§ Question again proposed.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Irvine
I was endeavouring to make the point that when shippers and shipowners at a conference determine as between various ports—deciding to which ports vessels or cargoes should be allocated—they are likely to have regard not only to their past relations with these ports but also to the existing facilities, and to the level of current development and the intentions for future development. All these reveal the prospects of a port when its claims are being considered.
It is on the question of the impression given as to current development and plans for future development that the language of the Rochdale Report appears to many of us to be so discouraging, for it has the very limiting phrasefor the time being effort at both Liverpool and Manchester should generally be concentrated on making the most of existing facilities".I have already indicated that that has disappointed Merseyside when compared with the way in which Southampton, 1298 Tilbury and Glasgow, for example, have been treated.
I hope that, if he is able, the Parliamentary Secretary will give an assurance that this lack of emphasis on the importance of new port development on the Mersey does not reflect the Government's view of the relative importance of development of Merseyside compared with development elsewhere.
I well understand that it may not be possible at this stage to indicate how the Government react in detail to the Rochdale recommendations as between one port and another, but it would be something at least to have an assurance, if that is possible today, that the Government do not regard themselves as in any way wedded to the order of priorities set out in the Rochdale Report. If the Parliamentary Secretary felt able to go further and say that it is intended to give the highest priority to Liverpool, then obviously his observations to that effect would be welcome to Merseyside Members and to their constituents. As I have indicated, I am endeavouring to bear in mind the manifest duty we have, in pressing constituency interests, to do so reasonably and logically, if we can, in the context of the national interest.
I suggest that only a superficial view is expressed when it is said, as one sometimes hears, that the development of trade with Europe in particular is likely to give an advantage to the southern and eastern ports as distinct from those on the West Coast.
In my view of the matter, the development of pipeline communications across country is only one of many examples which may be brought forward to counter that proposition. Moreover, it is surely the case, is it not, that it is becoming increasingly clear that in all likelihood the future will see a great development of the concept of an Atlantic community, with Europe and the United States and ourselves within it all forming a great and expanding trading relation. As this occurs, Liverpool will be a veritable centre, a nodal point, of the trade of that alliance, and it is with that kind of long-term consideration in mind that I beg the Government and the Parliamentary Secretary to give the House today an assurance upon a matter which is of immense importance—that the great prospect which there is of the expansion 1299 of trade and port facilities on Mersey-side is seized and understood by the Government, and that they are determined to do everything possible to see that advances are made in the years to come.
I wish, in conclusion, only to mention in outline one or two other points. The first point which I mention is that if ever there were a justification for financing enterprise by direct Government grants for development, it surely arises in the case of port development, for the obvious reason that the development of our ports, the improvement of unloading and loading facilities, the acceleration of the turn-round and all the rest are matters of basic importance to the economic well-being of a great trading nation. Although I recognise that it is perhaps difficult at this stage for anyone to commit himself to the view that for a particular class of development direct Government grant should be paid, I invite the acceptance of the proposition in principle that the development of dock facilities is pre-eminently the type of development which, in particular, warrants that kind of grant.
I also wish to welcome the recommendation of the Report which relates to inland transport and which was a matter to which, I am glad to say, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister attached importance in his speech moving the Motion. The recommendation is, I understand, that the new National Ports Council should be empowered to advise the Minister of Transport on inland transport questions affecting the ports. I should have liked the recommendation in the Report to have been spelled out rather more than it has been and to have been more strongly expressed.
As the right hon. Gentleman is well aware, we in Liverpool are at this time among the forefront of those engaged in large-scale planning for the future development of our city. I still think that insufficient priority is being given to the matter of road connections with the docks in the planning which is going on. That overall criticism of the planning proposals is one to which I feel bound to adhere.
The position is that we have behind us the great industrial area of Lancashire, and the freight from that great industrial area makes, on the whole, a rapid transit 1300 to the city of Liverpool. It has a pretty free run well towards the city centre after it has crossed the city boundary. But I still think that insufficient emphasis is being placed in planning upon the last lap, which carries traffic from quite near the centre of Liverpool to the docks. The city's greatness is as a port, and the docks are its lungs, and rapid transit through the city to the river and the docks is in my view of first importance. In my view, any planning of the city centre which is dictated by circumstances other than the overriding need for rapid transit to the docks requires to be carefully watched.
This is just the kind of matter which, as I see it, if the recommendation of the Rochdale Report is carried out, will be the subject of study by the Ministry in liaison with the new port authority. It is desirable that, this should be so, but we should welcome an assurance, with specific instances in mind, such as I have mentioned in the case of Liverpool, that the intention is not merely to have a kind of doctrinal acquiesence of a planning liaison between departments but so to operate it that improvements of real practical importance may emerge.
Finally, as one who is privileged to have many dockers among his constituents, I underline the obvious importance of a contented dock labour force. I am confident that the Minister has listened with the greatest care to the observations which have been made today by my hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards) and others. I can speak of this from personal knowledge, although it will be widely recognised to be the case: the dockers want to play their part in the enterprise which, as I have indicated, is Liverpool's destiny. They are entitled to be protected from too-wide fluctuations in their earnings. They are entitled to be protected from an over-hazardous system of the allocation of tasks when there are great fluctuations in the volumes of cargo. All I would say is that a steady advance to effective decasualisation appears to be the answer.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stepney that, although that is the answer, it is a course to be followed, always bearing in mind that acknowledged opposition in certain quarters, which is still to be found to the principle 1301 of decasualisation. The fact remains that, in principle, decasualisation is the answer to this problem, and I think that the work of the National Joint Council to this end, which I understand now to be in progress, is work to which we with all wish success.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
It is right and proper to deal with principles rather than with localities in a debate of this sort but, like the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine), I can examine the principles only by reference to the examples which I know. Like him, I know Merseyside, and I am, therefore, particularly pleased to follow him. I will not repeat in detail his arguments and the case which he has put forward so well for Liverpool and Merseyside. I will only say that he put it forward far too peacefully for my liking. I think that it needs to be put forward far more forcefully.
As the hon. and learned Member pointed out, Liverpool is the second British port, handling about 25 per cent. of the value of our trade, as the Rochdale Report shows. Within that area we have all the national problems of the docks. Most important, we have the problem which forms the whole theme running through this Report—whether we should concentrate on improvements, or on new developments. That is the problem of Merseyside. The Report comes down on the side of improvements rather than of new development, and yet, on page 23, it points out that there is great pressure on both Liverpool and London.
It points to these two ports as being the exception to the rest of the country. It discards the solution of diverting the traffic to some other ports and says, in paragraph 51:We have already suggested that there is scope for increased productivity and we believe that physical development can provide the other part of the answer"—the physical development of a port such as Liverpool.
My right hon. Friend, in his opening speech, mentioned that major investment in the ports is a national interest. Indeed, when one looks at the cost of major development for a port such as Liverpool, and, in fact, for the whole of Merseyside, it must necessarily be a 1302 national interest. Merseyside has spent, and intends to spend, large sums on improvement of the port, when when it comes to substantial capital expenditure it is surely a matter of national concern.
When I speak of capital expenditure, perhaps I could divide it into two classes. First, there is that expenditure which one would not at once call capital expenditure—for example, on dredging. This is of vital importance to Merseyside. On page 83, the Report points out that in the United States of Americaconservancy and dredging works are often carried out by the U.S. Army Engineering Corps".And it goes on to say thatat some major continental ports the State bears at least some of the expense of dredging.But the Report discards this as a solution here. When one looks at the table on page 91 of the Report, this will obviously be most unfair on Liverpool, Manchester, and Cardiff, where the percentage of expenditure at those ports which goes to dredging is very high. This, surely, should be a matter of national expenditure.
Secondly, the hon. and learned Member for Edge Hill gave one or two instances where real capital expenditure is needed on Merseyside. I think that the first item should be the new dock to the north of Gladstone Dock. This comes within my constituency. There is there a wide area of land which belongs to the Docks Board, and which, if developed, would relieve the pressure on Liverpool, to which the Report refers.
From that area, where the new dock with a deep water berth could be built, there could be adequate road access. The area could include a marshalling yard for road transport. Indeed, there should be facilities for air transport as well by the construction of a helicopter station in the area. This is a site of many acres which, as I have said, belongs to the Docks Board, and is waiting for this sort of development.
I am aware of the recent expenditure by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board on the Langton Canada dock scheme; and a marvellous development it was. The Report suggests that the Docks Board should digest this before it goes on to the new development, but surely this is a defeatist way of looking at it. The Langton Canada dock scheme was 1303 an improvement of existing docks. What is needed to relieve the pressure on Liverpool's docks is a new development with new road access.
As the hon. and learned Member for Edge Hill said, we have the opportunity there to develop the roads, I would suggest on a circular scheme around Liverpool. We have wide roads there, but when they reach the docks there are bottlenecks. There is that suitable area to the north of Gladstone Dock which could be used without any great major road construction and there is also the space there for the marshalling of goods.
It is of vital importance to the port of Liverpool that there should be an area in which the goods which come to, and go from, the port by road can be marshalled. There are railway marshalling yards, but there is nothing comparable for the lorries bringing mixed cargoes which have to go from dock to dock. Some of the lorries which arrive with mixed cargoes spend days along the docks. Surely it would be possible to provide some form of marshalling yard for road transport, something on the lines of the Manchester Quay Delivery Bureau?
In that case, it is the marshalling of the imports, but what is needed on Merseyside is a lorry marshalling yard for exports, and then for the Docks Board itself to undertake the distribution to the various docks by specially equipped vehicles. This has worked well the other way round with the Manchester Quay Delivery Bureau for imports, and I am sure that a satisfactory method could be worked out on Mersey-side for dealing with exports.
Those are the sort of developments which are essential on Merseyside—not mere improvements, nor mere tidying up of the present layout there, but a new deep-water berth dock with new roads to it and a new form of marshalling.
There are two other matters I wish briefly to put to the Minister. The first concerns port charges. There is a sort of mystique about the charges for goods being imported and exported, certainly so far as the Liverpool docks are concerned. The complicated structure of the charges, and the innumerable different types of charges that have to be 1304 paid on any packet of goods going across the docks really are fantastic. It beats me how anybody understands what he has to pay to get goods across the docks. One needs a lifetime of study at this. Surely it can be simplified. It is known that this has driven business away from the Liverpool docks to Avon-mouth and other ports.
§ Mr. Page
My hon. Friend says"Hear, hear". I am sure that he will confirm that traffic has been driven away from Merseyside to the area of his constituency on that account, and I hope that something can be done to simplify the charges.
My second point is about dock labour. Reference has been made to the decasualisation of labour. It is a long word to use, but it merely means that the men ought to have a contract with an employer, and surely the time has come for this to be fully introduced. To anyone who goes into the pens on the docks early in the morning when the dockers are being taken on, it seems incredible that we can go on treating human beings like cattle. I did not know this until about twelve years ago, when I asked to go into one of the pens to watch what was happening. I was shocked to find that human beings were treated in this way. It is tradition, and the men perhaps do not notice it as much as a visitor does when he first goes into the dock pens.
Generations of dockers have known this practice for many years, but surely we can now institute a more humane system for the employment of dockers, and encourage the making of contracts with employers which will give the dockers something more than" fallback pay" when there is no ship for them to unload or load. These contracts should be undertaken by large firms, and not as they are at present in Liverpool by the small firms, of stevedores or lumpers, for loading the goods or discharging them respectively. It should be undertaken by large, responsible firms, with contracts given to the dock workers.
This is long overdue. I am sure that we can overcome the difficulties relating to redundancy, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will continue, with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, to 1305 urge that decasualisation should be brought about as quickly as possible.
The whole of an area like Merseyside depends upon the value and volume of the goods which go across the docks. It is no good our talking only about development district status, and all that sort of thing, and about introducing new industry and commerce into an area like Merseyside. What we must do is to encourage—not revive; the industry is alive as it is—the development of the basic industry of the area, the docks. I am sure that we can best do that by undertaking new developments, rather than by merely trying to tidy up the present structure by way of piecemeal improvements.
That is why I strongly urge my right hon. Friend not to accept that part of the Report which recommends that there should be no new developments in Liverpool at present. There is an area there for development. There is an area for a deep water berth, which is vitally needed in the national interest. I hope that my right hon. Friend will see that this development is undertaken.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)
The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) said that the dockers might not notice, so much as an outsider, the degrading process of their being collected together in pens when being chosen for work because they are used to it. I can tell him that although they are used to it they dislike it intensely. They resent it. It is like unemployment was in the old days. They got used to it, but they never liked it, because it was persistent. We can disabuse our minds of any idea that the dockers do not resent this form of treatment. Like every other employee, they look forward to the day when they will have a contract of service. They are willing to work if they are needed, and if they are not needed they are entitled to compensation in the form of wages, because their labour is always available. We must adopt that system fairly soon.
The Minister said that the Rochdale Report had laid down three things—first, that there is a real need for a national plan; secondly, that there is a need for a central planning agency and, thirdly, that there is a need for financial 1306 control by a National Ports Council. When he said that he was met with a barrage of"Hear, hear". Hon. Members opposite may"Hear, hear", but this means planning by a central agency, and the control of a most important industry. It has always been a basic essential of the political beliefs of those who occupy these benches, and we are delighted to know that not only hon. Members opposite but the Government now accept this as the policy best suited to meet our economic needs.
The Minister realised the importance of what he was saying, because he then rushed on to deal with paragraph 218 of the Rochdale Report, and said that although the Rochdale Committee said that we should have the power of directing investment and that the Government ought to take this power to direct a local port authority to deal with it, the Government did not propose to accept that part of the Rochdale Committee's recommendations. But unless we take full control in this way, because we consider it essential for our economic well-being, we might as well not think about it at all.
When the Minister was told that this would give a local port authority the right to veto any suggestion about developments he fell back on the plea that although he had announced this decision firmly he wanted the opinion of the House, and when he had it he would be able to make a decision. I suggest that it is wrong to make a decision and then, immediately upon finding that the decision is disliked, to turf it overboard. This does not inspire confidence that the Minister will be able to deal efficiently with this great problem.
I do not want to add too many congratulations. I remember when this Committee was appointed. It presented its Report last September, and it is only today—10 months later—that the House is having an opportunity to discuss it. In those circumstances I cannot believe that the Government realised the urgency of the problem with which the country was confronted.
We feel that this is characteristic of the Minister's outlook towards shipping and allied subjects. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House viewed with some misgivings the Minister's appointment to deal with shipping, shipbuilding 1307 and ports. They felt that he had already far too much on his plate, and that even if he were capable of doing so he did not have time to deal with this important matter.
We must realise that although we are only discussing the matter our competitors in Europe and elsewhere are carrying out works which will place our ports at a further disadvantage. When the Report was called for we had the feeling that it was because the Government felt that we were about to enter the European Economic Community and not for the reasons given by the Minister today. The Government felt that they were about to enter Europe, and they probably wanted to see that our ports were not at a disadvantage, economically or in any other way, compared with other European ports. But if it was essential to bring our ports up to date to meet the requirements of our entry into the Common Market, it is all the more important that our ports should not be less efficient now that we have been left outside the Community.
The Cooper Committee, reporting in 1945—we remember Lord Cooper with a great deal of warmth in Scotland; he was formerly a very distinguished Member of this House—said that we wanted not more ports but better ports. This view is supported by the Rochdale Committee. That having been said in 1945 by the Cooper Committee, and having since been repeated so frequently, hon. Members must consider what has been done to meet that need. If we do so we can see at a glance how badly we compare with our competitors. The Rochdale Report puts it shortly in paragraph 47, which is somewhat alarming. It says:No single additional deep water berth for general cargo has been started since the 1930's, apart from those now nearing completion at Teesport.That is an indictment of Government policy so far. When we remember all that is happening elsewhere we become a little frightened about the future. I want to quote at random from the Britannica Book of the Year 1963.A new deep water quay is planned at Stavanger, Norway…New dry docks at Bassins Bordeaux, France, for larger vessels and tankers up to about 45,000 tons.If the Rochdale Committee is talking 1308 about anything at all, it is about facilities that could be provided to accommodate vessels of this kind.Rotterdam, Holland, new sites and facilities are established in the Botlek area…allowing vessels up to 50,000 tons to enter. Dredging began in 1958 in Europoort which is being constructed further westward on the Island of Rozenberg at an estimated cost of £70 million.The same could be said, as the Report says, about Genoa in Italy, where work has started on the Multedo petroleum dock to replace the present facilities at Ponte Aibya. In other words, all these countries are working new and better deep water quays and ports to meet their future needs.
We have to compare that with what is happening in this country, and for us the comparison is odious. In paragraph 49 of the Rochdale Report the case is put succinctly.The estimated £70 million which the single great project of Europoort at Rotterdam is to cost, excluding private investment on installations, may be compared with the total of about £150 million spent on capital investment by the major British ports since the end of World War II.These are frightening figures, though, apparently, they have not frightened the Ministry of Transport, as is evidenced by the appalling inactivity. But they must frighten hon. Members. That is the stark reality of the present situation and as a country we must tackle it without further delay.
The Rochdale Report says:One thing that seems to us beyond doubt—we make no apology for repeating this—is that this country needs more deep water berths.If that is so, we have to consider what we have been doing. I have put the general situation as I see it, and it is important because it affects Britain as a whole. We cannot have success in one part and despondency in others. In my constituency we have been endeavouring for three and a half years to carry out a project, but the Government, and particularly the Ministry of Transport, have not proved very helpful. That is putting it mildly.
I do not wish to make any accusation against the Parliamentary Secretary. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has been to Leith and seen the project, and the Secretary of State has been barking on the sidelines without, I am afraid, any 1309 result. But apparently the Minister of Transport considers himself so superior that he does not even find time to hold a meeting with those concerned. This does not give us any confidence that the right hon. Gentleman is competent to make a reasonable judgment in this connection.
Regarding the project which we have at Leith, I will quote not myself but what the Rochdale Committee Report states, which the House may take as an impartial statement. In paragraph 583 the Report states:The Leith Dock Commissioners have made proposals for a development scheme to enable larger and deeper-draughted ships to use their port, in particular the larger-sized grain ships that are increasingly being used. The proposed scheme would provide an initial improvement equivalent to the addition of four deep-water tidal berths and would make the port available to ships with draughts up to six feet greater than the present maximum; the Western Harbour would be made capable of accepting ships of a draught of 35 feet. This would provide facilities for large dry cargo bulk carriers superior to any at present available on the East Coast of Britain and would put the port on more equal terms with North-West European ports, without the expense of constant large scale dredging operations. The scheme would also enable future berths to be added in the Western Harbour at a minimum cost We have examined these proposals carefully and consider that the scheme, estimated to cost about £4 million, would provide a greater degree of desirable development than could be obtained at any other Firth of Forth port for a similar sum, or, indeed"—mark the words—at any other port on the East Coast of Great Britain.That is what the Committee says. An estimate has been made that if this had been tackled at any other port the cost would have been not less than four times what it will cost at Leith. This is because of the happy position in which we are placed at Leith.
This is the scheme which was suggested to the Secretary of State for Scotland and to the Minister of Transport about three and a half years ago. We asked that we might have some financial assistance in this undertaking, and I am bound to say that the prevarication and delay which we have experienced has filled us with disgust. First, the Minister said,"All right. What about it technically? Can it be operated?" So our own engineers presented a report proving that the scheme is efficient and technically 1310 perfect in every way."Well," said the Minister,"cannot we have an independent report on it?" So the Leith Dock Commissioners came to London and got the finest engineering firm possible to report on it.
It did so, and its report was the same. We presented it to the Government and they agreed."Ah", said the Minister of Transport,"still that is not enough. Cannot we send up our own engineers to have a look at this scheme so that they can report?" The Ministry's own engineers, having thoroughly examined the scheme, presented a similar report, saying that it was a first-class scheme technically and in every way.
After further protracted meetings the Government played another card. They said,"We are about to appoint a committee." It was at this stage that the Rochdale Committee was appointed, and the Government said,"We shall now have to wait until the Rochdale Committee reports". With great reluctance the Leith Dock Commissioners agreed to await the outcome of the Committee's deliberations. Having waited, what do we find that the Rochdale Committee say?Among other ports we must mention Leith and the Tees. At both of these there are schemes for development which seem to us to merit fairly high priority, since both provide as cheap ways of furnishing further deep water berths on the East coast as can probably be found. At Leith the main aim is to provide better facilities for grain and other bulk cargoes.In paragraph 623 the Report states:We do not envisage any over-rigid application of a system of priorities. We do not, for instance, wish to imply that the Leith scheme must necessarily wait on the completion of the Tilbury scheme. We would hope to see both proceeding together.That is what the Rochdale Committee thought. At the conclusion of paragraph 628 the Report states:…high priority should be given to the development of Leith…In view of all these things, we were certainly entitled, after having been asked to wait for three and a half years, to expect that even this Government could have made a decision.
In addition, the Parliamentary Secretary knows, and the Ministers know, that two of the largest grain firms in the country are willing not only to act independently, but to form a consortium to 1311 erect new grain elevators there at a cost of, perhaps, £2 million or £3 million. If further proof is required, I can state that we had an inquiry from an American oil company. At the personal request of the Secretary of State for Scotland. I persuaded an executive of this American company to stay in Edinburgh for a further 48 hours in order to meet the Secretary of State personally and to give him a personal assurance that, if this project was to go on, his company would immediately embark on a scheme involving an initial expenditure of £½ million. One would have thought that all these assurances would have convinced any reasonable person, but I am afraid that the Minister of Transport is not to be included in that category.
The Minister's latest excuse is that we should form an estuarial committee. The Leith Dock Commissioners, at their first meeting with the Ministers three and a half years ago, made that suggestion to the Government. They thought it the sensible thing to do in planning the future development of the area. Why, after three and a half years, the Government have used this as an excuse to delay any action on this scheme is more than we can understand.
The House, I am sure, can well imagine that this paltry excuse has provoked the greatest anger in our area, not just from one section of the community but from every section. The Minister has already had protests from the Edinburgh Corporation, the shipowners, the grain merchants, the Edinburgh Company of Merchants, the trade unions and the co operative movement. They are all, without exception, filled with anger by this latest dodge—because"dodge" is all it can be called.
I have already said that the Dock Commissioners immediately asked for another meeting, but the Minister said,"I cannot find any more time." He has never met them in those three and a half years. We do not complain about the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary, because we realise that he knows much more about shipping than does his right hon. Friend. That is why we are prepared to discuss this scheme with him.
Not only does the Minister refuse to have a meeting, but only last week the 1312 Ministry issued another letter, of which I have a copy, which asks the Commission, if it has any proposals for improvement schemes, to let the Ministry have a copy in triplicate. [Laughter.] Who do they think they are? It may seem funny to hon. Members—I agree that there is some humour in it—but can hon. Members imagine our reaction, after three and a half years of negotiation, to a Ministry letter asking for a copy of any proposals we may have, and asking for copies in triplicate? I suppose it is the usual Government idea. They are always consistent about wanting every thing in triplicate, but it is about their only consistency—
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett)
Perhaps I can reply to that last point now, as it is rather a small one. That was an identical letter sent to all port authorities in connection with the setting up of the Rochdale Council. It is quite true that Leith's plains are known, but I think that Leith would have been rather annoyed had it been omitted from the circulation of that letter.
§ Mr. Hoy
We have had a lot of rotten excuses, but they have been given by the Minister. I beg the hon. and gallant Gentleman not to put himself into that category. One would have thought that a Ministry that had been corresponding for three and a half years would at least have known enough not to send a letter like that. That is not a good excuse. I can appreciate the Parliamentary Secretary's attempt to defend his Department, but as someone who has been in the Services he knows that sometimes it is better to beat a strategic retreat rather than hold an untenable line. I suggest that just as he found it good in wartime, he might find it equally good in peace time.
We are therefore faced with the fact that after all these years we are very little further forward. The Minister's reputation has never been lower in our eyes—in fact, our view of it is about the same as that of the motorists. We believe that he has ignored us, and that in many ways he has been discourteous. We certainly believe that he has meted out quite uncalled for treatment to a port that has an unsurpassed record in labour relations. I question whether 1313 there is another port where so few days have been lost by industrial disputes since 1945—a mere handful. It is an outstanding record. Leith's turn round of shipping cannot be beaten by any other port, and the National Dock Labour Board has, on occasion, singled it out in paying tribute to the work of the dockers. Leith's plans will not be thwarted by any dictator, whether he be in the Ministry of Transport or anywhere else.
I regret to say that so far in this debate there has not been present a single representative from the Scottish Office. I should have thought this was an important matter for Scotland, and for the Scottish Office—which is always boasting about its new development department—but not a single representative has come, even to listen. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is not here, will show a little more"smeddle"—which is a fairly good Scottish word meaning guts or courage—and that he will try to give us an up-to-date port.
I do not want to sound parochial, but this scheme will benefit not only Leith, not only Scotland but, as the Report says, Great Britain as a whole. It is to that end that we want to play our part. We have waited very long—too long—and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us better assurances tonight than his Department has so far been able to produce.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)
I hesitate to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) into the troubled waters of Leith—because I understand that that is quite a big drop—but I can assure him that his castigation of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport is a little at fault.
The hon. Member cites the Report as stating that there is insufficient capital expenditure on our ports, yet, at the same time, the Dock and Harbour Authorities' Association—of which, presumably, Leith is a member—says:In chapter 15 the Committee refer to the capital investment by the ports industry in recent years and compare the investment in 1960 with the national total and with the investment in shipping, railways and roads and lighting. The Association do not accept that these are valid comparisons.Turning to deep-water facilities, the Association also says: 1314The Committee say, at paragraph 63 of the Report, that British ports are poorly off for deep water dry cargo berths as compared with the major near continental ports and add that they are convinced that the provision of additional deep water berths for dry cargo ships is one of the most pressing problems.The Association do not accept this view and believe that there has been some misunderstanding as to the difference between dry cargo ships and bulk carriers, including tankers.I hope to develop this same argument later in my speech.
The context of the debate is that, apart from Teesport, no entry lock over 1,000 ft. has been made in this country since 1914, when the Newport entry lock was built, and that we are reposing on investments made in the heyday of port development during the 50 years prior to the First World War. This argument is made very succinctly in the Report, which compares the situation regarding berths over 35 ft. with that in Europoort at Rotterdam—to which the hon. Gentle man paid a just tribute. I would say to my hon. and gallant Friend and to my right hon. Friend that Europoort is a municipal port as, indeed, is the port of Bristol. This port has 83 berths over 35 ft., Antwerp has 143 berths over that depth, Hamburg 15 and the United Kingdom 53.
Another aspect connected with the fact that no major development except at Teesport has occurred since the beginning of the First World War is the fact—and it is very much borne out in my visits to South Wales and the Bristol Channel ports—that many are predominantly laid out for rail communications. While I do not, of course, object to an adequate rail communication system—and I should like to pay tribute to the improvement which has been made in that respect—it is realistic to say that we are now just as much in the motor age and lorry age, and a great deal needs to be done in that respect.
We are changing from a coal economy and a coal exporting economy, in which we are dependent very much on the coastal trade and the small coastal vessel which is tied up at the coal staithes, filled up and goes round the coast, to the oil tanker situation, and we are coming very much to the day of the bulk carrier, with its great length and deeper draught and the need for a different conception in port 1315 construction. As tonnage increases, the bulk carriers will continue to dominate the affairs of our docks, and we are coming to the day of the port of the future—the push-button port where we shall have the oil and ore carriers coming in with a minimum of labour, but they will very efficiently and adequately deal with the larger units of industry.
I think that this is the context in which we wish to look at this excellent Report, of very wide scope in terms of reference, and the very thorough way in which the Rochdale Committee has investigated this massive problem. It is a massive problem, because 90 per cent. of our imports and 90 per cent. of our exports go through our docks and if our industry, in its manufacturing costs, is to be competitive it needs adequate imports and if, in exporting costs, c.i.f., it is to be competitive, it needs good export facilities. It is vital that this excellent Report should be considered in the House. I was very glad indeed that Lord Rochdale saw fit to go round these three ports in Europe that are developing so rapidly, Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg. He says that the comparison is not necessarily a valid one because they have very much larger vessels, have a hinterland dominated by the River Rhine, can get larger vessels in and out, and an immediate discharge to barges going up the Rhine.
I was much impressed by the urgent recommendation of Lord Rochdale that there should be a tremendous amount of new information collated for the use of the National Ports Council. This is essential, and I hope that now the further names of the members of the Council have been declared, this information will be very rapidly available and that investment decisions will not be held up as a result of lack of information. The Rochdale Report at one time says that this is urgent and yet the next time, it seems from my hon. Friends who have spoken and hon. Members opposite, the main complaint is that investment decisions have been held up.
Again, I must refer to the Report, which I have already mentioned, of the Dock and Harbour Authorities' Associations, where it talked about the Ports Council and hoped very much that this would not be a backdoor to nationalize- 1316 ton, I say this advisedly, because we have heard frequently, in transport debates in the House, that it is a great shame and a great danger to the industry concerned that politics have been brought into it. If this is a method of nationalization, and is used for that in the future, then politics will have been brought in and will bedevil the industry.
There is another reservation—that the Ports Council has the right of veto or investment by the port authority concerned and yet is not financially responsible. That is a little like being a mother-in-law who has the right of veto in certain cases without the responsibility. This is a matter which, I know, worries very much the dock authorities. I would prefer to see the Council drawn more into some advisory capacity, but I await with great interest to see the terms in which the Bill is drawn.
I would refer to the road-rail situation at Bristol and again pay tribute to the tremendous work done in building up the express rail export service and the import services as well from the Port of London. The recommendation to do this was made in 1956, and by 1961 62,000 wagons were being used on the export express service. This is an excellent thing, like the use of the night importer express. I hope that this will be linked with the speeding up of the railway system as brought out in the Beeching Report.
It is true that there is a swing to road haulage, and it is pertinent to say that it is important to replant many of our major docks so that there is greater access for the road hauler to get in, and, at the same time, to hope that the method of loading and methods employed by the road hauler can also be modernised. It is well known that when a number of days are allocated for loading a vessel very little is done in the first few days, but in the last few days of loading—and surveys have proved it—there is, as we say in Ireland, a rush of food to the face.
A survey showed that in one case 70 lorries came after the day when the loading was supposed to have finished. I suggest that a bonus should be given to a road hauler who is able to put his cargo on board the vessel during the early days of loading. I think that that would make it considerably more efficient. A good deal of publicity should also be 1317 given to the fact that the load that is last in should not necessarily be the first out. I believe that many road haulers deliberately delay arrival at the dock in order that the cargo should be first off at the other end. These are points possibly of detail which could be looked at. It would streamline the arrangements if that could be done.
As for Bristol and not only the city docks, but the port of Avonmouth, I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren) would be anxious to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, were it not the fact that he is a Government Whip. For that reason it is possibly more politic that he should not make public speeches on the subject.
I was interested that Lord Rochdale singled out the three ports of Europoort Antwerp and Hamburg and says that their excellence is very largely due to their close municipal connection, but, on the other hand, suggests that the port of Bristol, which since 1848 has been a municipal undertaking, and the port of Avonmouth which was started under the Avonmouth Board Harbour Act in 1862 and the Avonmouth Dock Act in 1864, should be taken away and given to an Upper Severn Authority. I do not represent Bristol itself, but I think that from a knowledge of the people I can say that the men of Bristol will be much up in arms if anything is done to take their ports away from them. I would have thought that the close connection with Newport would be a much better association.
As far as I can understand from the authorities concerned, that seems to be a more popular and workable arrangement. I gather that the Bristol Corporation has changed the political colour of the governing body since the Rochdale Report was published, but I know that there is absolute unanimity on the corporation on this matter and that it would be better for us not to create an Upper Severn Authority, but to merge the two ports under the corporation.
I would ask my hon. and gallant Friend on what basis it is proposed to have valuations on the take-over of any port by another. I am well aware that many of the properties of the British Transport Commission, as it used to be, and the Docks Board as it now is, have not been 1318 valued since the great railway construction by Hudson, the railway king, in 1848. I should hope to see a very thorough valuation of the assets if they are to be taken over from the Docks Board. Only on that accurate basis will an equitable system agreeable to both sides be established.
To return to the Rochdale Report, there is the recommendation, on the one hand, that we should have more deep-water berths, and, on the other, the recommendation that the building of Portbury, the new project, should be deferred. I respect a great deal in the Report, but this strikes me as illogical. I cannot see how the Portbury concept affects capacity in Newport. The two are not comparable.
Portbury is the next stage of development. It is to be compared with Europoort. This is the more advanced stage where it is hoped that vessels will come into the new complex and tie alongside a pocket oil refinery. This is a new conception of the oil industry serving the immediate locality and cutting down the pipeline and other transport expenses. I should have thought that it was an imaginative project to launch this sort of thing in the Portbury area.
There are many other concerns, including perhaps Imperial Smelters, and also to build up a petro-chemical industry in the area. I should have thought that this imaginative concept was one which Lord Rochdale, in his wisdom, would have said should be accelerated rather than deferred. I am sure that Lord Rochdale differentiates between bulk cargo and the cargo vessel which would use the Newport area and that if the new concept came about we could take tankers out of the Royal Edward Dock. It is unusual to see tankers in a dock project.
It is also said that the new concept should be deferred until the two-shift system of working is brought about. When I spoke to authorities on this matter they said that they entirely agreed that two-shift working should be brought in as quickly as possible, but they added that before that could be done the customer would also have to be persuaded to work the two-shift system, otherwise there would be a tremendous building up of stores which could not be dealt 1319 with adequately and justice would not be done to the ports. It is true to say that Bristol is surging ahead and that it would be a tragedy to the West Country, where we have a good deal of development difficulty and local unemployment, if this imaginative project was not brought about.
I was greatly impressed by the overall look taken at this problem by the Rochdale Committee. It speaks of four major estuaries, the Bristol Channel, the Humber, the Mersey and the Thames, and the St. Andrew's Cross which they make between them, the centre of which is in Birmingham and the industrial Midlands. It is encouraging to know that Lord Rochdale, my right hon. Friend, and his predecessor came to the conclusion that the main artery should be in the form of that cross and that our excellent motorways are built on this basis. It shows that there is a comprehensive dovetailing of the various transport requirements.
I have reminded the House that 90 per cent, of exports and 90 per cent, of imports go through the docks. If, with many of the things recommended in the Report and with decasualisation, we can make the ports highly efficient we shall have done a great deal to make the nation efficient and competitive in the years ahead.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
I am glad that after weeks and months of goading from both sides of the House the Government at last have been persuaded to tell us that they like the Rochdale Report. It is almost true to say that the Government have taken as long to make up their mind whether they supported the Report as it took those who made the Report to prepare it. I am one of those who likes to see the Government slowly fumbling their way towards Socialism by necessity. It reminds me of the rhyme:The devil was sick, the devil a monk would be.The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) does not seem to mind in the least Socialist planning as long as it does not lead towards nationalization, and he even pleaded for municipal Socialism where Bristol is concerned.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes-Hallett
I am sure that the hon. Member would not wish to be unfair. I would remind him that the Government's decision on the Rochdale Report was announced at the beginning of March. The Report was received towards the end of September. The intervening period was taken up awaiting the views of various authorities whom we had to consult. As I think the House was told at the tune, and I do not make any point of this, the particular authority for whom we had to wait a long time was the T.U.C.
§ Dr. King
What the hon. and gallant Gentleman says does not invalidate what I said. The Government took six months to make up their mind and the Committee took just over a year to make its Report. We have been asking every Thursday from both sides of the House for over six months that the Leader of the House should give us the debate which we are having today.
May I add another controversial note? To me the only regrettable feature of the Minister's speech, and one which he repeated twice, was that he spoke about the next Session of this Parliament. That struck me as quite ominous. We had hoped that this Session would be the last of this Parliament and that in October we should have persuaded the Government to go to the country and should have had returned a Government enjoying the support of the electorate. If what the right hon. Gentleman said has any validity I am distressed to think that we are to have a further Session of this Parliament.
The Rochdale Report is a great forward-looking document. Britain ought to be grateful to Lord Rochdale and the other members of the Committee. It would, however, be idle if we were merely to express gratitude and do very little about the Report. In or out of the Common Market we are fighting for our very existence in shipping, shipbuilding, ship repairing and trade in ships. They are are part of the life-blood of our existence.
The Report tells us that rapid, revolutionary and planned development is essential in our ports. I want to set the document against a letter which I received from a distinguished Hampshire citizen, the Clerk to Hampshire County Council, who has just visited Rotterdam which deals with 50 million tons of dry cargo 1321 compared with Southampton's 1½ million tons. He speaks first about coal berths and says:I was told that when a few years ago we in England had to import coal from the United States, the coal was, in fact, shipped to Rotterdam, where it was unloaded and decanted into smaller ships in which it was ultimately brought to this country. When I asked why this should be so I was told that this particular dock in Rotterdam was equipped with cranes capable of discharging 800 tons an hour, and that with four such cranes it did not take long to discharge a cargo, and that nowhere in this country had we docks so well equipped.Then, writing of Europoort, which features in the Rochdale Report, he said:This is an entirely new dock system which has been constructed near the entrance to the New Maas opposite the Hook of Holland. It will provide the most up-to-date docks with a minimum depth of 50 ft. It extends over an area of 10,000 acres, and was formerly polder land, the level of which is being raised by about 17 ft. The layout of the harbour basin and the site is estimated to cost £70 million. The enterprise has already attracted four major oil companies and they are being followed by a variety of chemical, metal and other industries.All this, incidentally, is the product of Dutch municipal socialism, because Rotterdam Town Council owns the whole project.
It is against this kind of background, with every competing country doing things like Rotterdam, that Britain has to face the bold long-term goals laid down in the Rochdale Report. We die or live by the amount of exporting and importing we do. Rochdale says that we should aim at doubling our dry cargo imports by 1975—perhaps more than doubling—and even more than doubling our dry cargo exports by 1980.
Rochdale says that this cannot be done without a plan, without concentrating on those docks which are ripe for expansion, most favourably situated in the country and best endowed naturally, without catering for larger cargo ships, without modernising equipment, without modernising methods of working and without establishing much better labour relations than exist at the moment. In addition to all this, and most important, we shall not succeed unless we have adequate communications between the ports and the hinterland.
All this is magnificent. What is now wanted is the will and the drive to accomplish it. Here, as in so many fields, Britain needs to be called to a sense 1322 of urgency and purpose. If I speak of my own town of Southampton it is because I know it best. What I have to say about Southampton contains certain principles which apply to the whole question. Southampton, which is one of the selected ports in the grand design, is one of the world's great natural ports. It is already Britain's premier passenger port, although it must not be thought of merely as a passenger port. Rochdale calls for a dramatic expansion of its dry cargo handling facilities. The Report selects it as one of the major ports. But whether it is finally so selected or whether it is not—although I think it will be—the issues that I raise are common to the whole problem of our ports and the part they have to play in the economic struggle.
This port has a proud record. The old Southern Railway owned by private enterprise—I am always fair—carried out before the war a magnificent reclamation scheme which only the older Members in the House who remember the former mudlands will appreciate. Incidentally, I believe that some day Britain has got to get the imagination and initiative to tackle again jobs of that calibre which transformed mudland into the extension of the docks at Southampton and a new industrial site as they exist today. We have got to imitate what the Dutch are doing so magnificently at tremendous capital cost—the much more difficult project of winning land from the sea. We have mudland near Portsmouth and bad land all round the coast, which we are wasting and which could be saved if we put the capital and work into it. Britain is desperately short of land.
Since the war British Transport, in control of the docks, has shown great drive and initiative in its own docks extensions, in its fine terminal which we have been able to boast about to the Americans as one of the few things in this country which are bigger and better than the Americans have. Also we have the Union Castle terminal. The Southampton Harbour Board has been served with skill and devotion by generations of Southamptonians.
This has been the basis of organisation—first the railways becoming the transport authority, and now becoming the Southampton Dock Authority, and side by side the Harbour Board. The 1323 dock authority is already planning extensions almost as if it anticipated the Rochdale Report. Indeed, much of what Rochdale asks for, so far as Southampton is concerned, exists in embryo in the plans which the dock authority has under way. Rochdale, however, foresees developments at a scale and speed which cannot be tackled inside a port area by separate authorities. They must be tackled by a single authority. Developments like the new deep dry dock, and adequate facilities for handling much more cargo, demand a uni-purpose authority. Certainly the Southampton Harbour Board and the Southampton Corporation—I cannot speak for the whole dock authority or for British Railways—welcome the conception of a single authority and would place no obstacle in the way of one.
In the case of Southampton much of the cargo which is handled and will be handled in the great design will come from the Midlands. Therefore, it is vital that communications from Southampton to the Midlands should be modern and efficient. Here, so far, the Government have failed. In the town of Southampton itself they have failed to build the important Itchen Bridge which was promised by the Tory Party to Southampton in the year when I went to Southampton as a young schoolmaster 40 years ago. Indeed, the present position is that Southampton Council has all the plans ready for the bridge and waits for the word"go" from the Minister. The bridge is well down the list. It is a major communication project and we are not even allowed to make the first preparations in the area of the promised bridge, as the Minister knows.
Traffic movement through Southampton, especially at peak hours, is a nightmare. It is true that the present work on roundabouts will be an improvement. There is a fair amount of road work already planned and a fair amount achieved. Again, some of it is only waiting for permission to start. Looking to the north from Southampton, Winchester is a bottleneck. There are major plans in the Minister's mind for great arterial roads. Our major ports must be served by major communications. As the Minister will probably know, all the Hampshire Members have been pleading 1324 with him and his predecessor for the last eight years for a better road programme. As the Clerk to the Hampshire County Council wrote, the road system from the South to the Midlands isutterly inadequate and completely obsolete.The railway service to this port is geared to passenger transport. It is a fine service for the purpose which it has to achieve, but Beeching seems to have ignored Rochdale in all that he has been doing. His only contribution to this problem of communications from South-hampton to the Midlands is a proposal to cut die goods traffic line from Southampton, Newport, Oxford to the Midlands. Rochdale and Beechingspeak with two voices. One is forward-looking and optimistic. The other is the voice of despair.
§ Dr. King
If the hon. Gentleman wants to say anything but"No" he can stand up and intervene in the recognised Parliamentary manner. Mare negatives do not do him any good or me any harm. I suggest that Rochdale and Beeching ought to be brought together. The railway problem, the question of how far we cut the railways, must be linked with the economic value of the railways as a means of goods transport.
§ Mr. Marples
They have already met. I said so in my opening speech, and I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not referred to that. Initially, they met at my Ministry, and they have already discussed details since. It is no good saying that they ought to be brought together when they have, in fact, met.
§ Dr. King
Then I can only hope that their meetings will produce more fruit than so far the Beeching Report has produced for our railways.
All that I have said about South-hampton has to be seen against the background of an expanding Hampshire. It is a county in which there is one of the largest implosions of population in the country, with a prospect of industrial expansion following the expansion of a major port and with the prospect of bringing out of London—to almost the only place where they can go in the South—some of the surplus, the 2 million or 2½ million people, which, according to the Minister of Housing 1325 and Local Government, will have to be decanted somewhere.
The tasks are so vast that not only do we need the single authority which Rochdale rightly says must exist for each of the major ports but we need, side by side with it, in the view of Southampton's citizens, something like the equivalent of a consumer council, a properly constituted body which can make representations to the new port authority on matters affecting the whole well being of the port and the rest.
The impact of these port expansions on the hinterland and the impact of the development of Southampton port, Southampton town and Southern Hampshire raise problems of planning in providing services of a scale, I believe, beyond the capacity of the local authorities separately. Just as we need a single port authority, we need a joint body in this wider context. I suggest that the Minister should bring together, at a very early stage, representatives of the major local authorities involved to set up some sort of joint body to tackle these problems and administer the broader plans which are beyond the capacity of each of them individually.
Now, just one detailed point before I pass to the most important thing I have to say. There need be no fear in the minds of British citizens today about the interference of a development like this with natural amenities. Everybody loves Southampton Water, There are people who would like it to remain in the beautiful state in which it was at the time of the Ancient Britons or William the Conqueror. It is possible, by proper planning, to reconcile the claims of modern industry with the claims of those who want to preserve amenity. We have long passed the day when men made their wealth in the industrial North by making it ugly and then came to enjoy it in the beautiful South which they kept beautiful. In any industrial development around a great port we must preserve the amenities. I say this with particular reference to the Solent and Southampton Water, which mean a great deal to Southampton and to the Hampshire County Council.
In my view, just about the most important feature of the Report is that dealing with proposals to abolish casual 1326 labour. I speak as one who, over about 30 years, has spoken outside the dock gates to the workers in the docks. I like to think that, before I die, we shall reach a state of society when I can make a political speech to workmen during their lunch hour within the dock gates, not without. But Labour Members of Parliament still make their open air speeches outside the factory gates, as they did when the movement began.
I often go down, as does the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) in his Liverpool constituency, to see the men waiting to sign on in the early morning. They stand on the street corner, near the employment exchange, in all weathers. In slack periods, one or two out of 200 or 300 will be taken on. Often, the men who go there day by day waiting to be taken on, but not being taken on or being taken on last, are the older ones, men who have been my friends for 40 years, men who sent me to Parliament.
I hope that we shall one day end this system of the casual hiring and firing of men at the dock gates. It will not be easy. Ernest Bevin achieved a great deal during the war by his first stage of decasualisation. The National Dock Labour Scheme of 1947 put a sort of peace-time seal to this and established it permanently. But, as the Rochdale Report points out, although we have registered dock labour now, we have not abolished casual labour even inside the registered dock limits.
Of 70,000 registered dock workers only 16,500 were regular weekly workers in 1961. I read in the Report that in Southampton only 10 per cent. of the registered dock workers in Southampton Docks worked regular weeks right through the year 1961. The rest of them had to assemble twice a day to find out whether they would be taken on for a job. I echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy). The men do not like it. They are not used to it. They resent it. And I feel humiliated when I stand by talking to them, especially on mornings when they are not even taken on.
It is true that some unions provide decent places for the men to hang about, so to speak, waiting to assemble. The smaller unions cannot do this, and in 1327 some parts of the country it may be literally impossible, with the docks spread out a long way, to make suitable accommodation available unless a fair amount of money is spent. I have raised this matter often. I understand that steps are being taken to improve the conditions in which men have to wait.
§ Mr. Mellish
This is not a trade union responsibility, nor, as I understand it, would the unions be allowed to provide such accommodation. This is the responsibility of the National Dock Labour Board, whose record on it, as I think my hon. Friend will agree, is really quite remarkable, although, admittedly, not adequate enough.
§ Dr. King
I am only speaking of what I know happens outside the dock. What the National Dock Labour Board does inside the dock may be another matter. I am coming to the point, if my hon. Friend will allow me.
I hope that the port authorities and the National Dock Labour Board will take it upon themselves to improve the conditions in which men have to wait to be signed on.
At first sight, the two objects of the Dock Labour Scheme seem to be irreconcilable. The first isto ensure greater regularity of employment for dock workersand the other, on the employers' side, is to secure that there are always enough men available for dock work. Demands in the docks change from week to week, from day to day, from hour to hour, and even from minute to minute. In good times, the men can make a lot by overtime. In bad times, many of them are unemployed and receive only the minimum weekly rate which they get as registered dock workers.
So far, both sides have failed to solve the problem. It is a great problem. In paragraph 366, Rochdale says:The status of casual worker and the precarious living that almost inevitably goes with it are destructive of morale and offensive to modern political and social ideas.Again, in the same paragraph:Where there are no permanent employer/employee relationships there is little scope for mutual trust, loyalty and understanding to develop between the two sides.Southampton Dock, like Leith, has a fine record of labour relations. I pay 1328 special tribute to my friends the leaders of the various trade unions in the docks. There is good will between management and men almost invariably in Southampton Dock. But the real basis for the kind of understanding which one wants to see inside any industry, the sound economic basis for good human relationships, cannot exist so long as we have this casual hiring and firing.
The Report suggests a possible answer. It lies partly in the concentration of business in a number of ports and partly in the proposed concentration of the groups of employers inside ports on the theory that the bigger the group the more chance there is to stagger the work and to put men on other kinds of work outside the peak periods of loading and unloading. Inside the bigger unit one ought to be able to cope a little better with the problem of moving towards the goal that we want to achieve, with every dock worker, like any other citizen, having a regular job and security and knowing exactly where he is. He will never be entirely in that position. He must be prepared to be called upon for emergency service, but with good will on both sides and some kind of concentration of the groups into large units we should be able to get much nearer regular conditions of dock work than we are.
My own experience is that dockers are about the finest bunch of men that I know. They are certainly more loyal to each other than almost any other group in the community. They played a heroic part when the docks in my town were a number one target for Hitler, as heroic as that of any soldier at Dunkirk. They are stubborn. They can be led, but they will not be driven. I hope that with this goal and prospect before them, both master and man, we can use it as an instrument towards getting rid of some of the scourge of decasualisation.
I end as I began. The demands of the Report are for a plan, for expansion, for efficiency, and for good labour relations. I believe that it is for the ports of Britain what the Crowther Report is for education—a beacon light and a goal For this, as for Crowther, I believe that Britain has the material resources, the ability and the will if it is only given the lead. I hope that the Government will give that lead.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Denys Bullard (King's Lynn)
I think that all hon. Members agree with what the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) has said about the importance of decasualisation of labour in the docks. I also agree with him that at some time in the future it may again be necessary to capture the imagination of the British people by going in for big schemes involving land reclamation, industrial development, the provision of holiday opportunities and so on, by really big schemes. I always thought that in the Wash, which is in my area, there was abundant opportunity for a good deal of work to be done on those lines.
I want to be brief, but I wish to mention the position of the smaller ports under the Rochdale Committee's recommendation. I think that anyone who has studied the facilities which are available in ports abroad—and those at Hamburg and Rotterdam have been mentioned particularly—would agree that we have a special job to do in this country. It may be necessary to go in for large-scale planning and, perhaps, to close or amalgamate small ports in order to achieve the big schemes which are necessary to compete with what is done in ports abroad.
It would, however, easily be possible to carry this too far and to overlook altogether the significance of the small ports. I think that it was a pity that the Rochdale Committee saw fit to go outside its terms of reference, which were to deal with the major ports, and to make its recommendations applicable to the small ports without consulting those small ports or taking special note of the industrial interests concerned with them.
I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister say that the new Council which is being set up will not have dictatorial powers over the local bodies responsible for the ports. This would be specially oppressive in the case of the small ports. The port of King's Lynn, with which I am specially concerned, a very ancient port, may at one time, relative to the other ports of the country, have been very much more significant in size than it is today, but, nevertheless, I feel that it and others like it fulfil an enormously important rôle in the industrial system.
1330 I would instance only the case of the handling of timber coming into this country. This is a matter in which there must be a very close relationship between the workers and the importers and there needs to be a very close tie-up with the ports from which the ships come. It is significant that the ships which bring timber to the port of King's Lynn and to other ports like it on the East Coast often come from very small ports on the Continent. We have heard a great deal about the significance of Rotterdam and Hamburg. Much of this trade comes from very small ports in Finland, Scandinavia generally, Russia and elsewhere. If we were to neglect our side of the job concerning the small ports we should be doing a very great disservice.
Labour relations in the small ports are often very good. Everybody knows everybody else, and certainly in King's Lynn there are very good committees made up of the dockers and port users working to achieve good industrial relationships. I think that one could get undue centralisation, especially affecting the importation of timber.
A great deal of modernisation has already been carried out in King's Lynn. There is a new transit shed which affords very good facilities indeed. We are in the process, under my right hon. Friend's authority, of having a new trunk road constructed to the dock. There has been very notable modernisation of machinery and handling equipment. I fear that, in view of the Rochdale recommendations, there might be a tendency for this kind of work to slow up. It would be a very great pity if it were to do so.
We find ourselves in a rather difficult position. There has been, during the winter months, considerable unemployment in the town of King's Lynn. I am glad to say it is much better now. We do not qualify for any facilities under development schemes. We do not have any free depreciation. We do not get any special grants. It would be rather a pity if the Rochdale recommendations were taken to assume that development of the small ports ought to be rather discouraged. I certainly hope that that is not my right hon. Friend's view.
I hope that I have spoken not only on behalf of my home port, but on behalf of small ports generally. I hope that 1331 when my right hon. Friend replies he will indicate that he has this particular side of the matter very much in mind.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Commander Harry Pursey (Kingston upon Hull, East)
The Rochdale Report deals with the 15 major ports. The main theme is that the general trend towards bigger ships has created a demand for berths with a greater length of quay and depth of water, that our ports are inadequate even for present, and much more so for future, requirements and that what is needed is not more ports but better ports.
My task as the Member of Parliament for East Hull, which includes the main docks, is to deal with one port—Hull—to support the general recommendations of the Rochdale Report, to press the case for the local suggestions and to advocate even further developments. I will not spend time on foreign ports. One of the factors which has been omitted concerning the larger and better foreign ports is that they were all razed to the ground during the war and had to be rebuilt and, naturally, were rebuilt on better lines than formerly.
Hull is one of Britain's nationalised ports, with a fine post-war record of achievement and development in the interests of both shipowners and traders. The docks are one of the few major flourishing industries in the city, a city which is deserving of far more interest and support from the present Tory Government. Hull is the forgotten port and city. No Tory Cabinet Minister is really interested in either or has visited the port.
Has the Minister of Transport ever been there—the answer is, apparently,"No"—to consider the road problems in and out of the docks and to and from the Midlands? The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has visited the fish docks, because it is possible to get a good fish breakfast at the trawler owners' club and his son wished to try getting seasick in a bucking-bronco trawler off Iceland.
Hull is the eighth city and the third port in the country. The Rochdale Report stated:Hull is a special case because it is both a major fishing port and a major trading harbour.1332 It is one of the few ports, if not the only one, to deal with 3 million tons of oil, 2 million tons inwards and 1 million tons outwards, to import 1 million tons of grain and export 1 million tons of coal per annum, and after London it is the largest British timber port. The largest port on the East Coast, with seven miles of docks covering 200 acres, Hull is the ideal port for exports to the Continent and the world at large and imports from the Continent and elsewhere to the Midlands and further a field.
Last year, general cargo imports through Hull totalled 4 million tons and exports 1 million tons, giving an aggregate of 5 million tons. With oil traffic at 3 million tons, the total traffic outwards and inwards was 8½ million tons, of a value of £450 million. While many other ports experienced a fall in tonnage during 1962, Hull enjoyed an overall increase of nearly 8 per cent.
The number of ships entering the River Humber is about 12,000 a year and sometimes 40 a day are efficiently handled by the capable Humber pilots, usually without incident. The Conservancy Board charge for all its services is less than 2d. on each ton of cargo. Last winter, however, the pilot cutter"J. H. Fisher" was sunk off the mouth of the Humber and the pilots on their sea service suffered an involuntary cold bath and swim.
Hull was the worst bombed city and port other than London. The first task was to make good the vast amount of war damage and the second was to engage in major developments, some of which should have been carried out by private enterprise before the war. Since nationalization, over £16 million has been spent on developments alone and the expenditure of a further £5 million has recently been approved. This total expenditure of over £20 million compares favourably with that of any other similar docks authority. In fact, the Rochdale Report commented favourably on the extensive improvements since the war and that further schemes for improvements have been prepared.
The Rochdale Committee stated that further developments of port facilities on the Humber will, in due course, almost certainly be necessary and made these suggestions. First, that consideration 1333 should be given to the timing and advantages of an entirely new large deep-water dock below Salt End, which has already received preliminary consideration by the Docks Board. This development proposal for another large deep-water dock should be supported. The second suggestion was for an improved east-west road from the port to the Midlands and the third was for a road crossing of the River Humber.
In my opinion, the large new dock should have priority over the Humber Bridge, which has never been on the list of the Minister of Transport because of the dock's far greater importance to the port and city. This dock will require an appreciable Government grant and adequate financial aid should be provided. Financial aid has been discussed already in the debate and so I will not argue the pros and cons of it. The £20 million of the national economy which would be required for a bridge would be far better spent on the new deep-water dock and improved roads.
An indication of the necessity of the new deep-water dock is seen in the expensive impounding station now being built at King George Dock with three pumps of 67,000 gallons per minute capacity and associated culverts. The object is to raise the water level in the dock by4 ft. to enable vessels of up to 25,000 deadweight tons to be accepted. This is all to the good, but it indicates what is required in the way of new development on the Humber, because even with the impounding scheme, which gives another 4 ft. of depth, it is possible to dock ships of only up to 25,000 tons. I assume, rightly or wrongly, that if a deeper dock were available these vessels would dock there and this large expense would not be carried out at King George Dock, which at present is the largest and deepest.
As regards estuarial amalgamation of the Humber ports, the Rochdale Committee stated in paragraph 598:Port and navigational facilities on the Humber are already unified to some degree. For example, all four principle Humber ports are owned and operated by the British Transport Commission.That is now the British Transport Docks Board.Two of them, Grimsby and Immingham, are administered as a unit, Hull, Grimsby and Immingham share a common dredging fleet, 1334 while Hull's Docks Accountant and Estate Surveyor act also for the Commission's other Humber ports. There are close operational links between Hull and Goole because of the Large volume of waterborne traffic which passes between them, and Grimsby and Hull have affinities in that both are important fish and timber ports.Paragraph 599 states:For these reasons we believe that there is an obvious case for the complete amalgamation of port facilities on the Humber.Here is a case where, except for the ancillary services such as the Humber Conservancy Board, there is a case for amalgamation, but a case for amalgamation to remain as it is under the British Transport Docks Board. Why should there be any question of a flash take-over where there is a perfectly efficient organisation already inexistence running the ports of this estuary practically as one organisation?
The major traffic in Hull docks last year was the import of grain which accounted for one-quarter of the total imports. In November, for the first time, the 1 million ton mark was passed, and by the end of the year the figure was the highest ever recorded for grain. In earlier years the major traffic was the export of coal. Nine years ago, in 1954, the figure was 3 million tons, and as recently as 1957, or only six years ago, it was over 2 million tons. Last year, however, the coal figure was only 350,000 tons, but even so this was half the total cargo exports and the largest outward traffic.
The one prediction made by the Rochdale Committee which events have proved wrong is:The tonnage of coal exported seems unlikely to increase very substantially in the foreseeable future.In fact, this year, there has been a real upsurge, and whereas other Members have been talking about declining coal exports, coal exports there are increasing; and the Chairman of the National Coal Board, Lord Robens, has said that he hopes to double his 5 million tons for export to 10 million; and all along, it is one of our major exports.
The Docks Board, however, fortified by the Rochdale Report, published in September, 1962, and last year's low local coal figures, considered a proposal to reduce the number of coal hoists in Hull from four to two only. Such limited 1335 facilities would have been less than those at the small port of Boston. With breakdowns and repairs, Britain's third port, incredible though it will sound, could not have guaranteed a continuous shipment of coal, even with a demand of 350,000 tons per annum. It would appear that in some quarters of the British Transport Docks Board organisation there is an antipathy to the nationalised coal industry and the National Coal Board, and instead of giving it facilities they try to put every difficulty in the way. Whether two hoists would have been sufficient for last year's shipments is now immaterial because the figures have rocketed.
I must mention, however, that on 24th June I wrote to the Minister of Transport stating that the removal proposal was an incredible one and asking the Minister for the indefinite retention of all four coal hoists. It is only today, 16 days later, that on entering the Chamber I received a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary. I assume that it is not a private letter and that I am free to mention certain short extracts from it. Am I correct? It is not a private letter?
§ Mr. Marples
Whether it is a private letter or not, I do not know. The Parliamentary Secretary sent the letter.
§ Commander Pursey
This letter is of interest particularly to my hon. and right hon. Friends on our Front Bench from the point of view of the capital position because it says:Our responsibility is, of course, to approve proposals involving substantial capital outlay, under Section 27 of the Transport Act, 1962.There has been a lot of argument about this question of control of capital expenditure, but that position already exists so far as the nationalised docks are concerned. The letter also says:We examined the Board's proposals for Alexandra Dock very carefully, but saw no reason to dissent from them.Taking extracts only, the letter says:Hull needs more general cargo berth ages, but it is far from clear that the remaining four appliances will not be adequate for the regular coal trade.1336 I suggest to the Minister that that extract can be read both ways, positive and negative. To take another extract, the letter goes on:We must not risk a possible 'flash in the pan' in coal shipping obstructing the proper development of Hull".The final extract I would read is:I agree wish you this may well involve new appliances.That was about coal shipping arrangements.
What I would ask the Minister to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to do is to make a definite statement that the four coal hoists in Hull will be retained in commission till such time as alternative arrangements are made, and that there will be no question of cutting those four down by two and leaving us with two only. One of those is an inadequate berth and could not provide for continuous shipment of coal from the port. In other words, we could have a large ship at one berth loading with coal, the appliance breaks down, she could not go to the other berth and fill, and would have to sail with only part cargo.
So far this year Hull's coal exports have been three times those of 1962. The ½ million mark was passed in June, and the figure is likely to exceed 1 million before the end of the year. If so, coal will probably be the largest traffic outward and inward for the year. In fact, the figure is likely to exceed Immingham's figure for 1962, with all its modern appliances. The Docks Board has spent large sums of money, and rightly so, on greatly improved facilities for both the import and the storage of 1 million tons of grain. Grain is an irregular traffic. Why is not similar consideration given in respect of the export of 1 million tons of coal, for coal is a more regular traffic than grain and more easily dealt with?
The first requisite is to retain and keep in use the four existing coal hoists. But further consideration is also required for this most important traffic and perhaps the largest in the future. Admittedly, what is required is that the Chairman of the National Coal Board, Lord Robens, should provide an estimate of the coal expected to be exported from Hull in future years as a basis on which to consider the appliances required.
Also, why not provide the latest and most modern appliances for coal as for 1337 grain at a deep-water berth in the large King George Dock instead of the old appliances in the smaller Alexandra Dock? What is required is a return to the halcyon days for all concerned of the earlier policy of"grain in, coal out" in the same dock, but today in larger ships. Both the Chief Docks Manager, Hull, Mr. S, Johnson, and the Chairman of the British Transport Docks Board, London, Sir Arthur Kirby, should have a motto beside the clocks in their offices, and, when this motto becomes absorbed in the floral background, a cuckoo clock to chirp the motto every hour"Grain in, coal out".
As the Member of Parliament responsible for the Hull main docks area, I have a duty to advocate that the present plans for which expenditure has already been approved should be proceeded with without delay—in other words, we do not want any stoppages from the Minister in respect of the plans which have already been approved and for which expenditure has been arranged—that future development should be favourably considered, in particular the new deep-water dock and especially the road schemes, and that a reappraisal should be made of the Alexandra Dock proposals with the object of similar consideration being given to coal as to grain. And why not?
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I shall not follow the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) in his dissertation on the economics of Hull docks, but I would remark that the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) followed the example of the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) in chiding those on the Government side of the House for having repealed Section 3 of the Transport Act, 1947, which, among other things—and among a good number of other things—gave the British Transport Commission power to improve port facilities, and now coming forward with a proposal that a National Ports Council should have the primary function of formulating a national plan and supervising its execution.
There is nothing illogical about that What the hon. Members to whom I have referred have not appreciated is the real difference on the question of planning 1338 between the two sides of the House. The difference is an attitude of mind. I would define Conservatism as a balanced attitude of mind which seeks to apply the lessons of past experience to the problems of the present. We are quite prepared to do anything which, from our experience, we think would be good, but we are not prepared to put forward a proposal simply because it fits in with Socialism, or nationalization, or any other theory.
Section 3 of the Transport Act, 1947, was just a theory. It was an attempt to produce an integrated system of transport and hand it over to a Commission which had not the powers to operate it, and obviously it could not work. So we repealed it. But when we have a Report which indicates that an improvement in docks is necessary, we are quite prepared to consider a central plan for that purpose. I have said this quickly because it is late, but if hon. Members opposite read in the Official Report tomorrow what I have said they will find that it is quite logical.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
Is the hon. Member suggesting that he would support any great idea even if it conflicted with fundamental Conservative principles?
§ Mr. Wilson
I would say,"Yes, certainly". But when the hon. Gentleman talks about fundamental Conservative philosophy it is a mistake to suppose that there is any such thing. The definition I have given is that we are prepared to do anything which, in our experience, is shown to be suitable for the particular occasion which has arisen. However, we must not get diverted into the philosophies of political parties.
I hope that this debate will have convinced the House and the public that the fears that hon. Members opposite have so often expressed—that the Government are dealing with transport problems in isolation—can now be ended, because it is clear from what my right hon. Friend said today that that is not so. My right hon. Friend referred to a large number of reports which have been coming out in recent months and, in particular, to the four major ones.
These are the Rochdale Report itself, the Report by Sir Robert Hall on the Transport Needs of Great Britain in 1339 the next Twenty Years—too little attention has been paid to that important Report—the Beeching Report, which has been completely misunderstood by hon. Members opposite and which deals with the pattern of a modernised railway system consistent with modern requirements and has to be read in conjunction with the other Reports before it makes any sense at all, and the coming Report by Mr. Colin Buchanan on roads, which, I understand, will be the most comprehensive and revolutionary of the lot. These four Reports will have to be considered together in order to produce a co-ordinated transport policy, to which we have no objection at all.
§ Mr. Stan Awbery (Bristol, Central)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there should be a co-ordinated transport system?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)
Order. We cannot have two hon. Gentlemen on their feet at the same time.
§ Mr. Awbery
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The hon. Gentleman did give way. I asked him if he believed in a planned, co-ordinated transport system. If he does, then he must include road, rail and air transport in order to bring it about.
§ Mr. Wilson
Of course we believe in a co-ordinated system. I refer the hon. Gentleman to what my right hon. Friend said on 27th March. I had asked him what was being done to co-ordinate the Beeching Report with the other Reports and his reply was:The question of co-ordinating various forms of transport with a newly reshaped railway system will be brought before the Transport Advisory Council."—[Official Report, 27th March, 1963; Vol. 674, c. 1324.]There is nothing new in using the word"co-ordination" in connection with transport policy.
I hope that the Rochdale Report will also be considered by the Advisory Council, which is a very high-powered body. It includes not only the heads of the nationalised industries, but a number of other people, including Sir Geoffrey Crowther, Lord Hailsbury, Sir Robert 1340 Hall and Mr. E. G. Whittaker, President of the Institute of Transport and Chairman of the Central Transport Consultative Committee. All these matters should be considered together, as no doubt they will be, with a co-ordinated policy as a result.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. Hon. Members should not have a discussion about public ownership versus private enterprise across the Floor of the House. We should come back to the subject of the Rochdale Report.
§ Mr. Wilson
There are more than 300 ports in this country and the Rochdale Report selected 15 as major ports. There has been some criticism of it because it also referred to the smaller ports, and its proposals related to them. I was glad that in his opening statement my right hon. Friend indicated that the Rochdale Committee in fact had very wide terms of reference and was entitled to make comments on a very wide range of subjects. Indeed, it was inevitable that the Committee should do so, because we cannot define within narrow limits what is a major port and what is not.
What happens in the smaller ports undoubtedly affects in many instances what happens in the larger ports, and it was inevitable that there should be some provisions in the Report which referred to all the other ports only. This was drawn to my attention by a remark able small port in my constituency. Par, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the English China Clay Ltd., the principal firm in the china clay industry. It is a very prosperous and growing small port which is an integral part of the china clay industry.
I am told that Par is dealing with as many as 18 small ships a day of up to 1,000 tons each and that it is playing a large part in carrying clay to the continental ports. As china clay is a large and important export which is highly competitive, it is necessary that the charges should be kept as low as possible. I can quite understand that the 1341 china clay industry was a bit concerned about how far it would be affected by the recommendations of the Rochdale Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) said something about small ports, and I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend, who is to wind up the debate, will say more about them, because their principal concern is the fact that if the new authority has power to regulate charges, a small port which is quite willing and able to keep its charges down to a very low level may find itself priced out of the market, and that would be a most unfortunate thing for a port such as Par which plays a major part in a particular industry. These ports want to be assured that that is not likely to happen.
My hon. Friend also referred to capital development and to the fact that a limited amount would be allowed for expenditure without it being necessary to obtain authority. Any delay in the development of some of these small ports would also cause trouble. If a sum such as, for example, £250,000 could be spent on a particular enterprise without it being necessary to go through the procedure of getting authority for it, then I am sure that many of these ports would be quite satisfied and that it would not interfere with their expansion. Some of them play quite a substantial part in the export trade, and it is important that their interests should not be overlooked when we are thinking of the major interests of the bigger ports.
In general, I support the schemes envisaged by the Rochdale Committee as set out in the statement made by my hon. and gallant Friend on 6th March. There are many points in the Rochdale Report which are of great interest and which will be of great value in the future.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Guy Barnett (Dorset, South)
I am grateful to have this opportunity to take part in the debate, even though there is no major port in my constituency. I should like to begin by drawing attention to two points which are raised in the Rochdale Committee's Report and which I think are of paramount importance. The first is that there will be 1342 a great need in the future for deep-water berths, and the second is that ports in which little maintenance dredging is needed are also of great importance to our future port development.
I was shocked on reading the Report to learn that Britain's foreign trade might be doubled by 1980 or even before then. It is important in this respect to bear in mind the gradual expansion that is going on, particularly in our trade with the Continent, and the fact that from 1960 to 1961 there was a 9 per cent. increase in our trade with the Common Market is indicative of this development.
Bearing these important facts in mind, the Committee was obviously right to mention the important advantages which Southampton has: first, its proximity to the northern coast of Europe, and, secondly, its possession of considerable facilities. I do not want to spend time on this because the case for Southampton has been adequately put in the Rochdale Report, and has also been mentioned by the hon. Members for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) and Southampton, Test (Mr. J. Howard).
I want to take this opportunity to draw attention to a harbour which is crying out for development as a major port, but which has not yet received any consideration anywhere, least of all in the Rochdale Report. I am speaking of the harbour of Portland in my constituency, and I want to draw it to the attention of the House because of the points I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, namely, the need for deep-water berths, and the need for harbours which require very little dredging.
I do not know why Portland is not mentioned in the Report, or why the Report has not gone into detail about the possibility of developing new ports. There has been reference in the debate to the remarks of Lord Cooper about the necessity for developing ports which are in existence, but I believe that there is a strong case for looking at Portland as a possible development of the kind that I have in mind.
I mention Portland because it has considerable natural advantages. The Rochdale Committee discusses the possibility of developing new ports. It says that one of the possible advantages of developing a completely new port is that 1343 it might provide something of a laboratory for pioneering new ideas and new methods, and I believe that in this connection, too, Portland has a strong claim to be considered.
At the moment the greater part of the harbour is lying completely idle. A small part of it, on the southernmost side, is occupied by a small Admiralty training establishment; the Portland Stone Company has a small pier, Castle-town Pier, and the yacht club uses part of the harbour. The kind of development that I have in mind will not interfere in any way with the activities and interests that exist in the harbour at the moment.
I come now to some of the specific advantages which I think this harbour possesses. First, it is adequately protected. It has a magnificent natural situation. Portland itself rises to a height of almost 500 ft., and it is protected on the other side by the famous Chesil Bank, and to the north by the mainland. It has artificial breakwaters, two of them about 600 ft. in width, that are capable of being used. It has the remarkable distinction of having a tidal range of only 7 ft., which compares favourably indeed with the 13 ft. tidal range of Southampton Harbour. In addition, it is a harbour of considerable area and remarkable depth. The total area of the harbour is about 4 sq. miles and three sq. miles of these are over 20 ft. in depth, ranging up to 50 ft. in depth.
Moreover, the bottom of the harbour is of a shale type and is stable when dredged. The remarkable fact about the harbour is that no dredging is necessary for maintenance purposes, since no river runs into it. No currents affect the harbour, and further advantages are to be found in its approaches. It is generally free from navigational hazards, and the only hazards that exist—PortlandLedge and Portland Race—are adequately marked. In passing I should mention that the harbour is more fortunate than most other harbours in that it is less affected by fog. It had only five days' fog in 1960, compared with Southampton's 19 and Liverpool's 24. That is a remarkable fact to take into consideration.
I now turn to the problem that has been mentioned by many speakers—a 1344 congested hinterland. Here, Portland is remarkably well off. It would be possible to build a northerly road from Portland, by-passing Weymouth and going directly north to join the projected motorway coming down from Liverpool, via Birmingham and Bristol. Therefore, it would be possible for Portland to serve some of the needs of the industrial Midlands. Secondly, it has direct access to the open sea. It would enable large ocean-going ships to avoid the difficulties of the congested Channel—an area that is likely to become increasingly congested in future—and it is ideally situated for trade with Cherbourg. One has only to look at the map to see that it is almost the ideal spot on our South Coast for such trade.
I could go on to mention further advantages of the location of Portland—constructional advantages in respect of any possible development of a port in that place; the ample supplies of constructional labour that are readily available, arid the ample supplies of suitable material from close to the site which could be used for back-filling, but I do not wish to detain the House longer than I can help because we are nearing the end of the debate.
I want to make it clear that Portland has a harbour capable of increasing the national capacity of deep water berths very considerably. Secondly, we have a harbour where a completely fresh start can be made, with the development of the most modern ideas of handling cargo and turning round ships. In short, we have a laboratory for the development of completely new ideas. In this respect it is not irrelevant to mention the existence of the Winfrith Heath Atomic Energy Establishment, devoted largely to research work, which would be very close and readily available for the development of the nuclear-powered propulsion of ships. This proposal should be seriously considered by the Minister and his Department.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen has mentioned the problem of amenities in connection with Southampton. Quite naturally, since Dorset is an area of considerable natural amenity, it is necessary to mention this important point. The present development of the Chesil Bank region is already such as to add considerably 1345 to the amenities of this interesting natural area, and a proper harbour development, properly planned and carried out, could further add to them, as has already been done at Winfrith Heath, in the construction of the Atomic Energy Establishment. When that proposal was made many people were extremely critical of the possible effect upon the natural beauty of the countryside. But the vast majority of Dorset people would now admit that, if anything, this construction has enhanced the beauty of the area.
The one problem about the possibility of developing the harbour of this extraordinarily attractive natural site is the problem of transport. Given the right inland transport facilities, Portland Harbour would be capable of serving a very wide area. But unfortunately, in Dorset, and I believe I am right in saying in most of the South-West, we are considerably hampered by the lack of proper transport. I mentioned earlier the possibility of a motorway being continued from Bristol down to Portland to carry a great deal of trade from the Midlands straight to a Channel port. I believe that that would be of great value not merely in itself but to the south-west of England as a whole.
The fact has been mentioned frequently in the House that the south-west of England, with its magnificent resources and people, is in danger of becoming a depressed area unless it receives proper attention from the Government. In answer to a Parliamentary Question last February it was stated that the average level of wages in the south-west region of England was 25s. 6d. less than the national average. Opportunities for employment for young people in that part of the world are few and far between, and Portland depends for employment to far too great an extent upon the stone industry. It seems to me that there exists a strong case for the diversity of industry in my constituency and in the South-West.
A development of the kind which I suggest would prove of enormous value to my constituency and to the South-West, because it would provide a growing point for development. It is important to provide in the area a growth point from which development in the whole region can stem. It seems to me that a 1346 harbour at this point, served initially by trains from the Midlands, would give an enormous boost to industry and its development in the South-West which hitherto has been hampered by the lack of transport facilities. I ask the Minister to consider seriously the suggestions which I have made. I would not bring them forward with such confidence if I did not feel that the development of this natural harbour would be of enormous value to the country and the development of industry in the Midlands.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Box (Cardiff, North)
The hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Barnett) will, I hope, forgive me if I press on without referring to his speech, as time is short.
One of the most gratifying features about the Rochdale Committee's Report is not only the welcome that it has received in this House, but from many quarters connected with docks and shipping throughout the country. As legislation to implement the National Ports Council is bound to take time, I was particularly glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that he intended to put the wheels in motion so that the Council would be able to take preliminary steps to set up research and study groups to deal with some of the more urgent aspects of the Committee's Report.
As my right hon. Friend is aware—perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is also aware, because of correspondance passing between me and the Ministry—the composition of the Council is causing a great deal of apprehension in the South Wales area. It is accepted that ports cannot expect to be represented area by area. But it is felt that the Council should include someone with a specialised knowledge of the problems and special characteristics of the South Wales ports.
It is, therefore, with a slight tinge of disappointment that we note that although we have a member to represent Bristol, nobody who is actually from the South Wales ports is included. As one or two positions remain to be filled, I hope that my right hon. Friend will give this matter sympathetic consideration, as it is causing very considerable apprehension in South Wales.
1347 The decision to make the appointments to this National Ports Council in advance of legislation will be generally welcomed, and nowhere more than in the Bristol Channel area, for the current delay in deciding the future pattern of these ports is causing a great deal of uncertainty there. That is having a prejudicial effect on development plans, because until the Government, or the Council, are able to make definite decisions as to the future pattern of our ports, the Docks Board will obviously be quite unable to proceed with any major expenditure on modernisation, repair, or replacement of obsolete equipment. My hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) told us in some detail of the difficulties Barry is in, where developments are at a complete standstill pending a definite decision on its future.
The Bristol Channel ports are among the few about which the Report makes very definite recommendations on regrouping and closure. It is, therefore, reasonable to suppose that there is not the same degree of uncertainty apparent in some of the other ports, from which it follows that the Bristol Channel ports are entitled to some priority when the Council gets down to work. It would be idle to pretend that even when these decisions are reached they will be universally popular—that is almost too much to ask for—but the present mood, particularly in the South Wales area, is that some sort of decision is preferable to the present state of uncertainty.
For instance, the recommendation that Bristol and Newport should be grouped together under one new Upper Bristol Channel Port Trust is strongly opposed by experts in the area, who take the view that this might well have an adverse effect on the other ports in the Bristol Channel. I think that I speak for them generally when I say that they would prefer to see all the Bristol Channel ports—with the possible exception of Port Talbot, which is a special case—grouped under a single Bristol Channel Port Authority.
While it is obvious that the South Wales ports have a good deal of surplus capacity at present—and this is especially mentioned in the Report—there are a number of reasons for what I would describe as measured optimism about the future prospects of the area. First, there 1348 is the general recovery which is taking place in snipping which, although it has not been very great so far, at least seems to be getting the industry out of the depths of depression.
Secondly, there is the unprecedented improvement of road communications. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend is not in the Chamber at present, because he gets plenty of brickbats and I wanted to throw him a small bouquet. The tremendous improvement in road communications between London and South Wales can be seen by anyone who travels along those roads. We are looking forward to a close link with the west of England by the Severn Bridge, a link that will be extended to London and the southern counties when we get the M.4 motorway. We also have the advantage of two motorways, the one from the Midlands to Cardiff and Newport, and the other to West Wales and Swansea by the Heads of the Valleys road. That will make for a vast and continuing improvement in the industrial activity of South Wales during the next few years.
Thirdly, I would list the gradual build-up of general cargo and the oil trade which we are, of course, encouraging to replace the diminishing coal trade on which the South Wales ports were originally established. It is in this general cargo sphere that we can reasonably expect to see the most worth-while improvement over the next few years. As these ports in South Wales were capable of dealing, hi the Bristol Channel as a whole, with more than one-third of all the general cargo handled during the last war, their ability to deal with a great increase on the general cargo side is without doubt.
Unfortunately, in this general cargo sphere, a sort of vicious circle has existed for some time past. I mean by that that manufacturers in the Midlands have been unwilling and reluctant to send cargoes to the South Wales ports until they could provide adequate facilities for ships to collect the cargoes from them. Equally, the British Transport Commission, now the Docks Board, has consistently refused to spend considerable sums on modernisation and improving the port handling facilities until they could be guaranteed that they would get the cargo.
Somehow this impasse must be broken, otherwise I foresee that these valuable 1349 assets are liable to sink into a state of complete stagnation. That is hardly a healthy prospect for a series of assets which not only have a considerable individual value but an even greater replacement value, and which also are assets, I would remind hon. Members, in which we all have a very considerable financial interest.
The whole of Chapter 14 of the Rochdale Report is devoted to the question of charges. I was most interested in what my right hon. Friend said on this matter, because it is of fundamental importance to the South Wales ports. At present, as a result of customs and restrictions that have grown up over many years—restrictive practices, if you like—there is such a wide variation in the rates and conditions applying that it is virtually impossible to draw a true comparison between the charges at the various ports.
Although I gather from the Report that complete standardisation is virtually impossible—indeed, undesirable, because it might remove an element of healthy competition—it seems that a fresh start is required by the shipping companies in this respect. I would emphasise that South Wales does not seek preferential treatment. All it seeks is a fair crack of the whip. I am glad to see the Rochdale Report urges the shipping companies to set about removing some of the anomalies and I hope that this will be given priority when the National Ports Council sits.
I sum up by saying that the three most important things that we in the Bristol Channel and the South Wales ports want to see is this element of South Wales representation which we feel is essential on the National Ports Council to deal with the problems of a special character to the area; a priority decision on the future of those reports about which there have been recommendations for regrouping and in some cases closure; and the all-important and vital question of the division of port jobs.
I recognise that this is a great deal to ask for. I know that my right hon. Friend will give all these points sympathetic consideration. If he is able to reassure me and some of my hon. Friends and do anything to remove some of the genuine apprehension that exists, I can assure him he will earn the undying 1350 gratitude of the docks interest in the Bristol Channel area.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey) rose—
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
On a point of order. Would my hon. Friend allow me one minute to register a protest in the strongest possible terms at the fact that Bristol—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. This is quite out of order. The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) is not in possession of the Floor. Mr. Mellish.
§ Mr. Mellish
I am sorry that my hon. Friend was not called. This is the sort of debate in which individual hon. Members have views and interests at constituency level to express and I understand that apart from those who have spoken there were about 30 hon. Members present who had expressed a wish to speak. I understand how my hon. Friend feels, because his own activities in the House in the interests of his constituency speak for themselves. I hope that when we have new legislation and a Second Reading and all that will flow from that, we shall hear from my hon. Friend to great effect.
§ Mr. Wilkins
Will my hon. Friend forgive me again? I would not take this strong exception were it not for the fact that two hon. Members from two cities have shared between them 48 minutes and 33 minutes, when the voice of the great city which I represent has not been heard.
§ Mr. Mellish
I know how my hon. Friend feels. I am trying to do the job of the Chair as well as mine. I am doing all right.
All who have spoken in the debate have started by congratulating Lord Rochdale and his Committee. I join them. This is a wonderfully written Report. It is one of the best Reports of the kind that I have ever read. Most Government documents are not easy to read, but I found this Report fascinating, though perhaps I may have some prejudice in the matter in that it is about an industry which means a great deal to me.
I am happy about the Report because this is the first time in years that we have 1351 been able to discuss the docks industry without being under the shadow of an unofficial dispute. Every time that we have talked about the docks in the past it has been because there has been a dispute of one kind or another, usually in London, and then there has been a White Paper and a committee of inquiry and, finally, a debate. This is the first time that we have been able to talk about the docks without any of these troubles.
I am delighted to take the opportunity, first of all, of taking sides with my hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards) in paying some tribute to the industry as it is today. We make a great mistake if we let it go out from the House that somehow the British docks industry is now badly run, that it is an industry almost dying of decay, that the whole industry is riddled with restrictive practices and that hardly anybody is doing any work. This is one of the mistakes we make in Britain. We take a great pleasure in denigrating our people and some of our great industries. The Rochdale Report gives us a chance to say that the British docks industry is an industry of which we can be justly proud.
The Minister referred to his trips to Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg. These ports are rather lucky, and Hamburg in particular because Germany lost the war. We had the misfortune, as I think at times, to win it. Our docks industry, though badly bomb-damaged, was not completely wiped out as was the case in Hamburg and from 1945 onwards we had to make do as best we could. I should like to put on record what the industry has achieved before we debate the Rochdale Report and the future.
It should be clearly understood that from 1951 to 1961 there has been a 12 per cent. increase in productivity in the British docks industry, with about 10,000 fewer men employed in it. This is not a mean achievement. It is a pretty wonderful achievement considering the difficulties experienced immediately after the war. It is a record of which we can well be proud. There are gangs in the London Docks today which I know and which are beyond comparison with any gangs of workmen in the world. The rate at which sugar is discharged in the 1352 Royal group of docks is the fastest in the world. There are many gangs of that specialist character in the docks which are the finest not only in Europe but anywhere.
Reference is often made to the fact that the dock industry is one of great tradition, full of restrictive practices and that no mechanical aids are ever used. One gets the impression that all the men are still pushing trucks, that no one has ever heard of a crane and that all the dockers are working in Victorian conditions. It is not true. The docker is not that sort of person at all. There are at present in the London group of docks 753 cranes, eight grain elevators and 246 electric trucks—some of the best mechanical equipment that any industry could hope to have.
The dock worker is not against using new mechanical aids. What he is against is the odd management and the way in which it tries to introduce these aids. I know of one firm—I will not mention its name—which tried to introduce fork lift trucks. The firm bought 20 of them. They were brought along one Monday morning and the employees were told that as from that moment they were to use them but that the number in a gang would be reduced from 12 to six. I can tell the Minister that these trucks have not yet come out of their packing cases. That is the last way to introduce mechanical equipment, and I know the Minister will agree. Any management which tries to impose upon the men new equipment which will create redundancy is asking for trouble in dockland.
§ Mr. Mellish
Yes, and elsewhere.
Of course, this is an industry of great tradition, and we criticise it in this House. I do not know why we criticise it in this House, of all places. Mr. Speaker himself uses phrases which are used in dockland. He uses the phrase"the custom and practice of this House". That is exactly what they say in dock land—"the custom and practice of this industry." The term"custom and practice" is not only used by the men. It is used by the management, very much so. Whenever it suits the management it always refers to the"custom and practice".
One thing that I want to get on the record is that the dock worker has a 1353 history which we cannot ignore when we discuss Rochdale. Anyone who believes that this Report will lead almost overnight to a settlement of these problems is making a mistake. My own fatter was a dock worker. He was a great man. He was in the 1889 dispute and the story that he told me has eaten into my soul—27 weeks on strike without a single penny from anybody. This is an industry whose bitter record one cannot ignore.
I understand the dock worker when he talks of yesteryear. I understand him when he refers to the principle of"one out, all out." The only quarrel I have with the docker today—I have said it so often—is that it is a wonderful principle, providing the first one out is right. The principle of"one out, all out" is one which I hope the dockers will not depart from. Whatever happens in the future, the right of the dock worker to withdraw his labour will always exist, and this must always be so if the trade unions mean anything at all.
We have to instill in the dock worker confidence in tomorrow. This is an absolute"must". This is how we must approach the whole subject. Whatever we do in the future, under whatever system is established, the National Dock Labour Board must stay. Even if we have a system where there is full permanency of employment, the National Dock Labour Board will be required, because if we have a permanent labour force we shall have to have movement of that force. It will have to be transferable, if only in sectors.
It is madness to try to transfer men from one port to another or from one dock to another. By the time the men are collected in the morning, taken by coach to their place of employment and have settled down, half the morning has gone. By the time they are collected in the afternoon and are brought back, because they have to finish at 5 o'clock, half the afternoon has gone. Let us have sense in this. We have to have mobility, but within sectors and within the framework of the National Dock Labour Board which should be used as the agent for such movement. The National Dock Labour Board must stay. The men themselves are determined that it is a part of dockland which they will never give up. For one thing, as my hon. Friend 1354 the Member for Stepney said, for the first time in their lives it gives them some semblance of a secure wage.
Those who complain about the National Dock Labour Board's present set-up on the disciplinary side, for instance, make a very great mistake if they think that the men believe that having trade union representatives on the disciplinary committee is wrong. I assure the House that when any individual considers the question he is the first to agree, as all in dockland agree, on the right of the trade unions to be on the Board which does the discipline. This is a necessary part of dockland. The workers would never trust any disciplinary body which had none of their representatives there.
What of the future? The Rochdale Report is a magnificent contribution to our discussions now and in considering legislation which is to come. But I hope that the House will not talk as though Rochdale will be the Bible now and forever in dockland. I say that with no disrespect to his Lordship. It is a magnificent Report. What has been produced by the Committee in under 18 months is quite extraordinary. But this does not mean that the Report is gospel. It is the basis for legislation. It is the basis for our consideration of what should be done in the future.
In my view, there are weaknesses in the Report. I do not complain. No one could expect any report to be perfect. I will give an illustration of one way in which, I think, the Report falls down badly. It makes hardly any mention of the lighterage industry. As one who has lived and worked in dockland for a great part of his life, I cannot understand why lighterage is not dealt with much more fully. One would think that it had no future. Outside this building passes the greatest highway in the world, the River Thames. It is almost empty now every day. This is one of the saddest things that could ever happen. Somehow, we must try to get traffic back on to the river and try to get more lighterage used for carrying heavy cargoes. Let us consider how we can make it more efficient and cheaper. How can we attract more traffic to the river? These are some of the questions which Rochdale should have tackled, but it virtually dismisses lighterage as of no consequence.
1355 I do not like the Committee's defeatist attitude to coastal shipping. I am not talking party politics in this debate. We can have the politics some other time, as the Minister knows very well. But, surely, no hon. Member can be anything but unhappy about the present plight of coastal shipping. This is one of the reasons why many of our small ports are almost dying today. If coastal shipping were thriving, it could take a great deal of traffic off the roads, just as the lighterage industry could if it were carrying cargoes, as it should, on our great rivers. Just consider the enormous amount of traffic which would be taken off the roads. This is simple enough, yet hardly any emphasis is given to it in the Rochdale Report.
This brings me to what I regard as the fundamental argument. We cannot talk about the docks in isolation. We tried it with the railways. I do not deny that Dr. Beeching's Report has its value, although I disagree with many of its conclusions. It is the same with Rochdale. Many of the recommendations are valuable, but one does not necessarily agree with everything. We have to talk about transport as a whole.
It is on this point that what my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) said is so relevant. We need to know what are the problems of the docks for today and for tomorrow. We need to know what are the problems of the roads and the railways for today and for tomorrow. With the knowledge we gain in that way, perhaps we shall be able to devise an overall national transport plan. It could be done. I am sorry if this sounds too simple. I believe it to be of the utmost importance that we consider transport as a whole, not looking at each part in isolation.
What about the responsibilities of the Ministry of Transport? Already it is far too busy a Department. In my view, we ask far too much of it. With all the problems coming on to it almost daily I am amazed that it can do any work or real thinking at all. I should have thought that the time was coming fast when the problems of shipping and the docks should be taken away from the Ministry of Transport and given to an entirely separate Department. I do not mind whether we give it some other title 1356 but certainly this important part of our transport industry should be under a separate Ministry.
If the Rochdale recommendations are to become a reality, we must consider again the question of decasualisation. I said that my father was a docker. He was"casual" all his life. He never knew what a permanent job was. He was employed by the means of overnight selection which led to favouritism and trouble and, more often than not, unemployment. As he was the father of 10 children and very rarely got a full day's work, hon. Members will understand why I think that decasualisation is a must. However, I agree that to say it is one thing and that to achieve it is another.
The men are dubious about decasualisation unless it is done in a way which gives them the stability which they have a right to expect. I pay tribute to Mr. O'Leary, the national secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union. He is a very shrewd, intelligent trade union officer. He is trying very hard to put the position in dockland so that the men may have the stability which they have a right to expect. I say this to the dockers. Let us consider some of the figures in the Rochdale Report concerning the trade in dockland of tomorrow. We know that, given normal growth in Britain, it is certain that by 1980 there will be twice the amount of work in dockland as there is today.
If we can get a labour force which is guaranteed a full week's wages, if we can get employers to consider the possibility of breaking down, which I think can be done, some of the so-called seasonal arrangements with which we are plagued—this can be done, as I hope to show, with regard to timber—if we can guarantee the men permanency of labour, provided on their part, within sectors, there is mobility with the men moving from one firm to another, and if we can assure them that redundancy will be dealt with by normal wastage, there will be a desire by the men for decasualisation. Once that is allied to pension schemes and sickness benefit schemes, and so on, we shall have the continuity of dock work which we all want to see and which most of the men want to see.
§ Mr. Graham Page
The hon. Gentleman has referred to men moving between firms. But surely that would not work. Larger firms are required so that the men may move within a large firm.
§ Mr. Mellish
I meant within sectors, moving from one wharf, say, to another or men moving from one part of a dock to another.
§ Mr. Mellish
It is not so much a question of loyalty to a firm. It is loyalty to an industry which is important to me. If it were decided that men were required in another part of the sector, there would be no hesitancy on the men's part to go there.
There is great responsibility on management with regard to seasonal trade. One of the biggest problems is the fluctuations in trade which cause casual labour. There is a peak when a certain number of workers are needed. Then in the winter there is a great fall in demand and thousands of men are out of work.
Is it not possible to have some arrangement by which timber can come into this country at a more even flow? There is the largest timber dock in Britain in my constituency. So much comes in during certain months, which is stored in lighters, in barges. Dozens of barges are used for this purpose. Then when the peak is reached in general cargo there are not enough lighters. Whose fault is that? It is nothing to do with the men. They only do what they are told, but they are aware of what goes on.
I regard this as mismanagement of the worst kind. It is beyond the wit of man to devise a scheme by which timber can come in with more regularity? If that sort of good will was shown, particularly by the employers, we could overcome many of the seasonal problems.
As to the publicly-owned ports, the Rochdale Committee dealt harshly with the British Transport docks. Quite illogically, as has been said often enough today, the Report commends the Transport Commission for its magnificent job in taking over the docks which were losing £1½ million a year and putting them by 1961 in the position of showing a credit of £4½ million, but then says, in 1358 effect, that the Docks Board should go. Many of us, on both sides, will not regard that suggestion with favour.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall that if there are to be groupings of various ports—I do not say that there should not be—it would not be a bad thing to hand over to the British Transport Docks Board those docks which are not in its possession. The Docks Board has proved its competence. Municipal ports are proving their competence. Our yardstick should be not whether a dock is making a profit but whether those who have been running the docks generally overall are competent to run them.
I ask the Minister to take it from us on this side that when new legislation is introduced, in whatever form, we shall need very much to ensure that at the end of the day we get the chance here in the House of Commons to say something about which ports are being grouped, where and how they should be grouped and under what form of management. We have a right to do that. We are representatives of every dock and port in the country and we have a right to express our views.
I ask the Minister, when introducing legislation, to bear in mind that we here will need to have the right of deciding. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be good enough to deal with this in his reply tonight and that we may be given assurances that we shall have the right on an affirmative Resolution, for example, to decide whether certain proposals made by the new National Ports Council are to be effective.
I should like to say a word also about the financial aspect. 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 here today in discussion 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.
§ Mr. Marples
I deliberately refrained from mentioning a figure, but I said that I hoped that the figure above which the permission of the National Ports Council 1359 would be necessary would be a reasonably high one, so that there would not be any interference with the day-to-day management of a port.
§ Mr. Mellish
I sincerely hope that we will soon be told what the figure is and that it is the kind of figure which will allow port responsibility and administration to continue without being subject all the time to asking the Minister for permission. This is essential for day-to day management.
On the wider schemes, I should like to re-emphasise what my right hon. Friend said. The Council may well decide that it is essential for a certain scheme to be followed by a certain port, but it may have good logical reasons for refusing to implement such a scheme. Therefore, it must be laid down in the legislation that the port will have the right to ask the Minister to act as arbitrator and to decide who is right, whether it be the National Ports Council or the port in question.
To be fair to the Rochdale Committee, it has expressed its views as a consequence not of negotiations with the various port authorities but as a result of various questions that were answered and what the Committee has seen for itself. I do not think that Lord Rochdale and his colleagues would claim to be experts and knowledgeable on the docks after one year. I am sure he would concede that in London, Hull, Liverpool and Glasgow, for example, there are people working in the industry, both in management and on the trade union side, who even now would claim to know nearly as much of the dock industry as Lord Rochdale himself.
I hope, therefore, that the National Ports Council will remember that if it is to succeed and to do its job properly, it is not any good having a dictatorship which says,"This is what you have got to do". Anybody who tried that attitude in the dock industry would come badly unstuck. Probably the Minister may never be bothered with any of these schemes. Of course, the present Minister may not be here to arbitrate. He may not be here, and I hope he will not. He understands what I mean. But, in fact, the Minister, whoever he may be, may not be asked to arbitrate, but there ought 1360 to be power for the individual docks managements to go to him and put to him any question when there is not any agreement between them and the National Ports Council itself. That will help to make for good will and understanding.
As to the membership, which has already been announced, I must say I am not very happy about it. I speak for myself about this. I have no authority to speak for any body about this. I hope that the trade union representative from the Weavers Association quickly gets to know about the dock industry. I hope that some of those already appointed will get quickly into the confidence of everybody in the docks industry. It is most important that they should. It is a most important industry, and the Council is a very important body, and it is important that there should be confidence felt in it by all those in the industry—confidence that the people on the Council know what they are about and are doing the right thing. Unless we get that confidence at a very early stage the organisation will not work.
No matter how much we here talk about planning it is of no good unless the planners themselves know what planning is all about and what its final objectives are, and are doing their job. I hope that the Minister, when there are vacancies to be filled—and I am not thinking of myself: I do not want to be considered for a job—will find people who are respected by the industry as a whole. We gather already from Members for South Wales that there is already objection to the Council membership. That is a good start, I must say. We must overcome objections of this sort. Of course, we could hardly ask that every area of this Britain of ours should be represented on a Council of this kind.
I want to conclude what I have to say on this matter in this way. The Rochdale Report is a magnificent report and provides an excellent vehicle for a debate on dockland without any official dispute. I think it spotlights the fact that in the dock industry of this country we have an industry of which we can well be proud, which has done a magnificent job. I say so sincerely. I have a big enough majority to be able to say nasty things about dockers and still get elected, but I honestly think that the dock worker is a man of whom this country can be 1361 proud. He has got an enormous amount of courage. Sometimes he is foolish, but I think that can be said of most of us anyway. He is a man with tremendous courage and works in an industry which has a fine record. There are things in it of which we can feel ashamed, but it is an industry of which in some respects we can feel very proud.
I think we want fewer employers in the industry. There are too many, and far too many who make no contribution and who must go, employers in London and elsewhere whose contribution to this great industry is negligible. We want to see fewer groupings of employers, which the men can understand and respect and which will guarantee the dockers, their wives and families the sort of life they are entitled to expect. If we can get that sort of foundation it will enable the industry to work very well and to be one of which we can be proud.
§ 9.28 p.m.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) did well to remind us that there is a bright side to the record of the dock industry, and was right, also, to consider the matter of dock labour, which is, admittedly, one of the great keys to the efficiency of the industry. If I do not follow him on that side of his speech it is not because I underestimate the importance of it, but because the changes we are considering tonight, and which stem from the recommendations of the Rochdale Committee, do not, in the main, relate to labour organisation.
I should like to thank all the hon. Members who have taken part in this debate. The Report raises issues which were novel to this country. By accepting the recommendations in principle, at least for the most part, we have really embarked on a new course, and we value the combined wisdom of the House in helping us to avoid such dangers as lie ahead, and, what is more, in overcoming the sort of opposition which is inevitable whenever an old and respected institution stands in need of reform. May I, first, emphasise what is not at stake? There is no question of nationalization or denationalisation in the true sense. With one single exception, all the great ports in this country are already publicly 1362 owned. They will remain publicly owned. Whether that ownership is direct ownership by the Crown, ownership by a municipality, or ownership by a public trust, or by a combination of all three perhaps, is really of secondary importance. What matters, and what will be at stake, is the degree to which we rely upon centralised control as against regional control.
However, another important point was raised with which I should like to deal at this stage, namely, our reluctance to take powers to compel a port authority to undertake schemes in which the authority may have no confidence or to which it is opposed. This is not only a hypothetical, but an extremely unlikely contingency. In my experience, most human beings, whether corporate or single, are only too pleased to do anything which enlarges their sphere of influence or enables them to spend more money than they have hitherto had. However, I have a powerful imagination, and I can imagine a situation such as the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) postulated.
But I ask the House: if this were to happen, would it be sensible to force a reluctant authority to spend its own money, or wise to give it public money, to undertake something which it said it did not believe in? One has the analogy, a not uncommon analogy, in time of war, when a general sometimes makes it plain that he completely mistrusts the plan which he has been given to carry out. I would say that there is only one prudent course to adopt. Either one must admit that the general is right and abandon the plan, or one must change the general. In the context we are considering tonight one has to imagine a major clash, and if the Government of the day were determined to go forward it would be necessary to reconstitute the authority, and without doubt that issue would have to be brought before Parliament. That is my answer to the point which the right hon. Gentleman made.
§ Mr. Strauss
May I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman for a further explanation? I appreciate the point. What the Parliamentary Secretary means is that if we had an occasion when it appeared that a port authority was frustrating the national interest the Government would, 1363 in those conditions, then come to Parliament and ask for power to deal with the situation, and would, in fact, force the Minister's decision on a new port authority. Is that not correct?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I cannot, needless to say, commit any Government, not even the present one, let alone Governments of the future. We are talking about something in the future. But that is what I imagine would happen. I cannot see that there would be any other way of dealing with a situation of that nature.
I think that there is wide acceptance of the major premise of the Rochdale Report, that the future development of our ports should take place within the framework of a national plan, and I hope that we have carried the House with us in the idea of implementing that plan through the control of capital investment. But that, as I hinted before, still leaves room for widely varying opinions about the degree of regional grouping which is desirable, and about the extent to which authorities which may be set up to manage such groupings should be autonomous, or, alternatively, should be subject to control from a board in Whitehall.
This, as hon. Gentlemen have pointed out, is a question which particularly concerns the group of ports now managed and administered by the British Transport Docks Board. These docks, as we all know, are directly owned by the Crown. In most cases, and indeed, I think, in all cases where large ports are involved, the Docks Board is essentially a docks authority in the literal sense of the term. There are, for example, a separate harbour authority at Southampton and a separate conservancy board for the Humber Estuary, and even in the South Wales ports there are a number of extraneous authorities.
Experience has shown that the system of having a local general manager responsible to a central authority in London has worked fairly well, but whether it would be equally satisfactory if the Board exercised powers as comprehensive as those advocated in the Rochdale Report is another matter, and that is why my right hon. Friend said that he would accept the idea of autonomous boards where these are likely to promote efficiency.
1364 We shall need to take advice, judging each particular case on its merits, and we think that it would be altogether premature to reach conclusions now. After all, the setting up of large estuarial authorities is bound to take time and we think that it would be quite wrong, and indeed quite impracticable, to try to commit subsequent Parliaments and Administrations to any fixed pattern. Indeed, the only point on which I would be definite is that we must at all costs try to avoid duplication or overlapping powers.
Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I now replied to some of the questions about individual ports. I must say at once, however, that I cannot give assurances concerning the future of any particular port. After all, the main purpose of setting up the National Ports Council is to seek its advice on this very point, and it would be quite wrong to prejudge what that advice may be or what decisions may be taken by future Governments when that advice is tendered.
I can, however, repeat what my right hon. Friend said about schemes in hand of imminent. Although we shall consult the Council, we see no risk that this will involve any appreciable delay. I know that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) may say that that is just what is happening in the case of Leith, so perhaps I may deal with that case first.
As the hon. Member said, three years ago the Leith Harbour Commission produced an imaginative plan to convert Leith into a deep water port at a cost of about £4 million. Unfortunately, it could not be established that there would be a sufficient return on this capital investment in the foreseeable future, with the result that, from the beginning, the project was dependent upon a Government grant. The Rochdale Committee looked into the matter and reported, as the hon. Member fairly said, that this expenditure would provide a greater degree of desirable development than could be obtained in any other Firth of Forth port for a similar sum—or indeed, any other port on the East Coast. However, the hon. Member stopped at that point in his quotation from the Report. It actually went on to express the view 1365 that the scheme would be justified provided that Scottish industry can and must be expanded, with a corresponding increase in deep sea trade.
In the meantime, the Docks Board has produced a scheme for developing Grange mouth at a higher cost, although it must, in fairness, be added that some of the expenditure there will be necessary in any case. But granting that some development of port capacity in the Firth of Forth is needed, it remains to be decided at which port or ports it should take place. This partly depends on technical considerations, on which we have a firm opinion in the Rochdale Report—indeed, before that—and partly on the future needs of Scottish industry.
After consulting with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, and with the agreement of Lord Rochdale, we have, therefore, asked all the local authorities and boards who are interested for their opinions. We have asked for their views not only on whether and where development should take place, but also, as the hon. Member said, on the best form of port organisation for the Forth Estuary. We shall refer their replies to the National Ports Council and seek its advice.
As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, I sympathise with the Leith Harbour Commission, which is chafing at this delay. I think that it was very forgiving of its members to invite me to have refreshments with them when I went there a month ago. I accept that there may, in future, be quite exceptional cases in which it will be in the national interest to make a direct grant towards a port development scheme. I would, however, remind the House that this is something which has never before been done in time of peace.
I hope that the House, including the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine), will agree that we must be very careful about setting a precedent in this matter and that the time needed to obtain and to co-ordinate the opinion of the local interests in the Firth of Forth will be time well spent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) said something about Bristol and I am certain that the hon. Member for Bristol, South 1366 (Mr. Wilkins), had he caught the eye of the Chair, would also have had a great deal to say about Bristol, very probably on similar lines. I was asked by my hon. Friend to say how our new policy will affect the scheme being considered by the Port of Bristol Authority for a new dock at Portbury. No doubt if the Authority decides to go ahead it will in due course promote a Private Bill in Parliament to give effect to the scheme. In considering the terms of its report to Parliament the Ministry will naturally have the advice of the National Ports Council, and that is how the Council will come into the picture before we have new legislation. On the other hand, the Bristol Authority's scheme can go forward in the normal way on its merits, and it need take no longer to process than it would have done before the existence of the Council.
One hon. Member for Bristol, in an interjection when my right hon. Friend was speaking, asked for an assurance that the port will not be taken away from the city. Let me say at once that we are fully alive to the advantages of municipal ownership in cases in which a port plays a dominant part in the social and economic life of a town. As has been pointed out, these advantages have been strikingly exemplified by the success story of Bristol down the years. There is also the evidence—and again this point was made—of the great Continental ports. Not least among these advantages—I do not think that this point was made—is the scope which municipal control offers for the interests of the dock workers to be effectively heard on the board of management. I feel that for these reasons any future Government would need most cogent arguments before agreeing to take the port of Bristol out of the hands of the City. Nevertheless, that does not mean that there is no case for adjusting the membership of the board so as to provide for a greater representation of those who use the port.
I am sure that no one was surprised when my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) demanded assurances that that port would not be closed. I must say that while he was speaking I was rather moved by the agonised expression on the face of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Hugh Rees), condemned in this place to silence, as his hon. Friend extolled the superior 1367 advantages of Barry. We are aware that the closure of Barry would be opposed by all the local interests. We are also aware that the trade of the port has risen substantially in the last 18 months. While I cannot give the assurance quite in the definite terms sought by my hon. Friend, I can tell him that no decision will be made without the most careful investigation by the National Ports Council, in consultation with the local authorities, with the interests concerned, and with the Welsh Office. Perhaps I should add that this also applies to the other South Wales ports. I hope that this will go some way towards allaying the anxiety of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Box).
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
As the hon. Member rightly said, it would apply to any port which was to be closed, but I shall have a little more to say later about the position of ports which do not pay which may go a little further to allay my hon. Friend's anxieties.
I listened with great interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. J. Howard) and the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchem (Dr. King). We agree, in general, with what they say about the possible expansion of Southampton. As they know, the Docks Board has asked my right hon. Friend to approve a £3 million modernisation scheme and at the same time it is studying the possibilities of major development in the port involving new dry cargo berthage at a cost of about £20 million. This will have to be considered in due course by the Council.
The hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill was disappointed at the Rochdale Report not recommending expansion on the Mersey. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) was more than disappointed, he was angry, but I think the position at the moment is that Liverpool is drawing breath after the completion of the great Canada Langton dock modernisation scheme. I can give the assurance that as far as the Government are concerned the future is still open. As my right hon. Friend said, we have asked all ports to let us have their ideas on future 1368 development, and these will be sent to the National Ports Council and will be studied and discussed.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman go a little further than that? He is aware that in the Rochdale Report the development of the facilities at Liverpool takes a low place in the order of priorities, relative to Tilbury, Southampton, Leith, and so on. Surely the hon. and gallant Gentleman will take this opportunity of dissociating the Government from that order of priority?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I do not think that it is necessary either to dissociate or otherwise. The point is that the hon. and learned Gentleman must not assume that this first examination in the Rochdale Report will necessarily conform to the conclusions reached by the National Ports Council. They are two separate things.
The hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards) regretted the impending closure of the St. Katharine docks. As I understand it, he accepts the decision about the St. Katharine docks, but is protesting against closing London docks. Here again, we can be sure that no one will compel the Port of London Authority to close those docks. The National Ports Council can only advise over that matter. It would be going beyond its prospective powers for it to interfere in the activities of a particular authority in that negative way, so the matter will fall to be decided in the ordinary way by the Port of London Authority.
The hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) spoke with great knowledge about the facilities of Hull. I have assured him in correspondence, and I repeat the assurance now, that his representations will be carefully considered by the Docks Board, but the issues he raised are essentially matters of management and it would not be right for me to intervene in detailed questions which I would be the last to pretend to understand.
§ Commander Pursey
Surely, as regards these four coal hoists, it can be said that while the present rate of coal exported from Hull is running at a rate of 1 million tons a year the two coal hoists which were to be demolished will not be demolished until further consideration has been given to retaining them for future use?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
The hon. and gallant Gentleman may be right, but that cannot be said by me. We have set up these Boards with certain powers and it would ill become any Minister of the Crown to lay down the law about what they do.
The hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Barnett) spoke about the tremendous value of Portland Harbour. From a seafarer's point of view, the hon. Gentleman was speaking to the converted. I remember, during my life in the Navy, making use of Portland. It is Admiralty-owned, and perhaps that is why the Rochdale Committee did not deal with it, but I am sure that the National Ports Council will consider what the hon. Gentleman said. I am bound to say that he put up a strong prima facie case to back the attractions and advantages of developing Portland as a commercial harbour.
§ Mr. Barnett
Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman confirm that amongst the powers of the new National Ports Council there will be power to recommend to the Minister the opening of ports which do not at present exist? This is not mentioned in the recommendations.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
It would be within the Council's power to recommend it. What will come of the recommendations is another matter.
I come now to say a word about small ports, because my hon. Friends the Member for Test, King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) and Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) referred to them. Fears have been expressed concerning the future of some of them, especially some of the privately-owned ones. We have no intention that control through capital investment should be used as a means of throttling the small ports. The control will apply, as my right hon. Friend said, to major projects as measured on a national scale. Neither shall we allow State-owned ports to cut their charges to an uneconomic level in order to capture trade from the independents. There is no reason for fearing that this will be attempted in the future.
I now turn to more general problems. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall asked me about the chairman, and whether he would be full time. The answer is,"No", at any rate, not at present. It is Lord Rochdale's view that it is better for all the members of the Council in the first instance to be part- 1370 time, although the chairman will have to give a good deal more of his time than the other members of the Board. We shall have to see how we get on. But a full-time director-general will be appointed to the staff working under the National Ports Council.
I want to say a quick word about ports which cannot pay their way. In practice, this question chiefly concerns ports which are State-owned, because privately-owned or independent ports cannot run for long if they do not pay their way. When the Docks Board ports were taken over from the railway companies after the war they were running collectively at a loss. It was largely thanks to the genius of the late Sir Robert Letch—to whose memory I should like to pay a deeply sincere tribute—that this loss was turned into an operating profit for the group as a whole. The differences in profitability between individual ports have not hitherto been revealed in the accounts.
Since last January the group has been under the newly created Docks Board, whose able and energetic chairman, Sir Arthur Kirby, has publicly announced that in future the accounts will show the varying fortunes of each of the ports in the group. It will be the aim of the Docks Board to make each port viable, although this by no means excludes treating a group of ports in the same region as a single financial entity. It would be dangerous to milk ports in one part of the country to nourish ports in a different part of the country, with which they have no connection.
It may be asked whether there are not circumstances in which a port which does not pay should be kept open. We believe that the answer depends on the reason for wishing to keep it open. If there were a genuine national interest—such as defence—a port might be kept open at the national expense. If the reason were a local one, such as the effect on a town or city of closing its port, the local authority should decide whether it is willing to bear the burden. In the case of some municipally-owned ports this already happens. If, as is also sometimes the case at present, the existence of a port is essential for a particular industry or firm, that interest must decide whether it is willing to keep the port going. So long as those 1371 interested in keeping a port open are willing to do this it would not be in our minds to close it.
Dock labour is not one of the functions of the National Ports Council. The National Joint Council for the Port Transport Industry and the National Dock Labour Board already cover the field. But I would say, in passing, how much I agree with those hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Vauxhall and the hon. Member for Bermondsey, about the importance of getting on with decasualisation. We share their disappointment at the frustration and delays that have taken place.
I want to say a word about the radar information services, which have been so successfully established at Liverpool, Southampton, London and Sheerness. The Rochdale Report contains a brief reference to these in paragraph 256, which I think goes hardly far enough. However, as these services are concerned with safety, for which my right hon. Friend has some statutory responsibility, we think that they are a matter which concerns the Government directly, rather than the Council.
There can be no doubt that more use should be made of carefully plotted and filtered radar information, covering the approaches to busy ports. At times of poor visibility such information—if acted upon—can be a tremendous aid to safety. Far too many collisions and strandings still occur when vessels are entering or leaving harbour. In addition, the serious delays which can still occur when traffic is halted by fog are capable of being eliminated. However if full advantage is to be taken of shore radar stations, it is necessary that all vessels under way in low visibility should be able to communicate with them, or else wait in anchorages which are clear of the normal shipping channels.
It is also necessary that harbour authorities should have sufficient control over the movements and routes of vessels entering or leaving to ensure safety. As I said when addressing the Dock and Harbour Authorities' Association earlier this year, we hope to include two or three enabling Clauses in the Bill to provide the necessary powers.
This brings me to the nature of the Measure which we intend to lay before Parliament. As my right hon. Friend said, it will make statutory provision for 1372 the National Ports Council and define its powers and duties. It will also contain financial provisions enabling my right hon. Friend to control major harbour developments. It will also be necessary for my right hon. Friend to have powers to amend by Order much of the existing legislation concerning ports. Unless this can be done, reforms as far-reaching as those which we have been discussing would take up an inordinate amount of parliamentary time.
Several hon. Members, including hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench, have asked what safeguards we visualise to ensure that Parliament is given the opportunity to discuss changes which are bound to be to some extent controversial. I can assure the House that this is very much in our minds. I would rather not give an undertaking that all such orders will be subject to affirmative Resolution, because the degree of public interest will vary widely with the nature of the Order. It is one thing, for example, to alter the constitution of a particular harbour board, or to vary a little bit the limits of the jurisdiction of a particular harbour board. It is quite another thing to amalgamate a group of authorities, possibly against the wishes of one of them. We shall, therefore, endeavour to establish machinery appropriate to varying circumstances, and we shall listen attentively to the views of the hon. Members when these matters fall to be discussed in detail, presumably during the Committee stage of the Bill.
We shall also pay close attention to what has been said in the debate today. I should like to repeat what my right hon. Friend said at the beginning of the debate. Our sole object is to promote efficiency in British ports and to provide for their expansion. In this task we shall do our best to resist the intrusion alike of party politics, of doctrinaire theorising, and of vested interests opposed to change. To this end we look to the co-operation and to the help of all people concerned both inside Parliament and outside, without regard to their party or their present employment or to any preconceived ideas.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ That this House welcomes the statement made by Her Majesty's Government on Wednesday, 6th March, 1963. on the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Major Ports of Great Britain (Command Paper No. 1824).