HC Deb 14 April 1967 vol 744 cc1596-615

Order for Second Reading read.

3.5 p.m.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is a great privilege for me, because it is not often that a Bill which is somewhat contentious, introduced under the Ten Minute Rule procedure, is debated in the House. I am happy to be able to deploy the case for the Bill at leisure, and that the Parliamentary Secretary is here to reply. I am grateful to have the support of my Front Bench, who have, of course, committed themselves to the construction of the great dock undertaking at Portbury near Bristol, with which the Bill is principally concerned. During the earlier proceedings, I began to feel that the great interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) in scraping rocks in Antarctica and other such matters, would prevent my getting in my speech on Second Reading, but I am delighted that there is now time.

The Bill seeks to benefit all those who have the ownership of a municipal dock undertaking. It is a happy coincidence that the port of Bristol is the major and most successful municipal dock undertaking in the United Kingdom. It is also a happy coincidence that, at this very moment, the right hon. Lady the Minister of Transport is inspecting the site for the proposed Portbury dock undertaking and that she has been in my city during the last two days acquainting herself with the merits of the scheme.

Some of the Clauses in the Bill lay restrictions on the Minister of Transport, and also, as a contrast, ensure that the citizens of Bristol can take every possible step to inform the Minister—this right hon. Lady or her successor—of the virtues of our municipal dock undertaking and its future aspirations.

The Bill is brought in not only by me but also by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean), in whose constituency the site for the scheme is situated, and who has taken an abiding interest in it ever since he entered the House. He asked me to say that he would be here supporting me, were it not for the fact that he is dealing with a vital transport matter in his constituency. I have the support of my party as a whole, of course, in furthering the interests of the Bristol scheme.

I would remind the House that I got the leave of the House to introduce the Bill originally, with no opposition. Although there was much grumbling and growling from the other side of the House, no one had the guts to put in Tellers to divide against my getting leave. I suppose that they did not imagine, first, that I would produce a Bill, or, second, that I would ever get the chance to speak about it in the House. Yet I am doing so today.

It is not in any selfish spirit that I introduce a Bill which helps my own city so much. I am concerned that citizens and ratepayers in any municipality should be allowed to continue to enjoy the benefit of their municipal dock undertaking, just as they should be allowed to enjoy the benefits of any other undertaking, and that their assets, built up over many years, should not be taken away from them by an Act of nationalisation.

The Preamble states that the Bill is a Bill to prevent the nationalisation of municipal dock undertakings". I put it to the House that municipal dock undertakings, unlike some of the dock undertakings already nationalised, are, on the whole, excellently run and have the benefit of the direct interest of the ratepayers, who have plenty to say to their port authority if the docks are not being run properly. As the livelihood of so many of the citizens, particularly of Bristol, depends upon the flourishing Port of Bristol, the ratepayers are not slow to point out to their dock undertaking any deficiency which may occur.

That is not so in the case of a nationalised undertaking. We all have the difficulty in the House of trying to make the nationalised undertakings more efficient, and we find that we cannot ask Questions in the House about them. There are, however, infinite ways of putting pressure on anyone running a municipal dock undertaking if that undertaking is not being run for the full benefit of the citizens.

The Bill as printed is somewhat unusual—

Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)

Will my hon. Friend make one thing clear? In the preamble to his speech on Second Reading, he referred to Port-bury. As one who does not understand exactly the position, am I right in thinking that the present docks at Bristol are municipalised and that the suggested new docks at Portbury will be outside the Bristol authority? Is my hon. Friend saying that the—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is more like a speech than an intervention.

Mr. Gibson-Watt

The point which I want to put to my hon. Friend, Mr. Speaker, is this. Is he telling the House that the projected Portbury dock will be municipalised? If so, will it be under the control of the Bristol authority?

Mr. Cooke

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. If he has not done justice to his case in his intervention, I hope that he will be able to elaborate it at length after I have finished. As I understand the gist of his question, it is whether, after the expansion which is envisaged, not so much under the Bill but under the recommendations of the National Ports Council, and which will take place if, as we hope. the Bill reaches the Statute Book, the Port of Bristol, under the Port of Bristol Authority, would be expanded to contain the enlarged port at Portbury, on a site of 1,000 acres with 1,000 acres of land in reserve, and that it would be run by the Port of Bristol Authority on behalf of the citizens of Bristol, but on behalf of the United Kingdom. That is the case which I propose to make. This is no mere parish pump affair. If I have not satisfied my hon. Friend, I hope that he will have another go at a later stage.

The Bill is, perhaps, unusual in its presentation inasmuch as it has an unusually long Preamble before one comes to the standard words that it should be enacted by the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty … I thought it right to include this, with the concurrence of the authorities of the House, just to make it perfectly clear what the whole thing was about. It states: Whereas certain municipalities are the owners of various dock and harbour undertakings and these municipalities have produced plans for the expansion and improvement of their docks and harbours "Certain municipalities" include the City and County of Bristol, but could easily include others; there is no selfishness in this. It goes on: And whereas the Citizens of the City and County of Bristol enjoy certain rights and privileges granted them in a Charter by his late Majesty King Edward III I do not propose on this occasion—indeed, it would be an abuse of the courtesies of the House to do so—read out the Charter of Edward III, but I put this in the Bill to make sure beyond reasonable doubt that Bristol merited its inclusion in the Bill and would be the principal benefactor, when the Measure becomes law. It continues: And whereas the Lord Mayor and Corporation of the City and County of Bristol have for more than a century conducted a municipal dock undertaking with skill and foresight Hon. Members may think that these are unusual words to include in an Act of Parliament in the present day, but such words have been used in the past in many important enactments.

On this subject of skill and foresight, I call in aid the Report of the National Ports Council for the year ended December, 1965, but not printed by order of the House until April, 1966. It referred in that Report to the important schemes mentioned in the Council's Annual Report for 1964. It reiterated that the Port of Bristol scheme had come to the attention of the National Ports Council in 1964 but that it had felt that it was such an important scheme that it merited further mention. Strictly speaking, the Report stated, the Port of Bristol needed no express approval by the Minister of Transport for constructing the Portbury Scheme when the matter was submitted to the Council in 1964. Here is where skill and foresight came in. Being a scheme of great magnitude, it needed the most careful scrutiny.

The National Ports Council indeed scrutinised it. It tendered the advice to the Minister that the scheme should be proceeded with. I could give chapter and verse as to why it came to that conclusion, and I may call some of that in aid when mentioning certain Clauses of the Bill.

The Port of Bristol Authority showed skill and foresight in producing the scheme, way ahead of any other schemes produced since and which the Government have sought to use as an excuse for not authorising the Bristol scheme. It was not just the technical reasons dreamed up or grasped by the Government from various other port researches that gave the Government an excuse to give in, as it were, to the political pressures against Portbury.

I feel for the Minister in this. I have sympathy for the South Wales ports which have great territorial, geographical or oceanographical difficulties of siting and position. I have sympathy for these places and even for the Government in finding themselves in a difficult political situation, having enormous pressures placed on them from the constituencies where these other ports are situated, particularly those represented by their own supporters. The City of Bristol, at any rate until the last election, was not entirely overwhelmed by Socialism.

I also have considerable sympathy with my Parliamentary colleagues in Bristol, who have found it very difficult here to strive in the interests of Bristol. I hope that they think, too, of the national interest while at the same time not embarrassing their own Government. I hope that we shall have even more forthright support from some of them. Some have done their very best, and others have kept very silent—

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

I gather that the hon. Gentleman is proceeding to speak of Portbury, in which we in South Wales have an interest?

Mr. Cooke


Mr. Griffiths

Does he suggest that this proposed municipal ports authority—on which I am grateful to see Wales would be represented—should have the responsibility of deciding on and carrying out a major project like Portbury? If so, under what authority in this Bill would it operate?

Mr. Cooke

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, because as it comes at the end of the Bill it might have been impossible for me in the limited time available to deal adequately with it. I hope that he realises that the rôle of the municipal docks authority referred to in the Schedule to the Bill would be to look after the interests of the municipal dock undertakings, and it would have a good deal to do with the construction of such a municipal enterprise as Portbury.

But it would not be right, as I hope the right hon. Gentleman will agree, to suggest that South Wales was deliberately cut out or in any way disadvantaged by the municipal ports authority. Provision is made for one representative from each municipal dock undertaking in England and Wales to be a member of the authority. That means that Bristol would have only one representative so that, in fact, I am giving quite a good advantage—

Mr. James Griffiths

I appreciate that, but if, as he seems to be, the hon. Gentleman is proposing to set up a municipal ports authority, does he suggest that that authority would decide whether or not to proceed with Portbury and, if it decided to proceed with it, would operate it? That does not seem clear from the Bill.

Mr. Cooke

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for again intervening, because we want to get this right, but perhaps I can explain it when I go through the Bill in detail. I will, however, deal now with the Schedule.

The municipal ports authority would have a representative from each municipal dock undertaking, so that any municipal dock undertaking on the right hon. Gentleman's side of the Severn would be represented. That is the first point. The right hon. Gentleman then asked whether it was right in principle that the municipal ports authority should be empowered to proceed with a municipal enterprise such as Portbury without reference, I imagine, to the Government. Here, the Government are safely represented. There is only one representative from each municipal dock undertaking, and there is one representative appointed by the Minister of Transport, which would mean that the Minister's view would be pretty adequately expressed. The Minister could, presumably, appoint the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who is present. It is not an office of profit or anything like that. I do not envisage these members being paid for the job, but I do not see why the Minister should not be adequately represented.

But the six members of the National Ports Council would be the people in a position to find out whether a port improvement or new construction was in the national interest. They would have the majority say. They would be the block vote, at is were—and, presumably, the Government's block vote—because, as I propose to argue in a moment, the National Ports Council knows what is best in port development, and I hope that the Government would concur with it.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)

I am still not clear what the hon. Member's answer is to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths). My right hon. Friend asked, because the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) was talking so much about the Portbury scheme: is it his intention that the Municipal Ports Authority, proposed in Clause 4 of the Bill, should have power to approve schemes?

The Bill does not say that. It says that a Municipal Ports Authority shall be set up to protect their interests, but it does not say what its powers are to be, or that it should have power to approve schemes, for example, with a capital value of half a million pounds. Is it the intention that the authority should have the power to approve large capital schemes?

Mr. Cooke

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary may have missed the point. I admit that I may not have explained it as fully as I should.

In Clause I, the National Ports Council is specifically mentioned. If the Council has approved a scheme, under my Bill it can go ahead. The business of the municipal ports authority perhaps should not be introduced at this stage. That comes into Clause 4, which says: In order to prevent the nationalisation of municipal docks there shall be set up a Municipal Ports Authority to protect their interests, with membership as set out in the Schedule to this Act. The Authority would contain a representative of each interested party, the municipal docks, the Minister and the National Ports Council, which I think the House will allow me to describe as an impartial body with all the information in its hands and, therefore, able to influence the right direction of municipal docks in general.

If I have not gone so far as I should in explaining what the powers of any of these organisations should be, that surely would be a Committee point. I look forward to having the help of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) on that. He might perhaps think of a suitable Amendment for Committee defining the powers of the municipal ports authority. He might want specifically to write in certain benefits for his side of the channel. In introducing the Bill, I did not seek to treat the other side of the channel unfairly. The Bill is designed to see fair play for all municipal docks. It so happens that Bristol has the largest and best and we have this scheme, which is greatly in the national interest.

Having been dragged away from the main thread of my argument, I now come back to the Bill in particular. Before leaving the Preamble, I should say that it is not merely that the House of Commons is asked to give approval to this Measure. The enactment, of course, has also to be by the consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal. I have not asked the Bishop of Bristol about this, but he is a Member of another place and is able to take part in debates there. We have the support of Lord Rochdale, who has taken the unusual course of campaigning about the Port-bury Docks scheme up and down the land. Even in Westmorland, I found that people had heard of that scheme. I hope that when the Bill has passed this House it will receive favourable and sympathetic consideration in another place.

Clause 1 says: No Minister may, by order or other administrative act, facilitate the nationalisation of any municipal dock by frustrating any work of improvement or expansion which has been recommended by the National Ports Council. This prohibits the Minister, by what one might describe as back door means, from taking over a municipal docks undertaking. I can envisage the situation where, if a municipal dock is necessary and there is an improvement without which the dock cannot remain viable for long, the Minister, if so minded, might frustrate that improvement so that the dock would cease to be viable and there would then be a case for nationalisation of that type of public ownership. [Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) wish to intervene?

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)


Mr. Cooke

That gives me my case on the Clause. The hon. Member, who I am sure would not object to being described as pretty far out on the Left of his party, is delighted at the prospect of municipal docks and, for that matter, anything else, I should think, becoming inefficient because of Government policy—unviable, at any rate—and then being taken over in the national interest. This is the nationalisation by stealth with which so many hon. Members opposite are much concerned. Clause 1 would protect the citizens of Bristol from just that type of nationalisation by stealth.

Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)

And Boston, I hope.

Mr. Cooke

I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say a few words about the Port of Boston in a moment or two.

I have not listed in a Schedule to the Bill all the municipal dock undertakings, though there is a list in the Harbours Act, 1964, which perhaps might be added to the Bill in Committee. I did not put a list in the Bill for fear that I should be attacked for the sin of omission. I well recall a striking example of this in the West Country when, after the Gas Bill, it was thought by the then Labour Government that they had nationalised all the gas works.

About a year later a man was discovered digging up a road in Somerset. When asked what he was doing, he said that he was putting in a new gas main. The authorities said, "There is no gas works here. They are all nationalised". However, when they followed the pipe to its source they discovered the Chew Magna gas works, which had escaped nationalisation because of an omission from an Act of Parliament. The Port of Boston is not to be classed with the Chew Magna gas works, but there may be docks which at the moment are not of particular economic significance, but which may, although they have lain idle for years, become useful again. The Bill aims to stop the Government from taking away the assets of citizens and using them for improper purposes. Back-door nationalisation is prevented by Clause 1.

In the struggle which goes on in the House as to whether the State shall be all-controlling, or whether private enterprise should be allowed to continue, we might at least bring it out into the open and have a straight argument on a "Yes" or "No" case and not have the thing done by back-door, devious methods. I am all for open argument.

If the Government want to take away the assets of the citizens of Bristol or, for that matter, the assets of Boston or any other place, assets which have been built up over many centuries, let them bring a Bill before the House to do so. Let them not try to do it by frustrating legitimate schemes, schemes recommended by the National Ports Council, which knows.

Mr. Swingler

The hon. Gentleman keeps on referring, either implicitly or explicitly, to the Portbury scheme and the recommendations of the National Ports Council. I take it that he intends to deal with the 37 pages of argument and nearly 20 pages of statistical tables which the Government published entitled "Reasons for the Minister's decision not to authorise the construction of a new port at Portbury, Bristol". As nobody so far, since this document was published, has dealt with these arguments, or in any way countered them, I assume that the hon. Gentleman proposes to deal with them.

Mr. Cooke

I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary. I have got the document here. I was about to refer to it. This just shows that the hon. Gentleman and I think alike about this problem.

The Government—the hon. Gentleman has given me a point here—have produced 37 pages of argument and about 20 pages of something else. They did this after the National Ports Council had scrutinised the Portbury scheme from beginning to end and said that it should be proceeded with. Then the Government, after interminable delay, produced pages and pages of argument and figures. It would not be appropriate for me to try to go into this in great detail this afternoon, though I hope to have an opportunity to fight it out with the hon. Gentleman at a later stage, either at a later stage of the Bill or on another occasion in the House.

I am not trying to run away from the point. Indeed, I want to deal with some of the points in the Government's objections. Perhaps I can begin by explaining something of the benefits of Portbury in view of the attempt to decry the possibilities of the scheme. I expect that at the moment the right hon. Lady the Minister of Transport is going to Temple Meads station, at Bristol, to catch that splendid train back to London. She will realise that we have very fine communications between Bristol and London.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Owing to the nationalisation of the railways.

Mr. Cooke

The communications between the Portbury site and the rest of the United Kingdom are one of the biggest factors in favour of the scheme.

I know that I carry the Joint Parliamentary Secretary with me when I point out that we have a projected motorway system. I notice that nobody has objected to that remark. If anybody were to object, it would show that he was cynical about the present Government's intention of carrying out the motorway schemes.

I am glad there are no objections. We have a motorway going from London past Portbury to South Wales, and we have a motorway from Portbury up to Birmingham and the industrial Midlands. We have a motorway going from Port-bury to the South-West. This is the only port site in the whole of the United Kingdom where the great North-South route and the East-West route—the new roads—are joined. That is the first great case for Portbury.

The Government, faced with that, struggled to find some counter-argument. They managed to dig up a set of figures produced by the Port of London which seemed to indicate that the cargoes going from London and, indeed, from Liverpool —two great exporting ports—were generated in a small and closely approximating hinterland to those great ports and that, therefore, we needed a vast industrial complex within, say, 10 miles of the dock to justify the construction of the dock.

Were Portbury to be constructed, it would still be cheaper to ship a cargo from a brand-new efficient dock at Port-bury, with every conceivable modern aid and with none of the troubles with which London and Liverpool are bedevilled. It would be cheaper to ship it from Slough, from that side of London, or even in the middle of London via the Portbury Dock than it would be through the tangled mess of the Port of London. This is the answer to that criticism which the Government call in aid to knock down the Portbury scheme.

It would take me a whole sitting of the House to go through all the rest of the pages. However, if there are any points that the Parliamentary Secretary would like me to deal with, I will certainly do so. No doubt, one of the things that he is thinking about at the moment is the containerisation scheme, the container berths which the Government are seeking to construct in other places. I think he will recall—if he does not, I hope he will look up the record—that he once answered a Parliamentary Question that I put down, to the effect that the question of containerisation was not one which had any bearing on the Government's opposition to the Portbury scheme. I think that I have paraphrased it correctly. The Government at the time did not make a point of using the containerisation argument against the Portbury Dock scheme. If they call it in aid now, they will have changed their ground. They have done everything they can to get evidence from one place or another—

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that all he is succeeding in doing is talking out his own Bill and the Bill to follow? I am wondering whether that is his intention.

Mr. Cooke

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. I am sure that his intervention was well meant, but I am not damaging his chances by speaking at some length on my Bill. I am not so inexperienced as not to realise that the Government are likely to oppose my Measure today. Were I to sit down now, one of a number of things would happen. One of my hon. Friends might be lucky in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in my support, but it is more than likely that the Parliamentary Secretary would spring to the Box and read out his 27 pages of writing and 32 pages of figures, which would take him just past 4 o'clock.

If the Bill which the hon. Member wishes to speak about today were—

Mr. James Griffiths rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. I think that I should remind the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) that Mr. Speaker has referred on many occasions to the need for Members to be as brief as possible.

Mr. Cooke

I am much obliged, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are to debate that subject next week. I think that very strong views will be held on this side of the House about the right of hon. Members to look after their constituents' interests and to deploy the case at whatever length is necessary on some occasions, perhaps even at some length. I am not one who is given to transgressing the spirit of the rule about the length of speeches.

On the last occasion on which I addressed the House, I had spent two months studying the prison service in great detail, and, because of the vicissitudes of debate, and in order to allow other hon. Members to speak, I had to compress a 20 minute speech into 12 minutes.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman will be in order next week in discussing the question of the length of speeches, but that is not in order on the Second Reading of this Bill.

Mr. Cooke

I do not propose to go further into that matter. I am sure that because of the way in which hon. Members will deploy themselves next week I have not a hope of taking part in the debate, despite the friendly suggestion from the Chair today.

May I conclude my remarks in reply to the hon. Member for Putney. He would be able to discuss this Bill today only after a Division on my Measure.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he is not discussing his own Bill, which is the matter before the House.

Mr. Cooke

I am very grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was drawn away from it by the hon. Gentleman. I wished to make it clear to him that he could discuss his Bill only after a Division, and I dare say that there would not be enough Members in the House—

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

I accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about procedure, but not the hon. Member's interpretation of what happens. That has nothing to do with the Bill which he is supposed to be discussing.

Mr. Cooke

That gives me the point which I wished to make. I have no intention of letting this Bill go by default. If I thought that I could get a Division on it, I should have one.

May I now deal with Clause 2? I think that I have made out a case for the Bristol scheme. I have dealt with the major objections which the Government have called in aid. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to proceed and does not feel that I have not done justice to the case. There will be an opportunity to debate the matter at length on another occasion.

May I go briefly through the remaining parts of the Bill? I know that my speech may be somewhat disjointed—

Mr. Heffer


Mr. Cooke

—but I have had to give way to a large number of hon. Members. Some hon. Members seem to have come here largely to frustrate me and not to be helpful.

Clause 2 of the Bill reads: The power of the Minister to make orders shall not include the power with a view to nationalisation to amend or repeal any Local Act empowering a municipality to make improvements or additions to its docks or harbours. This is a vital safeguard to the interests of the citizens of any municipality. They may have struggled at great expense and Parliamentary labour to get a local Act on the Statute Book. Many of us have taken part in proceedings on this Act. I remember the Rye Harbour Act, which took up many months of time and which fell at the last fence.

This Clause merely prevents the Minister, by order, repealing the provisions of local Acts. If the Government want to knock out a local Act safeguarding the citizens' rights they must come to the House and legislate. We will not have one of these mysterious Statutory Instruments, which begin late at night or are crowded out. There will be full debate at every stage.

Mr. Swingler

In case anyone is misled by what the hon. Gentleman has said, I must make it plain that my right hon. Friend has no power to amend or repeal local Acts. At the moment, all that she has the power to do is to present harbour revision orders, when they have been applied for. Her power is confined to that, when the orders are applied for by a harbour authority or persons having a substantial interest in it.

Mr. Cooke

If the hon. Gentleman is correct in what he says there might be a case for taking this Clause out in Committee, but I thought it right to put it in, because a private Member has only a limited amount of advice available to him on the question of legislative provisions. Any private Member would be well advised to put into his Bill anything which he thought might further the case that he was trying to make, and that is why Clause 2 is there.

Clause 3—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not want to appear discourteous, but I would remind the hon. Gentleman that other hon. Members are waiting to join in this debate.

Mr. Cooke

That is why I hope to bring my remarks to a conclusion with a brief reference to the remaining Clauses.

Clause 3 empowers a municipality to spend … out of its rate income or income from corporate property.… Here those who have great corporate possessions will be able to deploy—

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

On a point of order. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) got up at six minutes past three o'clock and has occupied the whole of the time since then, with one or two interventions. As a result of the excessive length of his speech he is preventing any discussion taking place on an important Measure to protect people against the increasing menace of aircraft noise. I would like to ask for your Ruling on this, Sir.

Mr. Speaker

I am sufficiently aware of this, and had already given a very broad hint to the hon. Gentleman. But we cannot anticipate the hon. Gentleman's own Bill, which follows on the Order Paper.

Mr. Cooke

I do not wish to be drawn into that subject, but I made it clear in your absence, Sir, that I propose, if I get the opportunity, to divide the House in order to secure a Second Reading. I hope that that answers the hon. Member's query.

Clause 3 empowers the local authority to spend such sums as it thinks necessary to persuade Parliament of the iniquity of any State interference in its municipal dock undertakings. They may also spend monies on transportation and entertainment of the Minister", which is the wording that we have here, but that may be suitable for amendment. The point is that a local authority may spend whatever sum it thinks necessary in looking after its interests, and that may include looking after the Minister of Transport, as we have done for these last two days in the City of Bristol. It is to make it clear that the case of Mr. Cube, an anti-nationalisation campaign of that sort, would be open to a municipal port undertaking so that citizens could protect their rights.

I have already dealt with Clause 4. Clause 5 is an interpretative Clause.

Clause 6 is a money provision which I was told I had to include. But, on the question of expenses, Bristol has said that if it is allowed to go ahead with the scheme straight away, it is prepared to finance this improvement out of its own resources, so that Parliament will not be asked to vote funds for it; and any other expenses would appear to be due to administrative charges, which could be brought to the minimum if the Minister allowed the National Port Council's recommendations to go ahead.

I have not applied the Bill to Scotland or Northern Ireland. I would not dare to apply it to Scotland without proper consultation with Scottish Members. It would probably need another 10 Clauses to get it right. Despite the virulent attacks of Government Members on Northern Ireland, I am sure that Northern Ireland is well able to look after and to legislate for itself.

The principle of the Bill—I am sorry that I have been so long because of the interruptions—should surely commend itself to the Government and the Labour Party. Hon. Members opposite are all for public ownership; it is enshrined in their basic philosophy, and it is unlikely that they will ever change their attitude. The Bill is in favour of public ownership, municipal ownership, citizens being able to keep and do what they like with their own. It seeks to protect their interests, and it is, therefore, in favour of public ownership.

The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) said that under the present Government we should have an age of adventure and reform. It is not an age of adventure and reform if we have not the guts to proceed with this great municipal dock undertaking in Bristol. It is a strange way of reforming to delay and delay and eventually produce bogus reasons for not proceeding.

My concluding thought is that this is not just a local, parochial matter. The Bill aims to protect municipal docks. Bristol has the greatest municipal dock undertaking in the United Kingdom, and it is in the national interest that its great plan for expansion, the Portbury scheme, should continue. That is why I ask the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill, which will help in this national work in the national interest.

3.53 p.m.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

I do not propose to detain the House for long because I know that some of my hon. Friends have views to express to which they attach very great importance. I tell the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke), with every respect, that he has abused the privileges of the House by speaking on the Bill from five minutes past three until now, thereby denying to other hon. Members the fortune and privileges that he has been lucky enough to win in the Ballot.

What a surprise it was to hear a long speech from the Opposition benches and from the hon. Member in praise of public ownership! I welcomed that part of it anyhow. The hon. Gentleman seeks to defend public ownership. I am glad to get the admission from him that he is anxious to protect the Bristol municipal docks from nationalisation. But he did not say a word about protecting them from private owners who might take them over. In the course of my time I have known municipal docks taken over by private owners.

The hon. Member referred to the national interest. That includes the interests of my constituents and all the people in South Wales. For those of us who live on the other side of the Severn, this is a matter of very great importance indeed. There is the Portbury scheme, but there are other schemes. There is the major dock scheme at Port Talbot, South Wales, related to the steel industry and to the economic development of the whole of our side of the Severn. Another one is projected at Uskmouth. Parliament at some time has given consent to both schemes going forward after full debates on Bills. The scheme at Port Talbot will cost many millions of £s. The schemes at Port Talbot and Uskmouth are essential to provide transport facilities in such a way and at such a cost as to enable those two great steel conurbations, which are of vital importance to the nation, to sustain themselves in competition with their rivals all over the world.

Wales has a great national possession—a great harbour. There is none other like it in Europe. I am glad that Milford Haven's facilities have been discovered and are being used and are to be further developed. I want to see the development of the whole of the Bristol Channel on both sides. But this can and must be done only as part of a great national plan for docks.

The hon. Gentleman referred to nationalisation by the back door. But he is using the small back door of this Bill to put forward the case for the Portbury scheme. There may be a case for that scheme, just as there is a case against it. I intervened to ask the hon. Gentleman a question which he did not answer. I asked whether he proposed that this municipal ports authority—with one representative from each municipal undertaking in England and Wales, one representative of the Ministry of Transport and six representatives of the National Ports Council—would be authorised to decide whether a project of the size and importance of the Portbury scheme could be undertaken without further reference to Parliament.

Mr. Robert Cooke rose

Mr. Griffiths

No. The hon. Gentleman has taken up all the time. He must now listen to me. We have listened to him, although perhaps at times rather reluctantly.

Our dock facilities are of vital importance to the country as a whole. Those facilities must be improved and expanded. It is a great national problem, and when we come to deal with it it cannot be settled by the back door in a puny Bill introduced in a long and muddled speech.

The hon. Gentleman has introduced this Bill as an excuse for putting forward the case for the Portbury scheme, and to give it a Second Reading would go beyond anything that the House should do on a Friday afternoon. I want to see the full resources of both sides of the Bristol Channel developed to the full in the best interests of the nation in general and in particular, of course, of South Wales. I hope the House will not give the Bill a Second Reading but will go on to give an opportunity to hon. Members with other Bills of more importance than this one.

3.58 p.m.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

I had hoped to speak on another matter but it is obvious that this is not now possible. I want to make instead one or two references to the speech made by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke).

In a sense, that speech was rather amazing. It seemed to show a blinding light of conversion. One day the hon. Member comes here ranting and raving against public ownership. Then he comes along with a little Bill, having suddenly discovered the virtues of public ownership. It is a wonderful conversion. I hope that it extends to the whole of the Opposition and that when the Government ultimately introduce the Bill for regional public ownership of the docks the hon. Gentleman will be the first on his feet to make a speech in favour of it.

Regional public ownership will be nothing but an extension, as it were, of the type of municipal public ownership existing at Bristol. I believe in public ownership. Some years ago I moved, in Liverpool City Council, a motion calling for the municipalisation of the Liverpool Docks. At one time, Liverpool did have municipal docks, but private enterprise moved in on them. Today, we have not entirely private enterprise docks. We have a sort of half-and-half scheme.

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

Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.