HC Deb 06 July 1966 vol 731 cc556-80
Mr. Ridley

I beg to move Amendment No. 51, in page 5, line 25, at the beginning to insert: with the consent of the Minister". This Amendment deals with a point which was discussed in Committee, this being the part of the Bill which gives the licensing authority power to specify in the licence that an employer may employ dock workers only in a specified berth or specified part of the port. My right hon. Friend put up a very strong case for acceptance of the Amendment in Committee, and the hon. Lady said, in reply: We will look at the provision again, and let him know the result of our consideration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 14th June, 1966; c. 40.] It is on that happy promise that we have put down this Amendment.

The Amendment meets the two sides to the debate which we had in Committee. The hon. Lady pleaded, as a defence of the subsection, that it would occasionally be necessary for a harbour authority to exercise this power of restricting an employer to certain parts of the port. The circumstances in which this should be done are hard to imagine, but I concede that it might occasionally be necessary in the interests of thinning out the numbers of employers and getting rationalisation. So we are not now seeking to take away the power altogether, but we feel that it should be used very rarely and very sparingly and only in certain circumstances, and we feel that persons who are so restricted should have some right of appeal, so that their side of the story can be heard.

By requiring that, in order to make these conditions, the licensing authority has to get the consent of the Minister we believe that it will make it a quite cumbersome and difficult procedure for the licensing authority, and that it will not do it unless it is certain it has need to do it. At the same time, there is obviously the appeal to the Minister on behalf of an employer who is denied his right and if he feels aggrieved.

I hope that the hon. Lady will respond by accepting this Amendment, in view of her favourable approach to the problem in Committee, and that the compromise form which we have suggested will be acceptable to her.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I think that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) will notice that in Committee on that occasion I said a little earlier—as also reported in column 40—that the Government were anxious to retain this provision in the Bill because of dangers and fears of fragmentation of handling of cargoes.

The point, as I see it, really is whether the Minister should be asked to give consent. There are three main reasons I should put forward. I believe that the Amendment must arise from the fear that the licensing authority might use its powers to impose particularly onerous conditions on employers, and for this reason the Opposition want the safeguard of the Minister's consent. The first real difficulty here is that the Minister has under the Bill the position of being the appeal body—that is, the person to whom the appeal is made against any condition which an employer, when receiving a licence, finds exceptionally onerous.

The consequence of the Amendment as it stands would be that the Minister would have to give his consent and then would be in the very difficult position indeed of also finding himself being the person to hear the appeal. For this reason alone, it would be impossible for the Government to accept the Amendment as it stands.

There are two subsidiary reasons which I ought also to advance to explain to the hon. Gentleman why we do not feel able to accept the Amendment. One, which I also made in Committee, is that we should like the National Ports Council—I think that the Opposition agree to this—to be able to be consulted. Of course, it would not be possible, as this Amendment stands, for the Council's views to be brought to bear upon the circumstances.

Finally, I would say, what I also said in Committee, that power already exists for the employers to be restricted to particular berths. This is true, for example, of certain shipping line berths which are restricted in this way. The consequence of this is that we do not feel able to accept the Amendment.

I think that the hon. Member will find that we have accepted Amendments where we could. For the first reason, primarily, I gave, the impossible position of the Minister under the Amendment, we ask the House to resist the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Sir Keith Joseph (Leeds, North-East)

I beg to move Amendment No. 52, in page 5, line 28, to leave out paragraph (c).

There is a very short point I want to make to the Government. As drafted, subsection (1, c) has a rather frightening vagueness, giving power to the licensing authority to alter the whole basis of individual's businesses, and I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give us some idea of what the principles are on which she would expect this power to be used. Are the applicants for licences for cargo handling work, for instance, to fear that the whole basis of their applications may be changed and that the type of work which they seek to handle or the service which they seek to offer may be denied and some other alternative cargo or service imposed in the licences which are offered to them?

I am sure that I am putting too gloomy a view on the use to which the power will be put, but it would be helpful if the hon. Lady or the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport could give us an idea of how they see the power working out.

9.30 p.m.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance which he wants. The purpose of subsection (1, c) of Clause 5 is to take into account the position of the specialist employers, of whom there are already a number. Under the subsection, it would be possible for a licensing authority to give a licence to such specialist employers with the additional factor entering into it that the authority would know what was the pattern of employment in its port, which would not be the case with a specialist employer given a licence for special work who was able to change to general stevedoring afterwards. It is to allow the licensing authority to make an organised arrangement in a port that the subsection is in the Bill.

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the right of appeal applies should anyone feel that this condition changes his normal pattern of work or puts on him a burden which he feels unable to meet. It should be a safeguard for the employers. But it is not the supposition of the Government that it will be used, other than to make it possible for specialist employers to remain specialist employers.

Sir K. Joseph

In view of the Parliamentary Secretary's reply, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Speaker

I had thought that it would be for the convenience of the Committee if we took Amendments Nos. 53 and 48 together. But I have just had representations from the Opposition Front Bench that they would like to take Amendment No. 48 separately, and I have no objection.

Mr. Ridley

I beg to move Amendment No. 53, in page 6, line 16, leave out subsection (5) and insert:

  1. (5) The licensing authority shall specify the period for which the licence is granted, and shall determine the length of that period:
Provided that—
  1. (a) in the case of an employer who is the freeholder of a berth or part of a port it does not exceed 100 years;
  2. (b) in the case of an employer who is the leaseholder of a berth or a part of a port, it does not exceed the period for which the lease is current at the time of granting the licence;
  3. (c) in all other cases, it is not less than three years, and not more than twenty-five years.
We had a major debate upon this question, and it is one on which the Opposition place the greatest importance. The need to provide the sort of length of licence so that employers who are serious and in business properly can have the confidence to make investments, sometimes very big ones, is of paramount importance in modernising our docks. I do not want to go over the arguments for the Amendment, except to refer to some of the things which the hon. Lady said in Committee and to comment on them, and comment on the new form of the Amendment.

The Amendment is permissive only, as was the earlier one. There is nothing in it which would force a licensing authority to grant a long licence. It gives it power to do so if it thinks fit. One can imagine many sorts of specialist employers, who might bring great prosperity and trade to a port, wanting to set up in some corner of the port where they would be no bother to anyone else. However, before such an employer built a major installation, he would want the security of knowing that he could stay there and have a licence to employ dock labour for as long as necessary. So it will still be within the jurisdiction of the licensing authority to grant a long licence if it wishes to.

The hon. Lady said that, in some way, pressure would be brought on a licensing authority to make it grant licences for longer than it wished. I do not know if she has caught the habit of the Prime Minister of suspecting the presence of a Communist under every bed. It seems a strange idea that a licensing authority will give way to pressure in a matter of this sort when it does not mean to. Surely it will be strong enough to stand on its own judgment? I find this a hard argument to understand.

Secondly, the hon. Lady admitted that for many dock installations which have to be built the period of amortisation can be anything up to 75 or 100 years. Therefore, when an employer either owns a piece of dockland, or leases it, he must have the security of knowing that if he builds a new installation the lease and the licence will go on for as long as the investment is likely to be worth while.

There is a great need to protect leaseholders and freeholders. We have therefore made special provision in the Amendment that the freeholder can have up to 100 years if the licensing authority so decides, and that the leaseholder can have the period of his lease, which seems to us to make sense in the context of what we are trying to do.

The hon. Lady based her argument on the fact that if the licence was allowed to run for only seven years, which is the maximum in the Bill, the employer who made a big investment would be compensated. With respect, I do not think that this meets the case. What will be the terms of compensation? This week the Government have published a Bill setting out terms of compensation which are nothing short of daylight robbery. We learn from the Bill that one-quarter of the asset value of the steel companies is all that the Government are offering. This is not the time to argue that, but, after a Bill of this kind, will people be encouraged to make long-term investments in the docks, knowing that they will get only one-quarter of the asset value of what they put in?

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

This is a very interesting point that you are making.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am not making any point.

Mr. McNamara

I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is making a very interesting point. The Amendment says: The licensing authority shall specify the period for which the licence is granted and shall determine the length of that period: Provided that … (b) in the case of an employer who is the leaseholder of a berth or part of a port it does not exceed the period for which the lease is current at the time o' granting the licence … If there were a good employer, a splendid chap, the type of man that we want for the docks, with only six months of his lease to run, the licence to be granted would he for no more than six months. The hon. Gentleman's argument therefore seems to fall to the ground.

Mr. Ridley

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his perspicacity as a draftsman, and I hope that as a result of the care with which he has read the Amendment he will be converted to the general point which I am trying to make. I think that the point made by the hon. Gentleman is invalidated by the fact that the licensing authority has jurisdiction in the matter, but there may well be a hole in the drafting of the Amendment. If there is, perhaps the hon. Lady can arrange for the matter to be dealt with in another place at a later stage if she accepts the principle of what I am trying to do.

I do not believe that employers will put their whole energy, their whole working lives, and a lot of their own and other people's money into a dock investment project under the terms of this Bill. Seven years is all the security that is being offered. Whatever the size of the business, or whatever the type of business, I do not think that with the threat of nationalisation hanging over them, with the sword of Damocles being dangled over their heads, they will make the investment that we need. It will be a crying shame if, just when these vital investments are required, the Bill is so cramping and so restricting that it chokes off investment, while in another context the Government are trying hard to encourage it by offering 20 per cent. grants.

In Committee the hon. Lady was very forthcoming in admitting the strength of the case which my right hon. and hon. Friends made. Even one of her own hon. Friends—the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig)—supported us. We were kind enough not to carry the matter to a vote in Committee, and I am sorry to see that the hon. Member has taken great care not to be here on this occasion. However, when finally the bells ring, he will no doubt appear rather sheepishly in our Lobby.

The hon. Lady put up a had case against the Amendment. Looking behind her argument we realise that she is admitting that, sooner or later, the Government will nationalise the industry and that all that we have been trying to do in Committee to make this a good Bill—and all that employers, trade unionists and others engaged on dock work are going to do in the next few years—will be wasted and worthless. This is not the way to improve the situation in the docks.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) also made a very telling point when he asked what would happen if a foreign syndicate or an American investment trust wanted to build a new major terminal in Europe to receive trans-Atlantic traffic. He asked whether that terminal would be situated in London, or in Rotterdam or Hamburg, or somewhere else on the Continent. With the restrictions imposed by the Bill, and with the certainty of obtaining a licence for only seven years, we know what the answer is. It would not be built in London.

I warn the Government against becoming "Little Englanders". We are not legislating for the docks of Great Britain alone; we are legislating for docks which are in competition with other docks in Europe and all over the world. If we believe that we can carry on our economy from a little closed corner, or a little closed island, immune from the influence of outside economic forces, we are desperately wrong.

I may have drafted the Amendment badly. Nevertheless, I urge the hon. Lady to agree that she must provide for security of tenure and investment in the docks or she will not get the modernisation and improvement that we are all looking forward to. I hope that the hon. Lady will be able to accept the principle of the Amendment in the same way as, in Committee, she said that we had a strong argument.

Mr. Webster

I support what my hon. Friend has said with some feeling of consistency, because in our proceedings on the Harbours Act. 1964, I led for the Conservative Opposition against Section 18, on the ground that great anxiety existed among many people who wanted to set up establishments within a harbour area because they thought that that Section might enable their establishments to be compulsorily acquired without any further legislation. Some of these people were very big industrialists—the owners of large oil refineries within the docks area—and they were very worried at the thought of having their very expensive installations compulsorily acquired.

The Amendment seeks to remove a similar anxiety that exists, as a result of which no one is likely to invest in the modernisation of our docks. There is no party politics about this argument; the one thing that we need in our docks is a long and steady investment in modernisation, because our docks were designed round about 1910, and most construction work in the docks ceased after the beginning of the First World War. Very few entry locks have been built since 1914. The same applies to installations.

There was anxiety over the 1964 Act. I say so openly, because I spoke against that Act in Standing Committee, much to the annoyance of my great friend, Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett, who piloted the Bill through. Now there is another anxiety, for firms are not willing to invest in modern equipment if there is a risk that they might lose their investment and their position become even more precarious than they felt it was under the 1964 Act.

9.45 p.m.

If the wording is not precisely right, I hope that it will still be possible to meet the spirit of the Amendment and do something. The docks will not be improved if there is no security of tenure. It is the same in agriculture and in any venture where money is put at risk. People will not put money in unless there is security, and the assurance that it can be useful both for the improvement of labour relations and for the proper handling of equipment, and also that they can get some reward for their thrift and foresight. If they see no prospect of this, the chance of having efficient modernisation of the docks is slender.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) mentioned the docks in Antwerp and the Europort of Rotterdam. If we do not have an adequate security of investment in our docks in London and, I hope, in Bristol and Portbury, we shall simply be a shunting port for Antwerp and Rotterdam. This is desperately important for this country.

We shall no longer be a great ocean terminal. Those terminals will be in Europe and we will have the privilege of going in little boats to pick up the goods due to us. The prospect for our invisible earnings will be damaged. I hope that the hon. Lady will be able to help us, in the spirit of the Amendment.

Sir Tatton Brinton (Kidderminster)

I should like to remind the hon. Lady of our discussions in Committee. She gave us some hope that she accepted to some extent the arguments which we put forward for a relaxation of this period. One of the things she said was: I was looking recently at figures for the length of time given by the Port of London Authority for amortising certain types of investment. In some cases the period was as long as 75 to 100 years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. Standing Committee A; 16th June, 1966, c. 64.] Out of the hon. Lady's own mouth, that underlines our point. As long as we are arguing on the basis of the Bill as it stands, it is an absurdity to suggest that an authority should have only the maximum power of seven years' licensing to offer to a heavy investor. As I said, the hon. Lady gave us a hint that perhaps she would be prepared to look at the Clause again, but now, on Report, we find that nothing has been done.

One of the points which was worrying the hon. Lady, understandably enough, was that any extension—we originally proposed an extension of 25 years—in the licensing period would become a standard, which would be regarded as the right of any employer. Anybody, whatever the type of his undertaking, might say, "The Bill promises 25 years: we ought to have it." I suggested then and repeat now that if the hon. Lady does not like the form of the Amendment, she should consider that it ought to be possible to legislate for two different types of employer—one, the kind who has no significant capital investment and the other the kind who has to invest heavily in modern plant and buildings.

An Amendment on those lines should be possible, if she will not accept what we are putting forward. We must distinguish between those employers, whom the hon. Lady had very much in mind, who are not investors of capital at all—or not to any great extent—and those who are and, increasingly in future, will be, heavy investors of capital. They must have some form of security. We are really talking in a vacuum because we know now that what we are discussing is liable to become somewhat irrelevant in the light of announced Government intentions. Nevertheless, we must press this point because we must deal with matters as they are and it is not certain that nationalisation will come about.

Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)

I do not wish to detain the House. It may be said that Basingstoke is not a town with large docks and harbour facilities. Nevertheless, it is a town with growing export industries centred in it and it is important that these exports should be got away quickly and efficiently. This subject is, therefore, of considerable concern to my constitueuncy.

Two vitally important factors are at work here and I fear that the Bill, good though many of its intentions are—and we wish many of its proposals all speed—will defeat its own objectives. I say that because of the overwhelming need to get greater investment in the modernisation of the docks and a great improvement in labour relations, with the elimination of restrictive practices. These are two objectives which, I am sure, the Minister will herself have very much in mind as being absolutely desirable ones.

If one is to put a limit of seven years on a licence, one will not find employers being prepared to spend large sums of money on modernising the docks and going in for the long-term work which must be done to secure the elimination of restrictive practices and the improvement of relations between employer and employee.

I hope, therefore, having heard the arguments of my hon. Friends, that the Minister will take a more flexible attitude about the length of time for which licences can be granted.

Mr. Peter Mahon (Preston, South)

It is with reluctance that I rise, because I was not a member of the Committee upstairs. However, the remarks of hon. Gentlemen opposite should not go by default, because the prognostications and forebodings expressed by them are not valid.

Any hon. Member with experience of having worked some years ago in the docks knows the conditions that exist only too well and realises that one must consider not only the people who invest in a material manner, but those who invest by earning their daily bread in the docks. The forebodings expressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite about the stevedoring authorities are not valid because, knowing that the writing was on the wall—that the docks have not been operating efficiently—the authorities have been whittling down their resources for a considerable time.

It is interesting to note, for example, that the number of stevedoring firms in Liverpool has been lessening considerably for some years. The stevedoring authorities know only too well what has been envisaged by the present Government for the improvement of the docks. Because of these facts, I cannot agree with the statements that have been made by hon. Gentlemen opposite, because for a considerable time there has been a state of anarchy in the docks as a result of inefficient working.

Some hon. Gentlemen opposite have spoken of the unanimity between employers and employees. They have also spoken of the cohesion that should exist during the next seven years, during which the docks will not be nationalised, and they have pointed out that this unanimity, cohesion and co-operation has not been in evidence for a long time. The older dock employees have by no means been getting a fair crack of the whip. The young docker, the man who can run fastest between one stevedoring authority and another, is the man who has been earning more wages.

The man who has spent most of a lifetime on the docks has been the victim of very unfortunate circumstances that have existed for so long. Change has become absolutely necessary. That has been evident for a long time. The dockers themselves have realised the deficiencies of the operating system, and the stevedoring authorities have known only too well that their days were numbered.

One hon. Member referred to the sword of Damocles. What he said in this connection is true to a very large extent. The dockers themselves have wondered how far this agony would be prolonged. The dockers invested the only thing they could invest in the docks—their labour—and if the employers were not anxious to avail themselves of the labour offered, the men were disregarded and not treated with the dignity that should be accorded to human beings. It is a bad and a wrong thing when a man cannot go to work and hang up his coat, knowing that he is welcome on the spot and that his employment will be valued—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I make no comment on what he has said except that he must relate what he has to say to the security of tenure and licence Amendment that we are discussing.

Mr. Mahon

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. Security of tenure is a vital factor, and it is the security of tenure of the dock worker himself—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I imagined that the hon. Member intended to make that point. That is not the security we are talking about in this Amendment.

Mr. Mahon

I will try again.

I am not disposed to surrender—

Sir K. Joseph

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With the greatest respect to the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Peter Mahon), would it be possible to remind him that we have yet to have the Third Reading of the Bill? This Amendment deals with a very technical point of investment in solid financial assets. Important though labour is, there will be ample time for the hon. Member to develop his point on Third Reading, if I may say so.

Mr. Mahon

I never like to foretell the future, Mr. Speaker. Life has so many uncertainties and vagaries that a Member with my experience is always apt to take opportunities as they present themselves—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I, too, am a philosopher. The hon. Gentleman is in a place where he must relate his remarks to the subject we are discussing.

Mr. Mahon

In view of all the difficulties and obstacles that are being placed in my way, I will avail myself of the advice given by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph).

Sir Edward Brown (Bath)

I am glad to enter this discussion since the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Peter Mahon) has made it quite clear that he was not a member of the Standing Committee. I think that the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour will be the first to admit that hon. Members on this side who served on the Committee gave considerable help with the progress of the Bill.

We were assured, at least by a very broad hint in Committee, that the Government would look again at the particular aspect dealt with in this Amendment. As we are asking for a great deal of investment to be made in the docks under the Bill, we should be able to give some assurance to these investors, who are to spend so much money, that they will have continuity of tenure. Before we leave this Amendment, I should like the hon. Lady to tell us that she has this point clearly in mind.

As I say, the hon. Lady assured us in Committee that she would look at the matter again, but now that we have come to the Report stage we have had no statement from the Minister as to why she still relies on the very restricted period mentioned. This will only make for bad relationships in the docks.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.


That the Proceedings on the Docks and Harbours Bill and the Motion relating to Hill Sheep may he entered upon and proceeded with at this day's Sitting, at any hour, though opposed.—[Mr. Fitch.]

Question again proposed, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of tie Bill.

Sir E. Brown

We are most disappointed that the Minister has not come forward with an Amendment to meet the point made in Committee which, I think, the Government knew we were stressing with great vehemence because we felt that there would be no response from the employers and workers with the threat of nationalisation overlaying the whole situation. I hope that at this late hour the hon. Lady can explain what is in mind, as she has not put forward an Amendment to cover this matter.

Mr. McNamara

I do not wish to delay the House, but it should be pointed out in all fairness that we on the Government side also gave considerable help to the Minister in getting the Bill through Committee. We have listened to a great many arguments which were just a repetition of arguments we heard in Committee and which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary defeated admirably, as I am sure she will defeat them tonight.

Someone mentioned the question of compensation in view of nationalisation. I assure hon. Members opposite that because of the history of our party the nationalisation terms will probably be over-generous. This is the record of this side of the House and events this week have shown it to be so. Therefore, I urge my hon. Friend to advance the same arguments she advanced before, remembering that we also helped her to get the Bill.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

First, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Peter Mahon) that I am sure that Providence will spare such a good man for another hour or two, and we look forward with great interest to hearing his views on Third Reading. I also say to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) that if he did not insist upon throwing a bouquet to the other side of the Committee I was going to do the same myself in response to the hon. Member for Bath (Sir E. Brown) by saying that I think both sides of the Committee were extremely helpful in improving the Bill.

I recognise that this is an industry in which under-investment has been quite a serious feature for a very long time. We on this side of the House would not wish to discourage greater investment in the industry. It is for this reason that the first new Clauses were moved by my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. As we all know, the Government are making 20 per cent. grants available to the industry for new investment. As we envisage it, it is likely on the experience of the past that a great deal of the investment in this industry will come from the port authorities. They, of course, will be free to make the investment in the way my hon. Friend indicated earlier.

Having said that I go on to say a word or two about what I said in Committee. I think hon. Members on both sides of the House who were in the Committee will recognise that when we discussed this matter I began by making clear why the Government felt that there was a very difficult balance to be kept between two considerations. The first was as hon. Members have pointed out, the need not to discourage investment. The second consideration, one which seems equally important to the Government, was the need not to freeze the organisation of employers in the docks at the stage which they might have reached at the first point of licensing.

I mean by that that one might get a process in which the licensing authority wished to look again at the numbers that had been licensed, in the light of the most efficient use of dock labour. In consequence, we wanted to ensure that the period was not so long before the licensing authority could have another look at the organisation that it in effect froze the position of the industry, as it has been frozen already for so long.

Indeed, it is the purpose of the Bill to get movement towards a more efficient type of organisation. Therefore, I said in Committee—I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will not mind if I quote at this moment, because of the point made by the hon. Member for Bath: … we cannot take away from the licensing authority the capacity to review the situation at the end of seven years. To do so would be to permit a continuance of the situation in the docks which the Bill seeks to cure"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A; 16th June, 1966, c. 63.] I went on to urge the Committee to reject the Amendment moved by the right hon. Member for Leeds. North-East (Sir K. Joseph).

The right hon. Gentleman then came back and made a further plea that the Government should look at it again. It was a powerful plea. In the light of that plea I promised, as is mad:: clear in col. 66, that we would take the matter back and look at it, though even at that stage I pointed out again that I did not think that the right hon. Gentleman's case had met the argument I had already made in terms of the licensing authority's power to reduce the number of employers.

We took the matter back. We have looked at it very carefully indeed. I am afraid that I must now report to the House that we are not able to meet the right hon. Gentleman on it. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that this is not because we have not looked very carefully into the matter. We believe that there are two positions which will offer security to the good employer. The first of these is the security which would be his by the fact that his licence is renewable. We would hope that any port authority would regard a good employer, particularly one who had an eye to modernising the industry, as a very satisfactory candidate for renewal.

Secondly, I would point out that should an employer's licence not be renewed, an event which I would imagine would be most unusual in the situation of the type of employer we are talking about—

Sir K. Joseph

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. She is being, I think, most helpful. Is she addressing her mind to the sort of case we have in mind where there has been a specialist and large investment—let us say, a cold store or some such specialist terminal equipment? Her words about good employers are relevant to all employers. We are talking about the good and investing employer. Is she addressing her remarks to that situation?

Mrs. Williams

I was, in fact, addressing my remarks to that situation, because I had in mind on this Clause the employer who had shown a real willingness to modernise the industry. I was not talking at this point about the wider question of what constitutes a good employer.

Secondly, the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) raised what must be, from the point of view of his side of the House, the horrible phantom, as he must see it, of compensation for a nationalised industry. I make it clear that we are talking in the Bill about the present situation, as the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir T. Brinton) made very clear.

In this situation, the terms of compensation are clearly laid down in Clause 13. They are there defined in terms of the difference between the market value of a business before a licence was renewed and after it failed to be renewed. The hon. Gentleman should turn up Clause 13 and he will then be satisfied that the phantom he has envisaged does not exist.

Mr. Ridley

In that case, could we have the same terms for steel?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady would be out of order if she answered that question.

Mrs. Williams

I should perhaps thank you, Mr. Speaker. It seems only polite to do so.

The broad situation is that in terms of renewal and in terms of compensation the Bill, as it stands, already meets a substantial part of the case put forward by the Opposition.

I want now to look a little more closely at one or two aspects of the Amendment. I have already made the point that the Government's view is that effective control must be exercised at fairly regular intervals. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, who seems to be a in a ghost story mood tonight, also produced the fear of pressures which might be brought to bear on the licensing authority. I think that the hon. Gentleman will accept, however, that there is the very genuine view that, if one sets a maximum period, which, in this case, will be 25 years for one group and a very much longer period for two other groups—the freeholder and the leaseholder— there is a tendency to ask the licensing authority to explain in detail why it has given a licence for a much shorter period.

Therefore, there will be, without regard to any sinister pressures, a tendency for a licensing authority to give a licence for the maximum period laid down, unless it believes that it will have to phase out an employer, and clearly one does not want to create a sense of insecurity where none is necessary. For this reason, we believe that the 25-year maximum laid down in the Opposition Amendment would become the usual length of time. We feel, however, that 25 years is too long a time for an industry which needs to reorganise fairly rapidly but in some ports in phased stages.

Sir T. Brinton

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. Why would it not be possible to lay down seven years as the normal period, but in special instances, with perhaps the consent of the Minister, to allow a longer period for a licence with special consent, this to cover the special cases which we have in mind where heavy investment is involved? This would indicate that seven years was the normal period for the virtually non-investing employer, while still allowing the same discretion to the licensing authority to give a sensible licence to a heavy investor, which we regard as absolutely essential.

Mrs. Williams

The point is not an unfair one, but it is not what the Amendment says. The Amendment says: … in all other cases, it is not less than three years, and not more than twenty-five years. It does not specify the cases to which 25 years should apply. I have pointed out the reasons why I do not believe the licensing authority would be able to operate this type of difference which the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

Sir T. Brinton

I am, again, most grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I am sorry if this is becoming an across-the-court argument. I have suggested that the licensing authority should be limited to seven years. I know that it is not in our Amendment, but we have been forced to put the Amendment down because the hon. Lady would not meet similar points which we raised in Committee. We still press her.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman may intervene only on the Amendment before us.

Mrs. Williams

With regard to the position of leaseholders, I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) punched something of a hole in this part of the Amendment. With due mercy to the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), who gracefully pointed out—and I say the same for myself—that he was not a Parliamentary draftsman, I hope that he will not object to my trying to make the hole a little larger. The difficulty is that, as drafted, the Amendment would leave it the case that a leaseholder, however excellent, whose lease was about to expire or which expired six months or a year or two years after the period in which Clause I came into being, would, as the Amendment stands, only be entitled to a licence to cover the balance of the lease. This is a position which would be extremely arbitrary and unfair as between one leaseholder and another.

With regard to the position of a freeholder, a different anomaly but an equally serious one arises. This is the position which is expressed in the Amendment where it refers to a berth or part of a port". This would create an extraordinary situation in which we might have the freeholder who had the freehold of a shed or something equally small on a dock and who, under the terms of the Amendment, would have a licence in perpetuity to that freehold. Furthermore "a part of a port" is a difficult thing to define and is not defined in the Amendment.

The real point about leaseholders and freeholders is that they would—once again, I revert to the point—freeze the pattern of a port which would make the licensing authority's position difficult. The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury pointed out that in many cases the licensing authority would also be the authority that granted a lease. But, I would point out, not in all cases. In some cases the harbour authority or port authority is not also the licensing authority. An instance which would be familiar to the hon. Gentleman is that of the Tyne Improvement Commission, which is likely to be the licensing authority but is a different body from the port authorities which it comprises.

For all these reasons—for the main argument that I have advanced and the two more specific difficulties which arise with regard to leaseholders and freeholders—I must ask the House to reject the Amendment.

10.15 p.m.

Sir K. Joseph

We have not had the hon. Lady, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, with us in the House for long, but we already recognise that she has a sharp mind and a very nice smile. But this evening she has missed the point altogether.

As my hon. Friends have been arguing very cogently, the country is in grave danger of losing a great deal of investment from home and abroad, and a great deal of its entrepôt trade, if the Bill goes through as at present drafted. We are not defending every word or line of our Amendment. If the Government say that they accept in principle that longer licences should be possible in suitable cases, we shall gladly withdraw the Amendment and rely on the Government to introduce the necessary Amendment in another place.

The hon. Lady criticised, no doubt soundly, the details of the Amendment. We do not stand on the details, but on the principle that it should be possible for a licensing authority to grant in certain instances, where it is appropriate, a licence longer than seven years. No argument that the hon. Lady has produced this evening will cut any ice with the investor, whether British or foreign, who is contemplating a dock investment and trying to decide where to place it. No one of her arguments about the possible security or renewal of licence after seven years will be in the least persuasive, as against the alternative ports where there will be 25 or 50 year licences from the word "go".

I ask the hon. Lady, with all the seriousness that I can command, to reexamine this with her colleagues. Goodness knows, the Government are worried enough—quite rightly—about the balance of payments. If the Government expect to be in power in a few years' time, they will bitterly regret their decision this evening if they do not reconsider the Amendment and its principle.

The hon. Lady has relied on the argument of balance, and we agree with her that there must be a balance. A port authority must be in a position to avoid the danger of the port getting ossified. We quite agree about that, but it has the power to revoke a licence, and it can use that power if necessary. If an installation becomes obsolete, which is the danger of ossification, then the investor himself will be glad enough to close it, or to run it down. Therefore, the first part of the argument of balance—that the port must keep control—does not damage our argument that in suitable cases, and only in suitable cases, the licensing authority should be free to grant a longer licence than seven years.

The second limb of the balance argument, which the hon. Lady put forward in Committee but not this evening, is that in certain ports there will still be a need to run down the number of employers further, after the Bill comes into operation. We fully agree, but that will be true only in a limited number of ports. The hon. Lady could accept the principle of the Amendment, and make special provision for a reduced period of licence in those few ports where there will still be an excess of employers. She can retain her balance without refusing to accept the principle of the Amendment.

I do not want to take up the time of the House, but I repeat that the hon. Lady's arguments will carry no weight with either the British investor deciding whether to continue, or to enter upon, an association with the dock industry, or an overseas enterprise deciding whether to place a terminal in Britain or in Europe They will want to know from the beginning how long a licence—that is, definite security of tenure—they will have. 'They will not be interested in the possibility that at the end of seven years they may or may not get a renewal.

Mr. Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that someone in the Official Box wants to give a brief to the Parliamentary Secretary.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

That is not a point of order.

Sir K. Joseph

I think that it will only be crick et if I take a few minutes now to allow the Parliamentary Secretary time.

The point that I am making is, in brief, that if the Government adhere to this quite small, but very important, point of resistance that they are offering, the country is in danger of becoming a mere secondary line in world shipping routes. The country is in danger of losing a considerable portion of its entrepot trade. The Government could protect all the interests that they wish legitimately to protect while still conceding the principle of the Amendment.

If the hon. Lady tells us that she will reconsider the position with a view to introducing in another place a more suitable Amendment covering our principle, we will withdraw the Amendment. Otherwise, I must ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to press it to a Division.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I should like to make two comments in reply to the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). The first is that this has not been an industry which has attracted much investment in recent years, for the reason that it has been an industry whit o is far too widely spread and in which there have been too many small and, in many cases, undercapitalised firms battling with one another. The operation of the Bill is so to reorganise the industry that it can be in a position to attract investment. We believe, however, that this process will be possible only if the licensing authority has power to see that reorganisation through. This is the reason, as I have said before, why we do not believe that the 25 years' upper limit is acceptable.

Secondly, it is clear in this industry there must, for the time being at least, be massive assistance from the Government to supplement the investment of private employers. It is for this reason that the 20 per cent. grants have been made available. Therefore, although the right hon. Gentleman has made a strong case, he has made it for a position which has not in the recent past applied, and is not likely in the near future to apply, to the industry that is under discussion this evening.

Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill:—

The House divided: Ayes 187, Noes 110.

Division No. 99.] AYES [10.22 p.m.
Abse, Leo Buchan, Norman Edelman, Maurice
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Edwards, Robert (Bilston)
Alldritt, Walter Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Edwards, William (Merioneth)
Anderson, Donald Cant, R. B. English, Michael
Archer, Peter Carmichael, Neil Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)
Armstrong, Ernest Carter-Jones, Lewis Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)
Ashley, Jack Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Fernyhough, E.
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Coe, Denis Coleman, Donald Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Concannon, J. D. Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Barnett, Joel Crawshaw, Richard Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)
Bence, Cyril Cronin, John Ford, Ben
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton) Cullen, Mrs. Alice Forrester, John
Bessell, Peter Dalyell, Tam Fowler, Gerry
Bishop, E. S. Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.) Fraser, John (Norwood)
Blackburn, F. Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Freeson, Reginald
Blenkinsop, Arthur Davies, Harold (Leek) Galpern, Sir Myer
Boardman, H. Davies, Robert (Cambridge) Gardner, A. J.
Booth, Albert Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Garrow, Alex
Boyden, James Dempsey, James Ginsburg, David
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Dewar, Donald Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.
Bradley, Tom Dickens, James Gourlay, Harry
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Dobson, Ray Cray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)
Brooks, Edwin Doig, Peter Gregory, Arnold
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Dunnett, Jack Grey, Charles (Durham)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Griffiths, Will (Exchange)
Brown, Bob(N'c'tle upon-Tyne, W) Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Hamling, William
Hannan, William McNamara, J. Kevin Rose, Paul
Harper, Joseph MacPherson, Malcolm Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Hazell, Bert Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Sheldon, Robert
Heffer, Eric S. Manuel, Archie Shore, Peter (Stepney)
Henig, Stanley Mapp, Charles Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town) Mason, Roy Silkin, John (Deptford)
Hooley, Frank Millan, Bruce Silkin, S. C. (Dulwich)
Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Miller, Dr. M. S. Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Molloy, William Slater, Joseph
Howie, W. Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Small, William
Hoy, James Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Spriggs, Leslie
Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.) Neal, Harold Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Newens, Stan Stonehouse, John
Hunter, Adam Oakes, Gordon Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Hynd, John Ogden, Eric Swingler, Stephen
Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) O'Malley, Brian Symonds, J. B.
Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Orbach, Maurice Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Jeger, George (Goole) Orme, Stanley Thornton, Ernest
Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'bit & St. P'cras, S.) Oswald, Thomas Urwin, T. W.
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn) Varley, Eric G.
Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Owen, Will (Morpeth) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Park, Trevor Wainwright, Richard (Cottle Valley)
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Parkyn, Brian (Bedford) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Pentland, Norman Watkins, David (Consett)
Judd, Frank Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.) Whitaker, Ben
Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Price Christopher (Perry Barr) Whitlock, William
Lawson, George Price, Thomas (Westhoughton) Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Leadbitter, Ted Price, William (Rugby) Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Probert, Arthur Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
Lomas, Kenneth Randall, Harry Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Rankin, John Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
McBride, Neil Rees, Merlyn Winterbottom, R. E.
McCann, John Rhodes, Geoffrey
Macdonald, A. H. Richard, Ivor TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
McGuire, Michael Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.) Mr. Alan Fitch and
Maclennan, Robert Robertson, John (Paisley) Mr. Walter Harrison.
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Harvie Anderson, Miss Nott, John
Bell, Ronald Hawkins, Paul Onslow, Cranley
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Osborn, John (Hallam)
Biggs-Davison, John Heseltine, Michael Page, Graham (Crosby)
Blaker, Peter Higgins, Terence L. Peel, John
Braine, Bernard Hill, J. E. B. Percival, Ian
Brewis, John Holland, Philip Pink, R. Bonner
Brinton, Sir Tatton Hunt, John Pounder, Rafton
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Hutchison, Michael Clark Pym, Francis
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Iremonger, T. L. Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Irvine, Bryant Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Bullus, Sir Eric Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Campbell, Gordon Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Roots, William
Carlisle, Mark Jopling, Michael Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Chichester-Clark, R. Joseph, Flt. Hn. Sir Keith Royle, Anthony
Cooke, Robert Kaberry, Sir Donald Scott, Nicholas
Costain, A. P. King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Sharples, Richard
Crouch, David K irk, Peter Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Cunningham, Sir Knox Kitson, Timothy Stainton, Keith
Currie, G. B. H. Knight, Mrs. Jill Stodart, Anthony
Dance, James Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)
Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Lloyd, Ian (Ptsm'th, Langstone) Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Dodds-Parker, Douglas Loveys, W. H. van Straubenzee, W. R.
Eden, Sir John MacArthur, Ian Wall, Patrick
Eyre, Reginald McMaster, Stanley Walters, Denis
Farr, John Madden, Martin Ward, Dame Irene
Fisher, Nigel Marten, Neil Weatherill, Bernard
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Maude, Angus Webster, David
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Whitelaw, William
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Mills, Peter (Torrington) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Glyn, Sir Richard Miscampbell, Norman Woodnutt, Mark
Goodhart, Philip Monro, Hector Wylie, N. R.
Goodhew, Victor More, Jasper Younger, Hn. George
Gower, Raymond Morgan, W. G. (Denbigh)
Grant, Anthony Murton, Oscar TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Gurden, Harold Nabarro. Sir Gerald Mr. R. W. Elliot and
Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Nicholls, Sir Harmar Mr. David Mitchell.
Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael