HC Deb 21 June 1961 vol 642 cc1465-7
25. Mr. Woodburn

asked the Minister of Transport what information he has about the transfer of shipping from London Port to the ports of the Common Market countries; and whether he will give the reasons for this.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett)

No figures are available, but I understand that a certain amount of trade may have been diverted from the Port of London to some of the major ports in Common Market countries. There are a number of reasons for this, one of which appears to be their relative freedom from unofficial labour troubles. No doubt the general question is one which the Rochdale Committee will consider in the course of its inquiry.

Mr. Woodburn

No doubt the hon. and gallant Gentleman has seen the statement that nearly one-third of the traffic has already disappeared and that there is great danger to the Port of London. Is he aware that a similar situation is occurring in other ports in the United Kingdom? Is it not said that there is also the question of the inability of those ports to handle big ships of above a certain size, which then go to Continental ports to have their cargoes reloaded into smaller ships to be brought to this country? Has he any information and can anything be done?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

The freight rates are a measure of the relative attractiveness of various ports. The Ministry's freight market representative has confirmed that a lower ocean freight rate is usually obtainable for bulk cargoes by ocean ships at Continental ports, such as Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Hamburg, than in respect of discharge in United Kingdom ports, and that the coaster freight rates payable for the movement from the Continental ports to the small United Kingdom East Coast ports do not nullify that advantage in ocean rates.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Is it not also true that we have lost an enormous amount of exports this year through the strikes in the London Docks and that the Continental ports are taking business away from us because they have more modern machinery and because labour on the Continent allows that modern machinery to be used, whereas labour in the London Docks has a more restrictive attitude towards the use of machinery?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

Yes, Sir, but it is only fair to say that, apart from labour troubles, the rate of discharge as a whole is somewhat better in the Continental ports, although the United Kingdom ports are not too bad when it comes to the discharge of cargo in bulk. There is another factor, namely, that the Continental ports are sometimes used because only part of the cargo is for the United Kingdom and it pays to send the ship direct to the Continental port and to discharge the main cargo at places such at Rotterdam, where it then goes up the Rhine in barges

Mr. Mellish

Should not the Parliamentary Secretary make this quite clear and, as a representative of the Government, say that the turn-round in the London docks, in spite of any labour troubles which there may or may not be, is among the fastest in the world? Is not the Rochdale Committee, which was set up by the Minister of Transport, empowered to look into not just this question but the whole problem of the management of the docks? Would it not be right to say that we have nothing of which to be ashamed in the London Docks and that their turn-round of shipping is very fast?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

It is certainly within the power of the Rochdale Committee to report on this, and it will undoubtedly do so. My information about the rate of turn-round compared with foreign ports is that the results on some of the docks are excellent, but that, unfortunately, they are variable.