HC Deb 10 February 1953 vol 511 cc261-4
Mr. Callaghan

I beg to move, in page 25, line 1. after "(2)," to insert: Save with the consent of the Minister. This Clause relates to trade harbours and port facilities. I must say in all honesty to the Minister that we are moving this Amendment not for the object of getting the words included in the Bill but because we want to hear from the Minister what his intentions are on this Clause. The only way in which we can do that on Report stage is by proposing words in this way. As the Clause came under the Guillotine during the Committee stage, we thought it might provide a useful opportunity for the Minister to say something about it if we moved an Amendment now. If the Minister is ready to do so now, I shall gladly resume my seat straight away.

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

As, I think, those hon. Members who have followed this Bill through its various stages, for several months now, will know, this particular proposal was, in fact, in the White Paper, and in that White Paper, which was issued on the day I was appointed Minister, it was said—and I think it was a very good decision—that there should he a limit put on the Commission's interests—future interests—in trade harbours and port facilities.

Indeed, I suspect that had the late Administration continued undefeated at the last General Election they would not themselves have taken any very different action from this, for it was to them that all the protests went—to the late Labour Government—from the Hartlepools, with great vigour; from the Clyde, with great vigour; with less vigour, but still emphatically, from Aberdeen. Great objection was taken to proposals for schemes for running trade harbours by the Commission.

Now, under these proposals the Commission would be limited, as is shown in subsection (2, a), to those trade harbours and port facilities that they were, in fact, providing at harbours in 1952 on the first day of July, or, as stated in subsection (2, b) they had, on the said first day of July, power, otherwise than by reason only of section two of the Transport Act, 1947, to provide port facilities in that place. Those words would enable them, if they provided any one of the port facilities on the appropriate date, to provide all other port facilities at the same port; but we do not feel that their rights should be extended beyond this.

There is a well recognised Parliamentary procedure if the Commission want to extend their powers in a field of this kind, They are fully open to promote a Private Bill, to come before Parliament, as the old railway companies had to do when they wanted to extend their operations—and many and lengthy were the debates when the old railway companies did so. The Commission themselves have recently announced their intention of promoting a Private Bill, in which, I gather, some of my hon. Friends are showing a lively interest and the same procedure would be fully open to them. They would have to ask the Minister under Section 9 of the 1947 Act, but I have no doubt that, if the Commission put up a good prima facie case, that permission would probably be forthcoming. Subject to this, they would be free to promote a Private Bill.

This appears to us to be the proper way in which any extension of their powers in this field should be obtained, for, after all, at present they have trade harbours, and are providing harbour facilities at a very considerable number of harbours, and I think it is important that in this field, as in others, the element of competition should be preserved.

Mr. Callaghan

May I, with the leave of the House, ask the Minister whether it is his full intention to preserve the Docks Executive as it exists at the present time in order that the voices of those ports which are now under the control of the British Transport Commission should be heard in competition with the other facilities at harbours the Commission own? We on this side of the House feel that the Docks Executive is serving a most valuable purpose, and it would be, in our view, a retrograde step if it were to disappear. We should therefore like to have an assurance that it is the Minister's intention to keep it.

As to the Clause, which we do not really like, may I ask the Minister whether he is proposing to take any steps himself in relation, for example, to the Clyde, where there has been a longstanding report and a considerable viewpoint, upon which I do not express an opinion at the moment, that there should be a closer affiliation between trade harbours and the Clyde? That report has never been acted upon. As I say, I do not express a view upon it. If the Minister has it in front of him, I should like to know whether he has the intention of doing anything about that matter, as it is now removed by this Clause—or will be—from the sphere of the Transport Commission's interests.

Mr. Hargreaves

Would the Minister, at the same time, answer this question upon the same subject? I take it that the Clause does not in any way intend to restrict the activities of the Commission in the ports where the Commission are providing port facilities, as well as statutory authorities providing similar facilities in the same ports? My hon. Friend mentioned one instance, but there are others where investigations over the last one or two years have put up schemes for closer co-operation.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I can give the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves) this assurance. Under this Clause, if the Commission are providing facilities they can continue to provide them or any other facilities in those ports.

As to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), we gave an assurance during the Committee stage that until the Commission recommended another scheme, they would administer docks and harbours until that scheme was produced. Nonetheless, there is no intention of the Government's sanctioning docks and harbours passing under direct railway control. Because of that, I think, there is greater freedom for charging on the railways, on which, I think, the House is largely united. The report on the Clyde was presented on 5th October, 1951. The present Government came into office in November, 1951. so if there are any points on that report in which the hon. Gentleman is interested I would point out to him that it was presented to his Minister, when, I think, he was Parliamentary Secretary. I should be delighted on another occasion to go over it with him.

Amendment negatived.