County of South Glamorgan (Taff Crossing) Bill (By Order)

– in the House of Commons at 6:51 pm on 1st May 1986.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan Father of the House of Commons 7:13 pm, 1st May 1986

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I seek the indulgence of the House to make my maiden speech on a private Bill.

The purpose of the Bill, which is promoted by the county council of the county of South Glamorgan, is to enable the county council to construct a road crossing of the tidal estuary of the river Taff. The interests of those hon. Members who represent Cardiff are touched by the Bill, as is the interest of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Sir R. Gower). As the river crossing that is the subject of the Bill is in my constituency, they have kindly allowed me to sponsor the Bill, although they will put their own gloss on it and perhaps add their own reservations. However, I think that there is no basic difference between us in our endeavour to secure a Second Reading.

I should like to begin by describing the area that the Bill touches. We are discussing not an area of sylvan beauty or an untouched coastline that we are seeking to preserve for the national heritage, but one of the most rundown industrial areas in south Wales, an area which was created when the coal traffic was at its height but which, with the decline of the coal traffic, has itself declined and become an industrial backwater where live some of my constituents, several thousand of them, who are in an area of deprivation. We are concerned in this matter to improve the environment in which they live. In so doing we have run up against problems that I will describe and try to treat fairly because I hope, if I can, to satisfy the objections of those who object.

I want those who are thinking of objecting to recognise that this area comprises very old, poor housing, a rundown industrial backwater with a road transport depot at one side and an oil storage depot at the other; the dry docks and the wet docks are there, and the mud flats that lead to them have to be constantly dredged; and unemployment in the area is the highest in the city of Cardiff. I should not like any Member to be under the impression that the vandals of Glamorgan county council are attempting to spoil some part of our national heritage. That would be far from the truth.

The area is being improved, and the Bill is part of the effort to improve it, although the proposal that the House is being asked to approve is the building of a crossing from Cardiff to Penarth across the Taff estuary. Here the difference arises. The county council is proposing a barrage. Those who oppose it for good reasons would prefer a bridge. There may not seem to be much between the two, but I will explain why the county council would prefer to build a barrage.

I have already said that this is an area with the fewest amenities in the city of Cardiff. It is an area outside the entrance to the docks that has been a great handicap to us in the past. It comprises mud flats that have to be dredged constantly. The rise and fall of the river Severn, as I think is well known, at this point are the highest and lowest in the world, with the exception of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. Having said that, I dare say that I will get a number of letters telling me of other places that have higher rises or lower falls. In this case, it is 40 ft. When the tide goes out, it leaves a tremendous area of mud flats, and the Cardiff docks entrance has to be kept open constantly.

In its proposal for completing the road system from one side to the other, the council had what it thought was the excellent idea of improving the amenities of those who live in the area by building a barrage that would hold the water level steady and would disguise the ugliness, which is how some people think of the mud flats. There are, I know, people in Essex who believe that the mud flats there are the most beautiful things in the world. I can only say that my constituents, alas, do not have that taste. They wanted to see the mud flats disguised, and they were very happy with the county council's proposal.

The council wants to take a small area of the mud flats closest to the houses where my constituents live. This is an area on which feed a great many important birds. They go there to feed every winter. I am told that they feed on invertebrates. If they choose, they can also have an excellent diet of rusty bicycles, old bedsteads and sundry other rubbish. Not surprisingly, some of my constituents—though not all—are anxious that this should be removed. A barrage would be one way of removing it.

A public exhibition was put on in the area concerned which 700 people visited. Many were enthusiastic. A large number were in favour and there were some objectors, but I am happy to say that this is the reverse of the normal type of Bill where the objections usually come from the residents. In this case, the residents are in favour and those who live outside—if I were in an unkind mood, I would say those who live in much better areas—are opposed to the Bill. We must take the matter seriously, and later I shall suggest what I think should be done. We must find a balance.

We fell foul of the sites of special scientific interest and conservation groups generally, including the Nature Conservancy Council, all of whom have registered objections. I do not wish to criticise those groups which do much to preserve our heritage. If I may speak of my bona fides, I have been a member of the International Council for Bird Preservation for many years. Yesterday I checked with my bank that my subscription was fully paid, otherwise I might have received a request to pay it.

The county council wishes to enclose a small area of a much bigger area which stretches roughly from the Severn bridge—an area we call the English Stone—through the Welsh Grounds, lying in the middle of the Severn estuary, to the English and Welsh Stone at the bottom. It is a vast area of 25,000 acres or more. The county council proposes to enclose less than 1 per cent. of the total area in order to improve my constituents' amenities. For that reason, I am asking the House to allow the Bill to go to a Committee so that it can examine what can be done to meet the needs of those groups.

A large number of birds roost and feed there, partly, no doubt, because of the nature of the mud flats. Naturally, the mud flats are closest to the city where my constituents live. They are the last to be flooded, and the tide leaves them first. There are also many scavenging gulls on the refuse of the city which pours out. The area has been an eyesore for as long as I have represented this part of Cardiff. It is unpleasant for the residents, and offputting for industry and commerce.

The county council, knowing that there would be claims that its proposals would have an impact on bird life, commissioned a study on the effects. Clearly there will be a loss of feeding ground, and no one can disagree with that. The study, conducted at University College, Cardiff, counted a peak of 1,500 redshanks feeding at low tide, 8,000 dunlin, 450 shelduck and others.

In my innocence, I assume that if the birds are shut out of this tiny area, they will find somewhere else on the huge expanse between the English Stone and the Welsh Stone. However, I am told that, because the area is the last to be flooded, it is where the birds much prefer to be, and that we would perhaps rob them of a little of their feeding ground. The county council tried to handle that, and proposed to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds that it would construct an artificial mud bank of equal size surrounded by ditches so that it would be there in perpetuity, adjoining the area to be shut off. In that way the birds may continue to feed on an area of equivalent size. I am not making fun of the matter, but that was the type of problem that the county council set out to meet.

I notice that some hon. Members who signed the objection are present. I believe that the RSPB has been unreasonable. It refused to meet the county council to discuss the matter fully, and to see whether the council's idea of a substitute mud bank would meet the objections. The RSPB said, "We are losing so much land for all sorts of good purposes that as a matter of principle we refuse to allow any more to go. Therefore, we must stand on our rights and object to the Bill." If that happens, the Bill will not receive a Second Reading, and that would be entirely wrong. Obviously, we must look after the interests of and seek to conserve our natural heritage, but if the choice is between 1,500 redshanks and 5,000 constituents who live in the worst possible conditions in south Cardiff, we must achieve a balance, and I know where that balance should be struck.

If the RSPB will meet the county council and discuss the matter, every effort will be made before anything is done to construct some alternative that would not destroy even one acre of the birds' natural feeding grounds.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the RSPB—I am so advised by the Wales officer of the RSPB—has met the county council, placed all its objections before the council and remains of the view that the objections are not met by the proposals in the Bill?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan Father of the House of Commons

That is why the objection is continuing.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

The county council and the RSPB met.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

The right hon. Gentleman said that they had not met.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan Father of the House of Commons

I am not sure whether they met. There was certainly correspondence between them if that counts as a meeting. Some people from the RSPB visited me, and none of them lives in the area about which we are talking. They live in much more salubrious areas. I am anxious that my people should have as good a life as those who came to see me, and that that should not be denied them. That is why I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

The hon. and learned Gentleman may be right, but no one could have made greater efforts than the county council. The society told me that it was standing on principle and that there could be no compromise because enough has been lost. If a society does that, obviously there can be no agreement, whether or not it met the county council. The House must judge between the two groups and see where it thinks the balance of advantage lies.

I promised to put one further matter to the House. As I explained, the channel is constantly subject to dredging. British Dredging Aggregates, a company in my constituency, operates from a wharf on the river Taff which will be cut off from the sea if the barrage is built. It is the company's most profitable wharf. The company asked me to tell the House that

it is happy to support the Scheme at this stage but that must be subject to the essential requirement that adequate and proper compensation is made to BDA for the loss of a vital part of its undertaking. Discussions are currently proceeding with the Local Authority and it is hoped that adequate compensation will be agreed. The House need not deny the Bill a Second Reading on those grounds. Although the company will be subject to some difficulty, it believes that it can reach an agreement with the county council.

I shall be glad to answer any questions. If the RSPB has met the county council, I gladly withdraw what I said. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will explain to me whether the society is willing to depart from its attitude that there can be no compromise on the matter.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that a meeting took place between officers of the RSPB, including Mr. Lovegrove, the Wales officer who runs the RSPB in Wales, and county council officials, including the chief environmental officer and the chief solicitor. The RSPB is perfectly prepared to listen to any proposal which the county council puts to it.

The right hon. Gentleman has been fair and most helpful, but could he help me with other important factors? What have been the consultation costs of the barrage scheme? What is the estimated cost of the barrage scheme? For the aid of a comparison, what would be the cost of a bridge?

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan Father of the House of Commons

I accept that the officers of the RSPB met council officials. I do not think the hon. and learned Gentleman has disposed of my question. If the RSPB is not willing to compromise, what is the consequence of it listening to the county council?

The cost of a high-level bridge—it is all part of a larger scheme and should be put in that context—would be £38 million. The cost of a low-level bridge on piers would be £36 million. The cost of the barrage would be £40,600,000. The barrage would cost £2 million more than a high-level bridge and £4 million more than a low-level bridge. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will not tell my constituents of south Cardiff, who have lived in these conditions for 40 years or more, that £4 million should stand between them and the barrage scheme. If that is the basis of the hon. and learned Gentleman's objections, I must tell him that that is not the sort of equation that my constituents would make. They would be astonished if the hon. and learned Gentleman, as a member of the Liberal party, were to make such an equation.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Wentworth

My right hon. Friend is making a powerful case on behalf of his constituents. I wish to remind the House that I am a member of the RSPB council, although I have not been involved in this matter. I do not live in one of the salubrious areas referred to by my right hon. Friend; I live in south Yorkshire. if my right hon. Friend secures the Second Reading—I think he is confident of doing so—I hope he can assure us that that will not provide the county council with any reason to believe that it does not need to enter into further discussions with the RSPB. Such discussions are necessary, not least because the RSPB has assured me that it does not, in principle, object to the crossing.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan Father of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend is correct. The RSPB has stated consistently that it does not object to the crossing, but does object to the barrage. The RSPB has made it absolutely clear that it favours the building of a bridge.

I can give my hon. Friend an assurance, after many years of contact with the councillors of the county council, that it is their determination and intention—I hope that no one will take exception if I say it is a Labour county council, as I do not wish to put off anyone who is ready to support the Bill—to improve the amenities of the area. Whatever the politics, officials who are not politically minded have shown every desire to meet the RSPB with the intention of achieving a compromise and to find some way of ensuring that the scheme goes through.

I received a letter from the council which informed me that it does not intend to proceed with the construction of the barrage until replacement mud flats have been established. I hope that that assures my hon. Friend and the RSPB. I support the work of the RSPB and I hope that its good work will continue.

It would be a great disservice to people who are deprived and who are living in an area of high unemployment and whose living conditions are not satisfactory if they could not have the improvement in their amenities which this proposed construction would effect.

Photo of Mr Gwilym Jones Mr Gwilym Jones , Cardiff North 7:34 pm, 1st May 1986

It is important to stress that there is no lack of enthusiasm for the peripheral distributor road around south Cardiff and for the Taff crossing which is the subject of the Bill. I regard these developments as positive features—indeed, they are one of many features which we can gloriously hold up which seek to attract people to relocate in Cardiff. There have been some local reservations about the line of the road, and, as the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) referred to, the effect on British Dredging Aggregates Limited. Those are not points which I need to discuss in detail as they have been dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman. We are debating the nature of the crossing and whether it should be a barrage. The barrage is the centre of no small controversy both in and outside Cardiff. It is important to emphasise that, from all the representations I have received, there is no objection in principle to this new crossing of the Taff.

When the Bill was read the First time I found it necessary to shout "object" in company with my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) and to add my signature to the blocking motion which appears on the Order Paper. I knew that there were significant local worries about the environmental implications of the Bill. I did not feel it was right that it should receive a formal First Reading and receive a relatively brief consideration by the Unopposed Bills Committee. I had received representations and petitions from constituents who sought my help as well as from local and national groups worried about the environment. I felt those reservations should be considered.

On the day following the First Reading, no fewer than six petitions were received against the Bill. One petition came from ARC (Western) Limited and ARC-Powell Duffryn Limited. The others were from the Cardiff Naturalists' Society, the Severn-Estuary Conservation Group, the Glamorgan Trust for Nature Conservation, the RSPB and British Dredging Aggregates Ltd. That meant that, unless the petitions were withdrawn, the Bill would automatically go to the Opposed Bills Committee.

The week following the First Reading I received an assurance from South Glamorgan county council that it would enter into negotiations with the petitioners in an attempt to reach agreement with them to withdraw their petitions. I withdrew my objection to facilitate and encourage those negotiations. I did not want any excuses for the negotiations not to be pursued full-heartedly, nor did I want it to be claimed that the objections to the Bill were making the negotiations pointless.

I regret that the political representatives of South Glamorgan county council reacted with great arrogance when the Bill was read the First time. They said that all the environmental arguments had already been fully considered by the council and dealt with. Accordingly they said that this House should not bother to hear those arguments for itself. I am sure all right hon. and hon. Members would utterly reject that arrogant and flawed contention. What citizen is too unimportant that his point of view should not be heard by this House? The councils' audacious pretension has been further flawed.

South Glamorgan county council had sought to evaluate the environmental implications and effects. Dr. Peter Ferns of University College, Cardiff, was commissioned to advise the council on these aspects. In turn the South Glamorgan county council offered to carry out the compensatory works recommended by Dr. Ferns—a recognition of the environmental effects claimed by the objectors. However, Dr. Ferns has stated that South Glamorgan county council has not subsequently carried out any work to determine if his proposals are feasible.

The objectors claim that in negotiations with South Glamorgan county council, before and after the First Reading of the Bill, the representatives of the council have, at best, received submissions with a polite "thank you, but no thank you".

The impression has been conveyed that the council is determined to have the barrage, come what may. It is, therefore, only fair to mention that I have had reports from South Glamorgan county council, from its side of the table, to the effect that perhaps not all of the objectors have been fully prepared to work towards an agreed solution to the problem. But inevitably such recriminations will flow from negotiations which both sides admit have failed.

The county council's case for the barrage can easily be seen. It would provide a constant ponding of the water back up the river Taff to where the river runs adjacent to the city centre. It would be a significant cosmetic improvement in itself, and it would also be an improvement for those who abhor mud or for those other all too common features of urban vandalism, the rivers and their banks. We could all give endless lists of those things that are dumped into or alongside rivers by unthinking people.

It is envisaged that a wide range of water sports, most obviously rowing and other small boat racing, could be developed on the ponded water to the clear advantage of those who want to participate or to be spectators. However, cosmetic improvements are certainly not to everyone's liking. Beauty is very definitely in the eye of the beholder. All conservation groups and like-minded individuals emphatically say that the mud flats are very attractive to the wading and other birds which populate them, to those who enjoy and take pleasure in watching them, and to those who make serious studies of them. That enjoyment, and those studies are possible, because the Taff-Ely estuary has the highest density of wading birds in the whole Severn estuary, and as high a density as any other site in Great Britain. Little wonder that the Taff-Ely estuary was designated as a site of special scientific interest in 1981. That is a factor of no slight consequence.

As the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth said, the proposed barrage would only compromise an area of less than 1 per cent. of the whole Severn estuary SSSI or less than 10 per cent. of the Taff-Ely SSSI. But it must be remembered that it is the most up river part of the SSSI, and the part that is available for feeding first and last with each tidal cycle.

I have numerous statistics for the bird population, but I shall cite just one example, that of the redshank, which has a peak count of 1,500. I am advised that the redshank's presence is significant, as there has been a national decline in redshank numbers. But at least in the Taff-Ely site their population has remained relatively stable. The compensatory works originally proposed by Dr. Ferns are only exactly that. Their feasibility is not yet proven, and the barrage would inevitably eliminate a critical part of the bird feeding area, leading to a substantial reduction in the bird population. That is no small price to pay for what others have chosen to describe as a cosmetic only improvement to the river Taff.

I said that there was no objection in principle to the crossing, and I should add that the advantages of industrial regeneration are recognised by all of us, and, not least, by the conservation groups. It has been pointed out to me, however, that if there was a barrage at the mouth of the river Taff there would be a paradox, because it would then be more difficult to attract new industry further up the Taff vale. Moreover, it is confidently predicted that the standards of discharge into the river Taff would have to be raised by the Welsh water authority. New industries might wish to take advantage of the opportunity to discharge into the river Taff, and so the standards would have to be raised if the Welsh water authority was to avoid an unacceptably high effluent level in the static or much slower flowing waters behind the barrage.

Some of my constituents, along with the Cardiff Naturalists Society, the Glamorgan Trust for Nature Conservation and the RSPB, have asked me to vote against giving the Bill a Second Reading and to speak, and to urge others to do so as well.

However, Second Reading is neither the place nor the time to do anything like that. That would not properly answer all the questions that need to be answered. What is worse, it would jeopardise the crossing across the Taff which we all want to see. I want the Bill to obtain its Second Reading and to go on to the Opposed Bills Committee. That Committee will comprise four hon. Members who are impartial and who have no axe to grind. Despite any past recriminations about meetings or negotiations that have taken place between the objectors and the council, I am confident that both sides will have a fair crack of the whip in Committee. Accordingly, I am prepared to give the Bill a Second Reading, despite the fact that I have some quite considerable reservations about it. I hope that it will be given a Second Reading, and I urge all other hon. Members to vote in favour of that.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery 7:45 pm, 1st May 1986

I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) on his excellent speech. He set out succinctly many of the objections that I might wish to raise. I share his judgment about the Bill at this stage. Although I have distinct reservations about the environmental impact of the proposed barrage, as well as one other reservation to which I shall refer, I believe that the overall scheme proposed by South Glamorgan county council—the scheme for regeneration of the docklands—is commendable. I should like to see it come to fruition.

I shall concentrate on whether there is a need for a barrage or whether the crossing could be adequately provided by a bridge. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) may have given the impression that the local authority is unanimous about the proposal. There is certainly not unanimity among the elected members of the county council. I have taken the trouble to make inquiries within the county council, and I know that some members are very concerned about the cost. I believe that the council will have to establish, to the Committee's satisfaction, that the cost of its proposals has been properly investigated. At this stage, I cannot counter the broad figures given by the right hon. Gentleman for the respective cost of a barrage, bridge, or low-level bridge—

Photo of Mr Raymond Powell Mr Raymond Powell , Ogmore

Will the hon. and learned Gentlemen give way?

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

Before I give way, perhaps I should say that some county councillors and others in the area believe that the construction of a barrage as opposed to a low-level bridge would cost substantially more. Information on the relative costs has not been made available, as it might have been. I understand that the county council has already spent about £250,000 on research reports and that the estimated cost of building the barrage, which the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth rightly gave as being just over £40 million, is very much not a fixed estimate. Although the cost of building bridges can sometimes escalate out of all belief, the building of bridges tends to be rather more predictable because the engineering technology is much better known. It is possible, however, that the cost of building a barrage will escalate out of all recognition and reality.

Photo of Mr Raymond Powell Mr Raymond Powell , Ogmore

I am grateful for the opportunity to ensure that the House is clear on this matter. Only two hours ago, I was given to understand that all the councillors on South Glamorgan county council are agreed on the Bill. Indeed, all the political factions on the county council have agreed to support the measure. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman explain from where he gets his information? I am sure that he does not wish to mislead the House.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to do so. I have been informed by the leader of the alliance group on the county council that it supports the principle of the scheme and does not oppose the erection of a crossing, but that it opposes the barrage because of the apparently escalating costs of that method of crossing. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's question.

I move from cost—I have tried to put down a marker for the Committee that the issue of cost must be addressed by proper evidence—to the environmental impact. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which has its Wales headquarters in my constituency, feels strongly about the matter, but it is wrong to suggest that it is not prepared to attend meetings or to consider the views of the county council. I assure the House that, on 13 February at 3 pm, senior staff of the county council met senior staff of the RSPB in Wales, including the Wales officer, Mr. Roger Lovegrove. On that occasion, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, the county council offered to the RSPB what has been described as the compensatory scheme, which involved the construction of artificial mudflats.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

I am reminded that the mud will not be artificial, but the construction will have to be contrived.

So that it is clear that the RSPB was listening to what it was told, I inform the House that the county council suggested that the construction of the proposed alternative site would cost a considerable amount of money, and it is my understanding that a figure of about £1 million was mentioned. The RSPB was asked to consider the matter and undertook to consider it during the following weeks.

The RSPB considered the matter, but rejected the proposed compromise. I assure the House that the RSPB is a responsible body which does not have a record of opposing all developments involving river crossings on environmental grounds. It tries to take a balanced view between the impact of any proposed scheme, which may be extremely beneficial, upon the local population, and the deleterious environmental impact which may arise. As an example of that balanced view, there is a proposal that the stretch of the lengthy Montgomery canal, leading from part of the constituency of the Leader of the House into my constituency, should be reopened. That would require a private Bill. The RSPB, having considered the evidence, believes that the proposals made for the reopening of the canal, which will involve considerable construction work, are acceptable, subject to environmental safeguards which, in principle at least, have been broadly agreed. It is not a body which simply opposes every such development on environmental grounds. It makes a judgment and, in this case, it made a judgment that the impact of a barrage would be more damaging than is justified.

The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth appeared to be a little less knowledgeable than he should be about sites of special scientific interest. We are not simply talking about an unsightly mudflat of relatively minor importance, but about a mudflat which is pail of a complex of wetlands which has achieved international recognition. It qualifies for protection under the international convention on the conservation of wetlands because it is internationally important. It is also regarded as important under the European Community directive on bird conservation. Indeed, the entire Severn estuary is a proposed special protection area under the EC directive on conservation of wild birds. It is nationally important as a site of special scientific interest because of its important wintering population of shelduck and wading birds, especially dunlin and redshank.

The Taff estuary, although only a small part of the Severn estuary complex, supports 9 per cent. of the birds of the complex and is the third most important subsection of the Severn after Bridgewater bay and the Welsh Grounds. The Taff supports 10 per cent. of the Severn's dunlin population and 26 per cent. of the redshank population. Peak counts of 8,000 dunlin have been recorded. Dunlin and redshank are declining in numbers elsewhere on the west coast.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan Father of the House of Commons

The hon. and learned Gentleman rebuked me for not being as well informed as I should be. If an alternative site is provided for the birds—it is a relatively small matter—why should that reduce the number of birds that roost and feed there? The new site that is being offered, and which the RSPB has not yet accepted, is within a bird's flying distance—a few hundred yards—of the site that would be submerged. I cannot understand the objection in principle by the RSPB.

I am assured that the county council, including the SDP-Liberal alliance, agreed unanimously when the scheme was introduced. Councillors may have had reservations since then on the ground of rising cost, but when the vote was taken, everyone said yes.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

The premise upon which the right hon. Gentleman based his first question is false. The provision of an alternative site would not necessarily achieve the purpose of that site.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

Because birds may not go to the new site.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan Father of the House of Commons

They fly hundreds of miles to get to the present site.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

The right hon. Gentleman's simplistic premise flies in the face of the evidence in the report of Dr. P. N. Ferns to the county council, and the considered opinion of the RSPB, which has some expertise in these matters.

The proposed barrage would result in the permanent inundation of at least 8 per cent. of the mudflats on the estuary. Although in quantitative terms it is a relatively small area, it is nevertheless of disproportionate and special importance for feeding birds because of its position at the top of the estuary. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the assertion that the area is important because it is at the top of the estuary. The mud on that flattened area is the last to be covered by the rising tide and the first to be uncovered by the falling tide. As a result, waders concentrate in the area immediately before and immediately after high tide at the time of year when they need to feed for the maximum time. In the coldest conditions they need to feed for longer to acquire fuel in order to survive.

In the mild winter of 1983–84—I cite this example so that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth and the House can see that the propositions are based on evidence and not just on surmise—66 per cent. of the redshank population in the Taff and 49 per cent. of the dunlin population used the uppermost mudflats for feeding for a significant part of the tidal cycle. In the more severe winter of the following year, 1984–85, 100 per cent. of all species, except curlew, used the area for a significant time. The loss of these mudflats would have serious consequences for birds, especially dunlin and redshank.

I recognise, as does the hon. Member for Cardiff, North, that in the end one must choose between a barrage, which may result in a pretty looking lake with questionable economic benefits, and a perfectly acceptable form of crossing, a bridge, which would not have a considerable impact on the environment and bird life, for, from the point of view of the bird life, it is not good enough to provide another site on the seaward side of the barrage. Expert opinion is that interruption of the natural tidal flow in the estuary because of the barrage could seriously alter the mudflats on the seaward side of the proposed barrage.

As the hon. Member for Cardiff, North said, the reason for a barrage as opposed to another form of crossing is based not on economic or environmental grounds but on cosmetic grounds. A decision must be made whether such an expensive cosmetic recommendation should be adopted, at considerable cost to our important wild life.

The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth knows that the bird life of Wales is one of Wales's greatest possessions. It attracts many people to Wales, not only to those scenic parts in which my constituency is situated, but to other areas where the birds are. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that people go there to see the birds, even if the birds are on mudflats in a rather unattractive area near a city.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

I assume that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to make a serious point.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan Father of the House of Commons

I promise the hon. and learned Gentleman that there is no tourist industry in Butetown, and I fear that there is never likely to be one.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

I think that the right hon. Gentleman was not present when I reminded the House that this area is part of an internationally recognised conservation area under the Ramsar convention on wetlands of international importance and that it is proposed to be included as a special protection area under the European Community directive. The serious matters which I have raised—they do not deserve the frivolity which has come, surprisingly, from the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth—should be given full, fair and impartial consideration by the Opposed Bills Committee.

Photo of Mr Wyn Roberts Mr Wyn Roberts , Conwy 8:05 pm, 1st May 1986

It may be helpful if, at this point, I intervene to give a brief indication of the Government's view on the Bill. The Government have considered the content of the Bill and have no objection in principle to the powers sought by the council, although there are minor points of detail that need to be discussed with the promoters. Traditionally, the Government stand neutral in relation to private Bills, and I do not propose to depart from that practice on this occasion. However, it is clear from the contributions made to the debate so far that the County of South Glamorgan (Taff Crossing) Bill raises important issues which require careful and detailed consideration.

The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) explained the importance of the proposals in the Bill in the context of the county council's plans for the economic regeneration of its area. A crossing of the Taff is clearly seen by the county council as a vital component in the peripheral distributor road scheme designed to improve links with the motorway system and, particularly, to help to bring new life to the old dockland areas of the city whose regeneration is currently being tackled with considerable imagination.

The proposal is that this crossing should be achieved by means of a barrage so as to create a permanent lagoon point to the environmental improvements this would bring about and to the social and recreational benefits which would flow from it. These are all points which cannot be dismissed lightly.

On the other hand, clearly there is a great deal of concern amongst conservationists about the impact on bird life of the proposals to construct an embanked bridge or barrage. The site of the proposed developments affects an area of considerable nature conservation interest—the Taff-Ely estuary—which has been notified by the Nature Conservancy Council as a site of special scientific interest. The site is of regional and national importance for its population of over-wintering wildfowl and wading birds. The NCC includes also the Taff-Ely estuary within the boundary of a wider Severn estuary site which it is considering proposing for designation as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar convention and as a special protection area for birds under the European Community birds directive, which the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) described.

The NCC takes the view that the construction of a barrage or embanked bridge would entail the loss of an important part of the Taff/Ely site of special scientific interest and has formally advised the Department of the Environment that it objects to the proposals for the Taff crossing contained in the Bill, although it would not object to a crossing which did not involve the loss of feeding grounds. The NCC's report will be placed before the House in the normal way. Undoubtedly, the conservation implications of the proposals demand careful consideration, but they must be weighed against the undoubted benefits which would accrue from the construction of a barrage or bridge, which have been described.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones), the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery and, I am sure, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth that the arguments would best be decided in Committee when the detailed evidence on either side can be presented, examined and evaluated. I therefore recommend to the House that the Bill be given a Second Reading and allowed to proceed in the usual way to Committee where the provisions can be considered in detail.

Photo of Mr Roy Hughes Mr Roy Hughes , Newport East 8:10 pm, 1st May 1986

It is unusual for a Newport Member to intervene in what is essentially a Cardiff matter, and I do so with some trepidation. Strictly speaking, this is not exclusively a Cardiff matter, because the Bill is sponsored by South Glamorgan county council. However, those of us who recall the reorganisation of local government in the early 1970s realise that, essentially, south Glamorgan is really greater Cardiff.

Cardiff is the capital city of Wales, and all Welshmen are proud of it. In the past decade, it has suffered severe blows to its industrial and commercial base. That was symbolised by the closure of the great East Moors steelworks, when thousands lost their jobs. Other enterprises were equally badly affected.

The county council, in its wisdom, has realised that good communications are the key to new developments and to attracting new jobs to the area. New road schemes have formed a large part of the county council's regeneration scheme. There is a need for better linkage with the M4 via the Severn bridge to south-east England and, likewise, better access via the M50 and the M5 to the midlands and north England. The major element in this strategy is a southern link road around Cardiff. The southern part of Cardiff would particularly benefit, including the docks which in recent years have suffered because of the loss of their traditional trade. Other developments running parallel to the new road scheme consist of residential, commercial, high-tech, leisure and public development. Altogether it seems to be a most enterprising scheme.

The route of the new road has been considered for many years, and the line chosen was considered and then approved after public inquiries. The whole scheme is to undertake industrial and commercial regeneration but, significantly, one of its principal aims is to improve the environment. The county council has granted planning permission for a barrage option and an embankment/bridge where the road crosses the estuary.

It is felt that these developments could considerably improve the appearance of the lower reaches of the river Taff and provide recreational and leisure opportunities for the Cardiff people. This is not just a cosmetic exercise, as was suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). The construction of a barrage would ensure that the unattractive river bed and lower part of the river, which are exposed at low tide, are covered by water at all tidal levels. Those objectives and the developments they encompass are commendable. They make sense from an economic and investment standpoint and in environmental and recreational terms.

A snag in the scheme which has already been mentioned several times is that some disturbance will be caused to the conservation interests of the Taff estuary and the site of special scientific interest. As a result, there have been protests. For example, I received from the Gwent Ornithological Society through its chairman, Mr. Peter Martin, a letter dated 14 March, in which he said that the Taff estuary was special because it supported 9 per cent. of the birds—mainly waders—using the Severn estuary. Those birds feed on the mud flats which would be enclosed by the proposed development.

Other conservationist bodies have been active and have made their views known. I suppose that it is a sign of the times, and praiseworthy, that such strong protests should be made in the interests of conservation. Nevertheless, we must all recognise that a reasonable and fair balance must be found between the interests of the economy and the environment and the interests of conservation.

The county council believes that its proposed development tends to outweigh the more specialised conservation and ecological considerations. On balance, I tend—reluctantly, in some ways—to support the county council's view. We are, after all, living in a time of mass unemployment, and Wales has particularly suffered. Cardiff, like many other parts of the country, badly needs new jobs. This development will help to provide them. Likewise, with the growth of technology, more leisure time will be made available. A recreational scheme of the type proposed by South Glamorgan county council will help to fill a need.

As I understand it, the county council is prepared to sit down with the Nature Conservancy Council, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and other interested groups so that compensatory measures can be discussed. For example, a small nature reserve has been suggested because new habitats may be created behind the barrage. Every encouragement should be given to this possibility. New mud flats and roosting sites will be created.

The number of disturbances could be controlled. The county council's suggestions leave me with the impression that the conservationist bodies are knocking at an open door. The South Glamorgan county council is prepared to co-operate with the bodies which have the necessary expertise. The council has had a good conservation record since its inauguration in the early 1970s. This Bill is, therefore, worth supporting. It should be given a Second Reading, for, with good will, the objections can be ironed out.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Carlisle Mr Kenneth Carlisle , Lincoln 8:19 pm, 1st May 1986

I object to the Bill not because I do not want a crossing of the estuary of the river Taff, but because the barrier that has been proposed achieves the crossing in a way that is less than adequate. We all recognise the need for Cardiff to develop its economy, and we certainly support the aim of creating jobs. I have a great deal of sympathy for the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) and the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes), who all argued the economic case. There is no doubt that hon. Members who represent that part of south Wales have a compelling duty to try to improve the economy and to bring jobs to their area. I myself come from an area which needs jobs, and I can understand the need to make rapid and lasting progress in this respect.

What I find highly objectionable about the Bill is not the crossing itself but its proposed form, its effect and its cost. It could very well be achieved without destroying a valuable habitat and what I believe will in future be an area of great interest for residents of Cardiff, particularly when Cardiff enjoys the economic regeneration which we all expect. The crossing could retain that interest and also, by creating better communications and industrial connections, achieve the economic benefits which we would all like to see. It could also be constructed at considerably less cost to the taxpayer.

We have had a long discussion about dunlin and redshank and numbers of wading birds. I do not intend to go down that road, but I do want to mention four of the really important aspects of the conservation argument. This is a site of special scientific interest. It is also scheduled under the Ramsar convention. The environmental requirements, therefore, need to be examined very carefully.

The area to be affected covers some 9 per cent. of the birds of the whole Severn complex, so it is not something to be sniffed at and the number of birds is not insignificant. The area affected is at the top of the tide, so it is of particular interest and value to these birds in periods of very heavy weather. In the hard winter of 1984–85—and, I am sure, in this past winter although we have no figures yet—100 per cent. of the species spent some of their time feeding in this area. It is of clear benefit to them. If they do not have it for feeding, they do not go elsewhere, because there is nowhere else to go; they are just lost to the bird population.

Why should we care about this? Wetlands and coastal habitats of this type are under threat. They are diminishing. We have a clear duty to protect these irreplaceable assets for future generations. The Government have recognised this principle in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and also through European Community directives in, for example, the Ramsar convention. Are we in this House merely to ignore this? That is not good enough, without the most convincing reasons for doing so.

I might consider my argument a little weaker if this would stop the development and modernisation of Cardiff, but I do believe that it would. If we achieved these essential communications across the Taff estuary, they would in themselves lead to economic activity and to all the benefits of a more effective and vigorous economy in the area.

Moreover, it would be cheaper and easier to build a bridge on concrete piers which would allow the tide to flow and so not destroy the habitat. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) mentioned the cost. It is a significant factor. When it examines this matter, the Committee will need to know the exact costs, the cost of the barrage and of the hydraulically operated sluice gates, together with the cost of the annual and ongoing dredging rather than just the compensation to be paid to the dredging company. It will need to know if significant costs will be incurred by raising the level of water and thus increasing the damp in the adjacent houses. I ask that all those costs be put before the Committee and be compared with the cost of a simple bridge on stilts.

In addition to the loss of habitat and the expense, the county council, in my view—and I say this as an outsider. I admit—has shown a lack of vision and a failure of imagination. While I accept the need to develop the area, the opportunity could have been taken to create a valuable natural reserve and an area of great interest for local people. In the proposed new leisure complex, for example, why could a viewing centre not have been set up overlooking the mud flats, with perhaps a small museum to show local people the value of mud flat and tidal waters for wildlife and explaining the wildlife which exists? That would have been of unique benefit and of great educational value, and it would have fitted in well with the redevelopment of the area.

Leaving the mud flats does not mean choosing between birds and people; it is really making the best use of what is there to help the people and to encouraging interest in the area. The rusty cycles and bedsteads lying on those mud flats are not there just because there are mud flats there, but because people have no interest in the area. If one were to create an interest and bring out the variety in the area, one could solve that particular problem. Yet instead of this vision, the county council has decided to use the bridge and barrier to go for an inland lagoon which will not only destroy what is natural and special about the area, but will put something which is neat and dull in place of something which is or could be perhaps wild and intriguing.

It is not good enough to claim that the county council will create another habitat and make recompense for what has been lost. New habitats need years in which to create the diversity and complexity of an established habitat. I think of ancient woodland where it has taken 300 or 400 years to develop that complexity. It may not take so long in the Taff estuary—I am no expert on mud flats—but we will not replace one habitat with another at all easily. So we are going to lose something. Although the county council must be encouraged to do as much as possible to replace the habitat, we cannot fool ourselves that we will be successful.

We all support the development of Cardiff. I respect the line taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North and his great interest in the economic prosperity of his constituency and area. But we can achieve that without destroying a valuable habitat. We can achieve that without an expensive solution, by going for something that is clearly more cost effective for the taxpayer.

Above all, by destroying the habitat, the county council would be losing an opportunity to create an imaginative site full of interest for the people of the area. If the Bill goes into Committee, these matters must be fully examined, and the Committee should alter the Bill to take account of the valid objections that have been made.

Photo of Dr John Marek Dr John Marek , Wrexham 8:30 pm, 1st May 1986

I agree with many of the points made by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle).

I wish to express my concern about what is proposed by the county council in the development in Cardiff. Bills such as this arouse concern and opposition. Depending on what one makes of earlier speeches, the county council may or may not have met the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. That leads to the view that people who build roads often bring a bad name on themselves.

No hon. Member thinks that the road should not be built, but the proposal was introduced in such a way that there was bound to be opposition. There are two parts to the proposal. The first relates to the road and the second to an amenity lake and scenic area. They can be separated, because it is possible to build the road on stilts, costing £4 million or £6 million less than if it is built on a barrage. I would welcome a contradiction from any hon. Member if I am wrong.

We all want the road. Wales needs communications. It has suffered from bad communications for long enough. There are dreadful roads in mid-Wales and no motorway in north Wales. A bypass at Wrexham was built only on the condition that the railway line was singled, thus depriving us of a decent railway service. I have no argument against the road. We need plenty of good roads because our success as a modernised industrialised nation depends on our ability to communicate with the other parts of the country and Europe.

However, the road could be built on stilts. There would have been no opposition if the county council had proposed that idea. Instead, the county council has embarked on an ambitious plan for this derelict area.

Earlier this evening I saw an exhibition, mounted by the county council, with pictures of rotting and rusty metal in the mudflats. The residential area appears to be a quarter or half a mile further up the river. I asked the county council why, if the residential area was further up the river Taff, it could not build a barrage there. Its answer was that it wanted to build a sports arid amenity complex halfway between the barrage and the residential area. Therefore, there is some point in having a barrage lower down the river so that the view can be more scenic.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan Father of the House of Commons

I would not wish my hon. Friend to be under any misapprehension about where the houses are. The houses of Grangetown are a quarter of a mile away, but there is one area in my constituency where the people do not need a viewing centre, because they already look out over the mudflats.

Photo of Dr John Marek Dr John Marek , Wrexham

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that information. My only knowledge of the area comes from having looked at the maps and pictures two hours ago.

There should have been some compromise before the Bill came before the House. It is no use trying to find out who is to blame, but there has not been enough communication. If there has been a meeting, there has been only one. Something must be done. I share the view of other hon. Members that we should not hold up the Bill on Second Reading. Therefore, I do not intend to talk for one and a half hours. However, I have one or two points to make. The Bill should have a Second Reading and go into Committee, where I hope that meetings can be arranged, arguments can be put forward and we can achieve a compromise.

One possible compromise would be to move the road further north. However, that is not practical, because the road will be extremely expensive, and it appears that the county council would not consider it. Another possibility was mooted by the RSPB, the Cardiff naturalist trusts, and the other environmental bodies, all of which are concerned. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) mentioned four bodies as being against the plan, so one cannot dismiss the environmental arguments.

The RSPB and other environmental bodies have suggested that the bridge should be built on stilts, so that the tide can go in and out. However, that would not satisfy the legitimate aspirations of the county council, which wants to do something for the area so that the residents will have a tidy environment. Moreover, it wants to build the leisure centre in a first-class position. Simply to have the rotting iron remaining there, with the tide going in and out of the mudflats, is not what the county council wishes to see.

Another possibility is to scrape away the spart grass on the other side of the barrage and to have a one or two-acre lake with a shallow end and a wide expanse. One would then hope that, deprived of their natural feeding habitats, the birds would fly over the new road and settle and feed on the other side. I am not a member of the RSPB, nor an expert on birds, but I shall believe that when I see it. The county council is prepared, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) has said, to build such a lake before constructing the road. That might be a good idea. I am not sure whether invertebrates will be found on the other side of the proposed road construction once the spart grass has been scraped away, so that everything will be available for the birds. However, we should not dismiss that idea until it has been investigated. I know that the county council has undertaken a study, but this solution should be investigated fully to find out whether it would be acceptable.

The RSPB may be worried that, if it gives way on this project, there may be problems. Every two or three months an area used by birds is under threat—whether from a farmer wanting to plough it up, a county council wanting to build a road across it or a company wanting to dig peat out of it to distil whisky.

I am concerned about this matter in general. The RSPB could be right in saying that if the county council goes ahead with its plan but it does not work out, the council could wash its hands of the area. I would welcome a commitment in Committee that the county council would maintain an ongoing interest in the problem. If the road were built with an appropriate area for the waders on the other side of the barrage, that might be adequate. However, if that did not work, I hope the county council will not say, "We built the road five years ago and it is too late to worry about the birds now. We had 8,000 redshanks five years ago, but we have only 2,000 now. We have no clue where the others have gone but they must be somewhere." I hope that the county council will take a more positive attitude. They should realise that there is a serious problem. Redshank numbers are declining on the west coast. Once the council has realised that, perhaps it could spend some money to discover the cause of the decline in numbers and make adequate arrangements with regard to the building of the road.

If the county council could give such a commitment, to have a continuing interest in the bird population once the road has been built, the RSPB could take note of that and therefore have more faith in the council.

There is another possibility which might be entertained. As I understand it, the barrage would cost £42 million and the low level bridge £38 million. It might be possible to build a low level bridge and build a barrage with the extra £4 million or £6 million 200 yards north of the bridge. It would not be necessary to put a road on that barrage, and therefore it would be cheap. That barrage would be built at an angle to satisfy the residents—[Interruption.] I am making a suggestion.

Photo of Dr John Marek Dr John Marek , Wrexham

If the hon. Gentleman would like to intervene, I shall gladly give way as I would like to hear what he has to say.

If we give the Bill a Second Reading, we will show that we agree in principle with the proposal although we have some reservations. In the debate we are offering suggestions. These suggestions may be hopeless, but the council should consider them seriously. If the suggestions prove to be useful at the end of the day, the House might have done a service to the members of the public that it seeks to represent.

It is possible to build a bridge on stilts or a low level bridge and use the extra money to build a barrage 200 or 300 yards north of the bridge. From my examination of maps of the area, the bank in question is just that very small distance north of where the bridge might be positioned. If the bridge were built at an angle, it might be possible to satisfy both parties involved in the consideration of the problem.

It might also be possible to build a road partially as a barrage and with stilts in the central part. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Terlezki) should not lower the tone of the debate by his sedentary interventions. This is a serious issue to the people not only of Cardiff but throughout this country from Land's End to John O'Groats. People are seriously worried about the environmental depredations that are taking place every day of the year. The matter is extremely serious and it deserves our careful consideration.

I shall not detain the House for much longer. It is possible to build a low level bridge to form a barrage for most of its route with stilts in the middle. A semi-circular barrage could be built to keep the banks that are important for the dunlin and the redshank. Although there are many acres of mudbanks in the Severn estuary, as other hon. Members have explained, the mudbanks that we are considering tonight have more than their average share of waders. The fact that the area is at the top of the estuary and is therefore the last area to be covered when the tide comes in and the first to be uncovered when the tide goes out makes it very important for wading birds.

In conclusion, I hope that the controversy about this matter can be dispensed with and that the Bill will receive a Second Reading. I hope, too, that in Committee we shall be able to resolve our differences. There must be a middle way in this matter. We must have the road—there is no doubt about that—but we must also preserve our environment.

Photo of Mr Raymond Powell Mr Raymond Powell , Ogmore 8:44 pm, 1st May 1986

I will not go down the same road as my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek). He has covered a number of points which I hope will be examined closely by the Committee after the Bill receives its Second Reading.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) began his speech by apologising for taking part in the debate because he did not think that he should be involved as he was an hon. Member for Newport. He thought that he should not become involved in a debate about Cardiff. Having listened to speeches from the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) and from the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) and now from my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham, I make no apology for speaking in the debate. My constituency is Ogmore, and the river Taff runs through Ogmore to Cardiff. Most of my constituents shop in Cardiff and go there for their entertainment. I believe that the benefits of the Bill could extend to my constituents.

I am rather surprised that the Conservative Members with Cardiff constituencies have not sought to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would remind them of a statement made by Nye Bevan that "If you sit on the fence too long, the iron will rot your soul." I would have thought that they would have been open in their support for the Bill. Local authorities in their constituencies, the South Glamorgan county council and the Conservative party have given much support to the Bill, and I cannot understand why they have not supported it.

In all probability they share the same view that I would like to express regarding my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan). We all listened to his comprehensive speech, which covered most of the issues involved in this short debate. As might be expected from a previous Prime Minister and the present Father of the House, my right hon. Friend made an excellent speech. I take great pleasure in complimenting him on what was an excellent maiden speech on a private Bill. I know that that sentiment would receive sympathetic backing from all hon. Members present tonight.

I have known my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth for at least 30 years. I am familiar with his service and representation to the city of Cardiff and to the Cardiff constituencies that he has represented as there have been parliamentary boundary changes almost every other election. I am sure that the House would unreservedly give its support to a Bill which my right hon. Friend introduced on Second Reading. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would be concerned only about the interests of the constituents that he has served in Cardiff and that he would not propose any measure to the House that might be detrimental to his constituents or to the environment of the Cardiff area in general.

I have no reservations about supporting the Second Reading of the Bill. I know the area well and I have canvassed there on many occasions, in Cardiff, North, South, East and West and indeed in Cardiff, South and Penarth. I did that when Cardiff, South and Penarth was Cardiff and Penarth before the reorganisations many years ago. I know the specific area we are talking about. I believe that the Bill should receive a Second Reading so that a Committee can be set up.

I am even more pleased to support a Bill on the Floor of the House having recently been involved in a controversial debate in the House on whether private Bills were needed and whether hon. Members should sit on Committees discussing them. I share the view that we should make facilities available in the House for private Bills and that hon. Members should serve on the Committees considering them. I know that on occasions that is irksome. Hon. Members may not have a particular interest in a Bill. Nevertheless, I have served on two such Committees, and they were interesting. I am sure that those who are asked to serve on the Committee considering this Bill will also find it interesting.

Having discussed all the issues mentioned by the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones), I am convinced that his arguments are reasonable, forthright and responsible and I feel sure that the Committee will investigate fully the points that he so ably and responsibly raised. After Second Reading, the matters that he raised can be looked at in depth and in detail.

Having read more literature from the preservation societies on this proposal than, perhaps, from South Glamorgan county council, I know that it is necessary to look after the environment. I fought the last general election against a Greenpeace candidate and I learnt more about the environment and that movement than I had known before.

To date, the cost to the county authority is about £60 million and the link road to the M4 from the Grangetown link to the Butetown link should be approved. If the M4 stops where it is now, it appears, from examining the drawings and maps earlier, that the road would lead only to a residential area in Grangetown and through to the docks. If the Bill does not receive its Second Reading a great opportunity will be lost and the road will lead to nowhere. The problems of Grangetown as described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth will remain unresolved.

If hon. Members had taken the opportunity to look at some of the maps and drawings of some of the areas covered by the proposal and at the proposals of the county councils, they would appreciate that it is necessary for constituents to have their environment changed. A large area of Cardiff could be changed, far beyond the changes set out in the Bill.

The sponsors of the Bill have been kind enough to ensure that we have notice of the petitions against the Bill on the grounds of its potential effects on bird life which have been lodged by four conservation bodies. The county council accepts that the case for those conservation interests deserves careful consideration.

Two petitions have been lodged against the Bill by businesses which are likely to be affected. Negotiations are taking place with those petitioners which it is hoped will result in agreement. It is respectfully submitted that unless negotiations produce an agreed solution an opposed private Bill Committee would be the appropriate forum for considering the case. Most hon. Members have expressed that opinion earlier in the debate.

The county council has offered to the conservation petitioners a commitment to implement the material measures mentioned. The county council will gladly explain the material measures to a Committee of the House and undertake through that Committee to carry out those measures before commencing the construction of the river crossing. That covers the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham.

The county council respectfully called attention to the fact that giving a Second Reading to a private Bill means that the House affirms the principle of the Bill conditionally and subject to the proof of the allegations of fact before the Committee to which the Bill is referred. Those allegations of fact are comprised in the preamble to the Bill on which the case for the Bill is founded. In the circumstances, it is respectfully submitted that it would be proper for the Bill to be given a Second Reading so that the issues which it raises may be thoroughly investigated in Committee. Therefore, I support the Bill and I hope that the House will do likewise.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan Father of the House of Commons 8:55 pm, 1st May 1986

With the leave of the House, I have an obligation to those who have expressed strong reservations on the Bill to say a few words to try to reassure and to meet the reservations raised by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle), the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek).

The county council's general record in conservation of the environment is well known. I am one of the few people in the House who has an island in his constituencyFlat Holm. If any hon. Member had any doubts about the environmental interests of the county council he need only go to Flat Holm to see what has been done there to preserve and conserve its heritage. In addition, there is the Gwent-Glamorgan heritage coast, the Cosmeston lakes country park, Caerphilly mountain country park, the medieval village and an ambitious tree-planting project.

I am sure of the bona fides of South Glamorgan county council in this matter. It told me that it does not wish to be seen as vandalistic or insensitive in its consideration. It wishes to find a balanced and sensible compromise. South Glamorgan as an authority is conscious of the need to protect and enhance the quality of the environment, both generally and specifically. It wishes to seek the cooperation of the Nature Conservancy Council, the RSPB and other interested groups in determining the type and nature of compensatory measures. Hon. Members who raised those questions will find that South Glamorgan has every desire to come to some agreement.

I make one final offer to those hon. Members who have expressed their reservations, but not to those who have expressed their support. If they care to come to Cardiff, I shall stand them a good lunch and I believe that they would be convinced by what they saw.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed.