown, Alan (Tottenham)Hogg, Rt. Hon. QuintinPeyton, John
Bullard, DenysHolland, PhilipPitman, Sir James
Carr, Compton (Barons Court)Hollingworth, JohnPounder, Rafton
Chataway, ChristopherHolt, ArthurPym, Francis
Cleaver, LeonardHopkins, AlanRedmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin
Cole, NormanHowell, Charles A. (Perry Barr)Rees Hugh (Swansea, W.)
Cooke, RobertHughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral JohnRonton, Rt. Hon. David
Cooper-Key, Sir NeillHughes-Young, MichaelRoberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.Hulbert, Sir NormanRobinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Corfield, F. V.Iremonger, T. L.Robson Brown, Sir William
Coulson, MichaelJames, DavidRoots, William
Crithley, JullanJohnson, Eric (Blackley)Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Cullen, Mrs. AliceKenyon, CliffordRoss, William
Deedes, Rt. Hon. W. F.Kerr, Sir HamiltonRoyle, Anthony (Richmond, Surrey)
Doig, PeterKing, Dr. HoraceScott-Hopkins, James
Donnelly, DesmondKirk, PeterSeymour, Leslie
Doughty, CharlesLawson, GeorgeSharples, Richard
du Cann, EdwardLegge-Bourke, Sir HarryShort, Edward
Duffy, A. E. P. (Colne Valley)Linstead, Sir HughSkeffington, Arthur
Elliott, R. W. (Newc'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)Litchfield, Capt. JohnSmall, William
Finch, HaroldLloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Finlay, GraemeMacArthur, IanSpriggs, Leslie
Fletcher, EricMcBride, N.Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)Mackenzie, GregorStones, William
Foster, Sir JohnMcLaren, MartinStorey, Sir Samuel
Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)Manuel, ArchieStudholme, Sir Henry
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)Mapp, CharlesSummers, Sir Spencer
Gammans, LadyMarshall, Sir DouglasTaylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)
Giles, Rear-Admiral MorganMathew, Robert (Honiton)Taylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, Moss Side)
Goodhew, VictorMaude, Angus (Stratford-on-Avon)Thomas, Peter (Conway)
Gourlay, HarryMawby, RayThornton, Ernest
Gower, RaymondMaxwell-Hyslop, R. J.Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon
Green, AlanMaydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.van Straubenzee, W. R.
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)Millan, BruceVickers, Miss Joan
Hall, John (Wycombe)Mills, StrattonWalder, David
Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)Miscampbell, NormanWalker, Peter
Harris, Reader (Heston)Mitchison, G. R.Wells, John (Maidstone)
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)More, Jasper (Ludlow)Whitelaw, William
Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)Morrison, Charles (Devizes)Whitlock, William
Hayman, F. H.Nugent, Rt. Hon. Sir RichardWilkins, W. A.
Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir LionelO'Malley, B. K.Woodhouse, C. M.
Henderson, John (Cathcart)Osborn, John (Hallam)Woollam, John
Hendry, ForbesPage, Graham (Crosby)Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe)Page, John (Harrow, West)
Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)Parkin, B. T.TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hilton, A. V.Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)Mr. Geoffrey Wilson and Mr. Hastings.
Percival, Ian
NOES
Maddan, MartinTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)Mr. Webster and Sir Edwin Leather.

Question, That "now" stand part of the Question, put accordingly and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time and committed.