§ 5. Mr. W. Fletcher
asked the Minister of Transport what progress is being made in the mechanisation of the handling of goods in British ports with a view to a quicker turn round of shipping and the economy of labour.
§ Mr. Barnes
The Report of the Working Party on Increased Mechanisation in U.K. Ports was published in May, 1950, and copies were sent to the national organisations directly concerned. Reports I have received from time to time from dock and harbour authorities show that progress is being made in the mechanisation of cargo handling in the ports. The introduction of mechanical aids is related to the question of manning scales; this is an industrial matter which is under continuous review by the local joint committees of the National Joint Council for the Port Transport Industry.
§ Mr. Fletcher
In view of the extreme importance of getting an ever quicker turn-round, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that there are no restrictive practices and will he say whether he is satisfied with the rate of progress which is necessary?
§ Mr. Barnes
I should not like to say that I am satisfied with the rate of progress, because it is uneven in the different ports throughout the country. Anyone connected with shipping will realise how vital it is today that the turn-round should be as quick as possible. My purpose is to maintain continuous pressure, though one cannot always exercise a direct influence. The hon. Gentleman knows that the port and harbour authorities are largely autonomous.
§ Colonel Ropner
Is the Minister aware that the rate of loading and discharging in many of our ports compares unfavourably with the rates at many Continental ports?
§ Mr. Mellish
Does my right hon. Friend realise that charges of slow discharging and loading have been made before without any substantiation? Is he aware that many of the restrictive practices come from the employers' side as well as from the men's side; that there is a great fear of redundancy among the men, and that this must be broken down before the new machinery can be employed?
§ Mr. Barnes
In reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner), I always regret these general allegations that the ports of other countries are more efficient than those of this country, because my general experience of shipping does not substantiate that. I would not say for a moment that there are no examples that, perhaps, are more efficient, but, generally, I do not think that British ports suffer by comparison. On the point raised by my hon. Friend, it does not really matter where the restrictions operate; it is in the general interest to get rid of them.