§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I beg to move, in page 80, line 12, column 3, at the end to insert "Section 7(1), (2) and (3)".
The purpose of the Amendment is to repeal certain provisions of the Transport Charges &c. (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1954, which have now become redundant. The subsections in question deal with the levying of rates on seaplanes by harbour authorities which are subject to Section 6 of the Act. After the coming into operation of the charging provisions of the Bill, no harbour authority will be subject to the provisions of that Act. Therefore, subsections (1), (2) and (3) of Section 7 are redundant and can be repealed.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I beg to move, in page 80, column 3, to leave out lines 14 and 15 and to insert:the definitions of 'harbour' harbour undertaking', 'excepted undertaking' and 'ship'".This Amendment, in the same way as the one just moved, is to repeal certain provisions which have become redundant as a result of the charging Clauses of the Bill.
§ Amendment agreed to.1122
§ Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified]
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time
Permit me to start by conveying to the House the apologies of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport for the fact that he has not been here tonight. The reason, I am sorry to say, is that he has been ordered to bed by his doctor as he has a temperature. He did ask me to say to the House how sorry he was at not being able to attend the closing stages of this debate, and to convey, as well as his apology, his thanks to hon. Members on both sides of the House who have done so much to facilitate the passage of the Bill.
It has been a long and complicated Bill, but I think that we can fairly say that it has been thoroughly and carefully debated Clause by Clause both in Standing Committee and on Report. It is also a pioneering Measure of the first importance, not only to the future of British docks and harbours but also to the future of British industry and commerce as a whole. Its object is perfectly simple, namely, to improve British pores within the framework of a national plan and to ensure that no worthwhile development shall he held up for lack of money.
In the main, the Bill is no more than an enabling Measure. It is true that it confers great powers, subject to parliamentary safeguards, on my right hon. Friend. On the other hand, neither the National Ports Council nor any individual port authority is compelled to come to him to ask him to use those powers. The initiative is left with the Council or with the individual authorities, or, in certain cases, with any person or persons who have a substantial interest in a particular harbour. No one, however, can in future excuse inaction on the ground that he has insufficient statutory powers, or that private legislation is too costly and too slow to be worthwhile.
Politically, the Bill, if I may say so, seems to me to represent perhaps a compromise between the traditional philosophies of the two main parties. We on this side of the House have accepted 1123 the need to control private enterprise to the extent necessary to ensure that it shall operate in conformity with a national plan. The Opposition, as I understand, have agreed that the operation and management of our ports shall remain with local or regional boards and be subject only to the indirect controls which are provided in this Measure. In consequence, we have reached the Third Reading of an unusually complex Bill with scarcely a single difference of opinion on normal party lines.
Perhaps it is surprising that this should have been so because a Bill of this kind inevitably arouses doubts and criticism, often of a conflicting nature, from the important interests which it affects. That is only to be expected, and yet I regard the harmony which has prevailed between the two sides of the House as a peculiarly happy circumstance, full of promise for the future of our ports, and, therefore, for the nation's economy as a whole.
I should like to take this opportunity of clearing up two points. In Committee, some anxiety was shown about the effect that the Bill would have on licensed pilots at our ports and fears were expressed that some of its provisions might endanger the special position of pilots as set out in the Pilotage Act, 1913. I think that there may have been some confusion or misunderstanding about the relationship between that Act and the present Bill and perhaps it may be helpful if I try to explain what the position is.
The present position is this. A new pilotage authority may be set up, or existing authorities amalgamated, under an order made by my right hon. Friend. The procedure for making those orders is set out in Section 7(2) of the 1913 Act which makes it mandatory for licensed pilots to be represented on the pilotage authority, or the pilotage committee, if there are at least six licensed pilots in the district and if a majority ask for such representation. The position at present, therefore, is that there is a procedure for creating new pilotage authorities or amalgamating existing ones. That procedure has its own safeguards and makes mandatory provision for the representation of pilots in districts of any importance. In a sense, the 1913 1124 Act did for pilotage authorities what we are now trying to do for harbour authorities.
§ It being Ten o'clock, Mr. SPEAKER interrupted the Business.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
The. provisions of Clauses 13 to 17 of the Bill do not affect that procedure. It would not be possible to do anything which affected pilotage under a harbour empowerment or revision order or under a reorganisation scheme.
There may well be harbour reorganisation schemes which bring about unified port authorities for estuaries, embracing docks, conservancy and many other functions. In such cases, it might be desirable to include pilotage within the scope of the new authorities. However, that could not be done under a reorganisation scheme any more than a harbour revision order could change the pilotage authority. There would have to be a pilotage order under the 1913 Act in the same way as at present.
Any such schemes will almost certainly involve districts where there are at least six licensed pilots, because normally we shall be concerned with major estuaries handling an immense tonnage of ships. I should, therefore, like to emphasise that any pilotage order which is made following a revision order or a reorganisation scheme must provide for the pilots to be represented on the new pilotage authority if they so desire. I hope I have made it clear that the special position of the pilots under the 1913 Act therefore remains unchanged and that their special position continues to be safeguarded by that Act.
§ Commander Pursey
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman make this point clear? Where there are two authorities, as in the Humber—the Docks Board and the Humber Conservancy Board—the question of any alteration as regards pilots will remain the responsibility of the Humber Conservancy. But who will issue the control of movement order? Where a port has both a docks and a pilotage authority, the matter is quite simple, but 1125 where, as in the case of Hull, the docks are owned by the British Transport Docks Board, if that Board is to make a control of movement order will it exceed the limitation of its docks or will the Humber Conservancy Board have to make the order for the river for which it is responsible as a whole?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
The hon. and gallant Member's question assumes that the general set-up in the Humber estuary remains as it is. In other words, he is not considering the case of a harbour reorganisation scheme in the first place. He imagines that we continue with the docks board administering the docks and the estuarial authority administering the estuary. My answer is that I would expect the application for a control of movement order to come from the estuary authority but to be made in close consultation and co-operation with the docks board. I expect that the body which has to be set up under Clause 18 would administer a control of movement order—
§ Mr. Mellish
I have followed with interest the Minister's remarks and my hon. and gallant Friend's intervention. I did not think that the Minister had got as far as Clause 18 and I was hoping that he would say something separately about that and control of movement orders.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
The hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) asked who would apply for a control of movement order and who would be in charge of it. My reply is that I think that the order would be applied for by the estuarial authority in close consultation and collaboration, naturally, with the docks board. I have no doubt that the body which operated the control of movement order would be made up of representatives both of the estuary authority and of the docks board; and under the new Clause which the House accepted on 4th March, it would also include representatives of the pilots.
The second comment which I want to make concerns compensation. Hon. Members will recall that in Standing Committee I undertook that the Government would introduce a Clause at a later stage to deal with compensation. On that understanding, the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge 1126 Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) withdrew a new Clause which the Opposition had moved with the same object in view. Our intention remains unchanged and I am sorry that the Clause was not ready to put down before the Bill came back to the Floor of the House on 4th March.
It would not be in order for me to enlarge at this stage on the contents of the new Clause, but perhaps I may be allowed to say that I do not think that there is any material difference in principle on this matter between the two sides of the House. Delay has arisen solely because of the difficulty which we have experienced in drafting the Clause, but the House will have an opportunity to discuss when the Bill returns front another place.
In conclusion, I should like to thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for their forbearance and support. It must be rare that a major Government Measure should have received so much constructive help from the Opposition. Perhaps I may remind the House that on Second Reading I said:My right hon. Friend and I will approach the Committee stage with open minds, as we said we would when the matter was debated last July, and we shall be glad of any improvements that the wisdom of Parliament can suggest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th December, 1963: Vol. 685, c. 1481.]I hope that the House will agree that we have been as good as our word and that, in consequence, the Bill leaves the Commons a better Measure than it was when it was read a Second time, and I commend its Third Reading to the House.
§ 10.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Mellish
First, may I say how sorry I am that the Minister of Transport is away, sick. I mean that I am not sorry that he is away, but I am sorry that he is sick. I hope that he recovers soon.
I ought to say that I have been in touch with the Ministry and that I know that if the Minister had been here he would have moved the Third Reading of the Bill himself. One of the first things that he would have done would have been to pay tribute to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary, who carried the whole of the Bill throughout its Committee and Report stages. As we said at the end of the Committee proceedings, he did so 1127 in such a way that brought the best from the Opposition and from Government supporters.
In Committee, Conservative Members made only about four speeches because they were so charmed by the Parliamentary Secretary and it was left to the Opposition to make the running and to try to amend the Bill. Because the Government's attitude was to co-operate in a desire to improve the Bill, our task was much easier than it normally it.
I am glad to hear what the Parliamentary Secretary has said about compensation. In the light of his previous assurances, I am sure that the new Clause to be moved in another place will be satisfactory.
I am glad that the hon. and gallant Gentleman went out of his way to give assurances to the pilots. We got ourselves into a mix-up in Committee. The pilots' association had been very upset because it was not consulted by the Government throughout the discussions of the Bill, feeling that it had a right to such consultations. It was one of the associations which merited a certain preference. The Parliamentary Secretary knows that we also had difficulties with the Merchant Navy Officers' Association. This, too, is a very important body, for docks and harbours cannot be operated without the good will of those in charge of the Merchant Navy.
We were bewildered to discover that the Government had not consulted the Association on some of the Clauses, for example, about the control of movements orders. We had thought that Merchant Navy officers should so obviously be consulted that there was no need to mention the fact. In fact, they were not. I must put on record that they are still uneasy and unhappy about the penalties of imprisonment which may be imposed under the provisions in the Bill. Last Friday, we discussed a Measure which implemented the Convention on Safety at Sea, 1960.
I said at that time, and I repeat today,—to put it in the right perspective—that to implement the regulations under that Convention an enormous number of things would have to be done by the masters of ships. But the maximum penalty which may be imposed on them 1128 is £500. In the Bill we are dealing with what are, in comparison, the minor matters arising from entry into and exit from harbours.
I agree that that operation is important, though not so important as the safety of life at sea, but in this Bill it is possible to impose a penalty of imprisonment. To me, that still does not add up and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will look at that point again before the Bill reaches another place. The Opposition have been fair in these matters, so I must give notice to the hon. and gallant Gentleman that this point will be raised again in the discussions which will take place in another place. There we have some colleagues—not many, but enough—to put forward quite an argument; and the case will be put again.
An important feature of the Bill is its implementation of the recommendations of the Rochdale Committee. As a result of Amendments made during the Committee stage the Bill has been greatly strengthened. A number of important things have been done which may appear to be small, but which have an enormous potential. There is the permission of research and training by the National Ports Council under Clause 2. This will provide a chance for the ordinary dock worker and who knows, one day—perhaps even in this century—we may see a dock worker become an executive as a result of training.
The National Ports Council has what we consider the reasonable power of promoting comprehensive planning for the whole of the industry. The Rochdale Committee said something about the industry which I have wanted people to say for a long time, because I have lived with the industry all my adult life. The docks industry has had a bad name because of unofficial strikes. But when the Rochdale Committee investigated it found that the industry was one of which Britain could be proud. With about 10,000 fewer men, output has increased by about 12 per cent. and that is not a bad record for any industry. The image of the industry has been clouded, because of unofficial or official strikes, but the Report of the Rochdale Committee brought to light what sort of industry this really is, and what kind of men work in it.
1129 I pay my tribute to the harbour authorities, private and public, which have rendered great service to the industry generally. With the good will which the Bill engenders for them they have a great future. Harsh decisions will have to be made. Some harbours—we do not know which—will have to be closed, and others may have to be merged. I hope that will be done after full consultation. Safeguards have been written into the Bill, so none of that can be done until Parliament has had something to say. The objective of creating a National Ports Council to plan the industry as a whole is one which reflects great credit on the Government who introduced this Bill so quickly after the Report of the Rochdale Committee was published.
We support the Third Reading of the Bill and wish it well. I hope that it may go through its remaining stages quickly. I can give an assurance that the noble Lords in another place will co-operate because they are anxious to help, so that before long—before the General Election which cannot now be much longer delayed—it may be that the Bill will become law. That will represent a tribute—a monument—to the Parliamentary Secretary who will not be with us after the General Election.
I think that the Bill does represent a tribute to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. One Clause relating to safety was included on his initiative and by his desire. This part of the Bill has the hallmark of the Parliamentary Secretary. Let us give credit where it is due. The trouble in this House is that we spend so much time attacking each other that we have very little time to say nice things. This is a Bill of which the hon. and gallant Member can be personally proud and we give to it a Third Reading with great pleasure.
§ 10.16 p.m.
Earl of Dalkeith (Edinburgh, North)
As one who had some uncomplimentary things to say about the Bill on Second Reading, I wish to add my congratulations to my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for all the painstaking work he has done in Committee and all the flexibility and good sense he has shown in many respects. I echo the flowery words offered by hon. Members opposite in paying a very fitting tribute to the work of my hon. and 1130 gallant Friend in Committee. I was sorry not to be on the Committee, but I was serving on the Scottish Standing Committee which was meeting at the same time.
I put in a plea for the small harbours. I hope that plea will fall on the ears either of the Minister or of the National Ports Council, whichever is appropriate in the circumstances in relation to the Bill. It is a plea that they should not be forgotten or elbowed to one side in favour of the bigger ports. They have an enormous part to play. At the moment they handle one-sixth of the trade coming to our ports. Our country, geographically speaking, is well suited to the continuation of small ports, particularly bearing in mind that they have the unique advantage over ports of the Continent in being almost alongside factories.I hope that this will be borne in mind in future in the context of this Bill.
I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend on the good sense he has shown. I hope he will keep an open ear to further improvement of the Bill in another place.
§ 10.17 p.m.
§ Dr. King (Southampton, Itchen)
This is a much better Bill than the one which went into Committee, thanks to the work of the Opposition, some Government hon. Members and the reasonableness of the Parliamentary Secretary. We have made numerous Amendments in the Bill. I believe the chief work we have done in Committee is to destroy much of the suspicion which was in the minds of some of those who will be affected by the Bill.
I begin by congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary on his skill, his industry, and patience in piloting the Bill through Committee. He happened to be both master and pilot of the Bill. He did not have the disadvantage of suffering from one of his control of movement orders; so he could navigate the ship safely through Committee. My colleagues and I congratulate equally my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), who led us with consummate skill and charm. Between sittings of the Committee he consulted some of the people whom the Minister and his colleagues should have consulted before the Bill reached Committee. He 1131 was helped by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) on the Front Bench, of whom we on the back benches have been very proud.
The Dock and Harbour Authorities Association is very fortunate in the quality of its secretary, who briefed both sides. He has watched this Bill through its various stages as assiduously as any hon. Member has done. Now the work of the Bill really begins. The work that this enabling Bill sets out was planned and visioned by the Rochdale Report. It is worth saying on Third Reading that that began before the Report was issued. Much of the forward-planning which led to the Bill had already been done by the docks before the Rochdale Report, which was a collator as much as anything else. The new Ports Council which the Bill sets up will be a guide, philosopher and friend to docks and harbour authorities and not a dictator. There will be no interference in the detailed work.
But, having said that, I agree with the Minister that we are giving tremendous power to the Minister and tremendous guiding power to the Ports Council. There is no question but that Britain is up against it, and that we need a revitalising of the whole national economy and a sense of purpose. Most people agree with that as long as it is addressed to the other chap and they are not asked to improve themselves. The only danger is that the docks and harbour authorities, looking back at what they have achieved since the war—quite a bit—might tend to be complacent. The purpose of the Ports Council and of the Bill is to destroy any complacency which exists.
I must confess that my own contacts with the leaders of the various ports and harbours in the country suggest to me that there is no complacency there, that they take seriously the criticism which gave rise to the Bill and that they and the Ports Council will work in the spirit which guided the whole of the deliberations in Committee on the Bill. In Committee the Opposition were fighting certain battles of principle when we were discussing the structure of the new Ports Council.
1132 I emphasise that when we attacked the structure of the new Ports Council we were not attacking persons. My colleagues and I much appreciate the character of Mr. Lewis Wright, the leader of the Weavers' Union, who is a member of the new Ports Council. He brings to the new Council a lifelong experience of trade union leadership. I have met some of the other members. They are men of quality. We sought to improve the structure and their terms of reference and terms of employment, but, having said all that, we are behind the new Ports Council; it is a Ports Council of quality, and we think that it will do a great job.
This week there will be issued the South-Eastern England Report. It is a revolutionary document which may transform the whole of the south of England and which, in particular, will have an impact on the ports of the south of England. I hope that the Ports Council will make use of the wide-ranging powers which we have given it in the Bill of examining transport and communications and the hinterland which the ports serve.
This is a good Bill. It marks a late conversion by the Government to the virtues of planning. But it would be wrong to let the Third Reading pass without mentioning what I regard as a major blemish on the Bill. This is not a nationalisation of the docks Bill but, as I have said before, an essay in cooperation between docks and harbour authorities and eleven worthy gentlemen sitting on the Ports Council. Yet the Bill contains more penal Clauses than any of the Labour Government's nationalisation Bills. I remember how bitterly the Tory Party opposed the penal Clauses of the nationalisation Bills, and I tremble to think what they would have done in the way of penal Clauses if they had introduced a nationalisation Measure. There are 18 penal Clauses in the Bill.
I must again protest against one of them on Third Reading. I will not repeat the argument which we had in Committee but will simply say that to use a Bill for the reorganisation of the ports and harbours of this country to bring a profession of great distinction, the masters of the ships of this country, under the threat of a criminal offence is 1133 an action in which I think that the Minister is entirely wrong. Here I think that the Parliamentary Secretary has been at once stubborn and ungracious.
If I were Barbara Cartland, who wants everyone to be a Tory Christian and does not use Christianity when she is arguing with her opponents, I should use very harsh words about the Parliamentary Secretary tonight. I would only plead with him between now and the final enactment of the Bill when it is in another place to think again on this issue, because he knows that any captain who commits a crime can already be punished by criminal law. If the offence for which captains will be 1134 criminally liable are offences of the type Nelson committed when he put the spyglass to his wrong eye, or of the type the Parliamentary Secretary committed when, as a rear-admiral, he acted on his own initiative, as he boasted in Committee, it will be absolutely outwith the whole spirit of British tradition. I plead with the hon. and gallant Gentleman to take that away.
It is not easy to conduct a major Bill through the House, but for a junior Minister to steer a major Bill of this character through the House is indeed a Parliamentary occasion. I end, as I began, by warmly congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary on a very signal achievement.
§ 10.25 p.m.
§ Commander Harry Pursey (Kingston upon Hull, East)
The main objects of the Bill, are, first, the establishment of a National Ports Council; secondly, the development of harbours on a national plan; and, thirdly, the control of the movement of ships in rivers and harbours, especially in low visibility. These objects were discussed on Second Reading and in detail in Standing Committee F, of which I was a Member at fourteen sittings. Consequently, there is no need to discuss them tonight on Third Reading.
What is necessary, however, is to discuss the application of the Bill to the future development of harbours, in particular as regards the grants and loans for improvement and also the control of movement of ships. My own concern as the Member for Hull, East, which includes the main docks area, is the development of the facilities of Hull, the third British port and the largest of the twenty-six ports of the British Transport Docks Board. I will, however, confine myself briefly to the three major developments for the National Ports Council forthwith to deal with for Hull—first, new coaling appliances; secondly, a large deep water dock; and, thirdly, a port information service for the control of the movement of ships.
New coaling appliances are an immediate short-term requirement, whether with the aid of grants or loans under the Bill, for the National Ports Council to consider for the development of Hull. Last year shipments of coal from the port increased by over 1 million tons from 350,000 tons in 1962 to nearly 1½ million tons in 1963. This spectacular increase was of real national importance as well as of local advantage, because of its contribution to the reduction in the present Tory Government's adverse balance of payments in foreign trade.
Unfortunately, the few remaining coaling appliances at Hull—only four in Alexandra Dock—are of Victorian vintage over 80 years of age and are frequently out of action for repairs. Consequently, on average these appliances are in use for only half the working hours and thus prevent the shipment of a second million tons of coal per annum this year. Obviously capital expendi- 1136 ture is justified, and it is high time new coaling appliances were provided. Therefore, the National Ports Council should give early consideration to, and a favourable decision on, this project.
The second requirement for Hull, which the new National Ports Council should consider, is the building of a new deep water dock below Salt End. Reference was made to this in the Rochdale Report. This would enable larger ships to be accommodated and would provide the solution to two problems; firstly, the present congestion at and the limitation of existing dock facilities and, secondly, the inability to berth and discharge or load the larger ships of today. The provision of such a dock is not only a question of local advantage but of national importance, because it would increase the total seaborne traffic, particularly to and from the Continent, for which Hull is ideally suited and the main port.
The next immediate requirement for Hull which the National Ports Council should consider is the institution of a proper port information service. Control orders for the speedier movement of ships, especially in low visibility, presupposes a radio telephone communications system from docks to ships. These services exist at London, Liverpool and other major docks, but not at the third major port of Hull. There is no proper and complete port information service on the River Humber, although it is one of our largest estuaries, and the trouble is divided responsibility. The British Transport Docks Board and the Humber Conservancy Board are jointly responsible, the former for the docks and the latter for the pilotage and upkeep of the river.
The main difficulty, I suppose, is that shipping interests will not pay the costs. When the establishment of an information service was considered some time ago the shipping interests argued that there was no need for such a service; yet they themselves lose large sums of money because their ships miss tides at times of bad visibility. The present position must be considered against the background of two factors. Firstly, the British Transport Docks Board has provided a v.h.f. radio telephone system at 1137 Immingham Docks for both commercial vessels and tankers and at Hull for tankers only; that is, at Salt End. However, there is no communications service at all for cargo vessels at the main docks, where such a service is most required.
The second point to remember is that the Humber Conservancy Board pilot cutter "William Fenton" has v.h.f. equipment with a range of only 20 miles, but some ships have not got even this equipment and cannot, therefore, communicate with this cutter. The "Frank Atkinson", the reserve cutter, has both v.h.f. and medium frequency equipment and can, therefore, communicate with almost all ships arriving off the Humber.
Admittedly, the "William Fenton" is shortly to be fitted with medium frequency equipment, and then, apparently, the Humber Conservancy Board will have provided the equipment for both its pilot cutters. What is now required is for the British Transport Docks Board forthwith to install the necessary equipment at the main commercial docks and train staff to use it. Two weeks ago I asked Questions in the House of the Postmaster-General and the Minister of Transport, which brought matters to a head. I have since been informed by the Hull Dock Office that an application for a licence has been made to the Postmaster-General and that, subject to his giving approval, it is hoped to obtain the equipment and train the necessary staff within about three months. That shows that three days of fog have done more than three months of discussion, and we shall shortly have a partial Humber port information service. The provision of a radar station has still to be considered.
The present grossly unsatisfactory position can result in the following happenings. First, a pilot can board the wrong ship at sea. Secondly, he can board the right ship at sea with the wrong instructions for the master. Thirdly, a ship can "gallop" at 18 knots for over an hour up the 24 miles of the river Humber on the last period of a flood tide, and arrive off her dock only to be told by the dockmaster, "We don't want you." The ship then has to "gallop" once more at 18 knots for an hour down the 24 miles of the River Humber to sea on the first period of the ebb tide in order to avoid stranding.
1138 There are many cases of ships having to "gallop" up and down the River Humber. About six months ago, there was the "Indian Success." On 11th-12th November, 1963, there was the "Regina," a bulk grain carrier. 21st December last was the "Grand National" day, with four ships in the "race": "Beltana," "Eurytan," "Henrique Lage" and "Kvernaas." All four of them "galloped" up on the morning tide, "galloped" back to the river mouth, aril then "galloped" up again on the not tide. In other words, there were three "gallops" up and down the River Humber, of which two were entirely unnecessary. What fun—but what expense ! Moreover, due to congestion off the dock entrance, the "Kvernaas" grounded half an hour after high water—on a falling tide—and had to he freed by tugs. This grounding might have been a serious stranding.
The main reasons for this unnecessary and sometimes dangerous "galloping" up and down the River Humber by big and expensive ships are the following. First, a ship that should have sailed from dock has not done so. The berth is occupied and owing to congestion, there is nowhere to berth the incoming ship. Secondly, with no port information service at the Hull main commercial docks there is no means of communication between the docks and the ships at the river entrance to enable those ships that are not wanted to be told not to enter. There cannot, therefore, be any question of carrying out these movement control orders to which reference has been made throughout our discussions. Alternatively, ships that are wanted cannot be so informed because of the impossibility of giving a movement control order. This position is quite incredible at Britain's third port; and in this advanced communication; era of 1964 it should be remedied forthwith.
The annual report on pilotage at all ports has to be made to Parliament under the Pilotage Act, 1913. The annual report on the Humber pilots was made three weeks ago, on 25th February, by their commodore, to the Humber Conservancy Board. He said:The Humber pilots, this winter, have frequently worked under considerable strain during thick weather and low visibility.In January after three days of dense fog, owing to inability to communicate as is 1139 required under a port information service, the large number of 300 ships were piloted. Pilots wereapproaching the limit of physical endurance.On 23rd January, owing to there being no port information service, after two days of fog, more than 20 ships were anchored near the pilot cutter at the mouth of the river, seven large ships to seaward and three waiting off Spurn Point, which gave a total of 30 ships held up. Five ships missed the pilot cutter—
I am finding it a little difficult to relate these remarks to the Third Reading of the Bill. I can understand the hon. and gallant Gentleman giving some illustrations, but he seems to be going a bit far now.
§ Commander Pursey
I accept your Ruling, of course, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I am on the last word of my illustrations. My remarks have been wholly tied up with the port information service. In all of my notes I have taken particular care to refer either to the National Ports Council, to the Minister or to the port information service.
To complete the sentence, a total of 30 ships were held up, five ships missed the pilot cutter in fog, but two obtained pilots before docking.
Among the reasons for the considerable strain on the pilots and for the failure to take ships into the docks when they should have been, with considerable loss of money, were: the pilot cutter could not communicate with ships which had only medium frequency equipment, because the cutter has only very high frequency equipment; and second, masters and pilots could not communicate with the main commercial docks because no radio telephone equipment has been installed there.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. Coulson), whom I am glad to see in his place, earlier today referred to the private interest subject of timber charges at Hull docks in my constituency. I shall not pursue that point now, but it is remarkable that the hon. Member has made no advocacy of matters of public interest—namely, new coaling appliances, a new dock for Hull and a port information service—either on Second Reading or in Com- 1140 mittee when he could have attended the 14 sittings and made numerous speeches as I did. In other words, he has no public interest in the great city and port of Hull where he represents one of the three constituencies. He is concerned only with the private interest of the timber trade.
This Bill gives the Minister of Transport for the first time, and the new National Ports Council, powers to plan harbour development in the national interest and speed up harbour movements of ships to the advantage of all concerned. The result should be greater efficiency, lower costs and, what is all-important, increased seaborne trade. What will now be required is that all concerned—traders, shipowners, dock authorities, dockers and Members of Parliament—should see that these powers are exercised to the full in order to ensure increased use of our present dock facilities and a quicker turn-round of our ships. Only by so doing will British traders and shipowners succeed in reducing costs and increasing our foreign trade, particularly exports, in a competitive market. Shipping is the lifeblood of an island nation such as ours, and by overseas trade we live or die.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Coulson (Kingston upon Hull, North)
Until a few moments ago, I had not intended to speak on the Third Reading of the Bill, and I certainly do not propose to reply to the completely unjustified allegations made by the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey). I assure my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that I shall not catalogue all the matters which I think the new National Ports Council should examine in respect of the port of Hull. If I were to do so, the House would, no doubt, grow very impatient because it would probably have to sit very late. However, seeing the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) in his place, I am tempted to say a few words on a matter about which he and I have waged a campaign for some time now, namely, the improvement of road communications between the port of Hull and the industrial West Riding.
In my view, and, I imagine, in the view of the hon. Member for Goole, this is a subject which surpasses almost 1141 anything else the moment we consider the improvement of the economic efficiency and prosperity of our ports. I hope that it will have an early place in the deliberations of the National Ports Council, and I hope also that the Council will take full advantage of Clause 1 to tender to the Minister advice with respect to the provision of adequate means of access to the port of Hull by road and rail.
§ 10.46 p.m.
§ Mr. George Jeger (Goole)
I congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on his pilotage of the Bill through Committee and onward to its Third Reading. What he has done with a Bill containing 59 Clauses and six Schedules is no mean feat. I am obliged to him also for the charming way in which he referred to the constructive help given to him by the Opposition and for his acknowledgment of the fact that the Bill is now a better Bill as a result of our assistance than it was when first presented to us.
The National Ports Council will have several duties. If we turn to Clause 1, we find there the provision which, perhaps, is nearest to the hearts of hon. Members representing port constituencies. It was referred to a moment or two ago by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, North (Mr. Coulson) when he drew attention to the words now added at the end of paragraph (d) of subsection (1)—the prevision of adequate means of access to such harbours by road and rail".The addition of these words came about as a result of an Amendment which we moved in Committee.
The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, North spoke about road communications, so I shall leave that and concentrate on rail access to the ports. The National Ports Council will have authority and responsibility for planning, improving and developing our ports, and it must consider and advise the Minister upon rail access. This is something about which we need to know a little more. Did the Minister really mean it when he accepted the Amendment in Committee? He accepted it after some persuasion, and it took our forces, reinforced by hon. Members on the Government side, to induce him to do so. I should like some clarification from him as to how far he is prepared to give the National Ports Council authority to ad- 1142 vise on rail matters. In other words, is it to be a battle between Beeching and Rochdale? Does the left hand of the Government know what the right hand is doing? Now that the Parliamentary Secretary has accepted that the Council should have some jurisdiction over rail access to ports, does he know that some of the railway services to ports are at present being discontinued and closed?
I take as my example the port with which I am associated, the port of Goole. Goole is the tenth port in the country, and it is the only port of the West Riding. It contributes considerably to the export trade, exporting coal up to about 2 million tons a year, machinery, iron and sleet, vehicles of all kinds, and textiles, many from the West Riding of Yorkshire, and importing grain, chemicals, fertilisers and general cargoes which are distributed mainly to the industrial areas of Yorkshire.
At the moment the port is served by three railway lines. One is about to have its services curtailed by the Minister, since he has issued his decision withdrawing the passenger services from Goole to Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, York and other industrial areas. At present under consideration is the withdrawal of passenger services between Goole and Wakefield, which is the capital of the West Riding, and this would mean the cutting off of our communications by rail again with Leeds, Bradford, Liverpool, Manchester and other industrial towns. It means that Goole will be severed from the West Riding except for the one railway link to Doncaster and from there north and south, which is not a practical alternative since it would take twice as long to get anywhere by that route and cost much more.
The business of a port is, of course, transport and shipping. But ships are not run by wholly mechanical means, and transport is not purely automatic. There is a human element involved. There have to be human beings to man them. Those human beings are not only the seamen who have to man the ships but business and professional people, the executives and the employees of the various shipping companies and of the import and export companies, who need speedy access to the ports.
1143 The Minister might say that they can use the roads. They are doing so to some extent. A recent count in the Goole area showed that in the last 10 years road traffic has increased by 85 per cent. I do not know how much more the roads can bear. But if the rail transport facilities are withdrawn, obviously there will be congestion at the ports or else there will be a diminution of the traffic that is conducted at the ports.
The seamen have to report at stated times in order to board their ships. Otherwise we get delays in vessels sailing, and that means much more expense. The shipbuilding and canal services which run along the canals to the port of Goole also have their barge crews, who have to report at stated times, or they need to go home for the night and report for sailing early next morning. This can be done only by train, and if the trains are withdrawn, it means that there is much greater difficulty in getting barge crews reporting on time, in getting cargoes off on time and in getting vessels sailing on time.
The Council, unless something is done in the meantime, will be faced, so far as the Port of Goole is concerned, with a fait accompli. Is the Parliamentary Secretary going to tell us that by virtue of Clause 1(1,d) the Council will be able to make representations for the railway services to be reopened? Will that be considered either by Dr. Beeching or by the Minister? The Parliamentary Secretary may say "What can we do at this point of time if these railway closures have already been decided upon?" There is one thing the Minister can do. From the moment the Bill becomes law he can suspend all the closures and withdrawals of railway services where they directly affect the ports.
If the Minister does that, then we shall know that the Council is being given authority, which is vested in it by the Bill, to deal with matters of access to harbours by road and rail before services are closed, and not afterwards. Once those services are withdrawn, it will be very difficult to restore them. But if the Council is given the opportunity before the services are withdrawn to consider them, to take immediate steps to visit the ports and to review their railway 1144 and road services, then the Minister will be showing to the Council that he has confidence in its judgment, that he intends it to do a real job of work, and that his intentions in setting it up are honourable and just. It will give confidence that they are receiving the fullest attention of the National Ports Council—with an open mind, not as the Beeching transport committee which has already closed its mind in regard to these services.
§ 10.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Guy Barnett (Dorset, South)
should like to refer to the very interesting speech to which we have just listened, but first I should like to associate myself with the various compliments which have been flying around the House, and I do so as a relatively new Member of it. The Standing Committee on this Bill was the first in which I played an active part, and if I felt that all Standing Committees were conducted in the way in which Standing Committee F was conducted in considering this Bill I might feel slightly less anxious at finding myself on the Government benches after the election than I am. However that may be, I should like to say how much, as a new Member, I appreciated membership of that Committee. I was indeed impressed by the performance of the Front Bench Members on both sides, and by the back benchers on both sides as well.
I said that I wanted to refer to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger). In doing so, I want to look for a moment at Clause 1 and to draw particular attention, as I have done in the past, to the whole business, which is outlined in subsection (1, a), of the possibility of new harbours, and to relate this question to the speech of my hon. Friend. The Parliamentary Secretary will, of course, be aware that I am interested in a harbour in my constituency, which, as I have explained on previous occasions, has outstanding natural advantages. However, the development of that harbour is virtually impossible unless an inland transport policy is carried out which makes that harbour an economic possibility for industry in the hinterland. There is absolutely no question about that.
§ Mr. Barnett
I am referring to the harbour of Portland.
1145 The point I am making is that with the proper development of the inland transport system it would be a very magnificent harbour for carrying merchandise from the Midlands.
Secondly, the whole business of the future development of harbours is bound to be related not merely to the way in which industry is developed. I think we can expect, almost certainly in the 'seventies and 'eighties, a considerable change in the whole industrial pattern of the country. In view of this it is not surprising that Rochdale foreshadows very considerable change in the kind of merchandise which may pass through our ports. Indeed, he also foreshadows a very considerably increased quantity of merchandise passing through our ports.
In view of this, I feel bound to welcome the setting up of a National Ports Council charged with the responsibility of initiating a national plan of port development. I think it is true that every port in this country which is at present in operation, like Topsy, just growed, and it would be exciting, whether at Portland or elsewhere in the country, to see a completely new port developed, and being able to take advantage of all the most modern developments in port practice and layout. It would also be exciting, to see the National Ports Council having formed a plan of port development, constantly reshaping it in the light of the needs of industry as they are seen to develop.
I hope, therefore, that whichever Minister of Transport is in office will take seriously the recommendations made by the National Ports Council with regard to both road and rail transport and the needs of industry and the kind and quantity of merchandise that passes through our various ports.
I wish, secondly, to refer to another point which has arisen in my constituency since Second Reading concerning the Council's general responsibility in the problem of dock labour. I refer not to the actual operation of the dock labour scheme, which is the responsibility of the National Dock Labour Board, but principally to other ports outside the scheme. I understand that thirteen ports, mostly in the southern half of the country, are outside the dock labour scheme. They are listed in the Lloyd-Williams Report, 1960, entitled "List of Ports", 1146 as Amble, Dover, Felixstowe, Folkestone, Keadby, Littlehampton, Mostyn, Newhaven, Norwich, Portsmouth, Ramsgate, Shoreham and Watchet.
Admittedly, most of these are very small ports, and I believe that the only port which the Lloyd-Williams Committee recommended should be brought within the ambit of the dock labour scheme was Portsmouth. But a relatively small port in my constituency—Weymouth—operates the scheme successfully, and there would seem to me to be strong arguments for re-examining, in the light of changes which may well have taken place in the past four years, the possibility or otherwise of other ports becoming involved in the scheme.
One would like to see a comprehensive development of the scheme and I hope that among the duties for which the National Ports Council will feel itself responsible will be the question of making the scheme comprehensive with, perhaps, a view eventually to the complete decasualisation of labour throughout the dock industry, an ideal which is shared by employers and employees.
Portsmouth was recommended as a port which should be brought within the ambit of the scheme. This matter is deeply felt by my constituents and it is only right for me, on this occasion, to give voice to that effect. They complain of the possibility of unfair competition against other ports which do not operate the scheme. In this connection, I should like to quote from the Lloyd-Williams Report, which states, in paragraph 16:If it were established that a port outside the scheme subsisted on casual labour, there would obviously be a case for bringing it into the scheme iii order to provide more regular employment for the workers.The Report goes on, however, to say:In such a case there might be some justice in the charge that the dock employers concerned had had an unfair advantage over their competitors in scheme nods by engaging labour on inferior terms.That is precisely the complaint of employers at Weymouth and, I have no doubt, the complaint of employers in other ports which are within the ambit of the scheme.
It is particularly the smaller ports, which rely on a small amount of trade passing through them, to which great damage is likely to be done by ports which are not members of the scheme 1147 and which, therefore, can compete on unequal terms and take a considerable percentage of a port's trade. I am in no position to quote exact figures.
I hope very much that as part of the research which the National Ports Council undertakes, it will conduct an inquiry into this whole question to ascertain the extent to which ports which are not members of the scheme compete unfairly against ports which are members. This seems to be one of the important tasks that the Council could do which would be of direct benefit to some of the smaller ports along the South coast.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) referred to the expected report of development in the South-East, and I am told that this report includes the coast as far west as Weymouth. If this whole part of Britain is likely to undergo a period of expansion and industrial development, it seems inevitable that that will result in an increase in the merchandise going through the southern ports, and I hope that the Council will take seriously the points which I am making.
Beyond that, I do not wish to detain the House longer, except to say that, in common with my hon. Friends, I welcome the Third Reading of the Bill. I am sure that the National Ports Council which is to be set up as a consequence of it will have a very exciting task, a task vital to the industrial health of the country and certainly of great value to the future health and prosperity of everyone working in or connected with the dock industry.
§ 11.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Silkin
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Barnett) and all my other hon. Friends in warmly congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary. There is an old naval proverb that the speed of a convoy is that of its slowest ship. If I can borrow from the terminology of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Commander Pursey), the speed with which the Parliamentary Secretary galloped his convoy through was both remarkable and admirable. It is true that occasionally he had to rely on a little light escort duty from 1148 the Opposition and that on the way perhaps one or two little ships were left behind.
I should like to mention which of those ships I would hope would one day rejoin the convoy under this or another Government. First, we on this side of the House took the view—and we did it with considerable thought and clarity and justice—that it would be better if the National Ports Council contained a small number of permanent members. There has been a number of debates on this subject and I do not apologise for raising it again now. It seems important to us and it seems to us that it would give a stability and sense of confidence to what is a new and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South said, an exciting development of our ports It would also give the Council an authority which it might otherwise take rather longer to get than we on this side of the House would like.
The other casualty, to put it that way, is the subject of representation of those organisations of labour which are directly concerned with the working of the docks on the Council itself. We reiterate that we would have preferred such a closer union between the two sides of industry. Once again, we think that it would have enabled the Council to have that authority and that sense of welcome which we regard as desirable.
Nevertheless, this is a great Bill, perhaps not a revolutionary Bill, but a Bill which is a tremendous step forward, a monument in the history of our ports and harbours. Every hon. Member welcomes this new look in our harbours. The poet said:The coastwise lights of England watch the ships of England go! "—and, we hope, the ships of every country to the new and greater and more modern harbours of the greatest maritime nation on earth.
§ 11.10 p.m.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)
I apologise for intervening in the Third Reading debate as a non-member of what appears to have been a particularly convivial and cosy Standing Committee. I shall be as brief as I can. I rise because I want to refer particularly to the contents of Clause 17, dealing with harbour reorganisation schemes. I take 1149 the opportunity before the Bill finally departs from the House to plead that in the operation of this Clause the National Ports Council shall engage in adequate regional planning in regard to any schemes it has for the efficient and economical development of a group of harbours. I note with some comfort that the Clause makes provision for special Parliamentary procedure before there can be a final confirmation of any scheme of harbour reorganisation. I hope that long before the point is reached of asking approval of Parliament for a scheme of reorganisation the National Ports Council will have taken every possible step to investigate the full implications of any scheme of reorganisation of a group of harbours on the general harbour arrangements for that region.
I raise this because I have in mind the circumstances in that part of Scotland of which I am one of the representatives. Dundee is regarded as one of the major ports on the east coast of Scotland. It has had come importance in the past in war as well as in peace. It is still a very considerable port in terms of the import of merchandise, particularly in terms of employment in that region, because it is the major port through which we import the raw jute which still provides employment for about a fifth of my constituents.
Recently a scheme has been put forward for the reorganisation of the harbours in the Firth of Forth. I gather that this scheme has already been considered by the National Ports Council. The Parliamentary Secretary will perhaps recall that he and I have had correspondence about this. I do not want to put any obstacle in the way of any form of enterprise and development on the part of harbours in the Forth Estuary. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) has been particularly active in connection with developments in relation to the harbour in his constituency. Nor for a moment do I wish to stand in the way of the necessity for change in the pattern of harbour development on the east of Scotland or any other part of the country. I fully accept, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said in his speech on Third Reading, that inevitably in modernising the harbour 1150 equipment of the country there has to be change. Inevitably change is bound to cause difficulties for particular ports and harbours.
All I ask is that in operating the Bill when it becomes law these harbour reorganisation schemes shall be considered against the full background of the kind of changes they may make in the prosperity of the area in which they are placed. In the case of developments on the Forth it would be more rational to consider the two estuaries on the Forth and the Tay as closely linked. Harbour developments of one estuary are bound to affect harbour developments in the other.
The import of jute is a major part of the trade passing through the harbour of Dundee. I understand that over the generations a great deal of essential know-how has grown up about the handling of that jute. It is possible that harbour reorganisation schemes on the Forth, taken in isolation, will mean that it might be more economical to divert the import of raw jute through the Forth and to transport it overland to Dundee. In the end that may be the more economical thing to do in the general public interest. At this stage I do not know. All I argue is that in operating this Clause these wide implications ought to be taken fully into account.
I hope that it will not be done at a stage when it must be dealt with by the rather inadequate processes of the special Parliamentary procedure. I hope that at the very earliest stage the National Ports Council will see this on the widest scale. I admit that in dealing with this matter it is up to the harbour authorities in Dundee to show a proper sense of modernisation and a proper spirit of enterprise. But I ask that the matter be deal with regionally and that the harbour reorganisation scheme be not treated in isolation.
With those words, like my colleagues, I very much welcome the Bill. It seems to me that the arrangements made for the operation of the National Ports Council gives a very important opportunity to modernise the harbour equipment of this country. Subject to the cautionary words which I have uttered, I very much welcome the general provisions of the Bill.
§ 11.17 p.m.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Leith)
May I say a few words in what may be regarded as a benediction. The Bill has gone on for a long time, and I want to add my thanks to all hon. Members, not only on the Front Benches but on the back benches, who took part in the Committee stage. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North was in very good form this evening, as he had ships galloping up and down the Humber.
§ Mr. Hoy
Whether he had the ships galloping North and South or East and West, I do not know. It seemed appropriate language on this, the first day of the flat season.
He is quite right; if we are to have ports which will play their part in future they must be properly equipped. Without proper equipment they cannot do the job which they set out to do. If they are to hold their own we must have a quick turn-round of shipping. This is what makes ports economic. Without that they cannot hold their own with ports in other parts of the world.
I believe that this will prove to be a very good Bill provided that it is operated with speed. Speed is one of the essentials. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) I am very sorry that we have not two or three people full time on the Council, at least at the beginning, to speed up the work which needs to be undertaken if our ports are to hold their own with ports of other countries. He was right to point out that this is one of the weaknesses of the Bill.
What does it seek to do? The Parliamentary Secretary was right in describing it as an enabling Bill. It is only when advantage is taken of the power in it by the ports authorities and the National Ports Council that anything is likely to happen. I add one more defect—the financial provisions of the Bill. Let the House note that all we have voted is a sum of £50 million, which is not a revolving sum but must be granted in loans and then paid back into the Exchequer—and no more is heard about it unless we provide another 1152 Vote in the House. I make no apology for quoting once more the fact that the one port on the Continent of Europe, Europort, will cost £75 million without any equipment at all. When we measure that against the provision which we are making in the Bill, we can see that we are not going too far. I would not like the Parliamentary Secretary to have to come back with another Resolution for, say, £100 million, but, be it £50 million or £100 million, it is not a revolving sum; it has to be paid back to the Exchequer as repayment becomes due.
We hope that the National Ports Council will be able to do its job well, but we must remember that not only must we have efficient ports but, to get the best out of our shipping, we must have efficient road and rail services giving up-to-date access to them. It is no use having first-class ports if there is bad access to them. That would undo any good that may be achieved by port improvements.
I hope that we shall have some new ports. In this connection, may I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Barnett) for the charming way in which he makes the feelings of his constituents known to the House and also in expressing his own aspirations. If and when the National Ports Council decides to do something about the harbour at Portland—and I say this because my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) has spoken of a memorial for the Parliamentary Secretary—it will be a fitting memorial for my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South.
But, having got the National Ports Council all that it needs, then we shall have to face up to amalgamations and regional planning of ports, when some of our smaller ports may have to disappear. As has been said, small ports can play an important rôle in some parts of the country just as great as the larger ports play in the areas they serve. However, as a result of amalgamation some of them may have to go, and in this connection I would venture this word of warning. Where such a port may be standing very much on its own, the House has retained the power to make the decision about its future, and that is very important. It is important 1153 that such a decision should not be measured only from the economic point of view. A port may "break even", or it may never do so, but the social consequences of closing it may be very far-reaching. Instead of having a Beeching operation, with which we in Scotland are very familiar, I beg that the National Ports Council takes into account these factors.
I knew that my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) wished to raise the question of a blemish which still remains in the Bill, namely, the six months' penalty which is to be imposed on the masters of ships sailing to and from this country. I admit that the analogy which the Parliamentary Secretary used in rejecting our Amendment was a fair one, but I would have thought that there was plenty of power already available where people did not carry oat their duties promptly and efficiently without having to impose an additional penalty of six months' imprisonment. I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary did not get rid of this altogether, and we know that many of his own hon. Friends resent it as much as we do. I am only sorry that hon. Members opposite did not follow us into the Lobby to register their disapproval.
This Bill can do a great deal for Britain. It means that our ports can be planned, and the Parliamentary Secretary is right in saying that whether or not we have the National Ports Council this job cannot be done without planning. It is planning by a central authority, the Council.
The only regret I have is that it has taken the Government 12 years to reach the decision that planning is good for Britain. I hope that the Bill will play an important part in the economic future of the country as a whole. I wish the Council all success in the various tasks it will undertake. I hope that it will not be held up but will be able to deal speedily and efficiently with its tasks so that we may compete on equal terms with our counterparts in Europe. If we in the House of Commons have been able to do something to help our ports, I am certain that that for us is thanks enough.
§ 11.26 p.m.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
With the leave of the House, I will reply briefly to some of the questions which have been 1154 put to me. I would like, first, to thank hon. Members who have made kind and generous remarks about the small part I have played in guiding the Bill through its various stages. Because of the hour, I will confine my remarks to answering the specific questions put to me.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) referred to the serious social issues involved in the closing of ports. There is no doubt that the provisions of the Bill could be made use of to reduce the size of a port. One could easily imagine circumstances in which a harbour revision order might be made with that object because, say, it could be shown thereby that the port would be in a more thriving and prosperous condition; but my advice is that the Bill could not be used as a means for closing a port altogether. I understand that it would be necessary in the case of a properly established port for a Measure to be brought before Parliament—possibly a Private Bill—before such action could be taken.
My noble Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North (The Earl of Dalkeith) and the hon. Member for Leith both mentioned the small ports. The Government entirely agree that the small ports still have an important part to play, and we hope that they will benefit from the Bill as much as the larger ports. The hon. Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) asked how I saw the Council carrying out its duty of giving advice about rail services to ports. My interpretation of the relevant part of Clause 1 is that the Council will advise on whether it considers the rail services to be adequate or inadequate. Where necessary, no doubt my right hon. Friend will pass on that advice, and he will doubtless then proceed to discuss the matter with the Chairman of the Railways Board. I do not think I can go further on this matter tonight.
The hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Barnett) spoke of his desire to see Portland developed as a great commercial harbour. Naturally, that depends a good deal on improved inland transport services, but before that it will depend on the Council recommending that it is necessary as part of the national plan which it will be the Council's duty to draw up. It will also depend on the one important detail—and I do not know 1155 whether or not this would be easy to accomplish—of getting the port from the Admiralty or greatly reducing the Admiralty's control over it.
§ Mr. Barnett
I can inform the hon. Gentleman that the Admiralty is prepared to see it developed commercially and that a private company, the Bath and Portland Group, is prepared to conduct an investigation to see whether it is commercially possible. Things have already reached this stage.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I am glad to hear that. The hon. Member for Dorset, South also suggested that the Council had a special responsibility for labour outside the Dock Labour Scheme. I should have to have notice of that question before I could say whether or not I entirely agree, but I think that its responsibility for labour matters is of a somewhat indirect nature. Its main function is connected with the development of the ports and their system of management.
The hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) returned to the question of permanent members, and representation of organised labour on the Council. I can only repeat that the Bill is so framed that it is fully permissible to make any or, indeed, all of the members of the Council permanent members should the Government of the day so desire.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) urged that re- 1156 organisation schemes should be considered on a regional basis. It is not for me to forecast what the Council will recommend, but I must be honest and say that, as I understand it, the Council's main concern—at any rate, at first—will be with the port situated on an estuary which, of itself, may be regarded as a natural harbour; that is to say, it will be concerned with ports that, grouped together, would be suitable for management by a single board with comprehensive powers.
The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) made some very kind remarks, for which I am most grateful. I sincerely trust that this Bill will become law before Parliament is dissolved, otherwise we shall all have wasted our time. I agree that the important thing now is to get on with implementing the Bill, and that speed is necessary. I assure the House that the Government will do their best to activate all who are concerned.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.