§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Lord Geddes
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.
Promoted by Associated British Ports, the Bill seeks to develop and improve facilities at three of its ports; namely, Immingham on Humberside, King's Lynn in Norfolk and Port Talbot in South Wales. ABP, as I shall continue to call Associated British Ports, was privatised under the Transport Act 1981. However, it has a statutory duty under that Act to provide such port facilities as it thinks expedient. It is in pursuance of that duty that ABP promotes the Bill which is before your Lordships today.
It may be for the convenience of your Lordships if I deal first with the technical or drafting amendments that have been passed by the Unopposed Bill Committee of your Lordships' House. At scrutiny by that Unopposed Bill Committee it was appreciated that technical amendments in Clauses 3 and 18 were required, mainly, as I understand it, as a result of changes in legislation since the Bill started its passage through another place in November 1987. To the best of my knowledge there is nothing whatsoever controversial in any of those amendments. I therefore hope and assume that another place will approve them on the nod.
I shall come later to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove. However, had it not been for that amendment my speech this evening would have been less than half its present length.
When I moved the Second Reading of the Bill on 26th February 1990 I outlined its provisions in some detail. I do not propose to trouble your Lordships with so many technicalities today. However, for the benefit of those noble Lords who were unable to be in their places on that earlier occasion I should like to give a brief summary of the Bill's contents.
The improvement sought by ABP at Immingham is the creation of a new facility for a dry bulk cargo berth which would enable more and larger vessels to dock there. The Bill sets out three proposed works needed to effect this. Work No. I comprises a jetty and jetty head. Work No. 2 comprises a secondary jetty to give additional access to the jetty head. Work No. 3 proposes a reclamation landwards to the jetty head to provide additional back-up land. This new jetty head would mean that the size of vessels docking at Immingham would no longer be confined to those which could pass through lock gates. There would also be scope for handling a substantially increased amount of traffic. The effect of the proposed works would be to relieve potential congestion and to enable larger ships to use the port and greatly reduce expensive transhipment at Continental ports.
At King's Lynn, ABP wishes to construct a quay to provide new berths, again enabling more and larger ships to visit the port. The improvements proposed at Port Talbot—a port principally used by British Steel Corporation—are to deepen and lengthen the dredged channel forming the approach 1448 to the tidal harbour so that, again, larger cargoes can be handled. The consent of Parliament to these works that I have outlined is required because the proposed works are to be constructed in tidal waters.
ABP needs to make these improvements in order to maintain the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the UK's port industry. ABP has shown itself to be remarkably successful since its privatisation. Its holding company, ABP Holdings, was floated on the Stock Exchange in 1983, since when its turnover and profitability have increased to the extent that it has achieved the highest growth in quoted share price and market valuation of all the previously state owned enterprises now in the private sector. I should like to emphasise to your Lordships that investments in the developments proposed in the Bill will not involve any recourse to public funds.
During the passage of the Bill in another place, and at Second Reading in your Lordships' House, objections were expressed on the ground of what is generally called the coal issue. In the context of the Bill that effectively meant objection to the proposed new berth at Immingham.
In another place the Bill was referred to a Select Committee which reported by a majority vote that the Bill should be allowed to proceed without amendment. That committee asked for and received an undertaking from ABP that once the new facilities at Immingham were in place ABP would provide another place and the Government with detailed information about steam coal imports.
In your Lordships' House at Second Reading the noble Lords, Lord Dormand of Easington and Lord Underbill, raised objections to the Bill again on the grounds of the coal issue. Ten petitions had been deposited against the Bill and it was therefore referred to a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. Under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gwydir, that committee has unanimously reported the Bill to the House without amendment.
The committee's opinion is so well and succinctly set out that I feel I can do no better than quote part of it verbatim in drawing its conclusions to your Lordships' attention. I hope that noble Lords who were members of that Select Committee will forgive me if I take their conclusions slightly out of order.
Paragraph 17 of the special report states:So far as the proposed facilities themselves are concerned, the Committee make the further observation that were it not for the coal issue, the Bill would have been unopposed in the House of Lords and would not have come before the Committee at all".I therefore submit to your Lordships that effectively the only point at issue is with regard to the proposed increase in facilities at Immingham. Indeed, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, seems to support that opinion.
Paragraphs 16 and 18 of the special report say:The Committee take the view that the Promoters have duly established a need for their proposed facilities at Immingham. As the Select Committee in the House of Commons stated, Associated British Ports are a reputable company with a proven track record of operating port facilities and Immingham already has a successful and well-managed port. The Committee accept the expert evidence of the Chairman and Managing Director of 1449 AB Ports that there is a demand for further deep water common user dock facilities in the east coast; and they agree that insofar as the proposed facilities may enable Immingham to compete more easily with other European ports they are of national as well as of local and regional importance".Paragraph 18 states:The Committee also agree with the Promoters that there is nothing unusual or unprecedented about the Bill and the private bill procedure was the proper means for them to seek powers to construct works in tidal waters".I now deal with the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, on the question of environmental assessment. I should like first to point out that this aspect of the Bill was considered in depth by the Select Committee. Indeed, the evidence on that subject alone, excluding exhibits, runs to some 22 pages of typescript. Paragraph 10 of the Select Commitee report, which sets out the issue the committee was asked to consider, states:The [Coalfield Communities] Campaign also objected to the works at Immingham on environmental grounds. The Promoters, they said, should have prepared and submitted to Parliament an environmental assessment statement in accordance with the relevant European Community Directive (85/337); and the Committee should adjourn until such a statement had been made available. More specifically, the Campaign were much concerned at the potential impact of increased transport of coal by road on the communities near power stations. Accordingly, they proposed an amendment to make it obligatory for coal unloaded at the new facility at Immingham to be transported to the generating stations by rail or barge".The committee reached the following conclusion in paragraph 19 after listening to the detailed submissions:They do not accede to the requests of the Campaign that the Promoters should be obliged to prepare an environmental assessment statement and that the Committee should adjourn for that purpose. Parliament may in due course incorporate a system of environmental assessment into private business standing orders; but at present promoters of bills are under no such obligation. In any event, there were no local objections to the works on environmental grounds".Paragraph 20 states:Likewise, the Committee do not accept the proposed amendment of the Campaign—that is, that it should be obligatory for coal unloaded to be transported by rail or barge.They agree with the Promoters that local highway authorities already possess adequate powers to restrict the movement of heavy goods vehicles by road".I was tempted to rest the case there as I am in complete agreement with the conclusions of the Select Committee which had the advantage of detailed argument and a wealth of facts before it. Nonetheless, the amendment will, I assume, be tabled, albeit at a somewhat later stage. I must reiterate the arguments against it.
The general question of environmental assessment is governed by EC Directive (85/337), implemented by Circular 15/88 entitled Town and Country Planning (Assessment of Environmental Effects Regulations 1988.)
In 1989 the Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office produced a book entitled, Environmental Assessment, a Guide to Environment Assessment, referred to briefly as "the guide." There is no doubt about there being no obligation on the 1450 promoters of the Bill to provide an environmental statement. I quote from paragraph 68 of the guide:Under Article 1.5 of the Directive, the Directive does not apply to projects the details of which are approved by a specific act of national legislation. This provision serves to exempt projects which are authorised by a Private Bill".Paragraph 8 of the regulations is equally clear. It states:The process of environmental assessment should not be imposed where it is not required by the Directive".I have already quoted verbatim paragraph 10 of the special report of the Select Committee. In it the Coalfield Communities Campaign sought to argue before the Select Committee that an environmental assessment statement was mandatory on the promoters. It relied principally for that submission on the construction of the wording of the directive. In fact, and with great respect to the noble Lords opposite, it might have done better to seek support from the guide which I have just quoted to your Lordships. It goes on to state:It is the Government's view that where, but for this provision, environmental assessment would have been required for a project, the promoter of a Bill should provide an environmental statement which can be considered by the Select and Standing Committees of each House on the Bill".It is by no means clear from either the directive, the guide or the regulations whether in theory the Immingham project falls into that category. It would appear to hinge on whether it is defined as a trading port on the one hand or a modification of a trading port or, within the context of infrastructure projects, a harbour on the other hand. However, I do not believe that it is either necessary or fruitful to discuss such semantics. The promoters of the Bill have no wish to rely on technicalities in order to escape from any moral—for there are certainly no statutory—obligations.
Therefore, in answer to the proposed amendment I argue as follows. The relevant local authorities were consulted and they raised no objections. Quite the contrary. I shall quote from a letter received from Glandford Borough Council in South Humberside. It states:The Borough Council is of the view that this proposed development is a natural extension of the activities of the port of Immingham. The development will give security of employment and it is hoped will also increase employment potential in an area where there is a need for new jobs to be created. The expansion of the Port will also help the general development of the area and is seen as being particularly important in the run-up to 1992 and the need to be more competitive with Continental Ports. The development is not seen as having any adverse effect on the environment of the area, bearing in mind the: excellent road structure linking to the national motorway network which already exists.Similarly, Cleethorpes Borough Council has stated:In so far as much of the proposed development is within the borough of Cleethorpes I wish to register my council's continuing support for the proposals. Without doubt the port of Immingham, with its excellent rail and road communications, is one of the most successful in the UK and this timely expansion of its facilities will enable it to take the lead in developing strong economic links in the post-1992 era with our neighbours in Europe".Under the regulations it is open to local authorities to call for further information or advice on a project.
1451 Clear evidence was also given to the Select Committee that British Rail has the capacity to carry the additional tonnages which would go through the new jetty. In addition, as I have already pointed out, the Select Committee found that local highway authorities already possess adequate powers to restrict the movement of heavy goods vehicles by road. Having said all that, I respectfully remind your Lordships that it is not within the control of Associated British Ports or any other owner/operator of any port anywhere in this country to control where cargoes come from or go to and how they move from or to such place.
In my submission, this is not the kind of case envisaged for environmental assessment at all. For example, projects listed in the directive as requiring environmental assessment include thermal power stations, installations designed for the permanent storage or final disposal of radioactive waste and installations for the extraction of asbestos. The directive, regulations and guide are concerned with direct and relatively local effects which can reasonably be forecast from such projects. Here we are talking about a number of commodities which can be taken anywhere at any time, because they are responsive to the market and to customers. It would be impossible to make a meaningful environmental assessment when there are so many imponderables. I quote again from the regulations. Paragraph 8 states:It has been the Government's aim in implementing the requirements of the Directive to ensure that no unnecessary additional burdens are placed on either developers or authorities … while such [environmental assessment] statements will need to comply with the requirements of the Directive, it is important that they should be prepared on a realistic basis and without undue elaboration; and that the additional costs imposed on developers by the requirement to provide information about environmental effects should be kept to the minimum consistent with compliance with the Directive".Finally, and I have apologised for the inordinate length of time I have taken, I should like to point out that this Bill has a long history. It began its progress in 1987 and was considered by two Select Committees; the first in another place and the second in this House. Although the directive dates from 1985 this environmental assessment issue was not raised until very late in the hearing of evidence before your Lordships' Select Committee just a matter of a few weeks ago. I do not think that I can do better than to quote from ABP's counsel in summing up before the Select Committee when he said, "It is a speculative, late in the day amendment".
The main issue which the committee was required to consider was the possible impact of the proposed developments at Immingham on the British coalmining industry. The arguments on this were well aired at Second Reading and doubtless will be again today; I do not propose to reiterate them in detail. I should, however, like to remind your Lordships that paragraph 12 of the Select Committee special report reads;British Coal sought an amendment to prohibit the importation of coal at Immingham before the end of 1995 or thereafter unless an order authorising such importation had been made by the Secretary of State".1452 The Select Committee special report, at paragraph 21, reads:Although the Committee were in no doubt that the Bill should be allowed to proceed with the provisions relating to all three ports, they considered carefully the amendment proposed by British Coal in relation to Immingham",namely, the one that I have just instanced. The same paragraph 21 of the special report continues:They accept British Coal's arguments that there was nothing procedurally improper about the amendment and that a committee on a private bill has a duty to consider not only the issues between the parties appearing before them but also the wider public interest. But they are unanimously of the opinion—an opinion shared by all members of the Commons Select Committee—that the Petitioners' arguments raise complex matters of energy and trade policy for which ultimately the national government must take responsibility. The Committee accept too the Promoters' argument that there are considerable uncertainties over the prospects for imported cheap steam coal in the mid and late 1990s; and that it would be quite wrong on the basis of present forecasts to introduce a major and unprecedented protectionist provision into a private bill".The Select Committee goes on in paragraphs 22 and 23 to express its grave anxiety about the potential effect on the coal industry and on coalfield communities of substantial imports of cheap foreign coal. It asks the Government to,give some indication that if the present risk of danger to the coal industry is likely to become a reality, they will give earnest consideration in the national interest to supporting the industry".I concur with the committee's conclusion that the Government should consider any undesirable industrial or social consequences resulting from any substantial imports of cheap foreign coal in the overall context of its trade and energy policy. However, I also concur wholeheartedly with its opinion that it would be quite wrong to introduce a major and unprecedented protectionist provision into a private Bill. I submit that that opinion should be borne most heavily in mind at this evening's Third Reading.
The object of the Bill is to enable ABP to carry out its statutory duties to provide such port facilities as it thinks expedient, thereby maintaining Britain's position as an effective trading nation. It is not only in ABP's interest but also in the national interest that ABP should do that.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Lord Geddes.)
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion that the Bill be now read a third time, to leave out all the words after ("that") and to insert ("the Bill be recommitted to the Select Committee from whom the Bill has been reported and that the committee shall consider an environmental assessment statement on the works proposed in the Bill at Immingham to be prepared by the promoters of the Bill in accordance with EC Directive 85/337").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, is no longer in the Chamber but I thank him for his kind words about my noble friend Lord Underbill, who is ill. Part of the reason why I am dealing with 1453 the Bill this evening is that my noble friend Lord Underhill has asked me to do that in his stead.
§ I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, for going through the Bill and for dealing so comprehensively with my amendment. I hope to deal in my reply with many of the points which he raised. I begin by saying that the emphasis of this Bill was on the coal industry. I make no apology for that and I certainly make no apology for bringing it back. The noble Lord read out part of paragraph 21 on the arguments that there are considerable uncertainties over the prospect of imported cheap coal in the mid and late 1990s. He said that on the basis of present forecasts it would be quite wrong to introduce a major and unprecedented protectionist provision into a private Bill. That may be true in one respect but that is a very narrow way of looking at a private Bill. Surely one of the reasons for bringing back a Bill is so that the Houses of Parliament as a whole can discuss whether the Bill has dealt sufficiently with the wider factors of national interest. Why do we have a Parliament if it is not to deal with the wider interests?
§ In general, the special report is comprehensive and fair. Paragraph 5 points out that the Bill was considered at length on the Floor of the House and in the Select Committee of the other place. The House should be reminded that the Bill was given a Third Reading on 11th January by a majority of only 23 votes when over 400 Members voted. It was not overwhelmingly accepted.
§ Furthermore, the Select Committee stated that it allowed the Bill to proceed without amendment whereas paragraph 12 made clear that it rejected an amendment sought by British Coal to prohibit the importation of coal before the end of 1995. There is no disagreement that the coal industry has achieved a considerable increase in productivity since 1985. That has been an increase of over 75 per cent. That is why we accept the coal factor in this Bill unreservedly.
§ The Commons Select Committee expressed anxiety about the possible impact on the British coal industry if there were to be substantial coal imports. That was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, at col. 569 on Second Reading on 26th February. Paragraphs 11 to 15 of the report outline fully the anxieties of the coal industry about the development at Immingham, and that anxiety was expressed by both the trade unions and British Coal.
§ It was pointed out in paragraph 12 that British Coal has a contract with the electricity industry which expires in 1993. British Coal argues that there should be a prohibition on imports until the end of 1995. One wonders whether the big berth will be ready by the end of 1995. The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, may know more about that than I do. I do not believe that it is asking a great deal to have a prohibition until the end of 1995. That would provide an opportunity for British Coal to take advantage of the adjustment in prices which by that time would, in all probability, be working in Britain's favour.
Paragraph 15 of the report states that the Bill's promoters declined to argue about the potential
effects on the coal industry. They put forward—and the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, repeated it this evening—the rather surprising statement that:
There was no evidence of imminent danger to the coal industry' and in any event there were a great many uncertainties about the prospects for the import of coal and its use in power stations beyond 1993".
§ I could continue to refer to that paragraph and also paragraph 21, which continues on the same theme.
§ I am pleased to note that in paragraph 23 the special report requires a definite statement from the Government during the debate. I am sure that the noble Viscount who is to reply will, with his usual thoroughness, have looked that up and be able to make just such a statement.
§ Before going into details about the reasons for the amendment, attention must be drawn to the environmental issues which have come to the fore in the media during recent weeks concerning the EC large plant directive, which requires that the UK shall reduce its SO2 emissions from existing power stations. On 13th December last the environment Minister, Mr. Trippier, announced that the UK is committed to reducing sulphur dioxide emissions by 20 per cent. by 1993, by 40 per cent. by 1998 and by 60 per cent. by 2003. I am told that the most efficient way to carry out that obligation is by fitting flue gas desulphurisation equipment—FGD equipment.
§ It has been suggested that, instead of undertaking that expenditure, there may be a switch from installing FGD equipment to the use of cheap imported low sulphur coal. I am not an expert on this subject but I find it difficult to believe that some FGD equipment will still not be necessary with soft coal. That is one fact which must be kept in mind.
§ The reason for the amendment in my name is that paragraph 19 rejects the case advanced for the preparation of an environmental assessment statement. I should like to set out the details of the EC directive and explain why it should apply to this project at Immingham and, despite what is put forward in the special report, why the Bill should be recommitted to a Select Committee for consideration in the light of the EC directive.
§ Article 1 of the directive applies to the assessment of the environmental effects of public and private projects which are likely to have significant effects on the environment. Article 2 states that projects likely to have significant effects on the environment must be subject to assessment before consent is given. Projects listed in Annex I must always be subject to an assessment. Projects listed in Annex II are to be made subject to an assessment where member states consider that the characteristics so require. Paragraph 8 of Annex I sets out a class of projects which includes "trading ports". Paragraph 10 of Annex II refers to a class which includes harbours other than trading ports.
§ Although the Bill was first deposited in the House of Commons in November 1987 the committees in both Houses gave their consent to this Bill after the directive came into force on 3rd July 1988. The facility proposed at Immingham is a deep-water common-user facility for the use of vessels of 1455 120,000 tonnes and more. This is quite different in purpose from the existing facilities at Immingham and arguably comes within the trading ports category in Annex I.
§ Under Article 4(1) the words would have to be made subject to an environmental impact assessment before consent was given. Even if this is incorrect, the works would fall within paragraph 10 of Annex II; and in that case there would still need to be a proper determination as to whether the characteristics of the project made an assessment necessary.
Article 1(5)—I am sorry to be so detailed but it is only in this way that one can deal with such a subject—contains a provision that the directive shall not apply to projects the details of which are adopted by a specific act of national legislation. On the face of it, this exempts projects authorised through the private Bill procedure. However, Article 1(5) states that the reason is that,
the objectives of this Directive, including that of supplying information, are achieved through the legislative process. The Commission takes the view that this means that the exemption is conditional on the objectives of the Directive being achieved through this legislative process.
§ Evidence produced in support of the Bill by the promoters including a letter from PowerGen, which identified one significant environmental impact which would arise from the use of the proposed facilities at Immingham, namely, the impact of transporation of coal by road from the port to the power stations where it would be burned. This would be contrary to the policy of local authorities in the areas where power stations are situated. These authorities almost invariably impose planning conditions requiring transportation of coal from mines to power stations to be by rail rather than by road in order to mitigate the environmental impacts.
§ The Coalfield Communities Campaign, which represents many of these authorities and which has petitioned against the Bill, sought to introduce an amendment requiring the transportation of coal from the port to be by rail or barge rather than by road. They also raised the environmental impact assessment point.
§ The committee were obviously impressed by the Coalfield Communities Campaign's submission. The chairman specifically invited counsel for the promoters to address them on the question as to whether the apparent exemption in Article 1(5) of the directive was conditional on the legislative procedure containing similar requirements. However, counsel for the promoters failed to deal with this point in his submissions. Nevertheless, the committee decided not to require the preparation of an environmental impact assessment. In their special report (paragraph 19) they argued that there were no standing orders of the House requiring promoters of Bills to present an environmental assessment. They also said that there were no local objections to the works on environmental grounds.
§ Likewise they rejected the Coalfield Community Campaign's proposed amendment. They agreed with the point made by the promoters that highway authorities already possessed powers to restrict the 1456 movement of heavy goods by road. I will deal with that point in a moment but I should like now briefly to turn to why the committee's decisions were wrong.
§ The fact that there are no standing orders requiring environmental impact assessments is, with respect, irrelevant. The significance of standing orders is simply that this would oblige the promoters to prepare an environmental impact assessment in advance of the committee proceedings and without the need for a specific request from the committee. However, there is no doubt that the committee has power of its own to require the preparation of an environmental impact assessment if its thinks fit, notwithstanding the absence of a standing order requiring that.
§ We would argue that the committee was also under a duty to require such an assessment, or at least to make a proper determination under Article 4(2) of the directive in order to ensure that the obligations of the United Kingdom under the directive are fulfilled. The fact that there were no local objections on environmental grounds is also immaterial. The purpose of an environmental impact assessment is to identify and assess all relevant impacts, even in the absence of objections by local interest groups. Moreover, the directive specifically requires indirect effects to be taken into account. Therefore the effect does not have to be local to the project to be relevant.
§ We would also argue that the committee's rejection of the Coalfield Community Campaign's amendment was misguided. The committee accepted an argument put forward by the promoters at the very last minute to the effect that the powers of highway authorities were adequate to deal with the problem. That is not the case, for two reasons: first, the powers can only be exercised against all heavy goods vehicles and they cannot single out coal lorries; and, secondly, they can only be used to re-route lorries and not to prevent their use altogether for the transportation of coal to power stations. They can only take them round a different way, and I am sure that the Minister will be very familiar with that, wearing his other hat as the Minister responsible for transport in this House.
§ It is for these reasons that appropriate restrictions are imposed by planning conditions, for instance, on new coalmine developments, since planning conditions are not subject to these limitations. Unfortuantely, planning authorities for the areas where power stations are located have no power to impose conditions on a port outside their area authorised under private Bill procedure.
§ If there had been a proper environmental impact assessment under the directive, the committee would not have been likely to fall into this error concerning the powers of highway authorities. It was the promoters who provided evidence of a significant environmental impact. They subsequently argued, in paragraph 11 of the report, that a port did not of itself create and could not be held responsible for, the movement of goods across a country once they had left the dock. The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, said this. It is an extraordinary thing: it is equivalent 1457 to saying that those who operate a nuclear power plant are not responsible for the requirement to reprocess and safely dispose of nuclear materials used in the plant.
§ The record of the United Kingdom in implementing the environmental impact assessment directive is generally very good. There is excellent provision for these assessments where projects are authorised through the town and country planning process. Even so far as the construction of ports and harbours is concerned, there is specific provision for environmental impact assessment in respect of projects authorised under the Harbours Act. The private Bill procedure represents the one blot on the landscape in this respect. It may be said that it is intended in future to provide for environmental impact assessments under the private Bill procedure by introducing new standing orders. However, this is not an excuse for failing to meet the United Kingdom's obligations under the directive in respect of this Bill because the directive was in force before the Committee in either House approved the Bill and also before the directive came into force the United Kingdom had already had three years in which fully to implement it; and finally, I believe that it is arguable that the promoters should have provided an environmental assessment in any event, simply as a matter of good practice.
§ I am sorry to have taken so long but the points that I have raised were in no way disrespectful to the committee: they merely link up what the committee said with the points made by those outside and those who are very much involved, and with the fact that we believe that the directives were not taken fully into account. For those reasons, I commend the amendment to the House.
§ Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the Bill be now read a third time, to leave out all the words after ("that") and insert ("the Bill be recommitted to the Select Committee from whom the Bill has been reported and that the committee shall consider an environmental assessment statement on the works proposed in the Bill at Immingham to be prepared by the promoters of the Bill in accordance with EC Directive 85/337").—(Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove.)
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Thomas of Gwydir
My Lords, as I was chairman of the Select Committee to which this important Bill was committed after the Second Reading debate on 26th February, it may be for the convenience of the House if I say a few words about our deliberations and the views that we reached. We sat for 10 full days and two further days where we heard the evidence and submissions made. We sat for a further two days on our deliberations on and preparation of the special report.
I take this opportunity of expressing my gratitude to my colleagues on the committee—the noble Earls, Lord Halsbury and Lord Gray, and the noble Lords, Lord Blease and Lord Wise. I thank them for their faithful attendance over what was a long period of time and for their individual and helpful contributions to the deliberations of the committee.
1458 I also thank them for their judicious objectivity and fairness throughout our sittings.
As was said by my noble friend Lord Geddes in his admirable speech, it was the unanimous decision of the committee to report the Bill to the House without amendment. In view of the interest in the Bill expressed on Second Reading and the fact that matters raised before us went far wider than the harbour works proposed in the Bill—in particular, complex issues of national energy and trade policy—we thought it right to make a special report to the House. My noble friend Lord Geddes referred to many parts of that special report, as did the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael.
All I wish to say about the report is—I shall refer in part to it—that the special report was agreed unanimously and presents to the House the undivided view of its representative Select Committee. My noble friend Lord Geddes referred to Associated British Ports and he is right that there are certain undisputed facts in the report. Associated British Ports is Britain's largest port authority. It is, as my noble friend said, a reputable company which since its incorporation in 1983 has had remarkable success in the management and improvement of its port facilities, with no demand on public funds.
The parts of the Bill relating to King's Lynn and Port Talbot were not in any way objected to and therefore I shall not refer to them but solely to the issues on Immingham. The ABP port at Immingham is successful and well-managed. We were told that it is the largest in the country. It is undoubtedly well placed on the east coast of Britain and makes a major contribution not only to industrial and commercial interests along the east coast but also to the growth and value of Britain's seaborne trade and the nation's economy.
Ships using Immingham are today limited to 30,000 tonnes. As my noble friend Lord Geddes said, the main proposal in this Bill, to which each of the 10 petitioners objected, is the construction of a dry bulk cargo terminal in deep water capable of taking ships of up to 200,000 tonnes. The purpose of this investment, which is nearly £40 million, is to accommodate the larger and more cost-effective bulk cargo vessels in order to compete effectively with the giant Continental ports such as Rotterdam and Amsterdam and save expensive transhipment costs. I am sure that the whole House agrees that if that were to be achieved it would be of considerable national importance.
As the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, said, all the Petitions against the Bill were concerned with the single issue of imported coal; in particular, that the accommodation of large bulk cargo vessels would facilitate the importation of substantial amounts of cheap foreign steam coal. Without this concern—perhaps I should say genuine concern, and this was referred to by my noble friend Lord Geddes in regard to paragraph 17 of the special report—your Lordships may think that there is no doubt that the Bill would have been unopposed in this House and would have received Royal Assent by today.
The committee considered very carefully and very thoroughly the evidence and submissions on the coal 1459 issue and also the amendment proposed by British Coal and referred to by my noble friend when he spoke to paragraph 12 of the special report. Our unanimous decision is contained in paragraph 21 of the special report; namely, that the Petitioners' arguments raise complex matters of national energy and trade for which ultimately the national government must take responsibility. We accept the promoter's argument set out in paragraph 15 that there are considerable uncertainties over the prospects for imported steam coal in the mid and late 1990s. It would be quite wrong, on the basis of present forecasts—I repeat what has been said—to introduce a major and unprecedented protectionist provision into a private Bill.
The House may have noticed the concern we have expressed in paragraphs 22 and 23 of our special report at the potential effect on the coal industry and on coalfield communities, particularly in Nottinghamshire, of substantial imports of cheap foreign coal. I do not intend to say anything further about it except that I hope that my noble friend who will be replying for the Government will be able to respond to the anxieties that we express in paragraph 23.
I now come to the amendment, which was excellently presented by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. His presentation of the argument was immaculate. We have heard it all before. We had young Dr. Witt, who represented the Coalfield Communities Campaign and who is the agent for that campaign. He addressed us at length on this subject. Dr. Witt can be very pleased with the quality of his performance. It impressed the committee. He went into all the detail that the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, went into partly. He understood the whole of the argument and put it forward very effectively indeed.
That is why, as the noble Lord said, I was impressed. I wanted the promoters to help us on what I thought was quite an important matter that was being introduced. We gave it the most careful consideration. We decided against the adjournment that he was seeking so that an environmental statement could be made. We did so having gone into every point that was put before us.
The implication in Dr. Witt's submissions to us and in this amendment is that this House is in some way bound by the EC directive and that the Select Committee must therefore receive an environmental statement from the promoter. As I said, we considered this matter carefully and at length.
The noble Lord referred to Article 1.5 of the EC directive. That is a matter which we considered. We found that it has always been understood by the Government, and hence by Parliament, that Article 1.5 grants an exemption from the need for an environmental assessment for any works authorised by a private Bill. Both Houses have acted on that assumption since the directive came into force. That is why promoters are not obliged to prepare statements.
We were shown a letter dated 14th February 1990 from the legal services of the Directorate-General 1460 Environment of the Commission. The effect of that letter was that the EC Commission may now be questioning whether Private Bill projects are exempt. If there is any doubt about it, it can only be resolved between the Government and the EC because it is the Government alone who are responsible for the United Kingdom's international relations. Certainly it would not be for a Select Committee to reach a conclusion on this. In the same way, with respect, I do not believe that this House should.
The House will recall that the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure recommended that each House should incorporate environmental impact assessment into its Private Bill procedure. Speaking personally, I hope that this recommendation will be implemented as soon as possible. But at present promoters are under no obligation to prepare assessment statements and our committee was right to reject the adjournment sought.
The noble Lord said that we had the power as a committee to order that certain things be done on the environmental side. We were aware of that. In considering the matter we noted, as was said by my noble friend Lord Geddes, that there were no local environmental objections to the works at Immingham. In fact the local authorities supported the works and offered no objections on environmental grounds.
As to the Coalfield Communities Campaign expression of concern at the potential impact of increased transport of coal by road on the communities near power stations and Dr. Witt's amendment to make it obligatory for coal unloaded at the new facility at Immingham to be transported to the generating stations by rail or barge, we found no difficulty in rejecting that amendment. The link between the proposed works and possible damage to distant environment by the possible carriage of goods by road, or possible coal imports, is in our view far too remote. In any event the promoters would not be responsible for the movement of goods once they had left the dock. The committee was assured that highway authorities already possess adequate powers to restrict such traffic.
Those are the reasons why the committee reached its conclusions. I know the argument that was used by the noble Lord. It is an effective argument but it is misconceived today. Therefore, I suggest to him that he should not press his amendment but should withdraw it at the appropriate time. As for other noble Lords, I hope that they will overwhelmingly support the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ 9.17 p.m.
My Lords, as one of the members of the Select Committee I should like to say a few words about the special report. As noble Lords are aware, the single issue concerned was related to the importation of coal and the effects the new harbour facilities would create. I recognise the need to build a larger terminal at Immingham to take ships of up to 200,000 tonnes. Economically it makes sense as it would lead to the reduction of transhipment costs and to the recovery of port trade from Amsterdam, Rotterdam and elsewhere.
1461 With reference to the petitioners' amendment stressing the case that colleries would close and thousands of jobs would be lost, the promoters of the Bill pointed out that those matters were outside the ambit of Associated British Ports and involved questions of national energy policy. There was no evidence of imminent danger to the coal industry and there were a great many uncertainties about the prospects for the importation of coal and its use in power stations beyond 1993. The international price of coal and exchange rates have to be considered; and those factors are extremely difficult to forecast.
The Select Committee decided that there was a need for the proposed facilities at Immingham. We considered very carefully the proposed amendment but felt that it would be wrong to introduce such a provision, based on uncertainties, into a Private Bill. However, we were very concerned about the potential effect on the coal industry with the possible closure of mines and the possible job losses and the damage that that would cause to the communities. We hope that the Government will give some helpful assurances that, if there is such a danger to the coal industry, consideration will be given in the national interest. Perhaps the Minister will give such an indication this evening.
My noble friend Lord Ezra had hoped to take part in the debate this evening but is unable to do so. He has asked to be associated with the sentiments I have just expressed. Finally, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, to withdraw the amendment. The issue was raised before the Select Committee, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, has emphasised. It was raised at almost the last moment of the proceedings. We discussed it fully and agreed that there were no local objections to the works on environmental grounds. There was also doubt as to whether environmental assessment of such works could realistically take into account the potential effect of the carriage of goods by road on local communities.
An environmental assessment could take an unlimited amount of time; indeed, I do not know how long it would take. If we were to call back the original members of the committee, it could take another year or two before they would be able to sit together as the same committee. It could be three or four years before we could hope to be able to come to any form of agreement.
If the amendment is passed, Associated British Ports would have to consider, due to the time involved, whether it should proceed with the Bill. I therefore ask your Lordships to reject the amendment. Having said that, I should like to express my support for the Bill.
§ 9.20 p.m.
My Lords, I feel that possibly I owe your Lordships an apology for intervening in this Third Reading debate as I was not present for Second Reading. However, I can assure noble Lords that I have read very carefully most of what was said in another place. I have read and studied all that was said in your Lordships' House on Second Reading and I have read the special report and much of the deliberations thereon. I can assure the House 1462 that I shall strictly avoid making a Second Reading speech tonight. That has been known to happen.
Perhaps I may be allowed to look back 30 years to the time when I had the privilege of presiding over a government committee which was set up to study the major ports of Great Britain. In 1962 we handed to the Government our very lengthy report. In passing, perhaps I may say that I was flattered to see that this report was referred to on more than one occasion during the deliberations of the Select Committee.
In that report there is one critical sentence. It is critical of the port industry as it then was. We had that sentence printed in italics. The reason it was put in italics was that we wanted to emphasise the lesson that it contained. I think that it has a bearing on today's debate. It read:No single additional deep water berth for general cargo has been started since the 1930s—apart from those nearing completion"—as they then were—at Teesport".That was the Lackenby development.
The comments we wrote in 1962 were of course related to a situation with entirely different details from those which are applicable today. However, that fact does not matter. The overriding lesson contained in that sentence is an enduring lesson and one which is to be learnt and adhered to. Reading the special report of the Select Committee, it seems to me that Associated British Ports has been very alive to that lesson.
The lesson as I see it is this. We are an island economy. We live by means of imports and exports; indeed, they are our very life blood. The port industry must be kept not only abreast but also ahead of changing and likely changing conditions. It must be ready to meet the demands, whatever they are, from home for exports and from overseas for imports. If we do not learn that lesson of being ready to meet that trade, in my view we do not meet it at our peril.
Many possible changes have already been mentioned this evening. However, I should like to mention now the changes that I have in mind. They are mostly technological: the design, size and performance of ships; the size of ports needed to handle those ships; the type of handling methods in the ports; and the pattern of world trade. But what is becoming a particular issue is the growth of our trade with the Community and the competition arising from it, especially from those great ports mentioned by my noble friend Lord Thomas—Rotterdam and Amsterdam—with all the high costs of transhipment that they involve.
The Select Committee, as I read its report, is alert to those facts. It seems to recognise that Associated British Ports is trying to learn the lesson and not allow matters to go by default, as they went by default as we thought 30 years ago. It sees the importance of continuing to be able to meet today's demands and likely future demands.
As I see it, if a port serves one industry only, that port can be developed to suit that industry, but in the case of Immingham—I am confining my remarks 1463 to Immingham—which is a common user port serving several different industries, the collective needs of those industries, rather than any one industry, must be given prior consideration. That point can be borne out by one or two figures that I should like to quote to your Lordships. Today coal imports at Immingham, by tonnage, represents 5 per cent. of total imports. Estimates of what imports might be in 1995 vary between 15 per cent. and 20 per cent. by tonnage. If we take imports and exports, those percentages are substantially lower and in no way justify any delay which would be to the disadvantage of other industries. That reinforces my argument that the Bill should be allowed to go ahead as quickly as possible.
At the same time, like the members of the Select Committee of the other place and of this House, one is anxious about the future of the coal trade, especially, as I understand it, the Nottingham coalfield, which is served by Immingham and which has performed laudably in the past year or so. However, I also share the Select Committee's view that this is a matter that should be dealt with by central government, because to quote the words of the report it is something, "affecting complex matters of energy and trade policy".
Like other noble Lords, I hope that my noble friend the Minister recognises that there are two separate issues: coal, and the import and export of all kinds of products from different industries. I hope therefore that the amendment, about which I have said nothing because I agree with what my noble friend Lord Geddes said about it, will either not be pressed or will not be approved and that the Bill will be able to go forward, despite the long time that it has been with Parliament, so that Associated British Ports can do the important development work and so rid itself of any possible criticism that it is not alive to the importance of our having a forward-looking, effective and efficient port industry.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, who is an authority on shipping, particularly docks. The noble Viscount pointed out the issues with which the report deals firmly; the role and functions of a Select Committee and the responsibilities of the Government. I too was a member of the Select Committee. I am sure that noble Lords agree that one of the most valued functions of this House is the Private Bill Select Committee procedure.
It has been my privilege over a number of years to have been appointed to committees. I have shared with noble Lords from all sides of the House in the work of Private Bill Select Committees. The judicial and court hearing aspects of the Private Bill procedure—to inquire into and to adjudicate upon the different interests presented during the hearings by the promoters of the Bill and by petitioners—are, in my opinion, like a window on the world of work, of gains and losses. It is the real world.
Our deliberations presented a colourful kaleidoscope of the business, commercial and 1464 community life that exists outside Westminster. It is good that Parliament should have this practical input into its proceedings. I say unashamedly that I have been educated—if that is the proper way to put it—and certainly edified on matters of commercial and other interests. There are also the legislative functions of the Private Bill procedure. Members are called upon to exercise every sense of vigilance and to make accessible all available wisdom to safeguard the interests of the public.
I wish to pay tribute to all who took part in the hearings on the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill. During the 10 days of deliberations, members of the committee were impressed by the skills, the clarity, the forthrightness under examination and the strong commitment to high standards of community values displayed by those who made submissions and gave evidence.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gwydir, mentioned the committee. I hope that it will not be seen as "slapping one another's back", as we say in Ireland, if I pay tribute to the noble Lord. The noble Earls, Lord Grey and Lord Halsbury, and the noble Lord, Lord Wise, would join me, I am sure, in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, was most thorough, thoughtful and courteous in his position as chairman of the Select Committee. We should be pleased if at any time we were invited to join him again. The committee was expertly and ably served by the Private Bill Office clerk and his staff No impediment was put in our way in obtaining whatever evidence was required in connection with our duties and responsibilities as we saw them.
Noble Lords will have heard this evening of the debate in another place on the Bill. They will have read our special report and noted the decision. At the end of the day, our special report indicates that the committee took the view that the Petitions from the coal industry raised complex matters of energy and trade policy which were matters not for us as members of the committee but for the Government. However, that does not mean that the committee was not gravely concerned by the potential effect on the indigenous coalmining industry of widespread coal imports. It was made clear to us that Parliament through the Select Committee system has a duty with regard to Private Bills not only to adjudicate between the interests of private parties but also to safeguard the interests of the wider community as a whole. That is especially so if coal is to be imported at predatory prices.
Given the strength of opinion expressed in paragraphs 22 and 23 of our report about the role that the Government must play to prevent catastrophic consequences for the mining communities, I feel that the Minister owes the committee and the House a considerable and substantive response this evening. It will not be good enough for the Minister simply to say that the Government remain neutral on the Bill and have nothing to add to what was said at Second Reading.
I say that not to score a party political point but for two reasons: first, because of the weight of the reasoned and impassioned evidence presented to the committee and, secondly, because I believe that a dangerous parliamentary situation could arise if the 1465 Government place an unconstitutional responsibility on a Private Bill procedure which bypasses, either deliberately or accidentally, the proper functions and moral duties of the Government. Those points have already been hinted at in the debate. I agree to a large extent with what the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, said, but I should have been much happier had he dealt with paragraphs 22 and 23 of the special report which mentions those matters.
We received volumes of detailed evidence from British Coal, Associated British Ports, local government spokesmen, the NUM and the UDM. The evidence submitted included submissions by two right reverend Prelates, who gave telling evidence about the possible impact of massive coal imports on coalfield communities in their dioceses. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield said in his evidence:There appears to be no future for our industry, so whatever we do there is no future for our community, so there is no point in us planning for the future. The cumulative effect of that is despondency in all branches of the community. It is very profound and saddening to see".The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell said:As the pit is at the centre of the village, its life, its entertainment, its work, when a pit closes it is as though the heart goes out of the community and it has, in fact, been destroyed".There is no doubt that the mining industry and mining communities fee! let down. That is the issue that confronts us this evening. That is the issue that confronted the committee. I should like to substantiate my point by quoting from the evidence given by miners' representatives to the committee:Moreover what is proposed—and when I say that I mean the creation of a situation in which large amounts of foreign coal might very well come into this country—would be fundamentally unfair and unjust … The miners have been repeatedly told that if they adopt their new working practices and co-operate in improving the efficiency of their pits they can look forward to a long, secure future in the coal mining industry … On the one hand, my Lords, the mineworkers have been asked by the community to transform their industry, to cut their costs, to improve their efficiency—they have responded magnificently to the challenge, everyone admits it—and then Associated British Ports comes along and says 'We are going to construct a new facility which will allow substantial imports of foreign coal to be brought into this country right to the heart of the area'. No matter what those mineworkers do to help themselves, there is no way that they can stop the effect of that on their industry. If the Bill is allowed through in those circumstances unamended, it will make all the assurances which have been given to them in the past look very hollow indeed.Perhaps I may give a further quote which sums up the situation:Morale is already low within the industry … morale is desperately low at the present time".That was on the date of the submissions. I have quoted at length from submissions given over a number of days by the miners' representatives, by the miners themselves, by local representatives of mining areas and by right reverend Prelates.
I should like to indicate some of the reasons why the miners felt so badly let down. One mining representative presented to us a letter which had been sent to him in his official capacity by the Prime Minister. It was dated 15th September 1982. It shows why a feeling of utter despair had arisen, following promises given on behalf of the Government. In the 1466 letter the Prime Minister refers to the honourable Member for Sherwood, Mr. Andy Stewart. The letter states:Andy has been to see me today and let me know your views. May I say how greatly I and most other people appreciate what you are doing—you are an example to us all".That message was sent from the Prime Minister to miners at a critical period of 1982.I understand that there were subsequent discussions which encouraged the miners into thinking that the assurances were genuine and that they would be looked after and given credit for their performance. Their hopes were raised and later dashed.
At the annual conference of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers in 1988, Mr. Cecil Parkinson, then the Secretary of State for Energy, said:I think it is entirely appropriate that I should be speaking on this occasion to representatives of the mineworkers, and particularly to those mineworkers to whom this whole country owes so much … the Government's continuing commitment to the industry, and continuing support for it … Our resources are not problems; they are assets from which we can only benefit; and I believe that coal is one of the most important of them. That is a fact which this Government has always recognised … I look forward to working with you and all your colleagues for our common good. That common good, that future objective which we all want, is a strong, viable coal industry. The prospects for achieving that are bright and good. It needs the commitment of all—government, management and men. I pledge the Government's commitment. I believe that together we can build an industry which has a bright future and will be an important contributor to the wealth of our country".In my view the Government have disappointed the coalminers. They have sadly demoralised the mining community. This evening the Government have an opportunity to remedy that situation. I hope that the noble Viscount who is to reply to the debate will face up to the challenge put to him in this report. It is a challenge to honour promises that have been given and to face up to the dilemma that mining communities themselves have had to face.
I do not intend it in any personal way and mean my words to be taken by the noble Viscount in the sense of his acting on behalf of the Government when I say, "Do not commit a Pontius Pilate act and wash your hands of this particular problem". The onus is on the Government. I should like them to take this matter further, consider the final paragraphs in the report and face up to the responsibilities.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, noble Lords will be aware that I am a director of Associated British Ports. On this occasion I need detain the House for only a very short time. After the clear and comprehensive speech of my noble friend Lord Geddes and the equally comprehensive summary of the Select Committee's position by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gwydir, there is indeed very little that remains to be said.
Perhaps I may be allowed to remind the House of the reasons why Associated British Ports introduced this measure. It has been said that it was introduced in order to meet the company's statutory obligations. That is true. It is also true that as a business judgment the company clearly believes that it can profitably 1467 operate this port. That is a perfectly respectable objective for any company.
However—my noble friend Lord Rochdale made this point abundantly clear—there is a wider reason for the introduction of this measure; namely, the interests of our customers and the nation. Perhaps the House will have been struck, as I was, by the reminder from my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gwydir that the existing major port at Immingham can only take ships of 30,000 tonnes. In the context of modern trade practice it is almost unbelievable that the major trading port on the east coast of this country is restricted in that way. All those industries in this country which depend on the efficient and competitive handling of cargo, particularly bulk cargo, are handicapped because we have ports that are simply unable to compete with Continental ports. Therefore so many of our industries have to tranship their goods and incur additional costs as a result.
I do not think there can be any doubt about the national importance of having modern ports which are capable of handling the largest ships in the most efficient way possible. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, rightly emphasised the importance of the coal industry. No one will question that, least of all perhaps a former Secretary of State for Wales. But we are dealing with a whole range of important industries. The coal industry is only one important industry among very many. I believe that Associated British Ports has a proper duty to meet the needs of all those industries and to consider them, as my noble friend Lord Rochdale said, collectively and in the widest possible sense.
I refer to the central issue that has dominated the proceedings on the Bill for so long since it was introduced in the autumn of 1987; that is, the issue of coal. I understand the feeling so clearly and notably presented to the House by the noble Lord, Lord Blease, in the speech that preceded mine. But, as my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gwydir said, to accept the proposed amendment would be to introduce a major and unprecedented protectionist measure into a private Bill. It would not only be an unprecedented measure but it would set a most dangerous precedent for the future.
It would be so dangerous that the Board of Associated British Ports took the view that if it were introduced it could not proceed with the Bill, not because there was no need for its other customers at Immingham, nor because it would be impossible to run the Immingham facilities profitably, but because a precedent would have been set that a clause should be introduced into a port measure for the wider control of trade and for exercising responsibilities that clearly should be and can be exercised by government.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, will the noble Lord tell me how he knows that it would be unprecedented?
§ Lord Crickhowell
In using that phrase, with respect, I was simply quoting from my noble friend the chairman of the Select Committee and the 1468 statement included in the report of the Select Committee.
My third point refers to the work of a Select Committee and the value that should be attached to it by this House. As I listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, and the very detailed way in which he examined the environmental issue—indeed as I listened to my noble friend Lord Geddes addressing the same point—I felt that I was listening to to the most compelling case that I have yet heard for having Select Committees examining those issues and reaching decisions about them.
We heard from my noble friend who chaired the Select Committee that it sat for 10 full days and deliberated for two days. My noble friend Lord Geddes referred to the number of pages of evidence devoted to the specific environmental issue. We heard that the chairman of the Select Committee, having heard Dr. Witt's evidence and having addressed the significance of it, reminded the committee and the counsel for Associated British Ports of its significance and had a response. In the relatively brief time available to the House this evening, it is extraordinarily difficult to argue that we are in a better position in this Chamber to weigh up the complex and detailed arguments that were presented than the Select Committee which considered the issue so carefully and decided unanimously that those arguments should be rejected.
I have only one further point to make on the environmental issue. I would not argue that one should stand on the parliamentary proceedings or the technical arguments about whether one is obliged to introduce environmental assessments. For every reason, I believe that environmental assessments for major projects such as power stations and coal mines—indeed for a range of products—are desirable. I welcome the fact that they are being introduced and that the Government are supporting them. However, if we go down the road of valuing and using environmental assessments, we must understand what they are capable of and what we seek to achieve. Otherwise they will be devalued and rendered worthless.
TheGovernment are absolutely right in their guide to draw attention to the fact that they must deal with direct and relatively local effects. Associated British Ports is in no position to control or to make an assessment of traffic movements in and out of power stations and coal-mines 20, 50, 100 or 200 miles away or to make an assessment of the actions taken by any of their customers elsewhere. It is notable that in presenting his closing address to the committee Dr. Witt cited examples of cases where environmental assessments had been taken. In every case he cited coal-mines and power stations. He cited the kind of projects where one can make an assessment of local impact.
The arguments this evening appeared to be about whether the projects should have been sited where they were or whether special controls are needed for movements in and out. The truth is that coal will be moved in and out of power stations and coal-mines for a variety of reasons and it will be moved by 1469 different forms of transport, and those reasons will have nothing to do with the construction of the jetty.
One of the reasons was cited by the noble Lord. Lord Carmichael, when he drew attention to the need to reduce the discharge of sulphur into the atmosphere. That leads to the need for blending and for moving coal from one pit to another in the transport of coal around the country. Perhaps that will be a more significant factor in the years ahead, with all the environmental importance that we are now attaching to the issue, than the construction of the jetty at Immingham. But there is no way that an environmental assessment conducted by Associated British Ports will be able to add anything to the information that we now have about the matter.
The only issue about which we can be certain is that those most closely involved and knowing most about the situation in the locality—that is, the local authorities—are certain that there will be no adverse environmental impact locally. As the committee has reminded us, there are adequate powers to enable the local authorities to control movements of coal by road there and elsewhere in the country. For all those reasons, I ask the House to support the Bill.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Lord Greenway
My Lords, I concur with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, as regards the possible setting of a dangerous precedent. I also agree with the wise words of the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, that a port exists to serve all industries. As the Bill has proceeded I have sometimes gained the impression that the coal industry is the only industry that we have. One must admire the tenacity of its supporters and I have every sympathy with their feelings.
However, the time has come to accept the findings of your Lordships' Select Committee and not to resort to more tricks to delay this much delayed Bill even further. The Select Committee's report is excellent and fair. It takes into account the anxieties of the coal industry as set out in paragraphs 22 and 23. I am sure that all noble Lords are looking forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
Most noble Lords will be aware that many of our marine-related industries have been in a sad state of decline for a number of years. I really believe we have reached a point at which we must make a firm stand. I draw great comfort from the recent appointment of Sir Geoffrey Stirling to the presidency of the General Council of British Shipping. I am sure that he will be an admirable promoter of that message.
This Bill has had a very good hearing in both Houses. Now is not the time to start rehearsing the arguments again. Any further delay or, God forbid, at worst the loss of this Bill at this stage would send out a crystal-clear message to our Continental neighbours. That message would bring a wry smile to the faces of the comfortable burghers of Rotterdam and Antwerp. Such a message is the exact opposite of that which we should be sending and which I hope we shall send; namely, that our ports and our other marine industries are back in business with a vengeance, freed from the shackles of the past 1470 and what can be referred to as the bad old days placed firmly behind them.
In that light, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, will not press his amendment and that this much delayed Bill will be allowed to proceed into law.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
My Lords, after the masterly rehearsal of the case for the Bill by my noble friend Lord Geddes and the other speeches made in its support, I shall be extremely brief. I spoke on Second Reading and argued then that it was quite inappropriate that opposition to a Bill of this kind, designed to improve the infrastructure of our ports industry and in particular an important east coast port to which the whole emphasis of our trade has moved over the past 25 years, should be quite openly used as a vehicle for the protection of a particular industry.
Like the noble Lord who has just spoken, I admire the tenacity and, indeed, the ingenuity with which spokesmen for the mining industry have hung their case at different stages on the provisions of this Bill. I listened with unalloyed admiration to the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, constructed his case for throwing yet another spanner into the passage of the Bill. One must say that the ingenuity itself disclosed the noble Lord's main purpose, which is not to improve the environment of North Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire or whichever areas may be affected by the traffic coming from this port. It is to stop the Bill. That is what parliamentary procedure is for.
I entirely agree that a Bill of this sort can very properly be used as a way of airing a case and bringing to the attention of both Houses the anxieties felt by a particular concern. But that does not mean to say that when the House has listened to all the arguments it should pay too much attention to them in the context of the Bill. Therefore, I hope that the Bill will go through and that the almost unprecedented delays to which it has been subject are now behind us so that we can go ahead with this very important project.
However, the noble Lord, Lord Blease, was extremely eloquent, having listened for 10 days to the cries of anxiety and distress from the coalfield areas. Who can be in any doubt as to what lies behind that? I shall not weary the House at this hour with a great many figures but I should like to quote one or two. In 1950 the coal industry employed 691,000 people, in 1970 it employed 287,000 people and in 1990 the figure is probably something in the order of 85,000. By any standard, that represents a massive reduction in employment opportunities in the mining industry. However, other industries can point to the same reductions; for example, the shipbuilding and heavy engineering industries and a number of others.
The point about the mining industry—it has been made before, and anyone who has had anything to do with it recognises it and sympathises—is that where it operates it tends to be the only industry, and what do you do with a one-horse town when the 1471 horse has bolted? This is the problem which has coloured the attitudes of the mining communities not only in this country but in other countries as well. The case has been made in the context of this Bill but should not any longer be allowed to hold up this Bill. I agree with those who say that it is the duty of the government of the day to state what their policy is and to indicate what support they have given and are prepared to continue to give to the industry.
The only point I would make here is that we debated the Second Reading of this Bill when the House had just dealt with the Committee stage of the Coal Industry Bill, which is now the Coal Industry Act. Massive financial support was given in the form of writing off literally billions of accumulated losses of the coal industry so that the balance sheet of British Coal started to be largely free from this enormous overhanging debt. It also substantially increased the limits of grant payments that continue to be made to the coal industry in order to help the rationalisation and the redundancy problem, which no doubt will still be necessary if this industry is going to be able to compete in the 1990s and beyond.
The facts of the case speak for themselves. In the four-and-a-half years after the disastrous miners' strike, which was in some ways a tragedy for the industry, until the end of last year the number of operating collieries had been halved. The interesting feature is that the output of coal has remained almost constant. Why? It is because productivity in the coal industry has risen by over 90 per cent.
I have had some experience in industry and in other organisations. I find it impossible to believe that the morale situation which the noble Lord, Lord Blease, tried to put before the House as affecting the mining industry could conceivably be as black as he painted it if there has been a productivity increase of 90 per cent. That sort of increase is achieved by men and managements who have their tails up, who see the opportunities and who are prepared to work for them in order to safeguard their position. The tragedy is that it did not happen years earlier. Indeed, had we had a 90 per cent. increase in productivity in the mining industry not just in the four years 1985 to 1989 but in the 20 or 30 years before that, we would be talking about a totally different situation.
My mind goes back perhaps even further than that of my noble friend Lord Rochdale. "Give me another 100 million tons of coal, and I will rule Europe". Who said that? It was Ernest Bevin when he was Foreign Secretary in 1945-46. The problem is now being solved and I think the future of the coal industry now that it has been greatly slimmed down and is vastly more efficient, highly mechanised, modern, thrusting and competitive is probably 1472 brighter than it has been at any stage in my lifetime. That is my opinion and that is what I should like to hear my noble friend say from the Front Bench. I hope that he will respond to the Select Committee's report and deal particularly with the problem of imports, because we are a mercantilist community: we live by trade. We depend upon as high a proportion of exports as anywhere else in the world. That means that we always have to open our shores to imports.
With the greatest respect to my other noble friend on the Front Bench who wound up the Committee stage debate, he said this about imports. He said that the noble Lord, Lord Mason, had drawn attention to imports, and added:I believe I have said before from this Dispatch Box that many of the imports are special requirements for industry and are not available from the supplies mined by British Coal".That is perfectly true and no one has denied it. However, he went on to say:The Government's policy is not to restrict imports of coal".I hope my noble friend can say that it is the Government's policy neither to restrict nor to promote imports of coal, because it must be even-handed; there must be balance. That is what the industry, its suppliers and its customers want to hear.
One cannot just say that we are not going to restrict imports, leaving people with the impression that somehow it is the Government's wish to see more imports of coal. With the trade imbalance of the size that we have at present, that cannot be right. I am sure that that is not what my noble friend meant, but the words he used may have given that impression. He went on to say, perfectly correctly:Decisions on coal purchases, whether from indigenous or imported sources, must be for the commercial judgment of those concerned on the basis of a willing buyer and a willing seller".— [Official Report. 9/2/90; col. 1062.]I believe that these are policy statements of the Government which the Select Committee was entirely right to say raised broad national issues of energy policy. We heard earlier this evening that the Government should be making more general statements about foreign and European policy so that we all know where they stand and not be continually playing a game of cards close to the chest, which one does in detailed negotiations not in broad policy. On such matters as energy policy the same remarks apply.
My noble friend on the Front Bench has an opportunity this evening to do just that. He has been encouraged by an admirable Select Committee report and I hope he takes that opportunity. I warmly commend the main thrust of the report, that the Bill should go ahead and that it should go ahead quickly. Facilities should be built at all three ports of Immingham, King's Lynn and Port Talbot and we should set about modernising our port industry.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, has made so many misleading statements about the coal industry that I am tempted to scrap my notes and deal with the points he made, but there is not time.
However, I shall deal with one point. The noble Lord spoke about productivity. Yes, productivity in the coal industry has risen considerably, but the simple reason is the investment in new machinery. I do not know how often the noble Lord goes down the pits but when I go down, which is frequently, I see transformation all the time I am there. The point is that production has not gone up. That is the difference. The noble Lord said that there were 660,000 miners 30 years ago and only 85,000 now. His figure is certainly correct but what does he expect those of us who support the mining industry to do? Are we to say "Well, another 5,000 or so will not matter until we get down to 10,000"? Surely he does not expect that to be the case. However, it seems to me that these are matters for another occasion.
Perhaps I may briefly refer to the reply which the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, gave to me when he kindly allowed me to intervene. I had asked him what the evidence was for there not being a precedent. I quote from paragraph 12 of page 5 of the report. The noble Lord agreed that the chairman of the committee had said this and that it was contained in the report. I quote:Such protection against the import of a single commodity at a single port would be unusual but not unprecedented".If I read the paragraph correctly that might be part of the evidence of British Coal. If that is the case, surely we can argue that an organisation such as British Coal in turn has researched it and said that it is not unprecedented. I leave that point with your Lordships because the matter has been mentioned several times in the debate and it has to be taken into consideration.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, the precedent is that a Private Bill applying to a particular locality is to i be used as a means for controlling national policy on trade, which is clearly the responsibility of national government either through powers that they already have or by the legislative means that are available to them. The precedent that I am opposing is the one which suggests that those kinds of measures should be introduced on the back of a Private Bill in order to construct a specific infrastructure facility.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, I understand that, but I am not sure that it entirely deals with the point that I made. However, it was worth having it mentioned as it might be taken into consideration at some other time. The two points that I wish to make are related. The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, said that had it not been for what he called the coal issue the Bill would have gone through without any problem. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, repeated that.
1474 I am wondering what that is supposed to mean. There is hardly any legislation that goes through either House which does not have some aspect of controversy. That is what Parliament is about. If any individual, organisation, Member of Parliament or Member of this House feels sufficiently strongly about a matter, then it should be stated It has been said that those of us who feel strongly about the coal industry and everything that is meant by coal communities have to say what they think about such matters.
However strong the case that is made from the other side of the House and by the Select Committee, we are entitled to say what we feel. I certainly make no apology for raising again at Third Reading what has been called the coal issue. The increase in the importation of coal which some of us think will take place will have wide-ranging consequences, particularly in the closing of pits, with the loss of thousands of jobs, and in its impact on the environment.
On the latter point I refer to the amendment so ably moved by my noble friend. The impact of the EC directive requiring an environmental assessment perhaps represents—I put it no higher than that—a grey area which the Select Committee could have taken into account in reaching a conclusion on this issue. Your Lordships may feel that, if the Select Committee knew that the application of the EC directive to Private Bills at a future date was the subject of discussion with the Commission, the prudent course, even in the absence of local objections, would have been to call for such an assessment before recommending the Bill to your Lordships' House. That is the major reason for the amendment.
Let us consider the situation if, in future cases, such assessments are required by the EC under this directive. Would your Lordships feel that justice had been done in respect of this particular Bill? It is hardly enough to say that it is exclusively a matter for Her Majesty's Government. There is such a thing as good practice. We have all heard about it in connection with many pieces of legislation. In my view this would have been an entirely appropriate occasion upon which to apply it.
I certainly do not intend to repeat the detailed arguments raised here at Second Reading and during this measure's two-year passage through another place. The difference this evening is that we have before us the special report from the Select Committee on the Bill. The report contains some devastating comments on the measure. The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, very properly made several quotations from the report. Some were perhaps slightly selective. I do not complain about that. We all do it at some time. If I make some quotations it may help to restore the balance.
There were 10 petitioners against the Bill; four, not unexpectedly, were from organisations directly connected with the coal industry, but six were from local authorities. Noble Lords will have noticed that 1475 this is a special report from a Select Committee. It is a special report because the works proposed in the Bill,included aspects of energy and trade policy which are of national importance"—the implication—certainly to some of us—being that such matters are wholly inappropriate for a Private Bill. The committee's words could hardly be stronger. The report stated:The Committee are greatly concerned at the potential effect on the coal industry and on coalfield communities of substantial imports of cheap foreign coal".It went on to state:The Committee hope that at Third Reading the Government will respond in substance"—I am sure noble Lords will note the strength of that word—to this Special Report and give some indication that if the present risk of danger to the coal industry is likely to become a reality, they will give earnest consideration in the national interest to supporting the industry".Like other noble Lords, I am looking forward to the Minister's reply.
The Select Committee told us:The Promoters declined to argue about the potential effects on the coal industry".Surprise, surprise! The committee drew attention to an undertaking which the Select Committee in another place sought and obtained from the promoters. It was that the promoters would provide the Department of Energy and the House of Commons Library with statistics specifying the amount of coal imported through Immingham, and certain information about the origin of that coal. I am greatly intrigued by that promise. If the figures show that there has been a substantial increase, which at least might be the case—we think that that will be the case, but at least it might be the case—what then? Will some authority tear down the new facilities at the port? Will the port authorities reimburse British Coal for the damage done to the indigenous coal industry, including the loss of miners' jobs? The fact is that it was a preposterous undertaking, hollow and meaningless and completely irrelevant to the issue.
Apart from the quantity, what would be done about the fact that virtually all the coal presently imported into this country has a much higher sulphur content than our own coal? Is not that in itself, in these days of great and growing environmental concern, something which must be taken into consideration?
I am deeply concerned about the Government's attitude to this Bill. They have said that they are neutral on it. To see how neutral they are, I examined the Division list on Third Reading in another place. It showed that 61 members of the Government voted for it and that that number included no fewer than 18 members of the Cabinet, including the Prime Minister, and, perhaps most ironically of all, 10 Whips. I do not contest their right to vote on a Private Bill but to say that there was no whipping is stretching the meaning of the word. Whipping does not always mean having three lines on a piece of paper. That analysis of the voting demonstrates quite 1476 clearly that the Government strongly supported the passing of the Bill and that neutrality is not, to say the least, quite what the Government had in mind.
I wish to comment on two matters which have been raised frequently in connection with the Bill. We have consistently said that an increase in coal imports will add to the disgraceful balance of payments deficit that the Government have brought about. The response has always been—it has been mentioned on one occasion tonight—that imports are only a small proportion of the nation's coal needs. However, what we never hear about is that for the first time ever the country has a fuel trade deficit. Considering the gift of North Sea oil and gas, and our huge coal reserves, it is almost unbelievable that we should now be in such a position—and here the Government are not doing anything to prevent a measure which will exacerbate the balance of payments deficit.
The second point concerns the contract negotiated between British Coal and the new electricity generators. It is a settlement which is frequently hailed as the saviour of our coal industry. I should remind your Lordships that the contract is an interim one and covers only the next three years. That contract will nicely bridge the gap between now and completion of the works proposed in the Bill. I forecast—and I am quite sure about this—that the contract which follows will without any doubt mark a further reduction in the demand for British coal. So much, therefore, for the value of the highly publicised contract.
I fervently hope that the Government will take the Select Committee's report seriously. Whenever I speak in your Lordships' House on the issue of coal, I refer to the importance of ensuring that the country maintains its security of supply. I believe that that cannot be stressed too strongly or too frequently. Many countries envy the fact that we can guarantee the supply of coal, for its many purposes, for two centuries at least.
All kinds of factors can affect the supply and price of imported coal. I am pleased, therefore, that the last words contained in the Select Committee's report are these:The Committee accept that an island nation must have an efficient and competitive port industry and that a manufacturing nation must have cheap sources of electrical power".We all say "Hallelujah!" to that, so the next sentence is crucial. It reads:However, if the unrestricted interaction of these requirements leads to undesirable industrial and social consequences, the Government should act to avert them".I fear, as do my noble friends, that those consequences will come about. The sponsors of the Bill have made no real attempt to refute them and the Government have been pusillanimous in the extreme. We shall all be the worse off for this measure and I shall certainly not support its passage through the House.
§ 10.28 p.m.
§ Lord Wise
My Lords, I am the last member of the Select Committee to take part in the debate this evening. I am sure that noble Lords will be glad to know that I shall throw the copy of my speech away 1477 because what I had intended to say has already been said. However, I should like to express my appreciation and admiration to my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gwydir for the able manner in which he chaired the committee. It was certainly not an easy task.
The committee was unanimously agreed that there certainly is a demand for another deep-water port facility on the east coast. It is obvious that a facility such as is envisaged in the Bill at Immingham will benefit the whole of industry, not only in the region but ail over the country. It will facilitate both imports and exports and reduce the cost of the transhipment of cargoes.
I hope therefore that the Bill will receive a Third Reading and that it will proceed. I also hope, as other noble Lords have said, that my noble friend on the Front Bench will take due care and attention and give us some assurance regarding the last two points contained in the Select Committee's report regarding the coal issue, which is most important and which worries us all.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)
My Lords, I wish to say a brief word about the amendment to the Motion for Third Reading which has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove. Before I do so, perhaps I may through him express my sympathy to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and my best wishes for his quick return to the House.
I should like to echo the words of thanks which have already been expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gwydir, and to his fellow members for serving on the Select Committee and for their admirably clear and concise special report. It was, as we have heard, a long committee. It sat for nearly 50 hours spread over 11 days, and the matters raised before it were difficult and inevitably controversial.
The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, would oblige the promoters to prepare and submit to the same Select Committee an environmental assessment statement. I shall first say a quick word about environmental assessment and the private Bill procedure.
I confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, has already said tonight, that the recent report of the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure recommended that each House should incorporate environmental impact assessment into its private Bill procedures, and that recommendation is currently under active consideration. However, the joint committee proceeded on the assumption that Article 1.5 of the EC directive on environmental assessment granted an exemption from the requirements of the directive for works projects which were subject to approval by private Bill. That view has been shared by the Government, and it is for that reason that the two Houses have not hitherto incorporated environmental assessment into their procedures.
I understand that there may be some doubt about that exemption, and that the assumption that I have mentioned is not necessarily shared by the European 1478 Commission. However, that is not in the first instance a matter for Parliament and can be solved only between the Government and the Commission because it is the Government who are responsible for the United Kingdom's international relations. In those circumstances, there is not, in my view, any overriding obligation upon the House to require the submission of an environmental assessment statement. Certainly the Bill has complied with all the relevant private business Standing Orders of the House.
The second point that I should like to make concerns the role of Select Committees on private Bills. I stress that the whole system of private Bills' proceedings works on the basis that when a Bill is opposed, that Bill is considered by a Select Committee made up of representatives from all parts of the House. Such committees receive submissions and hear evidence from the opposing parties in coming to decisions on the matters before them.
In the present case, the committee reported unanimously in favour of the Bill, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, has told us, specifically rejected a proposal that it should adjourn to await an environmental assessment to be prepared by the promoters. To assist the House, the committee also made a special report setting out the reasons for its decisions. I hope that in those circumstances your Lordships will think seriously before agreeing to an amendment which would, in effect, overturn one of the decisions unanimously reached by your Select Committee.
§ 10.34 p.m.
§ Viscount Davidson
My Lords, I too should like to express my best wishes to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for a speedy recovery, and at the same time congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, for stepping into his shoes at relatively short notice. The Government have considered the content of this Private Bill and have no objections to the proposals contained in it.
Let me now refer to the special report of the Select Committee prepared under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gwydir. I am sure that all noble Lords who have read that report will find it an informative and valuable document. The Government note that the committee took the view that the promoters had duly established a need for their proposed facilities at Immingham and elsewhere, and the committee further observed that were it not for the coal issue the Bill would have been unopposed in this House.
As stated in the report, the Bill would provide at a most suitable location on the east coast a much needed common user dry bulk cargo terminal capable of taking large ships of up to 200,000 tonnes. Considerable support had been expressed for such a facility by customers and other commercial interests, as the report recalls. It would benefit not only Immingham and Humberside but the nation as well, because in the longer term it should lead to the recovery of port trade from Amsterdam, Rotterdam and elsewhere and to the reduction of transhipment costs.
1479 It is government policy to encourage competition and private initiative. If Associated British Ports thinks that it can make a commercial success of the proposed facilities, there is no government objection to its seeking to do so provided, like any other Private Bill promoter, it is able to persuade Parliament that the powers sought are justified.
The Select Committee is of the opinion that the arguments of the petitioners against the Bill raise complex matters of energy and trade policy for which ultimately the Government must take responsibility. As regards energy policy, the Government's objective is that the United Kingdom should have adequate, secure and environmentally acceptable supplies of energy in the forms that people want and at the lowest practicable long-term costs. The Government aim to achieve this objective by applying their overall macroeconomic policies to the energy sector, making as much of energy supply as is practicable subject to the action of market forces and keeping state intervention to the minimum level needed. They believe that only in this way can they ensure the maximum freedom and flexibility consistent with strategic objectives for safety, security of supply, the prevention of waste and the protection of the environment.
On a more general point, the Government are in favour of free trade and open markets. The case for any exception would need to be looked at very carefully in the context of our international obligations and implications for the United Kingdom economy as a whole.
The Select Committee has expressed concern at the potential effect on the coal industry of substantial imports of cheap foreign coal. In responding to this concern, which was also raised by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding, I must emphasise that it has never been the Government's policy either to restrict or to promote the import of coal. I hope that that will satisfy my noble friend. Decisions on coal purchases, whether from indigenous or imported sources, must be for the commercial judgment of those concerned, on the basis of willing buyer and willing seller. It would be quite wrong to compel coal users to purchase supplies from British Coal by denying them the right to buy from the supplier of their choice. But neither would we discourage coal users from buying as much coal as they wish from British Coal, which is making strong and successful efforts to reduce costs and increase productivity in order to compete with imports.
The Government have made it clear that the privatised electricity industry will be free to choose its suppliers, including its coal suppliers. But the Government have also expected British Coal to win the bulk of the business of the electricity generators on the basis of its impressively improved performance—productivity has increased by more than 75 per cent. over the past five years—together with the security of supply that it can offer in the face of volatile world markets, fluctuating exchange rates and uncertainties regarding security of supply from overseas sources. The current three-year contracts agreed between British Coal and the two main electricity generators provide British Coal with 1480 a large market opportunity, a guaranteed income stream over the next three years, and time to adjust to the needs of a competitive electricity market.
Coal is one of Britain's major natural assets and the Government have given unswerving support to the coal industry in its efforts to improve productivity and reduce costs. Since 1979, this Government have financed capital investment in the industry of over £7 billion and have provided £10 billion of grant support to assist in restructuring, with a further £6 billion in the pipeline to allow the financial reconstruction of the British Coal Corporation. That level of support has made possible the rapid introduction of a new generation of mining equipment—to which the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, referred—in up-to-date pits and has contributed enormously to the huge advances in productivity and safety which have been achieved.
The Government believe that measures such as tariff barriers of infrastructure impediments are not the way to secure the British coal industry's future. Rather, the future of the industry must depend on its being able to compete in world markets on the basis of full utilisation of modern technology, together with the security of supply provided by indigenous coal priced in pounds sterling. If recent progress in productivity and cost reduction can be maintained, the Government see no reason to believe that the industry as a whole cannot continue to supply the main bulk of its customers' requirements on a fully commercial basis.
Turning to the amendment put down by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, I would refer, as other noble Lords have before me, to the conclusions of the Select Committee which turned down the request of a petitioner for an environmental assessment statement to be prepared. I remind the House that there is no legal requirement at present upon the promoters of this Bill, or for that matter any other Private Bill, to carry out an environmental assessment or to produce an environmental statement along the lines described in the EC Directive No. 85/337. The directive, as my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gwydir said, does not apply to projects,the details of which are adopted by a specific act of national legislation".That covers projects approved by a Private Bill. However, the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedures, as my noble friend Lord Aberdare said, has recommended that there should be a requirement for promoters to produce either an environmental statement or a certificate from the appropriate Secretary of State saying that an assessment is not necessary as the project does not fall within the scope of the directive. The Government are considering the Committee's report but have already announced that they accept that particular recommendation. Implementation would require, among other things, changes to Standing Orders in both Houses. However, as I have already said, those changes have not yet been made and therefore the promoters of the Bill neither were nor are under any obligation to carry out any environmental assessment or produce any environmental statement.
1481 I hope that your Lordships will follow the normal convention on these matters, accept the conclusions of your Select Committee and accordingly allow the Bill to pass.
§ 10.42 p.m.
§ Lord Geddes
My Lords, I find myself in a slightly unusual position summing up the Third Reading of a Bill but not being the last noble Lord on his feet, given that, technically, we are discussing the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, rather than the Third Reading itself. With that minor reservation I shall do the best I can.
First, I should like to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, for the fact that in my anxiety not to spend an even greater length of time on my opening remarks I failed to wish his noble friend Lord Underbill the fastest of recoveries from illness. We miss him.
I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I do not comment on every speech that has been made. The hour is rather later than I had anticipated and there are still two further items of business tonight. I should not be thanked if I went through the speeches blow by blow. However, I should particularly like to thank my noble friend Lord Rochdale and the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, for their interventions, based on enormous depth of knowledge of the port industry in general rather than the particular point of the proposed new berth at Immingham. I was about to say that their comments brought us down to earth; perhaps I should have said the shoreline. Their contributions brought the whole issue back into perspective.
Two noble Lords opposite made comments which I should like to address. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, asked about the expected date of completion of the new berth at Immingham. His noble friend Lord Dormand anticipated me. To the best of my knowledge it will be towards the end of 1993, coming into full phase in 1994-95.
The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, made two remarks on which I should like to comment, one of which I shall come to later. He made the amazing comment that the fact that there were no objections to the Bill on environmental grounds was immaterial. If I heard correctly, I find that the strangest of strange remarks. Not only were there no objections, but there were positive comments on that issue. Perhaps the noble Lord who is to follow me will comment in that respect.
The noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, made two comments in a most interesting speech which I should like to pick up. The first concerned his quotation from paragraph 12 of the Select Committee report which states:Such protection against the import of a single commodity at a single port would be unusual but not unprecedented".Paragraph 12 falls under the general title,The Interest of the Coal Industry",which covers four paragraphs. In paragraph 12, the report refers to "British Coal's contract" and goes on to say:Moreover they stressed that other European countries afforded far greater protection [to their coal industries]".1482 I can only construe that as being the view of British Coal rather than of anyone else.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, I did say that, but my point was that, given that we are dealing with a large organisation like British Coal with all its staff, researchers and experts, it is at least one view.
§ Lord Geddes
My Lords, I shall read Hansard with great interest. I am sure that the noble Lord is right. I have never heard him say anything in this House which was not right.
§ Lord Geddes
My Lords, whether I agree with what the noble Lord said is another matter. I am concerned with the accuracy.
The other point raised by the noble Lord concerned statistics on coal imports. Perhaps I may remind him of paragraph 25 of the Select Committee report from another place. I shall not take up the time of the House by quoting it all, but it starts:First, the Committee sought, and has received, a binding undertaking from the promoters".As I understood it, it was the Committee which asked for it and the promoters who agreed to supply it, not the other way round.
The amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, is misconceived and inappropriate. As the Select Committee correctly pointed out in paragraph 19 of its special report and as many noble Lords, not least my noble friend Lord Davidson, have said, Parliament has not yet incorporated a system of environmental assessment into private business standing orders. Parliament may do so in due course, but, as the Committee itself concluded, the promoters of private Bills are currently under no obligation to incorporate an environmental assessment under current standing orders.
To suggest now that the promoters of a Bill should anticipate or should have anticipated not only what the House itself might decide to do about environmental assessment but also how the Government might apply the EC directive is quite impractical and unjust. The promoters are mindful of the environmental impact of the proposed jetty at Immingham on the coastline itself at Immingham and on the immediate hinterland. The local authorities which cover Immingham—namely, the Cleethorpes Borough Council and the Glanford Borough Council—have expressed no anxiety whatsoever about the environmental impact of the new jetty. They both support the project.
To suggest that the promoters should carry out an environmental assessment many miles inland from Immingham, in areas of the country in which ABP has no business activity, is both impractical and unreasonable. ABP is in no position to say whether coal or any other commodity which may be imported through Immingham might be moved by road through the streets of a particular village in Yorkshire or Nottinghamshire. ABP will not itself be involved in buying, selling, distributing or arranging the transport for such commodities, be it coal or any 1483 other commodity. Its business is to build the port that the nation needs and to satisfy the local authorities which look after the port areas that the ports are environmentally acceptable. This it has manifestly done.
I again remind the House of another important point made by the Select Committee which considered this Bill in great detail. In paragraph 20 of its report it is stated:They agree with the Promoters that local highway authorities already possess adequate powers to restrict the movement of heavy goods vehicles by road".I should like to pick up another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. If I heard him correctly, he made the comment that it was at the very last minute that the promoters of the Bill brought forward as a defence—perhaps he will forgive me if I do not use the correct word but I am not sure whether he used that term—that the local highway authorities had that right. As I pointed out in my opening remarks—and I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Grey, who also made the comment—it was only at the very last minute that the environmental assessment issue came up at all. So it is hardly surprising that the comment regarding the rights of the local highway authorities was also at the last minute. It could hardly have been earlier.
This is not a matter which was not put before the committee or not considered carefully by the committee. Indeed, the opposite is the case and the committee came to the firm and unanimous conclusion that the Bill should be allowed to proceed and that the request for an environmental assessment should not be accepted.
There was a huge weight of evidence put before the Select Committee. With the exception of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blease, who with the greatest respect I think I could call neutral, and the two speeches from the Opposition, all the speeches and in particular those from members of the Select Committee rejected the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, and supported the Bill.
I trust that in the circumstances the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment. But if he does not do so, I urge the House to reject it handsomely. This Bill is good for the ports industry, good for the people who live and work around the ports and, above all, good for the nation. I commend it to the House.
§ 10.52 p.m.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, we have had an extremely interesting and long debate. Inevitably there was a little repetitiveness. I make no excuse for having raised this matter on behalf of myself and particularly my noble friend Lord Underbill. On his behalf I should like to thank all noble Lords who have expressed their good wishes for his speedy recovery. I shall certainly convey their kind words to him.
I said that I make no excuse for having raised this amendment on behalf of the noble Lord. I remember an occasion in another place when I was at the other end of a long debate such as this one. In fact, it was 1484 rather longer than this debate. Some of those who have been in the other place may remember the great tenacity with which the present Father of the House could take up some points. I listened for four and a half hours while he discussed whether or not there should be a quarter-mile spur of railway into Canvey Island. But he was making a very important point. He took rather a long time to do it but the time was part of the point that he was making. That is why I make no excuse for raising this matter tonight.
I should like to thank everyone who spoke on this Bill. There is no doubt that Immingham in particular is a deep water port that has been built for coal. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, who said that he was a member of Associated British Ports, will know exactly the composition and balance of coal and other materials which come in there.
§ Lord Crickhowell
My Lords, I am sorry that I am forced to rise because of the comment by the noble Lord, who suggests that this project is being built for coal. I made it perfectly clear that the company is building it for a wide range of industrial and commercial uses. I cannot allow that statement to stand without challenge.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, I referred to the facilities for 200,000-tonne berths. I cannot foresee such berths being built other than for coal. I do not refer to the other facilities. I believe that three berths will be built. It is because of the struggles that the mining industry has had that there has been this great disturbance. It is doing well. We believe that that success could be taken away because of a particularly advantageous balance of currency between a foreign country and ourselves. Over a period of five years the mining industry could be even more disadvantaged. That is why we have raised the issue.
Many points have been made. On a small point—it may indicate the feeling of disquiet that some of us have had—I thought that I had explained that the local authority control of heavy goods vehicles is very limited. It cannot stop heavy goods vehicles; it can only reroute them, and it has to reroute all heavy goods vehicles in an area. It is quite an important point that has been overlooked by those supporting the Bill.
I shall read the statement of the Minister with great care. I do not believe that he satisfied his noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding. I thought I had a slight feeling from him.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Crickhowell, I must challenge the noble Lord. My noble friend's statement was absolutely up to the expectations that I had. I was delighted to hear what he said. I hope that it will receive wide publicity not only in the country but in particular in the coalfields.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, I shall read the statement with great care. I did not have that impression. I have always had great respect for the noble Lord since we met in committee in about 1966. I thought that I had in part an ally regarding 1485 doubts over what his noble friend Lord Davidson said. However, I shall read what he said. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Bill read a third time, and passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.