§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Before I come to my general remarks, I would say to the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and to the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) that, although the Bill looks very complicated and is, in a way, legally very complicated, the issues which it tries to cover are on the whole fairly simple.
I should explain to hon. Members opposite that we had a great deal of difficulty drafting the Bill, largely because it deals with Private Bills and Statutes going back over 100 years. I hope that they will forgive me if it is unduly complicated, but if they can suggest methods of simplifying it in Committee I shall be more than grateful to them.
In March of this year the Government made a statement on the Rochdale Committee's Report. In July, we debated its recommendations. Today, we debate the Second Reading of the Bill. Everyone in the House will agree with me that we have wasted no time. The Rochdale Committee was appointed because we in the Government were concerned about the present efficiency of our principal ports and the adequacy of future development, especially the development plans. The Committee's appointment was consistent with the Government's general policy of taking action in all sectors of transport. The terms of reference were deliberately made and drawn very wide so that the Committee could review the facilities at the major ports, decide whether methods could be improved, and consider what should be done in future.
The Committee's Report was received in September, 1962. I think—I am sure that I take the whole House with me—that it is a landmark in the history of our major ports. Both sides of the House gave it a quite generous reception in that debate. The Government studied the Report in the context of all the other 1372 reports on transport—Beeching on railways, Hall on future transport needs, and the first sight that we had of Buchanan on the urban problem. We also bore in mind the problems of regional growth in the North-East and in Central Scotland. Last March, we announced the acceptance of the essential thesis of the Report, namely, the appointment of a National Ports Council to formulate and supervise the execution of a national plan for ports. We also accepted most of the other major recommendations.
Today, I should like to concentrate on two things: first, what we have done since our last debate; and, secondly, the main provisions in the Bill. Since the debate on 10th July, we have set up the National Ports Council. Lord Rochdale has accepted the appointment as Chairman. There are still one or two appointments to be made, but the Council is already a separate entity, functioning in its own right, furnished with a small staff at the moment, and operating in its own premises. The House should realise that it is operating on a non-statutory basis. The Bill will give the Council a statutory status and the necessary powers to do its job.
After the Council has assembled the detailed information which is always the first stage in any new approach of this sort, I have asked it to give priority to certain problems. Among these, are the organisation and development in the, Firth of Forth and South Wales. On 'research, a study sponsored by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research is now being carried out.
I must thank those organisations which have given me their views on the Rochdale Committee's Report. I assure them that all the views have been read very carefully and have been taken into account. That does not mean to say that we have necessarily agreed with all their views, but at any rate they can be assured that their views have been scrutinised most closely.
Now to the Bill itself. It contains seven major provisions. With one exception, they all stem from the Report. I will deal with these in the order in which they occur in the Bill. The National Ports Council is the first one. Clauses 1 to 7, together with the First Schedule, provide for the establishment 1373 of a National Ports Council as a statutory body. The House will find that the functions of the Council are outlined in these provisions. These functions will be primarily advisory, with one' main exception. This relates to the hearing of objections made by port users to charges levied by port authorities.
The Government have thought it right to vest any necessary executive powers in the Minister. Apart from the case of port charges, the rest of the powers are vested in the Minister. This is because the Minister in effect will be answerable to the House. We felt it much better that the views of the House should be taken into consideration on some of the major decisions which might have to be made.
In particular, the Minister will be directly responsible for making Government finance available to the ports, but the Bill places a duty on the Minister to consult the Council in respect of the control of harbour development, the revision of harbour legislation, and financial assistance. Although the powers are vested in the Minister, he is bound by Statute to consult the Council.
In the same way, the Council is required to advise the Minister at his request or on its own initiative on anything connected with the improvement and management of harbours. The Council also has a general duty to assist and encourage harbour authorities to carry out their functions. I want to emphasise this main theme. The Council's main task will be to formulate comprehensive plans for improving and providing harbour facilities and also for supervising the execution of such plans when the Minister of the day has approved them.
There is another point on which great pressure has been brought to bear on me as Minister. It concerns how the members of the Council should be appointed. I have taken the line consistently—I shall always take this line—that the members of the Council have been and will be appointed on their individual ability and wide experience. They are not to be regarded as representing any sectional or geographical interests. I often get pressed with such questions as, "Why do not we have somebody from Wales? Why do not we 1374 have somebody from Scotland? Why do we not have somebody from some other sectional interests?" I have set my mind against that sort of appointment. I feel that the members should be chosen as independent men of integrity, with knowledge and experience, and should function as an independent body.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
Would it not be useful if, at any rate, some members of the Committee, indeed, most of them, had some knowledge of the dock industry?
§ Mr. Marples
All these various factors should be taken into account. The moment we start on the slippery slope of saying that they should represent sectional interests, the matter will become very difficult, because people will say, "What about the South-West? What about the North-East? What about Wales?"
§ Mr. Marples
Lord Rochdale spent a considerable amount of time going round our ports and docks during the preparation of the Report. We have managed to get him as the Chairman of the Council.
The Bill provides for the Council to promote research and training, either on its own initiative or on receipt of a direction from the Minister. If a direction is given, the Bill enables the Minister to contribute towards the cost. The Council's duties in training and education are restricted to non-industrial staff. The reason for this is that dock workers are already catered for by the Ministry of Labour. The Council will co-operate with the National Dock Labour Board or any training board set up under the Industrial Training Bill. Its expenses will be met out of charges levied on the industry. After much thought, I am sure that this is a right decision, because it will give the Council a proper measure of independence and it will encourage a close relationship between it and the port industry.
I know that the port industry thinks that this should be borne by the Exchequer, but I myself have taken a different view. The financial burden on 1375 the industry will be very small in relation to its total revenue. In the meantime, the Minister can make loans to the Council. These will help to finance the Council before the levy schemes start. The Minister has to confirm these schemes. Annual reports and statements of account from the Council will be laid before Parliament and these will keep the Government and Parliament informed of the Council's activities.
The control of harbour development, which is a second major issue, is dealt with in Clauses 8 and 9. This was one of the main recommendations of the Rochdale Committee's Report. The Government's decision to assume central control of major port investment is absolutely fundamental. These Clauses give the Minister power to prescribe by Order the kinds of harbour development which will need to have an authorisation before they can be undertaken. This will apply to harbour authorities or other persons, such as public wharfingers or oil or steel companies. It is essential that major port developments should be carried out at the right place and at the right time and that there should be no needless duplication of effort or expense.
The system we have in mind is called one of project control. I must stress that the intention is to interfere as little as possible with the managerial responsibilities of harbour authorities, but major works must be conceived and carried out in accordance with the national plan. Purely local considerations will not always be the only criterion. Works which will require the Minister's authorisation will be defined on the basis of their cost and their characteristics. They will include very expensive items of equipment, which are often needed with the specialised ships of today.
I said last July that the crucial question would be: what is the minimum figure over which the Government would exercise control? I still do not wish to be committed to any particular figure, and before I make an Order, if it falls to me to make one, I shall seek the views of the National Ports Council and the Dock and Harbour Authorities Association. However, I can repeat my previous assurance to the House that the amount to be fixed for control purposes will be a high one. It will be no part of the 1376 National Ports Council's duty to spend a great deal of time investigating minor works of improvement or maintenance.
§ Mr. Mellish
That is all very well, but we must take the Bill as it is drafted. There is no provision about cost written into the Bill, and as I understand that Clause application will have to be made to the National Ports Council and then be submitted to the Minister for approval. How is that to be avoided? Is it not possible, even at this stage, to say that the Minister would be prepared to write in a minimum figure under which any port or harbour could have the authority to go on with its own business, subject to overall approval, without having its day-to-day management interfered with?
§ Mr. Marples
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is a point to be avoided. The amount of what is minor or major works will depend upon the size of the port. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that it is not easy to fix a figure which would be suitable both for the Port of London Authority and for a smaller harbour.
One of the difficulties has been to find a way round this. I intend to consult the National Ports Council on what sort of rules and regulations we can make. I agree with the purpose that the hon. Member has in mind, which is that we do not want either the Minister or the Council to go fiddling around with the day-to-day management of the ports or interfering with them in small items of maintenance or capital expenditure. The main purpose of the National Ports Council is to deal with the larger items in the national interest, and any orders made, and they can be made under the Bill, will be subject to negative Resolution procedure. Therefore, the House will be able to discuss any of them.
Clauses 10, II and 12 of the Bill deal with Exchequer assistance for harbour works. The broad principles we have in mind are that all ports, as far as is reasonable and possible, should get similar treatment and similar facilities. They should operate as commercial undertakings, and development in the national interest and in accordance with the national plan should not be frustrated because a port cannot raise 1377 the money on reasonable terms. These principles will govern our use of these powers.
There are strong arguments for the Government to lend to ports only as a last resort. This is what the Rochdale Committee recommended. We think that it would be right to go further. About one-third of our major ports are under the control of the British Transport Docks Board and we are not changing the financial arrangements for them. We intend that for approved development schemes publicly controlled statutory harbour authorities should also have access to Exchequer funds at Government credit rates. These authorities will not have to borrow from the Exchequer. They can still raise money in the market if they wish, but they will know that they can apply for Exchequer loans not just as a last resort to finance approved development schemes at interest rates comparable to those which the British Transport Docks Board pays. We shall expect the publicly owned port authorities to order their financial affairs broadly on the principles in the White Paper on the Financial and Economic Obligations of the Nationalised Industries, Cmnd. 1337. We shall expect them to pay their way and earn an adequate return on their capital.
The same criteria, therefore, will apply to Government investment in ports whether the port is owned and controlled by the British Transport Docks Board or is a public trust or is owned by a municipal authority. This is broadly in accordance with the Rochdale recommendations. This will not apply in full to privately owned ports. The Government will lend to them, as a last resort, for projects in the national interest, but generally on market terms.
Grants have excited some interest in certain quarters from time to time, but we strongly agree with the Rochdale Committee that ports should be self-supporting and grants should be made only in exceptional circumstances. If we make a grant it means that operations are being subsidised in some ports but not in others handling the same type of traffic. The Minister can give financial assistance to ports for defence purposes under the Civil Defence Act, 1948, and under the Local Development 1378 Act, 1960, for transport facilities, which could include port facilities, in a development district.
Grant-making powers could also be used in a national emergency, such as the East Coast floods of 1953. Nevertheless, quite apart from these needs, circumstances could arise calling for a bridging operation. We accept that. For example, the full revenue from a fully approved new scheme might not accrue for a few years, or until much later for that matter, and the port might have no reserves. Such cases will be normally dealt with by the capitalisation of interest for a period, and the Bill provides for this in Clause 10(1, b). But there may be a few exceptional cases where this method of assistance will not do, and in. such cases Clause 11 will enable the Government to make a grant.
Clause 12 limits the amount which the Exchequer can provide. The first limit for loans and grants is £50 million. This can be extended to a maximum of £100 million by Resolution of the House. Let us not misunderstand these figures. There have been misunderstandings in the Press already. Some headlines have announced that the Government intend to spend £100 million on docks. That is a hopelessly inaccurate comment to make on the Bill. A limit must be placed on the amount that the Minister, with Treasury approval, can advance. But these figures do not have any relevance to what may be required.
The National Ports Council is hard at work on the preparation of a national plan. I am not prepared to forecast what this will involve in the way of Government financial assistance. The size of the figures we are putting in the Bill, which is in accordance with precedent, shows the importance we attach to making the ports fit for their responsibilities in the next 50 years. The amount of money may be more, it may be less. If we spend less, people should not say that the Government have not sufficient schemes. If it is more, I am sure that the House will react in a sensible way, but we had to have a limit put in the Bill which the House can consider at a suitable time.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards (Stepney)
Could the right hon. Gentleman make it quite 1379 clear that the Government are providing this money only by loan and that this must be repaid by the docks?
§ Mr. Marples
I have dealt with that. We hope that in most cases it will be by loan, but Clause 11 provides for grants in certain circumstances. Grants can be made, but I have tried to warn the House that grants for ports which should be self-supporting should be sparingly used and only in the most exceptional circumstances. Mostly the money must come back, but it will be loaned at Government rates of interest. The £75 million which the Government have loaned to the shipowners has been of material assistance to the shipbuilding industry, and the docks will be at much better advantage in getting credit than they have been previously when they have paid a much higher rate of interest.
§ Mr. Mark Woodnutt (Isle of Wight)
My right hon. Friend said that loans would be paid to ports in private ownership only if it were in the national interest to do so. If Trinity House used a privately-owned port would my right hon. Friend consider that to be in the national interest?
§ Mr. Marples
When I am dealing with general principles I cannot say what port would apply for or receive a grant. My hon. Friend should not press me at this stage to say. If a port in the Isle of Wight wanted to be considered as suitable for grant the National Ports Council would look at the case on its merits. When so many permutations and combinations can be put forward I do not think that when I am at the Dispatch Box, dealing with broad general principles, I could say at this stage what would qualify.
§ Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
Do I understand that loans made would come from a Government source, such as the Public Works Loans Board, or something of that description, and that the ports would not have to go on the open market? Would money so loaned be at a low rate of interest compared with the current market rates?
§ Mr. Marples
I do not know what the market rate would be at that time, but this would be at the Exchequer rate of 1380 interest, in the same way as the £75 million loaned to the shipowners to buy ships. The rate of interest varies from time to time and the Exchequer makes an assessment of the rate every few months. In some cases it has been 4⅞per cent, and in other cases 4¾ per cent. It fluctuates from month to month.
I could not say what the figure will be. It depends on how the whole structure of interest rates will move but, broadly speaking, it will be less than the market rate, and for the first time ports and docks will have access to Exchequer money at what I think the House will agree is a favourable rate of interest.
Clauses 13 to 16 and Schedule 2 and Schedule 3 deal with the making of Revision and Empowerment Orders. This provides a speedier and cheaper method of revising existing private legislation, and it gives the harbour authorities, existing or prospective, powers which they need to have. At present, the harbour authorities which require new powers or wish to amend their old ones must promote a private Bill or, for small ports, a provisional Order under an Act which is over 100 years old. This is time wasting, expensive, and bears hard on the small ports. The Rochdale Committee said that port statutes need revising—many of them are long standing arrangements—and it recommended that the Minister should be able to approve Amendments by Order. We accept this recommendation. Harbour authorities will in future have an expeditious and inexpensive means of bringing their legislation up to date.
On the application of a harbour authority, or anyone with a substantial interest in a port, the Minister will be able to make an order, called a Revision Order, to amend existing private Acts, or an Order, called an Empowerment Order, giving powers to manage, construct or improve a harbour. The Bill provides exhaustive safeguards under Schedule 3—advertisement, objection by any interested party, consideration by the National Ports Council and also by the Minister, public inquiry if necessary, and, finally, scrutiny through special parliamentary procedure.
Clause 14 empowers the Minister, on representation by "the Council, to make Revision Orders designed to reconstitute 1381 a harbour authority, to amend its constitution, or to regulate its procedure. The Rochdale Committee said that the constitutions of certain publicly controlled ports needed revising. This Clause will enable the Minister to modernise the constitution of a port which is not able, or not willing, to apply for an Order.
Clause 15 enables the Minister to establish new harbour authorities by means of a Statutory Instrument. This extends and modernises the out-dated Provisional Order procedure of the General Pier and Harbour Act, 1861. Existing requirements for planning permission and industrial development certificates will, of course, continue, and Parliament will have full opportunity to examine these Orders through the special parliamentary procedure.
Harbour authorities who wish to continue the Private Bill procedure will be able to do so, but I shall be surprised if many continue with the old procedure which was cumbersome and stopped a great deal of progress in this country and frustrated the hopes of many enterprising harbour authorities
I come now to reorganisation schemes. Estuarial grouping was one of the most important recommendations of the Rochdale Report. The Committee believed that important advantages would flow from the amalgamation of certain existing port undertakings on a local or estuarial basis. It said that appropriate scheme-making powers should be vested in the Minister—on the advice of the National Ports Council.
Clause 17 of the Bill and Schedule 4 give effect to that recommendation. The Minister can by Order confirm a scheme, proposed by the Council or by a harbour authority, to reorganise harbours or harbour functions within a defined area. The object is simply and solely the promotion of efficiency. There will be the fullest consultation, and, as I have said, adequate safeguards are provided. Proper compensation will also be provided.
The 1947 Transport Act provided that the planning and reorganisation of harbours were based on the general oversight of the British Transport Commission. It was the operator of the nationalised harbours, and therefore an interested party. The Act provided a means of extending the nationalised sector of the 1382 port industry, and, since the Commission was responsible for drawing up schemes, it would have been reasonable to expect that this is what such schemes would have achieved.
The Rochdale Committee firmly rejected further nationalisation in the port industry, in the sense of central control and direct ownership by the Crown. The Government agree with this recommendation. Indeed, the whole concept of an independent non-operational National Ports Council stems from the view that operational control of harbours, as distinct from broad planning, should be left to local management. Schemes for harbour reorganisation must be tailored to the needs and circumstances of the estuary or area.
We have no preconceived ideas about abolishing the British Transport Docks Board, or about denationalising any particular port We are not committed to the public trust system, municipalisation, or nationalisation as the ideal system. We want to judge each case on all the relevant considerations, and I am sure that the Opposition will be glad to know that we want to be realistic and non-doctrinaire—possibly the only party in the House that has that as an ideal.
§ Mr. Mellish
Do I gather that the House will have an opportunity for discussing and confirming any reorganisation scheme which is propounded, probably by affirmative Resolution? We want to get this clearly understood, because the right hon. Gentleman will know that in the Clause to which he has referred there is a reference to "special Parliamentary procedure". What does it mean?
§ Mr. Marples
It is fairly complicated and it will require a great deal of telling. If I explained the special Parliamentary procedure, the lawyers on both sides of the House would have a great quarrel. The hon. Gentleman has been in this House as long as I have, and his knowledge of the special Parliamentary procedure is probably greater than mine.
§ Mr. Mellish
This is extremely important, because Members will want to express their own points of view. They may be concerned with individual ports. We have not reached the final stage of the Bill. Is it the right hon. Gentleman's desire to ensure that each Order on reorganisation is discussed on the Floor of the House and approved by affirmative Resolution? If it is, perhaps this can be worked out in detail in Committee, so that we may know what the right hon. Gentleman thinks about it.
§ Mr. Marples
It will not always be brought on to the Floor of the House. If a Member is interested, he will have the right, and indeed the power, to raise the matter under the special parliamentary procedure; and I am sure that he will find a way of doing so.
I deal next with the control of movement of ships in harbours. Clauses 18 to 21 will enable the Minister to make Control of Movement Orders on application from harbour authorities. These orders will not provide for controlling the handling of ships. This is for masters and pilots, but these Orders will enable the control authority to route a ship and to time her movement. They will also provide for such matters as the method of control and the equipment required. This is primarily a safety provision to give additional help to ships moving in limited visibility. It brings up to date the harbour master's long-standing powers to control shipping in a harbour. There is provision for objections and inquiry, and the Orders will be subject to negative Resolution.
§ Mr. Mellish
We appreciate that this provision is designed for safety. What consultation did the right hon. Gentleman have with the appropriate organisations concerned? Was there full consultation with all those responsible for the movement of shipping?
§ Mr. Marples
We have had consultations with a wide variety of people, but I do not know whether we consulted the body or authority which the hon. Gentleman has in mind. Originally, we had much more stringent views on this because we wanted to make certain compulsory legislation, but various interested parties said that it 1384 would be too onerous on them. We therefore withdrew it and put in these milder regulations. We have been working hard on the Bill for about six months, and we have seen as many people as we could in that time. My hon. and gallant Friend and I have had consultations with a number of people on this point. We think that we have now got what is acceptable to most authorities.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South East)
I recently added the Presidency of the United Kingdom Pilots' Association to other offices that I hold. The pilots are very concerned about their rights in the matter of safety. Has he consulted this Association? Can he give us an assurance that there will be nothing in these reorganisation schemes to interfere with the responsibility of the pilots for deciding when a ship should move?
§ Mr. Marples
I give that assurance, because in my earlier remarks I said that the question of the movement and handling of ships would be for masters and pilots.
§ Mr. Marples
The reorganisation schemes will not provide for the movement and handling of ships.
I deal next with harbour charges. A large part of the Bill—Clauses 22 to 36—deal with harbour charges. These are highly technical provisions, and I propose to leave them for detailed examination at a later stage. The principal object is to free harbour authorities from existing statutory limitations on the charges they levy. It follows the general line of the Rochdale Committee's recommendations and is consistent with the freedom given to the British Railways Board under the Transport Act, 1962. The present procedure for seeking a revision of charges is cumbersome and time wasting. It could discourage harbour authorities from varying their rates as they should if they are to keep their finances healthy. The Bill gives harbour authorities the freedom they should have.
But certain ports are in a quasi-monopolistic position, and so we have accepted the Rochdale Committee's 1385 view that users should be properly safeguarded. The principal safeguard is the users' right of objection to the Council against ship, passenger and goods dues, which port users cannot avoid paying. But in cargo handling and warehousing, harbour authorities are usually competing with other organisations, and users have a freedom of choice, or can avoid making use of the services.
The Dock and Harbour Authorities' Association has urged me to include in the Bill a formula to guide the Council in considering objections. I have no objection at all to such a formula, but we have found it very difficult to devise an effective one. It is not easy to devise one which is fair and reasonable. If any hon. Member has a good formula and comes forward with it, either in this debate or in Committee, I shall be willing to go into it in great detail. So far, we have been unable to find one. The 1954 Act contains a formula, but it deals with only one aspect of the kind of objection that the Council will have to consider. I prefer to leave the Council to consider objections on their merits. In time a body of "case law" will probably be built up, but I am willing to consider any suggestions.
Clause 28 gives powers to revise ship, passenger and goods dues on the recommendation of the Minister. This is to make sure that harbour authorities are charging enough to enable them to provide for the necessary depreciation, reserves and for future development. This follows a recommendation of the Rochdale Committee. But the powers are vested in the Minister and not the Council. We are sure this is right, in view of the nature of the powers. We hope that the powers will seldom if ever be used. They are reserve powers.
§ Mr. Mellish indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Marples
The hon. Member for Bermondsey is shaking his head in a negative way. Hon. Members will remember that we had a similar provision in the Road Traffic Act, 1960. I believe that in Section 11 I had default powers over local authorities. I then made a similar pledge, and said that I hoped they would never be used, and they never have.
§ Mr. Mellish
There is no point in giving that example. It has nothing to do with these harbours and charges. This allows for the possibility of the Minister's making a charge which could put a harbour authority "in the red". It has nothing to do with road traffic.
§ Mr. Marples
It is a similar kind of power to that contained in the Road Traffic Act, 1960. At that time the House expressed great concern lest I should use these default powers unwisely or unfairly. I have not used them at all. The fact that they were there has been sufficient to ensure reasonable treatment by all local authorities. These powers are similar in principle. We must have them in reserve, especially as the Government will finance port development to a greater extent. It should, therefore, have some say in the return coming from certain ports.
To safeguard the special position of the fishing industry, the Bill provides that the Council will consult the White Fish Authority or the Herring Industry Board on any objection relating to fish or fishing vessels.
I now turn to information and accounts. Clause 37 provides that harbour authorities and others must give the Council all the information it needs. Any information that the Minister needs can be obtained from the Council under Clause 7, and the Council's powers to obtain information will be exercised in accordance with any general direction by the Minister.
Clause 38 provides that harbour authorities must render annual accounts in a form prescribed by the Minister. This will make it easier to compare the accounts of different ports and to make sure that they contain the particulars needed and show how the business is progressing. The Rochdale Committee drew special attention to the need for more statistics and better accounting procedures. Any adequate and properly based programme of development depends on the collection and analysis of regular and detailed information, including reliable statements and estimates of cost and revenue.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)
What provisions will there be for future accountability to this House? Will they 1387 vary in any way from what we have been used to in other nationalised boards and bodies?
§ Mr. Marples
No. The statements will be brought before this House so that everybody will know what is happening. I am sure that it will be possible to raise questions in the usual way.
What about the ports themselves—because two-thirds of the recommendations of the Rochdale Committee were directed to the ports themselves. They have already taken action on many of the recommendations, in relation to preparing plans for port development, revising their accounting procedures, overhauling staffing and management techniques, and so on.
The Bill provides a statutory framework for the modernisation of our ports, and offers a great deal of money to that end—for the small ones as well as the big ones, but it is up to the ports themselves to make a success of it. In the last resort all depends on the management of the ports. Our aim is to encourage a spirit of co-operation and partnership between the ports, the Council and the Government. We want to create a flexible system, combining, if possible, the virtues of central planning in major items with the advantages of local management. We want to make sure that ports develop and adapt themselves to meet the needs of trade and shipping. We want them to be able to foresee future requirements early enough to provide properly for them.
But if they are to foresee those requirements early enough it is important that the ports, in their calculations, should take into account the increased trade that we expect this country to do in the next fifty years, both in respect of imports and exports.
§ Sir Colin Thornton-Kemsley (North Angus and Mearns)
My right hon. Friend is leaving the detailed explanation of the Clauses, and he seems to have slipped past Clause 47. Is it not possible for some of the provisions of the Bill, at least, to be made to apply to small harbours in Scotland which are used either for inshore fishing or transport to the Highlands, because they are in a quite different category from larger 1388 ports? It seems to me that there would be great advantage in making some of the provisions of the Bill apply to them.
§ Mr. Marples
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. This is an important point. We had many discussions on something which, to be quite frank, did not mean anything to me until I got the Bill. This was on something called "marine works". I understand that they are fishery harbours in Scotland.
We have excluded marine works and fishery harbours because we feel that the smaller harbours do not fit in with the concept that we have in mind for reorganisation. I must confess that we had them in the Bill to start with, and then we excluded them because there are not many of them, and they are not concerned with this type of development.
My hon. and gallant Friend will deal with the matter in greater detail in reply to the debate, but if the House should express a wish for them to be included we will consider it. We went first one way and then the other. I think that there are only about four marine works in Scotland.
§ Mr. Marples
We thought that they should be excluded because the things that we are trying to bite on concern the main ports such as London, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board—such things as trying to help imports and exports of major goods. If too much effort were devoted to questions of marine works in Scotland and fishery harbours in England, and whatever they are called in Wales—I hope that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) knows what they are called in Wales, in view of his recent appointment—it would be difficult.
§ Mr. Popplewell
Some time ago, in discussing minor ports and fishing ports, a tentative promise was made that further examination would be given to the possibility of a later report. Has the Minister abandoned that idea, or is it still in his mind?
§ Mr. Marples
I have not abandoned the idea. It is not my duty, as Minister of Transport, to have an idea on that question. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and 1389 Food is responsible for these ports in England and Wales and the Secretary of State for Scotland in Scotland. They do not come under me, but my two colleagues said, "Let us have them in the Bill". However, as I say, they are not my responsibility.
I would rather not have them in the Bill because I want to get on with the task of dealing with the major ports as quickly as I can. If we clutter up the Bill with too many ports we will not make the progress that we want to make.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
Is there not some confusion about the ports to which this applies? If it does not apply to a certain port, I presume that the Council will have no power over it?
§ Mr. Marples
The ports are denned in an agricultural Act. I think that there are 95 fishery harbours or ports dealt with in an agricultural Act, the name of which escapes me, but I will send it to my hon. Friend. But there is no confusion. I understand that they are listed in the Second Schedule of the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1951.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I have listened carefully to the Minister's exposition, but I am not clear about what I think is an important point. Suppose that an oil company or an iron ore company wants to build a jetty out with a harbour as defined in this list. What is the procedure? Will its investment projects be co-ordinated and will the Minister or the National Ports Council have any control over that investment?
§ Mr. Marples
Yes. The hon. Gentleman has made a very good intervention. Any oil company or iron ore company which wishes to carry out major projects will come within this in the same way as the Port of London Authority.
I believe that hon. Members on both sides believe in the principle of the Bill, and I believe that they all want to make our ports and docks more efficient than they are. This is the right way to do it. I do not think that there will be a division on party lines. I think that this will be one of the few non-controversial Measures with which I have anything to do. That will be an unusual experience. We have tried to make this a first-class Bill and I hope that during its passage 1390 I shall have the support of all hon. Members, whatever their party.
I hope that today's debate will range over the many important principles involved and will not get tied up with the needs and problems of individual ports too much. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] I was only hoping. I did not say that Iv expected that. I said that I hoped, and even in this House I am entitled to express a hope from time to time. We fully realise the great importance of individual ports, but the Bill deals with principles and I do not think that it would be desirable to introduce too much detail about individual ports. However, this is a free country and a free House, and hon. Members can say what they like. Even the Front Bench opposite have intimated that I have been very good today, and that means that I shall probably lose the party Whip.
I am very grateful to the House for listening to me today and for the reception which we received when the Rochdale Report was debated in the House. I started the National Ports Council on a non-statutory basis, because, after the reception we had in that debate, I felt that it would be the wish of the House that we should move as fast as possible in implementing the Rochdale Committee's recommendations in the main. I realise that there may be arguments about individual cases and certain points, but I have tried hard to move fast, and I therefore hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading without a Division.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
I say at once that the Minister can be assured that the Bill will get an unopposed Second Reading. As the Minister knows, when the Rochdale Report was first published, and in the debate on 10th July, we expressed our desire that a national ports plan should be formulated, and we indicated that we would do anything to assist in that plan.
The fact that members of the Government Front Bench now use the word "planning" so freely intrigues us very much. It was not so long ago that the word "planning" was a dirty word to hon. Members opposite. Now it is accepted as a matter of course, and for that we are grateful. We support the 1391 Bill's principles, but I must tell the Parliamentary Secretary that there will be many detailed questions for him to answer when he replies to the debate, because many of those who have an interest in this Bill are most unhappy about it, as he will find as I make my speech.
Before I deal with the detail of the Bill, may I say that, whatever emerges from our discussions, the Bill, when it becomes an Act, will not succeed unless there are harmonious and happy relations in the dock industry. To achieve that, we must say a few words about the present labour situation in dockland. It is important that they should be said. It may be argued that there is nothing in the Bill which is concerned with dock labour. That I concede at once; but we could not have a Bill of this kind unless people were prepared to work its provisions.
Decasualisation has been mentioned in debates in this House before. Looking back on the history of dockland, the word "decasualisation" has been bandied about since about 1928, but according to my advice, we are as far away from decasualisation as we have been for a long time. General principles have been agreed, but, I am sorry to say, no details have been worked out. I want to put this on record, because when I come to my criticisms of the Bill the Minister will see that my earlier remarks will have been relevant.
Unless we get decasualisation soon, the Bill will not be worth the paper it is written on. Unless the men, in particular, and the management are prepared to work with the Minister and the National Ports Council, the Bill will be an empty thing. As I say, the unions and employers have agreed in principle on decasualisation, but they have not agreed in detail. It has been proposed that a decasualisation scheme might be projected for one or two major ports. London and Liverpool have, I believe, been suggested as being the ideal ports because of the size of their labour force.
One of the things bothering the two sides is who will operate a scheme of decasualisation. Some people—and I support them—believe that the National Dock Labour Board must be involved in any decasualisation scheme. In our 1392 view, the Board's present powers would have to be amended to allow it to continue, but it should be the prime factor in organising a decasualisation scheme, together with the matters of welfare, pensions, research, and so on. We want the powers of the Board to be extended and not diminished.
It is against that background that there is a great deal of argument. May I put this to the Minister, because he is as anxious to see the Bill work as we are. He and the Minister of Labour might well consider what they can do to bring about decasualisation more quickly. The vast majority of the men in every port are anxious and hopeful about seeing the introduction of a decasualisation scheme, certainly in their lifetime. I now come to the Bill. I understand that harbour authorities are very upset by the Bill. We had the Rochdale Report, which they welcomed in principle, and then we had a debate on 10th July, which they have read. They supported much of what the Minister said in that debate. He stated:First, … there is an urgent need for the development of a co-ordinated national plan for port development.That we agree.Secondly, … this plan should be developed by a central planning agency…That we agree.Thirdly, … the essential instrument to secure this should be the control of capital investment…"—[Official Report, 10th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 1251.]We took it for granted that a Council would be established which would be, in the main, an advisory body. The Minister used that term in his speech today. However, Clause 1(1,a) goes far beyond what the Minister said. It requires the Council to undertake detailed planningfor the improvement of existing, and the provision of new, harbours and of services and facilities providedthereat and to supervise the putting into effect of the plans. The Clause, as worded, extends to all works, services and facilities, however small.
In our view the Council will not have the necessary technical staff to carry out the job and will not be able to plan in the way envisaged. It will not be able to plan it in the way envisaged. At the back of it all are the overall 1393 powers of the Minister. Does the Minister believe that this Clause, which has upset harbour authorities so greatly, is right and justified? He must expect that when we come to Committee we shall try to amend it. The Bill will not work unless we get good will. There is only one man in the country who could have achieved the discontent and concern felt as a result of the Bill, and that is the Minister himself. He has a knack of attracting trouble to himself.
We had the Rochdale Committee's Report, which everyone supported, and a debate that everyone welcomed, and now we have a Bill which the harbour authorities dislike intensely and the unions are very suspicious about. In fact, the only person happy about it is the Minister. I thought that we would have a happy Committee stage. I thought that the Bill would go upstairs and, after two or three meetings, go through rather smartly. There are many details to be discussed, but in general principle, I did not think that we were quarrelling.
We think that the Minister has gone so far in Clause I as to take powers which can mean, at the end of the day, the control by the National Ports Council of all the detailed work inside a harbour or dock. That may not be the meaning of the Minister, but this is what he says, and it is in the Bill. We can only go on what is in the Bill and not what he says. Most of us hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not be in office much longer. A couple of months would be plenty.
Clause 2 deals with the promotion by the Council of research and training. This I personally welcome, as, I think, we all do. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to say something a little more than the right hon. Gentleman the Minister has told us. Is it proposed that the Council itself should have a large technical staff, because I want to know what the Government are thinking about in terms of the Council in the future, what sort of administrative set-up it is to have, and what its powers and functions will be? I think that it would be a good thing for the National Ports Council, as I think the Minister said, to cooperate with the National Dock Labour Board and extend a training scheme at the lowest possible level as well as at the highest. 1394 We want our people, where it is practicable, to be trained for managerial posts; it is a very fine thing. Let us encourage in dock labour the belief that the docker can one day come from the very bottom of the ladder and go to the very top. Let us encourage that, and let us see what is meant by this Clause. I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would give us more details on it.
Because of the criticism I have mentioned on Clause 1, harbour authorities are now objecting to Clause 3 which deals with the provision of funds for the National Ports Council. Under that Clause it is to be the duty of the Council to impose on harbour authorities, by means of a scheme or schemes made by it; a levy which will pay for the exercise and performance of its powers as a Ports Council. It will pay towards the Council's salaries, pensions and administrative expenses. This is a bit odd. Imagine a port like the Port of Barry. It might be decided by the National Ports Council that the port is redundant. It might decide that in long term it should be closed down. It will be annoying for the harbour authority of that port to know that it is contributing to the expenses of the Council and helping to pay the salaries and pensions of the people who intend to fold it up.
This is a charge that should be borne by the Exchequer. The Government are setting this up, and there is no reason why the harbour authorities should have to pay for it at all. If, in some other form, a levy could be made upon the harbour authorities so be it, but I do not think that it should be written into the Bill in this way, because it has already caused some offence, and I ask the Minister to look at it again.
Clause 8 is the all-important Clause with regard to harbour development. Here again, I think that the Minister has written into the Bill too much detail and is taking too much power. If hon. Members look at subsection (l,e) they will see that the National Ports Council and the Minister have taken power to deal withthe acquisition or taking on hire of plant or equipment …It is no good the Minister saying to us today, "It is my intention that these 1395 people shall be left alone. No one will be allowed to interfere in day-today management". The Bill as it now reads means that if any harbour authority wants to buy a single crane, or wants to put up a brick wall, it will have to go to the Minister to ask permission.
In the debate on 10th July I asked the right hon. Gentleman about the amount of money that the harbour authorities would be allowed to spend. I made a very good speech. I said:The Minister talked about a minimum amount He did not mention a figure, but he said that he hoped that a minimum amount of money would be given to a particular port or ports, which they would decide for themselves how best to use via the new National Ports Council. I have heard it said today in discussions with some of my hon. Friends that the Minister earlier spoke of a figure in the region of £ ½ million. I hope that this is true.Up jumped the Minister on that occasion to say:I deliberately refrained from mentioning a figure, but I said that I hoped that the figure about which the permission of the National Ports Council would be necessary would be a reasonably high one, so that there would not be any interference with the day today management of a port."—[Official Report, 10th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 1358–9.]I said that I sincerely hoped that we would soon be told what that figure is to be.
Now we have the Bill. No figure is mentioned. The Minister has said that he sees some difficulty about this. Let him have another look at it. I ask him to consult the harbour authorities. He had better write something into the Bill, because I do not see how he can expect harbour authorities to accept this Clause as it is, with all the good will in the world. The London Port Authority, at the moment, I believe, has eight cranes on order. They will cost a lot of money, possibly in the region of £1 million. Is it to go to the Council and ask when it is all right to use them? The Minister had better have an answer to this and so had the Parliamentary Secretary. These cranes are already on the way and, in fact, may not be delivered until after the Bill has become law. The Authority might then find that they are cranes which the Minister will not allow it to have. 1396 My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) raised a point which I should like to elaborate. In Clause 8(5) the Minister makes reference to the Iron and Steel board and the Iron and Steel Act, 1953. When the Parliamentary Secretary replies I should like to know a little more about that. The Iron and Steel Board have in mind, I believe, establishing two or three projects somewhere in South Wales. Can we be told whether there will be any interference with the plans promoted here for these particular harbours? We ought to know. I gather that there must be a reason for putting this Clause in and we would be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would give us a full answer.
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
Will my hon. Friend say something about lines 7 and 8 of Clause 8(1), where the Minister is proposing to take almost almighty power to himself as to what he will prohibit and what he will allow? Will my hon. Friend say something about the judgment of the Minister? We have seen his judgment in other respects.
§ Mr. Mellish
I am sorry that my hon. Friend did not get called in the last debate. I hope that he will get called this time, so that he can ask the questions himself. The control of harbour development in the way that it is now written has caused anxiety among the harbour authorities, and, as the Bill is worded, control is taken by the Minister on almost every detail.
What is even more important is Clause 17, dealing with harbour reorganisation schemes. The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not understand the reference to special Parliamentary procedure and seemed to think this quite humorous. Most of us here regard that procedure, however, as one of the most serious aspects of the Bill. I understand that it is inevitable, in any national plan, that some ports or harbour authorities will have to close down, but the Government must not do that without taking account of social consequences.
If the Ports Council is to judge the finances of a port or harbour authority purely on its balance sheet and ignores the social consequences, it will be a very sad situation. Viability of finance is only one aspect and hon. Members 1397 should have every right to ensure that there is full discussion of any proposal to merge a port with another or close it down. Unless we have an assurance of that nature, then I warn the right hon. Gentleman that there will be an awful row about this in Committee. He will find out then what special Parliamentary procedure is. He should know now. He is paid to know. He should find out what it is all about.
§ Mr. John Arbuthnot (Dover)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that for the special Parliamentary procedure should be substituted a Provisional Order Bill?
§ Mr. Mellish
The hon. Gentleman is confusing the issue. All I ask, in simple terms, is that the Minister should give an assurance that, when the Ports Council decides, with this confirmation, to close a port, he will ensure that an Order or Motion is put before the House so that: it may debate the matter and, on an affirmative Resolution, decide whether or not it should be done.
If someone will put that into good parlance, or say it from the Government Front Bench in this debate, or in Committee, or will write it into the Bill, we shall be satisfied up to a point. Then, all hon. Members representing constituencies with ports or harbours which may be closed will have a right to say something. We in London are interested in this, as well, because it is possible that Clause 17 may affect some parts of the London dock area and I do not want my hon. Friends representing dockland constituencies to be denied the right to put their point of view.
Clause 18 concerns schemes for the control of movement of ships in harbours, and I am amazed that it has been drafted in this form without discussion with those responsible for the control of movements in harbours. I have never been a Minister of the Crown and I do not suppose that I ever shall be, but I should have thought that, in considering such a provision, the first thing to do would be to go not to the parliamentary draftsmen but to people like the Merchant Navy officers and others who really know what all this is about.
The Minister said that he had had consultations but he did not know who he was talking to. This Clause horrifies 1398 those responsible for safety. I have here a letter from the Merchant Navy and Airline Officers Association. The Association is not affiliated to the T.U.C. and I cannot be accused of being partisan on this argument. It is a worth-while and honourable organisation. Its general secretary is Mr. D. S. Tennant, who is a Companion of the British Empire.
The letter deals with the provisions in Clause 18. On the requirements as to safety equipment aboard ships, it points out that the Minister is taking power to ensure that he can decide what equipment ships shall have on board for safety purposes. It says that the first question arising from this is whether this will apply only to British ships, or whether the Minister intends to apply it to foreign ships as well.
The letter points out that unilateral action by Britain on safety equipment to be used by all ships in our harbours might bring about retaliation by foreigners. What about the Americans? If we adopt this attitude they might well decide that British ships visiting their ports should have American designed safety equipment on board. I would not put it past them, for they are not very well disposed to our Merchant Navy. The Association adds:The practical and proper procedure would be international agreement resulting in an international convention.I do not know the people who will frame these regulations, but I certainly think that the Merchant Navy officers should be consulted. What happens if the master of a ship decides, for reasons good enough to him, to ignore the orders laid down? He may have very good reasons—language difficulties, engine breakdown, or some other cause. But there is nothing in the Clause to deal with these practical emergencies.
What about navigational aids in bad weather? These people want to know whether, if they carry out orders which may be given them in future, they will be covered. Would the Government indemnify them? They are experts in their own right and the Minister had no right to put this Clause into the Bill without consulting them and others who are experts on harbours and ports.
I want an assurance that, before we get to Committee, the Government will draft Amendments to the Clause to 1399 accord with the wishes and desires of the harbour authorities, the pilots and all others engaged in sailing ships. That is a logical thing to ask and no party politics are involved. The Government can scarcely claim credit for this Clause when they have not yet ratified the Safety of Life at Sea Convention signed in 1960. Why has that not yet been done? The Minister can surely see why it is that so many people are disturbed by the way the Bill has been drafted. There has not been adequate consultation with interested parties.
Clause 27 deals with the right of objection to dues for ships, passengers and goods. This is a technical argument and I recognise that it may be a managerial one. The Minister wanted a formula and I ask him to look at the formula in the Transport Charges and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1954. I do not know whether the wording used there could apply in this case, but it is very important that there should be an adequate formula for right of objection to these dues. The right hon. Gentleman has civil servants and lawyers behind him to do the job, and, again, it is a matter of consultation.
I want the right hon. Gentleman to understand that I am not making carping criticisms. We must have good relations with all concerned if this scheme is to work. Most of these authorities are public trusts and it is against this background that the Minister mould view the matter.
Clause 28, concerning the Minister's power to revise the dues of ships, passengers and goods, is bitterly opposed by the harbour authorities. I am advised by them that it is unprecedented. They point out that harbour authorities are in competition with each other and each is responsible for seeing that its undertaking is financially viable. The Rochdale Committee accepted that ports should be run as commercial undertakings, and I support that.
I believe it wrong constitutionally that the Minister, on the advice of the Ports Council, should be able to alter port charges in a way which might well affect the whole financial stability of an undertaking. Yet that is what this Clause would give him power to do. No doubt we shall get from the Government the 1400 reply, "But we do not intend to do it". If that is the case, why take the power to do it?
I know that many other hon. Members want to speak so I will conclude. Whilst we do not oppose the Bill on Second Reading we shall do our best after consulting all the interested parties, to put down Amendments to strengthen the Bill. Unless we get the good will of the harbour authorities, those who earn their living on the water and the dock workers—unless we achieve united good will—there is no hope for legislation like this.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to ensure that his Ministry makes every possible effort to consult everyone concerned so that, between us, we get an agreed Measure. I know that that is hard to achieve, but at least we should try to understand other points of view. Speaking as the son of a dock worker, and as the Member for a dockland constituency, I long for the day when the dock industry not only has a proud past but, for the first time in its life, a secure future.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Sir Samuel Storey (Stretford)
It may seem strange that the representative of an inland town should seek to intervene in a debate about harbours, but, of course, I have a strong constituency interest in the Manchester Ship Canal and the Port of Manchester. The foresight. courage and efficiency that created the canal not only restored Manchester as a commercial and industrial centre, but brought prosperity to Salford, and was also the reason for the great conglomeration of industry in Trafford Park, in my constituency.
Having said that about the Manchester Ship Canal Company, I want to add, so that the company does not get the wrong impression, that it has its failings. Many of my constituents complain that the canal smells abominably, while the company's ideas of ferrying people from Urmston to Irlam, if not antediluvian, are at least Victorian.
Manchester, as a port, differs from all others not only because it is an inland port, but because, in its constitution, it is a welding of local authority investment and of private enterprise. Manchester Corporation owns no less than 1401 £7 million of capital and private enterprise has supplied another £8 million. It also differs from all other ports in that the authority provides all the services that users of the port require which are generally provided by other bodies and individual firms.
No particular interest compels ships to use the port of Manchester. Its prosperity depends entirely upon the efficiency of the service it offers and the competitiveness of its charges. It is because of this need for efficiency and competitiveness that the company has misgivings about its position in relation to the function and measures of control proposed for the National Ports Council and the Minister under the Bill.
Those concerns are as to the control of capital investment, the control of charges which may be made and the lack of provision of any compensation if the policy of the Ports Council should lessen the viability of the company's undertakings. On account of the fact that the authority itself provides the facilities required by users in Manchester, the company feels that its competitive and commercial enterprise should not be hampered by too strict control of capital expenditure.
The company therefore asks that a substantial limit on what it may spend without getting permission from the Ports Council should be written into the Bill, ft has to undertake schemes of capital expenditure to make the port efficient, and it wants to be able to do so quickly and effectively and not to be delayed by having to seek permission.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
Will the hon. Member say whether the company will be content with the original recommendation of the Rochdale Committee, which confined the powers of the Minister and the Council to a sum above a minimum figure for capital expenditure?
§ Sir S. Storey
I think that I am right in saying that it would be content if the sum was substantial. For the special works which it undertakes itself it feels that there should be a high level below which it could do the work without needing permission.
Because of the need for competitive prices, the company feels that the controls to be made available to the Ports 1402 Council and the Minister might hinder the operation of its business. It asks that in the special circumstances of the port it should be given power to determine the level of charges within the ground work of the methods of control which at present exist and which give rights to consumers to be heard if they object to the charges.
Finally, the company realises that the policy of the Ports Council and of the Minister might lead to a transfer of traffic to other ports. It therefore regrets that no provision is made for compensation if that policy adversely affects the prosperity of the company's business and the interests of its shareholders, both local authority and private enterprise. It feels that some provision should be included in the Bill for compensation if its business is affected.
How these things are to be done I do not want to discuss now, for they are points which can be discussed in Committee. All I want to do now is to place on record these facts and these causes of anxiety to the authority which controls this magnificent undertaking, which is of such benefit to the area which I represent. I hope that the Minister will give them sympathetic consideration between now and the Bill's Committee stage.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle upon Tyne, West)
I am sure that I shall echo the views of most people who have thought about this subject if I say that we welcome the proposals for the establishment of a central authority for our ports. This is an essential prerequisite to a properly planned and co-ordinated port system. My party indicated its line in the debate on the Rochdale Report. However, I doubt whether the procedure for setting up an entirely new National Ports Council is the best way of dealing with this matter.
What will be the effect of this new body on the existing British Transport Docks Board and on the many nonprofit-making port authorities? In spite of what the Minister had to say about the Docks Board, an authority controlling one-third of the country's ports, we may find it reduced to the status of an estuarial authority by the 1403 establishment of a National Ports Council.
The Council is to consist of no fewer than seven or more than 11 members. The Minister did not say whether they were to be full-time or part-time members. It is essential to know whether the members of the Council are to be specialists giving all their time to the modernisation and development of our port system, or merely part-time. Nor am I certain about the Council's powers. It may formulate plans for improvements of dock facilities and, subject to the Minister's approval, supervise putting them into effect, but my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) was right to argue the case for the harbour authorities.
The Bill says that the Council is to encourage harbour authorities to make their harbours efficient, but will not that detract from the responsibility of those authorities? It is clear that those authorities will retain nothing like their present powers. The Minister might have spent more time on this subject, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give us more details about it.
I am also interested in the type of people to be appointed to the Council. The Minister tried to make it clear that he would not appoint anyone with sectional interests, but the Bill makes clear the qualifications of those he will appoint. An important group with considerable experience of port operations is to be found in those local authorities with ports in their areas. Local authorities take great pride in the development of their ports and harbours and ought to be represented on the new Council. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, for instance, has recently spent £750,000 on the development of port facilities. Like other local authorities with ports, it is extremely proud of its port facilities and is determined to make them even more efficient. This local authority has many decades of experience of the management of a port, and the Minister should take note of the existence of people with such experience.
The Bill again demonstrates the Government's complete failure to appreciate the importance of transport as a whole and to relate it to the needs of the nation. It is more evidence of their 1404 piecemeal approach to transport. It deals with docks and ports in isolation from other forms of transport. The new Council is to be responsible for making ports efficient, but it has no duty to have discussions with the Minister's own Department about the layout of roads and road approaches, with the B.T.C. about rail approaches, and with the National Institute of Surveyors, which has prepared a plan for road development which could be linked to that for ports and docks. One cannot complain of the appointment of a body to consider a specific undertaking, but before that was done there should have been a comprehensive plan for transport as a whole in which docks and ports could have played their part, especially with a view to an increase in the export trade.
Among the recommendations of the Rochdale Committee was that Barry Port should be closed. However, I hope that the Council will consider that recommendation. Again, we have an indication of the Minister's lack of drive and energy. He appoints bodies to consider subjects, but he limits their range. Barry is a port through which the National Coal Board has brought about a remarkable increase in coal exports, and its closure would be detrimental to that export trade.
The Rochdale Report did not make a recommendation about the Tyne, which was more or less dismissed by the suggestion that port development in the North-East should be concentrated on the Tees. I hope that the Minister will direct the Council to take a different approach. We have spent two days dealing with the need of development districts to attract new industries. We have spoken of the need for the development of three new towns, Washington, Aycliffe and Ashington, in the North-East. A programme for these areas is to be developed. It is clear that development of port facilities on Tyne-side would greatly benefit the hinterland which is capable of producing many commodities which would be valuable in the export market.
Here again, we see how difficult it may be if there is not some other central authority charged with the task of examining everything. I am thinking particularly of the Humber ports. After the tremendous expense involved in the 1405 Humber area by the British Transport Docks Board, it would be more sensible if the docks could be taken over by the Board as distinct from operating on an estuarial basis. The Minister was careful to say that he had no intention of destroying the Docks Board. But actions speak louder than words, and in those Clauses giving the right hon. Gentleman power to reorganise and to develop on estuarial lines as recommended by the Rochdale Report, there is an apparent danger.
To me there seems to be a case for the provision of a central authority to consider the question of transport at the docks and the possible changes in ownership of harbours and docks. It might be the right time for those responsible for transport to become responsible for the docks. Those who handle the material must know most about questions of shipping, berthing and other activities at the docks.
The British Transport Commission through its Docks Board took over one-third of the ports in the country in 1947 at a time when they were showing a loss of £3,250,000. By 1961 that deficit had been turned into a working surplus of £4¼million. This was achieved at a time when coal exports, which form such an important part of the national economy, had been reduced from 20 million tons to 10 million tons. The Minister said that his approach was not doctrinaire, but I suggest that it comes near to being so if he has not examined the matters to which I have referred.
If we wish to modernise our port system the most essential prerequisite is to secure the good will of labour and manpower. There is no reference to that in the Bill except in Schedule I where in paragraph 7 it states:The Council shall …pay to their officers and servants such remuneration as they may determine, and … as regards any officers or servants in whose case it may be determined by the Council with the approval of the Minister so to do, pay to or in respect of them such pensions …What a contrast between this line of approach to labour relations and the provisions contained in some of the legislation initiated by the former Labour Government.
In Clause 2(1,b) the Minister lays down that the only training and 1406 educational schemes envisaged relate not to the dock worker but more to clerical and supervisory types of personnel.
§ Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)
I believe that that is taken into account in a Bill now before the House, the Industrial Training Bill.
§ Mr. Popplewell
That Bill does not deal with this type of thing. It is something entirely different. If it were intended by the Minister that the Ports Council should play its part the Minister would have referred to it. Do not let us be misled about the Industrial Training Bill. That is not meant to meet the needs of the dock workers. Its purpose is entirely different. Much of the training under the provisions in that Bill will be designed—unless there is a considerable productivity drive—to train people for trades in connection with which there are plenty of skilled men unemployed.
This subsection makes no provision for training the docker. Trade union organisers and officials are extremely interested in the organisation of dock workers, and are impressed by the training which is done in Sweden. In this country there has been obstruction and reference to cost. But in Sweden training is carried out at little or no expense. I should have thought that in a training scheme the training of dock workers would have been included.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
Surely the hon. Gentleman is ignoring the present Dock Labour Board scheme, the principle of which is that the dock worker shall not be accepted until he has had training. That is developing rapidly.
§ Mr. Popplewell
I am speaking of the functions of training as laid down in this Bill. It is defined in the Clause which I have mentioned. The sum of £50,000 a year is to be earmarked for training and education, but the dock worker is specifically excluded.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett)
The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. What is excluded is the training of dock workers for dock work. There is nothing to prevent a suitably qualified volunteer 1407 who is a dock worker—or anybody else who is qualified for training under the Bill—to train for management posts or technical positions.
§ Mr. Popplewell
The Bill says:… training and education of persons employed—(otherwise than as dock workers)…That is the point I am making. There is no training envisaged for dock workers. At long last I have got my point across. It is specifically left out of the Bill.
I suggest that something more than £s. d. and the profitability or otherwise of ports and docks is involved. There are social consequences and many other implications to be considered when we talk about the possibility of closing some of the docks and ports. What takes place in the hinterland ought to be considered. I do not think that it is a matter to be left entirely to the Ports Council to make recommendations and I should like an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that before any Orders suggesting closures are approved the Minister will consider the social implications involved.
An inadequate transport system would seriously affect economic Government and external achievements and also internal price levels. It is necessary therefore to reconstruct and reorganise our ports to play an important part in the economic life of the country. But the value of the human material involved must be taken into account. There has been discussion about the special Parliamentary procedure referring to various Bills. There is a reference in Clause 17, but I cannot find what is meant—except that in Schedule 5 there is a reference to publications. There does not seem to be much Parliamentary control involved. If it means that a new Bill should be promoted—we recall that the Minister mentioned the question of the docks and harbour authority promoting Bills—I think it is a slipshod way in which to do this sort of thing. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can give us an answer. It would be shocking if the Minister in charge of the Bill cannot give an answer on such an important point.
Clause 3 refers to the question of making charges and Clause 8 deals with the control of harbour development. 1408 Clause 18 refers to the control of the movement of ships in harbours. There is reference in the Clauses to Parliamentary procedure and I do not understand why it cannot be mentioned. It is defined by Clause 50, which gives the answer when referring to the annulment procedure. When the Minister tried to take refuge in saying that he would be subject to Parliamentary "control, that was really no more than a good Parliamentary device for shuffling off.
We all know what the annulment procedure is, with Prayers against Statutory Instruments; but these are important matters, the making of charges, the control of harbour developments the control of movements of ships, and so forth and, instead of this negative annulment procedure there should be effective Parliamentary control, the Minister laying affirmative Orders, and Parliament having the opportunity to debate things fully and vote.
I reinforce what my hon. Friend said about the lack of discussion, particularly with people on the navigation side. There is the proposed imposition of a fine of £100 or six months imprisonment. These are serious questions. When pilots or navigation officers are moving ships from one part of a harbour or port to another, various hazards can arise. The least the Minister should have done would have been to take into consultation the representative bodies because the representative bodies are as anxious as anyone to maintain safety in the proper way and desire that penalties should be inflicted on the person who does not care. But the way the thing is now drafted has given the maximum possible offence to those concerned, and I very much hope that the Minister will take my hon. Friend's advice and have further discussions between now and the Report stage.
The outstanding feature of the Bill and the way it has come before us is that there have been only seven parliamentary days between its presentation and the Second Reading debate today. In these circumstances, how is it possible for consultations and discussions to take place with the people who are interested, the local authorities and others? I greatly deplore the speed with which the Minister is trying to push the Bill through. It is no answer to say that we have had the 1409 Rochdale Report for a long time. In many ways, the Bill is very different from that Report. Its essential characteristics ought to have been published with sufficient time for discussions with all the interested parties.
In spite of these criticisms, however, we on this side will give the Bill general support, as we have said, and do our best in Committee to knock it into a little more ship-shape and workable order.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I agree entirely with some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) in the early part of his speech when he spoke about the treatment of labour in the docks, saying that this must be improved if the Bill is to succeed. I sought to interrupt him when he offered criticism of the Bill, because it did not appear to allow for training schemes for dock workers. These are being carried on already by the Dock Labour Board.
On page 147 of the Rochdale Report it is said:We are glad to record that the National Dock Labour Board, in conjunction with the National Joint Council, has recently introduced a scheme for the initial training of new recruits to the industry.So it is all being done already by the Dock Labour Board.
In paragraph 412, on the same page, we read:In 1961, pilot schemes were started at London and Liverpool, At present three weeks training is being provided and we understand that practical experience seems to show that this is a suitable period although the possibility of a five weeks' course was envisaged originally.The hon. Gentleman's criticisms of the Bill on that ground, that it did not provide for training for dock workers, was a false point.
§ Mr. Page
It excludes dock work training, but not the training of the dock worker for management.
I turn now to the administrative proposals, which centre upon Clause 13, under which the Minister has power to make Harbour Revision Orders if requested by some person with a substantial interest. The Harbour Revision 1410 Orders are to achieve some very extensive objects, set out in Schedule 2. As I understand, the Minister may, on his own initiative, make Orders dealing with the objectives set out in paragraphs 1 and 2 of Schedule 2 after representation has been made to him by the Council. These paragraphs deal with the constitution of the harbour authorities and the procedure under which they carry on their work.
There is, undoubtedly, a need in many cases to revise the old and traditional constitutions of the dock boards and the dock authorities. The Rochdale Report recommended this and recommended the method of doing it which has been adopted in the Bill, that is, that the Minister should have power to revise the constitutions of the dock boards and revise the procedures adopted by them. I take as an example the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. I do not take it in order to make a special constituency plea or anything of that kind; I use it as an example, about which I happen to know, to show the need for the revision of similar constitutions of dock boards.
The Rochdale Report recommended a board of 15 as an appropriate dock authority. The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board has 28 members. The Rochdale Report recommended that the dock authority should not be controlled by local interests. Twenty-four of the 28 members of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board are elected by 3,000 constituents who are users of the port, and the candidates themselves must live within 50 miles of the port. This is contrary to the recommendations of the Rochdale Report. It shows that in this case and, I think, in many of our ports, the boards are too much controlled by the local users.
Our docks, be they at Liverpool or anywhere else, may well be vital to the commerce, industry, employment and lives of the people of the district. The principle of the new look or new deal presented by the Rochdale Report and embodied in the Bill, with its National Ports Council—a principle accepted by both side of the House, I think—is that all our ports are national assets and not merely local industries. Therefore, their authorities should be reconstituted on the basis that national industries are well represented on the boards, and the boards themselves should show clearly 1411 by their constitutions that they are not solely parochial.
As regards the procedure of the boards, it is wise here also in many cases that the Minister should examine whether there is need for revision. A large board, such as the one which I have mentioned with 28 members, leads to reliance on the committee system. I am told that the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board holds 20 committee meetings a month. That is no way to carry on a commercial concern. It would be much better to rely more on executive control, running the thing more like the board of directors of a commercial undertaking. Undoubtedly, there is need for a severe shake-up in the constitution and structure of the dock authorities and in the procedures which they adopt for doing their work.
I do not believe that we can expect the dock authorities themselves to undertake this. It is hardly human to expect them to use the surgeon's knife on themselves. Nor can one expect the National Ports Council, which must live with the docks boards and dock authorities for many years to come, to undertake the operation. It is right, therefore, for the Bill to put the responsibility in the hands of the Minister to make these revisions. He is the only person who can properly do it.
However, I wonder whether it is necessary for the Minister to hold this power indefinitely. By Clauses 13 and 14 and Schedule 2 he is given some fairly extensive powers over dock authorities. What we need to do at present is to put the dock authorities on the right course administratively, perhaps even with some violent shake-up to do it, but, when that is done, we do not, I suggest, want the Minister permanently managing the dock authorities. This would be most unwise. I do not imagine that either side of the House would wish the docks to be run like, for example, the Post Office.
I should have preferred the provisions in this part of the Bill, giving the powers of the Minister over the administration of the dock authorities, to take the form of an Act requiring annual renewal. I do not think that we should give the Minister permanent powers to this effect. Of course, there must be permanent 1412 overall financial control, but, if Clauses 13 and 14 required annual renewal, we could each year consider whether the shake-up of the constitutions of the dock authorities had been effective and whether we could then leave the boards to carry on under the general supervision of the Council. So much for the administration side of the Bill.
I turn now to the provisions regarding improvements, which are in Clauses 1 and 8 combined, the duty of formulating plans for improvement being set out in Clause 1 and the Minister's authorisation of the execution of the work being provided for by Clause 8. I trust that both the Council and the Ministry will recognise the urgency of the work which is given to them by Clauses 1 and 8.
The greater part of our dock capacity in this country is of either late Victorian or Edwardian vintage, and it reflects the conditions of transport by sea and land of that era. Ever since the end of the First World War, we have accepted this fact, the Victorian and Edwardian aspect of our docks, with very little question. We have spent a lot of money on restoring and renovating, as it were, the bustles and the corsets of that gaslit age in our docks, and even such splendid post-war improvements as the Langton-Canada River Entrance in the Liverpol Docks have proceeded on the same lines, that is to say, on the impounded water system, the old traditional dock-gates type of dock, as opposed to the deep-water open berths.
We have seen the development of the deep-water berth in Rotterdam and Hamburg. Continental ports have leapt ahead of us since the end of the Second World War. There are exceptions on both sides, of course. Antwerp has used the impounded docks, whereas the Tees, the Tyne, the Clyde and Southampton have shown the development of the other trend in this country, going to the open basin and the deep-water berth. Those are exceptions. In general, in Great Britain, we have followed the old tradition of the impounded water dock. I hope that the Council's policy will swing towards the need for open basin facilities, and if the older docks—Liverpool, Southampton—need to find new ground for that kind of development, let them spread away from their existing docks 1413 rather than concentrate on having more of the traditional dock-gate docks.
I want to follow the opening words of the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). To what extent will this National Ports Council be able to interfere with the promotion of the proper use of dock labour? I believe that all the Council's efforts will be set at naught unless there is decasualisation of labour very quickly. I blame both trade unions and employers for the delay here. Will the Council, because of that delay, have to include in its plans for improvement of the docks the wretched cattle pens for the engagement of dock workers, and all the business of transporting the labour from the pens to the ships, and so on? Has that to be part of the Council's redevelopment of the docks, merely because we have not got on with the decasualisation of labour? If we build grand new docks without being prepared to treat the dock employees as human beings, it will be like building new schools and, instead of putting teachers in them, putting in cattle drovers to look after the children.
I find it difficult to talk of this without some emotion. Some of us have crusaded for decasualisation for a long time, and feel frustrated that it has not yet come about. I have already said that the majority of the dock capacity is of either late Victorian or Edwardian vintage, but our method of engaging and employing dock labour is Elizabethan—or feudal, as one of my hon. Friends says. It is no good modernising the docks without modernising the dock labour system, too, and I hope that the Bill will be a spur to the humanising of our methods of engagement and employment of dock labour.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)
If I may speak in a constituency sense, this Bill is terribly important to a small port such as I represent; not that we imagine that we are a small port, but, by the standards of our neighbour, Glasgow, which takes over 13 times the amount of cargo that we take, we are not very large. Nevertheless, we are part of the River Clyde, and are most anxious to play our part in its development. 1414 I agree wholeheartedly with a great deal that has been said by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). What he said about the domination by local commercial interests of many of the dock boards that now exist is one of the great tragedies of the present situation in our harbours. One has just to see how proposals are made in these different organisations to realise how backward they are—though not necessarily because of their political complexion. There can be backward Socialists and backward Liberals just as there can be backward Conservatives. But one is greatly surprised by the intensity of their resistance to modernisation. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) has just said that there are probably more backward Conservatives than there are backward anyone else, and 1 accept that statement in the party spirit in which it is made.
I make the point quite clearly that the vested interests there are in almost every river and harbour opposing modernisation must be seen to be believed. 1 hope that the emergence of the National Ports Council will mean the end of the strangulation of progress by these local commercial interests. That they have their place in influencing the development of a port I do not deny, but it is quite, clear that unless we have sufficient of what the Minister called "the virtues of central planning" more and more exercised on the development of these rivers, we shall not resist successfully the vested interests that exist, and which are a great obstacle to modernisation.
This is very true of the River Clyde. We have an admirable navigation trust—and as it does not take in my own constituency, my praise is probably the more sincere. It has done a lot of good work in its many years of existence, but it has its limitations, and the hon. Member for Crosby has touched on them. The trust is over weighted with representatives from many sources, and as a result it is unable to function properly. Like most other organisations of its kind, it suffers from committee-it is. For instance, it has large unused borrowing powers yet, at the same time, it is faced with a potential development of many millions of £s. What development it has undertaken recently has been, to say the least, short-sighted and over-cautious, and it is 1415 confronted with quite important problems in regard to a river which is, with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Leith, the greatest river in Scotland.
The position at Leith is perhaps the point of worry that most of us have about this Bill. It is not that the Bill is not a good Bill, but that we wonder whether the Government have the courage and the financial ability to make it a real, living thing. Here is the skeleton, but will the Government provide the flesh? Here is the anatomy, but where is the physiology? The Leith Docks Commission put up a proposition that was endorsed by the Rochdale Committee, but the Commission has suffered despairingly at the hands of the Ministry over the last four years. Those of us who are anxious to see blessed other projects in other rivers cannot be but sorry that this has happened to Leith. Unless the Parliamentary Secretary can give my hon. Friend a much more satisfactory answer than he has given before, we shall, even though we do not oppose the Second Reading, still feel rather regretful that the Government should hesitate in this regard.
Having done my duty to Leith and Glasgow, perhaps I may turn to my own constituency. We are a small but proud port—
§ Dr. Mabon
In Greenock. It amuses me that my hon. and gallant Friend, who has been with me there so often, should pretend not to know that.
The Rochdale Committee's comments about the position of the Port of Greenock have caused great joy to many of my constituents but, at the same time with joy, there has been despair further up the river, because the Rochdale Committee has proposed that any development on the River Clyde should take place further down the river, in my constituency.
I therefore welcome Clause 1. My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) had reservations about this Clause, and I sympathise with him. I agree that the Minister has probably gone too far in allowing the National Ports Council to have almost full supervision over the extent of the plans in any one given project; that is to say, right 1416 down to the last crane and brick wall. That is absurd. Quite clearly the Minister will have to find some Parliamentary phraseology to limit the supervisory powers of the Council so that we do not have it supervising absolutely everything that each port authority proposes.
To have that is carrying control too far. Hon. Members opposite should find some chord in their political hearts that rings out clearly with that remark. This is carrying control too far. This is carrying too far the doctrine of the man in Whitehall knowing best. It goes too far, even for them, and I appeal to the Minister to find some way of rephrasing Clause 1 to meet the objection of my hon. Friend.
That said, I do not want the Minister, in the confusion of retreat, in the face of the criticism of my hon. Friend, to go to the other extreme, which is not to reclothe the National Ports Council with enough garments to do its job. The Council must have enough power to interfere with the vested interests in a particular proposal put up to it, and replace it with one that is in the national interest.
Here, I must congratulate the Conservative Party on the immense courage shown in this Bill, which is quite contrary to my own appreciation of what they have done in the past. Some of their critics have said that they are nationalising the ports of Great Britain, but we realise that that is an extravagance—not that we are divided on this issue, because it seems that we are all nationalisers now of one kind or another. We certainly are all planners now of one kind or another, and I welcome it.
I hope that in meeting my hon. Friends criticism the Minister will not retreat from what is an admirable effort; namely, that the National Ports Council does not have just the negative role of cancelling proposals that are not in the national interest but which local harbour boards recommend, but that it has the positive role, the creative role, to replace those proposals to which it takes objection with those that it feels ought to be adopted. This is a constructive attitude which I very much welcome.
It is in the knowledge of that that my constituents—whose life, after all, is from the sea—are willing to see this kind of development take place. We know 1417 that on the new constitution of the River Clyde authority, which will stretch from Glasgow to the Cumbraes, embracing us and the Dumbarton Board, and many others, we shall be hopelessly outvoted; that is to say, those who are our identifiable representatives will be hopelessly outvoted by the representatives of the greaty city of Glasgow; and that if any side attempts to act in this parochial way the referee, the National Ports Council, will be willing to act impartially.
Here I am like the man who said that he did not mind who won the game as long as Rangers did not lose—though perhaps I should say I do not mind who wins the game as long as Greenock Morton does not lose it. I am anxious that the referee should play his role as referee, because, if you like, he is impartially on our side.
The Rochdale Committee could not have spelt it out more clearly than it does in Chapter 39, on the position of development on the River Clyde. In paragraph 575(c) it states:… for the time being effort at the port of Glasgow itself should in general be concentrated on the modernisation and improvement of existing facilities.That is admirable, but then it says in the preceding two paragraphs—and I like the way the committee has its priorities correct:yes—I am very pleased with this Report.
- "(a) port and navigational facilities on the river Clyde and its estuary as far down as The Cumbraes should be unified under a new public trust port authority;
- (b) in planning any major development of port facilities on the Clyde the advantages of using a site well down river should be given full weight …"
The hon. Member for Crosby referred to the fact that some Continental ports have faced the engineering problems of a closed port rather than of a tidal port. This may cause a great deal of anguish under the Bill in some rivers and harbours, and in the arguments that will take place about the reorganisation and modernisation of ports. We, in the Clyde, are already seeing the first signs of this.
We had a conference in Glasgow recently. I must express my gratitude to the Minister of Transport, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Trans- 1418 port for agreeing to send assessors from the Ministry to that conference It was a very difficult conference to arrange. It showed in a way what difficulties we shall have to achieve unification on the Clyde. I am sure that this must apply in many other rivers. Human beings are the same the world over. Hon Members will sympathise with me in this point. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman the Minister is a lightning conductor, as was said earlier. He can withstand the shocks. Whether that is a good idea is another matter
The conference was held to discuss the question of what will be or could be a fundamental change not only in the topography but in the whole location of the maritime activity of the Clyde, by converting it from a tidal river to an open river. There are enormous problems here. I would not for a moment dream of saying that those who propose the Clyde barrage project fully understand what they are talking about. The full facts are not known to anyone, either to those who propose the project or to those who oppose it. It is very important that in the modernisation of harbours, and so on, any proposal which is made, however revolutionary it may appear, must not be rejected simply because it is revolutionary. Fair technical assessments must be made.
I hope that the National Ports Council, in exercising its power, will not hesitate, however violent local criticism may be, to inquire dispassionately, clearly and technically into any proposal which seems worth its while. As a medical man who has done some medical research, I know that occasionally it is the craziest of ideas which sometimes turn out to be the best. One must pursue them and try to find the answers. Oft-times, what seems to be the wrong idea, or one which does not fit in with textbook learning, turns out to be the one which affords the greatest discovery and advance. This may apply not only in medicine but in engineering and other fields of human activity. I hope that the National Ports Council, when it is established, will be able to institute researches and technical inquiries into how best to modernise our ports and harbours.
I turn to an important point on which I shall become unpopular with the 1419 Minister. It would not be unreasonable for him to ask why I should talk about this matter in relation to this Bill. I refer to Clause 7, which is one of the few points of public accountability contained in the Bill. The Minister could easily argue that this is a doctrine of Parliamentary appreciation, the doctrine of public accountability, which should be a matter of Parliamentary reform rather than being contained in an Act of Parliament. If I accepted that argument, I feel that we should go on for a number of years regretfully not doing anything about public accountability.
Apart from the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and the hon. Member for Crosby about the other parts of the Bill—the control of harbour development, the question of a Provisional Order Bill, the question of introducing Orders in Council or Prayers—I am concerned about the presentation of the Report to Parliament under Clause 7. We must face the fact that, if we are lucky, we shall get one day of debate each year. There is no obligation on Parliament to debate this Report or the Report of any other nationalised industry. It is done, to use a famous phrase, through the usual channels. If the usual channels happen to have a concept of priority different from that of back benchers, that is the end of the matter, and there is no debate. It is very important that we should debate these Reports and that sufficient time should be given to allow hon. Members who want to express objections or approval to do so.
We do not have that. Even if we had one day every year, we should be lucky if we got in 12 speakers. That is if they all spoke reasonably briefly, which I regret to say I am not doing now. I apologise. I am coming to an end shortly. We would have 12 speakers in the debate. There are no less than nine chapters of the Rochdale Report devoted to nine major rivers and many ports. Thus only one speaker from each river would be able to get in, if we were to act on this functional basis, which is unreasonable.
The Minister should use his imagination and be the first Minister to find some Parliamentary means of giving us more time to discuss this, rather than simply 1420 leaving it that we might be able to discuss it for one day one year. I shall support those of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite who are to propose Amendments to enable us to debate either matters of general administration within the whole set-up of the national ports system, or local objections to amalgamations or to the various constitutions, or indeed objections in relation to the other matters contained in the later Clauses of the Bill.
I am in favour of more and more public accountability in these great matters. I feel that the speech I am now making, all too inadequately, on this point particularly, will probably be made better by hon. Members opposite when they are in opposition and protesting to us as the Government of the country, administering many of the Acts of Parliament passed by the Conservatives and, by then, the Labour Government. They will then claim that Parliament is being by-passed. I feel that Parliament will be by-passed now. The natural advance of public control is such that we must find a solution to the question of public accountability. It is better for the Conservatives to try in their last few months in office than for them to leave it to us to find a solution.
§ 6.11 p.m.
The Earl of Dalkeith (Edinburgh, North)
I hope that the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) will excuse me if I do not follow him up and down the Clyde. I am sure that it is a comfort to my right hon. Friend to know that the hon. Gentleman is offering his talents as a doctor to help to put flesh and blood on to the Bill, which he described as a skeleton. I am sure that his assistance will be welcomed.
Before I go further, I must declare my interest. I am a director of one of the harbour undertakings on the Firth of Forth. I hope that the experience and understanding I have from personal practice will qualify me in some respects to speak in this debate. What impressed me most about the speech of the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) was its remarkable similarity to much of what I intended to say. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman should not be sitting on this side of the House.
The Earl of Dalkeith
Unfortunately. the hon. Gentleman merely picked those parts of the Bill to which he objected. There are many parts of the Bill which we cannot fail to welcome very warmly. After all, it is a most natural sequel to the Rochdale Committee's excellent Report. Many of these provisions are sensible, useful and definitely in the national interest. I congratulate my right hon. Friend, with reservations.
The Earl of Dalkeith
Although the general aims of the Bill are unquestionably right, I share the anxieties of some of the port authorities about the means of achieving those aims. Some of them raise an important question of principle. They should be referred to now. It would seem that my right hon. Friend has been so carried away in his enthusiasm to reach the end as quickly as he can that he has taken unto himself some very sweeping, perhaps somewhat dictatorial, powers. They go far beyond anything recommended in the Rochdale Report. I doubt whether some of the nationalised industries are subject to quite such stringent Ministerial powers as the ports will be subject to under the Bill. The particularly dangerous part of these powers is that they would give the Minister, through the Council, enormous control over the whole day-to-day working of the ports, without any responsibility for their financial viability. This is dangerous. I cannot believe that it is right. Further, I do not believe that it was ever the intention of the Rochdale Committee that this should be the case.
There is the introduction of what I would describe as the element of compulsion, instead of an invitation to cooperate. I admit that my right hon. Friend paid lip-service to co-operation this afternoon. However, I wish that in the Bill he had practised what he preached this afternoon. From reading the Bill, it appears that there is an element about it all. This is a mistake which could easily result in it taking a longer time rather than a shorter time to reach the ultimate goal.
Further, the scope of the powers is such that it will necessitate the Council having a considerable technical staff. 1422 Clause 1 mentions such things as services and facilities inside harbours. I ask the Minister who is to reply to give us an idea of the size of staff which the Council will need. Will it be a handful of experts co-ordinating development on an advisory basis, or do the Government propose to set up what will amount almost to a new Ministry of Ports, with a whole range of technical experts duplicating the work which can already be done by the ports? It is important that we should know the answer to this, because it appears to be the Government's intention that the docks and harbours rather than the Treasury will have to pay for it all.
I appreciate the sense of the industry paying for education, training and research, but it is a little hard to expect a port to contribute, by means of a levy, to an organisation whose sole object may in some cases be to encourage another port to its own detriment. The Rochdale Report went so far as to point out in paragraph 149 that the whole country would benefit from the work of the Council and that the nation as a whole should pay for it. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend has by-passed that recommendation.
Another power is the control of harbour development. This is clearly right, but we must have some definite criterion written into the Bill. The best basis would seem to be cost. I appreciate that my right hon. Friend is examining this in consultation with the various port authorities associations. I believe that a figure of about £ ½ million is right. Even when this matter is decided, there will still be confusions in the case of those docks and harbours which had started on one stage of a 10 or 20 year development plan. This will have to be cleared up. Admittedly, the Bill points out that these categories of harbours will be excluded if they have already started on the work. Confusion could arise in the case of a phased expansion.
On the same point of the control of development, I am not altogether clear to what extent harbours will have the right to promote private legislation for new projects, or indeed whether the provisions, mentioned in Clause 57 will apply to Scottish Provisional Orders.
The Bill seems to have the right idea on the question of the right of objection 1423 by port users, but I doubt whether the Council should have the power to restrict the charges to a level which could deprive an authority of the income necessary to cover its expenses.
Clause 28 contains one of the most objectionable powers in the whole Bill. It gives the Minister power to revise charges, either up or down, on the advice of the Council. This means that the Minister could—I do not say that he would—arbitrarily force a harbour out of business by compelling it to raise its charges so high that its customers would not be prepared to pay for its services.
In this connection I should like to draw attention to the fact that a number of small harbours specialise in handling specific cargoes. This often enables them to undercut the prices which have to be charged by the larger harbours that handle more general cargoes and where the overheads are consequently greater. It is highly desirable in the national interest that we should encourage this specialisation in the small ports. 1 therefore hope that if my right hon. Friend retains this power he will use it with the utmost discretion. If the power is retained—and I hope it will not be—it is essential that it should apply to all harbours, statutory or otherwise, including fishery harbours and what we in Scotland call marine works.
There are one or two surprising omissions from the Bill in this respect. I have in mind particularly marine works in Scotland. It would seem to me to be in everyone's interest that these should be included in many Clauses of the Bill, including the Clause that allows harbours to alter their schedule of charges without the permission or approval of the Minister, which they have always had to seek in the past.
I believe that it is also right to give the Secretary of State for Scotland some of the powers which the Minister of Transport will have under Clauses 13, 14, 15 and 16 so that the marine works can benefit from the simplified procedures and can be freed from the archaic provisions of earlier Acts. My hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) was told that it would be 1424 rather complicated to put marine works and fishery harbours into the Bill because this would clutter it up and delay the proceedings. I cannot accept this for a moment. I feel that it would be perfectly straightforward to do this and that the Scottish Office would co-operate fully.
§ Mr. Marples
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is here, listening with great interest to my noble Friend's speech. We consult regularly on these things but the main point is that the Bill is concerned with the major docks and harbours, and if we bring in a lot of small fishery ports or marine works it might divert the attention of the Council from its major objective. This is the main reason I had in mind for omitting them from the Bill.
The Earl of Dalkeith
I find it hard to believe that the Council would be in the feast disturbed by the inclusion or otherwise of these small harbours in the provisions of some of the Clauses, but no doubt we can discuss this at a later stage.
In the compensation arrangements following harbour reorganisation schemes there does not seem to be any scheme to compensate employees who suffer diminution of their earnings as a result of the operation of this Clause or of the other Clauses which may have an adverse effect on harbour undertakings. I hope that my right hon. Friend will look at this point.
The only parochial point I would make is in connection with the port of Leith. A vital development scheme there has been held up for a long time pending the setting up of a National Ports Council and pending the advice which is to flow from it. So greatly do I believe this scheme to be in the national interest that I urge my right hon. Friend to do everything he possibly can to speed up an early decision. I am fairly confident that the decision is bound to be in favour of giving Leith the go-ahead. I sincerely hope that that will be the case.
If the various objections to the Bill which I have mentioned are removed this will be a most valuable piece of legislation. It is yet another example of a dynamic Government's determination 1425 to modernise Britain in such a way that we shall sail into the 21st century on the crest of a wave. What a very different approach this is to the limited and unimaginative approach of the Labour Party in its "Signposts for the Sixties". I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his accomplices on their ability to look so much further ahead than the Opposition and make constructive plans for the future welfare of this great country.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton Itchen)
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (The Earl of Dalkeith) waxed eloquent in his peroration, but he gave away by his smiles the fact that he did not believe in it.
It would be difficult, in a machinery Bill of this kind, to include the regulation of labour conditions in the docks, but I would echo all that my hon. Friends have said and all that the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) said so eloquently about the need for decasualisation. I spoke at length on this matter in the debate on the Rochdale Report. I do not propose to repeat myself, except to say that if we are to make a success of what the Bill sets out to achieve we can do it only with the good will of all who work in the docks. My main arguments today are going to be on behalf of the management, if hon. Members like to put it that way. But we can only succeed in the purposes of this Bill if we have the good will of the workers in the docks at every level—management and men.
I welcome the Bill, as I welcomed the Rochdale Report, and I am glad that in this Measure the Government are taking the first steps towards tackling one of Britain's most important problems, and that is to provide docks and ports to match the needs of the second half of the twentieth century. I would be wrong, in this debate, to go into details about the Rochdale proposals, and I shall follow the Minister's advice and not make a constituency speech, but the Rochdale proposals demand a reassessment of the needs and of the value of these ports. They demand a concentration of our chief expansion on certain major ports and a capital investment programme to provide for the deep harbour facilities and the necessary new 1426 machinery to make a radical change in some of the older docks if we are to have a planned use of our best harbours.
The Bill provides the machinery by which all this process can be carried out. I complained some time ago about the Government's delay in making up their minds on what they were going to do about the Rochdale Report. It may, therefore, seem ungenerous to complain now about the shortage of time between the date when the Bill was published and this Second Reading debate. The Minister smiles, but I assure him that I am not being funny.
The Government might have waited at least another week before arranging this debate. As it is, the various port and harbour authorities have not had time to get in touch with Members of Parliament. My own harbour board has merely had time to write to me saying that I should take the advice of the Parliamentary group on harbours and docks, of which I happen to be a member. I am, therefore, left in the position of having to advise myself. It would certainly have been easy for the Minister to have given the local dock and harbour authorities some time to consider even the advice on the Bill which has been received by them from their parent body in the last few days.
I have, however, had an opportunity, as some of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite have had, of meeting the leaders of the Dock and Harbour Authorities' Association, of which my own harbour board is a member. Here I should like to pay tribute to Lord Simon, the President of the Association, for the clear, fair and generous way in which he set out to some of us the Association's objections to some features of the Bill.
Southampton Harbour Board has informed me that it has been concerned at the delay that took place between September, 1962, when the Rochdale Committee reported and the bringing in of this Bill. I am certain that all ports and harbours want to know exactly where they stand before they can formally set out on their own forward planning, and this being so, the sooner the Bill becomes law the better.
Nevertheless, although this is a good and necessary Bill, I think that it must be carefully examined, and, I believe. 1427 amended somewhat in Committee. I shall not deal with points of detail, although quite a number of serious ones have emerged during the debate this afternoon. I want to make one or two general criticisms, and I hope that they will either be answered by the Parliamentary Secretary at the end of the debate, or that suitable changes will be made in the Bill in Committee.
It is a truism to say that a bold and adventurous plan like this one can be carried out only if there is good will between the Minister and port and harbour authorities. The Minister himself said during the debate on the Rochdale Report:The Government are determined to make a success of the national ports plan. We shall succeed in this objective only if we can secure the fullest co-operation of all the many interests which will have to work together.One gets co-operation by consulting and not by directing; by partnership and not by dictatorship; by guiding people who are doing a job, but leaving them to carry out the actual planning and working out of the job themselves.
Everybody in the House, I hope, agrees that we must have a national plan for the docks, but the various authorities had hoped that there will be a broad national plan against which they themselves would work out the implications for their own local docks and harbours. They hoped that the central authority would be advisory rather than executive. They hoped that the Government would set up at the centre a body which would not work out the detailed development for every port, but, rather, would give broad general directives.
The new National Ports Council has neither the technical staff nor the experience to do the job of planning the ports of England in detail, and apparently—and the Minister defended this this afternoon—no active member of any single dock or port authority will serve on the new Council. Surely the men who are serving in the docks are the men who know most about them. The docks are their livelihood. They are their living. These men have grown up and worked in them and will continue to do so under the new Council. It seems utterly reasonable that there should be on the new Council at least 1428 some currently active members representing the Dock and Harbour Authorities' Association.
When we debated the Rochdale Report, the Minister seemed to hold the same view as the Dock and Harbour Authorities' Association still holds. He said:Ports cannot be run, in terms of their detailed management, from the centre. The grand strategy should be from the centre, but day-to-day management and efficiency must depend on those on the spot."—[Official Report, 10th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 1264.]Let me illustrate this. The Rochdale Report and the Minister himself, during the debate on the Report, agreed that charges ought not to be centrally controlled. He said:As to charges, my own view is that the Rochdale Committee made a good case for less central control."—[Official Report, 10th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 1262.]The Bill, however, gives the new National Ports Council power to fix charges. Having boasted, as the Minister has done in his speech today, of releasing the ports from their statutory obligations with regard to charges, he has now put them under a new master, the Ports Council. The new Council is to be given power to alter charges which the ports have made.
It seems clear from the present structure of Clause 1 that the new Council will have power not only to formulate comprehensive plans, as by all means it should; not only to encourage and assist harbour authorities, as it should; but also, if it thinks fit, according to Clause 1(c) to change the plans of an authority, and even to supplant an authority and do the job of some local port or harbour authority itself.
It was one of the members of the Association who, speaking to us on Monday, said that the Bill will give the Minister more power than any Minister has over any nationalised industry. I want to be fair. The Minister is taking a reserve power, and his defence this afternoon, as I expected it would be, was that these were reserve powers which may never be used. He said that with regard to similar reserve powers in another undertaking, he had never used them. Nevertheless, if there are reserve powers in a Bill the House ought to examine very carefully all the powers it gives a Minister, even in reserve, and 1429 when the Bill goes to Committee there ought to be a serious attempt to put limits on those powers.
I welcome the proposal to make the new Ports Council responsible for research and education and for the training of managers. This concept of an industry with a career open to talent is something in which we have believed all our lives for all industries, and the insistence on adequate statistical information is at the heart of any great planned advance in our great ports and docks.
All this, however, is to benefit Britain as a whole. It will benefit not merely those running the docks, but everybody who makes use of the docks for commerce. Yet the Bill proposes to make the ports and harbours pay for the work of the Council by means of a levy. The cry of "no taxation without representation" is an old one. It lost us America, and in this case it can lose the Minister the good will of the very men on whose enthusiastic co-operation so much depends. Surely the Minister must admit that the ultimate point of injustice is reached if a port has to pay a levy to the body which decides that that port has to shrink or vanish; if it is made to pay something towards the cost of its own assassination.
The dock and harbour authorities are not opposed to paying their share of the cost of research and education, but they believe that the Government, or Britain, ought to pay the cost of the administration of the process of rationalisation and planning of the resources. They are firmly opposed to Clause 28 which, as I said earlier, gives the new Council sweeping powers to override the authorities and to impose its own scale of charges even if there is no complaint by users against these charges.
As I said, the railways have recently been given complete freedom to fix their own charges. The docks, inside the national framework, want to continue their present healthy competition between each other, and they believe that if that competition is interfered with unnecessarily by the central authority the efficiency of the whole of the dock industry will suffer.
If there is to be any interference in the basis of the charges which the various docks and harbours in this country make, 1430 they say that the Minister ought to devise some criteria by which the right of the Council to intervene should be established. I welcomed the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman when he said that provided some criteria, some formulas, could be found which were satisfactory, he would certainly accept it.
Nobody would wish to justify sharp practice as between dock and dock, and port and port. No one would wish to justify deliberate running at a loss in the hope of getting some Government subsidy or getting some unfair share of trade. Outside that, however, one would imagine that free competition between the members of this great team of British docks could be justified.
I have mentioned the fears of the dock and harbour authorities about the Bill. Their contention is that they are doing a good job. And here may I say that the hon. Member for Crosby, who is not here at the moment, cannot have seen Southampton port since the Boer War, with its fine docks and terminals, if he imagines it is still a place of Victorian structure. Much progressive work has been done since the war in various docks and ports. The men who serve in them are devoted and experienced in the work they are doing. They wish to co-operate with the Minister, but, at the same time, they wish to continue a commercial rivalry between themselves. Like the Irishman's pig, whilst "they will be led, they will not be druv." They want to continue to play a full part in docks and harbours and not merely to become day-to-day administrators, with a central body of directors taking over the whole of the detailed planning.
Each local authority will naturally tend to take a parochial view of some of the issues raised in the Bill. I have tried to give the views not of my own authority, but of the representatives of all the docks and ports. I know that the new Ports Council will take a national view, and will survey the whole scene as the Rochdale Committee has done. That must inevitably clash with the development of some ports. My only plea is that the work of the new Ports Council will link up in every way with the other work of other departments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) was right to refer to the 1431 necessity of linking the expansion of ports with what goes on in the hinterland. If, as I foresee, the South of England is to go through some radical developments, when the Government's new proposals come out and the development of the South-East takes place, if the Port of Southampton is to expand as part of this plan the whole question of roadways through Hampshire, through the City of Southampton and up to the Midlands becomes important.
If there are great developments in the hinterland behind Southampton Docks the maintenance of some railways which the Minister proposes to close, such as the Andover-Romsey railway, becomes of great importance.
§ Mr. Marples
In several speeches already I have said that Dr. Beeching and Lord Rochdale have already met and discussed the question at great length.
§ Dr. King
The Minister interrupted me with exactly the same remark at exactly the same point when I was speaking last time. I must tell him that the only thing that I did not tell him last time was that Dr. Beeching proposes to close the Andover-Romsey railway, which is part of the vital communications system which must remain if Andover is to expand, if Hampshire is to expand, or if Southampton Docks are to expand.
It is not enough to see Dr. Beeching. It is not enough for Dr. Beeching to meet the new Ports Council. It is important that all the various developments in road and rail services, industrial development, in regional expansion taking place in the country should be linked, and that we do not have merely a new Ports Council working in isolation. I thought that the Minister agreed about that and I hope that he will be the link between the new Council and other Government bodies. I welcome the Bill. I have tried, however, to express and defend some of the fears of the authorities about it, and I hope that some of them can be met in Committee.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)
It is always pleasant to hear the hon. Member for the great Port of Southampton, the hon. Member for 1432 Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King). He is knowledgeable. But I think that his fears on this occasion are groundless. We have a first-class Minister of Transport—the best that we have had in all the years I have been in the House. I have complete confidence in him, and I hope that others have.
The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) touched on a most importnat point. He said that both sides in the dock labour industry are getting very close to each other, but had not yet reached agreement. He said that something was still keeping them apart. The dock labour scheme has been a great help to those in the dock labour industry, and I admit that the party opposite had a great deal to do with that.
But I remember coming to London as a young man, in 1912, and being unable to cross Fenchurch Street for a long time because of the columns of dockers, marching in fours, who were going to the Mansion House, with their trade union banners flying, asking for jobs and trying to get away from casual labour. I do not believe in casual labour, although I have been connected with the cold storage industry and the fishing industry for many years.
I entered the cold storage industry after the war. We opened our first cold store in the City, on Thames-side. I was the managing director, and my colleagues agreed with me that we should not use casual labour. In all the years since then we never have. The old timers in the industry were inclined to regard me as something of a clown, but I served in the war, like others of my generation, and came out with a high regard for all ranks. The shells did not discriminate between the officers and the men.
The companies that I am connected with, although closely concerned with dock labour, are not in the dock labour scheme, because they did none of the things that brought it about. They took men who had been casual labourers and gave them life engagements, so long as they behaved themselves, and, 40 years ago, holidays with pay and superannuation. If they contributed so much a week, the company did the same.
We then went to Grimsby, where we now have five great stores, and we have had the same experience there. Once again, the other proprietors and the 1433 trade unions complained to the late Ernest Bevin, and asked that we should be forced to come into the dock labour scheme. But he appointed the then Mr. John Forster, K.C.—I believe that he is now a peer—to hold an inquiry. It lasted a week, in the P.L.A. building in the City. The trade unions and the proprietors were represented, but we won the day, because we had done none of the things that brought about the scheme.
I mention this not to show that we are cleverer than anybody else but because I believe that it proves that if someone wants to get a good business he must treat the men as he would want to be treated himself. I am saying this because I hope that it will encourage others. We have never encouraged casual labour. It means that we open up in Grimsby for the morning with a large staff, not knowing whether we shall have a lot of trade or hardly any—because it fluctuates very much. I admit that there is a problem here, but it can be overcome.
I was also interested in what the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) said about the success of the British Transport Commission harbours. When they were taken over in 1947 they were losing about £3¼ million a year. In recent years their profit has amounted to £4 million. That reflects great credit on the Commission.
With one exception, all the stores owned by my company are on the Royal Dock at Grimsby. We have been tenants there for 28 years, and have built some stores and converted others. Great credit for this is due to the blind genius, Sir Robert Letch, who died a year or two ago. I am glad to be able to say that tonight, because I knew him intimately. It was a great loss when he passed over. It is interesting to show how serious losses can be turned into profits by good management and foresight.
My main object in speaking tonight is to protest at the threatened closure of the Royal docks, which I have known for over 50 years. [Hon. Members: "Which Royal Docks?"] The Royal Albert Dock, The Royal Victoria Dock, and the King George V Dock. It may not be proposed to close them now. 1434 but great development is to take place at Tilbury. I know Tilbury. Surely the history of the world shows that great ports become great cities.
It is a wonderful experience to take a taxi from this House to, say, the Royal Albert Dock—one can get there in 40 minutes if one avoids the peak hours—and to see ships which left New Zealand, Argentina or Australia three or four weeks previously. Passengers arriving on these ships can get quickly into the heart of London. Nothing is worse than to take a ship from the other side of the world to Tilbury and to go through the motions of getting one's luggage off and taking a conveyance of some kind to St. Pancras, where the procedure has to be gone through all over again. People come from these places with a lot of baggage.
I know New York intimately. What a wonderful sight it is to see the big and little ships coming right into the heart of that city. The hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Mabon) was perfectly right in what he said about the Clyde. I hope that the Clyde barrage comes about. I noticed that hon. Members laughed when he mentioned Greenock, but it was the great port of the Second World War. That was the port from which all those engaged in the D-day operation sailed. The whole of the Clyde estuary was a harbour. London could not be used as a harbour because it was being subjected to bombing day and night.
§ Mr. Mellish
I know of the hon. Member's great knowledge of the industry, but would not he agree that if, because of the development of Tilbury, it was decided by the National Ports Council virtually to close the Royal group of docks, it would not be as simple as that? If the men in the Royal group were to say to the men of Tilbury, "You are doing work which legitimately belongs to us," no matter what Lord Rochdale, the Minister or anyone else might think, I assure the hon. Member that the Tilbury dockers would not do it. That is why we had better start with some good will in this effort.
§ Sir D. Robertson
Page 174 of the Rochdale Report refers to the Royal docks asthe largest area of impounded dock water in the world, used by many of the principal shipping lines".1435 That is a statement of fact. But the great development is to take place at Tilbury. It seems to me that this development will cost millions of pounds unnecessarily. If there is a need for development, there is the land at Beckton, immediately north of the Royal Albert Dock, which was reserved for development at the time that the docks were built. It seems utter folly to make provision for new roads at high cost when everything that is necessary is already available. I am wondering whether this is a move to make the monster of London bigger, because if the docks were closed I presume that all this reserve space would be used for housing and factories, and that would be entirely wrong.
I do not say that the Royal docks cannot be improved. I think that they can do with much better and more modern equipment. I have seen the "Ruahine", a New Zealand liner, with about 40 empty barges lying around it all day. This is capital equipment which costs money, but which is not employed. Surely in this age we should be using self-propelled barges. They have them on the Tigris, but not on the river of the great City of London. We still have these immobile craft which move only with the tide or when pulled by a tug. I was a London Member for almost 11 years, and that is the reason for my intense interest in things which happen in London.
The harbour of Scrabster, one of the finest natural harbours in Great Britain, is in my constituency, at Thurso. It was the lifeline of the Navy in two world wars, and it lies idle and unused. The same applies to the North Channel. I mention this because we are talking about development and looking ahead. There are two ways round Britain: south about by the Channel, which is overcrowded and very accident-prone, and north about Scotland. Any amount of craft pass, but none stops. As I say, the harbour of Scrabster is lying idle and unused. That is a bad thing.
This concentration in the South is wrong. We should begin to use our country and distribute people and industry fairly and squarely and not treat them like a lot of ants. I hope that that will happen, too.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
I thought that if I caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, I should have to begin by apologising to the hon. and, may I say, revered Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) for not following him in what he said. But I should like to make one observation about his speech. He always speaks humanly.
When the hon. Gentleman described the wonderful sight of the liners in the Victoria and Albert Docks coming right up into the heart of the city, he reminded me of the city about which I wish to speak this evening. I am sure that the hon. Member has been to Bristol and seen the ships going right into the heart of the city. Many a time when I was a boy I walked under a ship's prow, which was right out over the footpath. I think that I understood what the hon. Member was trying to convey, namely, the amazing local pride of the people in these undertakings which make provision for the docking of great liners. This is something which is worth preserving and to which I want, obliquely at least, to refer.
Rather than follow the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, there were other Members on both sides I should have dearly wished to follow immediately they sat down, not least being the noble Lord the Member for Edinburgh, North (The Earl of Dalkeith). For 10 or 15 minutes he shot all his penalties into the Minister's net. Then in the last minute he started to pull all the balls out and apologised for the naughty things which he had said to the Minister and tried to rehabilitate himself.
While the noble Lord was addressing us, knowing that if one takes part in a debate of this kind one usually finds oneself on the Committee, I had visions of him tabling Amendments giving effect to all the objections that he raised with the Minister, in which case we should have had a few all-night sittings before we had dealt with the Bill. I doubt whether this will be the case. I suspect that he will retract, or be invited to retract, some of the things which he said to the Minister.
The noble Lord made one remark with which I agreed. I noticed that the 1437 Minister objected by shaking his head when he said it. He used a phrase which, I imagine, would have been howled down had it come from one of my hon. Friends, namely, that the Minister was "taking dictatorial powers". The Minister registered his disapproval of this in no uncertain way.
This is a rather remarkable Bill. If one reads it, it is astonishing the number of times one learns that the Minister will be empowered to do this or that and to enforce this or that. I interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) to ask him to make reference to Clause 8. This is only one example—there are numerous examples in the Bill—under Control of Harbour Development—where it says in subsection (1) that the Minister… may by order prohibit, in such cases as may be defined in the order by reference to size, cost, relation to other projects, purpose or any other criterion …Absolute power is to be vested in the Minister, and he will have sole authority to reject these things.
The Minister when introducing the Bill, made an observation with which, I think, most of us agreed, that no one in the House would disagree with the principles of the Bill. He said, "I think that we all recognise the need for the reorganisation of the dock facilities of our country, and this is the plan for it. "We are so accustomed now to listening to the words "plan" or "planning" that we feel that we are all planners nowadays—that we cannot say a wrong thing in this House about planning. We have just to keep on reiterating it. It is a sort of Couéism—it was the Frenchman Coué who said that if one said a thing often enough people would eventually begin to believe it. That is exactly what is happening in this House, It has taken us 12 years to register on the minds of the Government that if we are to have success in restoring the prosperity of this country we must plan our economy. Now the Government are coming round to that. They are even to indulge in nationalisation, but that is by the way. This is a great help to us on these benches. We have nothing to fear now. When we go to the hustings, we have only to repeat our policy. We have not to find a new one, because the Government are borrowing our policy.
The Minister also said that he hoped that we would not use the debate to too 1438 great an extent to express parochial views. He did not use the word "parochial", but he meant that he hoped that we would not make points which concern our local interests and considerations. I did not understand this, because we have local interests to protect. Part of our function in this House is to try to protect the interests of our constituents.
I want to base the few observations that I have to make on page 230 of the Rochdale Report, paragraphs (139) and (140) at the end of the summary of recommendations, where it says:The National Port Authority should consider what development of the ports in the upper Bristol Channel and on the Clyde is necessary as soon as possible.This is the emphasis that I want to put on this—as soon as possible after amalgamation schemes for those two areas have been implemented.I read into that that the Rochdale Committee must have considered this a very important proposal. It is calling for the development to take place as soon as possible after the amalgamation. Then it says:In implementing schemes for the amalgamation of port and other undertakings,—this is a significant phrase and I hope that the Minister will note what I am saying about this—priority should be given, so far as is practicable, to Southampton, the upper Bristol Channelwhich is the area embraced by Bristol, Portishead and Newportand the Clyde.The Minister may know that, while the general principle which has been enunciated here is acceptable, the conclusions of the Rochdale Committee in this Matter, which appear to me to be adequate, reading the Bill, and are likely to be accepted, are not acceptable to the local authority. The proposal of the Rochdale Committee—I imagine this will be embodied in the Bill—was interpreted as being that there shall be set up a port trust. We believe in Bristol that this is undesirable and also unnecessary. I am glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary in his place, because I have a feeling that he may not be unsympathetic to the representations which we may make to him on this matter. The case for a port trust, according to the 1439 Rochdale Report, was that the advantages would include the benefit to be derived from a formal users' representation.
It said:… we think there is a case for …consulting user interests in the publicly owned ports, to see if there is a need for a more formal means of exchanging views and information. We do not think, however, that the lack of formal users' representation at the Commission's ports, or indeed at Bristol, has greatly influenced the success of these ports either way.We claim, as a city and as a port authority, that we have conducted a very highly successful port. It is administered by elected representatives of the local authority, and although the complexion of the local authority has changed from time to time this has been an outstanding example of complete continuity of policy all the way through. I never remember an occasion where there has been a divergence of opinion as between the political parties in Bristol over the way in which their dock undertaking has been run. This is the reason for the enormous success of the Bristol dock undertaking.
We could perhaps appreciate the proposal of the Rochdale Committee that the control of the Bristol docks undertaking and some of the South Wales docks should be put under the control of a port trust. We think that it is quite unnecessary. We think that it is easily possible, indeed we almost believe that it is a certainty, that we could come to a very amicable arrangement with Newport, which would certainly be to the advantage of Newport which I believe it would acknowledge because its dock is very much under-used at the moment while our dock is running at full capacity almost at all times. We may be glad to be able to divert some of our shipping over there which would help it quite a bit.
In addition, there is now the new proposal, which I believe has already been embodied in a Bill, which will be coming before a Committee of the House later, by the Baldwin steelworks to build a jetty for unloading iron ore, which will stretch about four miles out into the estuary, and which will encroach on the territorial waters of the Bristol docks undertaking and will mean that the dock dues will come to Bristol. This 1440 will be a disadvantage, as we see it, for the Port of Newport.
What I am about to say is not meant to be in any sense criticism of Lord Rochdale himself. He produced a first-class Report, one of the best to come before the House for a very long time. It was lucid and detailed and represented a most thorough and competent study. In saying what I am about to say I am speaking for myself and not for my local authority.
The right hon. Gentleman announced today that he had invited Lord Rochdale to head the new National Ports Council as Chairman. I suppose that one would readily accept this as an exceedingly desirable appointment, since Lord Rochdale has been through the whole gamut of examination of the industry and must be thoroughly conversant with almost every circumstance in every port in the country. But our apprehension is raised by Lord Rochdale's own Report which, on page 187, says:We are aware that our proposal involves a somewhat drastic alteration of existing arrangements, and that not the least striking feature of it is the transfer of the Port of Bristol from local authority control to that of a public trust. We have, however, made our recommendation in full awareness of the long and successful association between Bristol and its port. The overriding consideration in our minds is the absolute necessity of providing for the rational development of port facilities in the upper Bristol Channel.
§ Mr. Webster
Is it not also the case that Rochdale stresses that Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Antwerp have reached their great efficiency under municipal ownership?
§ Mr. Wilkins
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I believe that I am justified in using the description "wonderful" about the record of the management of Bristol docks, yet the Rochdale Report presupposes that progress will stop in Bristol unless a port of supranational authority is imposed.
Our apprehension is increased by the fact that our own proposals to the Ministry envisage dock development in and around the environs of Bristol for 30 to 50 years ahead. That is what we are asking to do. Our plans are not only for the moment. The Rochdale Report admits that the facilities are adequate at present but says that we must look ahead. Bristol is looking ahead—10. 20. 50 years 1441 ahead—and is seeking authority to build deep-water berths calculated to be able to take the very largest of the bulk-carrying ships likely to be built in future. I am puzzled as to why, in view of such a record, there should be apprehension in the minds of the Rochdale Committee about the administration of Bristol docks. I have here a paper sent to hon. Members every month by the City of Bristol. I do not know whether it is coincidence, but it deals this month with the port. I will quote only one sentence. It emphasises the immense pride of the people of our city in their dock undertaking. It states:In 1239 the City had built the Broad Quay and the Narrow Quay involving the diversion of the Frome …Earlier it says:Edward III's famous charter of 1373 making Bristol a county defined the limits of the City and equated the Port's limits with them. The City was extended down to the Holms.I should explain that the Holms are off the foreshore of the constituency of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster). The Holms are still in the Parish of St. Stephen's Church, Bristol, although they are 21 miles away. In the light of this historical association and of the record of administration we do not understand the Rochdale Committee's proposal for Bristol. I suppose the inference is that we are incapable of administering the port and that a trust will be needed to do so.
I am not denigrating the great ability of Lord Rochdale, nor his desire to remain neutral, but nevertheless one must be apprehensive that the proposal of his Committee is in his mind as the right thing to do for Bristol. I should like to think that perhaps some more neutral judgment at this stage could have been brought to bear. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman the Minister could give such a judgment, and I would hope that he would come down on the side of allowing Newport and Bristol to merge the administration of their docks with great benefit to both.
It would be churlish not to say something about the general content of the Bill, which we welcome. We believe that it can be improved and shall try to do so. By and large, we are bound to accept, however, that the time has 1442 come to take a serious view of the country's dock facilities and of what is needed for the future. We do not oppose the Bill but look forward to opportunities of denying at least some powers to the Minister and to obtaining some alterations to improve the Bill.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins), who has spoken with great enthusiasm and interest on this major topic, particularly as it concerns the future of Bristol Docks. In the previous debate on this subject, I had the privilege of saying very much the same thing and I related it to the fact that a number of the Rochdale Report's recommendations are not satisfactory.
Another notable thing in this debate is the anxiety expressed by hon. Members on both sides about the labour content in the docks and their desire that something should be done most urgently to get a better approach to decasualisation than we have achieved so far. I have spoken to prominent union leaders about this recently, and I hoped that something might have been achieved by last summer. It is disappointing and depressing that this has not yet come about, but this is one of those fundamental things about which we cannot legislate, as indeed, is the case with many aspects of labour relations.
I hope that these negotiations will be successful. The fact that we cannot legislate for labour relations is proved by the rather sorrowful remarks of the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) about the lack of training for dock labour under the Bill. I think that he overlooks the fact that the Industrial Training Bill, before the House at the moment, provides for such training. Again, in paragraph 411 of the Rochdale Report it is stated most clearly that… we are glad to report that the National Dock Labour Board in conjunction with the National Joint Council has recently introduced a scheme for the initial training of new recruits to the industry. The object is to introduce the recruit to new and up-to-date methods of cargo handling and at the same time to foster a pride in dock work.That looks after that aspect. We are trying to give these people opportunity for promotion.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)
In fairness to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell), it should be remembered that the Rochdale Committee went on, in the next paragraph, to say that this was at an experimental stage. My hon. Friend, rightly and successfully, was arguing that, in view of the experimental nature of the scheme and the lapse of time between the Rochdale Report and now, one would have expected something more about this aspect in the Bill. That was all he was asking.
§ Mr. Webster
I thank the hon. Member for that most helpful contribution. I was glad to note that although the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West seemed to regret that there was delay, the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) seemed to regret that we were getting on too fast. I read the speech that he made in the debate last summer, in which urgency was the keynote. Yet now he regrets that we are proceeding with the Second Reading so fast.
I hope that the fault he complains about—inadequate consultation—can be fully rectified, if there has been such a fault, and I will make it my business to consult as many interests as possible. But I am sure that, after the very thorough consultation carried out by the Rochdale Committee, what we want is action upon this important subject.
§ Mr. Webster
Another objection raised concerns transport generally. The Opposition have repeatedly, on every aspect of transport, said that there should be no further action until there is a thorough review of the problems of transport as a whole. But it appears to me that we should get on with the job. We have had the Rochdale Report, the Beeching Report, the Jack Report on Rural Transport, the Buchanan Report, the Crowther Report and the Hall Report on transport needs for 20 years ahead. Now we want action and for this reason I very much welcome the progress of the Bill. 1444 I think that it is generally agreed that it is essential that we should have a more purposeful and staged plan for the development of the dock industry. It is generally agreed that there has been no major dock project since 1914, apart from Tees-Port. I think that it is also generally agreed that no major entry lock of over 1,000 ft. has been built since that period. The whole of the dock industry, like the railway industry, is designed for a different age and we have now reached the time when we need a complete re-thinking. The Rochdale Report has been most valuable in this respect.
I believe that it is appreciated that the competition from Rotterdam and Antwerp and Hamburg, all municipal ports, with their tremendous development of deep-water berths, has meant that something has had to be done and done quickly, but it is essential that the development should be not a crash programme, but well staged and well thought out and without money spent in the wrong direction.
This brings me to a problem which I find, as a Conservative Member, tends to harrow the heart from time to time. If there is to be an overall view, who is to take it? A number of people from time to time have referred to nationalisation, and I have mentioned the word in another debate. If there is to be an overall view and a controlling interest in the directing of investment and in some cases, I regret to say, a retarding of investment and, I hope, in due course a divesting of investment as it is no longer required and as valuable property no longer useful in the twentieth century as docks can be realised and sold for the benefit of the parties concerned and for the nation as a whole, the problem of who is to be the authority arises.
The Times is quite succinct on this subject. Last summer, it appeared to me that the authority would be the Rochdale Committee or the National Ports Council. I was a little unhappy about that, because it seemed to be authority and control without responsibility. In this tricky and delicate balance, we have moved to a better stage by giving control to the Minister. This is a great improvement, because he is responsible for the House. However, many procedural questions now 1445 arise. Is the Minister to be answerable for the day-to-day running of the docks, for the investment programmes, and so on?
In the week which has followed the publication of the Bill it has been difficult to assess all this with sufficient maturity to be completely confident. Clause 8 is one of the most typical and goes to the essence of the problem which many of us have. Although many of us wish to have much of this done, we are taking what is a very bold step for a Conservative Government and we have to be careful that we do not put our feet right slam bang in the middle of the dock.
I now return to what was said by the hon. Member for Bristol, South, because much of what he said went to the essentials. One of them is that we are not only to have a central authority over the country, but, with ports like Newport and Bristol, almost a feminine version of the avuncular words of The Times, a. virtuous flirtation between Bristol and Newport—that is better than some of: the expressions which have been used about it. One hears of this virtuous flirtation for negotiations and compensation and valuation of assets and good businesslike phrases, and we hope that it will all come out shipshape.
However, there is talk in the Rochdale Report of super-imposing yet another authority over the two. That is building bureaucracy for which there is no need when there are already adequate compensation and friendly relations between these ports, which are complementary ports. Newport is a port where there are the first bottom cargoes from the heavy industries and one then crosses the Channel to get the next cargo in Bristol, and by so doing increases the capacity of Bristol to export, Bristol now being mainly an importing port. This will make a fundamental difference to the structure of the Bristol Channel and to impose another authority will not help that.
§ Mr. Wilkins
The hon. Member will probably agree with me that Bristol might become a more important export dock when the M.5 is completed.
§ Mr. Webster
I entirely agree. I digress for a moment to press for the 1446 acceleration of work on the M.5. It is not coming quickly enough for my liking.
The hon. Member for Bristol, South talked about the development of Port-bury. Bristol has produced a most imaginative scheme for building an oil refinery and a whole industrial complex south of the existing docks on the Avon. At one time the Rochdale Report says municipal control is one of the essence of civic pride in the port and its success, and then it tries to take the docks of Bristol away from Bristol and, at the same time, seems to wish to retard the development of the Portbury project. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to assure me that Clause 8 will not operate unjustifiably to retard thoroughly worked-out dock projects in general, and. in particular, that at Portbury.
We welcome the principle of the Bill and what it is trying to do. In Committee, we shall have to have a most anxious and thorough and non-party discussion of the problems involved. Some of them are of deep constitutional principle. With that rather mixed blessing, I wish the Bill well.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Commander Harry Pursey (Kingston-upon-Hull, East)
The main object of the Bill is the establishment of a National Ports Council, whose most vital function will be to supervise the development of ports in accordance with a national plan. This is the first real attempt in the history of the Conservative Party to deal with harbours and docks as a national industry, and it is long overdue.
The Minister expressed the pious hope that hon. Members would deal with the principles of the Bill and not with the details of ports. My idea is to deal with some general arguments, but to use one port and one export, its largest, to illustrate the general position. What better port than that in my constituency, which includes the main docks, and what better industry than the major industry of the country?
Someone with a knowledge of the industry should relate it to the Bill and give examples of dock workings and movements and of other things of that nature which have been mentioned. Hull is one of the large ports ripe for further 1447 major development, both because of its important position for continental and other inward and outward traffic, and because of the large volume of trade already handled in the several docks.
On Monday of last week, Hull welcomed the Parliamentary Secretary formally to open the completion of a £5 million development scheme on King George Dock, which is part of a completed £14 million project. Another £5 million is to be spent on Alexandra Dock, but further important developments are necessary to satisfy the increased and increasing demands on Yorkshire's most important port.
The national position, generally speaking, among numerous others presents two serious problems. The first is the berthing of larger and deeper ships, and the second is the greater and increasing shipments of coal, an example of a successful nationalised industry which should be working with the national ports and which does successfully work with the ports of the British Transport Docks Board.
The first problem of larger ships is long-term and seriously affects some of the larger ports. The only solution is the building of new wharves and, in some instances, new deep-water docks. The second problem, coal, is immediate and affects only certain ports which are close to the coal mines, for example, South Wales, Immingham, Hull, the Tyne and Blyth. Coal is by far the largest single outward commodity traffic and yet little or no consideration is being given to the port and shipping side of the development of this important industry.
In one year, total shipments were 27½million tons, 21 million tons coastwise to our own ports and 6½ million tons in exports. The exports are higher this year, largely because of the success of Lord Robens, Chairman of the National Coal Board, and are a 60 per cent, increase on 1962. The annual figure is likely to be more than 9 million tons and to earn Britain £40 million of foreign currency, to the advantage of our balance of payments.
Hull is the largest port concerned with both of these problems. The Rochdale Committee suggested consideration of the timing and advantages of an entirely 1448 new large deep-water dock below Salt End. This had already received preliminary consideration by the Dock Board. Hull is the natural port for the large and productive Yorkshire coalfields and further mechanisation will increase their output and consequently the shipments from Hull. In 1954, Hull shipped 3 million tons of coal and as late as 1957 the figure was more than 2 million tons. However, last year it was only 350,000 tons. This year, the 1 million ton mark was passed in October, and the annual figure is likely to be more than 1,250,000 tons. This is four times the 1962 figure and coal is the largest traffic either out of or. into the port. The target for 1964 is 2 million tons.
The Coal Board is spending large sums of money on mechanising coal getting at the pits, but the advantages gained there are largely lost at the ports which use out-of-date, Victorian coal hoists in this modern, second Elizabethan era and by coal trimmers, on whom final success depends, having to use Stone Age methods in ships' holds. In the final analysis the ultimate objective at all ports is the quick turn-round of ships at the lowest practicable cost. Three factors are required at the same time—coal, a hoist which works and a ship. I appreciate that a dock cannot be run like a coach station. But incredible positions arise at Hull. There are days with coal and ship, but the hoist is not working; or the hoist is working and there is a ship but no coal; or the hoist is working and there is coal but no ship.
Recent examples of four different days workings of the four coal hoists at Alexandra Dock, Hull, give vivid illustrations of the lack of co-operation between the parties concerned with coal, rail, hoist and ship. This may apply also to other ports and other cargoes in Hull. The first three examples are of consecutive days at the beginning of a "week. On Monday, 18th November, three coal hoists out of four started loading ships at 6 a.m. and worked for 10 hours until nearly 4 p.m., when loadings were completed. All three hoists were then idle for four hours. Three other ships and also the necessary tippers to work the hoists and trimmers to trim the holds were ordered for 6 p.m. 1449 but these ships did not berth until 8 p.m. Then two hoists worked for one hour, but one hoist—No. 3—did not work at all.
The ship concerned, S.S. "Beltinge", berthed two hours late and even then the derricks, booms and wireless aerial had not been cleared away ready for loading. Consequently, the coal chute could not be lowered to feed the hold and no coal was shipped that day. This resulted in the "Beltinge" occupying the berth until the third day to the detriment of the next ship on turn. Tippers and trimmers had waited for five hours, until 8 p.m., for no work. But the agent responsible for the ship—whose fees were assured—was comfortable at home or elsewhere enjoying the advantages of an affluent job and could not care less what was happening to his ship or the tippers and trimmers who had been ordered to "stand by".
Tuesday, 19th November, was considered to be a straightforward day. Three hoists out of four started at 6 a.m. and two worked for 15 hours until 9 p.m. The other hoist completed a ship at 4 p.m. and started another one at 6.20. Thus over two hours were lost between ships. On Wednesday, 20th November, three hoists out of four worked from 6 a.m. for various periods and completed three ships. One hoist was then idle for four-and-a-half hours between ships and another hoist did not get a second ship and was idle for two-and-a-half hours. Number 7 hoist stopped at 9 a.m. for nearly three hours for repairs. The ship was loaded by 2 p.m. and the hoist was then idle for nearly five hours.
A second ship, S.S. "Vigsnes", began loading at 7 p.m. but after an hour's work the hoist stopped at 8.15 p.m. because the rail supply of coal had ceased. My fourth example refers to last Thursday, 28th November. Having reached the climacteric of coal figures this year with an October monthly figure of nearly 158,000 tons, or an annual rate of nearly 2 million tons, on this day there were no ships in the dock waiting to load coal. Three hoists at 6 a.m. recommenced loading of three ships started the previous day and two were completed at midday and one at 4 p.m. The result was that both hoists and men were idle at two hoists for nine hours and one hoist for five hours. 1450 Admittedly, the next day, last Friday, three hoists started at 6 a.m. with three new ships. But when I arrived in Hull in the afternoon I was informed that No. 7 hoist had "gone out for the count" after only an hour's working and it was still out about six hours later. And so the sorry tale goes on of lost time and extra expense. I appreciate—no one more so—ths good work done by the tippers and trimmers and great credit is due to men who work under such adverse conditions. But, even so, the stark fact is that each month this year the coal hoists in Hull have been worked for only half the working hours. In other words, with proper co-ordination of all the parties concerned and proper maintenance of hoists double the amount of coal should have been shipped or the same amount in half the time.
Obviously, something drastic should be done to increase the use of coal hoists and reduce the delays with ships, and this argument may well apply to other ports. What is required? This is the sort of responsibility which will still remain with the Minister in spite of there being a National Ports Council. A thorough investigation is necessary into all the causes of the serious loss of time by delays over coal, wagons, hoists, berths and ships. This investigation can be carried out by Lord Robens in respect of the production and despatch of coal; by Dr. Beeching in respect of the provision and despatch of wagons; and by Sir Arthur Kirby, Chairman of the British Transport Docks Board, in relation to the maintenance of hoists and the berthing of ships, because all three factors concern nationalised industries.
But who is to investigate the fourth factor, the ships, the delays in the arrival, berthing and the preparation of ships, the delays in the ordering of tugs and pilots for sailing and the departure of ships? The only person who can inquire into all four factors is the Minister of Transport. I therefore particularly urge the Minister to order an overall inquiry into the supply and transport of coal to Hull and the movement of ships and shipment of coal in Alexandra Dock.
This inquiry is important and urgent in order to increase the use of the coal hoists above 50 per cent, of the ships loaded and the amount of coal shipped from Hull. We must export or die. 1451 Exports are more important than imports and should receive first consideration at our docks. It is crazy that coal, our best export for everyone concerned and a good money-spinner which is now being produced for shipment cannot be shipped as it should be because of unsatisfactory loading facilities at the docks.
To sum up. Hull's main requirements, as the third port, under the Bill and otherwise, may be placed under four headings. First, there is the new deep-water dock about which consideration should be speeded up, the site decided on, plans approved and contracts made. Secondly, orders should be placed for new coal appliances forthwith to satisfy a demand which already exists and is a paying proposition. Thirdly, necessary spare parts should be provided for the four coal hoists and maintenance improved so as to increase their use above 50 per cent, of the working hours. Fourthly, an overall inquiry is necessary to consider improving the supply and shipment of coal and the quicker turn-round of coal ships. This inquiry might well provide useful information for other ports.
My main concern is, of course, for Hull which, with our largest nationalised docks, is one of Britain's most progressive ports. What is required is more progress and more development so that our motto, "Ship via Hull" will attract increasing amounts of import and export trade.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. John Howard (Southampton, Test)
I am sure that the shipping industry will be grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Commander Pursey) for the warning he has issued of the dire consequences of using the Port of Hull. I too propose to disregard the words of advice of my right hon. Friend and illustrate the point I wish to make about the Bill by referring to the Port of Southampton. The point upon which I wish to obtain elucidation relates to the future appointment of a port trust authority to which the Rochdale Committee attached some importance in its Report.
Regarding Southampton which was one of the major priorities in the Report, it is clear that there is a need for certain 1452 immediate developments and plans for further development of the port. Several bodies in the town have put forward alternative plans for development. The Pilots' Association and the Master Mariners' Club have advocated port developments on the western side of the Test. The British Transport Docks Board is proposing to extend the line of quays on the eastern side of the Test on land it already owns and therefore will develop the port upstream in a northerly direction.
There may well be advantages about the plan of the British Docks Commission. But it is important that all possible schemes should be closely examined, and particularly that the new authority should be able to express opinions in good time about the proposed development. The Rochdale Report recommended that the new trust authority should combine the Harbour Board which governs the approaches to the port and the British Transport Docks Board. I do not know whether the Bill provides machinery for dealing with this quickly, but I think it opportune to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he can say how the question is to be dealt with. Is it the Minister who will decide about the future authority after receiving a report and recommendations of the National Ports Council under Clause 16. Or will the recommendations of the Council be accepted automatically?
The other point is, when is the job to be done? I have been in touch with a number of people in the port and already there is a feeling of indecision regarding the future of the port. The fundamental changes arising out of the Report, and the fact that the views of the trust authority may be different from those of the present authorities in the port, leave Southampton in a state of suspense.
Southampton, like many other ports, is concerned with the development of the hinterland and also with road communications. Clause 1(1,c) gives the National Ports Council certain advisory powers and obligations, and it certainly seems desirable to include under this advice on road communications. My right hon. Friend interrupted a speech by the hon. Member for Southampton, 1453 Itchen (Dr. King) to say that Dr. Beeching and Lord Rochdale were already in conversation on this matter, but I feel that it would be desirable from the point of view of Southampton and of other major ports for an obligation to advise on road communications also to be written into the Bill.
I turn now to the provisions which have caused concern among those in charge of shipping using the ports. The Merchant Navy and Airline Officers' Association, for instance, has views about Clauses 18 to 21, and the Chamber of Shipping concurs with the Association's views on the difficulties envisaged in this connection. These Clauses relate mainly to the control and movement of ships in harbours and, broadly, they refer to conditions when visibility is restricted. At present, there is wide use of v.h.f. radio-telephony and radar, and the harbour authorities at Southampton, London, Liverpool, Bristol and several more places, I believe, maintain v.h.f. and radar installations and are able to give information and advice to ships approaching harbour.
It is proposed by the Bill to control navigation instead of merely regulating the traffic. There is an important distinction between regulating and controlling the conduct of ships. The way in which a master conforms to regulations and advice from the port information officer still leaves him in control of his vessel, whereas, as the Clauses stand and as they are interpreted by the Chamber of Shipping and by the Merchant Navy officers, the likelihood is that the master will have to obey the control instructions of the harbour authority, and he may be put in some difficulty if his own views about the movement of his ship conflict with the advice he is given and the control instructions which he will be called upon to obey. A ship must be under the control of the master; it is he who assesses the risk and takes responsibility for the movement of the ship.
Ship owners will, naturally, welcome all measures to speed up movement and, therefore, the turn-round of ships, by reducing delays in approaches to the ports and in the ports themselves, and I am quite sure that this is the basis underlying the provisions of Clauses 18 1454 to 21. But safety must continue to be the paramount factor, and the safe navigation of a ship must remain the responsibility of the master. It is fair to say, therefore, that neither British ship owners nor masters can contemplate proposals, however well-intentioned, which derogate from their responsibilities and add additional liabilities. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will refer to this when he winds up the debate.
There are further dangers in relation to the provisions governing the equipment which will guide ships into harbour. First, there seems to be danger inherent in the power to prohibit the entry of a ship if it is not fitted with the specified equipment. The general view of shipping interests appears to be that the imposition of this sort of obligation to fit equipment, irrespective of the flag of the ship concerned, should be by international agreement and not by unilateral arrangement on the part of one country. As the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said, we have enough difficulties to cope with and enough retaliation against British ships already, and it could well be that regulations of this kind would open the way to retaliation and repercussions abroad. For instance, I gather that Customs regulations can be used abroad to slow up the passage of British hips and make things difficult. It would be a great pity to provide other excuses for action against British ships.
I refer now to another dangerous feature of this group of Clauses giving power to prohibit a ship from entering a port because of lack of the specified equipment. Equipment of this kind is improving rapidly. The general standard of equipment carried by ships of all flags has shown a marked improvement during the past few years. It is felt by those concerned that it would be desirable to allow this development to take its natural course rather than give the harbour authorities power to delay a ship by reason of the need to inspect the equipment it is carrying to ensure that it conforms with what is laid down for ships entering British harbours.
I shall not weary the House with figures, but here are just one or two to demonstrate that quite voluntary 1455 arangements by ship owners are already leading to an increase in the number of ships which carry v.h.f. equipment. For instance, in June, 1960, only 17 per cent, of the vessels passing the Nore used v.h.f. equipment. By September of this year, 54 per cent, of ships carried that equipment. This is an indication of the growing use of v.h.f. It is of interest also that, at 30th May, 1961, British equipment had been fitted in 550 foreign ships whereas in November, 1962, when another count was taken, 1,095 foreign vessels were so fitted. It can be seen that we are making strides in this direction. It would be a great pity to endeavour to speed the process by introducing obligations under the Bill which might cause us embarrassment elsewhere.
I had made one or two notes about the imposition of charges and other matters to which shipping people take exception. However, the hon. Member for Itchen referred to a number of these points in his speech, and, because I know that several of my hon. Friends wish to take part in this debate, I shall not cover the same ground again. Nevertheless, I urge my right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary to consider very carefully the constitution of the harbour authorities and not to change too drastically their membership so that those who use the ports may have some say in the administration of the ports and in the level of charges.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
I have heard the whole of this debate, and I must say that I think that the House has laboured under a rather serious disadvantage in not having had explained to it more clearly and in detail what the effect of the Bill is upon the relations between the National Ports Council, the dock and harbour authorities and the Minister.
I say this not as a lawyer, but as a representative of a Merseyside constituency and of Liverpool, where this whole issue is of prime importance. I believe that the view taken in Liverpool will be that it was very desirable that the proposed relation between the national authority and the local docks and harbour board should, first, be perfectly clearly understood by everyone and should, secondly, be written into the Bill. 1456 I had a doubt in my own mind—I do not know how far it is shared by other hon. Members—as to whether this clarity is achieved by the Bill and whether the relations between these various bodies are sufficiently spelled out.
When we debated the Rochdale Report, we thought in terms of a national ports authority such as that recommended by the Committee which would effectively promote port development of the kind needed at the places where it was needed. So we concerned ourselves very largely in our consideration of the Report with the Committee's treatment of different ports and the relative priority which it accorded to them, thinking that the Report of the Committee would let us know a good deal about the intentions of the national authority when it came to be formed. I expressed disquiet then at the insufficiency of the proposals, as it seemed to me, for port development in Liverpool compared with the proposals made in the Report for other ports.
Now that we can turn to the Bill to see how far it implements the recommendations of the Rochdale Committee and discover what the national authority is to be, many of us are rather disappointed by what we find. As The Times commented yesterday, the Bill is a compromise. Essentially, it is a creature of compromise, and, as I thought it right to mention in my opening remarks, the character and nature of the compromise is still very much in doubt.
It was inevitable that harbour and dock authorities would be vigilant about a proposal for a central authority which might trespass on what they thought should be their preserve, but there was a healthy readiness on their part to acknowledge the need to make port developments subordinate to national requirements. Accordingly, there was in this Bill a great opportunity for taking advantage, in the national interest, of that readiness of the dock and harbour authorities. I doubt very much whether the opportunity has been well taken. These authorities were clearly aware of the need for a central element of supervision and direction if a serious waste of resources was to be avoided. 1457 But in the Bill, as I read it—I dare say that it is capable of more than one interpretation—the National Ports Council is found not to be the sort of body which we had expected. Either my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) is right in saying that the Council has far too extensive powers and much too inadequate a staff to cope with them, or it is something of a boneless wonder, with very restricted powers. At this comparatively late stage in the debate, it is really open to doubt which it is. As it is an important point, going to the heart of the Government's intention, T hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will make the position perfectly clear. There is a real doubt.
The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) shared the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey. He took Clauses 1 and 8 together, which may be the right thing to do. As I say, I am not speaking as a lawyer. I speak as a Merseyside Member, and I want to discover, from a practical point of view, what the Government's intention in an industry of great importance is to my constituents. It may be that both hon. Members are perfectly right in thinking that the Council is given very important and significant powers by the Bill as it stands, particularly when one takes Clauses 1 and 8 together, but the point needs clarification.
The Rochdale Committee recommended that the Council should be empowered to approve capital expenditure above a certain figure. It seemed to me that the hon. Member for Stretford (Sir S. Storey), who dealt with the position of the Manchester Ship Canal, was taking the view that it was very unfortunate that that recommendation had not been implemented. There has been a shift of effective responsibility and control in this respect from the national authority to the Minister. But as I read the Bill, by virtue of Clause 8, harbour development is disallowed except under authorisation granted by the Minister, and the functions of the Council under Clause 8 are entirely consultative.
At that point, the hon. Member for Crosby and my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey say, "That is all very well. The powers of the Council under Clause 8 are consultative, but its real powers are already provided for in 1458 Clause I". I am doubtful about that. Clause 8(5) states:The Minister shall not grant, refuse or vary an authorisation under this section except after consultation with the Council …It seems to be a very limiting phrase in this admittedly all-important Clause of the Bill, if we are to be told that, on a proper interpretation, the powers granted in Clause I go much further in this respect than merely consultative powers in the Council. Clause 8 does not even provide that the Council can propose to a harbour or docks authority that it should seek an authorisation from the Minister for specific works, nor does it give the Council, explicitly, any power to seek such authorisation on its own.
The point is brought further home when one looks at the provision for harbour Revision Orders in Clause 13, which are designed to secure improved harbour efficiency. The procedure for one of these orders commences with an application by the harbour authority, and there is no provision even for consultation with the Council on the desirability or otherwise of such an Order. That is rather a surprising circumstance, and seems to bear out the view expressed in the leading article in The Times yesterday to which I have already referred that this Bill is a creature of compromise, and that the powers of the Council are far less than earlier had been supposed.
The Clause 13 procedure has the result that the Council first hears of the matter, by virtue of Schedule 3, when a draft Order has been made. At that late stage, when the thing is a fait accompli, the Minister has to refer the draft Order to the Council. It is as if someone studying page 3 of Schedule 3 had said, "We had better bring in the Council somewhere"—so in goes this reference to the Council. This is derogatory of the concept of the Council as a body with effective powers which the dock and harbour boards would feel bound to respect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey was inclined to think, and the Bill is capable of this interpretation, that the powers conferred on the Council are far too wide and detailed, and go beyond what its staff can provide for. That may be so if one accepts what is, at first sight, the obvious inter-pretation of Clause 1. But when we 1459 study the provisions dealing with the different classes of Order the Minister can make, we find, contrariwise, that the powers of the national authority are very limited, being confined to consultation at the best. Very frequently the national authority is hardly brought in at all.
It is true that Clause 14 provides that the Council may represent to the Minister that, if there is need for an order for securing great harbour efficiency and the harbour authority does not initiate the procedure, as it may well not do, the Minister should make an Order on his own motion. When analysed, that is a characteristically "lame dog" power, because that representation can be made only when an application for an Order by a harbour authority "is not likely to be forthcoming".
Clause 14 says that the Minister can only do that on representation by the Council when…no application to him for the making of such an order for that purpose is likely to be forthcoming from the authority engaged in improving, maintaining or managing the harbour …Was there ever such a "lame dog" procedure as that? Who is to decide when an application is likely to be forthcoming? How long are we to wait, and what conjectures must we resort to, before we can say that it is unlikely to be forthcoming?
If I may say so with respect, the Minister has a reputation for realism and practicality in his approach to many matters, and he must realise—because this is not a party matter—that there is no streamline efficiency in that provision. It is a very poor thing. Of course, in this, as in other matters, we can be told that the Council can do anything under Clause 1 and that all the rest is mere verbiage—redundant and superfluous. It is just about that that I ask for clarification, because even now I think there is a good deal of doubt on that central issue.
My point is most significantly illustrated by the treatment of "control of movement orders." These orders are designed to permit the safe and uninterrupted movement of ships, and I can well recognise that there is a good deal to be said for giving substantially autonomy to harbour boards and authorities in such a matter, because of their local know- 1460 ledge, and the rest. Nevertheless, these matters have very great importance in the national interest, because they affect the rate of turn-round, and so on, which is a basically important consideration affecting commerce and trade in our ports.
The Council does not come into the picture on these movement Orders at all. There is no provision for the Minister to make such an Order on his own motion, as there is in Clause 14 in respect of the other class of Order to which I have referred. In this instance, the draft Order, if he makes one, does not have to be submitted to the Council. The Council does not come into the picture on movement Orders. Are we to be told again that this does not matter and that it is all in Clause 1?
The usefulness of a national authority depends upon the way it is run. If it fell short of its opportunity and duty, it could be just an encumbrance causing dock authorities much useless and unnecessary trouble. If it were well run, it could co-ordinate dock development and policy in a fashion useful to the nation, as dock authorities would be the first to acknowledge. The Bill, on my reading of it, tends to diminish at the very outset of the enterprise the possible usefulness of the central authority, the National Ports Council. Nobody really gains by that. If the dock and harbour boards think that they gain by it, I believe it is because they misconceive what is in their own as well as in the national interest.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
It is always fascinating to hear the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) piloting us through the shoals of legal difficulties of a Bill. I am sure that the House would not expect me to follow him in that connection. Perhaps I may say what a welcome change his speech was from those of some of his hon. Friends who have taken this as a planning Measure. The feeling is that planning is a prerogative of the Socialist Party. I take this Measure as a form of market research. The difference between the Socialist attitude towards planning and the Conservative attitude towards market research is that we look to see how we can efficiently run an 1461 organisation whereas the Socialists look to see how they can produce a colossus.
We have had plenty of examples of that today. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell), who, unfortunately, is not now in his place, commented on the fact that the Bill does not include powers of control over labour. He complained that the Bill does not contain powers to take over the planning of roads to docks. The fact that the Bill is presented to the House by the Minister of Transport is sufficient evidence that the matter is being co-ordinated. I do not wish to see another colossus of Socialism built up with nobody knowing quite what they are doing or where the power is for them to carry out their duties.
§ Mr. Costain
That is a co-ordinated operation. If I may make this point, and not be ruled out of order, I think that the railway reorganisation is one of efficiency. However, I am sure that if I were' to follow up that intervention further you would rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. In my constituency I have one of the premier docks of Britain from the point of view of passenger traffic, though the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) claimed that privilege. I also have the unique privilege of having the only two fishing harbours in the whole of Kent. When I looked this matter up in the Fourth Schedule to the 1951 Act, I was greatly surprised to learn that Hythe and Dungeness are fishing ports, according to that Act. Hon. Members who know the district will be as surprised as I am to learn that they are there described as ports. In fact, they are efficient fishing establishments very much on the lines which Scottish Members have referred to as marine installations.
§ Mr. Costain
They catch the best fish. I hope that one day we shall get some sprats in this building.
What I want to establish is the fact that those ports were designed under one Bill to deal with the white fish industry. We are now following the parliamentary convenience of taking a 1462 definition from one Bill and transferring it to another. As I understand the Bill, those ports enjoy different privileges from those which flow from the Bill. I should like to know particularly whether they have privileges or disadvantages.
In the area of Romney Marsh we have a large number of ballast pits. In time some of them will become disused. With the growth of yachting and yachting marinas there is a good chance that those ballast pits could be turned into yachting marinas. In the 1951 Act Hythe and Dungeness are referred to as fishing ports. What part of Hythe and what part of Dungeness have the Government in mind? If canals came from the sea into these pits, would they be outside the Bill? If they happened to be a few yards further out in other parts of Romney Marsh, would they enjoy different privileges? I hope my right hon. Friend will advise me whether my constituents are getting the best deal out of this.
We have fishermen and a very efficient fishing fleet in Folkestone Harbour. When I came to the House today I thought that they would be within the Bill. When my right hon. Friend explained The situation regarding docks and the British Transport dock authority, I was doubtful whether Folkestone Harbour came within the Bill, because I understood that packet ports were not necessarily British Transport ports.
Another point which is causing serious concern in my constituency is the development of Dover and Folkestone. They are friendly rivals. People are anxious to know, particularly those who work in the docks, whether Folkestone will expand faster than Dover. Under this Bill who wi1ll decide which port advances most quickly? Will it be the National Docks Council, will it be British Railways, which owns Folkestone, or will it be the Dover authority, which owns the port of Dover? Who is to decide which is the best port to develop.
I had hoped that my right hon. Friend would make some reference to the Channel Tunnel, because the development of this project has a serious bearing on the development of Dover and Folkestone. I do not see how the 1463 National Ports Council can form a considered judgment on the port most necessary to the country unless the Minister is able to give some guidance on the possible development of this project. Can he assure us that before the Bill becomes an Act we shall have some guidance from him about the future, of this project?
With legal Members about I hesitate to make any legal contribution, because I do not consider that this is my correct role in the House. I like to leave such matters to experts. There are one or two major principles in the Bill on which we should have more guidance. It seems to me, having read the Bill in my very amateurish way, that there is provision for both loans and grants for capital improvements but not for compensation should the Council decide to close a port. Does not my right hon. Friend envisage compensation being paid? There has been much comment in the Chamber today to the effect that it is not reasonable that a port should make a contribution to the Council if all that the port is really doing is cutting off its nose if the Council shuts it down. I accept this as a possible objection.
There is provision to control harbour development, but there is no figure as a criterion. I appreciate my right hon. Friend's difficulty in stating a figure to apply both to the Port of London and to smaller ports. I believe that the criterion should be the amount of traffic which goes through a port or the capital assets of a port. Without such information I do not understand how my right hon. Friend can make a proper judgment.
The matter which causes me the most concern is that, as I read the Bill, it gives a power to the Minister not unlike that possessed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. It seems to present that sort of picture, but what particularly worries me about the Bill is the power which my right hon. Friend is taking to allow the National Ports Council to ask for information. Government Departments are entitled to ask for and give information, but I always fear that when a Government Department has the information it goes on asking for more whether it wants it or not. [Laughter.] 1464 I gather from his laughter that the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) agrees with me. I should be ruled out of order if I developed this point further, but perhaps if I am fortunate enough to be called to speak next Wednesday we might deal with this matter.
The difficulty is that the Bill gives power to the Council to ask for information about anything that has to do with a harbour. We have had some discussion today on whether an oil jetty is part of a harbour. We are told that it is, but though I have built a number of docks and harbours I am never quite sure where a harbour begins and where it ends. Does the Bill give power to ask for information about matters outside the jetty and about matters concerned, for example, with the pipes leading from the jetty to the refinery? Where does this seeking of information stop? As I see it, the owner of a tug anchored in the river is liable to be asked for information about it, with due penalty for failure to supply it, though I am sure that it is not my right hon. Friend's intention to take matters that far.
There is another point of a legal nature about the similarity of the power taken by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport with that once given to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. Reference to Clauses 13, 15, 17, and 52 will demonstrate what I mean, and in this connection I would draw the attention of the House to a draft Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Order, 1962, which was tabled on 23rd January, 1962, with reference to the Leicester (Amendment of Local Enactments) Order, 1959, which was made under Section 303 of the Public Health Act, 1875, and which gives wide powers to amend local Acts by Order.
Originally, such Orders had to be confirmed by means of Provisional Order Confirmation Bills, but by Order in Council in 1949 they were made subject to the special procedure. The Government came to the conclusion that the Order-making power in Section 303 is so wide that special parliamentary procedure is not apt for the consideration of Orders made under it. It was announced, therefore, that the Government would seek amendment of the 1465 Order in Council of 1949 so that Orders under Section 303 of the Public Health Act, 1875, should revert to the provisional Order procedure. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government thought that the original procedure was a wrong procedure for him. Why is it now thought to be the right procedure for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and is provided for in the Bill?
I have waited throughout the day to speak in this debate, but I must now give way to others who wish to take part. There are in the Bill a number of provisions which will greatly increase the efficiency of our ports, but before the Bill reaches the Statute Book several of them need to be amended.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I hope that the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) will forgive me if I do not follow him in a discussion of what will happen to Dover and Folkestone. When I first read the Bill I thought that we would have to deal with problems which were far more important to the general economy of the country than is the future of Dover and Folkestone as competitive harbours for cross-Channel traffic. I should have thought that they were complementary, and that with the increase of traffic across the Channel they would be developed.
§ Mr. Costain
They are complementary, but some development will have to take place because of the increase in traffic.
§ Mr. Bence
I wassurprised when the hon. Gentleman said that Socialists did not have the perogative of planning, or some such phrase. He then talked about the Colossus of Socialism. We are discussing a Bill which is to create a national planned harbour system. I am in favour of this. We have a national railways system; it looks as though we are to have a national roadways system; and we have a national airways service. It therefore seems right that we should have a national harbour system. We in Scotland are accustomed to a good deal of State-owned coastal shipping. If it is not State owned, it is State financed, and we are therefore accustomed to a good deal of State-owned and State- 1466 directed enterprise. I welcome the Bill because it seems to be a belated effort by the Government to introduce some planning into our harbours.
Because of past experience of large State enterprises I am worried about one or two things in the Bill. I am thinking particularly of the aircraft industry. Clause 8, which deals with the control of harbour development, contains proposals whereby the Minister can compel harbour authorities to undertake extensive harbour works. It is probably right that the National Ports Council, in consultation with the Minister, should make such decisions, because if the plans for developing Scotland and the North-East are to be successful, and if there is to be an expansion of industry, the port facilities in those areas will have to be considerably improved. But, if our railway service is cut down to too great an extent, the necessity for improving our harbours may not arise. We hope that we shall succeed in keeping our harbours.
If industry in Scotland is to expand, and if the 92,000 people now unemployed are to be brought into employment, it will be necessary to undertake a good deal of capital expenditure, and I am glad to see that under the provisions of Clause 8(5) the Minister, in undertaking certain work, will consult the Iron and Steel Board. This is obviously in connection with the importation of bulk cargoes for use by the iron and steel industry.
The steel industry is supervised by the Iron and Steel Board, which is responsible to the Minister of Fuel and Power. This industry is a great State organisation which is subject to State control through the Iron and Steel Board and the Minister of Fuel and Power. We are now to have a docks system which is to be controlled through the National Ports Council, and I am glad to see that these two State industries are to be in close contact with each other because they are both exporters and importers of large quantities of goods.
In the past we have had experience of a State enterprise, on the insistence of the Minister, making large capital investments to fulfil Government policy at the time, and then, as a result of changing circumstances, or a change in Government policy, the investments 1467 have not been as remunerative as they were expected to be, with the result that those who made the investments were left with a heavy burden.
Clause 10 says that there will be no grants or assistance if an undertaking fails to meet the obligations it has undertaken, perhaps at the insistence of the Minister. In view of the difficulties and uncertainties of the future this is liable to create a situation in which, in certain areas and under certain circumstances, a harbour authority is faced with a heavy capital burden because, four or five years previously, it was compelled to undertake certain harbour works, since when circumstances have changed, not through the fault of the Minister, the Government or the harbour board, and the undertaking has become unprofitable. The Minister takes no powers to relieve that undertaking of the burden, which was contracted on the Minister's advice.
My last point concerns the Minister's power, under Clause 13, to improve the efficiency of harbour installations. The efficiency of a harbour depends upon many things besides those who work in it and the equipment used by them. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) talked a good deal about London and the docks. I know nothing about London, but I am certain that if there is any inefficiency surrounding the docks it can be ascribed to the traffic conditions and, perhaps, shipping entry conditions. The efficiency or inefficiency of any institution is not confined to those who operate within it, or to its equipment. There are forces working from outside over which the people inside have no control.
When the Minister requires a harbour authority to increase the efficiency of its harbour I hope that he will give the National Ports Council power to do things that may not be immediately concerned with the dock itself but which may play an important part in the efficiency of the work of the dock, such as road and rail approaches. The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe mentioned oil feeds from tankers to the oil tanks ashore, or to road or rail tankers. Oil companies can make mistakes.
I should like to know whether the National Ports Council, with the assist- 1468 ance of the Minister, will have powers to compel steel manufacturers importing iron ore in bulk, and similar people, to comply with a certain layout or location of their plant, in order to create maximum efficiency in the harbour. If these people are allowed to plan their layout merely to suit their own efficiency they may create difficulties for the harbour authority. In many branches of industry there are examples where the pigheaded-ness or obstinacy of a customer, because of his desire for the maximum cut of the cake, makes it difficult for other individuals, who also play a part in the integration process.
Clause 13 deals with creating efficiency in harbour installations and organisations, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to assure us that the Council, in consultation with himself and his experts, and with such organisations as the steel industry, British Railways and local authorities, will take steps to see that the ideas of shipping companies and shipbuilders are harmonious and synchronised, so that we shall be able to obtain maximum efficiency in what will in fact be a publicly-owned organisation. Often we see private enterprise doing very well in pursuing operations in which State enterprise plays a part, and there is a bad balance sheet on the State side and a good balance sheet on the private-enterprise side. Sometimes the inefficiency is not on the State-enterprise side.
This is an important matter, because here we will have a great public enterprise co-ordinated and integrated with private-enterprise institutions. This is an acceptable proposition, but I hope that a consequence of this Bill will not be what we have had in the past by which public enterprise can often become the victim of rapacious private enterprise.
I hope that the Minister will pay due regard to that. I trust that in Committee hon. Members on both sides will ensure that there is full co-ordination and integration of our harbour system with our transport system and the large exporters and importers, so that there is the maximum efficiency and protection in our harbours.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I am obliged to the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) for giving me a few minutes in which to make some 1469 observations before the debate is closed. I cannot make the speech I should have liked to make, but I wish to make one or two comments.
First, it seems to me that the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) has answered the point of a number of hon. Members opposite who accused this side of the House of being coverted to Socialism, because his complaint about the Bill was that the National Ports Council is not given enough powers. In other words, the Government have not set up a central bureaucratic control of the type which would have existed under a nationalised industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. J. Howard)—I think that the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) also made this point—asked whether the National Ports Council could advise on the question of roads. I should have thought that that point was covered by Clause 1(1,c), which gives the Council power to advise the Minister on matters dealing with the efficiency of a port. Surely roads must come more and more into this question, since more goods are being delivered by road. That, incidentally, is the answer to the hon. Member for Itchen, who complained that the railway in his area was being cut. To a large extent, ships are now loaded by road, and this practice will increase.
The point which my constituents have asked me to raise relates to the Port of Par, about which I had considerable correspondence last spring with the Parliamentary Secretary. It is an unusual port in that it is small, but growing and prosperous. It is entirely privately owned and was not built under statutory powers. It deals with the product of one industry only, china clay, and. in practice, the products of one firm only in that industry, English Clays Lovering Pochin and Co. Ltd., which is in the same ownership as the port itself. It deals with about 1,500 ships a year and 750,000 tons of china clay of an export value of about £8 million. Therefore, although it is a small port dealing with one firm only, substantial business is conducted through it.
This firm is rather apprehensive about how much it might be interfered with under Clause 8. It is an export firm 1470 and deals in very competitive markets, with a subsidiary producing china clay paying harbour dues to another subsidiary, the docks, both owned by the same principal company. The firm is afraid that it might be asked to increase its charges in order to be in line with other docks in the area. It particularly does not want to be amalgamated or co-ordinated, or whatever the appropriate word is, with Fowey, which has not the same road facilities as Par. Any amalgamaation with Fowey would probably act to the detriment of Par and the china clay industry.
The firm has asked whether it would be possible for a privately-owned dock, owned by one firm and working for one firm, to be excluded from the Bill. In my view, it is doubtful whether this would be possible, but, even if that is not so, I hope that some assurance on the matter can be given. My right hon. Friend the Minister said that there would be a substantial limit below which it would be possible to carry out repairs and improvements, and so on, in a dock without having to resort to obtain authority to do so. If we can be given firmer assurances on that matter a large number of objectors would be less worried about Clause 8. Undoubtedly, several interests are worried by it. Hon. Members have received communications from a number of organisations which are rather alarmed at the wording of the Clause because they are afraid that under it there may be interference with their businesses.
That is the local point that I wanted to make. I feel sure that the Bill has a large measure of support both here and in the country. I agree with hon. Members who have pointed out that the Rochdale Report fits in with the pattern of other reports which we have before us, and that the Bill is the first of a series of measures which will deal with the modernisation of our transport system.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)
We have had an interesting and instructive debate, and I want first to take up the last point made by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), who said that this was the last of the Reports covering the transport system.
§ Mr. G. Wilson
No. The hon. Member is mistaken. I said that this Report was the first of the series, but that this is the first Bill arising from that series.
§ Mr. Hoy
All these Reports deal with transport and modernisation. Many hon. Members on both sides—I thought that the hon. Member was making the same point and I do not think I am misjudging him—have pointed out that we have had the Beeching, Buchanan, Rochdale and other Reports, each of them separate and each dealing with a separate industry without any consultation between them. The Minister says, however, that there has been consultation between Lord Rochdale and Dr. Beeching following their Reports. I am grateful for that and I hope to say more about it later.
One or two of my hon. Friends have complained of the speed with which the Bill has come before us for Second Reading. They were not complaining that the Bill itself had arrived too quickly; but it was published only a week ago, which means that there has been little time for the interested organisations to consult, consider proposals and make representations. I was surprised that the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) did not pick up this point.
§ Mr. Webster
If the hon. Member will read my speech, as I have just done, he will find that I made exactly that point.
§ Mr. Hoy
I heard a considerable part of what the hon. Member said. I thought that he said many sensible things but I did not think that it was so good that he would rush upstairs to read it himself.
However, as I was saying, the complaint is that, with only a week between publication and Second Reading—especially after the Government have taken such a long time to present the Bill—there has been little time for the interested parties to consult and to make representations. For that reason I was pleased to hear—I hope that the information is not wrong—that we shall not start the Committee stage next week but in the following week. It would be still better to begin it after the Christmas Recess.
§ Mr. Hoy
It is all right for the right hon. Gentleman to say "No", but the Bill contains substantial proposals and it will have tremendous repercussions on port authorities. It is advisable to give them more time to find out what their position is to be. I am certain that the docks of my constituency are not unknown to the right hon. Gentleman. All I could do was to telephone and try to get some consultation that way, but we had to return to the House rather sharply and there was not sufficient time. I repeat that we are not complaining about the introduction of the Bill but about the fact that such a short time has been allowed between publication and Second Reading.
It is right that we should have this debate, because the House and the country must understand that this industry is of paramount importance to the economic well-being of the country. We cannot over-estimate its importance and the part which it has to play if we are to make progress.
When the Minister opened the debate, he said that he hoped that hon. Members would not be too parochial.
§ Mr. Hoy
It is a little difficult to understand why the Minister resents my quoting what he said. All he said was that he hoped that hon. Members would not be too parochial and would not make speeches too much in connection with their own constituencies. I have been here practically through the whole debate, and one thing which has delighted me is that hon. Members have taken a fairly wide view of the subject. Nevertheless, it was right that in a debate of this kind they should stress the claims of their own constituencies. One of my regrets is that my job tonight prevents me from highlighting once more the claims of my own constituency—and I say this quite unashamedly. But I put as well as I could the case for my constituency during the debate on the Rochdale Report.
I will content myself this evening by reminding the Minister that the Leith Dock Commissioners are still awaiting the date of the meeting requested by them months ago. I remind him that that was a request not only from the 1473 Leith Dock Commissioners but from every hen. Member for the City of Edinburgh, on both sides of the House, and my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. J. Hill). It was a request from them. When the Minister talks about getting a little speed in the matter, I remind him that we have been four years on this job and that in July of this year he said, "Leave it to me and I will call a meeting in the autumn". At least according to the Scottish calendar, autumn has now gone. I do not know what is the position in England. I have written to the Parliamentary Secretary who asked me whether I could wait just a little longer. This I have done. I do not think that we are hurrying the Minister too much if we ask whether he can tell us when this meeting will take place.
I said in my opening sentence that the industry which we are discussing is of vital importance. When we remember how much we depend for our living on foreign trade we immediately see the necessity for having up-to-date ports and installations and for handling the goods in the most efficient and economic way.
I should like the House to look for a moment at two sets of figures which are significant to this problem and to consider whether the Bill will make any important contribution to its solution. Let us first deal with world trade. The physical volume of world trade continues to increase. As measured by exports it has practically doubled since 1951. Indeed, in 1962 it was more than two-and-a-quarter times what it had been in 1938, the last pre-war year. But the share of this total trade for which the United Kingdom is responsible is declining. The United Kingdom's share of world exports in 1958 was 11.8 per cent., but by 1962 it had fallen to 86 per cent. The imports for which this country was responsible in 1938 were 18-5 per cent., and the figure had fallen to 9.2 per cent, in 1962. This showed a remarkable decline in Britain's trading position.
What is even worse, over this period the trade of America and of nearly every European country has increased. That is a significant factor. It seems that this increase in their trade has been at the expense of this country. This is important if we are to understand the 1474 problem. When I say "at our expense" I am not referring to the expense either of the Government, which is representative of the Conservative Party, or of the Labour Party, which I represent. It is at the expense of the country of which we are all members. Unless we pay considerable attention to this we shall get into even greater difficulty.
There is another change of which we must take cognisance which is very significant for this country. Over these years there has been a considerable change in the size of vessels using the ports of the world. They are getting bigger and bigger, as two simple sets of figures will show. In 1952, only 3 per cent, of the vessels launched were of more than 15,000 tons, but by 1961, the last year for which figures are available, the figure had risen to 71 per cent., or by nearly two and a half times. Tankers, which are playing an ever greater part in world shipping, numbered 254 which were more than 15,000 tons, or 71 per cent, of total shipping, in 1955, and 1,006, or no less than 20-5 per cent, of the total tonnage, by 1962.
These figures are significant for this country, for we are not sharing in this trade. If we are to increase our share of world trade, it is of supreme importance that we should have docks capable of taking these larger vessels and installations capable of more efficient discharging and loading of cargo, and therefore of a speedier turn round of shipping. We have not been doing enough to meet this need.
The urgency of this matter was highlighted in the Rochdale Report, which forecast that by 1966 the tonnage of dry cargoes passing through British ports would be one-third larger than it was in 1958–60. If the Report was correct, by 1975–80 the 1960 tonnage will probably be doubled. I assert that our present ports are not capable of handling this tonnage, and speed in providing new docks is the whole essence of the matter.
As hon. Members have discussed the little rules which are being drawn up by the Bill, I have wondered whether they have all appreciated the size of the problem confronting us. I beg hon. Members not to under-estimate the size of the task, even if the sums mentioned in the Bill do. Those sums will not 1475 measure up to the job which we are undertaking.
I agree with the Minister that when we have a Bill which says that the sum will be £50 million, or £100 million if the House cares to pass the necessary Resolution, that does not represent the total expenditure, but only the contribution which the Government are prepared to make, and that the rest of the bill will have to be met by port authorities. This is a step in the right direction, if not a considerable step. However, when I remember my tremendous arguments with the Ministry of Transport over the years, when I have been told that nothing could be done because no Government had ever given any financial assistance towards making the ports up to date, I agree that this is a tremendous departure, which I welcome. But it still does not measure up to the problem.
The problem was put succinctly in one sentence of the Rochdale Report. I quoted this when we debated the Report in July. It is this:No single additional deep water berth for general cargo has been started since the 1930s, apart from those now nearing completion at Teesport.Most of us know that these have been completed; but it is a deplorable record for a nation which claims to be a great maritime nation that it has not provided a single deep-water port in 30 years. That is one more test of what this Bill seeks to put right.
There can be no greater condemnation of our complete failure to keep our ports up to date, and by not doing so we handicap them in respect of foreign competition. But even with this stark reality facing us, do we think that the proposals in the Bill will be adequate to meet our needs? I put these factors before hon. Members and leave them to form their own judgment. It is not my intention to weary the House by going over again the examples which I cited during the debate on the Report of the Rochdale Committee.
I will use for my argument the development taking place at the Dutch Europort. That is being developed by the Dutch at a cost of no less than £70 million. That figure does not include the installations and the fitting out of 1476 the port, so that the completion of this port will result in an expenditure of not less than about £90 million. Already the Europort has left behind all other European ports. Last year in comparison the Port of London, which is so well represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) who opened the debate—and to which a great tribute was paid by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sunderland (Sir D. Robertson)—last year handled 57 million tons of cargo. That seems a vast amount, but one must face the fact that it was 3 per cent, less than the year before. The Rotterdam traffic rose from 90 million tons in 1961 to 96 million tons last year. The Rotterdam Europort is challenging New York as the largest new port in the world. This is the measure of the problem which confronts us.
We make a contrast with this Bill which makes provision for only £50 million—and £100 million if we pass a Resolution—and compare that with the expenditure on one port in Europe. We can then estimate how much we can do. What disturbs me a little about the proposals of the Government is the fact that they have been pouring out money for all sorts of reasons during the last few weeks.
§ Mr. Hoy
My hon. Friend reminds me that I should have said that the Government have been pouring out money for all sorts of purposes but for only one reason, because I know what the Prime Minister said, that every action must be with an eye to the General Election. I think the hon. Gentleman thought that this was a justification for what he spoke about earlier as political integrity.
We have to contrast this performance with a minimum of £70 million spent on one port in Europe and a contribution under this BUI for £50 million for the modernising of all the ports in Britain. I made this further comparison. Let us compare it with the Government's latest proposals in respect of agriculture and horticulture. I think that a fair comparison. Under the latest legislation dealing with the tomato, lettuce and cucumber division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Government 1477 propose to pay out in subsidies and grants no less than £50 million, which is about equivalent to the sum they are providing for the modernisation of all the ports of Britain.
Many of my hon. Friends argue that the Minister has said that all the administrative expenses in connection with the development of the ports and the National Ports Council have to be paid by the port users and the port authorities. But under the agricultural and horticultural legislation, in addition to the £50 million, the Government make provision for paying out £600,000 a year for administrative expenses. I ask the Minister to look at this problem again not only regarding the amount involved but in respect of who is to pay the administrative expenses. If he gets the Government to shoulder this responsibility for the ports—apparently his right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has persuaded them to undertake it for agriculture—it will prove to those interested in the welfare of our ports that the Government are taking this matter seriously.
One other thing which we must remember is that in measuring these sums of money the Rochdale Committee has already estimated that the total cost of development schemes considered by the committee to be urgently necessary or desirable would amount to about £150 million. Indeed the Rochdale Committee said that about £50 million of this sum was regarded as absolutely essential for schemes of high priority. In the Report it is stated that the very essence of these schemes was speed in undertaking.
I hope that I have said sufficient to convince the Minister and the House that the financial provisions will have to be looked at again if we are in earnest about bringing our ports and docks up to date. How the money is to be spent and the powers of the National Ports Council to order and cancel schemes will require very careful examination in Committee. I wonder what hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite would have said if the Bill had been introduced by one of my right hon. Friends. The powers which the Minister proposes to take for himself are very extensive, power not only to take land but to take it compulsorily, power to order people to carry out schemes, power to 1478 stop people carrying out schemes, and even power to impose upon people whose harbours might be closed down the obligation to pay the expenses of the committee which will carry through the closing down. This is the length to which the Minister goes. We shall want to look at it carefully in Committee, and I am certain that many of his right hon. and hon. Friends will look at it with some diffidence.
The consequences of all these compulsory amalgamations will have to be taken into account for many reasons. The employment of people engaged in the docks is of great importance to all of us in the House. The social consequences can be very great. One cannot close docks and harbours without producing a reaction on the areas in which they are situated. Before these decisions are taken and approved, therefore, we shall have to consider the influence they will have socially on the surrounding neighbourhoods.
It is for this reason that some of my hon. Friends from Wales have been worried. Broadly, they think that Lord Rochdale and his Committee were not, perhaps, as generous to them as they might have been, and they look forward to these proposals with some trepidation. Further, on this part of the matter as it affects Wales, I think that the Minister should give a better explanation of what will be the powers of the steel companies in Wales to erect and pay for jetties and harbours.
§ Mr. Hoy
It is rather more than the £18 million. That is for one scheme alone, and it might mean as much as £30 million. What disturbs us a little is that, under the Bill, as I read it, they have to get the approval of the Iron and Steel Board and then of the National Ports Authority, but I notice that Clause 9 is carefully worded to provide that, even so, no criminal proceedings can be taken for contravention except that an injunction might be taken out. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that, by the same Clause 9, if anyone fails to produce books for the Minister's inspector, he can be fined £20. As I say, there should be an explanation of why there appears to be this difference of treatment between the Iron and Steel Board and other users. 1479 As I said at the beginning, we can operate the BUI—and I hope that it will eventually be operated—but let the House be under no misapprehension about it. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite should understand what they are doing. This is one more confession by the Government that all the difficulties with which we are confronted cannot be overcome unless there is a national plan to deal with them. It is a little more popular now to speak of national plans. At one time, we were abused for doing it. Nevertheless, we have to go a little further yet. Unless we have an efficient road and rail transport system which will ensure the speedy and efficient transport of goods to and from the docks, much of the good which the Bill might do will be nullified.
On behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends, I can only express the hope that, some day soon, Britain will have a Government which will face the problem of providing an integrated transport system. Without an integrated transport system efficiently run, giving good road and rail services married to a ports system which is efficient and up to date, we shall be handicapped in the race. Only by applying what we believe to be the real solution to the problem, an integrated transport system for the benefit of the country as a whole, shall we be able effectively to meet the situation confronting us.
§ 9.28 p.m.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett)
I am glad that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) recognises what he described as the paramount importance of the Bill. I am grateful to him, also, for his restraint about Leith. I think that we must await the report from the National Ports Council before having the meeting to which he referred. I assure him that the Council is fully seized of the urgency of reaching its recommendation. I question the hon. Gentleman's conclusions about trade statistics, but I shall not pursue that matter now. It is so complicated that we could very well have a whole day's debate on it, fortunately not with myself having to reply.
The hon. Gentleman was on very much firmer ground when he referred to the growing size of vessels and the implications of this trend. I hope that 1480 he will accept from me that this was, perhaps, the chief reason in the mind of my right hon. Friend for the setting up of the Rochdale Committee in the first place.
I also agree with him that the debate has not concentrated on constituency points—a fact for which the whole House should be grateful—but, in one respect, it has been a curious debate because, without exception, every hon. Member who spoke in it supported the Bill in principle, although with some of the speeches that followed I began to wonder why. I will do my best to answer the various points raised, though if I were to attempt to do them justice, or even mention them all, we should be here all night. However, there will be a Committee and a Report stage when, no doubt, a great deal more will be said.
Before dealing with the various points, I should like to repeat the two broad objects of the Bill. They are, first, to provide a national framework while giving full scope to local initiative and, at the same time, ensuring that it conforms with the needs of the nation as a whole; and, secondly, to free our ports from outmoded restrictions and formalities which impede their efficient operation.
It has been suggested that Clause 1 will have the effect of undermining local initiative and delaying development, but this is not so. Neither we nor the ports themselves have nearly enough information at present about the flow of traffic through the ports, and only when this information has been collected and analysed will it be possible to begin to formulate a national ports plan. I do not think that any hon. Member could question the need to consider port development as a matter of national as well as local concern. That is really what Clause 1 is about.
I should like to give the House some idea of how the new dispensation is likely to work in practice. The National Ports Council will accumulate and interpret information. It may then come to the conclusion that, for example, deeper grain berths are required on the North-East Coast. These ports interested in providing these berths will then, we hope, in consultation with the Council, submit proposals to my right hon. Friend. The Council will advise him 1481 whether it considers the proposals for siting, depth and timing are right or wrong. That is what is meant in the Bill by the words…supervising the putting into effect of such plans …".It is definitely not the intention that the Minister or the Council will interfere with day-to-day management or get between a port and its customers and contractors. As far as possible, the ports will be left alone to get on with the job—
§ Mr. Mellish
Can we, therefore, take it that if we put down a reasoned Amendment that did that in clear terms, it would be accepted by the Government?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
It would certainly be considered. I was about to say that we have tried to produce a comprehensive and satisfactory Measure, but that is not to say, and we do not pretend to say, that it is not capable of improvement. My right hon. Friend and I will approach the Committee stage with open minds, as we said we would when the matter was debated last July, and we shall be glad of any improvements that the wisdom of Parliament can suggest.
Hon. Members were particularly concerned at the changes we are proposing in the method whereby harbour authorities obtain their powers from Parliament. As my right hon. Friend said earlier, we have deliberately left it open to anyone who may wish to do so to proceed by way of private legislation—that is the answer to one of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North (The Earl of Dalkeith)—but if we want to secure the objects of the Bill we must also make available much speedier and less costly procedures.
The problem is to strike the right balance between the need for safeguards and the need for action. To obviate the need for further legislation by giving the Minister power to make Orders, we have tried to distinguish between matters that are likely to be uncontroversial, or which are likely to be amenable to private agreement, and those that may involve more deep-rooted conflicts of interest.
For the former, easier cases, we are proposing to proceed by way of negative 1482 Resolution. I have in mind the power under Clause 8 which specifies what class of harbour works will require authorisation, and the power under Clause 18 to make control of movement orders for which application can be made only by the harbour authority. By Clause 55, the Minister is obliged to consult any other harbour authority that may be concerned.
On the other hand, for the Orders that are required under Clauses 13 to 17, we thought it right to propose special Parliamentary procedure. That covers harbour revision Orders, which deal with the constitution of the harbour authorities, harbour empowerment Orders, giving harbour authorities the power to carry out new projects and Orders for confirming harbour reorganisation schemes. I hope that the House will agree that, in this case, special Parliamentary procedure is a suitable method which, together with the provision for advertisement, prior objection and public inquiry, provides adequate safeguards for all interests without causing any unnecessary delay.
In view of what was said earlier in the debate, perhaps I should explain, or try to explain, what special Parliamentary procedure involves. The main features of the procedures laid down in the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act of 194:5, which is slightly amended by Clause 52 of the Bill, are, as slightly amended, as follows.
An Order subject to this procedure must be laid before Parliament after notice of the Minister's intention to lay it has been advertised in the London Gazette. Objections may then, within 14 days after it has been laid, be presented against the Order. These objections, of course, can either be directed against the Order generally or seek merely to get it amended. The Lord Chairman of Committees, and the Chairman of Ways and Means; then report whether, and what, petitions have been presented, or, alternatively, if no petitions have been presented, either House may then, on the Motion of any Member, within 14 days of the Chairman's report, annul the Order—that is, if they have voted that way on the: Motion.
If the Order has not led to any petitions, the Order takes effect. If there 1483 are petitions, they can go to a Joint Committee of both Houses, and that Joint Committee can then either report the Order back without amendment, or report it with amendments of the kind that will give effect to the petition, or, if the petition is directed against die Order generally, the Joint Committee can recommend that the Order be not approved. If the Order is reported without Amendment, it takes effect immediately. If it is reported with Amendment, it takes effect as amended. If the Committee reports that the Order should not be approved, the Order can take effect only if it is confirmed by Parliament.
§ Mr. Hoy
I understood that this was in fact the procedure dealing with these Sections. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman is leaving this point, may I ask him what type of Order will be taken under Clause 50, which deals with Sections 3, 8, 18, 19, 38 and 55? Is it to be a negative or an affirmative Order?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I am afraid I cannot answer that question off the cuff. I will not attempt to do so. I shall have to look it up.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
Yes, but I cannot answer on all the Clauses from my head; I can assure the hon. Gentleman of that.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
Does the procedure the hon. and gallant Gentleman has outlined apply to Scotland?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
So far as I am aware, it does.
It has been said by several hon. Members that the Bill places too much power in the hands of my right hon. Friend and that abuse of this power could, in less responsible hands than those of my right hon. Friend, lead to a form of dictatorship over our ports or to excessive bureaucratic interference. All power is capable of abuse, but what we have tried to do in this Measure is to achieve a balance of power between the Minister, the National Ports Council and the individual ports, whereby no one element 1484 will be in a position to dictate to the others.
In seeking to achieve this balance of power, we have departed in some respects from Lord Rochdale's recommendations. First, we have not included any positive powers of direction to carry out harbour schemes. I dealt with this question at some length when winding up our debate on 10th July. I said then that it was extremely unlikely that we would ever find ourselves in a position where a port refused to carry out a scheme which everybody else thought was essential.
The other main departure from Lord Rochdale's recommendations is that many of the powers which he envisaged as being vested in the National Ports Council are now vested in the Minister. As my right hon. Friend said at the beginning of the debate, one of the reasons for this is that the Minister is responsible to Parliament, and we have thought it right that whoever exercises these powers should in the last resort be answerable to Parliament. We have done this also to achieve the balance of power of which I spoke earlier so that no one person or body will be in a position to coerce everybody else. Finally, we have done this because the National Ports Council is a brand new body. It will take time for the Council to gain the confidence of the people who run our docks. I am sure that it will not take it long to establish this confidence, but, until it does, it would not be right to vest in it the extensive powers reserved to my right hon. Friend in the Bill.
At this stage I think I had better answer a question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley), my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), although I was not here to hear his speech. That concerns the question of the fishery harbours and marine works. As hon. Members may have noticed, opportunity is taken in the Bill to redefine marine works so as to exclude those harbours which are not used for fishing or Highland transport. But for those harbours which remain marine works and for the fishery harbours in England and 1485 Wales my right hon. Friend will be prepared to consider the possibility of introducing Amendments to apply to them certain of the more streamlined procedures applied to other harbours by the Bill, particularly in relation to the making of Orders and the freeing of charges from control, provided—I stress this—that these changes in the Bill do nothing to delay, or jeopardise its rapid progress through Parliament.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
The hon. Member for Bermondsey, when he opened the debate, made a very fine reactionary Tory speech of a type which is no longer to be heard from this side of the House. In spite of that, there were certain points on which he carried the House with him, particularly his references at the beginning to the importance of dock labour and to how little will be achieved in improving the conditions of dock labour until we get decasualisation. As he said, there is agreement, and there has been an agreement for a long time, in principle, but not in detail on this. The hon. Gentleman suggested that it should be the task of the National Joint Council for the Port Transport Industry to organise a scheme. That may well be so. He asked us whether we would consider, together with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, whether some new impetus can be given. I think I can give him an assurance that we will do that.
In answer to other hon. Members, dock labour is not dealt with as such in the Bill, because it is the function of the Dock Labour Board. It comes under a different heading of legislation. I answered one question in an intervention, but I will repeat my answer. The powers contained in the Bill for training people for the; management and the technical duties in ports would certainly extend to training suitable candidates from dock workers for those jobs, but what they do not do is contain powers for the training of dock labour as such, because that is covered in other legislation and under other schemes.
The hon. Member for Bermondsey said that the dock industry—I think he meant the harbour authorities—disliked the National Ports Council. Indeed, he hinted 1486 that they would prefer something of a cipher. He went on to say that Clause 1 was too strong. I have dealt with Clause 1, and I will not repeat my observations.
On Clause 2 the hon. Member asked whether the Council would have a large technical staff. The answer is no, not as we see it. It will have a small technical staff of a high grade. They will make use of the technical staffs already possessed by the port authorities, and if more help is required there are such people as consultants who can be employed on that sort of job. A great permanent duplicate Ministry of Transport for ports only is not envisaged.
The hon. Member went on to object, as other hon. Members and harbour authorities have objected, to the levy. My right hon. Friend has explained why we think it right to pay the administrative expenses by levy. There is a precedent in the case of the Iron and Steel Board and the figures are not big for this industry. On the assumption that the Council will cost with its staff about £200,000 a year, the levy works out at about one-third of a penny per ton of cargo, which is not a very great charge.
A good deal has been said in the debate about Clause 8. There has been some misapprehension in the House about the nature of the schemes which will require the Minister's authorisation. It is not the case that the Bill gives my right hon. Friend power to consider every minor harbour improvement. Before the Minister can assume the power set out in Clause 8 he has to make an Order or a number of Orders specifying what kind of works will come within the ambit of the Clause. These Orders can vary as between one port and another as circumstances may require. I assure the House that my right hon. Friend will not proceed hastily. He will consult the Council and the Harbour Authorities' Association and he will lay the Order before Parliament and hon. Members will have the opportunity to debate it.
§ Mr. Mellish
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is a good Tory reactionary. Does the Minister intend at an early date to announce a figure, which will be of some consolation to the harbour authorities, below which it will not be necessary to seek permission?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
Not until after further consultation. In any case, my right hon. Friend replied in an intervention in the debate that the figure will not necessarily be the same for one port and another. It is not quite as simple as that.
Several hon. Members had a great deal to say about the iniquities of the control of movement Orders and I want to reply to them in some detail. The question of the use of radar and radio and telecommunications was referred to in paragraph 256 of the Rochdale Report which ended by saying thatPort authorities should, for their part, do all in their power to bring this about"—that is these schemes—and to ensure that the development of port navigational aids and ancillary services keeps pace with developments in the field of shipping. Success will also depend, however, upon appropriate equipment being fitted in ships.The weakness of the present port radar information services established on the Mersey, at Sheerness, Gravesend, and Southampton, is that the port authorities have no means of ensuring that vessels make use of these services in low visibility. Vessels not equipped with v.h.f. and radio can and do commit themselves to entering long and narrow channels without being aware of whether the channel is likely to be clear. Vessels, and small vessels particularly, are liable to anchor in the channels when they find visibility too low to proceed without guidance, thus effectively closing the port.
I referred to this on 7th February when addressing the annual luncheon of the Dock and Harbour Authorities' Association and I gave notice that it was our intention to include some Clauses in the Bill that would be necessary to implement the Rochdale Report, to give port authorities the necessary powers. On 10th April last we set up a small professional inter-departmental Committee. As a matter of interest, that Committee made recommendations which would have gone considerably further than Clauses 18 to 21. On 21st June and 18th July, I discussed our proposals with the Dock and Harbour Authorities' Association and with representatives of the Chamber of Shipping respectively. As a result of these discussions we modified the proposals to 1488 meet some of their wishes. I would emphasise that senior officers of the Merchant Navy with up-to-date seagoing experience were present at these discussions, and that we profited from their advice.
I referred to this matter again in clear terms when winding up the debate on 10th July. There has been ample warning and considerable discussion concerning the whole matter. We did not consult the United Kingdom Pilots' Association as such, nor the seafaring unions as such, nor did these bodies ask us for consultation. Indeed, the time for consultation will come when the Orders fall to be made.
It is fundamental that the operation of any particular Order under the Bill must depend on the co-operation of the local pilots, but the time for consultation is when the Order is being drafted, and I have no doubt that such consultation will take place between the port authority concerned and the local pilot body. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, the primary object of this Clause is to promote greater safety, for which the Government have a particular responsibility.
There is also an important secondary reason, namely, the need to keep a port open when visibility is limited. Hon. Members may have noticed that within 24 hours of the printing of this Bill the newspapers reported that the lower reaches of the Thames had been closed to shipping for several hours on account of bad weather. In point of fact this was not so in the sense that any instruction had been given to stop movement, although it was the fact that a number of vessels did anchor in the approaches to the Estuary. Nevertheless, thanks to the existing information services, several vessels succeeded in entering and reaching their berths during that time.
With modern radar there is no reason why movement should not continue to be safe even in fog, provided always that the proper facilities exist and are used. The requirements are that vessels wishing to enter or leave must be able to receive both advice and instructions from a shore station equipped with suitable radar and plotting facilities and, acting under the general instructions of the harbour master. 1489 The advice is concerned mainly with the exact position of the ship in the channel, and this can be given already. The instructions will be concerned with the routing and timing of a vessel's movement, and, where necessary, with the anchorage to which it should proceed if movement is impracticable. To receive these instructions it is necessary that vessels should have the appropriate v.h.f. equipment. We are not taking power to make such equipment compulsory, but we propose to require that vessels which have not the necessary equipment shall wait until visibility improves, and this will apply equally to British and foreign ships. It is analogous to the rules which have been in force for many years concerning the approach of aircraft to aerodromes during periods of limited visibility.
In passing, I would point out that the fitting of the necessary equipment does not involve great expense. It costs between £300 and £500. Even a standard radar set costs only £1,000, and in relation to me value of the ships themselves these are not large sums. Our information is that even going down to ships as small as 500 tons, over 40 per cent, of British ships are now so fitted.
There is no proposal to take away the handling of the ship from the master, and no question of giving masters or pilots direct orders on how to "con" their ships. They will be told which approach to take, at what time they should aim to arrive at a certain point, or where to anchor as the case may be, but the essential thing for safety and continuous movement is to phase each ship's movement with other ships' and thereby ensure that there will be a clear channel for them. This requirement becomes more and more important as the size of vessels increases.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Sir S. Storey) and the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) spoke of the harbour at Manchester. We agree that the port is unique, and we see the reason why the authority says that it needs an especially high ceiling for expense without getting approval. As I have explained, in the working of the Clause it is possible, should my right hon. Friend so desire it, to provide that. 1490 If I may say so without appearing patronising, my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) and the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) made helpful and constructive speeches. My hon. Friend welcomed the provision of harbour revision Orders, but suggested that they should be made renewable every year. I am not sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would welcome the idea of another piece of annual legislation, but I have no doubt that the question can be discussed in Committee. My hon. Friend also stressed the urgency of development work, that is to say, renewing some equipment in the harbours, with which we agree.
The hon. Member for Greenock spoke about the vested interests that still exist. That is to be expected in an old industry, but hon. Members on this side of the House hope that the Opposition Front Bench will not appear too forthright as their champions.
§ Mr. Mellish
So as to get it on the record, what the hon. and gallant Gentleman is saying is that harbour authorities are vested interests and thoroughly bad, reactionary Tories—the lot of them.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I do not think that I went quite so far as the hon. Member suggests. I said that it is only to be expected that there are some vested interests in any old industry. That is inevitable, and it is no reflection upon anybody. It is natural and understandable.
The hon. Member for Greenock recalled Lord Rochdale's recommendations about the development in the Clyde, and welcomed Clause 1, although he was afraid of the degree of control. I hope that I have done something to allay his fears. I am sure that ideas will not be turned down simply because they are novel so long as Lord Rochdale is the Chairman, and my right hon. Friend and I are at the Ministry of Transport.
The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) referred to the importance of the fullest co-operation of interests. That does not mean that each interest must have its own way. That is not a possibility. Consultation and consideration is one thing, but obedience 1491 to every separate interest is quite a different matter.
I should have liked to comment upon the interesting remarks made about Bristol by two hon. Members, but I can only repeat what I said in the last debate, which is that I am sure that any Minister of Transport would require cogent reasons before upsetting the present arrangement for the ownership and management of Bristol. I am sure that there are more ways of running a combination between Bristol and Newport than by a certain form of trust.
The hon. and gallant Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Commander Pursey) paid a well-deserved tribute to the work of the port, but he went on to give a number of very detailed criticisms of its operation, for which, I am thankful to say, Ministers are not responsible, and he ended by urging that we should order an inquiry. I tremble to think of the row that would follow from the harbour authorities if we did that.
In conclusion, I want to draw attention to the pioneering nature of this legislation. The Bill breaks new ground in permitting, and even requiring, the Government to play a more active part in the development and administration of our ports at the level of general policy. It is not our idea to tell individual port authorities how to run their undertakings, but it is necessary that the Government should ensure that overall development is on the right lines. No one would dispute the vital part that the ports play in our transport system. Our economy as a nation depends for its existence on international trade, and the efficiency of our transport system is the thing on which trade depends. We therefore think it right that the Government should take ultimate responsibility for the ports.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Commit' tee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).