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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 George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr 12:00 am, 11th December 1973

This is a Private Bill and it is not for me to sum up the debate, but it might be convenient if I indicated the Government's views and answered some questions at this stage.

May I add my warm congratulations to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mrs. MacDonald) on her maiden speech? We all agree that it was a most effective contribution, and we much enjoyed the hon. Lady being here. I hope that I shall not be misunderstood when I say that I hope to meet her here often, and to hear her often. I hope that she might add to her laurels, which are great, by ensuring that her excellent speech is the longest that she will ever make. If she does that she will have a fine career, and we all welcome her here.

I must confine myself to the Bill which I remind hon. Members relates to the provision of an ore terminal, and not to any of the other interesting matters which we have discussed. However, I have noted most carefully those other matters which are not directly relevant to the ore terminal and I shall draw them to the attention of those of my right hon. Friends who are involved, and see that they are taken into account.

We have had a most interesting debate with varying views from many hon. Members. Not for the first time the hon. Member for Glasgow, Scotstoun (Mr. Small) takes the laurels for the most interesting and varied contribution. But I take him to task on one matter upon which, I hope not deliberately, he totally misled the House, and in doing so did a great disservice either to the Goths or to the Vandals, or both. If the hon. Gentleman goes back to the Library, he will see that it was the Goths who sacked Rome in 410 AD and the Vandals in 510 AD. I hope that he will make apologies in the due quarter for that matter.

The real issue which I ought to comment on is directly relevant to the Bill. I add my tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean) on his speech and on the way he has fought for his constituents' views, which are very important. He has, as we would expect, done so exceptionally well. I hope that he accepts that the House, as a whole, has demonstrated this evening that it is most appreciative of what he has done and that it has listened most carefully to the views he has put forward on behalf of his constituents. I ask him to accept one other thing from me. Although his constituents cannot but be distressed at what is happening to the neighbourhood in which they live—and I fully understand their concern—I hope they will not feel that their objections have been treated lightly, or hastily, or that they have not been listened to or have been brushed over. Everyone has listened to, and carefully studied, all that has been said on behalf of the area. I say to those in the area that we recognise absolutely their right to feel the way they do and we have listened most carefully to their views.

The only thing I could say which would satisfy them and my hon. Friend would be that I feel that there should not be any development and that I do not think that there should be an ore terminal. That would satisfy them in every way, but I and my right hon. Friend have to take a difficult decision. If we were to agree with the views of every person, in every locality, in every part of Scotland, there would not be any development anywhere. Therefore, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) that we have to make the particularly difficult decision which he asked us not to make. The decision is whether we must reluctantly spoil a beautiful part of the Clyde coast, and accept the consequences, or whether we put the interests of the Scottish economy, and the prosperity of thousands of workers, as being more important, on balance, than the amenity of the area. I hope that I have demonstrated that I feel strongly about this, and am sad that it will mean that there will be some diminution of the amenity of the area. But on balance the interest of the economy as a whole does in this instance have to take priority. There cannot be any question of the Government being neutral. We give our support to what the Bill is trying to do.

On the question of hastening the consideration of this project and the alternatives, such as using Ardrossan, I ask my hon. Friend to reflect again about the extreme length of the inquiry and the comprehensiveness of everything discussed. It was a long inquiry—probably the longest we have ever had in Scotland. It examined the most that migh happen on the Hunterston peninsula—not just what we are discussing tonight. That is to say, it considered the possibility of an ore terminal, a general user port, a huge integrated steel works employing 10,000 to 12,000 men, and a substantial oil refinery as well. In the time available, I cannot go over all the evidence submitted, even if it were proper to do so. But I want to make a few points to show that charges of inadequate consideration or overriding of evidence are quite unfounded.

With one exception, all the relevant topics were covered at length at the inquiry—the suitability of Hunterston as a terminal for both the largest ships and the smaller; the ease and safety of the navigational approaches; the prospective need of certain industries to use extra-large ships; the impact on the environment and on tourism; the merits or demerits of any alternative sites; the effect of the presence on the site of nuclear power stations, and so on. The report was very full by any standard, and my right hon. Friend's decisions were based on its findings. One may disagree with the conclusions of reports from time to time, but one cannot say in this case that it was not exhaustive.

We have also had it suggested that the reporter's recommendations were against what my right hon. Friend decided. I cannot accept all of that as being true. It would be an odd situation if a reporter in an inquiry had to be followed in all cases. I am sure that the House would not accept such a doctrine. It must be for the Secretary of State to make the decision and take the consequences of doing so. That is part of our system. My right hon. Friend did not abide strictly by every one of the reporter's recommendations, but the extent to which he departed from them has been wildly exaggerated.

First, the reporter firmly recommended approval of the ore terminal, which is what we are considering tonight. His recommendation flowed from his acceptance of the supremacy of Hunterston as a terminal for both extra-large and smaller ships. He recommended against the immediate zoning of land for steel industry development, but he clearly envisaged that that development might be justifiable in certain circumstances. He recommended against an oil refinery, largely on the evidence of refinery capacity in relation to demand as it was presented to him at the time. My right hon. Friend accepted that recommendation at the time while nothing that circumstances might change.

I stress all this because of the degree of distortion of truth which has come from some quarters—in some of the letters which my right hon. Friend has received, for instance, from people living in the area since the specific proposals for the ore terminal were put forward and planning permission was given for the landward works. These have implied that my right hon. Friend's decision disregarded all the evidence and ran counter to the reporter's recommendation. I am bound to say that the writers of some of these letters either have not troubled to look up the facts or have chosen deliberately to ignore them.

No one denies that there will be a significant loss of amenity when Hunterston is developed. I have not sought to do so. My right hon. Friend very much regrets it. But loss of amenity in particular cases must be weighed against the social and economic gains generally. These are very difficult decisions and have to be taken by someone. The Govern- ment have taken this decision, and that is why we give our support to the Bill.

I was asked to say something about nuclear safety, and I can give an assurance on that which I hope the House will accept. The latest oil refinery applications which have come in have called for detailed scrutiny from the point of view of nuclear safety in general My right hon. Friend has not yet got the results of the scrutiny, but he will give full weight to the needs of nuclear safety when he gets its conclusions. I hope that the time he has been prepared to wait whilst this question is examined thoroughly shows that he is genuinely concerned to ensure that no avoidable risks are taken. I hope that assurance will be welcomed by the House.