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Harbours, Piers And Ferries (Scotland) Act (Variation Of Financial Limit) Order 1980

Volume 415: debated on Thursday 11 December 1980

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7.12 p.m.

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 25th November be approved.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, and I hope that we come to much calmer and more peaceful waters. The underlying purpose of the order before the House is to increase from £200,000 to £600,000 the cost limit within which the Secretary of State for Scotland can authorise, without recourse to detailed parliamentary scrutiny, the construction or improvement of fishery and transport marine works mainly in the Highlands and Islands.

The present statutory position is as follows. The Harbours, Piers and Ferries (Scotland) Act 1937, as amended by the 1972 Act, gives the Secretary of State powers to authorise a local or harbour authority to undertake work by means of the relatively simple and expeditious procedure set out in the 1937 Act, only if the estimated cost of the work is £200,000 or less. Should the estimated cost be above £200,000, the authority concerned normally has to petition the Secretary of State seeking a provisional order under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936. This is a lengthy and time-consuming process. The only alternative to private legislation procedure is for an authority to ask the Secretary of State to make a Harbour Revision Order under the Harbours Act 1964. But even this, though quicker than private legislation, is more onerous than the corresponding procedure under the 1937 Act.

The proposal now before the House is that it is reasonable for this limit to be raised to £600,000. Perhaps the main argument in favour of such an increase can be summed up in one word: inflation. Indices show that the £600,000 proposed is equivalent at 1980 prices to the £200,000 limit set by Parliament in 1972. It is a measure of the problems facing this Government that this is the case. The delays involved with these alternative procedures have drawn criticism from local authorities, shipping operators, fishermen and all islanders who stand to benefit from the new provision. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has made strong representations to have the limit increased in line with increases in the costs of construction.

But your Lordships should not be left with the impression that proposals under these arrangements are not subject to public scrutiny. It is not uncommon for proposals to provide or redevelop piers and harbours to attract local opposition. The 1937 Act provides for the authority proposing the development to give public notice of its intention, and for the Secretary of State to consider objections before taking a final decision. Increasing the Section 7 limit along the lines proposed in this order will help ensure that necessary minor improvement schemes are not delayed for long periods because of the need to use inappropriate procedures. I therefore commend this draft order to the House for its approval. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 25th November be approved.—( The Earl of Mansfield.)

My Lords, I welcome this Motion, and in no way do I wish to delay the House on this matter. This is a sensible step and it certainly has the approval of the Opposition.

On Question, Motion agreed to.