HC Deb 12 June 1968 vol 766 cc375-98

9.55 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Neil Carmichael)

I beg to move, That the limit on the aggregate amount of loans and grants together made by the Minister of Transport under Sections 11 and 12 of the Harbours Act 1964 as extended by the Docks and Harbours Act 1966 shall be £100,000,000 instead of £50,000,000. I think perhaps it will be of assistance to the House if, before dealing with the reasons for this Motion, I outline the nature and scope of the powers given to my right hon. Friend by the Sections referred to.

Section 11 of the Harbours Act, 1964, as extended by Section 40 of the Docks and Harbours Act, 1966, empowers my right hon. Friend, after consultation with the National Ports Council and with the approval of the Treasury, to make loans to statutory harbour authorities; that is to say, harbour authorities which have statutory powers and duties in relation to their harbours. These loans may be made to enable the authorities to meet expenses of a capital nature incurred in acquiring land or plant and machinery, or in executing works. There is also power for my right hon. Friend to make further loans to cover payments due during the first five years on a loan made by him under the Section. The money for loans under the Section is issued by the Treasury out of the National Loans Fund; it is not voted money. Finally, in order to avoid possible confusion, I should perhaps point out that this power to make loans does not extend to the nationalised part of the industry, the British Transport Docks Board, nor to the ports managed by the British Railways Board and the British Waterways Board; loans to these boards are made under specific provisions included in the Transport Act, 1962.

Section 12 of the Harbours Act, 1964, again as extended by Section 40 of the Docks and Harbours Act, 1966, empowers my right hon. Friend, after consultation with the National Ports Council and with the approval of the Treasury, to make grants to statutory harbour authorities, to any other person engaged in improving, maintaining or managing a harbour, and to any person carrying out harbour operations. The term "harbour operations" broadly includes the marking or lighting of a harbour, the berthing or towing of ships, the warehousing and handling of goods, and the movement, embarkation etc. of passengers. Grants may be made in respect of expenses incurred in acquiring land, or plant and machinery, or in executing works. There is also power for my right hon. Friend to make grants to cover the first five years' interest due on a loan made by him under Section 11. The money to meet the grants comes from a Ministry of Transport Vote, and is therefore subject to the usual supply procedures. Finally, unlike Section 11, Section 12 extends to the nationalised Boards, and grants are made to them under the Section on the same basis as are grants to other persons.

Summing up, the House will note that both loans and grants may be made in respect of the acquisition of land, plant or machinery, the execution of works, or to meet the first five year's interest on a loan made under Section 11. In this respect there is no difference between the two Sections. But whereas loans may only be made to statutory harbour authorities, grants may be paid to a much wider range of persons; and whilst loans are made from the National Loans Fund, grants are paid from a Ministry of Transport Vote; additionally, loans—but not grants—may be made to cover repayments of principal due during the first five years on a loan made under Section 11; in these respects, the Sections are different.

This Motion is moved under the provisions of Section 13 of the Harbours Act, 1964. Section 13(1) provides that the aggregate amount of loans and grants together made by the Minister under Sections 11 and 12 shall not exceed £50 million or, if so provided by a Resolution of the Commons House of Parliament, £100 million. There are two points to which I would invite the attention of the House. The first is that the Section refers to the aggregate amount of loans made, not to the total amount at any one time outstanding. Thus, as time passes and further loans are made, the total continually increases; it is not reduced by the repayment of loans already made. The second is that no half-way house is possible; if we require an increase above £50 million we cannot ask for £60 million or £75 million; we can only ask for £100 million. In passing, I understand—I may perhaps be wrong, but I believe it to be the case and the House may be interested to know this—that there is no precedent for a Motion of precisely this kind; in other cases limits to somewhat similar powers have had to be altered by Statutory Instrument. Therefore, in a very minor way, we are making a little history this evening.

I hope that this explanation of the statutory background to the Motion will have helped the House. I think the House would wish me now to say a few words about the use which my right hon. Friend has made, and intends to make, of these powers, and the reasons why we think it right now to ask the House to increase to £100 million, the limit of loans and grants taken together.

So far as loans are concerned, my right hon. Friend's policy is to make it possible for publicly-controlled harbour authorities to have access to Government funds at appropriate lending rates to facilitate the carrying out of projects of port modernisation and development which are in the national interest. Loans are normally made for periods varying between 15 and 50 years, depending on the financial prospects and the expected useful life of the asset concerned. Each loan is related to a specific scheme; loans are not made in respect of the overall capital expenditure of an authority. Furthermore, each loan is restricted to the net cost of the project concerned; that is, after making allowance for any grant which may in due course become payable under Section 12. Any scheme which costs more than £500,000 can only be carried out after my right hon. Friend has given his authorisation under Section 9 of the Harbours Act, 1964; in these cases, therefore, the scheme will already have been subjected to close examination and evaluation, including financial appraisal on a discounted cash flow basis, before the loan is applied for. Schemes costing less than £500,000 can be carried out without my right hon. Friend's authorisation, and, before a loan is agreed, these will be examined carefully to ensure that they are soundly based. In all cases my right hon. Friend will wish to satisfy himself that the borrower will be able to service and repay the loan he is seeking.

So far my right hon. Friend has agreed to make loans totalling some £29 million. The greater part of this is in respect of major developments—the Port of London Authority's new docks at Tilbury, for which there was a loan of £14 million; the new entrance lock at Leith where the loan was £5 million; the dredging of the Tees to take large tankers, where the loan was £4 million; but a number of smaller loans have been made to cover lesser but significant improvements at, for example, Milford Haven, on the Stour/Orwell estuary, and at Whit-stable. The smallest is a loan of some £24,000 made to enable the dock gates at Berwick-upon-Tweed to be repaired.

My right hon. Friend's policy in respect of grants was announced by his predecessor in the House on 27th June, 1966. I think that it may be convenient if I recapitulate the essential points of that statement, which ran as follows:— I intend to use my powers under Section 12 of the Harbours Act, 1964, to make grants to statutory harbour authorities of 20 per cent, of their approved capital expenditure on

  1. (a) building and civil engineering works which will make a substantial and desirable contribution to facilities for international trade, and trade with Northern Ireland and with Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles of Scotland.
  2. (b) specialised plant and mechanical equipment required for loading or unloading goods in or from a sea-going ship or handling such goods on harbour land or at a wharf.
I also intend to make grants on expenditure of this kind by other harbour authorities and persons carrying out harbour operations."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1966; Vol. 730, c. 205–6.] The scheme foreshadowed by that statement, since entitled the port modernisation grant scheme, is broadly intended to do for port authorities what the Board of Trade investment grant scheme does for manufacturing and extractive industry. Like that scheme it applies to payments made on and after 17th January, 1966. The first payments of grant were made in July, 1967. Because the former investment allowances continued to mature for some 18 months after they were discontinued in January, 1966, it was necessary, as explained in the Government's White Paper on Investment Incentives, Cmnd. 2874, to defer payment of grants initially in order to avoid too heavy a burden on the Exchequer. The interval has been progressively reduced, and payment is now made nine months after the end of the quarter in which the expenditure was incurred. In the period to the end of the financial year 1967–68 grants amounting to some £6 million have been paid, and payments are expected to continue at a rate of about £10 million a year for several years.

Totting up then, we have loans totalling £29 million; grants paid to date and to be paid this year, £16 million, making a total of £45 million. We have now received applications from the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board for loans totalling nearly £14 million in respect of the first stage of its new Seaforth Docks and other major works at Liverpool; from the Milford Haven Conservancy for a loan of £4 million to meet the cost of dredging the Haven to take 250,000-ton tankers, and other applications may well be in the pipeline.

At this stage, therefore, we have come to the House to ask for this increase in the limit on loans and grants as provided for in the Act. I hope that I have satisfactorily explained to the House why we need this Resolution, but if there are any points which I have not covered I will seek the permission of the House to try to answer them.

10.5 p.m.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Portsmouth, Langstone)

Although the effort to be in two places at once, which so many of us are making, clearly reflects on someone, I am sure that I will enjoy the relatively pleasant contrast between the somewhat semantic and tortuous controversies of prices and incomes and finance upstairs and the opportunity to get down to earth in this Chamber on an issue of fundamental importance.

Although very much less semantic and political—rather like the Bill which the House has just been considering—this Motion will, in my view, certainly affect all real incomes, prices and standards of living, possibly more than any other single category of national expenditure, with the possible exception of computers. There is no area of national policy in which an intelligently spent £ is more likely to add a millimetre of butter to the nation's bread than a £ intelligently spent on port modernisation.

Therefore, I particularly welcome the Minister of State's recent announcement that the Government approaches port reorganisation, for which this money is primarily required, with an open mind. We can see that the Government are asking for an open purse and we therefore welcome this declaration, even if we have some residual scepticism about the quality of the mind which they are keeping open.

The hon. Gentleman has already cleared up one question, because it was not clear from the memorandum describing this request whether the £29 million to be spent to date included the £6 million and the £10 million referred to subsequently. Apparently, it does, and I accept that the total is £45 million. In any event, at least £21 million of the original £50 million has now been committed or is about to be committed. It would be interesting to hear how the money is being and has been spent in rather more detail than the Parliamentary Secretary has given us. Since there is evidence that what might be called the long rate of State expenditure on port projects is rising, what are the annual rates forecast for the years beyond 1968–69?

We have reached what appears to be a statistical peak, but there has been a decline recently. I am sure that the country would like to know whether the Government contemplate that this total will recover, whether what some statisticians describe as slippage in the actual amount of money spent as opposed to the amount of money authorised will recover, and whether the total expenditure is likely to rise in accordance with the new total authorisation which the Government now seek.

The second point that I ask the Parliamentary- Secretary to discuss in more detail is the relationship between the Treasury and the National Ports Council. It is clear that the loans are made with the approval of the Treasury and after consultation with the National Ports Council. The power to approve naturally confers a much greater authority on the Treasury. Is the Treasury merely seeing that the financial limits as a whole, the two sections described by the Parliamentary Secretary, are being observed, or is the Treasury passing judgment on the merits of schemes which the National Ports Council has itself approved?

If the latter assumption be correct, what steps have been taken to ensure that the Treasury is competent to exercise a discriminating judgment as between one scheme and another in similar or comparable schemes which have been submitted to it? If the Treasury is doing this, how do the Government justify the continuation of the National Ports Council? The Treasury's function is primarily to say how much, and the Council's function is primarily to say what and where. I do not gain any evidence so far that there is a clear and proper distinction being made in these two areas.

My next question to the Parliamentary Secretary is this. There is provision for loans to meet payments of interest and principal during the first five years. Can he give any idea how much of the money that has so far been made available has come back in this way; that is to say, how much of the total which has been authorised and actually paid out has come back to the Treasury in the form of interest payments?

My next question is: of the money so far lent and spent what proportion has been paid out as loans under Section 11 to non-nationalised port authorities, and what proportion under Section 12 as modernisation grants, first, to public authority ports and, secondly, to other ports? What we would like to know is probably best described under the four headings that the National Ports Council itself produced in its digest of port statistics. There are four categories of ports here: nationalised ports; public trust ports; local authority ports; and private and other ports. It would be helpful to the House, and of great interest to the country, if we could discover exactly how the total sums so far made available have been distributed over these four areas, and if the Government would also give us some idea of how the sums which are now being requested will be distributed.

To come to more general questions on the area of expenditure for which this money is being required, the National Ports Council Report for 1967 contains on its own evidence no chapter on port planning. The reason for this is that a document on this subject was promised for 1968. The Government is asking for £50 million for essential expenditure on port planning, but so far we do not know what the plans are on which this money is to be spent. The National Ports Council may know, but it has not hold us if the document has not been published, and I assume that it has not been published. Can we be given a little more information on what the proposals are for which the money is required? If this is not available, are the Government not putting the cart before the horse, and should we not have had ample opportunity to consider the National Ports Council's proposals and thinking before being asked to pay for them, which is what we are being asked to do this evening?

Then the Government are laying great stress in many areas of policy on the provision of container services and unit load facilities. I am sure that it would be the unanimous opinion of hon. Members on all sides of the House who dabble in this activity that the powerful and effective thrust of private enterprise into a proven and challenging area of new technology is probably one of the most encouraging and important factors in the country today.

It has to be associated with the development of appropriate facilities by port and other public authorities, because the two are clearly interdependent, and a vast expenditure of private capital in one area without an appropriate and matching expenditure of public capital in the other would simply produce a situation which was very much less than the optimum, nationally speaking.

Clearly, ships require cranes. Cranes may have to be provided by port authorities if the ships do not carry them, and, generally speaking, the most modern container ships do not. Some of this money may be required for that purpose. Then, they are particularly heavy cranes and, therefore, strengthening of quays will be necessary. Some of the money may be required for that. Then the containers require large areas for container parks, in some cases provided by private enterprise and in others by the public authorities. Then the movement of containers requires carriers. One can go on and on. Clearly, there is an appropriate distribution of the provision between public and private enterprise, and it would be interesting to know the Government's thinking on this sector of policy.

I hope that the Government will realise that this must remain a two-pronged thrust, and that the main thrust of private capital must not be blunted either by uncertainty of ownership or uncertainty of operation of the vast range of facilities on which some of this money will be spent. Equally, one must hope that it will not be blunted by the lack of appropriate development of public facilities, wherever they are required.

Can the Minister give us some idea of what proportion of the money that has been spent so far and what proportion of the new funds requested are likely to be spent, first, on container and unit load facilities, which is a most important area, and, second, on other facilities? When the sums involved are so high, I think that it would be extremely useful to have some idea of the Government's thinking.

That brings me to the whole philosophy of future port planning, which again is the subject of this vast expenditure. So far, most of our thinking on port planning has been fundamentally related to port traffic forecasts. It is excellent that the National Ports Council should have invited the Department of Applied Economics of Cambridge University to study the relationship between imports and economic growth. I understand that its report has been completed and made available to port authorities. No one would quarrel with that, but why has it not been made available to Parliament If it is the type of information on which we are being asked to base our judgment of whether the very large sum of £50 million is required and likely to be spent correctly, the more information that we have, the better.

My next point concerns draughts. Is the Minister, in approving schemes for port development, now paying sufficient attention to the draughts of vessels likely to be used in the future for serving our major ports? There has been some public controversy over the Isle of Grain grain terminals, and I get the impression that the Government are revising their thinking on this very important subject.

Clearly, the rate of development in this area is very rapid. The increase in the size of vessels which has taken place over the last five years has been very dramatic, and there is no doubt that it is likely to continue and that the most careful, detailed and imaginative thinking is required by those who are spending money on the development of our ports. If we get left behind and make major errors of judgment in this sphere, the economic consequences will be more serious than some of those which appear to flow from more politically orientated subjects.

The question of small ports is of vital importance. The National Ports Council has commented that the vigour and enterprise of the small ports is an encouraging contribution to Britain's ability to compete in international trade in the European area. What proportion of the funds so far spent have gone to small ports in this country and are the Government proposing to encourage the development of small ports? Is some of the additional money now being requested likely to go into this viable and important area?

The success of our port investment programme is closely related, as the National Ports Council points out, to the facilities for bulk goods. What proportion of new loan capital will be invested in this sphere? I am particularly interested in this because in an exchange of correspondence with the Minister of State some months ago I was disturbed at the mode of his thinking on this question because he wrote: So far as bulk traffics are concerned, where only one or two shippers are involved, it would not be right for a port authority to propose a speculative development for bulk cargo, nor would we normally be prepared to authorise such a development. A port exists to provide a service; this service must be paid for by those who use it, and a port authority would therefore be very unwise to provide a specialised service—such as is required to cater for very large bulk carriers —without some assurance that it will be used and therefore paid for. Facilities for iron ore, for oil, for grain and for other bulk traffics, must match up to the demands of the customer, avoiding alike a failure to meet the customer's needs and the provision of costly facilities which the customer does not want. Would the customer have wanted the container facilities now being provided at Tilbury in 1962? How great a lead would this country have gained had these facilities been provided in 1962 and had there been a much earlier response to the container challenge? That is merely my view, but I refer to the view of the Director of the Port of Rotterdam, which is in direct contrast to the view of the Minister of State. About £100 million is being invested in that port and, therefore, the Director's views merit our Close attention, particularly since the port is eminently successful.

This is how he describes his policy: The time-lag between the decision and the realisation is much longer with the infrastructure projects, than with investments in the supra-structure. This difference in time must have been bridged by the port authority when private investment decisions are taken. If no short-term perspective can be offered to private investors, the port is no longer of interest to them because, in face of international competition, no positive commercial policy can be followed. The development of the infra-structure, therefore, must be a jump ahead of private enterprise decisions, and experience has clearly shown that these decisions—because of the presence of actual investment possibilities, always follow quickly. This experience proves that the municipality, although it anticipates private investment, by no means anticipates the developments which lead to these investments. This brings me to the next matter which must be discussed when consider- ing major national investments of this type, and that is the question of M.I.D.A.S., the Maritime Industrial Development Areas. Have the Government yet got beyond the study stage referred to in the National Port Council's Report? Have they heeded the warnings on page 6 of that Report? The conclusion here is that time is not on Britain's side and planning must proceed apace if we are to have comparable facilities in the next decade.

How long do the Government expect to have to go on with their studies and planning before we can actually see specific M.I.D.A.S. schemes beginning to emerge? In this connection I refer to the question of land reclamation. Here again, when we compare the whole range of British port investment and development with what is happening on the Continent of Europe a great contrast emerges. Of the 22 schemes submitted to the National Ports Council totalling £52½ million, only £54 million is for the deepening of channels but nothing at all is being spent on large-scale port land preparation. Is this still the situation and is it likely to remain the situation within the period likely to be covered by the next tranche of capital which Parliament is voting?

The complexities of this situation bear thinking about and are very well illustrated by an example I came across the other day. The Europort fertiliser complex established by the Esso Petroleum Company, I am reliably informed, will be able to supply South America's nitrogen requirements at a lower landed cost than that offered by the same company's plant in Central America. This is a direct consequence of the scale of operation permitted and encouraged in the vast schemes of Europe. Rotterdam has 4,000 acres of reclaimed land, Marseilles has 16,000 acres which are being reclaimed, Le Havre has a large industrial area earmarked, and at Antwerp the east bank has been occupied and plans for the west bank are being made.

It is an appropriate comment that out of 13 major continental ports studied during 1966–67 only three were stagnant and those three were ports which did not provide industrial sites for port industry. This appears to reach the nub of the whole argument if the money is to be spent effectively, this is an area which the Government cannot overlook. How long do the Government expect this £50 million to last? How much will return in the form of loan repayments? Can the Government give a glimpse into the Government's thinking on the eventual annual scale of port capital expenditure out of public funds? How soon will Parliament be asked to raise the £100 million limit. How soon will some of this money be irrigating the furrows of the M.I.D.A.S.? This is most fundamental to the national success which both sides of the House must most earnestly require from any investment in this field be it private or public.

10.29 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

We have had a very comprehensive review of this subject by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd). I do not complain because I know of his knowledge and I share his interest, as do some of my hon. Friends, with considerable constituency and other interests, in this matter. I want to follow up only one or two points he made for clarification of the way in which it is proposed this further sum of money which I am sure we wish to vote is to be used.

I welcome very much the announcement made in regard to developments in Liverpool and elsewhere, but like others I am concerned as to what extent the funds to be made available are to be concentrated purely in two or three major projects and to what extent very important developments rejected elsewhere can be provided for in the money which I hope we shall vote tonight.

I very much agree that it is impossible always to guarantee the full use of resources before initiating important projects. The very refusal to initiate projects may prevent important developments that would otherwise take place, and make it impossible for those concerned with making demands for facilities to come to a logical conclusion.

Therefore, while I appreciate the difficulties that must face the National Ports Council and the Ministry I appeal to the Government to give special attention to important projects where there is a reasonable prospect of their development and full use, and where the consequential employment is of the utmost importance. I refer here, of course, to developments on the River Tyne, which have been put before the Ministry on a number of occasions. There we have an example of precisely the kind of development to which my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Langstone referred.

We are concerned with developments that are not quite on the scale of those which we are glad to see going forward in Liverpool, but which are, nevertheless, important. They include deepening the channel in the harbour and making proper provision for the requirements of the new size of vessel to which the hon. Gentleman referred. If we are merely to maintain facilities for the existing size and draught of vessel we shall not maintain our trade for the future. We shall deny the whole of the Tyne and perhaps other rivers the share of trade which should rightfully be theirs.

I am particularly anxious that my hon. Friend should give the assurance that projects like those put forward on the Tyne for the linking of the deepening of the harbour with the reinforcement of harbour facilities at such a port as Tyne Dock at the mouth of the river, the strengthening of the dock facilities, and provision for the larger cranes that will be required for the larger ships, will be given new attention because of the new developments taking place in the neighbourhood.

We have made our case for the River Tyne in the past on the basis of the very considerable import of iron ore for the steel works at Consett. But doubts have been expressed as to whether this is sufficient justification for the developments. We all very much welcome the Government's recent decision to support the development of the aluminium smelter industry. We now have the need for proper facilities for the import of the aluminium ore in addition to the present import of iron ore.

The existing facilities would no doubt be adequate for vessels of 40,000 gross tons, a common size at present, but would not be adequate for the future. It is almost certain that, as in other trades, the size of the bulk carriers for aluminium ore will also be greatly increased. Here is an opportunity to go ahead sensibly and imaginatively with a major project for development on the Tyne—the deepening of the harbour and the provision of better port facilities which will be of benefit both for the iron ore and future aluminium ore imports.

I have written to the Ministry on this subject and I ask that the very important matter of how these new cargoes are to be dealt with in this exciting new prospect of development should be kept in mind and brought vigorously to the attention of the Board of Trade and other Departments which are bound to be involved. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give me that assurance, although I understand that, not having given him prior notice, I shall have to await a more detailed reply.

10.35 p.m.

Mr. Eric Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

I support the Motion particularly because, obviously, it will be exceedingly beneficial to the Port of Liverpool. I hope that the £14 million in the application from the Mersey Docks and Harbours Board will be looked upon with a friendly eye and a decision expedited as quickly as possible.

If there is anywhere where there is need for modernisation of British industry, it is in the ports. In Liverpool, especially, much of our passenger trade has gone and must be replaced. It can and will be replaced by the development of the new container berths at Sea-forth and I understand that most of this £14 million will be needed for that development. It is, indeed, very commendable that, at a time of economic difficulty, the Government are prepared to ask the House to grant extra sums of money for port development.

How much of this money for port modernisation is likely to be set aside for the improvement of welfare conditions, and so on, for the workers? This is an essential part of any modernisation. There is no point in modernising the ports unless the workers' conditions are also improved. We all know from the various reports made over the years how bad and how far behind the working conditions in the ports are. I know that it is difficult for him to be precise on the matter, but perhaps, in the broadest terms, my hon. Friend could tell us how much of the money is intended for use in the modernisation of working conditions.

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd) raised a valid point when he hoped that the modernisation programme would in no way be blunted because of uncertainty about future ownership. He and I approach this from somewhat different directions but I agree with him on that point. The Labour Party has been committed to an extension of public ownership in the docks at the earliest possible time, but there have been some disturbing Press reports that there is likely to be a bit of backsliding on the issue.

I would like to get the position clear. If we intend public ownership, we should say so and get on with it. I hope that this is the Government's intention, but if it is not then equally they should say so and make the position clear. I agree that uncertainty is the worst thing of all in relation to forward planning. I believe that we can forward plan best if we extend public ownership, but I can see the opposite side of the argument in that those in private enterprise, particularly in container development, would also like to know where they stand.

Even if my hon. Friend cannot give an answer tonight, I hope that he will take the point about uncertainty of ownership and that the matter will be cleared up as quickly as possible so that we know precisely what is to happen. If we are to have large sums of public money put into modernisation projects, it is very important that they should be for the nation's good, and that is why I would like to see an extension of public ownership.

As the hon. Member for Langstone said, we seem to be shunted from one place to another and to have to try to departmentalise our thinking, first on one matter and 10 minutes later on something else, and, not being a genius, I find it rather difficult to do that sort of thing. I do not want to keep the House longer than necessary, but I ask my hon. Friend if it is possible to put this question to him, how the Government see the long-term development of our various ports.

I myself was a supporter of our entry into the European Common Market. We in Liverpool are somewhat apprehensive as to the future of our port, which does one-quarter of the country's trade in exports and imports. Many people do not seem to understand this. They think that Liverpool is a sort of very small village somewhere on the north-west coast, but it is by no means a village, but one of the largest ports of this country, and we in Liverpool are very interested in the future of our port.

We were somewhat apprehensive as to where we would stand if we entered the European Economic Community. I still believe that the future of this country is very much orientated towards Europe. I do not uphold the view that our future lies in an amorphous Atlantic free trade area. So we still want to know what the Government's thinking is about ports like Liverpool. Liverpool is in a somewhat different position from ports on the south-east coast, which is a natural in developing European trade. Therefore, if it is possible for my hon. Friend to give some indication of Government thinking about this we shall be very pleased indeed.

I said that I had no intention of keeping the House any longer than necessary, so I will conclude by welcoming this development. I hope that the application of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board will be dealt with very quickly, and that we can go ahead with the modernisation of the Port of Liverpool—and of all our ports, because if there is one thing which is required it really is modernisation of our ports. We have been left well behind. As the hon. Member for Lang-stone said, if one goes to European ports like Rotterdam one realises how far we have been left behind. If we are to put our country on its feet, modernisation of our ports is absolutely essential, and that is why I welcome this Motion tonight.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Carmichael

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd) raised a large number of detailed questions and asked for a great deal of detailed information. He will hardly expect, in such a short period, all this detailed information to be available. I have noted his remarks, and I will give him as much information as I reasonably can at a later date.

The hon. Gentleman asked for details of the loans which had been made to date. There have been a number of loans. I could give a general appreciation of the kind of loans that have been given. For instance, a new entrance dock at Leith is costing approximately £6 million, made up of a loan of £5 million and a grant of £1 million.

There is the Tees Conservancy Commissioners capital dredging on the Tees. Land reclamation is a very exciting and interesting idea and the port authority is well aware of the kind of bonus that is obtainable in this way. But this is not something which the Authority is yet ready to undertake. The cost of the dredging was £5¼ million: a loan of £4.2 million and a grant of £1.05 million. I have a complete list here. Perhaps the hon. Member for Langstone would allow me to let him have the information at a later time.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Treasury. The Treasury goes through the schemes after the National Ports Council has recommended them. The Treasury's specific job is to look after public funds, whereas the National Ports Council has to decide whether a scheme fits into plans which it may have. Conserving the public purse is the job of the Treasury. That has to be balanced against many other demands that the public purse is called upon to meet. Therefore, the Treasury does a useful, if at times perhaps irritating, job in guarding public funds.

The repayments of the loans are long term. I explained that the periods range from 15 to 50 years, depending on the nature of the investment. There is usualy a moratorium during the construction period, and it will be some years before the repayments become significant. Repayments to the end of the year will amount only to about £25,000. But we did not expect any more in the short term. The point is that the loans will be repaid in time.

Container schemes are most exciting. I have seen some of the container terminals. It is remarkable how quickly a dockside changes when it is dealing with containers, compared to the hooks, slings and nets we have been used to seeing in the past. Container schemes are being assisted at Tilbury, Seaforth, Liverpool and Greenock.

The Docks Board container berth at Southampton will attract a grant under Section 12, but it will not attract any loan under Section 11.

Concerning the functions of the National Ports Council to which the hon. Member for Langstone referred, it is the responsibility of the National Ports Council to encourage port planning, and it is up to the port authorities to take the initiative in putting up schemes for authorisation. Until schemes are put up the National Ports Council has no right to enter into the ports and make decisions. The Council is waiting for schemes to be submitted by the port authorities. After they have been authorised and applications for loans or grants are sent in, these are examined by the Council and its advice passed on to us to help us to decide whether a grant or a loan should be made, or both.

Some time ago, during an Adjournment debate, I discussed M.I.D.A.S. Large sums of money will be involved, and fundamental decisions will be necessary in respect of many of these schemes. As has been said before in the House, it is more important to get the right answer than to get a quick one. One may feel a little sceptical about that, but there is no doubt that because of what is involved in M.I.D.A.S. we must give the matter every consideration, and it must be examined by all those who are likely to be able to contribute to it. It is being considered with the various bodies concerned, and there is no slacking.

I was asked how long the money would last. I tried to indicate how far we had gone during the last three years. At the rate at which we are going, and if we add this sum to the £50 million which we were originally granted, we expect the money to last for about three years. Anyone who has seen the Liverpool Sea-forth scheme will appreciate what is involved.

Section 11 loans are not made to nationalised ports. In 1967–68 Section 12 grants to nationalised ports amounted to £0.8 million, and the estimate for 1968-69 is about £2 million. Any viable projects which are submitted by small ports are encouraged, and they, too, are eligible for loans and grants.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the Cambridge University Report. It is important to realise that this Report was made to the National Ports Council, and not to the House. It is the Council's property, and not the property of the House or the Ministry of Transport. We are not responsible for deciding whether it should be published. The purpose of the Report is to enlighten and help the Council in its work.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

I accept that the Council has the right to control any work that it has done, but, having made the Report available to port authorities all over the country, it seems proper to make it available to us when we are considering these large sums of money.

Mr. Carmichael

I shall take the matter up with the Council to find out what it thinks, but at the end of the day it is the Council's job to decide the matter. I do not think that there ought to be any great difficulty about this. The Report has been widely distributed, but perhaps not as widely as the hon. Gentleman would have liked.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) asked about the Tyne. To date no proposals have been made. The port authorities are responsible for taking the initiative in any project. I saw some of the work being done on the Tyne and I understand the difficulties caused by the reduction of the coal trade over the last 20 years.

Some statements have been made in the House about the aluminium smelter. The development of the associated port facilities has still not been fully considered, but no doubt announcements will be made in good time, and my hon. Friend will keep pressing—

Mr. Blenkinsop

I am grateful for that, but will my hon. Friend assure us that, there will be no automatic bar against these projects? Although, technically, no application has been made, we all know the nature of the projects. The implication is that the Ministry is not willing to consider them in detail, so the full details have not been put to them. Can he give that assurance?

Mr. Carmichael

Certainly. The plans for the construction of the smelters and the associated port facilities are still in an early stage, and it is not possible yet to say to what extent, if at all, port authorities will be involved and eligible for port modernisation or harbour loan grants. But my hon. Friend can assume that there will be no automatic bar on any projects.

I was asked about the provision for large tankers. There is provision at Mil-ford Haven, Finnart, the Thames, the Humber and the Tees. Tilbury and Sea-forth will be able to take grain ships of about 65,000 tons. In fact ships of about 35,000 tons are the largest which the grain trade can foresee using, although their estimates are not universally accepted.

I probably suffer from the same sense of persecution as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) feels over Liverpool when people talk of my city as a small village somewhere to the north of Hatfield. I was greatly impressed by the sheer spread of the Liverpool docks—and I come from a port area myself. I was impressed by the old docks and even more so by the planning and drawings for the Seaforth Dock.

On my visit, I discussed the welfare of those working in the docks, who, I think, are demanding much better facilities in this respect. I do not know how people put up for so long with the kind of Dickensian structures previously used for welfare purposes. A significant part of the money spent on docks modernisation in the next two or three years, as compared with any proportion spent previously, will go on welfare facilities. This is not just because people are wanting dockers to have better conditions, but also because they are now, rightly, demanding better conditions.

I realise that £50 million is a great deal of money for which to ask. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides will realise that the money is spent by people who do a job for the nation and who are engaged in what is probably the most important part of the nation's work. No matter how good and efficient our industry is internally, unless our ports are right, both for exports of manufactured goods and for imports of raw materials and food, the nation will be in great difficulty. Many of the questions which have been asked require more detailed answers than it is possible to give now, but I will make every endeavour to inform hon. Members—

Mr. Heffer

Before my hon. Friend concludes could he answer the point which was raised about the future ownership of the docks? He may not be able to give an answer, but could he give us an assurance that he will convey the points which have been made about public ownership of the docks to his right hon. Friend? Can we have a definite assurance from the Government that there will be no backsliding in the matter of early and efficient public ownership of the docks? This is contained in the Labour Party election manifesto and the dockers and the people generally have been assured that it will be carried out.

Mr. Carmichael

I am aware of this, of course. The debate has been concerned with additional funds for modernising the docks. I will certainly bring the sentiments which have been expressed by my hon. Friend to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, although I suspect that he is fully aware of the feeling in this matter on this side of the House.

In the meantime, I ask the House to extend the limit on the amount of loans and grants from £50 million to £100 million. I hope that the House will accept the Motion without a Division.

Question put and agreed to.


That the limit on the aggregate amount of loans and grants together made by the Minister of Transport under sections 11 and 12 of the Harbours Act 1964 as extended by the Docks and Harbours Act 1966 shall be £100,000,000 instead of £50,000,000.