HC Deb 28 July 1965 vol 717 cc472-6
The Minister of Transport (Mr. Tom Fraser)

With permission, I should like to make a statement.

The Interim Plan for the Ports, prepared by the National Ports Council in accordance with Section 1 of the Harbours Act, 1964, is being published this afternoon. Copies will be available in the Vote Office.

The principal recommendation is the development—which the Council consider to be urgently necessary—of 14 ports, involving the construction of about 70 new berths and the renovation of about 46 existing berths. These schemes, some of which have already been started, are additional to the proposals for the iron ore ports in South Wales. In total, they would cost about £150 to £155 million. This expenditure will, of course, necessarily be phased over a number of years.

The Government welcome these proposals for much-needed modernisation and expansion of port capacity and, in particular, the proposals for providing new deep water berths. Ports are a vital element in the basic industrial structure of the country; their modernisation is of particular importance in helping to speed the movement of exports. Measures for port development must be co-ordinated nationally, but the regional Economic Planning Councils and the Councils for Scotland and Wales are also being asked to consider the implications of the Report.

It is the responsibility of the port authorities to submit individual schemes to me for detailed consideration, in consultation with the Council. The existence of the interim plan will not rule out consideration of other schemes which port authorities may wish to submit, and all these schemes will be considered in relation to the Government's overall planning for ports.

The Council also recommends improvements in port organisation, the early reform of certain charges made by port authorities and the complete overhaul reform by port authorities of their charges structures in the next five years or so. Certain of these recommendations will fall to be considered in conjunction with the report of the Committee of Inquiry under Lord Devlin. Others may be brought to the attention of the Economic Development Committee for the movement of exports, whose work is just beginning. I agree that reform of port charges will be necessary to ensure better and more efficient use of existing facilities and to encourage development of the ports.

The Council also recommends that, for the purpose of assisting port authorities to undertake proposed development, the Government should make grants up to £25 million to £30 million in the next five years. I am now studying this recommendation in consultation with the Council.

The Government are grateful to Lord Rochdale and his colleagues for their Report, which is a notable step in planing for the ports on a national basis.

Mr. Powell

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this publication is an improvement on the original intended publication of a mere outline of the Council's proposals? It will facilitate study and debate, which will be necessary. Meantime, there is one point which I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman. He referred to the Report of the Committee of Inquiry under Lord Devlin. Can he tell the House when that is expected?

Mr. Fraser

I cannot without notice say when the Devlin Report will be coming out. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, Lord Devlin was appointed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and I would prefer that my right hon. Friend should say when the Report is to be expected.

Mr. Heffer

Does the Report reverse the trend of the previous Rochdale Report, which stated that port development should largely be in the South and South-East? May we take it that there is now likely to be further port development in Merseyside, the North-East and other areas apart from those mentioned in the previous Rochdale Report?

Mr. Fraser

My hon. Friend will find that this Report recommends considerable developments on the Mersey, but, as I said, individual schemes will have to be submitted by the port authorities to me for consideration under the powers given to me by Section 9 of the Harbours Act, 1964.

Mr. Ridsdale

How much of this investment is to be put into our East Coast ports, particularly in view of the importance of our trade with Europe? Secondly, how much stop and how much go is implied by the words, "phased over a number of years"?

Mr. Fraser

I should have expected even the hon. Gentleman to want to look at the Report and see whether we can consider these matters against the background of national needs rather than make cheap party localised points.

Mr. Wilkins

As the proposals of the Bristol Port Authority for six new deep water berths on the Portbury site have been in my right hon. Friend's hands for many months now, will he say whether he has considered them and whether they are included in the Report, which we have not yet in our hands?

Mr. Fraser

I am considering them, but I have not completed my consideration. My hon. Friend will find that the proposal for development at Portbury is included in the Report of the Interim Plan.

Mr. Bessell

We on this bench also welcome this Interim Plan. The Minister said that the Economic Planning Councils for Scotland and Wales would be asked to consider the implications of the Report. May we take it that they will be considered also by the Economic Planning Council for the South-West, with particular reference to Plymouth and Falmouth? Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to do his best to persuade his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to implement the recommendation in the Report as regards grants for future development?

Mr. Fraser

The regional Economic Planning Councils will, of course, consider the proposals which relate to ports within their regions. I had to mention the Scottish and Welsh Councils in particular because they do not like to be referred to as regional councils.

Mr. Gibson-Watt

Will this document include reference to the Government's position as regards the South Wales iron ore ports? The Minister will recall that we had a debate in the Welsh Grand Committee in which the Government were not only unable to give us their policy, but produced a contradiction of their position as stated in the White Paper. Can he give us some information about that?

Mr. Fraser

This would not be the time for me to engage in controversy about what was said in the debate in the Welsh Grand Committee or in the White Paper on the iron ore ports. The iron ore ports are not dealt with in the Interim Plan published today.