HC Deb 29 April 1970 vol 800 cc1254-87


As amended (in the Standing Committee), further considered.

Clause 33


3.40 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

I beg to move Amendment No. 61, in page 47, line 32, after first order ', insert: ' in respect of a business about which he has power to make such an order '.

Mr. Speaker

I have suggested that with this Amendment we take Government Amendment No. 63.

Mr. Malley

I agree, Mr. Speaker, that it would be convenient to take these two Amendments together.

The purpose of the Amendments is to make it quite clear that Clause 33(1) does not give the Minister any power to decide whether or not he has the powers to make a vesting order.

This matter was considered at some length in Committee. I am advised that the original wording would still have made it possible for a Minister to be questioned on this matter, but I thought it right to get it clear. If the Amendments are accepted the only criterion which will make it possible for the Minister to decide not to make an order, once an application has been made for an order which he has power to make, will be where the business is one which in his opinion may, and should, be expected on the ground that a valid objection has been made under Clause 35(3).

As the Amendments meet the point raised in Committee, I hope that they will be acceptable.

Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)

I am not entirely happy about the Amendments. We had a most important and helpful debate in Committee on these points, but I am still wondering whether the Minister has reworded the subsection in the right way.

The Amendments which I moved in Committee were not quite acceptable to the Minister. However, there is an important point here which came out as the debate proceeded. The Minister has complete discretion. Therefore, an important principle is involved. The words unless it appears to him are still in the part which the Minister has not sought to amend. I am concerned whether the Minister really thinks that those words are strictly necessary, because he is given tremendous powers. I therefore wonder whether the decision that the Minister makes could be challenged in law.

The Minister will recall that there were certain legal arguments in Committee which I left to him, with his legal knowledge, and to one or two of my hon. Friends who share that knowledge. I hoped that the Minister would take out the words unless it appears to him or, if he really felt that they were essential, that he would give us a little more explanation as to their absolute necessity in this connection.

Mr. Mulley

I have taken further advice since we discussed this matter in Committee. The original words, without amendment, would still not have the effect of the Minister's decision not being challengeable in a court. It is not necessary or desirable to take out the words to which the hon. Gentleman is now taking objection. These Amendments make the matter clearer. I do not know how much further we can go.

The real point was whether the Minister's powers were such that they could not be challenged in the courts. I am advised that it is now clear with these Amendments that the decision can be challenged. Therefore, I think that meets the point about which the Opposition were concerned.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Speaker

On a purely technical point, I shall have to vary the wording of Amendment No. 62. Instead of " after first order ', insert " it will read " after second ' order ', insert ", because we have just inserted some further words.

Mr. Berry

I beg to move Amendment No. 62, in page 47, line 32, after second ' order ', insert: (provided that such vesting does not give the Authority exclusive rights to provide port services within the specified harbour to the generality of users). I attempted to move this Amendment in Committee. I had made what I thought was a powerful and effective speech in support of it when my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn), being a little confused as to what I was talking about, quite rightly interrupted me to question whether I had put these words down in the right place. On examination—understandably, the Government were not slow to seize on the point—our distinguished Chairman rightly ruled that I had put the Amendment in the wrong place. It was therefore promptly deselected, or whatever is the parliamentary phrase for that.

Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)

Shot down.

Mr. Berry

I confess that at that moment my friendly feelings towards my hon. Friend the Member for Hallam were rather less than my friendly feelings towards others of my hon. Friends. But there is always a happy end to most things. I should not have had an opportunity of moving the Amendment in the same wording had I not been deselected, or shot down, depending on which side of the House one is sitting.

It is important to ensure that the National Ports Authority does not have a monopoly. My hon. Friends and I see no reason why private enterprise should not have an opportunity of competing in the provision of port services with the authority. If the Amendment is accepted, that would be allowed.

In Committee, I quoted from the Second Reading speech of the Minister. I think that it is important to repeat that quotation today, because it affects the basis of my argument. The right hon. Gentleman said: But the clear underlying aim of Part 11 of the Bill is that the N.P.A., acting through port boards, should become the principal operator of port facilities and should be the principal employer of the port transport workers at its harbours."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th December, 1969; Vol. 793, c. 1578.] The important word is " principal ". The Amendment alternatively suggests that the Authority should not have " exclusive rights ". The Minister's use of the word " principal ", I suggest again, as I did in Committee, implies that there must be some other category. The definition of " principal " in the dictionary is " chief in importance ". The word " chief " alternatively implies that it is the most important or the leading of whatever category is being referred to.

It therefore makes clear that there is a lesser category as well. It is clear that when the Minister used that word on Second Reading he was implying that there would be an alternative operator as well as the N.P.A. As it stands, the Clause does not allow for any such alternative.

We are dealing purely with the authority itself. We believe that our choice of words would allow private enterprise the right to compete with the authority, and judging by what the right hon. Gentleman said during his Second Reading Speech I think that that would be acceptable to him. It is vitally important during this debate, our first major debate on Part. II of the Bill, which deals with the taking over of the port businesses, as opposed to harbours which we discussed yesterday, to make quite clear just what type of organisation we are setting up to run port businesses.

The Government often pay lip-service to the work of the Monopolies Commission. Legislation is going through the House to make alterations to the work of the Monopolies Commission, but the Government nevertheless take the view that there should be some form of commission to ensure that monopolies do not play too big a part in our business life. It seems odd that at the same time as the Government are taking that action they should seek to re-establish what I fear is always at the back of their mind, namely, the fundamental belief that the State knows best and that it should run everything.

I have had time to think further about this since the Committee stage, and perhaps I might tell the House what I see as the advantage of making the Amendment. I ask the House to compare the position of owners of coastal ships and those of ships coming from the other side of the world. if a ship coming from Australia loses a day or two on one part of the journey, it is often possible to make up that time and also any loss that is incurred before it arrives at its destination. If, however, a coaster on a trip lasting two or three days loses a day, that can be a major financial disaster for the owner.

Margins of profit are very small, and it is essential for efficiency to be high. In their interests, it is essential that when these ships get to port they should have some choice of the business to which they go to have their cargoes discharged. The Amendment will be very much to the advantage of the small trader, and I hope that the Government have not forgotten him in the overall embracing effect of the Bill.

This is a helpful Amendment, but because of what happened the Government were not able to comment on it in Committee. I had hoped that the Minister was about to accept it. He, too, has had time to think about the matter, and I hope that in the interests of the people who will use these port businesses he will accept the Amendment.

Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)

I wish to make only a short speech in support of this excellent Amendment. I understand why my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) has moved it. In Committee, we pleaded for flexibility in the take-over businesses. What we are frightened of is that in their desire to rationalise the port businesses the Government will create a monopoly.

My hon. Friend is right in saying that this does not matter so much to oceangoing ships, but that it does matter where there should be a quick turnround and where a certain amount of competition is necessary. We are afraid that there will be a monopoly right, and it is, therefore, important to have more competition in the port business by creating flexibility.

I can understand the Government's desire to rationalise some businesses, but I ask them to consider seriously the point made by my hon. Friend because I fear that in their desire to rationalise they will do away with flexibility and competition. There must be competition amongst the port businesses if costs are not to rise, and one thing about which we are frightened is that this nationalisation Measure, as so many others have done, will lead to rising costs. We hope that the Minister will safeguard the position by creating flexibility and allowing competition as suggested by the Amendment.

Mr. Peter Mahon (Preston, South)

The hon. Members for Southgate (Mr. Berry) and Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) are urging the House to accept the Amendment on a false premise. I do not think that it is the Government's intention to advocate the omnipotence of the State—I imagine that thought is furthest of all frcm our minds—but it can be said with truth that it is the duty and the right of the State to urge that there should be efficiency in all its undertakings, and, where there has not been efficiency, to try to institute a system whereby things can be improved. We can never say that there has been a great deal of efficiency in our docks. On the contrary, there has been a great deal of inefficiency, and it is high time that the Government tried to put the record right and improve matters.

It is not the Government's desire to squeeze small people out and establish an omnipotent National Ports Authority. That is not what we are trying to do. We are trying to be reasonable, fair, and efficient. In the past too many inefficient people have participated in the vital work at our ports. For instance, at Liverpool from time immemorial there have been as many as 200 stevedoring authorities engaging labour, and this has led to tremendous overlapping, inefficiency and injustice.

Nor can it be said that these stevedoring authorities established their right to participate in this important industry on which the country depends to such a large extent by having at their disposal all the tools of the job. For a long time they did not, nor did they endeavour to come by the means of increasing efficiency, and this is a matter of great regret. I agree that some of the stevedoring authorities undoubtedly proved their worth. Some were worth their weight in gold, but they were few in number. Generally, they were people who operated as stevedores, but who did not possess the tools—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must address what he is saying, which is of interest, to the Amendment, which seeks to debar the National Ports Authority from exclusive rights of providing port services.

Mr. Mahon

With respect, Mr. Speaker, that is the point to which I am trying to speak, because I feel that the authority must install itself as an authority within the meaning of the word, and have authority to carry on this important job.

Mr. Michael Heseltine (Tavistock)

Since 1967, there has been a great reduction in the number of stevedores to way below the figure which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Could he explain why there has been a grave worsening in industrial relationships in the docks?

4.0 p.m.

Mr. Mahon

That may be so. I am inclined to be charitable to the hon. Gentleman's view. But from time immemorial there has been nothing but inefficiency. It is asking a lot to expect efficiency to come overnight with the new system. That is impossible.

Under the new system, with a National Ports Authority, there will be efficiency in greater measure. To a large extent, the people who comprise the N.P.A. will be the same stevedoring people who have always participated in the work in the docks, and they will do their best to increase efficiency. I do not think that there is any great principle involved in the Amendment.

Mr. David Waddington (Nelson and Colne)

I am always glad to follow in debate the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Peter Mahon). I listen to his words with the greatest interest.

At one point, the hon. Gentleman seemed almost to be equating monopoly with efficiency. Not many hon. Members on this side of the House would agree that there is any evidence to support the thesis that a monopoly is more likely to create efficiency than a non-monopoly. At another point, the hon. Gentleman, much to my surprise, said that it was not the Government's object to squeeze out people and to create an omnipotent National Ports Authority. I should have thought that that was precisely what the Bill was intended to do. It is the Government's object to squeeze out small operators in the ports and to create an omnipotent Authority. The object of my hon. Friends and myself is to prevent that by means of this Amendment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) was right to refer to remarks made by the Minister on Second Reading. During the debate, the Minister said: But the clear underlying aim of Part II of the Bill is that the N.P.A., acting through port boards, should become the principal operator of port facilities . "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th December, 1970; Vol. 793, c. 1578.] We were surely entitled to assume from the Minister's use of the word " principal " that the Bill would provide for the National Ports Authority to be the principal operator of ports facilities. But, when the Bill was published, it provided for a complete monopoly of ports facilities operated by the N.P.A.

I find it difficult to understand why hon. Members opposite often show great indignation about the prospect of a private monopoly and yet revel in the prospect of setting up yet another public monopoly. A monopoly, whether public or private, brings with it some evils. First, it restricts the range of choice available to the public. Secondly, there is no control by operation of the market over the prices charged. Those are evils which follow the setting up of a public monopoly just as quickly as the creation of a private monopoly.

When the Government set up a monopoly, realising the threat to the rights of the consumer involved in setting it up, they almost invariably try to create various checks and balances. They set up a Post Office Corporation, and then a Post Office Users' Consultative Council.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are not debating nationalisation or monopolies. The only checks and balances which we are debating are those in the hon. Gentleman's own Amendment.

Mr. Waddington

I realise that I was skating on thin ice, Mr. Speaker. I merely wish to emphasise my point that the creation of a monopoly, whether State or private, is always followed by some evils and the public do not gain.

When the Minister made his speech on Second Reading, we thought that it was not his intention to set up a complete monopoly of ports facilities. The Bill gives the N.P.A. a complete monopoly of ports facilities. I thought that ever since the Rochdale Report people agreed that we wanted fewer operators in the ports. We on this side of the House do not subscribe to the view that there shot.,M be only one operator—the N.P.A. That is why I support the Amendment.

Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)

Yesterday evening, the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), in speaking to an Amendment, said, " Do not let us be dogmatic and over-political ". He then proceeded to make a political speech. I will not do that.

I wish to consider the Amendment. It is highly impracticable. It has precisely the opposite meaning to that given by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington). It would have the effect of completely paralysing the N.P.A. if there were no competitors to provide a particular service. If there were no competitors or no one willing to provide that service, the authority would be caught by the Amendment. It would be a monopoly supplier and, therefore, would be unable to ask for a vesting order.

This illustrates the crazy position of the Opposition. They constantly indulge in political dogma when we should be thinking about the turn-round of a port.

I do not argue that a Ports Authority, run by a sensible and practical people. would want a monopoly of services. It would be foolish if it did. There are some services which it would not be fitted to perform. If the authority was the only body able to provide a certain service, the Amendment would paralyse the whole operation.

I am not a lawyer. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne has legal qualifications. But the Amendment would preclude the Authority from asking for a vesting order if it had a monopoly of one or more services.

Mr. Waddington

For a non-lawyer, the hon. Gentleman is certainly pursuing a legalistic argument. I gather from his assertion that he recognises that in certain cases it would be desirable for there to be operators other than the N.P.A. of port facilities. In other words, is he not agreeing with the spirit, if not with the drafting, of the Amendment?

Mr. Mapp

The fault of politicians is that they frequently argue that black is white. The hon. Gentleman is asserting that because I said one thing I must automatically mean another.

I said that it is likely, indeed possible, that certain operations conducted in various estuaries might lend themselves to be run by people other than the local port authority. I am not so dogmatic as to say that other people should not carry out these tasks. We must be practical about this. The hon. Gentleman did not dispute my interpretation of the words of the Amendment and I trust that he will agree that the local port authority must be given the flexibility which any sensible management demands.

The hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) referred to the problem of deep-water vessels not being able to be loaded in certain ports and needing the right to go to other ports. If I thought that the Amendment would obviate that difficulty, I would be sympathetic towards it, but it does not deal with that problem. Nor will the Bill as a whole create or increase that problem.

The Amendment is not only dogmatic, but is neither sensible nor practicable. It would tie the hands of an authority which is endeavouring to improve the turn-round of its port. I wish that hon. Gentlemen opposite would stop seeking all the time to paralyse national bodies of the type we are discussing which, generally speaking, are doing a good job for the country.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

In his legalistic argument, the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) accused my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) of not having read the Amendment. That was a bit thick. Having read it, I suggest that by not giving the Authority exclusive rights to provide port services within the specified harbour … it would not prevent the N.P.A. from providing any service.

A short while ago I was in Parliament Square, where I saw one photographer taking photographs of passers-by. He did not have an exclusive right to their custom, but he happened to be the only one there. If the N.P.A. is providing a facility which nobody else is providing, that cannot be described as the N.P.A. having an exclusive right to provide that facility. Thus, the Amendment merely says that the authority should not have such an exclusive right.

Mr. Mapp

If the photographer needed permission to photograph passers-by, and he satisfied the requirements resulting in permission being given to him, then what he is doing is completely lawful. However, if the House states in legislation that that photographer must be the only appellant, as it were, and the only photographer allowed to be there, then, because of that legislation, he would be in a monopoly position. The Amendment, in the terms of this analogy, would have us say that that state of affairs should not arise and that no authority could be given for him to be there on his own.

Mr. Wilson

I do not read the Amendment in that fashion. It merely says: (provided that such vesting does not give the Authority exclusive rights to provide port services within the specified harbour … It does not say that the person or body providing a service or facility must have some form of competition. If the person providing the facility happens to be the only one providing it, that is just bad luck for those using that facility.

4.15 p.m.

We are anxious to avoid nationalised industries having a monopolistic position. I am always puzzled when I think that this House goes to endless trouble to protect the public from the hands of a private monopoly—we have the Monopolies Commission, and so on—while hon. Gentlemen opposite seem less anxious to prevent a monopolistic situation arising in other circumstances.

As I believe that both circumstances—private and State monopolies—are basically the same, it is desirable to avoid State bodies obtaining a monopolistic position because nothing encourages less enterprise than the ability to say, " It does not matter what sort of service we provide because nobody else is providing it."

The hon. Member for Oldham, East and I have both been in the railway service. He will recall the days when the railways were in a monopolistic position. They took advantage of that position. They knew that nobody else could provide the sort of service they should have provided, so they did not bother. In recent times they have been under heavy competition, but the hon. Gentleman will agree that we do not want a recurrence in this and other industries of what occurred in the past.

Mr. Peter Mahon rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. The danger of analogies being pursued too far is that they widen the debate.

Mr. Mahon

Is not the hon. Gentleman hoisting himself with his own petard when he refers to the inefficiency of the past? We want to eradicate that inefficiency, and where there has been wholesale inefficiency in an industry, we want to rectify it.

Mr. Wilson

The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I said that it is bad for there to be either a private or State monopoly. We should avoid that situation arising and, for this reason, I support the Amendment.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Albert Murray)

Although, as the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) pointed out, we did not manage to discuss an Amendment similar to this in Committee, we dealt with the substance of this proposal when we considered another Amendment.

We have said, not only in Committee but on Second Reading, that nothing in the Bill will give the N.P.A. a monopoly over common user port services at its harbours. I pointed out in Committee that the White Paper said in paragraph 16 that in the Government's view the achievement of the greatest possible degree of efficiency required that the nationalised authorities should become the principal operators of the port services. Nothing in the Bill will give the N.P.A. the sort of monopoly position that has been described today.

It is true that the number of businesses providing common user port services has been greatly reduced as a result of the introduction of employer licensing under the Docks and Harbours Act, 1966. Nevertheless, there remains in our ports an exceedingly complicated organisational pattern which the Bill will do much to alter.

The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) suggested that he did not like private monopolies any more than public monopolies, but I have not heard him over-emphasise the position in Manchester, where the company provides all the port services at the harbour. In Committee, the Opposition pointed out the efficiency of Manchester, where the company provides all those services.

The House should reject this Amendment because it is completely unnecessary. There is nothing in the Bill which gives the N.P.A. this monopoly. The exceptions and provisions for objections in the Bill make that quite clear.

Mr. Michael Heseltine

It is regrettable that the Parliamentary Secretary should have given that advice to the House, because continually throughout the report stage we have sought to produce very moderate and restrictive Amendments to carry out what we regard as the spirit of the assurances we have had so often from Ministers in Committee. We hoped this was another Amendment which would make it easy for them to accept what we are trying to achieve.

The wording of the Amendment refers to " the generality of users ". If there are special users in special circumstances it would not be claimed that our Amendment applied in those specific cases. We are dealing with the broad scene. It would be perfectly reasonable for the National Ports Authority to argue that it should have a specific position in regard to its customers. That was the first let out we provided to help the N.P.A. and the Government to feel that they had a reasonable deal under the Amendment.

Then there are the exclusive rights and means by which the N.P.A. could go a very long way along the road to provide a wide range of services. Only when one arrives at the outside level of services does one not want to see the total rights taken by the N.P.A. to carry out the provision of all those services. This, Mr. Speaker, is a very moderate Amendment. You will agree that it would not restrict—

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Speaker cannot consider the value of any Amendment.

Mr. Heseltine

In not being able to consider the value of this Amendment, you are in company with the Government, Mr. Speaker. I would not wish to invoke your support. I hope that the Government would appreciate that this is a most moderate Amendment. It it is not designed to hamper the N.P.A., but to put before it a discipline which would make it ask some basic questions before extending its powers.

It is perfectly reasonable for the Government to ask us why we think that a safeguard of this sort should be introduced. I think that the Parliamentary Secretary was less than fair when he suggested that there was nothing in the Bill implying that the N.P.A. would have a monopoly position.

I have read the wording of Clause 33(1). It is quite clear. It says: any port business carried on at a harbour of the National Ports Authority may, on the application of the Authority, be vested in them by an order of the Minister. " Any business" means all businesses. Will there be any incentive for the N.P.A. to vest a small proportion of the businesses, half the businesses, or all of them? What will be the incentive from the authority's point of view? The danger will be that the National Ports Authority, because of the rather vague generalisations about co-ordination, rationalisation and harmonisation—all these rather phoney, jazzy phrases which the Government introduce—may think it should take over all the businesses.

There is also a sound practical reason why I think it will be tempted to take over all the businesses. That is because it is easier to run monopolies than to run competitive businesses. Life is a lot cosier for those who do not have to face competition. The authority will be tempted to say, " Life will be easier for us in organising our port if we do not have competition."

Mr. Murray

The hon. Member is talking about temptation, but I was talking about what is actually in the Bill. Whether he can attempt to read what the temptations of the N.P.A. will be is a different matter.

Mr. Heseltine

The Parliamentary Secretary has lived long enough to know that where there is temptation there will always be those who yield to it. It is our business to anticipate the fact that at some future date a member of the National Ports Authority will give in to caprices which all of us, of course, would be capable of resisting.

Within the Bill there is the power to create total and absolute monopolies. It is in Clause 33. It is our contention that where we give people the statutory right to create monopolies there will be a considerable number of occasions on which they can create precisely those monopolies. We think that there is every argument from an efficiency point of view, from the users' point of view, and the point of view of maximisation of resources, to ensure that there is a degree of competition. That in itself produces the most successful form of organisation in the commercial world.

If the authority provides all the services, the Minister from time to time will have to judge the performance of the authority. By what criteria will he be able to judge it? How will he examine its performance to see whether it has, in fact, carried out its job as efficiently as it can be carried out? He has not divine wisdom in this matter; none of us has. His civil servants are not equipped to make that sort of judgment from an academic standpoint unless comparative figures are available for examination. If the authority is encouraged by the Government, as it will be, to eliminate the one factual basis for comparison, the ability of the Minister to make an objective judgment will be seriously prejudiced.

It was precisely that argument, I understand, that preserved their airport for the people of Manchester in the late 1940s. When the Labour Government at that time intended to take over all the airports of the country, it was precisely that argument which enabled the people of Manchester to say, " If you allow us to keep our airport, in judging the performance of the nationalised airports you will have a sector in comparison with which you can judge standards of efficiency ".

The people of Manchester, to the tune of £202,000, have profited by keeping Ringway Airport. [Interruption.] I understand the argument is that because Manchester Airport is a municipal airport it is under public ownership. If so, what is the point of taking over the municipally-owned Port of Bristol?

Mr. Ellis

I am in a position to help the hon. Member. In Bristol, we have had a situation in which the private stevedoring interest comprises the people who made the profit although the local municipality have provided the port. The private stevedores, by bad labour relations, have gained the " swag ".

Mr. Heseltine

It is interesting to justify two vague generalisations and compare them with the factual results, which are the only things which should influence us. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) and the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) must be aware that the closer we have got to nationalisation of the ports the worse have become labour relations in the docks. [HON. MEMBERS: " Oh !"] The figures are there. I am happy to give way if anyone wishes to challenge them. If the lion. Member for Walton had been on the Committee, he would be aware of the figures produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor), which indicated—

Mr. Eric Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

They are wrong.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Heseltine

I accept that the figures were open to challenge because they came from the Department of Employment and Productivity. We have learnt over the years to have a cynical regard for figures produced by the right hon. Lady, even more as Minister of Transport than as Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity. Her figures need careful examination. Her hon. Friends are right to take a jaundiced view, as they continually do, of the Government. It is sensible of them.

I want to move to the points made by the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Peter Mahon). He did less than justice to the factual situation in the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, which is a cornerstone to the arguments we are having about nationalisation. Probably in that dock is the one insoluble financial problem. [Interruption.] I wish that the hon. Member for Walton would listen occasionally when hon. Members are talking about his own docks. He knows so little both about the total problem and about that one aspect of it that it would do him good to listen and learn.

Mr. Heller

If the hon. Gentleman would for once stop being arrogant, he would know that some of us have worked practically for many years in the docks industry and know a great deal more about it than lie will ever know.

Mr. Heseltine

" Arrogant " is a difficult word. As the hon. Gentleman talked to his hon. Friends, showing that he is quite indifferent to my speech, I thought that at least the charge of ill-manners was applicable to him.

Mr. Helfer

The hon. Gentleman is the most ill-mannered person I have ever met.

Mr. Heseltine

The most profitable line of progress for us is to discuss the ports and their problems. If I can be assured that the hon. Member for Walton will now listen, as opposed to chatting to his hon. Friends, I will get on.

The hon. Member for Preston, South was less than fair in his analysis of the problems of Liverpool. I have said continually, and have been to Liverpool on a number of occasions to discuss it, that it probably has the one insoluble financial problem in our docks at the moment. That is my personal judgment. It is the one area where one cannot see a means of solving its financial difficulties purely because of the funding of its long-term capital stock.

Mr. Peter Mahon

The hon. Gentleman throws out many challenges. He would no doubt be disappointed if they were not responded to, because I know that he wants to learn a lot about a subject of which he knows very little. He throws out these challenges to enable us to give him the knowledge which it is necessary for him to have.

The difficulties he talked about in Liverpool are a figment of the imagination. Under nationalisation, there is rapid improvement, notably in the conditions of the workers. As I am only making an intervention, I cannot develop this theme, but it is the gospel truth that the difficulties which the hon. Gentleman alleges are a figment of the imagination and no more. It is not a very honourable stance in public life to develop a case on non-existent difficulties.

Mr. Heseltine

I thought that the figures were very real. I remind the hon. Member for Preston, South that he was telling us about great difficulties of the past. During the last few minutes of interruptions, I have been handed the figures, issued by the Department of Employment and Productivity, showing the working days lost in the docks under the present Government.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. I have just come into the Chair and have been trying to ascertain the relevance of the remarks of the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) to the Amendment. Perhaps he will help me.

Mr. Heseltine

I will do so, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We are arguing that it would be harmful to enable the National Ports Authority to create a monopoly posture in the services provided by the docks and that, year by year, as a result of Government policies, certain changes have been made in the docks which have led directly to a worsening of the industrial situation. I submit that it is reasonable to argue that any major upheaval of the sort envisaged in the Clause could be reasonably expected to continue the disruption which has arisen over the last few years.

I have the figures which hon. Members challenged earlier. I do not intend to give them in detail. I merely wish to state categorically that, under this Government, there has been a dramatic worsening in the number of days lost in the docks, and that the more legislation of the sort they have introduced as a panacea for our problems the worse the situation has become. If hon. Members wish me to develop that point. I will do so, but I do not want to take up too much time. But these figures were produced by the right hon. Lady. They are available. It is appalling that hon. Members opposite have not even taken the trouble to find out what they are. They just go on with airy-fairy generalisations with total disregard for facts.

Mr. Heller

The hon. Gentleman must not put words into people's mouths. I never said anything about the strike situation which existed before the Government came into office, or since. He has put that matter up as his Aunt Sally. I have never expressed a view on this at any time.

I accept that there has been, in the recent period, a growth of short-term strikes in docks which has arisen because of certain conditions, rooted in the type of agreements that were concluded on Merseyside—the area I know in particular—which I have, I hope, in the recent past helped to eliminate. I am talking here about the agreement reached two or three weeks ago which we hope will eliminate these short-term difficulties.

No one is suggesting that nationalisation will be a panacea for all our industrial problems. Anyone who did so would be utterly foolish. What we are saying is that, under nationalisation, there will be undoubted development in other welfare arrangements which at present the workers have not got under private enterprise.

Mr. Heseltine

We are now widening the gap between the hon. Member for Walton and the hon. Member for Preston, South. I was arguing the points which arose in the speech of the hon. Member for Preston, South when he outlined difficulties which had arisen in Liverpool out of the historical background. I was making it clear that more difficulties had arisen as more changes took place and the private sector was reduced in size.

The hon. Member for Walton has made a helpful intervention, and one with which I am sympathetic. There is real need for the injection of new management techniques and different approaches to the way in which work is conducted in the docks. I have said so many times and if I were responsible for docks policy I would not hesitate to take steps to enable that improvement to be brought about.

But I say that the policy of nationalisation might make it even harder to bring about these changes, There is certainly nothing in the policy of nationalisation which will make it easier. Nationalisation of other industries has often been followed by a worsening of industrial relations. But there is no reason why an improvement in management techniques should not lead to a better situation. There is nothing in nationalisation by itself which leads automatically to the improvement of industrial relations. They are a question of the science of management, which is a skill that we should increasingly try to concentrate on in industry.

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

I represent a coal-mining area. The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. He knows even less about other publicly-owned industries than he does about the ports. Every miner will tell him that, in the coal industry, it was only the spirit and atmosphere created by public ownership which enabled the industry to get through a difficult period without strikes.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are not discussing the principle of the matter, but whether, having accepted the principle, it should be extended to give exclusive rights to provide port services to the generality of port users. I have heard nothing about the Amendment yet.

Mr. Mendelson

As I pointed out to the Chair yesterday, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the hon. Gentleman is quite deliberately dragging in other industries. He is always putting himself out of order, so we then take it that we have the right to reply.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I did not accuse the hon. Gentleman of going out of order. He answered what was said. I was pointing out that in all directions we are going away from the Amendment.

Mr. Heseltine

I am always worried in these debates that whenever an hon. Member from this side argues a serious point it is always suggested that we do not know anything about the subject. But whenever we challenge hon. Members opposite to produce figures they are quite incapable of doing so. The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) will be aware—and I have the figures here—that the coal industry has the highest level of unofficial strikes in the country; but I do not wish to pursue the matter.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I must insist that the hon. Gentleman comes to the Amendment.

Mr. Ellis

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are waiting to come on to other important Amendments. This is a serious matter which ought to be taken into account by you. This is quite deliberate. We had it yesterday. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have a paucity of matters to talk about and they are out to prove to the country that they need a Guillotine. We have seen this before—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I suggest to the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) that his intervention will make it more difficult rather than easier to bring the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) to order. I hope that he will leave it to the Chair.

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to you Mr. Deputy Speaker. Having had two hours and ten minutes taken away from us yesterday by hon. Members opposite it is not right for them to question our debate on this occasion.

I was talking about the speech of the hon. Member for Preston, South. He advanced a number of important points which I wish to cover. He said that if we allowed Clause 33 to go through without the Amendment it would lead to greater efficiency. That is what he said and that represents his argument completely. I only ask him this question. It is no use asking the Parliamentary Secretary because he does not know the answer, I have asked him many times. I ask the hon. Member for Preston, South —he is a fair-minded man—what possible evidence he has for that contention?

Mr. Peter Mahon

I rise to the bait, because I am anxious to enlighten the young hon. Gentleman. He is very zealous and dedicated. I think that he will go far—but perhaps not far enough for me.

This whole industry is undergoing a process of evolution. We have not a fairy godmother's wand, or an Aladdin's lamp. It is impossible to come by the like of that in this industry. We can expect these developments to arise only as a result of a spendid dynamic application of attention, looking at all the facets of the industry, correcting all the anomalies of the past and, above all, recognising the dignity of the people who matter most, those who have to work so hard from morning to night.

Mr. Heseltine

That is a very fair answer, but the one point which did not appear in it was a reference to changing the ownership and introducing nationalisation. This is the point. There is throughout the world a fund of information about the way in which docks can be operated and managed. There are good docks and bad docks, there is casual labour and decasualised labour, and there are labour schemes of one sort and another. All these things can be examined.

There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that the aim sought by the hon. Member for Preston, South would be advanced in the slightest by the solutions embodied in the Bill. He can only say that it is his personal faith that, if we create the monopolies envisaged under the Clause, things will get better. There is no evidence for it whatever. I have travelled a good deal—I think that I am one of very few hon. Members who have travelled about the world looking at docks and harbours—and I am fairly sure that no one can find any precedent or example to counter what I say. That is why I am against the Government's policy.

Next, the hon. Member for Preston, South made a point about the small ports. It is his faith that, if we impose the sort of solution which rejection of the Amendment entails, that is, if we create a total monopoly, things will get better. For five years, the Government have been looking at this alternative. They have been considering the Mikardo proposals in the working document and the right hon. Lady's proposals in relation to taking over all ports with more than 100,000 tons throughput. They have rejected that concept of totally eliminating competition, and they have done so for reasons which I regard as commendable, realising the value of competition in this industry.

Those hon. Members opposite who were pleading yesterday to widen the scope understand the position. The message is clear. They understand precisely the threat which the small ports present to the big ports. The Government understand it, too, but the Government want that threat in order to keep the big ports on their toes.

I accept and welcome that argument from the Government in terms of port ownership. It is correct to have individual businesses in the ports because that is the only way to keep the major suppliers of services on their toes. The Government have thus argued coherently on our side in leaving out all ports below 5 million tons thoughput. They should have followed the same line by accepting our Amendment now.

4.45 p.m.

The hon. Member for Oldham, East, as always, made a thoughtful contribution. He produced what seemed to me for one moment the most damning argument against the Amendment, and I felt that I should have been willing to suggest that there might, perhaps, be some sort of adjustment between the Government and the Opposition so that we could find a way of redrafting the Amendment. But then my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) made a totally effective reply.

The hon. Member for Oldham, East had suggested that, if no one were willing to provide port services, there would be no port services, and, therefore, the local port board in this case would be paralysed. But that is not so at all. We are talking not about the provision of services but about the right to provide services. This is the point.

The Amendment says that the port can go on providing services, as it is empowered to do under the Bill, and it may provide any range of services under the Bill. But if a major customer of the port says, " We want to provide our own service ", the authority would not have the right by Statute to say, " You are not allowed to provide this service ". There would be a discussion and negotiation, and the Ports Authority would have to persuade the user that it could do the job better for the user than the user could do it himself. That is the simple issue.

Mr. Mapp

The hon. Gentleman must not mislead the House. I am not a lawyer. I understand these things as a layman, as the hon. Gentleman does. The authority would not be able to apply for an Order. Never mind whether there will be a set of services or not, it would not be able to apply to the Minister for an Order.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson: Why?

Mr. Mapp

The Amendment expressly says that it must not be a monopoly supplier. It is a complete veto. I am not concerned so much about the environment. There could be people wanting to provide services just as good as the Ports Authority, or there could be others who did not wish to enter into it. But the words of the Amendment do not lead to the conclusion which the hon. Gentleman is arguing. This is so often our complaint about the Opposition, that they say a lot of things which suit their dogma but which are in no way suited to reality.

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman has now changed his ground. Earlier, he painted a harrowing picture of the docks and ships coming in, but the Ports Authority did not have power to unload them. We could all sympathise with that. Now, he says that the services are there and the authority has not the right to expropriate those services in order to unload the ships. This is very different.

I do not mind whether he is arguing the case as he put it first, or as he put it in his intervention. There is no great virtue in allowing the authority to have power to spend taxpayers' money in order to take over a service which is adequately provided already. I should support the hon. Gentleman if that were his interpretation, but I do not think that it would affect the Amendment. The idea

of the services being provided independently of the authority does not worry me. I should welcome it.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson

I must correct the interpretation suggested by the hon. Member for Oldham, East. If our Amendment were made, the Clause would read: … and on an application being duly made for a vesting order … provided that such vesting does not give the Authority exclusive rights to provide port services within the specified harbour to the generality of users, the Minister shall make the order unless it appears to him That does not prevent an Order being made if there is no other applicant, so far as I can see.

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend has given the complete legal answer on the point, and I am much obliged. There are many other matters to discuss, and I shall detain the House no further. We have put an overwhelming argument from this side, it is absolutely right that the Amendment should be pressed, and I have every confidence in asking my hon. Friends to support it in the Lobby.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 200, Noes 246.

Division No. 111.] AYES [4.50 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Fry, Peter
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Cary, Sir Robert Galbraith, Hn. T. G.
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Channon, H. P. G. Gilmour,Ian (Norfolk, C.)
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Chataway, Christopher Glover, Sir Douglas
Astor, John Chichester-Clark, R. Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Clark, Henry Goodhart, Philip
Baker, Kenneth (Acton) Clegg, Walter Goodhew, Victor
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Cooke, Robert Gower, Raymond
Balniel, Lord Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Grant, Anthony
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Cordle, John Gurden, Harold
Batsford, Brian Costain, A. P. Hall, John (Wycombe)
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Hamilton, Lord (Fermanagh)
Bell, Ronald Crouch, David Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Crowder, F. P. Harrison, Brian (Maldon)
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm) Currie, G. B. H. Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)
Berry, Hn. Anthony Dalkeith, Earl of Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere
Biffen John Danco, James Hawkins, Paul
Biggs-Davison, John Davidson,James(Aberdeenshire,W.) Heseltine, Michael
Blaker, Peter Dean, Paul Hiley, Joseph
Body, Richard Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Hill, J. E B.
Bossom, Sir Clive Doughty, Charles Hirst, Geoffrey
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Drayson, G. B. Holland, Philip
Braine, Bernard Eden, Sir John Hordern, Peter
Brewis, John Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) HornBy, Richard
Brinton, Sir Tatton Elliot, R. W (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.) Hunt, John
Bromley-Davenport,Lt.-Col.Sir Walter Farr, John Iremonger, T. L.
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Fisher, Nigel Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)
Bryan, Paul Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick(Angus,N&M) Fortescue, Tim Jennings, J. C. (Burton)
Bullus, Sir Eric Foster, Sir John Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)
Burden, F. A. Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh(St'fford & Stone) Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
jopling, Michael Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Speed, Keith
Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Murton, Oscar Stainton, Keith
Kaberry, Sir Donald Nabarro, Sir Gerald Stodart, Anthony
Kershaw, Anthony Neave, Alrey Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Nicholls, Sir Harmar Summers, Sir Spencer
King, Tom Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Tapsell, Peter
Lane, David Nott, John Taylor, Edward M. (G 'gow.Cathcart)
Langford-Holt, Sir John Onslow, Cranley Temple, John M.
Lawier, Wallace Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian Tilney, John
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Osborn, John (Hallam) Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Page, John (Harrow, W.) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral) Pardoe, John Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Lubbock, Eric Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe) Vickers, Dame Joan
MacArthur, Ian Peel, John Waddington, David
Mackenzie, Alasdair(RossCrom'ty) Peyton, John Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Pike, Miss Mervyn Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
McMaster, Stanley Price, David (Eastleigh) Wall, Patrick
McNair-Wilson. Michael Prior, J. M. L. Walters, Dennis
McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Pym, Francis Ward, Christopher (Swindon)
Maddan, Martin Rees-Davies, W. R. Ward, Dame Irene
Maginnis, John E. Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Weatherill, Bernard
Marten, Neil Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Maude, Angus Ridsdale, Julian Wiggin, Jerry
Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Mawby, Ray Russell, Sir Ronald Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. St. John-Stevas, Norman Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Sandys, Rt. Hn. D. Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Mills, Peter (Torrington) Scott, Nicholas Worsley, Marcus
Monro, Hector Scott-Hopkins, James Wright, Esmond
Montgomery, Fergus Sharples, Richard Wylie, N. R.
More, Jasper Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh Whitby) Younger, Hn. George
Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Silvester, Frederick
Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Sinclair, Sir George TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Smith, Dudley (W'wick L'mington) Mr. Anthony Royle
Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Smith, John (London W 'minster) and Mr. Timothy Kitson
Abse, Leo Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Albu, Austen Dalyell, Tam Haseldine, Norman
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Darling, Rt. Hn. George Hattersley, Roy
Alldritt, Walter Davies, E. Hudson (Conway) Hazell, Bert
Allen, Scholefield Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Heffer, Eric S.
Anderson, Donald Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Henig, Stanley
Archer, Peter (R'wley Regis Tipt'n) Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek) Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret
Armstrong, Ernest Davis, Ifor (Gower) Hooley, Frank
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Delargy, H. J. Hoy, Rt. Hn. James
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)
Barnes, Michael Doig, Peter Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Barnett, Joel Driberg, Tom Hunter, Adam
Baxter, William Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Hynd, John
Beaney, Alan Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th C'b'e) Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur
Bence, Cyril Eadie, Alex Jackson, Colin (B'h'se &Spenb'gh)
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton) Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)
Bidwell, Sydney Edwards, William (Merioneth) Janner, Sir Barnett
Binns, John Ellis, John Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas
Bishop, E. S. English, Michael Jeger,Mrs.Lena(H'b'n&St.P'cras,S.)
Blackburn, F. Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Fernyhough, E. Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)
Booth, Albert Finch, Harold Jones,Rt. Hn. Elwyn(W.Ham,S
Boston, Terence Foley, Maurice Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Judd, Frank
Boyden, James Forrester, John Kelley, Richard
Bradley, Tom Fraser, John (Norwood) Kerr, Russell (Feltham)
Brooks, Edwin Galpern, Sir Myer Lawson, George
Broughton, Sir Alfred Gardner, Tony Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Garrett, W. E. Lee, John (Reading)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Ginsburg, David Lestor, Miss Joan
Brown,Bob(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.) Golding, John Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)
Buchan, Norman Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Lipton, Marcus
Cant, R. B. Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Lomas, Kenneth
Carmichael, Neil Gregory, Arnold Loughlin, Charles
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Grey, Charles (Durham) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)
Chapman, Donald Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson
Coe, Denis Griffiths, Will (Exchange) McBride, Neil
Coleman, Donald Hamilton, James (Bothwell) McCann, John
Concannon, J. D. Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) MacDermot, Niall
Conlan, Bernard Hamling, William Macdonald, A. H.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Harper, Joseph McElhone, Frank
McGulre, Michael Oswald, Thomas Small, William
McKay, Mrs. Margaret Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn) Spriggs, Leslie
Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Page, Derek (King's Lynn) Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)
Mackie, John Paget, R. T. Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael
Mackintosh, John P. Palmer, Arthur Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Maclennan, Robert Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirliey
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Parkyn, Brian (Bedford) Swain, Thomas
MacPherson, Malcolm Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd) Symonds, J. B.
Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred Taverne, Dick
Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Pentland, Norman Thomas, Rt. Hn. George
Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.) Thomson, Rt. Hn. George
Mallalieu,J.P.W.(Huddersfield,E.) Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.) Thornton, Ernest
Mapp, Charles Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg. Tinn, James
Marquand, David Price, Christopher (Perry Barr) Tomney, Frank
Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard Price, Thomas (Westhoughton) Tuck, Raphael
Maxwell, Robert Price, William (Rugby) Urwin, T. W.
Mayhew, Christopher Probert, Arthur Varley, Eric G.
Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Randall, Harry Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Mendelson, John Rankin, John Watkins, David (Consett)
Millan, Bruce Rhodes, Geoffrey Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Miller, Dr. M. S. Richard, Ivor Weitzman, David
Milne, Edward (Blyth) Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Wellbeloved, James
Mitchell, B. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Molloy, William Robertson, John (Paisley) Whitaker, Ben
Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Robinson, Rt.Hn.Kenneth(St.P'c'as) White, Mrs. Eirene
Morris Alfred (Wythenshawe) Rodgers, William (Stockton) Whitlock, William
Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.) Wilkins, W. A.
Moyle, Roland Rose, Paul Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Ross, Rt. Hn. William Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Murray, Albert Rowlands, E. William,Rt. Hn. George
Neal, Harold Sheldon, Robert Winnick, David
Newens, Stan Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E. Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Ogden, Eric Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney) Woof, Robert
O'Halloran, Michael Short, Mrs. RenSe(W'hampton,N.E.)
O'Malley, Brian Sillars J. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Oram, Bert Silverman, Julius Mr. Ioan L. Evans
Orbach, Maurice Slater, Joseph and Mr. R. F. H. Dobson
Orme, Stanley

Amendment made: No. 63, in page 47, line 33, leave out from ' business ' to ' is ' in line 36.—[Mr. Mulley.]

Mr. Berry

I beg to move Amendment No. 129, in page 48, line 4, at end insert: (3) The authority may with the consent of the person carrying on a business apply for a vesting order with respect to any business at a harbour before the harbour is placed under the charge of the authority (but not before the establishment of a port board for the harbour), with a view to the order being made on the harbour being placed under their charge; and in connection with an application so made any question whether a business is one about which a vesting order may be made shall be determined as if the harbour were already under the charge of the authority. This is a case of a subsection which was in, then was not, and now we want it to be in again, though not with quite the original wording.

The House will be aware from study of our Standing Committee deliberations that we had an important debate on the matter in Committee. The original subsection did not contain the words with the consent of the person carrying on a business ". It has been suggested to us that various Shipowners with a direct interest in port businesses would like to have the reworded subsection in the Bill, so that the Authority should be able to apply for vesting orders not with respect to all businesses but just where the people carrying on the business apply for that order. It will thus be possible for the person carrying on a business to test the procedure that will apply under the Bill when it becomes an Act at the earliest possible moment, should he wish to do so.

Our objection to the original subsection was that the right was entirely one-sided. The authority had a blanket right to apply for vesting orders. Under our proposed new subsection it could do so only if a person carrying on a business asked for this to happen.

I apologise to the Minister for not having put down the Amendment earlier. The matter was brought to my attention only on Monday. The Chamber of Shipping is anxious that this wording should be reinstated in the Bill, but I emphasise that the subsection is very different from the original.

Mr. Ellis

I expected the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) to be much more apologetic in moving the Amendment, because I remember our Committee debate on the subject very well. I was rather terse with one of my hon. Friends earlier, because I was doing some research. He asked me a question, and I was very short with him because I was looking in to the matter. I looked at the original Bill. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the proposed subsection is there, apart from the words with the consent of the person carrying on a business. He says that there is an important principle there.

We should explain the position for the benefit of hon. Members who were not on the Committee. The original subsection was an innocuous part of the Bill, which sought to make a provision similar to that in compulsory purchase procedure, so that people who were likely to be taken over could say for their own convenience, " When the vesting day is appointed, you will take over. It is to my convenience that you take over earlier." The hon. Gentleman is apparently now willing to have this provision in the Bill. Although the subsection did not contain the words to which I have referred, my right hon. Friend made its purpose perfectly clear in Committee.

When the hon. Gentleman sought to delete the whole subsection in Committee he could instead have put down an Amendment providing that it should apply with the consent of the people taken over. But he said: I have said some rude things about the Bill over the past weeks. I find this subsection remarkably objectionable, unless I have misread it,… The National Ports Authority will be in a position to apply for vesting orders on businesses in harbours not yet under their control, and even though they could not fully ascertain the conditions in that harbour until it was completely in their charge. This is jumping the gun."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 3rd March, 1970; c. 781.] The hon. Gentleman objected very forcibly to the principle and asked that the subsection be taken out. He said, in effect, " Let us wait till vesting day before the Minister, machiavellian and dripping with Socialism, swoops in. It is wrong to do it on all counts." My right hon. Friend cooed at the hon. Gentleman and said that it was not his intention that that should happen. The provision had been inserted merely for the convenience of people who knew that they would be taken over.

Then the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) entered the debate. He is a downy bird, and he realised that the Minister had a point. He referred to the words inserted in the proposed new subsection and said that these made the position substantially different. My right hon. Friend was courteous and said that he did not care whether the subsection was in or out, but had thought he was being helpful. He gave the assurance sought by the hon. Gentleman the original subsection would have achieved exactly the same purpose, but that was not good enough for the lion. Member for Tavistock. He said, " That is as it may be, but let us take it out. We can look at it on Report and put it back."

My right hon. Friend would be within his rights if he said, " After the charade upstairs, you can get knotted " and leave out what the Opposition proposed. We have heard about the Opposition supposedly fighting this objectionable Bill.

Mr. Heifer

Wasting time.

Mr. Ellis

We had a Guillotine in Committee which was never used. We have a Guillotine again today. We took things out in Committee at the behest of the Opposition which they now proposed to put hack. It is no good the hon. Member for Tavistock pointing to his watch and indicating the time. We need never have had this debate at all. This is an example of what has happened on the Bill. If the Opposition had got their Amendment right in the first place, this would never have happened.

The Opposition should make it clear that the Minister went out of his way to help them. They had an assurance from the Government. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will accept the Amendment. I see no objection to his accepting it. But I hope that the Opposition will not say that it makes all that difference. In Committee, they challenged the principle of the matter. What has happened today reveals what has been going on. This has been a mock fight. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not start issuing Press statements about the Government imposing a Guillotine and how hard the Opposition have been fighting. It was not true in Committee, and it is certainly not true today.

Mr. Mulley

We have had a colourful, but fairly accurate, account of what has happened from my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis). The Amendment provides that The authority may with the consent of the person carrying on a business apply for a vesting order with respect to any business at a harbour before the harbour is placed under the charge of the authority … When great exception was taken to this in Committee, I explained that the main purpose was to assist businesses which wished to contest the procedures of the Bill, particularly the skeleton procedure, to discover whether they would be exempted, which they would be anxious to do as early as possible to remove uncertainty. I suggested to the Committee that it was not a matter of importance from the point of view of authority. It was of value to those with businesses which might come into the take-over question.

In its original form, the Bill did not include the words with the consent of the person carrying on a business. I agree that that is a change. It was probably implicit because the Authority will have a great deal to do. In any event, it would be unlikely that it would wish to apply for vesting orders except with the full co-operation of the business concerned. I agree that it would be a good thing to have that phrase in the Clause.

Having told the Committee that I was not very worried about whether the provision was in or out of the Bill. I am now in the unusual position of advising hon. Members to accept a Government Amendment.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Michael Heseltine

It is good of the Minister to disguise one of the Opposion's Amendments as a Government Amendment. This is an Opposition Amendment. I am grateful to him for accepting that the introduction of the phrase into the Clause is an improvement. That is all that we said in Committee. We said that there was no point in taking up time when this matter could have been disposed of in a few minutes.

The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) has done his party a great service. He has suddenly brought to life Government back benchers in support of a case put forward by the Opposition. This is the first time that I have seen them convinced by anything which has been said. I suppose that we have developed an over-suspicion of arguments and motives. It was not surprising, therefore, that this Amendment was looked at critically. Now that we have come to the conclusion that it is acceptable, it is right to deal with it quickly. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West for his polished performance. It is a pity that we shall shortly be deprived of further performances from him.

Mr. Keith Stainton (Sudbury and Woodbridge)

Despite the comments of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis), the proceedings on subsection (3) of the Clause ran to no more than two pages of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee proceedings. It occurred to me in Committee that deletion of the former subsection (3) could have given rise to various consequential Amendments. Not having the legal capacity to trace the Amendments on the Notice Paper, could the Minister assure us that by putting this back—

Mr. Mulley

I do not think that that would present any difficulty, but I will check. The hon. Gentleman is always wise in giving advice, and one can never be too careful. I have no reason to think that there are any problems.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: No. 64, in page 48, line 19, after ' power ', insert: ' (subject to any agreement under section (Power to except businesses by agreement) below) '.—[Mr. Mulley.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The next Amendment is No. 65.

Mr. Stainton

On a point of order. Perhaps my list is out of date, but I do not have Amendment No. 65 on the list prepared by order of Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is the practice not to enumerate Government Amendments. The hon. Gentleman will see from the top of the list that all Government Amendments have been selected. Amendment No. 65 is a Government Amendment.

Mr. Stainton

There is nothing about Government Amendments at the top of the list which I have. It says: " Ports Bill. Mr. Speaker's provisional selection of Amendments. Consideration of Bill, as amended …". It then refers to " All Government Amendments ".

Mr. Murray

I beg to move Amendment No. 65, in page 48, line 25, leave out ' transfer date ' and insert: ' date on which the business so vests '. This is purely a drafting Amendment, designed to prevent possible confusion about the wording of the Bill. It results from the insertion of subsection (5) in Committee.

Mr. Berry

We have no objection to the Amendment. It is one of many Government Amendments put down following suggestions made by the Opposition. I can understand why the piece of paper showing the selection of Amendments was not big enough to take all the Government Amendments. I must point out that the last Amendment which we accepted was an Opposition Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

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