§ Order for consideration, as amended, read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
I beg to move, to leave out "now" and at the end of the Question to add "upon this day six months."
In exercising the privilege of speaking from this Dispatch Box, I had better make clear at the outset that I am in no sense speaking for the Opposition. This is not a party matter. It is a Private Bill which every Member of the House approaches according to his own convictions and beliefs. However, I thought that it would, nevertheless, be appropriate for me to exercise the privilege which I have enjoyed for a very long time. Also, I should make clear at the outset that I am not in any way concerned with the part of the Bill which deals with Immingham or the other parts which do not relate to South Wales. I am concerned only with that part which deals with the position in South Wales.
The Bill is particularly significant because the project for a new dock proposed at Port Talbot is one of two major projects now before Parliament in various stages. One project, which, of course, I must not mention in detail, is still in another place, but the Bill is, I understand, shortly to be given its Third Reading. The other project is before us now in this Bill.
The importance of all the projects for importing iron ore into South Wales can be gauged from the fact that 45 per cent. of all United Kingdom imports of iron ore come in through three ports in South Wales, Port Talbot, Cardiff and Newport. By far the biggest percentage comes in through Port Talbot, a small percentage comes in through Cardiff and a medium percentage, which will rapidly grow, comes in through Newport.
The second significant aspect of the matter is that up to 30 per cent. of the price of iron ore, the raw material which is used in manufacturing steel, is made up of freight charges. Thus, anything 284 which adds to or subtracts from freight charges is of great significance in relation to the total cost of steel.
This Bill involves an expenditure of about £14 million by the British Transport Docks Board. The Bill in another place would involve the expenditure of about £18 million. Altogether, therefore, at various stages going through either this House or the other House, there are projects of over £30 million in total value. The purpose is to improve dock facilities for the importation of ore and so to reduce the cost of bringing it in.
Nobody, least of all I myself, will deny that improved facilities are needed. In my view they are long overdue, and the criticism I would make is that what is before us now should have been before us some years ago. It may be thought rather strange, therefore, that I am opposing the Bill. However, I have very good grounds for so doing, and I shall explain them at length.
The case for improving facilities lies in the growth in the size of iron ore carriers. Ten years ago these ore carriers had a size of about 10,000 to 15,000 tons dead weight. Today, they are of about 30,000 to 40,000 tons, with a correspondingly deeper draught. Some ore carriers are now as large as 60,000 tons, and there is an ore carrier of 80,000 tons now being built in Japan. These large ships naturally lead to substantial economies, but they need first-class landing facilities which are extremely expensive to provide.
The question for decision by the House is, how many importing points are necessary when each point is as expensive as it is turning out to be? I have already referred to an expenditure of £14 million under this Bill and further expenditure of £18 million under another Bill, and I believe that, later, there will be a third. This is a matter of public interest and the House has to consider the question. Is each steelworks to have its own point of discharge? Are separate discharging points the cheapest and most efficient means of discharging iron ore?
This Bill proceeds on the basis that they are, and on the assumption that it is important that Port Talbot should have its own discharging facilities. The other Bill proceeds on the basis that 285 Richard Thomas and Baldwins at Newport should have its own discharging facilities. We have heard nothing as yet from Guest Keen Iron and Steel at Cardiff, but if the economies of scale which derive from large carriers are equally applicable everywhere, as I assume they are, at some stage Guest Keen Iron and Steel of Cardiff will be bound to say that it, too, needs facilities to bring 30,000, 40,000 or 50,000 tonners into Cardiff in order to get its iron ore as cheaply as others do. This is the right moment to consider the whole question of principle. It is the first opportunity we have had to consider the proper approach to this major problem.
In South Wales, because of the nature of the coastline and because of the large rise and fall in the tide, a large ore carrier with a draft of 40 to 50 feet, as some will undoubtedly have in 10 or 15 years, needs one of two things: either there mast be an enclosed dock—and, because of the nature of the coastline, this, on the whole, will involve considerable sums spent annually on dredging—or there must be jetties running out into the Bristol Channel to a considerable distance. At Newport, the proposal is that the jetty should run out 4½ miles into the Channel, as this is where the water is of an appropriate depth for these very large carriers. Port Talbot has chosen the dock and that is what we are considering in this Bill. Richard Thomas and Baldwins have chosen the jetty.
Either method is expensive, as I have said. The dock at Port Talbot is to cost £14 million and the jetty at Newport is to cost £18 million. If Guest Keen Iron and Steel decides that it needs large ore carriers too, this will certainly involve another £5 million. I am being very modest there, and I imagine that it may be very much more than that.
Therefore, by giving assent to this Bill and agreeing to the principle that each major steelworks of the three in South Wales should have its own point of import, we shall be accepting a total of an ultimate expenditure of about £40 million. Such a sum cannot go undebated. This is my answer to my hon. Friends concerned with Port Talbot, some of whom are a little restive that I should have thought fit to challenge or 286 question their project. I do not believe that anyone could easily allow £40 million expenditure—that is what we are being committed to overall—to be accepted and passed through the House without the question of public policy being debated.
My major criticism of the presentation of the Bill at this time is that it has been presented without anyone having stated his conclusions on the basic question of principle—one terminal, two terminals or three terminals, a terminal for every steel works, two terminals for the three, or one for the three? I should have thought that this was a preliminary and fundamental question which should have been put long before the Bills were presented. I cannot understand why this Bill should have been put forward in advance of an answer being given to this basic question. If one terminal should be found to be feasible, then I say without fear of contradiction that it will prove to be very much cheaper than two or three terminals and is therefore bound to be in the long term interests of the steel industry of South Wales and, moreover, will save millions of pounds.
Estimates have been made showing that by using one ore terminal instead of two the overall port costs of discharging ore could be reduced from £7 million to £4 million per annum—a saving of £3 million a year. By using a single terminal, if it is found to be feasible, individual steel works could save as much as 5s. 0d. per ton, or more, on ore discharged.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
Can the hon. Member help the House by saying whether those figures take account of any extra expenditure involved in transportation after the ore has been landed if there is one single terminal at a considerable distance from one of the works?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I have given the figure which is, I think, the least favourable. I could have given figures which would have been more favourable. It would be possible to have this single terminal at Port Talbot, Cardiff, Barry or Newport. I have chosen, on the basis of the figures which have been worked out in some detail and given to me, the least favourable example. But even if it were based in Barry, where there is 287 no steel works, the benefit of a single terminal would save all the steel companies, that is, Richard Thomas and Baldwins, Guest Keen Iron and Steel and the Steel Company of Wales—several shillings per ton if it is found to be feasible. This is a question which I must face.
I raised this question eight months ago and so far I have not received a satisfactory answer. Four months ago I sent detailed plans, which had been prepared by a firm of consultants on my behalf, free of charge, Messrs. Wallace Evans and Partners of Penarth, to all the major interests in South Wales. I sent a copy of a proposal for a single central terminal to Richard Thomas and Baldwins, Guest Keen Iron and Steel, the Steel Company of Wales, the Western Region of British Railways, the Iron and Steel Board, the British Transport Docks Board and the Minister of Transport, among others. No one can claim that I have suddenly thought of a bright idea and that I am trying to hold up the Bill with fractious opposition. I have lived with the Bill for many months.
Three months ago I had the advantage of an interview with Sir Cyril Musgrave, the Chairman of the Iron and Steel Board, after I sent him the proposal for a single central terminal. He told me—and I do not think that I am betraying a confidence—that consideration was being given to the possibility of a single port. I also met the Chairman of the British Transport Docks Board on 5th March. He told me that the Board was pursuing investigations in an endeavour—and this was a rather generalised phrase—to determine the best and most economic means of importing ore in the national interest. I deduced from that that he meant a central terminal, but that was not quite what was said.
This Bill is putting the cart before the horse. Studies of centralisation and its feasibility and advantages should have been made before this Bill, or any other Bill, was put before the House. The House is entitled to know what conclusions are drawn from the possibility of having one central terminal as against two or three. We have not been told, and it is for this reason that I question this Bill.
288 The Iron and Steel Board was given powers under Section 11(1,a) of the Iron and Steel Act, 1953, to provide for distribution through an agency service or otherwise of raw materials when imported as a common service to the industry if satisfactory arrangements do not exist. It was therefore open to the Board, under the Iron and Steel Act, to set the investigation in motion a long time ago—in my view, that is not just its responsibility but its duty—to see what was the most efficient means of importing iron ore into South Wales, which accounts for 45 per cent. of the total iron ore brought into these islands. It has not exercised these powers, for reasons for which it must account, nor has it said that satisfactory arrangements exist. Everyone is going his own way separately. The British Transport Docks Board has put forward this Bill. At Newport, quite apart from the proposition put forward for this jetty, the British Transport Docks Board is proposing to spend £30,000 on a dredging scheme as an alternative to the Newport jetty. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir. F. Soskice) may wish to speak about this. This involves cutting a channel 750 feet long and 180 feet wide.
The scheme proposed for Newport is alternative to the Richard Thomas and Baldwins jetty scheme, so the British Docks Board is investigating at a cost of £30,000 a scheme at Newport different from the one put forward by the Board. Because it is germane to the fact that some people claim, I am sure with justification, that it is important that a ship should be able to discharge iron ore right up against the works, I should say that in the case of the Richard Thomas and Baldwins scheme the distance from the ship at the end of the jetty to the works will be eight miles. If one dock or one jetty were found to be feasible, there is no doubt that great economies would result from its greater use.
I am told that the directors of Richard Thomas and Baldwins informed objectors in Bristol that ore ships would occupy their jetty for only 18 per cent. of the time. As I have said, this scheme will cost £18 million. If it is feasible—and we do not know the answer to this—to use one jetty for the three major steelworks, I multiply 18 per cent. of the time by three and ask 289 whether it would not be better, if feasible, to use one jetty for 54 per cent. of the time than three jetties each for 18 per cent. of the time. These are the sort of questions to which no public answer has been given, and I believe that it should be given before we agree to this Bill.
The discharge of iron ore is very much easier now than it was before the war. Grabs can work 24 hours a day. They have a capacity of 20 tons a lift. It would be possible from a central jetty, if that were feasible, to tranship ore either by sea or rail and, despite the double handling, still to effect essential economics because of the larger capital cost involved in any one of these projects.
Senior officials of the Western Region—I speak with full authority—have made a careful and detailed analysis of the most likely future size of ore carriers. They have estimated the capital charges for jetties and for loading equipment, finance charges, the cost of building wagons, and so on. My information is that they estimate that operating with a central jetty the work of discharging for the three major steelworks of South Wales could be handled by a fleet of 1,000 wagons of 22½ tons capacity moving ore in 2,000 ton trains. No major alteration would be necessary to either the signalling or track system. This in itself is bound to result in a saving of several shillings a ton.
Although I have met with much opposition, and although many people seem to think that this is fanciful, I hope that the facts which I am giving will convince them as it is convincing an increasing number of people in South Wales, that it is wrong that we should be asked to give assent to a Bill of this sort and for work to go ahead on a jetty or a dock of this kind without a central investigation being carried out. The more the figures are examined, the more confident I am that people will be converted to the idea of a central jetty, if found to be feasible.
My fear is that if the Bill goes through, the Iron and Steel Board, which has not proved itself very effective in either thinking on a big scale or safeguarding the public interest, will succumb to pressure from the Steel Company of Wales to go ahead with the project as passed 290 by Parliament. Everybody knows that the Port Talbot docks are not large enough.
Everybody knows that they can take ships only up to 10,000 tons and that they need much larger ships. If the Bill goes through there will be pressure by the Steel Company of Wales upon the Iron and Steel Board to say, "Let us go ahead; do not let us hold it up any longer." We may be committing ourselves by so doing, because the work has not been done at an earlier stage, to a gross waste of public resources and public funds. I should like to raise a question with the Minister about the Bill itself.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
Has the hon. Gentleman considered the alternative that, if this Bill is delayed and the decision is not to have one point but to have more than one, there will be no statutory powers under which they can be created for at least another 12 months?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I have considered that point, and I am sure that the Minister will speak about it. I think that the answer is that the Harbours Bill, although it will mean a substantial period of time in negotiation—there is no doubt about that—will mean that the promoters of this Bill will not have to bring forward another Private Bill in 12 months' time. It would be possible for the Minister, by Order, which he would have to lay before the House, to get assent from the House for a project of this nature going through. I am sure that the Minister will give us his views about that.
I think that he will say, "Let the Bill go through", for the very reason that the hon. Gentleman has given. That does not destroy the main point. Is it right that we should be committed to an expenditure of upwards of £40 million for the sake of six months? I do not think that it is right. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary: is this Bill merely permissive or do Ministers have the last word even when the Bill has gone through? If the Minister has the last word, I think that there is some prospect that we might get the examination of a central project, which we should have had before now.
291 I asked the Parliamentary Secretary also if he would give a full statement to the House of the powers, which are sometimes overlapping, of the Iron and Steel Board to permit a project to go ahead, of the National Ports Council and of the Minister of Transport himself. Specifically, could the British Transport Docks Board proceed, once it got this Bill, even if the Minister disagreed? That is a vital question. I must press this question because the other Bill, which is now before another place, makes provision in an amended form—I believe the Amendment was put forward by the Minister of Transport—for Ministerial approval to be given before any of the works authorised by the Bill are carried out. Can I have a similar assurance in respect of this Bill? If it is right that in the case of Richard Thomas and Baldwins' project Ministerial permission is necessary, then I believe that it would be right in the case of this Bill, if in fact the powers asked for do not already give the Minister that responsibility.
The Minister of Power informed me on 9th April that the National Ports Council had been asked for its advice and that the Iron and Steel Board was helping the Council in its examination. I am ready to be impressed by that statement provided I can be sure, what I am not sure about now, that such an examination of a centralised scheme would be impartial and irrespective of the fact that a considerable amount of work has already been done on the central projects. I had to say this because so far the work has been done in the wrong order, and individual projects have been allowed to go ahead in advance of central examination and a decision on the central principle.
I ask these specific questions about what the National Ports Council will do. Will it, before tendering its advice, make a survey of the feasibility and the economies to be secured by the unification of imports of iron ore?
Secondly, if so, will it consider all the ports that can provide such facilities and not merely the two for which individual projects have been already put forward and are before either this House or another place, namely, Port Talbot and Newport?
292 Thirdly, will it seek the opinion of outside consultants to assist in its consideration? I name, for example, especially those consultants, Messrs. Wallace Evans and Partners, who produced the first published figures of the economies to be secured by centralisation, and, as far as I know, were the first people publicly to put up a scheme of this sort.
Fourthly, will the Ports Council associate the railways directly with the study that it is about to make in view of the railways fixed opinion and their own researches which show that they could handle this job of moving the ore efficiently, more competitively and more cheaply?
Fifthly, would the Minister ask the Ports Council to support the advice it will give him with the detailed facts on which its conclusions are based? Lastly, I ask the Minister if he would undertake to publish the advice that it gives, together with the supporting facts, so that public opinion in South Wales can be fully assured that whatever decision or whatever advice it offers is soundly based?
I am afraid that nothing that the Minister can say tonight will alter my opinion that this Bill and its companion have been brought forward in the wrong way at the wrong time. Nevertheless, I realise, in answer to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), the cost to the promoters of such a Bill and I hope that I have made it clear that my comments and opposition are not merely factious or frivolous. They are designed to ensure the best value for the nation of the expenditure of an ultimate total of some £40 million. My attitude to this Bill with be influenced by the answers that the Minister can give to the questions that I have put to him. Basically it is the concern of the House and the Government, not with the rival interests of one port or another but with the prosperity of the industry as a whole. I am satisfied that the basic prosperity of the industry as a whole has not been the starting point of either of the two Bills and certainly not of this Bill.
It is ironic that by pursuing their own individual ends as they are at the moment the steel companies may end up by finding themselves financially worse off than they would be if they had agreed to unification. I do not know why they have not agreed to unification 293 and I do not know whether they would still be prepared to agree to unification. I do not know whether the Minister would believe it right to press them to do so if they disagreed. I cannot myself believe that a Bill that is put forward in this way should receive the consent of the House unless we have the most explicit assurances from the Minister that the basic and fundamental principle of whether there should be unification and centralisation of the means of importing will be impartially considered and the answers brought before the House, so that we can know what are the underlying facts.
I apologise for speaking so long, but this is a very major project in the future life of the steel industry of South Wales. It is something in which the difference of several shillings per ton on landing ore could make a difference to the competitiveness of South Wales steel and therefore all of us have a duty to ensure that this money, if it is to be spent, is properly spent and to the best advantage of South Wales and of the steel industry.
§ 7.39 p.m
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
My first wish is to declare to the House what it is obviously well aware of, and that is my own personal constituency interest. I think that the Bill affects my constituency more directly than any other. I think that my hon. Friends will confirm that in the discussions which have been taken elsewhere before tonight I have not at any time sought to advance a purely constituency point of view. I have sought to the best of my ability to look at the needs of the whole of South Wales and of the whole of the iron and steel industry. It is in that way that I propose to approach the Bill and the Amendment tonight.
As we have been told by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East, there are two Bills now before Parliament. One is the Bill that we are dealing with tonight and the other the Welsh Shipping Agency Bill, the one affecting Newport, which is now before another place. In recent years and months, in particular, we have had a multiplicity of schemes for the import of iron ore to South Wales. These schemes have been breeding like rabbits. We have had either a new scheme or variations of existing ones. 294 At the last count, there were 12 or 13 schemes or variations of schemes for the import of iron ore.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East that it is a tragedy that these two Bills are brought before Parliament at this moment. I have gone into the matter fairly thoroughly, but nobody has been able to assure me that there has been the adequate discussion which we should have liked between the two major steel companies involved, the Steel Company of Wales and Richard Thomas and Baldwins. I further agree that the impression given to Parliament and to the general public is that each and every one has been going his own way and that there has been a lack of consultation. If there has been consultation, I will be glad to hear of it. I will be glad to have it confirmed that there has been constant review and discussion between the two major companies concerned.
In recent years, the steel industry in South Wales has been transformed. It has been developed in my constituency and in recent years it has been developed at Newport. There is a lesser proportion, both actual and potential, in the constituency of my hon. Friend. It is said that we are faced tonight with an issue involving one part of the steel industry without any indication that there has been the thorough-going inquiry which we should have had in the first instance. The very fact of the lack of co-operation and of co-ordination between the: two sectors of the steel industry is the classic argument for bringing the whole of the steel industry into public ownership.
Certainly, if there was any meaning in the much-vaunted objects of the Iron and Steel Board, when it was brought into being by the Government in 1953, if there was any meaning in its supervisory powers, one might have expected the Board to be much more diligent and to present a case for a properly integrated, comprehensive scheme for the whole of South Wales.
I am far from happy with the rôle that the Board has played and with the rôle of the Minister of Power. The right hon. Gentleman is ultimately responsible for the Board, but he is not here tonight. No one is present from the Ministry of Power. I regard this as scandalous when 295 a Minister of the Crown is directly responsible for the steel industry and I remember the much-vaunted claims for the Iron and Steel Act, 1953, that were made by the Government, who said that there would be intervention and supervision, with the partnership of capitalism and the Government. The whole thing has come to nought because there does not seem to be any interest by anyone from the Ministry of Power in this Bill, which is important for the whole of South Wales.
I pay tribute to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. When I wound up the last major debate on the steel industry, even though it was a Ministry of Power debate, the hon. and gallant Gentleman came to listen to part of that debate, and I pay tribute to him for being here tonight. One might, however, have expected the Minister of Power in return to come here tonight to take an interest in our proceedings. I regard his absence as scandalous. One must be realistic, because, as I visualise the scene—I do not wish to be controversial, even though the statement in itself will be controversial—there is a good chance, some would say a high chance, of the whole of the steel industry being in public ownership within 12 months or so.
I did not quite follow my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East when he was afraid that S.C.O.W. would be able to bring pressure upon the Iron and Steel Board to implement what Parliament had allowed. I do not visualise that there will be any independent, organised S.C.O.W. in 12 months' time. It will certainly be S.C.O.W., but it will be owned by the nation. I do not anticipate, therefore, as my hon. Friend seems, perhaps unwittingly, to have suggested, some independent kind of pressure in that way. I am sure that my hon. Friend did not mean to forecast anything that is contrary to what we all hope for.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The Bill can be through within a matter of weeks. Then, I expect, the pressure would start, if I am right about this and Ministerial sanction is not needed. If Ministerial permission is needed, the pressure would still be there, but, at least, there would 296 be a buffer. This could happen in six weeks' time.
§ Mr. Morris
I am obliged. I will return presently to what I understand to be the Minister's powers under the Transport Act, 1962.
From the nation's viewpoint it would be scandalous if, in the dying days of the present Administration, a decision were taken, either as part of election gimmickry or some kind of creation of an electoral image of the Government trying to do something, which we should regret in the near future. I agree that before any step is taken to implement the Bill or the Welsh Shipping Agency Bill, there should be a full and thorough inquiry into all the reasonable and practicable schemes for South Wales. At the end of the day, after that inquiry had been held, there should be a report to the Minister, who, I hope, would be able to tell the House what had been the fruits of his inquiry.
I do not know whether there is a real cause for alarm. My hon. Friend had his answer from the Minister of Power the other day. A matter of only months ago, I went to see Lord Rochdale to satisfy myself about the rôle he was playing and the rôle that he hoped the National Ports Council would play. I was told—and this confirms what my hon. Friend has said to the House—that the National Ports Council had been requested by the Ministry of Transport to conduct an inquiry, certainly to collect the data for an inquiry, and that there would be a recommendation from it to the Minister in a matter of months as opposed to years.
I presume that the Iron and Steel Board would be consulted by the National Ports Council. The pattern might be followed of what happened when a working party was set up by the Iron and Steel Board to consider the feasibility of the localised issue of the project for Newport. If that was done for Newport, obviously it should be done for the whole of South Wales. I expect that the machinery for undertaking this necessary inquiry has already been started.
Having said all that, having deplored the introduction of the Bill into the House at this time, we must look at things, not as they might have been, but 297 as they are and look at the Bill as it is. Naturally, my constituency is anxious that if an iron ore port is built, it should be built at Port Talbot. That is the view of my local authority and of the trade unions concerned, the Transport and General Workers' Union and the National Union of Railwaymen. They are anxious that if a decision ultimately is taken in favour of Port Talbot, there should be no undue delay. That is the main reason why I suggest that at the end of this debate, if we have the proper assurances from the Minister, we should pass the Bill.
Over the years, there has been great and urgent need for adequate ports for iron ore in South Wales. This was referred to at length in our last debate on steel in July, 1962, when I quoted the statement made by Mr. W. N. Cartwright, managing director, as he then was, of the Steel Company of Wales, who drew attention to the urgent needs for adequate ore landing facilities in the whole of the country and in South Wales in particular. He said:The United Kingdom has fallen steadily behind the other steel making countries in the world in the use of big ships almost entirely due to the fact that they simply cannot be handled in any of the major British ports.He went on to say:So long as the materials of the steel industry and its products are carried in little ships, little wagons and small trains then it will be that much more difficult for the industry to survive.That was the situation in July, 1962.
§ Mr. Morris
That was the situation many years before. Nothing has been done. No positive step has been taken. We have had the denationalisation of the steel industry since 1953 and it can hardly he a feather in the cap of either the Government or the industry that there has been a complete lack of positive steps to remove what must undoubtedly be a great handicap upon the steel industry: its inability to be competitive in this issue with other countries.
I do not wish to quote what I have said on a previous occasion, but we see in the remainder of the world great developments—in Germany, in Bremerhaven, in Japan—with facilities not merely for 10,000-ton ships, which could be berthed in Port Talbot and in good 298 time, but for ships of 45,000 and 60,000 tons, and, indeed, more than that. The Rochdale Committee came down very firmly that the optimum size of ship for Britain was at least in the region of 35,000 tons, and its Report may well be out of date on that issue, considering the developments introduced in other parts of the world, by comparison with which the position in South Wales and in Port Talbot is worse than in any other part of the world.
That is pinpointed by the Rochdale Committee and Reports of the Board over many years, while the paramount interest of the steel industry is that it should be competitive with the steel industry in the remainder of the world. That does not mean, incidentally, competition within the steel industry in this country, having regard to the statement of the chairman of Dorman Long recently that competition should not be an incentive to the steel industry in this country.
The Bill is promoted by a nationalised industry, and, as I understand the position, it was given the permission of the Minister to go on with it with the following safeguards, first, that it was merely an enabling Bill, and secondly, that the Minister was not committed on the question whether the work should be carried out. It is merely a permissive Bill, and that disposes of some of the fears of my hon. Friend. The Minister certainly has the last word—I can be corrected if I am wrong on this—because the 1962 Act ensured that before any capital expenditure on this took place the Minister's permission must be sought. That is the difference, I concede immediately, between this Bill and the Welsh Shipping Agency Bill. An Amendment has been made to that Bill to provide for that kind of provision which, obviously, is so necessary. That kind of Amendment is not necessary here, because the Minister already has supervisory powers under the 1962 Act.
I believe, therefore, that there are sufficient and adequate safeguards. There is, first, the control of the 1962 Act. There is, secondly, the nature of the permission given by the Minister. Then there is, thirdly, the inquiry already going on by the National Ports Council. I hope that the Board wilt be closely associated with that inquiry.
299 Before coming to this debate I read the report of the Minister of Transport on the Bill. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to repeat tonight this finding by the Minister:While the present scheme is technically satisfactory, he is not yet able to say whether in his opinion it is the best solution in the general context of the arrangements for importing iron ore into South Wales. Nevertheless he thinks it desirable that the necessary powers should be obtained by the Docks Board to ensure that should approval be given to the Board to proceed with the scheme there would be no delay occasioned by the need to obtain such powers.That is really the crux of the issue which is facing us tonight. If we are suggesting that there is a need for larger iron ore ports in South Wales—and there is no argument on that issue—if we compare conditions here with those in other countries: if we are satisfied that no actual work will be done to implement the Bill till there has been full inquiry to find what is the best solution for the whole of South Wales; and having regard to the fact that only good can flow from this Bill in that it is an enabling and permissive Bill and not a mandatory one; then, if the Minister eventually decides that Port Talbot is not the best one, and that it should not proceed, and that there should be some work done at Newport, or a centralised scheme at Newport or a centralised scheme at Cardiff or elsewhere, then this Bill undoubtedly, having regard to the safeguards which are abundant in the Bill and in the other provisions, will become a dead letter.
Of course, a centralised scheme does not of necessity mean a central scheme at Cardiff. It is a very different matter, having a centralised port for the whole of South Wales, whether it be at Milford, or Port Talbot, or Cardiff, or Newport, or anywhere else. That point should be made abundantly clear. There is a difference between a centralised scheme and a central scheme.
But if the Minister decides that Port Talbot should be proceeded with, either as one of the schemes for South Wales, or as the only scheme for South Wales, possibly even a larger one, then all the delay which would be occasioned by going through the whole of the procedure under order under the Harbours 300 Bill will be saved. Also, the Docks Board and the steel company have spent a great deal of money in experimentation and trials which have been carried out, and an immense amount of negotiation has gone on, I believe, between the promoters and the private interests. All that could be saved.
The passing of the Bill does not mean, I understand, that a decision has been taken. That is the assurance we want tonight, that the passing of the Bill does not mean a decision has been taken. But one of the facilities will be Port Talbot. Rejecting the Bill means that any future development for South Wales, including and involving Port Talbot, must be done by order under the Harbours Bill, and that, as I have said, will take time. If we accept that the need for adequate iron ore ports is urgent in South Wales, and if we accept that the prosperity of South Wales largely depends on ensuring that the steel industry is competitive there, and that that means avoiding delay, then I ask the House to pass this Bill, to ensure that after a decision is taken in Port Talbot any undue delay may thereby be avoided.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Probert (Aberdare)
I have no constituency interest in this Bill. I say that in no way critically of my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and Aberavon (Mr. J. Morris). I feel that they showed great respect for this House in so far as they expressed their views in a national way, and I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon, who represents Port Talbot, and who has put his case so forcefully, that he has done it in the national interest and not merely in his own constituency interests. That is a very difficult thing to do, but he has done it very well indeed, if I may say so.
I should like to express a view which, to me, is rather a matter of principle. Should we under a Private Bill give rights and privileges which supersede those in a Public Bill, or pass a Private Bill when there is a Measure only recently passed by the House or before the House? I wonder, therefore, whether the national interest is best served by the promotion of this Bill. I 301 know that there is always a conflict in hon. Members' minds over this issue.
For the last few weeks I have been sitting upstairs listening to the discussions on a Private Bill and the arguments advanced by most eminent counsel for and against, and throughout the whole of the proceedings I have had the continuously nagging thought in my mind, whether the interests of the promoters and of those petitioning against the Bill would not best be served by a Government Measure. I believe, therefore, that when there is recent legislation—legislation passed so recently as not to be out of date, one infers—and when there is impending Government legislation, it is a serious consideration whether a Private Bill should not be superseded by Government proposals.
There is the important point about time, which was stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East and the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), who interrupted him. I agree that it is a very important consideration. In accepting the necessity to expedite matters, are we not in danger of granting powers to the promoters which they would not be given in a public Measure? Are we not in danger also of not giving to the public the same rights of appeal that they would be given in a public Measure?
It may be argued that the Minister's rights and obligations under the Harbours Bill now going through the House of Lords will not be by-passed by any proposals in this Bill and that the Harbours Bill will assure safeguards against anything which may be against the public interest under this Bill as time goes by. It is argued that the Minister can still decide, in accordance with the Harbours Bill, where any harbour or works should be constructed.
But if this Bill allowing works proposed by the British Transport Docks Board goes through, is the Minister likely to change his mind about its proposals? If the Bill is passed and its proposals are therefore given a green light by the House, the Minister will have to take that into consideration. The danger then will be that, whatever the public interest, he will be more amenable to persuasion than he would have been if the Bill had not been approved. I know that I am repeat- 302 ing myself, but I want to emphasise my concern that private legislation should be introduced to deal with a subject which is being dealt with by current Government legislation.
The Rochdale Report in paragraph 151 said:We recommend that a National Ports Authority should be established with well-defined non-operational responsibilities. Its special task would be to safeguard the national, as well as the local, interest in port development… Its most important duties would be to exercise a positive control over capital investment…The Government, under the Harbours Bill, propose to set up such a National Ports Council and vest it with authority. If we pass this Bill, will we not be in danger of abrogating those powers? What chance will the new National Ports Council have of exercising its functions in dealing with these large proposals for South Wales, which are of national as well as local interest? What are the financial implications? Will the finances be subject to the scrutiny of the Ports Council or the Minister? The 1962 Act gives the Minister safeguards in respect of the country's assets in this regard, but I would like to consider them more closely now.
What disturbs me, whenever we have a Private Bill currently with a public Measure before the House dealing with much the same subject, is what rights the public will have and whether those rights will be equal to those allowed under the Government proposals. I would be out of order to discuss those proposals, but they are in our minds. These are some of the considerations which impel me to view with some doubt, if not trepidation, the passage of the Bill. I believe that the proposals in, it can be achieved better in the Harbours Bill or in any public Bill and—more important—that they can be achieved much better from the public's point of view and for the safeguarding of the public interest.
We must not forget that Section 5 of the Iron and Steel Act, 1953, obliges the Iron and Steel Board to consult iron and steel producers and others about the provision of production facilities. Section 5 explicitly states that regard shall be given to the national interest. Are the promoters of the Bill looking at this from the point of view of the national interest, or, as I suspect, purely as a sectional interest?
303 Paragraph 115 of the Annual Report of the Iron and Steel Board, 1962, stated that the Rochdale Committee…also recommended that the Iron and steel industry should as soon as possible discuss with the proposed central body (the National Ports Council), the Iron and Steel Board and the port authorities concerned the technical and financial details of a programme for developing ore-terminals.How can these discussions take place if this Bill goes through?
§ Mr. Probert
I will. It is:The Board welcome this recommendation but consider that the discussion recommended should not be allowed to delay the improvements in South Wales where, as the Committee agreed, the position is particularly difficult.I suggest that the Rochdale Committee was far more impartial in this than the Board and it recommended that discussion should take place with the National Ports Council. How can such discussions, which would be in the national interest, take place properly if this Bill is approved? The national interest is not being safeguarded here and that is why I must seriously consider what the Minister says before I can agree to give approval to the Bill.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I have no constituency interest in South Wales, nor have I spoken to the British Transport Docks Board or the steel companies about this matter. But for 20 years I served in the legal department of the Great Western Railway. I know the district well and have had some experience of preparing Measures of this sort. I would add briefly to the interjection I made in the speech of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan).
I said that I thought that to defer the Bill now would mean that there might be some delay in carrying out these works but that it would not be a matter for South Wales alone. The Bill deals with a considerable number of other matters, although these are perhaps not so important. The hon. Members concerned with these other proposals are not present and are evidently satisfied with them. There are proposals dealing with King's Lynn, Kingston-upon-Hull 304 and Immingham and a number of other provisions. It would be a very serious matter if delay were caused in carrying out these other works simply because there was an argument going on as to whether there should be one port of entry for iron ore in South Wales or more than one.
The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. J. Morris) made what I thought was a convincing speech for the Bill and for dealing later with the question whether there should be one port of entry or three. Thus, as I say, if we deferred the Bill not only would we cause delay in South Wales, but also delay, inconvenience and expense to the Docks Board in having prepared the Bill only to be frustrated merely because of the dispute over whether there should be one port or three in South Wales.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
I appreciate the natural concern of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) that there should not be expense and delay, but I am profoundly concerned that there should not be promoted by a nationalised industry a Bill which, in terms, makes that industry a creature of private interest.
Every hon. Member from Wales owes a considerable debt to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) for having taken the initiative in moving the Amendment and allowing us to have a debate of this kind. If he had not done so, the complete lack of prescience which has been shown by the steel interests in Wales would never have been understood or known, and the possibility of having a system to give reduced costs in the national interests would never have even begun to be investigated.
I ask myself why it is that it should have been left to the zeal and enterprise of an individual hon. Member to go into a matter which one would have thought to have been abundantly clearly a rôle of, above everybody else in the context of the Bill, the Steel Company of Wales. Anyone knows that before it is decided to expend tens of millions of pounds, a preliminary investigation is made to see whether there is some other method, some other technique, than that which may just happen to suit a particular interest. We know what 305 the reason is. We know quite well that if the steel industry in Wales had been publicly owned, instead of being, as at Port Talbot, in the hands of a privately owned concern, the national interest would have been bound to be considered, because there would not have been concern for private profit at one place.
Therefore, I do not take lightly the demands which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East has made when saying that before approving the Bill he would require specific assurances, for we are on inquiry. I represent a constituency which is not a port, of course, but hundreds of people in Llanwern works may be my constituents. All Wales is now inextricably involved in the future of the steel industry and there is no question of constituency interests. The issue is how we can be assured that we have a steel industry which can import ore at the cheapest price and export in a competitive world.
Knowing that there are predatory fingers about, and that the Steel Company of Wales is spending thousands of pounds to prevent the industry from becoming publicly owned, we are suspicious when we find that there have not been exhaustive inquiries which any layman outside the steel industry would know ought to have been made. We do not believe that the Steel Company of Wales is so naïve or unsophisticated as not to have made inquiries of this kind if it were not that it was concerned solely with profit and not with the national interest.
§ Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)
Is not the hon. Member aware that in another place there is another Bill, promoted by a nationalised steel company, in connection with which there has been a considerable lack of inquiry as to the amenities on the other side of the Bristol Channel?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)
Order. We are in some danger of allowing the debate to go too wide. We cannot discuss another Bill which is in another place. Nor can we discuss the issue of nationalisation. We must keep the discussion to the methods of the importation of iron ore which are mentioned in the Bill.
§ Mr. G. Wilson
The Bill is being promoted not by a private concern, but by the British Transport Docks Board.
§ Mr. Abse
As I said at the beginning of my speech, I was concerned that we should not have a Bill which is supported by a nationalised industry in terms which made it a creature of private profit. I repeat that when my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East specifically asks for assurances from the National Ports Council, I have no doubt that he is concerned with the inquiries which could have been made by the Council and is echoing the opinion of the overwhelming number of constituency Members from Wales.
The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. J. Morris) has stated that he has had a private assurance that it is the intention of the National Ports Council to collect data. However, I find that quite inadequate. I want much more than that, and I am sure that most Welsh Members want more than that, too.
§ Mr. J. Morris
I went further than that. I said that it had already proceeded to collect data, but had been asked by the Minister of Transport to conduct an inquiry. That was confirmed by an Answer given by the Minister of Power and quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) at the beginning of his speech.
§ Mr. Callaghan
What he said was that he had asked the National Ports Council for advice; but what information it would collect before giving that advice I have no idea.
§ Mr. Abse
That is very much the issue. We want to know what type of survey is to be made. As has been said, we want to know whether the opinion of outside consultants is to be considered. We do not know much about the rôle of the National Ports Council. It is a somewhat inchoate concern at the moment, in an embryonic condition.
Not knowing how it will work, we have to have very specific assurances 307 as to the nature of the inquiry that is to be conducted before we can feel happy about withdrawing our opposition to the Bill. I trust that we shall be told whether it is intended within such an inquiry to seek outside opinion. If there is to be such an inquiry by the National Ports Council, what is to be the relationship between the Council and the Iron and Steel Board, which has so miserably failed in this way?
I echo the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon, that it is abundantly clear that, despite its alleged powers of supervision, the Iron and Steel Board has demonstrated in this respect how utterly inadequate it is to have an iron and steel board which does not wholly come under the aegis of a publicly controlled industry.
Can we have the assurance for which we have specifically asked, that no decision will be made before all the material which may be collected is publicly known? We do not want any clandestine work. Because we are so much on inquiry and because we are suspicious of some of the motives of those who are trying to use this method in Port Talbot for importing ore, it is necessary that the issue which should be publicly canvassed. I therefore support the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East that we should have all the information which may be collected by such an inquiry known and specific reasons for recommendations equally known, so that Wales may know.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East has spoken not for his own constituency, but for Wales, and we have been very fortunate that we have had such a probing inquiry already conducted in the House. It is lamentable that such inquiries were not made long before the Bill reached Parliament.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
I think that the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), without desiring to be so, was somewhat unfair to the promoters of the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) pointed out, the Bill is being promoted by the British Transport Docks Board. The hon. Gentleman, and the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert), insinuated 308 that this Bill reflected private interests, but they may like to reflect that the British Transport Docks Board owns not only the docks at Port Talbot but all the docks along the south-west seaboard, and that in the very nature of things the Board has no predilection for one particular port. I imagine that the Board would accept improvements to any of the docks which it owns. I do not, therefore, think that we should attribute to the Board anything but the highest of motives.
The two major steelworks concerned are sited at Port Talbot and Newport. It must be apparent to everyone here that, after the most exhaustive inquiries, a decision may be taken that an extension is required at Port Talbot. For that reason alone I think that there is a strong case for granting the Board the powers contained in the Bill.
The hon. Member for Pontypool is not correct in saying that this debate was possible only because his hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) tabled an Amendment to the Bill. On the Second Reading of a Bill of this kind it is possible to debate in some detail a matter of this importance.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I realise that the hon. Gentleman is trying to state the present position. I beg him to understand that no undertaking at all has been given that there will be consideration of a plan for the centralised importation and distribution of iron ore into South Wales. If such a promise were publicly given and it was partially and faithfully carried out, my criticism of the Bill then would be that it has been brought forward too soon. But we are not at that stage 309 yet, and if the hon. Gentleman would support us by saying that the Minister should undertake to have an impartial examination carried out we should make progress.
§ Mr. Gower
I am not suggesting that such an investigation should not take place, but I am suggesting that while we are considering that point we should not withhold the powers contained in the Bill. In other words, we should not reject the Bill today. Rather, we should grant the statutory powers contained in the Bill and then obtain all the information that we can. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Power said that he has asked the Council to advise on the comparative advantages of the two methods.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The Minister said that he was asking the Council to advise on this matter. It may be that he has done so, I do not know. He has not said that he is asking the Council to consider one case against the other. If he has done that, we are making progress.
I have not suggested that we should reject the Bill. I want to hear what the Parliamentary Secretary has to say about it before making up my mind, because if I receive an undertaking that there will be a fair and impartial examination—which should have been carried out before the Bill was put forward—subject to a few safeguards, we might be able to make progress.
§ Mr. Brian O'Malley (Rotherham)
The hon. Gentleman says that we should allow the Bill to go through. Am I right in assuming that the hon. Gentleman is of the opinion that the scheme which would result from the Bill should not be carried out until such time as the Minister has received the results of a complete examination of the respective arguments and merits of a centralised ore terminal, or one port or two ports?
§ Mr. Gower
I am not making it a condition for passing the Bill that my hon. and gallant Friend should give an assurance that there will be an inquiry. I am saying that before the powers given in the Bill are implemented we should press for such an inquiry.
The ports of South Wales are in the ownership of a nationalised body. It would be most unfortunate if we gave the impression that there was something ignoble in the motives of the promoters of the Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman did not have that in mind when he made his statement.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)
I have a strong constituency interest in this matter, although it is perhaps not quite geographical1y accurate to say that Llanwern is in Newport. Speaking as the Member for Newport, we would like the import of iron ore into Llanwern to be as closely centred on Newport as possible, but, of course, national considerations and general public interest must be the predominant and, indeed, the determining factor as to the ultimate scheme which is adopted.
I think the House should recognise that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) has rendered a valuable service by taking steps to initiate this debate. He put his own approach to the problem in his usual clear and pithy way, and I think that he has placed the problem clearly before us.
I do not want to widen the scope of the debate, but the Welsh Shipping Agency Bill has been referred to many times during the debate, and my hon. Friend suggested that there should be a comprehensive review, from the national point of view, of both Bills. It is for that reason that I ask permission to say one or two words in support of my hon. 311 Friend's argument from the point of view of the Newport end of the importation of iron ore.
I am concerned, as my hon. Friend is, that this whole question of the import of iron ore into South Wales should be looked at far more closely than has been the case so far before steps are taken to implement the powers contained either in the Bill under discussion or in the other Bill to which I have referred.
I wish to raise one or two points on matters which seem to me and to my constituents to require further consideration. The Docks Board has for some time been carrying out dredging experiments on a large scale. Alternative proposals, which merit equal consideration and may be found to be extremely valuable as a solution to the problem, might emerge from these investigations. If the National Ports Council is to advise the Minister—and my information is that it is now engaged upon a consideration of the whole question—it surely should have before it the full results at least of those dredging experiments. It should be in a position to weigh alternative proposals, one against the other, in full knowledge of all the considerations involved.
In seeking to reinforce the argument presented by my hon. Friend, I would point out that there is another field in which further inquiry is urgently needed, and that the matter which is now under discussion should not be rushed through until all relevant considerations have been fully borne in mind. Considering the powers which will be conferred by the Welsh Shipping Agency Bill, if it passes into law, we must remember that we do not know the purpose for which the jetty will be used. We are discussing a total public expenditure in the realm of £30 million or £40 million, of which the cost of the jetty proposed by the Welsh Shipping Agency Bill will account for £18 million. That is a large sum of public money.
I put forward this question for urgent consideration. It would be a major waste of public money if the jetty were to be used for purposes for which adequate facilities already exist at Newport Docks, especially since they have been improved in recent years through a considerable expenditure of public money.
312 I want to know whether the jetty will be used simply for the import of iron ore and—as I understand it—oil products, or for other purposes as well. At the moment the Welsh Shipping Agency Bill contains no indication of the purpose for which the jetty will be used.
I put that forward as a matter which needs further consideration before any final decisions are taken as to the general complex of the importation of iron ore into the steel works of South Wales. I would hope that before sanctioning any work under the Bill the Minister would be careful to make full use of the powers that he will have, if the Bill becomes law, to prevent works being started until he has given his consent to the carrying out of those works.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I am anxious to give him as much indulgence as I can, but it is out of order to ask detailed questions about the Welsh Shipping Agency Bill in a discussion on the Bill that is before us. He can use illustrations in relation to that Bill, but I would be stretching the rules of order too far if I allowed him to seek specific information about the Welsh Agency Shipping Bill on these proceedings.
§ Sir F. Soskice
I will at once obey your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. You have already been extremely indulgent to me. I am grateful to you for having allowed me to go as far as I have.
Having said that, I come to a dead stop. I shall say no more upon that topic. What I have said with your permission has been said in order to supplement the argument put forward so cogently by my hon. Friend, and to throw forward a suggestion as to an area in which further inquiries on the lines that my hon. Friend has suggested might proceed. I am grateful to you for having allowed me to deal with that aspect of the problem.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)
I agree with every word said by the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) and with many of those that he did not say. Like him, I feel that when we have a potential 313 expenditure of £30 million of public money, £18 million of which is in relation to the Spencer Works and £12 million in respect of other projects, the most careful consideration is needed. If I may descant for a moment about the beauties of Newport, I would point out that it contains a dock, which was built in about 1914, with a 1,000 ft. entry lock. There have been few docks with entry locks of a better capacity. The handicap is that the dock has a limited sill capacity, so that only two smaller vessels can get in, as opposed to one super oil carrier.
I hate the thought of a jetty going across the Bristol channel. I agree that there is considerable need for further research. My concern is that we cannot tell to what extent the construction of this dock, at an expenditure of £18 million, will deflect the major currents in the Bristol Channel. We cannot tell whether they will go up to Cardiff or come town to Weston-super-Mare and distort the new effluent outfall that we have built and carry the effluent back on to the beach, and in 20 years' time, perhaps, gouge out the beach altogether, thereby completely altering the character of my constituency in a way that I would deplore. It is a beautiful beach.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
Does not my hon. Friend concede the fact that many hon. Members who represent adjacent constituencies are equally interested in the question of amenity, but that this is not a matter on which these sentiments should be expressed and that they would be better expressed on another occasion, on a more appropriate Bill?
§ Mr. Webster
I was not sure whether my hon. Friend said "sentiments" or "sediments". As a former member of the Estimates Committee I am concerned at the fact that a great deal of the public money is at risk here. I do not want to defer the whole Bill, but I would like to defer this part, so that the most thorough consideration could be given to the question of the extent to which these jetties will change the flow of the river, and whether the dredging of Newport Harbour might not make it capable of taking a 30,000-tonner.
§ Mr. J. Morris
On a point of order. I find difficulty in reconciling the hon. 314 Member's remarks with the Bill. It has nothing to do with Newport, with the hon. Member's constituency or with any jetties. The hon. Member is in a dream.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have been listening to the hon. Member. It is a little difficult, when three people try to interrupt him at the same time. I will stop him if necessary.
§ Mr. Webster
I thank you for stopping me when I get out of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Newport that this matter requires the most thorough discussion. Considerable problems arise, and I urge that they should be given the most thorough consideration.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil McBride (Swansea, East)
Having listened to the impressive speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), Aberavon (Mr. Morris) and Aberdare (Mr. Probert), I agree that this is a matter of national as well as of local importance to Wales, because in this age of mammoth ore carriers the decision—if it is made—to centralise the discharge of iron ore in South Wales will determine Wales's share in the national economy, and it must be our purpose as Welsh hon. Members to increase that share.
The question of iron ore imports and their discharge, while of great importance, also affects the import of other goods and the export of a general range of manfactured goods—all matters contingent upon what is contained in the Bill. What I say flows from the proposals in the Bill affecting the steel industry, and I must declare a constituency interest, because it has been said—and I agree—that in these matters constituency interests and national interests of Wales are one and the same.
My constituency, in Swansea, is part of a great exporting sea port. In coal exports, we are forging ahead and are one of the three great exporting towns of the country. But any reorganisation of the discharge of iron ore might conceivably affect the general cargo position in South Wales ports, including Swansea. This is a matter of ever-increasing importance, and this view has been conveyed by the borough to the appropriate authority. Both trade unions and 315 the Chamber of Commerce are united in their view about the borough's position if there is any danger of dislocation in general cargo handling. A large proportion of general cargo in South Wales is handled in Swansea, and my constituents have made representations to me that I should ask, if there is any possibility of Port Talbot being chosen as the chief iron ore port, that the general cargo position as it affects the constituency should be considered by the Minister. This is very important to my constituents' employment prospects in the long term.
All I ask the Minister is to consider this in the context of the general problem. The only point which I have to place before him, as he considers what I have said is that in considering the preservation of the export position of the Borough of Swansea he should minimise any harmful effect which may be done to future employment prospects there.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Brian O'Malley (Rotherham)
I have no constituency interest to declare in this matter. My interest in the scheme which the Bill puts forward is that which I should have in any scheme which tended to remove the disadvantages under which British industry and trade are operating by comparison with the industry and trade of other nations because of the chronic inadequacy of docks and harbour facilities in this country.
I begin with a complaint. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) obviously had not read the Bill in detail because there were some gaps in his knowledge. I have read the Bill with great care, and there are considerable gaps in my knowledge, because it does not tell us very much. I went to the Private Bill Office this afternoon to see whether the Parliamentary agents had deposited any memorandum or useful information which hon. Members might see before they took part in the debates, for I knew that the Minister of Transport or the Parliamentary Secretary would not explain the position at the beginning of the debate but would wind up the debate. I was informed by the agents that the Minister of Transport or one of the Parliamentary Secretaries would defend 316 the Bill this evening. I think that there is positive neglect here, in the first place by the Parliamentary agents. Particularly since the Ministry is defending the Bill, it is a scandalous state of affairs that hon. Members are asked to discuss a Bill about which practically no details are known unless one has a close constituency interest in the matter.
I approach the Bill because I come from a steel constituency, and I am concerned that this country should be able to obtain iron ore from abroad as cheaply as possible. We should bear in mind that in the 1960s our imports of iron ore represent over one-quarter by weight of our total dry cargo imports. The Rochdale Committee estimated that, given a 3 per cent. growth rate, we would be importing about 45 million tons of iron ore by 1980; given a 4 per cent. growth rate, we would be importing 52 million tons of iron ore. Obviously any Bill or scheme which will affect the imports of iron ore into South Wales or elsewhere is worthy of detailed consideration.
The Bill refers to Port Talbot, which as long ago as 1958 handled over 16 per cent. of our total imports of iron ore, representing over 2 million tons. Later I shall ask the Parliamentary Secretary for the details of these schemes. Immingham also imports iron ore: 3.1 per cent. of our iron ore imports was handled by Immingham by 1961.
What is particularly disturbing about the Bill is that there is apparently no consultation or co-ordination between the various interests involved in the South Wales iron and steel trade. There is one scheme here costing £14 million. There is a scheme in another place which is to cost £18 million. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) put forward a proposition which should be generally acceptable to the House, that before we allow investment decisions of this kind to be made there should be a full-scale independent assessment of the economies of the respective schemes.
It is particularly important that we should examine, not only for the short-term, but for the longer term, the import facilities which we shall need if we are to be competitive in the coming years. We must look especially at Port Talbot, because this port is taking in year by year increasing quantities of iron ore. 317 Although the port is of such importance to the economic interests not only of the steel industry but of the whole country, it is limited to vessels of 10,000 dead weight tons. This situation was tolerable only as long ago as the pre-war period, when the bulk of our iron ore imports was shipped in tramp vessels of between 5,000 and 10,000 tons.
Throughout the whole of the 1950s the story of the British iron ore fleet and of port facilities for the import of iron ore is one of almost total neglect by both the industry and the Government of the day. While the Government, the Steel Board, and B.I.S.C. (Ore) Ltd., which is responsible for the import of iron ore into this country, saw foreign shippers and steel owners surging ahead in the type of ore carriers they were using, we were content to carry on with perhaps the worst iron ore importing facilities in the world. I would refer particularly to the facilities at Port Talbot.
The 1950s were a period of the steady growth of specialised fast bulk carriers to carry iron ore as well as other products. As long ago as 1955 one foreign shipyard was turning out a vessel—an ore carrier—of 60,000 dead weight tons. In the second half of the 1950s vessels with capacities of 30,000, 40,000 or 50,000 tons were constructed for the iron ore trade of other countries.
I want to be particularly careful. When inquiring into this matter, I tried not to put myself into the position where I would be saying that, for example, one Japanese shipyard had built a vessel of 50,000 tons, or that the Germans had one vessel of such and such a size. I have a complete list of all the ore carriers which have been built in world shipyards since 1952. A complete examination of this kind shows how badly we have fallen behind other countries because of inadequate port facilities, among other things.
It is obvious that we must put our steel industry, our steel plant, which is near the coast, in the same sort of position as the steel industries of the United States and Japan are being placed near their coastlines, where deep-water docks can be available alongside the steel works. I appreciate that it is difficult to do this in every case in Britain and that often it is a very costly business, but this difficulty must be 318 overcome if the problems facing the steel industry and our ports are to be solved.
For these reasons, a Measure of this kind and any Bill which is designed to do anything to improve the situation must be welcomed. It is interesting to note, when stressing the importance of iron-ore imports and other improvement schemes, the disadvantages under which the steel industry in Britain has operated, partly through its own fault, since the 1950s. It is not widely enough known that while the private steel industry has been complaining about its rating and fuel costs—and surely something to improve that situation could have been done by its own efforts—nothing has been done since the beginning of the 1950s. Consistently since then the C.I.F. prices of imported iron-ore have been higher than the prices paid by our German and Dutch competitors because of our higher freight discharging costs.
I am told that if we could use ore carriers of an economic size the C.I.F. cost of iron ore delivered to steel plant in this country could be reduced by as much as 10s. a ton, which would represent a saving of as much as 30s. a ton on finished steel. In stressing the need for a complete examination of the ore-importing facilities, I must point out that year by year Britain imports a growing proportion of her iron ore from orefields which are more than 2,000 miles away. It could be that as much as 50 to 60 per cent. of our iron ore imports will come from destinations as far away as this in the next few years. In addition, the lack of proper port facilities has caused investment in vessels of an uneconomic type—and which, in terms of size, were obsolete before they left the building yards. It has meant that 24 vessels of 8,000–10,000 tons were built for the British steel industry, with ports like Port Talbot in mind, at a cost of about £80 million, with some of the medium-sized ones costing about £50 million, when it would have been cheaper to have constructed larger vessels, which certainly would have been more economic.
Although the passing of Measures of this kind will put the steel importing firm of B.I.S.C. (Ore) Ltd. in difficulties—because it will render its vessels obsolete, although in many ways the firm 319 has put itself in this unfortunate position because of appalling investment decisions made in the past—I obviously approve anything which will result in improvements being made for the industry as a whole.
A number of questions must be answered. I have already complained of the lack of information. Does the Parliamentary Secretary not agree, in view of what has been said by the Rochdale Committee and others, that the largest vessels possible are the most economical and, if so, what size of ship will Port Talbot be able to take? I ask that question particularly, because I am suspicious of any decision taken in such matters as this by private firms in the steel industry, whose calculations and attitudes during the last ten years have been incalculably timid and conservative in relation to the optimum size of ore carriers we should be using.
As late as 1962 the Iron and Steel Board Report was talking of 25,000-ton vessels, when the rest of the world was talking in terms of 50,000- and 80,000-ton vessels—particularly on some of the long runs. To the Rochdale Committee, the steel industry suggested that a vessel of 35,000 tons was perhaps the optimum size, but the Committee came out quite openly against that suggestion and said that 45,000-ton vessels should be used, and that such a size of vessel was now the standard size for many other countries.
I am particularly worried that wherever the steel industry has any influence the harbour facilities or improvements carried out will be limited by the industry's present shipping commitments. The steel industry is now in the position that, while also recognising, along with the Iron and Steel Board and the Rochdale Committee, the urgent need to improve the ore port facilities, it is heavily committed to a large number of uneconomic carriers on long-term charter agreements. The 1962 Report of the Iron and Steel Board states in page 30:The British Iron and Steel Federation consider, however, that the timing of the programme of development should take into account, amongst other things, the Federation's existing shipping commitments.The private steel firms are in trouble with their long-term charter agreements.
320 On 23rd April, I had a letter from the Chairman of the Iron and Steel Board stating:The policy of building ships for the industry has to be considered in relation to the existing fleet.I therefore ask the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us what vessels will be able to use Port Talbot after these improvements are made, because although 45,000-ton carriers may be the optimum size for 1964, they will certainly not be the optimum size for 1968 or 1975, and we are building for a considerable time ahead.
Who pays for this? It is interesting that we now have two Bills dealing with the similar subject; this one and the Welsh Shipping Agency Bill in another place. In the latter case, we have a publicly-owned industry with a subsidiary of its own—the Welsh Shipping Agency—paying its own Parliamentary costs to put the Bill through the House, and being responsible for its own development along the lines of the Rochdale Committee's suggestions, about which the Iron and Steel Federation has been so very cautious. On the other hand, we have a nationalised concern, the British Transport Docks Board, doing the work for the Steel Company of Wales.
How much of this cost will the Steel Company of Wales pay, and how much will come from public funds? I do not think that I am infringing a constituency point when I say that in 1961, when the total imports into Port Talbot were 3¼ million tons, 2¾ million tons of this was ore imported by the Steel Company of Wales. How far is the Steel Company of Wales following the recommendations of the Rochdale Committee as to how much a steel firm with a predominant interest in the operation on a port should pay towards the costs?
A comparison of two industries is useful. Throughout the 'fifties the steel industry bemoaned the fact that it had to use small carriers because larger dock facilities were not available. The Rochdale Report suggests that the industry should pay a proportion of the cost of improvement, or even the lot, itself. On the other hand, the oil companies can bring into the country the largest oil tankers afloat because they have developed their own facilities at, for example, Milford Haven.
321 Lastly, what consideration has been, is, or will be given to the attitude of the Rochdale Committee that we could not afford too many deep ports in this country? It pointed out that perhaps there were arguments for a central terminal in South Wales rather than attempting to invest money in one, two or three schemes. I do not wish to oppose any Measure which will improve the scandalously inadequate ore-importing facilities into the country, but one feels extremely disturbed to see the manner in which the Bill has been put before the House without proper information and with a lack of any coordination between one Bill and another; and as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East has said, presumably a third Bill will come along.
My hon. Friend made a cogent and overwhelming case that there should be a detailed examination of the situation regarding the whole of the South Wales steel trade. I understand that a previous examination by the steel industry itself of the possibility of developing a central ore-importing terminal at Milford Haven fell through because it was considered, rightly or wrongly, not economic to tranship that ore to one particular Welsh port. Here, without transgressing the terms of the Bill, is a clear indication of the need for central planning and control and public ownership of the steel industry.
I am very troubled by the attitude of the Minister of Power towards the Bill I have a copy of a report by the Committee on the British Transport Docks Bill. We are told that there were reports on the Bill by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, by the Secretary of State for the Home Department and by the Minister of Transport, but apparently the Minister of Power, who is supposed to have a supervisory power over the steel industry and over the importation of raw materials, made no recommendations at all and presumably the Iron and Steel Board did not. I have long found that with the Ministry of Power, in the matter of the importation of iron ore, ignorance is very much a substitute for efficiency.
I am deeply disturbed at the place of and the part which the Iron and Steel Board is playing and has played over the last few years. What does the 322 Board do? It is given specific powers in Sections 3 and 11 of the 1953 Act, but when one examines the history from 1953 to 1964 there is no indication that the Board has done anything on a large scale which would help to cheapen the import of iron ore.
We are concerned here with the import of raw materials upon which the future prosperity of the whole country depends, and it is simply not good enough that we should have a Bill brought before the House in this manner and without receiving answers to these questions. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give us tonight a categorical assurance, assuming that the Bill goes through the House as an enabling Measure, that before any work starts on this scheme there shall be an independent assessment of the whole question of ore ports and of ore-importing facilities for South Wales, and for that matter for the whole country, so that we can have a clear picture of how cheaply we can import iron ore and which is the best way to do it. We shall then know how to proceed. If, after that kind of examination, the scheme proposed is satisfactory we should wish it to go through as quickly as possible.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Stan Awbery (Bristol, Central)
During the war, I was port labour inspector at some of the ports we are discussing tonight, and I know a little about them. I regard the idea of constructing jetties in the Bristol Channel as very far-sighted indeed. I believe that jetties will be the method of the future for discharging from very large vessels. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) that, perhaps, we have not given due consideration to the question of jetties and the matter may have to go back for further thought as to the suitability of one or three.
There have been references to the great size of modern vessels, 60,000 tons, 70,000 tons and more. Today, there are vessels of 150,000 tons on the drawing boards. This gives us some idea of where we are going in the size of ships. Ships are being built now which cannot come into our ports. Three or four months ago, I put a Question to the Minister about two ships of 323 105,000 tons being built in Kobe. If they came to this country, what ports could they use?
The Minister said that they could come to Fawley and Milford, but they could not. Milford is a very small port. A vessel of that size could not come there. It could come up to the Haven against a jetty and discharge its cargo, and possibly it could do the same at Fawley, but if vessels of that size required underwater repairs, there would be no place where they could go except Amsterdam, or across to America.
If vessels of 80,000 tons come up the Bristol Channel, there is no port to take them. Not one port in the Bristol Channel can take an 80,000-tonner, whether the cargo be iron ore or any other dry cargo or a cargo of oil. The purpose of building jetties is to meet the situation created by the growing size of ships.
The alternative to jetties is to construct new ports, and if vessels of these great sizes are to be accommodated in South Wales, very large ports indeed will have to be built. There is no large port there now. Port Talbot is a comparatively small port capable of taking vessels of about 12,000 or 14,000 tons. It cannot take the very large ones. The width of the entrance is not great enough for them to come in. The largest port in the Channel is at Bristol, with a width of 100 ft., but new ships are being built 120 ft. or 130 ft. wide, and they could not come in. Jetties are the right answer, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East said, we have to consider whether three are required.
There is in South Wales the greatest rise and fall of tide in any place in the world except one. The rise and fall in South Wales is 40 ft., and the people considering the construction of jetties have to take into account that rise and fall as vessels are tied up at the jetty. I am satisfied that the only alternative to the construction of jetties is a reorganisation of our old ports.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. We cannot discuss that on this Bill. We must stick to the construction of jetties for the importation of ore. The hon. Gentleman is quite entitled to refer to other matters 324 by way of illustration or explanation, but he must not go into detail.
§ Mr. Awbery
We are discussing the importation of ore at jetties or at ports, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. What are the jetties for if not for the vessels to come up against so that the ore can be discharged there instead of into port?
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East has been arguing the question whether one jetty is enough for the ports of South Wales or whether it is necessary to have three. I should like to hear something about freight costs compared with the cost of the jetties. The argument which is put forward is that if there were three jetties the cost of the ore would be less than if there were one. But if there were one jetty, the ore would have to be carried from that central spot, wherever the jetty might be, to the steel works. If it were situated in Cardiff, the ore would have to be conveyed 12 or 14 miles to the Newport works and 35 miles to the Port Talbot works. There is that cost which would be involved if there were one jetty. I hope that, if the Minister decides that further consideration must be given to this matter, that point will be taken into account.
Lastly, for the large ships, whether they carry iron ore or oil, the ports which we have today are becoming obsolete. We must either increase the size of our ports and build new entrances and new docks to accommodate these ships, or build jetties. I agree that jetties are the right solution, but whether it would be right to build three is a matter for hon. Members and the Minister to decide.
§ 9.13 p.m.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett)
Although I dare say that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) will not believe it, I can tell him that I am grateful to him for having brought this matter to our notice tonight. This debate has served a useful purpose. The hon. Member said that this was the first opportunity to raise the matter. But, with respect, I do not think that it was the first opportunity. He might have brought it to our notice on Second Reading. Had he done so, the right hon. and 325 learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) would not have had so much difficulty in making the points which he wished to make about the allied ports which are indirectly affected.
Before going further, I should like to apologise on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs for the fact that he was called away. He had intended to be here during the debate. But he has asked me to assure hon. Members, and particularly Welsh Members, that he will study the report of it very carefully.
Before going back to the speech of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, it would, perhaps, be convenient if I were to reply to one or two points raised by other hon. Members. The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. J. Morris), in common with, I think, almost every other hon Member, expressed doubts about whether there had been adequate consultation and co-ordination before these Bills were promoted. I think that hon. Members rather exaggerated this, but it was to deal with this sort of case that the Harbours Bill was promoted and the National Ports Council was set up. The Government had been aware for a long time that a more closely co-ordinated plan within which the development of our ports should take place was desirable. The Harbours Bill—touching wood, as I am—is now on its way to the Statute Book. It should come back to us from another place before long. So far, at any rate, the Harbours Bill has proved a less controversial way of ensuring this coordination concerning the iron ore ports than would be the renationalisation of steel.
I agree with the view of the hon. Member for Aberavon that the Bill, or at any rate the part which we have been discussing, is only a permissive Measure. I will refer to this later when I deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East.
The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) feared that the fact that the Bill might reach the Statute Book before my right hon. Friend received advice from the National Ports Council would over-persuade my right hon. Friend into adopting this method rather than any 326 other. I can assure the hon. Member that that is not so. It will not over-persuade us in the least. He also feared that it conflicted with the Harbours Bill inasmuch as the procedure which would shortly be on the Statute Book provided for a different and, in our judgment, a more satisfactory way of obtaining the necessary powers to do what the Docks Board is seeking to do in this Bill by means of a harbour empowerment or revision order.
It is quite true that the Harbours Bill does this, but I do not think that it would be right to suggest that there is any conflict between it and a Private Bill because if the hon. Member will study the Harbours Bill he will find that there is a Clause, which, I think, is described as a saving Clause, for private legislation by which, in plain English, the right of any harbour authority—and the Docks Board is a harbour authority—to proceed by Private Bills, instead of using the provisions of the new harbours legislation, is expressly preserved. Even if the Harbours Bill had reached the Statute Book, it would have been perfectly in order for this Bill to have been presented to Parliament.
The hon. Member for Aberdare also asked whether the promoters were looking to the national interest or to sectional interests. I must echo what was pointed out by one or two of my hon. Friends that the promoters are a national public board, and I can assure him that they have no sectional interests. The Docks Board is not in the least concerned with sectional interests. It is concerned with the interests of the whole range of its ports.
My hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) rightly drew attention to the other port developments which would be delayed if this Bill were to be blocked or to fall. I noticed that the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Commander Pursey) had a look of anguish once or twice when some of his hon. Friends suggested that the Bill should be set back or defeated.
It is quite true—I may as well make this point now—that this Bill in addition to giving authority for the work at Port Talbot also gives authority for 327 works at Immingham, King's Lynn and Hull, all of which are urgently required by those ports, and for that reason alone both the Docks Board and the Government would be extremely concerned if the Bill were to be successfully blocked. The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) feared that the Docks Board is becoming a creature of private interests in this Bill. I can assure him that is not so. Not, of course, unless one regards the supplier of a particular service, which is what a port authority is, as a creature of its customers which is what the Steel Company of Wales is. But I do not think that is a right way of looking at it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) rightly pointed out that if this scheme is eventually approved a big delay would result from the blocking of this Bill. That is undisputed and I will come back to that later. The right hon. and learned Member for Newport referred to the dredging experiments that have been carried out in the Bristol Channel and in other places and asked that the National Ports Council should have the results of these experiments before them. I am quite sure that we can trust Lord Rochdale and his colleagues to make quite certain that they have all the relevant information before them. After all, this problem was remitted to them by my right hon. Friend some time ago and to my certain knowledge they have been working on it and I am quite sure that they will demand all the requisite information to arrive at a balanced conclusion.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman then put me in some difficulty by asking for assurances about another Bill. As you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, pointed out it would not be in order for me to go into that but I can assure him that all relevant matters will be taken into account. My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) also seemed to be rather more interested in another Bill. The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. McBride) asked for the position of all South Wales ports to be considered in the context of the Bill. That will certainly be so in so far as it is relevant.
§ Mr. McBride
I am grateful for what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said, 328 but I asked him to consider in the context of general cargo handling the position of Swansea only.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I appreciate that and I am sure that it will be done, although that is outside the terms of the Bill. The hon. Member, however, need have no fear about that, because it was some months back that my right hon. Friend, in answer to a Question, announced that he had asked the Ports Council to investigate and report upon the particular case of these ports.
The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) made a detailed speech in which he emphasised, and I agree with him, the need for efficient iron ore importing arrangements. We not only agree with him on that, but, also, that it applies equally to all forms of imports into the Kingdom. That is why my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport set up the Rochdale Committee as far back as March, 1961, and that was why the Government promoted the Harbours Bill.
The hon. Member did not use quite the right word in suggesting that it was the task of the Government to defend the Bill as such today or to explain it in all its detail. My task is really to explain the Government's attitude towards the Bill in general and to the Amendment in particular. The hon. Member asked me one or two questions, however, which I will try to answer. He asked what size of ship the project at Port Talbot would provide for. The answer is 65,000 tons, which is well above the size which, at present at least, is considered the optimum for this country.
The hon. Member may consider that the calculations are wrong. I am certainly not in a position to criticise them, but I assure him that more than two years ago I was shown a number of graphs prepared by the steel industry showing, if I may rather oversimplify it, efficiency against size of ship. They seemed to indicate that vessels more in the 40,000 tons range would suit us best. A good margin is, therefore, provided in the Bill.
The hon. Member asked who would pay. The short answer is that it will be the port users, but the extent by 329 which they pay by making provision towards the capital cost of the project or the extent to which they pay in terms of port dues is a variable factor. Our policy has been that these Docks Board ports are to pay their way. As a step towards achieving that aim, my right hon. Friend asked the Docks Board, when it was set up in replacement of the British Transport Commission, to show the accounts for the different ports separately. They had not previously been separated, but they are now.
The hon. Member can rest assured that before a project of this nature is approved—the Government have to approve it before it goes forward—the viability of the whole scheme will be closely studied. The House will realise that even if my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport showed any sign of omitting to do this, the Treasury have an active interest in these matters also and would certainly wish to know that the scheme will pay its way.
I was glad to note that the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Awbery) supported the idea of having jetties as the best method of dealing with the iron ore import problem in the special case of the Bristol Channel. That is the view which has been reached by experts who have studied the matter for a long time. Hence the Bill. The hon. Member agreed, and so do we, that the co-ordinated plan, even possibly a single landing place, might be better. On the other hand, he pointed out that there are also pros and cons with regard to one discharge point as against several discharge points.
In his opening speech, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East gave such an admirable summary of the reasons for improving the import facilities for ore that I need not elaborate them. I am sure that this is common ground. Then he asked, should a steel works have its own discharging facilities? That is precisely the question, I can assure the House, which has been under examination for over three years, not only by the steel companies themselves, not only, to a certain extent, by the Iron and Steel Board and the Ministry of Power, but also by the Docks Board and also at the Ministry of Transport. It is now, as I shall explain shortly, just the thing which is being examined by the National Ports Council.
330 I remind the House, to show how long and how wide the study had gone before this Bill was promoted, that this Bill is in a way the successor of what was called the Angle Bay scheme, with which some hon. Members will be familiar, for it was mentioned by one hon. Member. Originally, the Steel Company of Wales had intended to discharge ore from big carriers at Milford Haven, and it actually acquired property to do it, and it still owns it, I believe I am right in saying, and to bring it in by existing ships. It was when it came to the conclusion that that scheme was not economic, or rather that it was less economic than building jetties, that it turned to this scheme which really forms the substance of the present Bill, and it convinced the Docks Board this was the best way. But this was not done without a great deal of thought and consideration. I think it must be two and a half years ago now that I visited Port Talbot with the late Sir Robert Letch and I met Mr. Cartwright, the general manager of the South Wales Steel Company to discuss this very point.
§ Mr. Abse
Are we to understand that at that time the hon. and gallant Gentleman was discussing whether Milford Haven was the terminal which would be suitable for steel industry of South Wales, or was that only related to Port Talbot? I ask because we are concerned with the whole of the industry and not only with what may have been good or bad for Port Talbot and the Steel Company of Wales itself.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I appreciate that, and of course the original scheme could have been equally used for ferrying ore to other ports which would take carriers of only limited size.
As far as the Port Talbot scheme is concerned I want to emphasise, because this was one of the major points raised by the hon. Gentleman, that the powers sought are enabling powers. The hon. Gentleman asked for an assurance that the Docks Board would not implement this part of the Bill without Government approval. I can give that assurance, and I will explain why. To begin with the Docks Board in its own notes says:It has always been accepted by the Board that when they have obtained the necessary powers for the scheme they would not commence work pending a decision of the Government.331 I think that that assurance in itself ought to be acceptable, but even if the Board had not given the assurance the Government have ample powers to control this, because if a project were to be wholly financed by the Docks Board it would need, as the hon. Member for Aberavon pointed out, to seek the approval of my right hon. Friend under Section 27(2) of the Transport Act, 1962. If the works were to be wholly or substantially financed by the Steel Company of Wales it would be required by the Iron and Steel Act to seek authorisation of the Iron and Steel Board. If in the most unlikely event it seemed that the Board and the Steel Company were endeavouring to avoid obtaining Government authorisation then my right hon. Friend could issue a direction to the Board under Section 27(1) of the Transport Act as being a matter which appeared to him to affect the national interest.
Finally, there is even a longstop power over all this because, under Clause 34 of the Bill, works below the high water mark, which are an important proportion of the project, may not be constructed without the Minister's approval. It is true that this is a navigational consent and not on policy grounds, but it constitutes a further safeguard enabling the Minister to ensure that he is satisfied before the scheme can go ahead. I hope that, as far as that goes, I have convinced hon. Members that we have adequate powers not to allow the scheme to go forward if we do not think it the best scheme.
The Minister's report on the Bill, from which quotations were made by the hon. Member for Aberavon recognises the need for provision to be made to handle larger ore carriers as was recommended by the Rochdale Committee. Furthermore, the present scheme is, in our view, technically satisfactory, but before the Minister authorises the project he will certainly have to be satisfied that it is the best answer in the general context of the arrangements for importing ore into South Wales. It was on this basis that my right hon. Friend recommended that the powers should be given to the Board to proceed with the scheme.
332 The Board was given authority to promote the Bill last autumn. It has been asked why the Port Talbot scheme was not held over to be dealt with under the Harbours Bill. In the first place, no one could be sure at that time what sort of Bill would emerge from Parliament. Indeed, we could not be sure that we would get the Bill in the life of this Parliament because neither my right hon. Friend nor I had been let into the secret or were able to forecast when the election would take place. Had we had a March election we could not have got the Harbours Bill.
Secondly, apart from that consideration, there would have been an element of delay in adopting that course. I remind the House that the Rochdale Report, dated September, 1962, stressed that deep water berths were urgently required for ore carriers, especially in South Wales. Even if the project is authorised this year it will be about 1967 before the berths will be in use.
Supposing, however, that we had waited for the Harbours Bill to be enacted. It would have been next month at the very earliest before the Board could have applied for a harbour revision Order. It would have had to go through the stringent objections procedure laid down in the Bill and we can be sure, from what we have heard tonight, that there would have been objections in a number of quarters, and this would have taken several months.
If the Minister of Transport had then decided to make an Order it would have been subject to the special Parliamentary procedure and time is taken up by this type of Parliamentary procedure. Perhaps hon. Members have not realised that this streamlined procedure, as it has rightly been called, in the Harbours Bill is not necessarily very much quicker than the procedure of the private Bill, although it is more flexible in as much as it can be started at any time.
Certainly, as many hon. Members have hinted, it is superior to that procedure in that it allows a wider range of objections to be stated and heard, but it is not necessarily quicker. We estimate that a really strenuously opposed harbour revision scheme would probably take anything up to 10 months to get past all the safeguards before the Order could become effective. In short, 333 if we had waited for the Harbours Bill, we should have run the risk of delaying the project for up to a year in the event of its being decided eventually as being the best solution, and this is a project which the Rochdale Committee said in 1962 was urgently required.
§ Mr. Probert
I have been listening most attentively to the Parliamentary Secretary's explanation of the safeguards with private legislation when the Minister has power to do this, that and the other. However, what we have been saying is that despite the delay implicit in the Harbours Bill, surely that delay is merited if there are objections. Secondly, I am not yet satisfied with the explanation of the Minister's powers to influence the decision under the Bill. Are they arbitrary powers, or does he have to come to the House in any way?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
The hon. Gentleman called them arbitrary powers, but, none the less, they are powers written into Statutes which have been passed by Parliament, comparatively recently in most cases. To some extent, in some cases the safeguards of the Harbours Bill will apply under this Bill in as much as the project will be examined by the National Ports Council. Of course, we are in the transition from one procedure for ordering our harbours affairs to another.
To recapitulate what I have been saying, one could take the line that everything should be stopped until one could make use of the new procedure. However, I remind the House that on more than one occasion when we were debating the Rochdale Report, and again during the proceedings on the Harbours Bill, certainly on Second Reading, my right hon. Friend and I gave the most definite assurances that we would not allow important schemes to be held up until such time as the full procedure under the Harbours Bill could take effect. I think that that would be wrong and I hope to satisfy the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East that it would also be unnecessary.
All I can do now to satisfy him and keep in order is to explain what the position will be if this Measure reaches the Statute Book. The granting of these powers will not in itself initiate any action on the Port Talbot Dock but it 334 will legalise the scheme should the Government decide in its favour in due course. After the Bill receives the Royal Assent, if it is allowed to go through Parliament, the Board will no doubt apply without delay for approval of the capital expenditure. That is what we expect. My right hon. Friend will then need to have the views of the National Ports Council, and I can assure the House that, having set up the Council, he would not dream of authorising a harbour project of this magnitude without first obtaining its advice. I am sure that everybody would agree that to do otherwise would be a most improper procedure.
When it considers the project, the Council will examine its merits in relation to the various alternative schemes which have been put forward. It will certainly have to take into account particularly the technical and financial considerations affecting all those schemes—and I stress "all". You have been very indulgent, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in allowing one or two other schemes to be mentioned, but I can assure you that there are others which have not been mentioned and which have been pressed upon us and which are being pressed upon us and which could solve these ore importing problems in the South Wales ports. It will also be necessary to seek the views of the other Departments concerned; naturally, too, the Iron and Steel Board. It would be only after my right hon. Friend had received the recommendations of the National Ports Council and consulted the other Ministers concerned that he would dream of authorising this scheme to go ahead.
I can therefore assure the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East that the decision on whether to implement the powers of the Bill will not be taken in isolation. In fact, as one or two hon. Members have said, the Council has already been asked by my right hon. Friend to examine the merits of this project together with those of the other proposals put forward for handling large ore carriers. It is now collecting all the relevant information about these schemes.
In addition, I am informed by Lord Rochdale that it is preparing a very detailed questionnaire which will shortly 335 be sent to the sponsors of each of the schemes put forward. It will certainly consult the Railways Board in any inquiries it makes, and indeed if, as I hope, the Harbours Bill reaches the Statute Book very soon, it will be required to do so, because that provision is written into the Harbours Bill. Any advice which the Council gives to my right hon. Friend will certainly have to be supported by facts and figures, otherwise I do not see how we can assess or evaluate it.
I cannot give a definite answer to the question whether the Council would employ consultants, because I have no idea what is in the Council's mind. It has power to employ them, and I know that during the long discussions that we had with Lord Rochdale when the Harbours Bill was in the process of gestation before being drafted he made it quite clear that if he thought it would be advantageous he would prefer to employ consultants rather than build up an enormous staff. It will depend very much on how clear the answers are to the questionnaire, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think me discourteous if I can give no more definite assurance than that.
The hon. Gentleman also asked how much would be made public. I hope that he and the House will agree that it would be wrong to establish a precedent for the actual advice tendered by the council to the Minister of Transport necessarily being made public. I do not think that that is what the hon. Gentleman had in mind, but we do not think that that would be a proper precedent. I think that at the stage when the Council renders its report to my right hon. Friend, or to any subsequent Minister of Transport, it should be at the discretion of the two parties concerned, namely, the Council, on the one hand, and the Minister of Transport on the other, to decide whether the advice in the form in which it is presented should be made public. On the other hand, I agree that when a decision is reached by my right hon. Friend, or by his successor, the arguments on which it is based should be made quite clear. I think that we are all agreed about that.
For the reasons that I have given, I cannot undertake that all the facts and figures which have been made known to 336 the Council and to my right hon. Friend will be published. After all, if hon. Members reflect on the matter for a moment they will realise that it is possible that matters which, rightly or wrongly, were regarded as of great commercial secrecy would have to be disclosed, and it is not only private industry that is rather particular about disclosing its commercial secrets. Having dealt with nationalised boards, I can assure hon. Members of that. The public boards are equally concerned about not having to put everything on a plate before their competitors, because they are not monopolies. They are all subject to competition.
I give the assurance that if my right hon. Friend and I are still in office when this issue arises we will endeavour to publish sufficient information to show clearly what the economic grounds were on which the decision was made, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied with that assurance.
§ Mr. Callaghan
One of the things that has concerned me is that a number of different authorities in South Wales have different figures. Some of them say that it will cost one sum, others say that it will cost another, and others again say that it will cost something else. One of the things which could usefully be done by the Council is to reconcile these different figures which may be drawn up on different bases and try to get the various groups concerned, the Docks Board, the Iron and Steel Board, Western Region of the Railways Board, and so on, to agree to work on a common basis so that there is no argument afterwards as to the basis on which they have been working. Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman think that it will be possible for the Council to tackle that task?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I shall bring that to the notice of the Council. I am sure that it would wish to do that, but whether it will find it possible is a wider question. Before we started this debate we had a debate on the vexed question of nuclear ships, and the same phenomenon is to be found there. The promoter of a scheme has his own figures, which are not readily reconciled with those of people promoting rival schemes. However, I will 337 bring this point to the notice of Lord Rochdale, as Chairman of the Committee. Even if I were not to do so I am sure that he would do his utmost to try to get some order out of the various figures which have been put forward.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I have listened with gratitude to what the Parliamentary Secretary has said, as I think the whole House has. He has replied to the points made by every speaker. He has been most painstaking in doing so, as he always is. I still think that this is an odd way of doing business, but in view of the very firm and careful assurances which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has given about the powers of the Government, and his assurance that the position will not be prejudiced if the Bill is allowed to go forward, with the consent of my hon. Friends I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Commander Harry Pursey (Kingston-upon-Hull, East)
Now that the Amendment concerning South Wales has been disposed of, I wish to deal with that part of the Bill which relates to the River Humber and the Port of Hull.
This is an omnibus Bill dealing with several ports, and also with different subjects, some controversial and some uncontroversial. We have been discussing the controversial question which of the South Wales ports should be selected for major developments requiring the expenditure of millions of pounds from the national cake. For what purposes? They include the all-important imports of oil and iron ore, and exports of coal.
The case for the South Wales ports has been ably stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and other of my hon. Friends. As an East Coast representative, it is not for me to enter into a controversy with representatives of lesser West Coast ports. In general, I support my hon. Friend's argument.
But the Bill also deals with uncontroversial port developments. In Part III, for instance, Clause 14, and other Clauses which are concerned with works, deal with developments at Hull, and also 338 dredging and other matters affecting the River Humber. It might have been better if the Docks Board had produced two Bills, one for the South Wales ports—knowing that this was a controversial question and was likely to cause some delay—and a separate one for the other ports, where developments were not controversial and no delay was likely.
Hull is the third largest port in Britain, and the largest Docks Board port. Most of the docks are in my constituency, and consequently I wish to deal with what has been and what should have been included in the Bill for Hull and the River Humber, one of our largest estuaries.
§ Commander Pursey
I purposely made that point so as to establish the position early in the proceedings, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
The Bill will give authority for development works in Hull, in the Victoria Dock area. This dock is one of the older docks and is used, among other things, for the import, unloading and dispatch of timber. There is also the question of the new dock for Hull which has been recommended by the Rochdale Committee, the discussion of which I understand from your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, would be out of order.
But in Point of fact there has been no major development in general cargo ships at Hull docks for several decades, and for many years there has been an increasing demand—and certainly since the war an excessive demand—on port facilities at the Victoria and other docks and for more wharves to unload an increasing number of ships. In particular, there has been an increasing demand for longer and deeper berths at Victoria Dock for large ships which at present are unable to use the docks. It is essential for increasing overseas trade, both exports and imports, from and to the Midlands and Yorkshire and to and from the Continent, that this new dock should be approved so that greater use shall be made of it and also of the Port of Hull.
In the same way a question of coal handling arises in connection with this 339 dock. This is a major export both from South Wales and from Hull and a ready-money spinner to help to improve the adverse balance of payments, which at the moment is of major concern nationally. Hull shipped 1½ million tons last year, some overseas and some coastwise, and this year the target is 2 million tons. Unfortunately, the coal hoists are of Victorian vintage and due to defects are available only for half the working hours. With modern appliances twice the amount of coal could be shipped to the advantage of the national product, the Coal Board and the Docks Board. Approval for new coaling appliances at Hull—as well as approval for large-scale developments at Port Talbot—is a matter of definite concern.
Hull is the second timber importing port in the country, only London having a greater record. A good deal of the timber is imported at Victoria Dock. Improved dock and rail facilities at Hull are required for the timber trade. On the other hand, it is essential that the timber traders should make far better use of the facilities which are available. Timber wagons should be got away from the docks with less delay and to the consignees with greater speed. Wagons should then be unloaded and freed for other use with far greater despatch. Everyone complains, but everyone contributes to the delays in the turn-round of ships, and until everyone works for the benefit of all concerned, instead of selfish interests, everyone will be the loser of trade and profits in the timber trade.
From time to time the Hull timber trade cries out about a shortage of wagons, which is the trade's own fault, and especially about a shortage of tarpaulins and ropes at the Victoria Dock. These requisites, tarpaulins and ropes, are provided, and the timber traders at Victoria Dock lose them. All the trade has to do is to return them to the docks and they can be used again. It is as simple as that. The hon. Member for 340 Kingston-upon-Hull, North (Mr. Coulson)—his constituency does not include the docks—from time to time writes letters to Dr. Beeching and makes statements to the Hull Daily Mail about the Victoria Dock and about the supposed shortage of tarpaulins and ropes, but he does not make speeches in the House about them or any other docks matters.
This is an important Bill in respect of Hull docks—
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
On a point of order. All this about tarpaulins and ropes is very interesting, but is it in the Bill?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I was waiting to hear what the hon. and gallant Gentleman intended to develop out of it.
§ Commander Pursey
As this is an important Bill, and as it was know in advance that it was to be discussed, one would have expected the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, North to be in his place and to have taken part in the debate.
I support the Bill and express the hope that it will not be long before the British Transport Docks Board will produce another Bill to authorise the building of the new large deep water dock on the Humber and also that the requirements for the improved shipment of coal and the unloading and transport of timber will be dealt with without further delay.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill, as amended, considered accordingly; to be read the Third time.