CLYDE PORT AUTHORITY (HUNTERSTON ORE TERMINAL) ORDER CONFIRMATION BILL (By Order)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th December 1973.

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Photo of Sir Fitzroy Maclean Sir Fitzroy Maclean , Bute and North Ayrshire 12:00 am, 11th December 1973

I begin by giving my reasons for objecting to the Bill. I realise that I am not likely to defeat a measure which seems to enjoy the enthusiastic support of both Front Benches. I wish to secure a debate and so make certain that the views of my constituents are at least heard. It is what I might call the juggernaut aspect of this bit of business which I find unattractive and disturbing.

There is a lot of talk nowadays about community politics—and a very good thing too. I understand that community politics have done the Liberal Party a lot of good. The fact is that when the views of one community, however well founded and however strongly held, happen not to coincide with the views of either of the two big parties, the chances of their ever being heeded are not good. Had I not taken the action which I have taken the Bill would have slipped through unnoticed without criticism, discussion or objection, in spite of the fact that many thousands of my constituents who live near the proposed development are passionately opposed to what is happening.

We should not forget that it is theoretically a feature of democracy that the people on the spot should have some say in matters which concern them directly and drastically. They should not just be sacrificed willy-nilly to what they are assured by the powers that be is the good of the State. If my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Development, who I understand will intervene later, says that there has already been a long and expensive inquiry into the whole matter, I would ask him in return just how much attention he and his right hon. Friend have paid to the conclusions of the public inquiry or the further inquiry which followed.

If the Bill becomes law, the resulting iron ore terminal, together with a complex of other industrial projects which, according to the Secretary of State, will follow it, will completely change the character of the Middle Clyde. The project will blight and pollute one of Scotland's greatest beauty spots. Industrial Scotland will be deprived of one of its principal playgrounds. It will strike a severe blow at our vitally important tourist industry. It will eat up some of the best agricultural land in the country and utterly destroy the amenities of a considerable residential area.

I know that it will be represented by both Front Benches and by a number of their more assiduous supporters—I am sure that I may include my neighbour, the hon. Member for Ayrshire, Central (Mr. Lambie)—that Hunterston holds the key to our national prosperity. I do not accept that view for a moment. I do not accept that it will make much difference to the employment situation. It will certainly not do so locally, and that is what I am concerned about. During the last six or seven years the word "Hunterston" has become, quite irrationally, a kind of magic slogan. Properties have come to be attributed to it which in no way correspond to reality.

I am prepared to believe that the Scottish steel industry may need a new terminal, but nothing which has been said so far—and I have followed the discussion closely for six or seven years—has convinced me that Hunterston is the right place for it, less still for the oil refineries and the mini-mills which seem likely to follow it at enormous expense to the taxpayer. I understand that the cost will be approximately £120,000 a job. I understand that there will be relatively little advantage to the economy and the provision of relatively few new jobs locally.

During the past six or seven years we have debated the matter on a number of occasions. I do not propose to repeat arguments which I have already rehearsed several times and at considerable length. Of course we want development, but we want the right development in the right place. I do not believe, when all the relevant factors are taken into account, that the Hunterston peninsula is the right place for such development.

Apart from the question of amenity, I shall take just one of several points which I have raised constantly and on which I have never been able to get an answer. What about nuclear security? That is a question which concerns the safety of thousands of my constituents but which has been studiously dodged by successive Scottish Office Ministers, including the hon. Members for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon), on the advice of civil servants who, I happen to know—having read the minutes by a fortunate mistake—urged them not to be too specific on this issue.

Today I would only say that if these projects come they will do irreparable harm to one of Scotland's greatest national assets. Matters are made worse because the chances are that the usefulness of the projects will of short duration. In 10 or 20 years from now there will no longer be any need for them. They will then become white—or perhaps I should say black—elephants and the working population which they will bring into the area will find itself without jobs.

Government Departments, and the Scottish Office in particular, should give a little more thought to the mutability of human affairs. Has it not occurred to them that at some time in the future—let us say 10 years from now—there might be a real fuel crisis? For example, there might be no more oil to bring from the Middle East. The need for giant tankers—half-a-million tonners—and shore-based refineries might disappear. The British Steel Corporation might, for one reason or another, be driven to cut production even more drastically than today and the need for mini steel mills and new iron ore terminals might also disappear.

Generals are always accused of planning for the last war or the last war but one. I have a feeling that that is just what the Government, egged on by the Opposition, are doing at this moment. They are planning a second Industrial Revolution on strictly nineteenth century lines before Scotland has fully recovered from the after-effects of the last one. The London edition of The Times has a leading article today entitled: Every plan must be remade now". It has taken successive Governments, between them, six years to make up their minds about Hunterston. Might it not be a good idea if they remade their present plan before it has even had time to take shape?

In 10 years' time it will be too late. The harm will have been done. We shall have made the mistake that our forefathers made so often in the last century. We shall have destroyed an irreplaceable part of our national heritage by allowing developments which will almost certainly, in the long run, turn out not to be assets at all but will simply contribute to Scotland's existing economic and social imbalance.

Today this kind of thing seems to be happening all over Scotland. There seems to be little overall planning and very little regard for the damage that our national heritage is suffering at the hands of a lot of faceless officials. I do not want to be offensive, but I have never believed in the infallibility of the Scottish Office. I believe that my right hon. Friend's Department and my hon. Friend's sub-Department are quite capable of making all kinds of mistakes and then doing their best to slur them over, cover them up or pretend that they have never happened. We have had plenty of instances of that.

If I were seeking a justification for forcing this debate, I would find one ready made in the words of Sir Winston Churchill, who said: It is an essential principle of the Conservative Party to defend the general public against abuses, whether of private corporations or the incompetence and arbitrariness of Departments of State. That is precisely what I am trying to do today, and I hope that at least some hon. Members on both sides of the House, especially those who believe in community politics and may have similar problems in their own constituencies, will join me in voting against the Bill.