HC Deb 05 December 1961 vol 650 cc1149-58

3.49 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to repeal the North Atlantic Shipping Act, 1961. It was said sadly by a distinguished King's Counsel when hearing his first Admiralty case as President of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division, "I hope that there will be no moaning by the Bar when I put out to sea." I humbly echo that hope.

Although we were at one time a great maritime nation, with a great Atlantic fleet under British command, and although there was a day when all of us must have felt the salt in our blood and longed for a tall ship and a star to steer her by, I must confess that my most adventurous journey on the Atlantic was an unpremeditated and completely involuntary one made by dinghy, which almost caused a by-election.

My only journey across the Atlantic on a "Queen" was, unhappily, made at a time when the "Queen Mary" had not been refitted after the war, when it was completely denuded of all forms of equipment, with no taps, doorknobs, hooks, and so on, most of which were wandering around space as memories and memorials, when we were accommodated in a doorless dormitory and I was awakened at 4 a.m. by a respectable and grey-haired lady holding my hand and inquiring anxiously if I was saved. I replied brutally and inaccurately that I was, and I still have some regret at the disappointment that she was occasioned.

Of course, this is unfair to the Cunard Company. I am one of those who feel that the Cunard Company has been very unfairly treated. Whatever may be thought of the original proposal, there is no justification for all that has occurred. The Cunard Company is left with the melancholy realisation that when Her Majesty's Government were smiling benevolently upon them, their shares and their shareholders were both jittery. Now that Her Majesty's Government have turned their face to the other side, a measure of equilibrium has been restored.

Perhaps I might briefly explain the financial implications of the Measure which I propose. The North Atlantic Shipping Act provided for the allocation of a total sum of £18 million from public funds, of which £14¾ million was to be on the "Kathleen Mavourneen "—" it may be for years, and it may be for ever "—and £3¼ million was in the form of a pourboire.

If we limit our discussion to the £3¼ million which immediately becomes available for any purpose, it is, even in the present day, no small sum. At present rates, it would purchase half a dozen Rembrandts or about 30 Jimmy Greaves. It would provide 100 luxury flats under the present Government, or 2,000 working-class houses under a Labour Government. It could buy 250 tons of caviare for the general and leave some money for a necklace for his wife. What is more important, it could provide the penicillin which could save 15 million children crippled by yaws, or provide research into the causes and control of onchocerciasis and tripanosomiasis which might save millions of people from blindness.

I apprehend, however, in referring to this matter, that the decision of the House was that the money should be used to help merchant shipping. My hon. Friends who represent the shipbuilding constituencies, and hon. Members on the other side, some of whom made almost a declaration of interest that they had secured their election by promising two "Queens", and who may now wish to promise something else, have made a case for the shipping industry. No one really doubts that there is a case.

I am one of those who have never been convinced that the necessity of maritime supremacy involved the provision of huge liners. I think in terms of merchant shipping and of tankers, not perhaps in terms of Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir, but rather of the Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack, Butting through the Channel in the mad March days, With a cargo of Tyne coal, Road-rail, pig-lead, Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays. All the available modern evidence is in favour of that proposition. If we take the most rapidly expanded maritime nation in the world—Liberia—we find that she has no large liners and, indeed, very few large ports. The largest individually controlled and the most prosperous merchant fleet in the world is owned by Mr. Onassis, a man who is certainly no Tom Bowling, because his interests are so extensive that they embrace even grand opera. His best known ship is a yacht. As far as I am aware, he has comparatively few ships of the very large tonnage envisaged by the Act.

We all know that the Act is dead. At the conclusion of the Third Reading debate on the Measure, which obtained the support of only one-fifth of the Members of the House in the Lobby, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport talked gaily of the maiden voyage and the safety of the passengers on board. We were told that John Brown had allocated a berth for the building of the ship. We know now that this other body of John Brown lies "a'mouldering in the grave" and that the time has come when the Act should be repealed.

I have no desire today to say anything controversial, or to indulge in polemics. There is, however, one other aspect of the matter. No one is quite sure how the Bill was begotten. I find some historical sympathy with the desire of the Government to treat their unpremeditated election pledges rather as Charles James Fox used to treat his gambling debts: a matter of priority over more solid engagements. All the available evidence seems to suggest that the origin of the Act was an unpremeditated observation by the Prime Minister on a gay election night in Glasgow, when he was reported as having promised two "Queens". That may, of course, have been a stutter, but it does not seem to have been disputed that he promised one. But there is a point when this House should try to remember that the promises made in the pre-election prosperity period have to be carried out, if they are to be carried out at all, in the post-election economic crisis.

I do not want to say anything unkind. I wondered whether I might make my point by recording an example from French local government. I recall the French village after the war that was devastated by explosions and war damage to the extent that it was isolated, the bridge was down, the road was up and the commercial activity of this charming village had been brought almost to an end. A Left-wing maire, with the help of a devoted highway surveyor, tackled the job. The years went by, but it still was not complete.

There came an election. A highly respected local worthy, noted for his interest in le sport, was invited to stand for the mairie and was elected. Only after the election vote was it recalled—the cognoscenti certainly recalled—that his devotion to sport meant that amongst his lares and penates he possessed five sporting guns, four fishing rods and three mistresses, on all of whom he lavished devoted care, rubbing some of them over with an oily rag every day, and treating the others after their fashion.

The inevitable result was that when the woods had been restocked with game, the rivers with fish and the mistresses with mink, there was no money left to repair the road. The highway surveyor was left lonely in his office writing a definitive life of John Macadam and the solitary hotel was almost unapproachable, still boasting proudly the little notice "lci a dormi Selwyn Lloyd". under which an irreverent gamin had written, in blue chalk, "et n'a jamais réveilé".

I ask the Leader of the House to allow me to introduce this important Measure. I hope that if leave is accorded, when I advance to the Table the House will imagine me at least as accompanied by the unspoken but moving words of Kipling and the music of Elgar: Come back Unity, Claribel, Assyrian. Stormcock and Golden Gain

Mr. Speaker

The Question is, That the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) be given leave to bring in a Bill—the principles of which he has been explaining—to repeal the North Atlantic Shipping Act, 1961.

4.1 p.m.

Sir John Vaughan-Morgan (Reigate)

I rise to oppose the Motion. First, I should like to say with what difficulty I follow the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), who has spoken with his usual wit, cogency and rapidity. I can at least claim that I shall speak a little slower. The House must be very grateful and deeply moved to think that we have been allowed this witty speech only because the hon. Member was saved from both the dinghy and the grey-haired lady. Though it satisfied you Mr. Speaker, I thought that the hon. Member gave singularly few reasons for moving his Motion. If I may, I shall fill in any gaps that he left.

In all seriousness, this proposed Bill should not be given priority over other Private Members' Bills. First, the hon. Member means it as a serious Measure and I think it fair to say that it will probably be opposed. Secondly, is it right that private Members' time, of which there is all too little, should be used to frustrate or nullify the Government's intentions?

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

What are they?

Sir J. Vaughan-Morgan

Is it right when, as in this case, events in the shape of the Board of the Cunard Company have, fortunately in my view, done it for us.

I must also say that I think it ill becomes the Opposition to urge the repeal of the Act. They failed to oppose it on either Second Reading or Third Reading, with one or two honourable but unofficial exceptions, one of whom, of course, was the lone-star Liberal Leader. On the occasion of Second Reading, the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) made a very telling and forceful speech and then failed to take his legions into the Lobby. His remarkable denunciation of the Bill followed by no vote was a classic example of Vauxhall et praeterea nihil. It is fortunate that the right hon. Gentleman did not divide the House, because hon. Members like myself would have found ourselves in a considerable dilemma.

It is an open secret that many of us dislike the Act intensely, but we could not vote against it because of an election pledge. We found ourselves hamstrung in action because of this millstone of an election pledge round our necks—if I may mix my metaphors. We were unhappy at the course of events which led the Government to implement their pledge, which was, I remind the House, to support the replacement of the "Queen" liner.

Mr. Rankin

It was not. It was two "Queens."

Sir J. Vaughan-Morgan

But one cannot support a replacement if there is no replacement.

My hon. Friends who dislike the Act need have no fear. The Act is as dead as the dodo. There will be no Q.3 and if there is a Q.4 its building will not take place under the provisions of the Act. The days of the begging bowl are over. My hon. Friends can contrast the speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when winding up the Second Reading of the North Atlantic Shipping Bill, as it then was, with the remarks he made on 26th July, when he said that he saw no reason ahead for more assistance to private industry.

I, for one, welcome that conversion. This Act, unloved, unhonoured and un-implemented, will eventually be revised into oblivion. Let it for the moment remain on the Statute Book. Despite all the work of those whose job it is to consolidate and revise our Statutes, the Statute Book contains a large number of Measures which have fallen into honourable desuetude. They are what I would call "statutory layabouts."

In browsing through one volume only of the Statutes I have found plenty of examples. There is the Act of 1711 giving the Electress Sophia and her descendants precedence over the Archbishop of Canterbury. There is also the Act of 1754 for taking away mortuaries in the Archdeaconry of Chester and, most surprising of all, the Act of 1765 declaring the colonies and plantations in North America subordinate to and dependent upon the Imperial Crown and Parliament, a matter which ought to be at least investigated before the Bermuda Summit meeting.

These Acts resemble the ruins and follies which sometimes decorate the parks of the stately homes of England, and this Act qualifies on both counts. It was a folly and it is a ruin. There are ample precedents for not approving this Motion, but I think that the most important reason of all is that we should be very jealous of any abuse or misuse of private Members' time.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 12 (Motions for leave to bring

Division No. 17.] AYES 4.8 p.m
Abse, Leo Hart, Mrs. Judith Pargiter, G. A.
Ainsley, William Healey, Denis Parker, John
Albu, Austen Henderson, Rt.Hn. Arthur(RwlyRegis) Paton, John
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Hill, J. (Midlothian) Pavitt, Laurence
Awbery, Stan Holman, Percy Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.) Holt. Arthur Pentland, Norman
Blyton, William Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Plummer, Sir Leslie
Bowles, Frank Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Prentice, R. E.
Brockway, A. Fenner Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Probert, Arthur
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Pursey, Cmdr. Harry
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Hunter, A. E. Rankin, John
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Hynd, H. (Accrington) Reid, William
Callaghan, James Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Castle, Mrs. Barbara Jeger, George Robinson,Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Chapman, Donald Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Royle, Charles (Salford, West)
Cliffe, Michael Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creech(Wakefield) Skeffington, Arthur
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Slater, Mrs Harriet (Stoke, N.)
Davies,Rt.Hn.Clement (Montgomery) Kelley, Richard Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Kenyon, Clifford Sorensen, R. w.
Davies, Harold (Leek) Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Spriggs, Leslie
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Ledger, Ron Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Deer, George Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Stonehouse, John
Delargy, Hugh Lewis, Arthur (West Ham. N.) Stones, William
Diamond, John Lipton, Marcus Stross,Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent,C.)
Dodds, Norman Logan, David Swingler, Stephen
Driberg, Tom Loughlin, Charles Symonds, J. B.
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John MacColl, James Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Ede, Rt. Hon. C. McInnes, James Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)
Edelman, Maurice Mackie, John (Enfield, East) Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda. W.)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) McLeavy, Frank Thorpe, Jeremy
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Wade, Donald
Evans, Albert Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Warbey, William
Finch, Harold Manuel, A. C. Watkins, Tudor
Fitch, Alan Mapp, Charles Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Fletcher, Eric Marsh, Richard White, Mrs. Eirene
Foot, Dingle (Ipswich) Mason, Roy Whitlock, William
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Mayhew, Christopher Wilkins, W. A.
Forman, J. C. Mitchison, G. R. Willey, Frederick
Ginsburg, David Monslow, Walter Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Gooch, E. G. Moody, A. S. Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)
Greenwood, Anthony Moyle, Arthur Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Grey, Charles Mulley, Frederick Woof, Robert
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Neal, Harold Wyatt, Woodrow
Grimond, J. Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon) Yates, Victor (Ladywood)
Gunter, Ray Noel-Baker, Rt.Hn.Philip(Derby,S.)
Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Oliver, G. H. TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Hamilton, William (West Fife) Oram, A. E. Mr. Sydney Silverman and
Hannan, William Owen, Will Mr. Hale.
Aitken, W. T. Bourne-Arton, A. Carr, Robert (Mitcham)
Allason, James Box, Donald Cary, Sir Robert
Amery, Rt. Hon. Julian Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John Channon, H. P. G.
Ashton, Sir Hubert Boyle, Sir Edward Chataway, Christopher
Atkins, Humphrey Braine, Bernard Chichester-Clark, R.
Balniel, Lord Brewis, John Clark, William (Nottingham. S.)
Barber, Anthony Bromley-Davenport,Lt.-Col.Sir Walter Cleaver, Leonard
Barlow, Sir John Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Cole, Norman
Barter, John Brooman-White, R. Cooke, Robert
Batsford, Brian Brown, Alan (Tottenham) Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Browne, Percy (Torrington) Corfield, F. V.
Bell, Ronald Bryan, Paul Costain, A. P.
Bence, Cyril Buck, Antony Coulson, J. M.
Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Bullard, Denys Craddock, Sir Beresford
Berkeley, Humphry Bullus, Wing Commander Eric Critchley, Julian
Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald Burden, F. A. Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. Sir Oliver
Biffen, John Butcher, Sir Herbert Cullen, Mrs. Alice
Bishop, F. P. Campbell, Sir David (Belfast, S.) Cunningham, Knox
Black, Sir Cyril Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Curran, Charles
Bossom, Clive Carr, Compton (Barons Court) Currie, G. B. H.

in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):

The House divided: Ayes 140, Noes 281.

Dalkeith, Earl of Kaberry, Sir Donald Ramsden, James
Dance, James Kerans, Cdr. J. s. Rawlinson, Peter
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Kerby, Capt. Henry Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin
Digby, Simon Wingfield Kimball, Marcus Rees, Hugh
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M. Kitson, Timothy Rees Davies, W. R.
Doughty, Charles Lagden, Godfrey Renton, David
Drayson, G. B. Lancaster, Col. C. G. Ridley, Hon. Nicholas
Duncan, Sir James Leburn, Gilmour Ridsdale, Julian
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Elliott,R.W.(Nwcstle-upon-Tyne,N.) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Robson Brown, Sir William
Emery, Peter Lindsay, Martin Roots, William
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Linstead, Sir Hugh Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Farey-Jones, F. W. Litchfield, Capt. John Russell, Ronad
Farr, John Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral) St. Clair, M.
Finlay, Graeme Longbottom, Charles Sandys, Rt- Hon. Duncan
Fisher, Nigel Longden, Gilbert Scott-Hopkins, James
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Loveys, Walter H. Seymour, Leslie
Foster, John Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby Sharples, Richard
Fraser, Hn. Hugh (Stafford & Stone) Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Shaw, M.
Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Short, Edward
Freeth, Denzil McAdden, Stephen Simon, Rt, Hon. Sir Jocelyn
Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. McLaren, Martin Skeet, T. H. H.
Galpern, Sir Myer McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)
Gammans, Lady Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)
George, J. C. (Pollok) Maclean, SirFitzroy(Bute&N. Ayrs.) Soames, Rt. Hon. Christopher
Gibson-Watt, David Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.) Spearman, Sir Alexander
Gilmour, Sir John MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty) Speir, Rupert
Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham) Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Stanley, Hon. Richard
Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.) Maddan, Martin Stevens, Geoffrey
Godber, J. B. Maginnis, John E. Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Goodhart, Philip Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.
Goodhew, Victor Markham, Major Sir Frank Stodart, J. A.
Gower, Raymond Marlowe, Anthony Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm
Grant, Rt. Hon. William Marples, Rt. Hon. Ernest Storey, Sir Samuel
Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. Marshal, Douglas Studholme, Sir Henry
Green, Alan Mathew, Robert (Honiton) Summers, Sir Spencer (Aylesbury)
Gresham Cooke, R- Matthews, Gordon (Meriden) Tapsell, Peter
Grimston, Sir Robert Mawby, Ray Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Gurden, Harold Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)
Hall, John (Wycombe) Maydon, Lt-Cmdr. S. L. C. Taylor, W. J. (Bradford, N.)
Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough) Mills, Stratton Teeling, William
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W) Men gomery, Fergus Temple, John M.
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Moore, Sir Thomas (Ayr) Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd) More, Jasper (Ludlow) Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Morrison, John Thomas, Peter (Conway)
Harvie Anderson, Miss Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. Peter
Hastings, Stephen Nabarro, Gerald Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)
Hay, John Nicholls, Sir Harmar Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Heald, Rt. Hon. sir Lionel Nicholson, Sir Godfrey Timmons, John
Heath, Rt. Hon. Edward Noble, Michael Turner, Colin
Hendry, Forbes Nugent, Sir Richard Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Hicks Beach, Maj. W. Orr, Capt. L. P S. van Straubenzee, W. R.
Hiley, Joseph Osborn, John (Hallam) Vane, w. M. F.
Hill, Dr. Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton) Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth) Vickers, Miss Joan
Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe) Page, John (Harrow, West) Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis
Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk) Page, Graham (Crosby) Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Hocking, Philip N. Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale) Walder, David
Holland, Philip Partridge, E. Walker, Peter
Hollingworth, John Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe) Wall, Patrick
Hopkins, Alan Peel, John Ward, Dame Irene
Hornby, R. P. Plokthiorn, Sir Kenneth Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold
Homsby-Smlth, Rt. Hon. Dame P. Webster, David
Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives) Pike, Miss Mervyn Wells, John (Maidstone)
Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John PilKington, Sir Richard Whitelaw, William
Hughes-Young, Michael Pitman, Sir James Williams, Dudley (Exeter)
Hurd, Sir Anthony Pitt, Miss Edith Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Hutchison, Michael Clark Popplewell, Ernest Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Iremonger, T. L. Pott, Percivall Wise, A. R.
Irvine. Bryant Godman (Rye) Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch Wolridge-Gordon, Patrick
James, David Price, David (Eastleigh) Wood, Rt. Hon. Richard
Jennings, J. C. Prior, J. M. L. Woodhouse, C. M.
Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Profumo, Rt. Hon. John Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Proudfoot, Wilfred
Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Pym, Francis TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Joseph, Sir Keith Quennell, Miss J. M. Sir J. Vaughan-Morgan and
Mr. Kershaw.