HC Deb 08 July 1968 vol 768 cc121-77

Order for Second Reading read.

7.10 p.m.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

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

Perhaps I should say at the outset that I believe that hon. Members will have received copies of a statement in favour of the Bill from the promoters and that I have in my possession further copies. I also have copies of the report of the debate in Committee in another place, which contains much detailed discussion. This, too, is available to hon. Members. At the end of the discussion I should be prepared, if the House were to give me leave—I hope that no hon. Gentleman present would object—to reply on points of detail on behalf of the promoters, should occasion arise.

The Bill carries out the Minister of Transport's instructions to the Port of Bristol Authority given to the Authority at the time of the rejection by this Government of the Portbury scheme, which would have made Bristol the finest port in Europe. The Port of Bristol Authority was told to consult the National Ports Council and to bring forward proposals for the future modernisation and expansion of the Port of Bristol.

The Bill embodies the agreed proposals and has the support of the South West Economic Wanning Council, which endorsed Portbury and whose Chairman, incidentally, has only this weekend deplored the Government's continued obstruction of Bristol's legitimate aspirations to take its place in the region. The Bill carries out the Minister's instructions. It is also born out of the continued frustration of the citizens of Bristol since 1964 at the hands of this Government, who have seemed to be reluctant to make up their minds and, when they do, only slowly.

The Bill has passed all its stages in the House of Lords. In offering it to the Commons I am authorised on behalf of the promoters to say that they will have included in the Bill a Clause to meet the only Government objection made in the Lords—incidentally, the House of Lords did not see fit to instruct the promoters to include a provision to this effect—and make the West Dock scheme subject to the control of the Minister of Transport under sections 9 and 10 of the Harbours Act, 1964. That, I believe, fully meets the objections of the Minister, other than that he saw fit last Friday to turn down the entire scheme.

Although the Minister has turned down the scheme now, if we were to get a Bill on to the Statute Book it could easily be amended to meet the needs of future years. One of the points which I am asked to make is that a Bill on the Statute Book would mean that, when the need arises for future development and expansion of the Port of Bristol, it can be proceeded with much more easily by amendment of the existing Statute than by beginning the whole process again.

Therefore, for that very reason, despite the Minister's request, we cannot agree to withdraw the Bill. In any case, we must press the Minister for a much more definite indication of what the future of the Port of Bristol is to be. If the Government must interfere, they have an obligation to help us plan our future.

The West Dock authorised by the Bill would provide Bristol with the necessary works of renewal—I stress that word—and expansion which she must have or die. The Minister's letter received by many hon. Members this morning, and in any case published in the newspapers, envisages the rundown over 15 or 20 years of the Port of Bristol and the loss of jobs at the level of 6,500. This amounts to the virtual closure of the Port of Bristol at the end of that time.

Bristol has held a proud place as one of our major ports for 1,000 years. If that high-flown sentiment does not commend itself to hon. Members with rival claims, I would like them at least to consider that this is nothing to the fact that one in four of the citizens of Bristol now depend directly or indirectly on the prosperity of our port. It is difficult to see how during the course of the next 15 to 20 years the running down of the port would not have a very serious effect on the livelihood of all the citizens of the city which I am proud to represent.

The principal ground for the present rejection is that there would be an uneconomic return on the capital involved. This is debatable. The Minister says that it does not come up to the 8 per cent. test rate of return for such projects. One of my principal questions to the Minister—I will read it slowly so that he can write it down—is whether he can give us an example or other examples which come up to this standard. It would be very helpful if he could tell us that, because obviously, whatever happens today, we shall not be deterred from coming forward in the future with proposals and we would like to know just what our competition is and what the rules of play are.

The Minister has said that public money on the scale for which we are asking—we are not asking for public money; we are asking to spend £14¾ million—should not be committed on this project. We shall go to the market, not to the Treasury. I think that is worth the Minister's consideration. We shall not come bleating to the Treasury. We shall go and chance our arm in the market where projects are judged.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Richard Marsh)

The hon. Gentleman is saying that the Corporation would be pre- pared to do without the Government's 20 per cent. grant?

Mr. Cooke

I was just coming on to that. I am so grateful to the Minister for leading me on to my next point. Will the Minister give his consent for our project without the grant? Will he authorise us to go ahead without the 20 per cent. grant? If he would care to answer that by an intervention now, I would be happy to give way to him. If he cannot do it now, perhaps he will answer it in his speech, as he specifically raised the question of the grant. I am asked to ask him on behalf of the promoters whether he would give us consent to go ahead with the project without the 20 per cent. grant for which we would be eligible.

It seems odd to us that the Brighton Marina for yachts, costing £11¾ million raised on the market and a £3½ million Government loan, should get the go-ahead and yet the lifeblood of the second city of the Kingdom is at risk because we cannot have our dock.

I know that many hon. Members wish to speak, but I must now deal with the Minister's letter of last Friday, which is public knowledge, and endeavour to answer some of his main points to which I have not already referred. He attempts to prove that there would be great additional costs over and above £14¾ million, that there would be additional costs to users of the new dock and that these should somehow be included in the cost of the project.

What about the income which we shall derive from those users? We have the 2,000 acres of land which the citizens of Bristol own. If users want to construct specialist facilities, that will produce income to us and it will not cost us anything. We will be providing them with the site. That point, therefore, is disposed of.

Then we come to the old bogy of the alleged insufficiency of committed traffic from the industrial areas. We have unrivalled communications for our proposed extension. The motorway network of the United Kingdom might almost have been designed to lead to the Port of Bristol, and our rail communication also is good. They are the cross-country routes which are to remain open in the rationalisation of the railways. We are within easy reach of London, South Wales, the great industrial Midlands and the far South-West, too, if the Government would only get on with their road programme there.

In any event, the idea that industry has to be within a few miles of the port and that the port must not be built before one has obtained the industry is an old bogy. A businessman does not wait for a queue of people to form in the street before he decides to build and open a shop. He goes into the pros and cons and decides that it is worth opening a shop, and his customers appear if he has made the right decision.

The trouble about the present situation is that the Port of Bristol has too many customers and is unable to cope with the existing trade. The Minister seeks to make their position yet more difficult.

The question of the proximity of industry is contradicted in the Minister's recent letter. In any event, there has been a substantial change of ground from the reasons given for turning down the Portbury scheme. On the question of communications, one might point out that it is probably quicker to get from Slough to Avonmouth than it is to get from Slough to the London Docks. It certainly will be when the motorway is completed, and the Bristol-London route looks like being a reality before too long. There are no worth while plans for dealing with the hopeless congestion in the City of London.

The cost of berths is another query raised by the Minister. It is false to make a comparison with other schemes. We must have the entrance lock—which is to be 1,400 ft. long and to take ships of 140 ft. beam—in any case. It is unrealistic to transfer or apportion this to the cost of the berths. The more berths that are constructed, the less the cost would be as trade continued to grow.

The next question is that of importance to the south-western region. There are three principal planks in the policy outlined in the Tress Report: the Port of Bristol, improved regional communications and the key position of the Plymouth area and the dock there. I have the wholehearted support of all my hon. Friends from the South-West of England in urging on the Government those three chief planks in the policy outlined by the Tress Report.

We are told that the rate of growth of the Port of Bristol is less than in other places, but when one is working near to 100 per cent. capacity it is very difficult to grow. When one is in a run-down or stopped position, any activity counts for a big percentage increase. We have been fighting with one hand tied behind our backs, and now our right arm is to be cut off by the arbitrary action of the Minister.

We are told that our exports are small compared with imports. History is one of the reasons for this, but, also, we cannot do more exporting without the berths, and it is the berths for exporting which are provided for within the Bill.

In his letter, the Minister makes a big point of the future of the City Docks. The City Docks are the port from which John and Sebastian Cabot sailed to discover the New World. In this respect there is greater confusion of thought in the Minister's mind than in almost anything else. He must be pressed today to give us an indication of how we may get out of our difficulties. The City Docks are run at a loss, supported by Avon-mouth, the more modern port which the citizens constructed with their own moneys at the end of the last century and more recently.

We have this valuable site in the centre of the city, but we cannot close the City Docks. We cannot redevelop them to the advantage of all the citizens, because without the new West Dock we cannot fulfil our long-term contracts and obligations to the present users. One cannot simply close a dock when one has contracts which continue for many years. It is not possible to go into the existing docks of Avonmouth because there simply is not room. That is why we need our Bill and what is contained in it.

We are hamstrung in making progress in the matter by the Minister's decision of last Friday. The penultimate paragraph of his letter is somewhat sickening to us in Bristol in our present disillusion, but perhaps he can do something to extend some hope to us. While he hears his words again, I hope that he is thinking up some helpful suggestions.

The Minister says: The people of Bristol are proud of their port, and rightly so"— we knew that already— and I hope that the changing pattern of traffic and advances in technology may in due time make it possible to undertake further development of the port on an economic basis. That is a long sentence without any punctuation, but the message is clear: the Minister hopes that we have a future. By his opposition to the Bill, however, by saying flatly last week that he had no intention of letting it pass and no intention of authorising our scheme, he has put the whole of our future in doubt.

The Minister hints that we must await the Severnside Study. But we waited for Tress, for the National Ports Council—twice—and we waited for a reply on the current matter which is under discussion. When the Prime Minister was last in Bristol, he said that we would know in three weeks. The three weeks expired on the Friday before Whitsun, but nothing has happened. Now, we have forced the issue by coming to the House and asking for a Second Reading of the Bill. On the last sitting day before today, the date for Second Reading, we were told in answer to a Written Question on Friday morning that the Minister was out to stop us.

We are entitled to an answer to my specific questions which I have raised and to others which will be put by my hon. Friends. We have a Government who believe in planning, but so far there has been no helpful action as a result of that planning or the lack of it. The Minister says that the Port of Bristol cannot stand still but must either develop or decline.

Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Cooke

I am glad to have that "Hear, hear" from the hon. Member, to whom I might refer tonight as my hon. Friend. Friends, I hope, we always will be in the interests of the future of the city and the dock that we all care about.

All the Bristol Members—indeed, the whole of the West Country—cannot accept the present state of affairs, and certainly cannot accept the decline of the Port of Bristol. So we must know more from the Minister this evening. If the Government must interfere, the Government have a duty to tell us how we can progress. We cannot play our full part in the nation's economic life or in that of the region without a secure future for our port. If this debate does nothing more, it will give an opportunity to the Minister to tell us what he can do to help our future, and I hope to heaven he can help us this evening.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. E. Rowlands (Cardiff, North)

I should like, in making my own speech, to follow many of the points which the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) made, but I would like to answer a question which he raised right at the beginning, although it is a little presumptuous of me because, the question was addressed to the Minister. He asked what other approved schemes had shown a return of 8 per cent. or more on investment. If he had looked at the evidence given to the Select Committee in another place he would not have to look far for his answer. The north side at Newport showed a d.c.f. return of 9 per cent. and a roll-on-roll-off at Swansea of 10 per cent. As the dock manager pointed out, approval would not have been given if the investment had not been capable of showing a return of 10 per cent. I think that that answers the specific point which the hon. Member raised at the very beginning.

It is very sad that when we debate these issues we find ourselves fighting against one another. They put colleague against colleague and city against city and region against region. We find ourselves engaged in a cut-throat competition and a slanging match between one side of the Bristol Channel and the other. What we all want is co-operation and what we all want is rationalisation of all the resources to secure a maximum return for both sides of the Channel and both regions. We want co-operation and rationalisation on a basis which will stand up to the test of hard economic and financial assessments as opposed to emotion.

What are the financial and economic facts of the scheme put before us this evening? The Bill we are asked to endorse is for a £15 million scheme and the most optimistic assessment of the return on this investment is 6 per cent. It is much more likely, the National Ports Council assessment shows, to be a return of between 2¾ per cent. and 4½ per cent. The Government have already laid down the minimum financial criterion by which to judge these schemes and it is 8 per cent. Every recent investment in such schemes has had to conform to that criterion and has done so.

The promoters of the Bill have done something which is fast becoming what might be called financial assessment Bristol fashion. If an assessment does not suit them and they do not accept the criterion being used—it is what happened over Portbury—they make an optimistic assessment and, when faced with the hard economic facts of their proposals, they prefer to take a local hunch and tell us that they know that it will be a good scheme.

Mr. R. F. H. Dobson (Bristol, North-East)

Is my hon. Friend not aware that on at least one occasion during discussion of the scheme the Port of Bristol Authority figures were found to be correct and the Ministry's figures, upon being checked at the Ministry, were found to be incorrect?

Mr. Rowlands

Is my hon. Friend saying that the present scheme of £15 million will achieve the 8 per cent. criterion which is necessary and which is at the moment used to judge such an investment? If he is, perhaps he can argue that in his own speech. On the National Ports Council evidence—I agree it was not very good evidence—the figure is 2¾ per cent. to 4½ per cent., at the most optimistic, as the return on the investment.

Even so, even if we overlook this factor, how can we endorse a scheme which not only gives such a low return on such a large investment, but will have a disastrous effect on neighbouring ports? What we say that is, if we find that the nearby ports are capable of handling this trade, and if we find as we do, that in South Wales there is an enormous capacity to take up, why should those resources compete rather than complement the services of the ports in the Bristol region? That is, in fact, what would happen if this scheme went ahead. No doubt there might be quoted to us—I am pleased that the hon. Member for Bristol, West did not—the National Ports Council letter in which Sir Arthur Kirby set out the way in which the Bristol and South Wales ports were complementary rather than competitive.

That statement was rather simply put in the letter to the Minister and is one of the inaccuracies in the information provided by the Ports Council, because an astonishing piece of evidence emerged in the evidence given to the Select Committee. It turned out that the National Ports Council did not even bother to give detailed figures or make any inquiry from the South Wales Dock Board about the different figures of different cargoes.

Had it done so it would have found that on the most cautious assessments which have been made the South Wales ports would lose about £1 million worth of trade per annum. It turned out that the National Ports Council conclusions could only be arrived at by evidence produced by Bristol.

Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)

Does the hon. Member mean in pounds or tonnage?

Mr. Rowlands

In receipts, I gather.

The fact which emerged from the evidence, and I am sure that the hon. Member knows it, was that the evidence given of the pattern of trade in the South Wales ports showed that we are not as narrowly confined in the way we trade as we used to be but have diversified and have enormous excess capacity to develop. The hon. Member will find that some of our ports are working at only half capacity. It is the sort of trade for which Bristol would be competing with South Wales.

Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)

Is the hon. Member really seriously attempting to argue that Cardiff will provide the necessary trading for the South-West? Because this is what so many of us want Bristol developed for. Surely there cannot be any argument that Cardiff will satisfy that?

Mr. Rowlands

To make this Bristol scheme justifiable will mean taking away from the South Wales ports on the other side of the Channel the type of trading which could equally well be developed there.

If the Bristol scheme is to have any chance of success it will compete with the South Wales ports. The regional argument is handled in the Minister's letter. I think that my right hon. Friend will deal with this matter himself, but if we look at the evidence given to the Select Committee we find that the type of trade to be expanded under the one dock scheme is the type of trade being expanded in the South Wales ports. The South Wales ports have enormous spare capacity.

Therefore, not only do we find that the financial return expected on such an investment is so low, but also Bristol's losses can be reduced only by putting the South Wales ports into the red. This scheme reveals a plan which could bring real gain to the ports on both sides of the Channel and reveals the confusion which results from spasmodic reaction to piecemeal proposals.

The National Ports Council sometimes suffers from having to react to individual port applications. One has only to read Sir Arthur Kirby's letter to the Minister to realise how confused one can get in certain respects. He said initially: The Bristol scheme cannot be justified by any financial criteria. Then we get something of an apologia on behalf of the Bristol Corporation. He ends with the understatement of the year when he says: I am sorry, but I cannot give you a clear-cut case. I realise only too well the difficulties which this recommendation leaves you with before you can arrive at a decision. That is some sort of advice. I am sure that the Minister would say "Hear, hear" to that sort of advice. Having tendered that advice, he tries to discount it by saying that one cannot take this advice as really concrete or worth while.

I think that these occasions, when we debate the Bristol and the South Wales ports, are very sad indeed, because they tend to concentrate on the negative side on both sides. On the one hand, we get over-gloomy prognostications. We are told that this great and ancient port of Bristol will die if it has less than a £15 million scheme. We were told this about the Portbury scheme when we were asked for £27 million. I think that there is a slight element of blackmail and exaggeration in the remarks made by the hon. Member for Bristol, West.

I realise that the evidence given in Committee by Bristol people was to the same effect. But if one reads the evidence of the South Wales Docks Board manager about what happened in South Wales, we, too, thought that our ports were written off. We thought that there would never be a chance of a profit. But by selective investment where it was necessary and by rationalisation, every individual dock in South Wales has achieved a profit this year.

I do not want to appear partisan, but our side of the Channel is reacting to such developments as are contained in the Bill which has been presented today. We find ourselves equally on the defensive and protective of our own ports. As a result, one would not have thought that there was tremendous potentiality for all the ports on the Severn Estuary. The debate comes at a time when the most exciting prospects are being opened up on the Severn. Investigations have found that from Newport to Cardiff there are large areas capable of development adjacent to deep water ports. This was one of the top choice Maritime Industrial Development Area Sites—M.I.D.A.S. Another choice site was the area of land surrounding Bristol. Surely exploitation of these areas over a long period will provide tremendous prosperity in future for both regions.

Mr. Robert Cooke

The hon. Gentleman has talked about geography. Is he aware on which side of the Severn Estuary the deep water channel lies?

Mr. Rowlands

Yes. I am aware that the South Wales ports are deep water ports, too. In the consultants' report on M.I.D.A.S. the top choice site was Newport and Cardiff. The point is that we do not do the cause of Bristol or of South Wales any good by disagreeing among ourselves. Surely the essence of the problem was put succinctly by Lord Rochdale when he said: It is clear indeed that at present there is a danger that capital might be invested in Bristol in a duplication of facilities which already exist which are under-employed at Newport. We feel, in order to guard against any such wasteful investment and in order to make possible the rational development of port facilities in the upper Bristol Channel, a much closer association between Bristol and Newport than has existed hitherto is essential. It is six years since those remarks were made, and they are as true now as then. We need a properly co-ordinated plan. I hope—and this is where I join with the hon. Member for Bristol, West—that before the year is out the Minister will produce a comprehensive plan for the whole of the ports in the Severn Estuary, if only to save us from yet another application for another mini-Portbury plan and further undignified squabbles.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North)

The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands), understandably and properly, has put the case for the South Wales ports. I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) and the Bill. Most of the land area concerned in the Bill is in my constituency. When this project—I say "when" rather than "if"—is completed, many of my constituents will be concerned with it, particularly those in the parishes of Portbury and Easton-in-Gordano. I am naturally anxious that their interests should be fully safeguarded. It is partly for this reason that I am happy to support the Bill.

The consultations which have taken place between the Bristol Corporation, the Somerset County Council and the Long Ashton Rural District Council have been amicable. The Corporation has agreed to introduce certain safeguards in the Bill, particularly concerning planning permission for any development in the area, other than maritime works. It is significart, and certainly satisfying from my point of view, that there has been this amicable agreement between the Bristol authorities and the Somerset authorities in this matter.

We are today in a most extraordinary and unusual position. We have had Bristol, through its foresight and its vision, planning and saving for this project for a number of years. It was prepared to back its judgment and to raise the money to provide the development which we believe is necessary for the Port of Bristol. We have had the National Ports Council, the body of experts set up by the Government to advise on port matters, reporting in favour, first, of the Portbury scheme and now of the Bristol West Dock scheme.

We have had the Economic Development Council for the South-West putting this as one of its three main priorities for the economy of the region as a whole. We have had the regional C.B.I, and the trade unions coming out strongly in favour of it. We have had, too, the Port of Bristol Authority with its long experience in these matters. Therefore, the vision, the money and the expert approval all say "Yes", but the Government, and only the Government, say "No". I hope, trust and believe that no Bristol Members, on whichever side of the House they may sit, will vote with the Government on this issue tonight.

We have had a variety of arguments from the Government since this controversy first started. We are told that the country does not need this additional capacity, that it is best to concentrate it in a limited number of ports, and anyway the South-West will not suffer. I do not want to deal with the detailed arguments because I think that they will come more appropriately from hon. Members on both sides who represent the City of Bristol, but I find it disturbing, and indeed one is bound to be suspicious, when one finds differing arguments being used.

Perhaps I might give the House an example of what I mean. When the Government turned down the original Portbury scheme, one of the arguments used then was that port hinterlands were comparatively small areas not more than 25 miles from the ports concerned. That was one of the main arguments, that there was not sufficient industrial development within 25 miles of the area concerned. But in the letter which the Minister wrote the other day to the Chairman of the Port of Bristol Authority he said that: the minimisation of overall transport costs may well be achieved by the concentration of traffics on more distant ports. It is very disturbing when one finds entirely different arguments used, in the one case against Portbury, and in the other against a somewhat similar but more modest scheme on this occasion.

The Government appear to be disregarding the experts and shifting their ground from month to month. It is no wonder that the overwhelming feeling in the area is that the Government are being shortsighted, and are not really addressing themselves to the merits of the case.

I wish to put forward two other broad arguments which have not been fully dealt with, certainly not in the letter which the Minister wrote the other day to Sir Kenneth Brown. I think we all accept that the Bristol area is a natural growth area. The prospects for the future are bright. No one on either side of the Bristol Channel wants to preach gloom. The Severn Bridge is of great significance. We have natural advantages, and one of these which will soon be fully in operation is a first-class motorway system intersecting just north of Bristol. No other port in the country will have such excellent road communications with the main industrial centres of the country.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Monmouth)

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that the argument he is using about the intersection of the motorways is equally relevant to the case put forward on behalf of the South Wales ports with their link with London with the M4, and the Midlands with the new Newport-Worcester Trunk Road?

Mr. Dean

I shall come to that in a moment. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman, although there is an element of truth in what he says.

This is one of the main arguments, particularly when one considers the intersection of these two motorways from London and the Midlands. When one considers the container revolution with the new development which this demands, one realises that here there is a golden opportunity to build a new port on a green field site, with first-class road communications free from congestion. One cannot say this of any other port in the country, however much money one may put into it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) said, and we in the South West endorse it, as does, I think, the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, that prosperity can and must radiate into the peninsula from the Bristol area. This is of significance for the whole region.

Having stated the advantages, what are the weaknesses? There are two which make this project of considerable importance. One is the natural pull eastwards to Europe. The development of natural gas in the North Sea is almost bound to mean a pull for development away from the western half of the country towards the eastern half. I am not complaining about that. All I am saying is that it is necessary for regional plans to take into account these natural pulls which are likely to develop, and which will not help the South-West.

I am delighted, as I am sure everyone is, to see my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) on the Opposition Front Bench. I appeal to him to repeat the pledges which have been given by the party to which he belongs with regard to development in the Port of Bristol so that those concerned will know exactly where they stand, and what conclusions they can draw as a consequence.

My final point—and this was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West—is that the promoters of the Bill have agreed to introduce into it a Clause which will ensure that the procedures under the Harbours Act have to be gone through before the Bill can be put into operation. There is nothing to be lost, and everything to be gained, by allowing the Bill to go to Committee where it can be considered on its merits. If the Measure gets on to the Statute Book, the arguments will have to be gone through again because the promoters have agreed that the Harbours Act procedure should be put into operation. If anyone on either side of the House has any doubts, he can come down in favour of the Bill knowing full well that the Minister has his safeguards through the Harbours Act.

I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will be supported in the Lobby by both sides of the House.

7.57 p.m.

Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to support the case made by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke), but I confess that it is with some regret that I have to challenge the Minister's decision. I have a certain amount of sympathy with my right hon. Friend, because he has been in the Ministry for only three months, or slightly less—

Mr. Marsh

It seems longer.

Mr. Wilkins

—and there have been two previous Ministers of Transport while the Labour Government have been in power.

I am, therefore, sorry for my right hon. Friend, because he has been saddled with the responsibility of advising my city authority that he cannot agree to the scheme for the West Dock. In other words, he is the chap with the ring in his nose, and there is someone at the end of the pole about whom we should like to know.

I think that all the facts bear that out. All the evidence that we have suggests that that must be the case, because the Bill has been brought in owing to the dilatoriness of the Ministry of Transport in dealing with a matter which has been before it for nearly five years. I agree with the Minister that one cannot always make judgments based on sentiment or emotion, but sentiment and emotion do play a part in the life of the people.

I am proud to be able to state a case for my city, which is acknowledged to be the most progressive city in the country in all aspects of civic administration. I am not exaggerating. If I had the time I could quote cases over and over again concerning our health services, our education services and, not least, our dock services. We have had a dock in Bristol since 1200.

The Minister may say, "Yes, but as time progresses the situation changes, and there may now be justification for not encouraging the further development of this port." If he says that he must reckon with the feelings of the people of the city, who have an enormous pride in this great dock undertaking. It is because Bristol is a progressive city that it had the foresight in 1958, to begin negotiations for the purchase of land, in respect of the proposal which then came forward for the Portbury Dock scheme. The land was purchased in 1960. That is why I am sorry that the Ministry has been so lax in making a decision on the matter. It should have done so long ago. In the meantime, the ports in South Wales—I do not complain about this—who were sleeping in their beds while we were talking about progress, have been stimulated to come to the House to state their case against Bristol.

Someone—we do not know whether he is a consultant or an accountant at the Ministry of Transport—has been creating a picture which the Ministry is prepared to accept in order to controvert the case which Bristol has submitted. I bow to the Minister; I acknowledge that his intellectual capacities are greater than mine. I have not had the same opportunities that he has had for making judgments on theoretical figures, but I can tell him that there are schools in which one may learn far more than one does from an academic education—the school of adversity and the school of experience.

Mr. Marsh

I hasten to intervene to assure my hon. Friend that my grass roots are as clear as his are.

Mr. Wilkins

That does not alter my right hon. Friend's capacity for thinking along intellectual lines. My party now has too many intellectual Socialists and not enough grass roots. I was a member of the Bristol local authority for 10 years, from 1936. I was vice-chairman and then chairman of its electricity undertaking for a long time. It was second-to-none in the country. My experience of my colleagues on that local authority makes me far more prepared to accept their judgment of what is necessary for the development of the port in Bristol than the judgment of someone who has made an academic assessment of the present situation.

The Minister must not be surprised if hon. Members representing this great city feel hot and bothered about this, because in 1965 it was all but agreed that Bristol should have Portbury. Then the Minister disappeared. Then, I suppose, the scheme was put into a pigeon-hole, and opposition was stimulated. Allegations are freely made—I do not know on what grounds—that it has now become a political decision. It is strongly felt in Bristol that there have been certain interferences—whether from the South Wales ports or some other agency we do not know.

I am sorry that the Minister issued his statement only last Friday. It is significant that it was issued three days before the House was to have an opportunity to debate the merits of the Bill and decide whether it should go on to Committee. It is strange that the document should have been sent out on Friday to the Chairman of the Bristol Dock Authority, because the effect is bound to be to make this debate a little more than a charade.

Mr. Marsh

I take full responsibility for this action. My reason for sending out this statement beforehand was that I thought it would be intolerable for hon. Members to come here to debate a Bill of this type without knowing the Government's attitude. What I did was done for the benefit of hon. Members, and most of them have taken advantage of it to criticise quite fairly parts of the scheme.

Mr. Wilkins

If that was my right hon. Friend's object he is more at fault than I thought. If he thinks that a statement that came into my hands today provides me with an adequate opportunity for coming to a decision on the proposals that he is putting forward against the West Dock extension, he is wrong. I have not been able to absorb the alleged arguments of the Ministry against the West Dock scheme. This makes the position worse. I should like to know whether he is suggesting that the statement was sent to Members of Parliament representing the city. I have not received a copy. I do not know whether other hon. Members have. I had to obtain my copy from another source. But that is beside the point. It was unfair not to have made the statement available until only three days before the matter was to be debated in the House.

I confess that I do not know much about the economics of the matter, but I gather that the Minister's case is that his figures are right and the figures provided by the consultant to the authority are wrong together with their assessments. I gather that the judgment of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce and Shipping is wrong, and also the judgment of the South West Regional Planning Council. I gather, in fact, that everybody but the Ministry of Transport is wrong.

Yet my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands) was quoting to us some observations made by Sir Arthur Kirby, who was at one time, I believe, Chairman of the South Wales Transport Docks Board. Now he is Chairman of the Ports Council. I ought also to point out that the Ports Council on two occasions agreed that Portbury was a viable proposition, as was the West Dock. I take it that the Ministry's case is that this proposal cannot be sustained because not sufficient exports will be going through the new dock to make it a viable proposition. The Minister must know that trade follows facilities.

I cannot grasp this at all. Two continental ports—Amsterdam and Antwerp—have more deep-water berths than we have in the whole of the British Isles. In that case, what are we thinking about in agreeing to a marina at Brighton, which will cost £13½ million and will merely be a sailing paradise, contributing nothing to our economy, and then saying that a great port like Bristol cannot, over five, six or seven years, spend a few million pounds a year?

The whole thinking on this matter is entirely illogical. It is utterly ridiculous to say that Bristol cannot develop a deep-water berth at its own expense, if necessary. Will the Minister tell me who it is advising him that these figures are not acceptable? This person is a phantom as far as I am concerned. He does not exist. I would be quite willing to sit down if anyone can tell me who he is.

I am quite certain that the judgment of my colleagues on the Bristol City Council, some of whom are listening to me now, and who have had 32 years' experience on this Docks Committee, and 40 years on the local authority, is more acceptable than anything else. I do not accept this alleged evidence as to why we should not have this scheme. I suppose that it is almost impossible to appeal to the Minister's sense of justice and ask him to withdraw his opposition and let this Bill go forward to a Committee for examination. I cannot understand why the Government will not let a Committee examine it. Let us have a good look at it and encourage the development of the Gateway to the West.

There is already a deep-water channel at this port. No dredging is necessary. Once the lock gate is built at a cost of £8 million—perhaps that is one of the reasons why the Government will not accept it—and when the country prospers, as all hope it will, the need to have more and more deep-water berths will grow and these can be installed here at an infinitesimal cost. All the necessary facilities for every aspect of dock development are there. There are 1,200 acres, bought with great foresight, in the belief that it would be in the national interest, awaiting development.

I ask the Minister not to be hidebound, to perhaps look at what a predecessor of his thought about this. I want him to have second thoughts. We do not need convincing on this, we are convinced that this is in the interests, not only of Bristol, but of the country. When shippers are offered the opportunity of turning their ships round in 48 hours less than can be done at any other port, they will use such facilities. I ask the Minister not to be too dogmatic, not to accept the advice of theoreticians in preference to practical people, who have been operating this port for up to 40 years.

8.14 p.m.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)

May I ask your indulgence before I begin my speech, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will have noticed that I tabled an Amendment to the Motion, in the traditional form, to reject the Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

I have informed the hon. Member that his Amendment is not selected.

Mr. Gower

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Like other hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, I am chiefly concerned with the main purpose of the Bill, put by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke), namely, to authorise the construction of this new dock, the West Dock, at a cost of approximately £14,750 million. Hon. Members will have seen the letter from the Minister to the Chairman of the Port of Bristol Authority. In it the Minister pays tribute to the Port of Bristol. We all recognise the excellent quality and the great service the port has rendered. Nothing we say is designed to deprecate that service.

Mr. Robert Cooke

My hon. Friend is right in saying that we are all very proud of the past. But what of the future? Does he not realise that the Minister is frustrating the future of the Port of Bristol?

Mr. Gower

In spite of this tribute, which we all willingly pay, I, like the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands), feel compelled to oppose the Bill for a number of reasons. During the proceedings in another place it was emphasised that Bristol was the largest municipal docks in the country, with a distinguished commercial history. The promoters tell us that the steady increase in trade since the war has caused pressure on accommodation to increase.

I notice that the hon. Members representing Bristol have not adduced the slightest evidence to this effect.

Mr. Wilkins rose

Mr. Gower

I appreciate that this is not a Committee stage. But they have not given any kind of guidance about this pressure on accommodation. It is said that existing facilities are insufficient to handle the increased traffic and deal with congestion and delays.

Mr. Emery

My hon. Friend is making quite outrageous statements. Those of us in favour of the Bill have not wanted to produce this argument, but if he wants to take it chapter and verse it is in the Tress Report.

Mr. Gower

I will come to that later.

Another contemtion is that the increased size of modern ships, and the limitations imposed upon accommodation as a result of this, is causing serious concern. I can understand that. The House has to consider this serious problem and the expenditure, which involves a substantial investment of resources. I understand that the dock site would cover about 250 acres, with an additional area for the deposition of spoil. The scheme would take five years.

The House may get the impression from a scrutiny of these statements that the existing facilities of the Bristol Docks are being used to capacity. Yet I understand that at Bristol vessels are worked on a one-shift per day basis. That is in marked contrast to the South Wales ports where, subject to availability of labour, Barry and Swansea, for example, operate three shifts, and Cardiff and Newport operate two.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that arrangements are being made to work a three-shift system in Newport?

Mr. Gower

That strengthens my remarks.

Despite the persuasive arguments advanced, the Bill should be rejected on a number of grounds. As the Minister pointed out in his letter to the promoters, the national need for this kind of additional port capacity has not been established.

Secondly, such a scale of investment might not be justifiable today, under present economic conditions. As the Minister said in his letter, there is a good deal of evidence to show that the project would not be likely to attract a satisfactory return. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West suggested that the requirement of a return of 8 per cent. was unreasonable. However, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North pointed out that the manager of the Docks Board in South Wales was working on that basis, and even the higher one of 10 per cent. for new developments. This, too, is at variance with the case put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West.

Supporters of the project have emphasised that of the total cost of £14¾ million, about four-fifths would be provided by Bristol under the original proposition, so that only 20 per cent. by way of grant would be required from the Government. Today, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West put forward another proposal and said that Bristol would find all the money.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this is not a new proposal, but has always been the basis of the Bristol application?

Mr. Gower

I will show why that intervention is irrelevant. It may sound attractive for the Minister to be told that the promoters of such a project will find all the money, but that is not the final argument. Money is important, but it is not all-important in this respect, because a project of this kind would mean the diversion of enormous resources of materials and manpower. In present economic conditions such a diversion should not be undertaken.

My third argument is somewhat parochial. Hon. Members will be aware that for many years we in the South Wales ports have been trying to build up general and alternative traffic to replace the declining coal shipments. These long and laudable efforts have met with considerable success. Most of the hinterland is in the Welsh development area, which is quite different from the hinterland to which supporters of the project have referred. It would be a much more serious blow to South Wales if we should lose some of the trade from our docks.

Mr. Robert Cooke


Mr. Gower

Such a closure in our case is more important in the setting of the area. My hon. Friend cannot conceive of the difference of impact caused by the closure of docks in South Wales compared merely with, for example, the failure of Bristol to obtain more facilities.

The owners of the docks in South Wales, together with other interests, have succeeded to a large degree in variegating the traffic and our industry in the hinterland is also now more variegated. The Docks Board has played a notable part in modernising the docks, in closing down some of the less suitable docks and in enabling the docks to serve our newer industries. The result is that today instead of merely having coal ports, South Wales has ports which cater for many commodities, many of them of a specialised nature.

In my constituency we have built up the banana industry to such a point that Barry is now the largest banana port in the United Kingdom, a position which, I believe, was held by Bristol some years ago. Many food imports come to Cardiff and Cardiff Docks now cater for a great deal of the steel coil trade. We in South Wales now deal with Irish meat, timber, motor cars, oils of different kinds and many other commodities. This new trade is being developed by much sweat, anxiety and hard work. In my respectful submission, Bristol may obtain such a degree of increased trade, which may only partially justify the sort of investment about which we are speaking, but only if some of that trade is attracted from the South Wales ports.

In recent years the ports of South Wales have become modestly profitable. For example, in 1967 Cardiff had a net surplus of £43,000—not a great deal of money, but something. Newport had a surplus of £237,000; Barry, £127,000; Port Talbot, £123,000; and Swansea, £35,000. I need only mention these figures to show how delicate a margin exists and how easy a surplus of, for example, £35,000 for Swansea could be turned into a loss.

It was pointed out in another place that despite the efforts of the South Wales docks, much of its trade is marginal and vulnerable to slight changes in circumstances. The British Transport Docks Board has said that the implementation of this Measure would seriousty threaten the South Wales docks. I should add that the Board is not a South Wales organisation. It owns docks throughout the United Kingdom. It has pointed that the implementation of the Bill would be a serious threat to the work which it has done to try to salvage our docks in South Wales.

Mr. Wilkins

Is that the phantom about which I was speaking?

Mr. Gower

I really cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's question.

I will give some concrete examples of what I mean. The loss of the present vehicle traffic to the South Wales ports would mean the loss of about £130,000 a year gross. The loss of the steel coil traffic to Newport would involve a gross loss of £600,000 a year. That sort of margin would probably remove the present small surplus and make these docks unprofitable again.

I have shown that we in the South Wales ports offer a wide range of facilities. These are by no means fully employed. On the other side of the picture, Bristol wants to design new docks for a very different sort of volume of traffic than Bristol has been employing in the past.

Mr. Wilkins

The hon. Gentleman will agree that South Wales could not accommodate this type of traffic because its docks do not have the deep water which is available in Bristol for huge modern ships.

Mr. Gower

Nor does Bristol have these facilities at present.

Mr. Wilkins

It will.

Mr. Gower

Only if this Measure goes through. The port facilities in South Wales could be designed to accommodate some of the larger ships more cheaply than the expense involved in this Bill. What we have, therefore, is a contrast: on the north side of the Bristol Channel—partly used, very useful and varied facilities; on the south side of the Bristol Channel—a port that is working at a certain level, but wants to increase that level irrespective of the consequences to other ports on the South Wales side.

As far as I can ascertain from the previous proceedings, the total of trade in Bristol in 1967 was 8.3 million tons, and I understand that it is hoped to increase that in due course by 2,300,000 tons. Even if the estimated displaced traffic of the old city dock is deducted, there will be a net increase of 2 million tons—a formidable proportional increase over the present 8 million tons. If this is not done, the figures on which the promoters have been working as to the project's viability fall to the ground. The promoters must get this sort of trade to make the thing viable even by their own estimates. This is a formidable increase, and it could only be obtained with some really serious consequences to the South Wales ports.

I therefore respectfully ask the House to reject the Bill for the several reasons I have given: the costing, the need, and the consequences to other ports that have unused capacity. I cannot accept the argument that without this extension Bristol would sink to the status of a backwater. It would still be a very flourishing city and port. Bristol is in the centre of what has been described as one of the fastest developing areas of its kind in the United Kingdom as regards both population and employment. It will, including Avonmouth, have very large and important docks even without this extension. Those docks are capable of considerable improvement and technical innovation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West has said we must get the Bill on to the Statute Book. That, on the face of it, seems to be a very reasonable argument, but in the circumstances it would be improper to accept it. If this kind of proposal is brought forward, Parliament should have an opportunity to reconsider it at an appropriate date. The Bill should be considered one way or the other today, and, if it is rejected, the promoters should come forward again.

8.31 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Richard Marsh)

As far as I can gather, this is an occasion when, whether or not the Government decide to support the West Dock scheme, they will offend a large number of hon. Members on both sides. This is probably a good thing in one way, because it is not a party political issue. There is no party line on whether one has a dock extension or not. It is an issue that the whole House is properly debating.

If I may say so, one of the reasons why I decided to issue a very full and long letter last weekend was that it seemed to make a mockery of our proceedings if the Government's arguments were to be given three-quarters of the way through a debate. If the issue of that long letter offended some hon. Members, I am sorry: the intention was to ensure that everyone was as fully aware of the facts as possible. There is no reason for the Government or any particular hon. Members to have a view which is against Bristol, nor, for that matter, is there any reason why the Government or any block of hon. Members should have a view which is against South Wales. What we as a House are considering is a major piece of national investment. That is why I think it right and proper to have this debate and for hon. Members to express their views. It is interesting to see how the divergence of views cuts across both parties.

One thing that I regret is that, so far, the debate has been very much an argument between South Wales and Bristol—

Mr. Emery

But is the Minister aware that there are a number of us not from Bristol or South Wales who are waiting to speak? It is he who has turned the debate into a South Wales and Bristol argument at this moment.

Mr. Marsh

It seems that I cannot win. If I try to reply to some points raised, hon. Members are still critical. The discussion has centred very much between Bristol and the South Wales ports—

Mr. Palmer rose

Mr. Marsh

It would be helpful if I could complete a sentence of my speech.

Mr. Palmer

I think my right hon. Friend has risen much too early. He has not heard many arguments yet to be put. It is most unfortunate that he should intervene so soon.

Mr. Marsh

It is perfectly normal practice on a Private Bill for the Minister to express the Government's view—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend is entitled to his point of view, but from his long experience in this House he will be aware that it is normal for the Minister to intervene in the middle of a debate. If he allows me to make my remarks, the debate will continue after that.

This is not a debate on South Wales ports versus Bristol ports but one concerning a very small country with very limited resources about the way in which it uses those resources to the best advantage. This is something on which people can have many differing points of view.

The hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) raised a number of questions. The first specific question was: would I give an example of port investment which had reached 8 per cent. and above? The sorts of rates of return we are talking about are very limited; we have very limited resources available for public expenditure of any type and very limited resources for public expenditure on docks. On Tilbury stages 2 and 3, the return on gross cost is 10.5 per cent. to 13 per cent. On the Tilbury grain terminal, on the gross cost it is 10.3 per cent. and on the net cost 12.5 per cent. At Seaforth, on the gross cost it is 9.6 per cent. At Greenock, on the gross cost the return is 16 per cent. to 22 per cent.; at Newport timber and cargo terminal it is 11.8 per cent. to 12.4 per cent.; at the Swansea roll-on and roll-off berth, on the gross cost it is 11 per cent. and on Bristol ore berth port improvements the return on gross cost is 13 per cent.

Against that I have figures to deal with the investment in the West Dock, where the return on gross cost would be between 1 and 3 per cent. I am not making the point on questions of d.c.f. return, but this is one of the few measures we have of public expenditure. I am not saying that it is always right, but it is one of the few guidelines we have. On any basis of port investment the return on d.c.f. investment is very low indeed.

The hon. Member also asked, if the Government would agree that if the Bristol Port Authority decided to dispense with the 20 per cent. grant, would the Government then agree to the proposal? Much as I am sorry to have to say it, the Government would not, because the problem we face is: whether the money is raised by Bristol Corporation, using the rates as security, or direct out of Government funds, it is public expenditure. I cannot understand particularly hon. Members opposite, whose case so often is a complaint against existing levels of public expenditure, criticising the Government because they will not embark on major expenditure.

Mr. Robert Cooke

The whole point is that this is a valuable asset in the form of city docks which are obsolete. We cannot use the resources of those lands and docks to pay for future expansion because the right hon. Gentleman will not allow us to expand.

Mr. Marsh

The hon. Member has missed the whole point. This is public expenditure however it is raised, and it counts against any other form of public expenditure. This is not confined to hon. Members opposite. Everyone is in favour of reducing public expenditure, yet immediately produces a long list of highly desirable objects which on their merits involve increased public expenditure.

The question of Brighton Marina has gained great prominence in this discussion. First, the Government have not approved the Brighton Marina project. Secondly, of the total cost of Brighton Marina, the harbour works and yacht basin are about £3½ million as opposed to the £15 million we are talking about. Thirdly, no public money is involved in the Brighton Marina project. This is private capital raised on the open market. The main point about this is that no decision has been taken about Brighton Marina by the Government and there is no public money involved.

As I said before, I do not want to take sides in this Wales/Bristol argument, because I do not think that this is the issue. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands) in his complaint about the extent to which the effect of this decision on Bristol is being exaggerated. Over the past ten years the average rate of growth of traffic through the major United Kingdom ports has been nearly 3 per cent. per annum. The comparable figure for Bristol is less than 2 per cent. Yet, although the comparable trade for Bristol has been considerably less than that for the country as a whole, the northern sub-region of the south-western region has been developing at a faster rate than any other in the country.

Between 1961 and 1966, the total population of the sub-region rose by 6.7 per cent., whereas that for Great Britain as a whole rose only by 3.8 per cent. Even allowing for the additional number of people in the region, during the same period the number of jobs in the sub-region rose by 7.1 per cent., against a national average of only 4.1 per cent.

Therefore, in this area the amount of port traffic is considerably less than the average for the country as a whole. Despite that, the growth in the sub-region, in terms of population and of jobs, is higher than that in any other part of the country. In the light of that, how can it be argued that this is an area which is dependent upon the ports? If this were so, we would not expect the rate of jobs to be growing so much faster than the rest of the country when the rate of port activity is rising much more slowly than that of the rest of the country.

Mr. Dean

Surely the whole argument which we are making is that, because these new jobs have been created in comparatively recent times, it is essential that there should be port facilities available so that this new prosperity which will create new requirements for imports and exports can be properly dealt with.

Mr. Marsh

The hon. Gentleman is confusing the country with some small island. The people who live in Bristol will be getting their imports and making their exports through all sorts of ports—Bristol and others. The argument can be made for Bristol West Dock, but the argument that a town which is expanding must have its own port to maintain its prosperity is a little thin.

The point which I was making, and which is an important one, is that it is argued that the port development is a crucial factor in the development of the area. The facts show that with a substantially lower rate of growth in port traffic there is a very much higher rate of growth in terms of employment.

This is a national problem of very real interest to the whole country, wherever one lives. There are two essential issues here. One is the control of public expenditure. The second is: given the need for considerable investment in the port system of the United Kingdom as a whole and very limited funds with which to do it, is it right for the Government to use the powers given to them by Parliament to ensure that that investment is placed in the areas where the maximum return lies?

It may well be asked: if Bristol, which has devoted much thought to this—I do not for one moment overlook the enormous civic pride which Bristol has—wants to have this port development, why should Parliament intervene? If Parliament does not want to control either public expenditure of this level or port investment of this level, it is taking a decision which will have very serious repercussions. No one is arguing, certainly not I, that the Bristol proposal is some sort of airy-fairy thing which does not hold water. It is a very substantial document and is very well worked through, if it is regarded as a Bristol proposition. No Minister of Transport can look at it in that way, either in terms of expenditure or in terms of the effects on the port.

Yet I must confess, if I were a Bristolian, I would have some doubt about a project which would be such a charge on public funds as this one. We have done calculations on the effect on Bristol, and it is a very complex issue. The direct impact on the rates would vary with the method of funding the debt and the ability of the rest of the port to make a profit to absorb the deficit. Taking Bristol's own lower traffic forecast, it works out in this way. In the second year there would be a deficit of £97,000 which would be just over 1d. on the rate. In the third year there would be a deficit of £258,000, equivalent to a 3d. rate. In the fourth year there would be a deficit of £507,000, equivalent to 5.7d. on the rate. In the fifth year there would be a net deficit of £748,000 with a rate equivalent of 8.4d.

Mr. Peter Walker

Is the right hon. Gentleman giving figures for the highest estimate?

Mr. Marsh

No, I made the point that I had taken Bristol's lower traffic forecast. Although the National Ports Council supports the scheme, it does not accept the Bristol calculations, not even these. The Bristol local authority calculation is very complicated and upon it depends the effect on the rates. Nobody is in any doubt that this is not expected to be a profitable investment for a very long time, if ever. That is not a matter for me; that is a matter for Bristolians. The burden of my case is that a major port investment must be viewed in a national context in terms of port policy and the call on national resources.

What then are the powers of the Minister? The Harbours Act, 1964, which was passed by hon. Gentlemen opposite gives us the powers that we are using on this. With a view to securing the proper control in the national interest of schemes of harbour development, the Minister was given power to authorise or refuse projects costing over £½ million. This provision enables the Minister to exercise a purely negative control over individual projects so as to prevent duplication and take into account regional planning.

There are two issues on the question of national port planning. On the one hand, in the general cargo trades the development of modern techniques has led and is leading to increasing concentration of traffic on the routes and services which can take full advantage of the economies that they make possible. Traffic to Europe is increasingly tending to concentrate on ports on the South and East coasts where the individual container services and vehicle ferry services provide rapid door-to-door transport.

On the deep sea routes the tendency is to concentrate the trade for each of the major overseas trading areas on a limited number of services and ports, so that there is sufficient cargo to maintain reasonable frequency of high volume services. Except possibly for one North Atlantic service, it does not seem in the least likely that Bristol will be selected as the terminal for deep sea container services.

My predecessor and I have had the advantage on this point of the views of the Chamber of Shipping and the major container consortia. On some routes it is possible that both the United Kingdom and the Continent may come to be served by vessels calling at one of our ports en route to, for instance, Rotterdam. Again, Bristol does not seem to be well placed even for such calling services. Moreover—and this is the important point—there is a surplus of capacity for general cargo traffic in the Severn Estuary as a whole. Several hon. Members have made this point. It is not a question of it being of interest to South Wales, though it clearly is; it must be of interest to the nation. Moreover, additional provision can be made elsewhere more cheaply than at Bristol.

In the second place, we are concerned with the development of bulk imports. The size of vessels used has been increasing and is likely to continue to increase. Coupled with that is the growing and desirable tendency to locate bulk processing industries adjacent to the deep water berths handling their raw materials. The West Dock would not have been able to handle modern crude oil tankers or the iron ore ships of the future. These are or will be catered for at Milford Haven and in the new Port Talbot harbour.

But the real question is whether there is any prospect of investment in the dock paying off either in real return on the investment or in terms of its desirable contribution to general regional development, and doing so at least on the same scale as possible alternative investments. I do not want to go into all the detailed argument about the precise financial return likely to be obtained from the investment in the new dock. These calculations can be no more than a rough guide to a decision. The calculations depend on traffic forecasts which in turn must involve a large element of judgment.

On some aspects, we, the Port of Bristol Authority and the National Ports Council, all agree. On others we disagree. But the returns estimated range from 1 per cent. to 9½ per cent. on a d.c.f. basis. Bristol's own calculations show a range from 6 to 9½ per cent., as against the Government's normal minimum standard which, as I said, is applied to all other major port investment projects, of 8 per cent. on low risk.

Comment was made about advice I received from the National Ports Council. It recognised how difficult the question was, and paragraph 4 of the annexure to the letter from the National Ports Council, this independent body, shows d.c.f. returns varying from 2¾ per cent to 4½ per cent. But one must look further into it. I recognise the difficulty facing the National Ports Council.

Sir Arthur Kirby, who has given a great deal of attention to this matter, says at the end of his letter: I am aware that in passing this recommendation to you I am advocating a project on the speculative basis of, so far as we are able to show, little more than long-term prospects. He goes on: Though giving full weight to the possibility of over provision of capacity in national terms, with consequent financial problems, I think that this state of affairs would not persist for a prolonged period. Finally, he says: It is not to my liking to have to recommend a project on this negative line of reasoning. Nevertheless, it is this, coupled with a belief that we cannot eliminate Bristol from the national ports pattern, that weighed decisively"— and so on.

The National Ports Council came down solidly in favour of the Bristol scheme, as did Bristol itself. If things were different and we could have a speculative investment yielding a very low return, there would be a case for it. But in present circumstances no Government, of any party, would be able to accept an investment on this level, of this speculative nature and with this level of return.

The d.c.f. return is not the overriding criterion. The simple point is that, if we are to prevent misuse of the limited resources which we have for public investment, we have to ensure that projects which will give a return below that obtainable elsewhere are undertaken only if there are substantial additional arguments for them. For unavoidable geographical reasons, construction of the West Dock will involve heavy costs—£3 million per berth simply for the enclosed dock—before any actual berth structures or equipment are provided. That is to be set against costs ranging from £1.2 million to £3 million for fully equipped deep water berths in other ports. These costs would have to be met by the users, the ratepayers or some other sector of public funds. As I have said, it is no argument to say that the problem is solved if Bristol itself raises the money. The effect on local expenditure could be very heavy over a long period.

The Government have considered whether, in spite of the high costs, the project might be so important to the development of the Bristol area and the region as a whole to justify them in letting it go ahead. Obviously, one had to give serious thought to the powerful arguments and the case made by the South West Economic Planning Council. We have given the matter the fullest examination. Ministers have to take decisions at some stage, and they are never happy about it. I have never yet taken a decision which pleased anybody. I have tried four Ministries now, and it has been the same in them all. However, after the fullest examination, the Government have come to the conclusion that they could not justify this unremunerative project as a promotional investment.

The development of the South-West as a whole is very little dependent on the Port of Bristol. As I said earlier, the Bristol sub-region has been growing faster than any other in the country. The hon. Member for Bristol, West raised the question of jobs. This decision will not involve the sacking of anybody as a result. There has been a great deal of misunderstanding about it. What we say is that, if one takes all the existing industries which might conceivably be affected in the very long term, a period of 15 to 20 years, the effect in reduction of job opportunities would be equal to about one-quarter of the average annual increase in the number of jobs in the Bristol area over recent years. This decision has no employment connotation about it at all.

It is a prosperous area, an area which will go on being prosperous and expanding in both jobs and population. In view of the high rate of development in the sub-region and the urgent need to attract new projects to development areas, there seems to be no strong case for providing additional incentives to basic industries to establish themselves in the area by providing bulk import facilities for which the users would not be paying the full economic price.

That is the only way in which traffic on the scale envisaged could be attracted to the dock. But not building the West Dock does not mean the end of Bristol as a port. It does not mean the end of Bristol as a major port. As frequently happens in these disputes, some of the statements become more and more exaggerated as time goes on. This is understandable, because people are worried and nervous. There has been a great deal of exaggeration.

Avonmouth can be expected to handle for the foreseeable future substantial quantities of general cargoes of types or for destinations not covered by specialist container services, of foodstuffs, of raw materials for the paper and tobacco industries, of ores for the local works, including the new smelter which Rio Tinto Zinc decided to build there without waiting for the decision on the West Dock, of petroleum products for distribution, or as feedstocks for gas and chemical works and so on. Certainly the space available in the Avonmouth Docks is limited, but the sort of modernisation works which the port authority has already undertaken or has in mind will provide high throughput facilities enabling the docks to handle large volumes of traffic efficiently.

We do not have any sort of mysterious phantom at the Ministry of Transport which has a grudge against Bristol.

Mr. Wilkins

There is pressure somewhere.

Mr. Marsh

I hope that my hon. Friend will let me finish my sentence. I do not think that any Minister, whatever his political complexion, would take a decision on this basis. I am in no doubt about the political popularity of the decision, but the decision is taken on the basis of the investment and use of limited public funds. I am very well aware of the controversial nature of the decision and I am not unaware of the genuine pride of the people of Bristol. But a Minister must take a national view of its expenditure on this scale. Whatever phantoms we may have in the Ministry, I have seldom been more sure—I may be wrong—about a decision than about this.

I do not think that a case can be made out or supported. I hope that the Bill will be withdrawn. It would clearly be foolish in the light of the decision to go on ploughing the Bill through in the knowledge that the exercise would prove abortive in the end. But if the Bill is not withdrawn, with great regret I shall have to ask hon. Members on both sides of the House to reject the Second Reading in the knowledge that the limited resources which we have avaliable have to be planned, and nowhere more importantly than in the dock industry, and that this plan cannot be justified on that basis.

9.1 p.m.

Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)

When the Minister intervened, I hoped that we were to hear some positive proposals for the development of the Severn Estuary as a whole. I hope that all those who have spoken in the interests of South Wales will note that there is not one crumb of positive comfort to them in the Minister's remarks. Those in South Wales who object to the development of the Port of Bristol in this way are making a fundamental mistake in their own interests, irrespective of the interests of Bristol. If the alternatives were major development of the South Wales ports and development of Bristol, it would be natural for them to represent their own interests. Once or twice in the debate I recalled the occasion when the Prime Minister spoke at Chatham in 1964 saying, "Why do I say that we should have a bigger Navy?" and a heckler cried, "Because you are speaking in Chatham." There was a ring of that from South Wales tonight.

The danger to the ports of South Wales is not the development of the port of Bristol. It is the development of London and Liverpool at the expense of other ports throughout the country. I believe that a cardinal error of investment judgment is being made by the Government in that they are to concentrate everything on two major ports which happen to be the two major ports which suffer more than any other two ports in the country from congestion. South Wales is making a great mistake in not suggesting that there should be greater concentration, spreading the investment to the north-east and the south-west, as opposed to concentrating it in the south-east and northwest. It is a tragedy for the whole development of the area.

I was very surprised when the Minister concluded by saying that he could not imagine any Minister giving the go-ahead to this project. What he was saying was that he could not imagine any Minister agreeing with a recommendation of the National Ports Council and a recommendation of the Economic Development Council for the South-West. When he said that seldom had he been more sure of a decision than the decision to stop the development of this port, he was going against the views of the National Ports Council and against the advice of the Economic Development Council for the South-West and saying that never had he been more sure of the correctness of a decision which went completely against the recommendation of the two Government-appointed bodies primarily concerned with the project.

I must confess my own considerable disappointment at the manner in which the project has been dealt with. First, there has been this constant delay. There was a recommendation of the National Ports Council which was turned down. Then there came the publication of the White Paper which contained many questionable assertions and arguments. Following that, it was decided to institute a new scheme. That was operated and worked upon.

The Minister tried to defend himself by giving his detailed reply only three days before the debate, but it was the Prime Minister who said eight weeks ago that the decision would be known in three weeks. There was, therefore, a further five weeks' delay with publication of the Minister's reply only a few days before the debate.

I would like to examine some of the Minister's main arguments against the scheme. The first is the rate of return. A rate of return on the investment is only one factor when considering the rate of economic return in terms of Government expenditure. One of the important rates of return would be if the development of the Bristol port resulted in a diminution of congestion in other very congested areas. I am confident that this would happen, because a great deal of Midlands traffic goes either to Liverpool or to London and causes a great deal of congestion as a result.

Secondly, when considering a rate of return from the Government's viewpoint one must consider the reduction in costs of certain forms of motor transport delivering the goods to the docks. This would be an important factor with a port linked to motorways in the way that this one will be linked. Therefore, the rate of return is only part of the argument.

When the rate of return is suggested as being a positive return by everybody who has examined the proposal, and the people of Bristol are confident that it will be a good return, I must confess to having a great deal of sympathy with the sentiment expressed by the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins). The hon. Member said that in this sort of exercise one can look at figures and statistics, but the figures and statistics that are available are all historic figures. What is not available is always a commercial judgment: that is, the likely effect of a new port with new facilities on a new, previously green-field site linked with two major motorways.

For example, when the White Paper was published giving the reasons why the Government refused Portbury, the facts given for the motor transport costs and the volume of traffic likely to be attracted from the Midlands were all based on the existing road system and existing transport costs, whereas with the completion of the motorway very different transport costs would be involved.

What the Minister or, at least, his advisers have failed to recognise in all their calculations on Bristol is that it is not purely the distance factor which attracts goods. The time factor in delivering them is much more important than the distance. If a lorry has to go 20 miles through congested traffic and takes three hours to reach its destination, people prefer to send their goods on an 80 mile journey which takes only two hours. This calculation has been omitted.

I would much prefer to accept the judgment of the people of Bristol, who are willing to take this risk. The Minister was, I think, endeavouring to panic them to put them against the project by his remarks about the rates. It is the first time that the Government have used that argument. Never before have they tried to illustrate it.

There are several reasons why the rate argument is a particularly bad one. First, the Minister quoted figures based on the lowest estimate, which, therefore, gives the worst possible interpretation of what might take place. Secondly, he failed to take into consideration an increase in the rateable value for Bristol which may well result due to the development of these ports and docks by attracting other industries and economic expansion to the area.

Thirdly, although he must have been aware of this, the Minister failed to tell the House that the Port of Bristol had £2 million worth of reserves and that it was out of these reserves that Bristol would meet the initial deficit.

Mr. Marsh

I think that I made it clear when using that as an analogy that it was a complex matter and it depended entirely on the way that the debt was funded.

Mr. Walker

I am grateful for that half apology, but the only object of quoting the figure of 5d. in the £ on the rates was to frighten the people of Bristol into thinking that they were on to a bad bet, whereas the Port of Bristol and all the political parties in the council, who are united on this matter, know the figures, know that they have the reserves and know that it will be in the interests of the ratepayers and the people of Bristol to go ahead with this project. That is their calculation knowing all the figures and statistics that the Minister knows.

Mr. Wilkins

The scheme would have the further advantage of a release of land within the middle of the city.

Mr. Walker

Yes. The hon. Member has made that further point. Therefore, on the grounds of the interests of the ratepayers, I do not accept the Minister's argument.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to industrial development, again saying that no case had been made because the rate of industrial development had been faster than that of the rate of traffic into the port and, therefore, there was no argument on this basis. We know, however, that the development of the port will affect the whole of the South-West. This is one of the main proposals of the Economic Development Council for the South-West.

If the Government are going to set up these Councils in these regions, appoint people to them to give them their advice, and they say that there are three major things which can be done for the economic development of a region—in this case, the South-West—at least the Government might heed their advice. If they do not, what is the point of having an Economic Development Council for the South-West at all?

Mr. Anderson

The hon. Member asks why we should bother to appoint these good people if we are not going to accept their recommendations, but surely even he would not expect the Government to accept every recommendation made? Secondly, does he not think it unfortunate that, within its remit, the South-West Economic Planning Council was not able to look also at the effect of these proposals on the region and on the South Wales ports as well, and not simply at Bristol?

Mr. Walker

As to the second point, the Minister has not given any positive hope to the region at all, either South Wales or the South-West. Unlike some hon. Members, I have visited the South Wales ports and I know exactly what is going on there. As to the first point, of course I do not expect the Government to accept every proposal, but when the Planning Council comes out with its report on economic development for the South-West and makes three major proposals, and many minor ones, it ill becomes the Minister to say that he does not think this is of any importance in the economic development of the South-West, and to say that without giving any detailed argument.

I believe it is absolutely right to go ahead with this project, and certainly if I were in the Minister's position I would give the go ahead to this project.

First, I think the Minister's answer is based on an outdated concept of looking at the previous pattern of development of ports. I cannot do better than quote the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor when she turned down Portbury. She said: Recently completed analyses of port traffic flows and their relationship to port hinterlands show that the great majority of our imports and exports are generated close to the ports through which the traffics flow. I believe that concept has dogged the Ministry of Transport ever since. The Ministry has failed to realise that the motorways, and possibly the freightliner trains, will transform the pattern of ports.

Secondly, Bristol is prepared and ready with its plans. It has an ideal site and a port well managed by a port authority which can boast of a really remarkable record of achievement over the years, an authority of no political complexion. I have visited the port authority a number of times, and the thing which has impressed me is that the port authority is not party political, but that everybody in Bristol is rightly proud of it and its achievements. In those circumstances, I believe Bristol should be given the go ahead.

If the go ahead had been given originally, to the first project, that scheme would be well on its way by now, well under construction, and ready for the completion of the motorways. On the argument of the hinterland, the Government have failed to recognise the importance of the M5 and the M4, one motorway bringing from the Midlands a great deal of traffic which would otherwise congest other parts of the country, and the other, the M4, bringing traffic from the industrial areas west of London. Thirdly, the Government have failed to recognise the importance of time, not distance, in travel to ports. Fourthly, they have failed to recognise the importance of such a port in the development of the South-West.

They have failed, too, to recognise the potential of such a port on the main, long sea routes. Let it be remembered that this port is 250 miles nearer to the United States than is the Port of London, and 232 miles nearer South America. On these factors alone there would be an advantage in using the Port of Bristol.

I believe the Government are wrong, and I certainly hope that the next Government will take the opportunity of going ahead with such a project to enable this port to expand, on no other grounds than that Bristol is a city of people who are determined that their historic port shall be modernised so that they may show that spirit of merchant venturing for which they and their city are renowned. I think it is right for the Government to turn down such a proposal if, quite clearly, it is an absurd, ridiculous project.

If Bristol had come forward with a scheme which sounded splendid for the City of Bristol, but all the figures showed that it was an absurd and ridiculous scheme, I would have opposed it. Indeed, when I first went to look into the Portbury Scheme, when I was appointed "shadow Minister of Transport", I must confess that I went there with some scepticism that that was a place which was clinging to an idea which was not warranted. Having examined the facts and details of the reports since then, I think investment on the historical figures is marginal. But with the spirit of Bristol and the various developments which are taking place, I believe it has every likelihood of being a successful investment. I hope that at the earliest opportunity it will be given the chance of proving that the City's confidence is fully justified.

9.16 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)

I intervened when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport was speaking to protest against what I thought was his too early intervention. My right hon. Friend reminded me that I should know the practice of the House. I do know the practice of the House. However, I thought that my right hon. Friend should have waited because I hoped that he would listen to further arguments. However, he has obviously made up his mind in advance of the debate and nothing for the moment will change it. Therefore, as a Bristol Member representing that historic part of the city in which is situated the old docks, as distinct from the new docks we are discussing tonight, I propose to answer some of the points which have been raised.

I want to assure my right hon. Friend that this is a continuing fight; it is not one which Bristol will give up lightly even if we lose the vote tonight, which I still hope we will not.

My right hon. Friend has made his decision. I will say a few words about the timing of it in a moment. I think that it is most unfortunate that my right hon. Friend has not, as yet, been to Bristol to see the Avonmouth site for himself. At least his predecessors went to Bristol. My right hon. Friend has made this decision, which is of great consequence to the city, without seeing the issue, if you like, on the ground. At least, that should have been done in fairness to Bristol and its work.

My right hon. Friend says that the country cannot afford the West Dock; that in different circumstances it would be a different matter. If that is the case, why could not Bristol have been told this by the Ministry a long time ago? Surely, in these circumstances the protracted delay is indefensible—1964 to 1968. The first Bristol scheme came forward in 1964 and since then we have had four years of delay. This has not been for lack of activity on the part of Bristol Members on both sides. We have pressed the present Minister, as we did his predecessors, for a decision but no decision was given until now.

I helped my right hon. Friend by putting down a Question, because he said that he would make a decision on Friday last. But it was only at the last minute of the 11th hour that the decision was made. My right hon. Friend says that it was to help the debate; that it would have been unfortunate if there had been no statement before the debate. The fact is this debate on the Bill has precipitated my right hon. Friend into making the decision.

Great bitterness is felt about the decision in Bristol, on both sides of the political fence. This was a scheme which was put forward by the Port of Bristol Authority, unanimously backed by the city council when the Labour Party was in the majority, and it has been supported since the Conservatives, or Citizens, as they call themselves in our city, have taken over—I hope temporarily. I assure my right hon. Friend that there will be great bitterness about the way in which the city has been treated.

The leader of the opposition Labour Party on the city council has given me the text of a motion which is to be put down for a meeting of the council tomorrow. I am sure that the motion will receive unanimous support. It protests against the way in which Bristol has been treated, and assures the people of Bristol that the council will continue its fight, as I said earlier.

I think that the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) was right when he said it was rather sad that at this stage the Minister should try to scare Bristol ratepayers by talking about the effect of this scheme on the rates. This is a flourishing enterprise. It happens to be the largest remaining single municipal trading undertaking in the country. In an earlier age it would have been a source of Socialist delight. Here we have a public undertaking directly responsible to the people of the city, and controlled by them through their votes.

Mr. Marsh

I did not intend to scare the people of Bristol. I used that as an argument to demonstrate that on the calculations which had been made this dock would lose vast sums of money for at least the first nine years.

Mr. Palmer

I have heard many arguments against Bristol, but that is the most novel. It must have been necessary to dip to the bottom of the rag bag of arguments to bring that one up. I am sorry if I offend my right hon. Friend, but we must speak plainly on this matter, because we feel strongly about it. My right hon. Friend told us, and it is no novel economic discovery, that it is not just a matter of cash, but of economic resources.

Mr. Marsh


Mr. Palmer

Then what did my right hon. Friend say?

Mr. Marsh

I am sorry if my hon. Friend wants me to keep intervening. I was talking about the fact that public expenditure amounted to so much. I did not make the point about economic resources.

Mr. Palmer

I thought that my hon. Friend was saying that one could not argue that because Bristol had money the city ought to be allowed to go ahead, or because it could raise the money it should be allowed to proceed. I thought that he was saying that it was a matter of the proper disposal of national economic resources. That is my recollection of my right hon. Friend's argument, and it sounds a good one, but there is public expenditure and public expenditure. The case for Bristol is that this is not merely in the interests of Bristol, but in the interests of the general prosperity of the country. In short, it is a fit and proper use of economic resources, scarce as they may be.

It seems curious for my right hon. Friend to argue that all docks development must be co-ordinated in a national plan. He was previously the Minister of Power, and as such sanctioned the expenditure of public money on the electricity, gas, and coal industries, which compete with each other. Some of my hon. Friends do not particularly like that system, but it is one which my right hon. Friend supported, and which, incidentally, I support.

It is compatible with the planning of national resources to have reasonable competition between ports. Socialists differ always on what is a Socialist argument. I am simply pointing out that if we invest in electricity it does not mean that we must not therefore invest in gas, because they are both sources of energy. In fact, there is now reasonable competition, and that is very much in the interests of national efficiency.

I was glad that my right hon. Friend did not this time overstress the question of discounted cash flow. In fact, he seemed almost as doubtful about its value as was Professor Tress, in the South-West Survey. As an engineer I am, by nature, always suspicious of accountants. They generally stand in the way of getting things done. The first thing about discounted cash flow is that it is possible to make the figure almost anything. It depends on the assumptions that are made. It is possible to conjure with the figures and throw anything into the equation.

In my view, that is what the Ministry has been attempting to do. The Ministry says that it is 6 per cent., and that if it is 6 per cent. we cannot have it. The Authority has argued that it is 9½ per cent. at the maximum. The question is not objective; it is subjective. Almost everything has been dragged in to produce figures which blacken the Bristol case.

I should have thought that the proper view to take was that Bristol has given great thought and a vast amount of time to working out this scheme; that it is already a prosperous port; that its judgment has proved sound in the light of past experience; that it has excellent management and good local judgment by the man on the spot; and that in all the circumstances the Government were not taking a great risk in allowing Bristol to trust its own judgment and go ahead. I was delighted that my right hon. Friend did not seem to think very much of discounted cash flow, because I do not think much of it myself. It is, therefore, largely a question of personal judgment and local initiative.

The real reason why this scheme has been turned down has not been frankly stated. The reason is political. The scheme has been turned down because of pressure from South Wales—and especially from the Transport Docks Board, which hopes to be the germ of the new nationalised organisation. I am not against such nationalisation, but I hope that there will still be a considerable measure of local control. The view has also been put forward—and it is perhaps even more dangerous—that since Bristol is already prosperous its further development can easily be sacrificed. I must point out that the prosperity of Bristol is the prosperity of Severnside and that the prosperity of South Wales is equally the prosperity of Severnside.

As to the idea that Bristol can be run down so that other areas can be lifted up, I would have thought that a sound judgment would be that the future should be built on the best and not on the average.

Much was said, in great detail, in the other place. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands) quoted extensively from the report of the hearings before the Select Committee in the other place. It is a weighty document, which I have here. My hon. Friend did not say that the Select Committee reported to the other place that the Bill should proceed. I hope that the excellent example set there will be followed here tonight.

My right hon. Friend said that this was not a party question. If it is not a party question I hope that it will not be decided by a party vote, and that the Whips will not use their influence at the doors of the Lobbies. We shall see.

The Bill should go into Committee. The Government have nothing to fear from that. Let the case of the Bristol and the South-West objectors be heard. I do not think that there is any procedural difficulty in having the Minister before the Committee. If, on Friday, we had received the answer "Yes" for Bristol, the Bill would still have been needed to implement the decision. There must be a Private Bill. If it is referred to a Committee the Minister's position is fully safeguarded, because if it became an Act, it could not be activated unless his powers were invoked. This has been agreed to by the sponsors already.

Whatever influence may be exerted by the Whips in this matter, I am sure that the Bristol Members present will vote for the Bill. I certainly shall. It would be a bad day in parliamentary representa- tion if Members who had the privilege of speaking in this place for a great and ancient city did not go into the Lobby on behalf of that city. I hope also that the majority of hon. Members on both sides will follow the example which will be set by Bristol Members.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I would remind the House that there are 28 minutes left and quite a number of Bristolians and anti-Bristolians want to speak.

9.32 p.m.

Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)

Anyone who has listened to the debate so far, with the exception of the speeches by the two Front Bench spokesmen, might have concluded that this was purely a battle between Bristol and South Wales. This is not the case, and it was for that reason that I so quickly interrupted the Minister. I use as the basis of my case the first of the recommendations on investment requirements for a strategy for the South-West, in the Tress Report. This is Recommendation 561, on page 123. It says: The Council"— that is, the Economic Council— will continue to urge on the Government the importance of port investment in the upper Bristol Channel, particularly at the Port of Bristol. There were also other significant paragraphs in the Report, particularly paragraphs 234 and 236. Throughout, one sees the South-West Regional Economic Planning Council urging the Government to accept the recommendation of approval of the Bill. The real tragedy of the Minister's statement is that this is the first of the three major recommendations made in the Tress Report. The Minister said that the Council has … made it clear that they regard the proposed West Dock as one of the three principal planks in their regional strategy. The right hon. Gentleman goes on: After very careful consideration, therefore, the Government have concluded that the refusal of my authorisation to build the West Dock will not affect the overall growth prospects of the Region. What we have here is the Minister, quite openly and frankly, saying, "I know better than the Regional Council."

Mr. Palmer

Why should he not?

Mr. Emery

If the hon. Gentleman takes that view, perhaps he believes that the Minister should say, "To hell with the Economic Planning Council. Let its recommendations go to blazes and its 30 members go home."

I have initiated debates in the House on the Tress Report, when the Government have said that they were considering its recommendations. At no time have they said that they had no intention of accepting them. This is why I condemn the Government. I admit that it was a different Ministry answering at that time, but it was the same Minister and I give him credit for being frank and honest, which is more than we have had from other Ministers. At least he said, "No. We in Whitehall know better than the people on the spot who have made these recommendations after studying the matter for 2½ years."

It should be made clear that this matter does not affect only Bristol. It concerns the other conurbations throughout the link to North Devon into Exeter. Certain industrialists have been considering the provision of employment in this part of Devon in the belief that this scheme would go forward.

I find the Minister's argument for using the discount cash flow technique rather strange. One must consider not only the rate of return which would benefit Bristol, but the return for the south-west region as a whole. I find it strange to learn from hon. Members who represent Bristol that they are willing to go forward with this £15 million project on an entire private stock issue, so that the money will be provided by industry. We should remember, therefore, that industry which wants this stock can come forward with the money. That being so, this does not fall into the normal category of public expenditure with which, in any event, the Government has been too generous. In this case a local authority is asking the Minister to allow industry to find the money to finance a project that industry wants. For this reason the Minister should not be allowed to reject the proposal.

I am perturbed at the squabbling with Wales that has gone on. It seems a non sequitur. If the trade at Bristol docks increased by 8 million to 12 million tons in the next three or four years, that would represent an increase of l½ per cent. in the total volume of traffic throughout the country. Thus, this is not of such major importance merely to Wales. It affects the south-west region as a whole.

People want to use the smaller ports away from London and Liverpool. I speak from experience because in one of my businesses I use Felixstowe, a port of which many people have not even heard. It has easy access and the good labour relations that exist there enable one to operate more quickly and easily than is normally the case in London or Liverpool. For this reason Bristol has much to recommend it.

I do not want the Bill merely to be sent into Committee. It should be placed on the Statute Book immediately. There has already been too much delay and the South-West condemns the Government for constantly fobbing off and postponing good proposals of this type. Let us have an affirmative decision tonight and pass the Bill, rather than merely send it into Committee.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that only 20 minutes remain for the debate. If hon. Members would be brief, both they and the Chair would be grateful.

9.40 p.m.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery), who has reiterated the case for the South-West. I am sure that he will not mind if I am as adamant in putting the argument in favour of South Wales.

This is an issue over which much heat has been generated, and Bristol has certainly put up a tremendous fight. Let us be quite clear that it has been completely ruthless in the promotion of its schemes. I compliment my hon. Friends on their efforts to bring the Bristol schemes to fruition—in these arguments no holds have been barred—but they may possibly have tended to underestimate the opposition. After all, Welshmen love a fight. I think that I have played some modest part in harnessing the opposition to this scheme.

In the event, the Government have made a sober decision based on economic facts and financial accountability. That is how any fair-minded person would judge an issue like this. I believe the Government's decision to be in line with their declared policy of creating an integrated transport system with the ports organised on the basis of public ownership. Unified control of policy is essential to prevent the continuation of haphazard development, and decisions relating to the ports will affect the wellbeing of the whole colony and can be taken only on the basis of positive central planning.

This manner of thinking is also in line with the whole Severnside project and, as the Minister pointed out in his letter of 5th July to Sir Kenneth Brown, Chairman of the Port of Bristol Authority, the report on that project may not be available before the end of 1969. I feel sure that the Minister will also take into consideration the fact that the coastal strip known as the Wentlooge and Llanwern Flats, east and west of Newport, is one of the three sites in the country at present being considered for major maritime industrial development.

We in Wales have opposed this West Dock scheme as, earlier, we opposed the Portbury scheme. We have throughout maintained that similar facilities could be provided in South Wales more quickly and more efficiently, and at a fraction of the cost. Our opposition goes even beyond that. Our ports suffered with the decline of the coal industry in South Wales, and it is fair to say that we have picked ourselves up by our bootlaces as it were. Great things are at present under way in the South Wales ports. Much credit is due to the British Transport Docks Board for its enterprise and its success in introducing new traffic. New equipment has been introduced to cater for modern needs and requirements.

The Bristol scheme, if it were allowed to proceed, could upset all our efforts. In South Wales we are proud of our ports for they are the arteries of our nation. There are five ports which come under the British Transport Docks Board. Mil-ford Haven is excluded. Those five ports tend to be complementary to each other. In South Wales we have a sort of ports complex on similar lines to London and Merseyside. I am privileged to represent the Port of Newport, a very prosperous and go-ahead town. Its enterprise is shown to no better advantage than in the present development of its docks. A few years ago there was the removal of the coal hoists in Newport. This was symbolic of change and the effort to look to the future which is taking place in Newport.

A few months ago I was privileged to be at our docks in Newport when the Prime Minister came to open our new timber terminal. That terminal is the most modern in the United Kingdom, and possibly in Europe. A container terminal is being developed in Newport. I wish many more West Country hon. Members were present to hear this. Both these major schemes in Newport are sound financial propositions. In Port Talbot we have a new terminal going ahead at a cost of £17 million capable of taking vessels of 100,000 tons.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are discussing the Bristol Bill. The hon. Member must come to it.

Mr. Hughes

I was trying to develop the alternative facilities and better facilities that exist in South Wales. An hon. Member opposite spoke of motorways which link with the Port of Bristol. In South Wales we have not been lagging behind in this matter. Newport is in closer reach of Britain's major centres of population, industry and commerce. For example, nearing completion is the Ross Spur, which will give direct access to the M5 and Birmingham. The M4—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must take note of what I said. This is not the Newport Corporation Bill; it is the Bristol Corporation Bill. He must link his remarks to the Bill.

Mr. Hughes

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but I felt that we have to put the counter-arguments to the Bristol scheme. It is worth pointing out that Bristol already has a lower percentage of unemployment than the South Wales ports. If this West Dock scheme were to go ahead it could have the effect of intensifying unemployment in South Wales.

The fact has to be faced that this additional traffic is required if Bristol is to make a viable proposition of the new West Dock scheme. This traffic would be obtained at the expense of the South Wales ports. It would create a difficult situation for the British Transport Docks Board for the under-utilisation already of the South Wales ports cannot be too greatly exaggerated. Cardiff's timber trade might well be diverted to Bristol. South Wales exports about 30,000 vehicles a year to the United States from the Midlands and from London. This trade would be equally vulnerable if the Bristol scheme went through. Already there is speculation about Bristol being interested in the steel coil trade. Newport's gross revenue loss as a result would be about £600,000 per annum.

All these developments have involved considerable amounts of capital. It has been said that the Portbury scheme and other Bristol schemes were being thought out when people in South Wales were asleep in their beds. Since the South Wales ports were nationalised in 1948, £23 million has been invested in them and a further £11 million is in the process of being spent. That excludes the Uskmouth scheme at a cost of £8 million, which is the subject of review at present.

Mr. Wilkins

Does my hon. Friend want to stop this scheme?

Mr. Hughes

I would like the House to bear in mind, too, that—

Mr. Robert Cooke

Other hon. Members want to speak.

Mr. Hughes

—when the Rochdale investigations were carried out, the South Wales ports were inclined to be dead or in the doldrums and certainly were financial losers. This is not so today. Bristol has tried to imply that it is not in direct competition with South Wales. We believe that this is not so. Bristol has indicated that South Wales is concerned only with primary products. Again this is not so. I cite the timber trade, motor cars and steel coils. This is the trade which the Port of Bristol must attract if the West Dock scheme is to be made a viable proposition.

If the Government had given Bristol the go-ahead and if the scheme had succeeded, all that Wales would have got out of it would have been the crumbs from the rich man's table. Alternatively, if the scheme goes ahead and if it fails, this will be disastrous to the nation and, perhaps even more so, to the ratepayers and citizens of Bristol. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Above all, it would throw into jeopardy all the patient efforts of South Wales to build a modern ports system. Bristol already has a good and efficiently run docks. There is a tendency to under-estimate this. It has been said that Bristol is at present working to capacity. I understand that this is the subject of dispute, because the shift system at Bristol is not being fully utilised. Bristol is the centre of a vast and growing sub-region. The same cannot be said of Wales at present, though our prospects are bright.

In conclusion, we are glad that the Minister has based his decision on ordinary financial and economic criteria. We in Wales are united in our opposition to the scheme.

9.54 p.m.

Mr. R. F. H. Dobson (Bristol, North-East)

I very much regret, as many other Members, including those from Bristol, do, the fact that South Wales Members of Parliament are against the Bill for their own reasons. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Roy Hughes) took the main accolade of pleasure to himself. His attitude will be bitterly resented by many Labour supporters and others in Bristol.

My complaint about the Government's opposition to the Bill is relatively simple. First, I complain very much that we have not been given the facts which we are entitled to have before making a decision on the matter. This is disgraceful. For many months the Government have said that their figures are right, the Port of Bristol has said that its figures are right, and two or three other bodies, including the National Ports Council, have claimed that their figures are right.

Why is the White Paper which we discussed with Ministers and others before the Easter Recess not available? I am sorry to say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that I did not like his statement on Friday, and I did not like the fact that those of us who had been intimately involved were not given a copy. It would have helped us to give some thought to the matter over the weekend. I was abroad on Parliamentary business and those of us who were not in London had no knowledge of this. I did not know until I returned to the United Kingdom.

Mr. Marsh

I apologise to my hon. Friend. All hon. Members concerned were written to, and if the hon. Member was not available for reasons which are perfectly legitimate—

Mr. Dobson

My hon. Friends tell me that they have not received it. I hope that the Minister will take this as a criticism. I am sorry to have to speak in such blunt terms, but it is a very fair point.

The matter will not be closed entirely unless the Bill is voted out. If the Bill goes to Committee we would at least have a chance to consider further information. My right hon. Friend must realise that his decision is being looked at very unfavourably, to put it at its mildest, by the people of Bristol. They are not convinced by the facts and figures which he has presented. They are proud of their port; they are proud of it as a municipal undertaking and proud of the public control they have over it. They feel strongly about the loss of the opportunity to develop.

My right hon. Friend cannot have it both ways. He cannot, as he did in the Adjournment debate of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) say that if there is no development the port will stultify, and then today say that this is not the end of Bristol docks. Of course, it is not the end of Bristol docks, but it is the end of the logical development in Bristol docks

which the local people can see. I hope that the Minister will think again and not oppose the Bill.

9.57 p.m.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Monmouth)

It is sad that the debate has shown a rivalry between the two sides of the Bristol Channel when they should be working in co-operation. On the whole, the Government are right in turning down this piecemeal approach, but I appeal to them to press forward as soon as they can with a comprehensive ports development for the whole of the Bristol Channel. If we do not work together, the alternative is that we shall lose together.

The Bristol Channel has very much to offer in terms of national ports development because of the congestion of the English Channel and our proximity to the major American market. I appeal to my colleagues on both sides of the Channel and to the Minister to push this as far as they can. We must try to see that the things that we have in common work together for our mutual benefit, and prevent the piecemeal schemes which I believe the Minister was right to shoot down both on ports grounds and on national economic grounds.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 63, Noes 166.

Division No. 270.] AYES [10.0 p.m.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Hunt, John Sharples, Richard
Awdry, Daniel Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Jopling, Michael Sinclair, Sir George
Biggs-Davison, John Kimball, Marcus Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Brewis, John Longden, Gilbert Stainton, Keith
Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Loveys, W. H. Teeling, Sir William
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) MacArthur, Ian Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Dobson, Ray Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham) Vickers, Dame Joan
Doughty, Charles Maddan, Martin Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Maginnis, John E. Walters, Dennis
Eden, Sir John Maude, Angus Ward, Dame Irene
Elliott, R.W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Monro, Hector Weatherill, Bernard
Ellis, John More, Jasper Wells, John (Maidstone)
Emery, Peter Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Eyre, Reginald Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Wilkins, W. A.
Fraser, John (Norwood) Osborn, John (Hallam) Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Gresham Cooke, R. Palmer, Arthur Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Halt-Davis, A. G. F. Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe) Younger, Hn. George
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Peel, John
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Percival, Ian TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Heseltine, Michael Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks) Mr. Robert Cooke and
Hiley, Joseph Royle, Anthony Mr. Paul Dean.
Hornby, Richard
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Blackburn, F.
Anderson, Donald Bagier, Gordon A. T. Blenkinsop, Arthur
Armstrong, Ernest Barnett, Joel Booth, Albert
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Bessell, Peter Boyden, James
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Howie, W. O'Malley, Brian
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Huckfield, Leslie Orme, Stanley
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Oswald, Thomas
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Hunter, Adam Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Hynd, John Pannell, Bt. Hn. Charles
Buchan, Norman Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Park, Trevor
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Janner, Sir Barnett Parkyn, Brian (Bedord)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Huil W.) Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Jones, Dan (Burnley) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Cant, R. B. Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Pentland, Norman
Carmichael, Neil Judd, Frank Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Kenyon, Clifford Rees, Merlyn
Coe, Denis Lawson, George Reynolds, Rt. Hn. G. W.
Coleman, Donald Leadbitter, Ted Rhodes, Geoffrey
Concannon, J. D. Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)
Crawshaw, Richard Lestor, Miss Joan Robertson, John (Paisley)
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St.P'c'as)
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Lomas, Kenneth Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)
Dalyell, Tam Luard, Evan Roebuck, Roy
Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Rose, Paul
Davies, s. O. (Merthyr) McCann, John Ross. Rt. Hn. William
Dempsey, James MacColl, James Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)
Dewar, Donald MacDermot, Niall Sheldon, Robert
Doig, Peter Macdonald, A. H. Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Dunn, James A. McGuire, Michael Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Eadie, Alex Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Ennals, David Mackie, John Silverman, Julius
Ensor, David Maclennan, Robert Slater, Joseph
Evans, loan L. (Birm'h'm, Vardley) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Snow, Julian
Faulds, Andrew McNamara, J. Kevin Spriggs, Leslie
Fernyhough, E. Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Summerskiil, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Forrester, John Manuel, Archie Thomas, Rt. Hn. George
Fowler, Gerry Marks, Kenneth Thornton, Ernest
Freeson, Reginald Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard Tinn, James
Galpern, Sir Myer Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Urwin, T. W.
Gower, Raymond Mendelson, J. J. Varley, Eric G.
Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Millan, Bruce Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Grey, Charles (Durham) Miller, Dr. M. S. Wallace, George
Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Milne, Edward (Blyth) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly) Moonman, Eric Whitaker, Ben
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) White, Mrs. Eirene
Hamling, William Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Hannan, William Morris, Alfred (Wythenehawe) Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Harper, Joseph Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Winnick, David
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Morris, John (Aberavon) Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Hattersley, Roy Moyle, Roland Yates Victor
Hazell, Bert Murray, Albert
Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town) Neal, Harold TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hooley, Frank Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.) Mr. Ernest G. Perry and
Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Oakes, Gordon Mr. Neil McBride.
Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Ogden, Eric