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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 Mr Jim Sillars Mr Jim Sillars , South Ayrshire 12:00 am, 11th December 1973

I shall have to alter what I said. I now know two members of the Scottish National Party who are in favour of the development of Hunterston. I should have appreciated a statement as categorical as that during the South Ayrshire by-election when the SNP candidate attacked me on my support for Hunterston.

I sincerely regret the environmental damage that will be done to that part of the Clyde by the establishment of the ore terminal at Hunterston and the other developments that I hope will flow from our decision tonight. I do not say that in any bogus fashion. Like everyone else in Scotland, I love our environment. But there are occasions when industrial development and the retention of the environment are not compatible. That is the situation at Hunterston. Like my hon. Friends the Members for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) and Central Ayrshire, I feel it is as well to be honest and to state openly that environmental damage will be done. I believe that it must be done if we are to maintain economic momentum in Scotland.

The first reason for my support of the Bill is that I see the ore terminal construction as the forerunner of a number of developments that will open up the Hunterston area and bring it in to support the industrial structure for the benefit of Scotland.

The second reason is more short term in a sense, because of the ore terminal's importance to steel and steel-using industries in Scotland. The fact of the matter is that we must have the ore terminal. It has become an urgent necessity.

I should like to deal with the wider implications. I believe that once the ore terminal is started the demand for other developments, such as a general user port, the establishment of additional refinery capacity, engineering works, and so on, will grow. That in turn will exert pressure on both the British Steel Corporation and the Government to make a clear statement of intention about future policy for steel plant location in Scotland. It is also urgent that we get clarification about the BSC's future intentions in Scotland between now and the mid-1980s.

No one should underestimate the importance of Hunterston in the widest and long-term sense. It has a key rôle to play in extricating the economy of West Central Scotland from its future problems.

I ask the House to recall the statement made by the General Secretary of the Scottish TUC on 11th October this year. After a meeting with the Secretary of State, Jimmy Jack forecast a gross job loss in West Central Scotland of about 40,000 in the next decade due to decline in certain industries and technical changes in others. I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with the General Secretary of the Scottish TUC. I know from my experience that he is not given to overstatement or exaggeration. He makes a statement only when he is pretty sure of his facts. I believe that we can take this statement on board as a factual situation into which we shall run in the next 10 years. His statement illustrates the scale of the problem that we must tackle in the economy of West Central Scotland. I believe the build-up of the Hunterston potential will provide Scotland with a dynamic economic weapon for dynamic recovery and it is absolutely essential for the future, not only to West Central Scotland but to the Scottish economy as a whole.

I turn to the importance of the terminal in relation to the present steel and steel-using industries in Scotland. There are 330,000 men and women employed in metal manufacturing, engineering, shipbuilding, vehicle building—all the steel-user industries. That is out of a working population of just over 2 million. Almost every one of these people has as his primary source of employment iron ore which is taken into Scotland from Australia, South Africa, Scandinavia and South America. The point of entry for that ore, on its way to Lanarkshire to be turned into materials for those 330,000 people to use, is the General Terminus Quay in Glasgow, which suffers severe limitations both in the size of ships and tonnage which can be handled. It was designed to handle about 2·5 million tons of ore a year, and, if stretched, could possibly manage for a short period about 2·9 million tons. But I am reliably informed that because of the current development at Ravenscraig we shall have an ore import need of about 4 million tons a year, and the General Terminus Quay cannot handle that amount of ore. The ship tonnage it can accept is no more than about 28,000 tons, and we are living in a day and age when we are transhipping ore in cargoes of about 330,000 tons.

The Scottish steel industry cannot survive without the ore and we cannot get the ore without the terminal. This was recognised by the Secretary of State. In his major decision dated 9th December 1970 he dealt with the question of Hunterston's suitability compared with other places. On page 2 he says Hunterston is a deep-water shipping terminal. Part of the paragraph says: The evidence taken at the inquiry appears to the Secretary of State clearly to demonstrate that for an all-purpose terminal for oceangoing carrier ships Hunterston is superior to the other sites considered at the inquiry, having regard to depth of water; number of days in the year for safe berthing; and cost of works for equipping the terminal. Both Mr. Keith and the Secretary of State accepted the early need for an iron-ore terminal to replace the General Terminus Quay. Other sites were looked at by Mr. Keith and the Scottish Office, and both came to the conclusion that the ore terminal had to be at the Hunterston Portencross area. That was reinforced later in a general statement of guidance issued by the Secretary of State on 31st May 1973. In the part headed "Steel" he said: The maintenance and development of a competitive steel industry is of basic importance to the Scottish economy, both because it is itself a large employer of labour and because the continued provision of an appropriate range of steel products in Scotland is important to the competitive position of steel using industries, such as engineering, shipbuilding and the manufacture of structures for North Sea oil. Later the Secretary of State said: This terminal will give the Scottish steel industry the advantage of access to a first class ore port capable of accommodating carriers of all sizes … The new terminal is therefore an essential development and the land has already been zoned for such a use. The Secretary of State and others, and the Ayr County Council, which was the prime mover in this matter in the first place, took all matters into consideration—questions of environment, amenity, and the possibility of transport of the ore through the slurry method, which is not feasible except at enormous cost, at Ravenscraig. They all came to the inescapable conclusion that the terminal was an urgent necessity.

I end my brief remarks with a quotation from a letter sent by the county convener of Ayrshire to the Largs and Millport Weekly News. It is appropriate to quote the county convener because, with the vast majority of his county council, Mr. William Paterson, probably more than anyone else, has been at the forefront in the fight for the development of the ore terminal at Hunterston.

In his long letter setting out the position he deals with the ore terminal and writes: West Central Scotland cannot afford to reject the opportunities for new and major economic growth which are offered by the potential of Hunterston. The development of the ore terminal will be the first essential step towards the realisation of these opportunities. I say again that the case for the terminal is overwhelming. I agree with Mr. Paterson, and I know that the vast majority of people in Ayr- shire agree with him. What is more, I believe that this House will endorse the view that the case for the terminal is overwhelming.