HC Deb 08 April 1937 vol 322 cc438-40

As amended, considered.

7.30 p.m.

Miss Lloyd George

I wish to raise a point relating to Part III of this Bill, which enables the London Midland and Scottish Railway to establish a new Schedule of port and harbour dues at Holyhead, or gives the company power which they do not possess at the moment to charge ordinary harbour dues for shipping using the port facilities for which the company holds the lease. It is true that there is a Schedule to the Bill which lays down a scale of charges, but there is also a provision which enables a revision of rates, either downwards or upwards, to take place, and it is also true that the revision is subject to the approval of the Minister. If arbitrary powers of this kind are to be given to a monopoly—and as far as Holyhead is concerned the London Midland and Scottish Railway is a monopoly—it should be subject to very stringent safeguards. The Bill recognises the necessity for safeguards of some kind, because it provides that representations may be made to the Minister when the question of revision comes up by any chamber of commerce or shipping or any representative body of traders or any dock or harbour authority or any person who in the opinion of the Minister is a proper person for the purpose. That is a sort of formula or model clause, and it would seem to be a very comprehensive list, but, as far as Holyhead is concerned, it is a dead letter. There is no chamber of commerce or shipping, nor is there a representative body of traders, and the dock or harbour authority is the London Midland and Scottish Railway Company itself, and it is very much like asking the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) to make representations to the Prime Minister. Therefore, I would like to have an assurance from the Minister that he will consider the urban district council as one of the persons entitled to make any representations, that is, as the proper person for the purpose, otherwise it is clear that local interests will have no opportunity of being heard in this matter, which is really a vital one for the town.

I am sure that the Minister will be very sympathetic with the anxiety that is felt. The town is entirely dependent upon the cross-Channel traffic, and that trade has been in a state of depression for some years owing to the difficult relations between the Irish Free State and this country. I would add that 48 per cent. of the men insured in that town are out of work. It is a very high percentage indeed. It is true that as long as the lease of the London Midland and Scottish Railway and the mail contract last, it will make no difference to the regular traffic from Holyhead, because, obviously, the railway company is not going to charge increased dues to itself, and if it were to do so it would merely come out of one pocket and be placed in the other, and one cannot imagine the London Midland and Scottish Railway Company doing anything to increase its own charges by its own act. As the mail contract expires, I think in 1940, one has to contemplate the contingency that, if the mail contract were not renewed, then the company, as the owner of the harbour by virtue of the powers conferred by this Bill, would be able to charge these rates, and possibly revised or increased rates, on the shipping of any other company that might gain the contract, or on any general shipping which might develop at Holyhead to replace the Irish mail shipping there. It is in these circumstances, and in the event of the revision of rates being prejudicial to the interests of this town, already so hard hit, that I ask the Minister to give the assurance required.

7.36 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Captain Austin Hudson)

The hon. Lady kindly gave me notice that she was going to raise this point, and I understand that she desires an assurance that, in the event of the Holyhead Urban District Council desiring to apply for a revision of the rates applicable to Holyhead Harbour under the provisions of this Bill, it would be open to them to do so. As the hon. Lady says, Clause 34 provides that application for such revision may be made to the Minister, among other people, by any person who, in the opinion of the Minister, is a proper person for the purpose. The hon. Lady wants an assurance from us that the urban district council would be considered to be such a proper person. I can give her this definite assurance. I am advised that it would be in order for the urban district council to apply to the Minister under the Clause for a revision of the harbour charges. As regards what action the Minister would take upon such an application, I cannot, of course, commit a future Minister in the exercise of a discretionary power, but I think I can say that it is the evident intention of this Clause to provide a means of enabling local interests concerned to be heard on questions of charges at the harbour, and in the event of the urban district council applying to the Minister under the Clause, the absence of any other appropriate local body to which the hon. Lady referred would be an important consideration to the Minister in exercising his discretion under the Clause. I am sure that a Minister would endeavour to carry out that intention of the Bill, and I hope that the hon. Lady will accept that assurance.

Mr. Maxton

Why not put it in the Clause?

Bill to be read the Third time.