§ Mr. Speaker
Before we begin the debate, I have an important statement to make.
I have been informed by my advisers that a writ and a notice of motion have been issued on the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board's solicitors by the Treasury Solicitor and an application made to the court that a receiver be appointed on behalf of the Crown. A hearing has been arranged for Friday morning. At the hearing, counsel instructed by the Crown will have to explain the grounds for believing that the appointment of a receiver is necessary in the circumstances. Because legal proceedings have been set in train, the sub judice rule requires that the debate which we are about to enter upon should not cover the application for a receiver, but debate on the reasons which led up to the application and the Government's proposals for altering the management of the Board will be in order. The House will remember that Mr. Speaker has a discretion in sub judice matters.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
On a point of order. Arising from your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, and accepting the sub judice rule, may I respectfully put this point to you and ask for your guidance?
You have rightly said that the House has a discretion in discussing the matters leading up to this decision. As I see it from your Ruling, the House is estopped from discussing the merits of whether a receiver should be appointed because these are matters which will be before the court. In my view, this gravely embarrasses the House. I do not wish to go into the merits, but I respectfully urge upon you, Mr. Speaker, that whether or not a receiver per se is required and whether that, by inference, is criticism of the executive body which the Minister is appointing, are matters which the House should be able to debate.
I suggest that clearly the Minister should not have taken this action until such time as the House of Commons was able to debate the merits. I respect your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but as proceedings have been instituted the House is in a difficulty. I put it to you as the pro- 1084 tector of the rights of the sovereignty of the House, which is the High Court of Parliament, that we have been told that we cannot debate certain matters today because the Minister has chosen to shuffle off those matters to the High Court of Justice. In my submission, this is a very grave interference with the right of Parliament to debate these matters.
No one can prevent a Minister from taking whatever action he wishes to take in the courts; that is a matter for him. But if in taking that action he prevents one of the salient features of the debate from being discussed by hon. Members, he is acting in a way totally contrary to the traditions of this House and is gravely circumscribing hon. Members' rights of discussion. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to tell us, if not now, then perhaps on a later occasion, how we may be protected from Ministers taking peremptory action in the courts which prevents the House from exercising its right of discussion.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I think that he misunderstood my Ruling. I am a jealous guardian of the procedures of the House; that is one of my duties. I cannot comment on the Minister taking certain legal action. My Ruling only slightly inhibits the House from discussing the grave issues which the Adjournment debate is about.
§ The Minister for Transport Industries (Mr. John Peyton)
Further to that point of order. May I, with great respect to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House, point out that when I made my statement yesterday, which I did with your leave, I said that the Government had decided to take certain legal steps and that they proposed immediately to commence them. It is therefore inappropriate that the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) should charge me with shuffling off from the purview of the House matters which the House naturally wishes to discuss. I made it perfectly clear yesterday that the Government had embarked on these steps.
§ Mr. Thorpe
Further to the point of order. I do not wish to truncate the debate and I shall not trespass on the time of the House for more than a moment. The Minister rightly says that the Government had declared their intention of taking certain legal steps. All Governments are entitled to take such 1085 legal steps as they think right. The Minister is as good a House of Commons man as anybody.
My submission to you, Mr. Speaker, is that before the Government take those legal steps, which are of great consequence in a matter of this importance, the House should be given the fullest possible opportunity to discuss the merits and to pass an opinion on them before it is estopped by the legal action taken from having a full debate.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think the House wants to proceed to the debate, but may I first deal with one point. In view of the charge which the right hon. Gentleman has made, one must be fair. I have a note to the effect that the Treasury Solicitor's application was made yesterday afternoon at 3.45. He could not then have known that I would grant a debate under Standing Order No. 9, which I did at nine minutes past four.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
Following the discussion in the House yesterday, would it not have been open to the Minister to take action to hold up the attempt to take legal proceedings?
§ Mr. Speaker
This is a matter between the two sides of the House. It is not a matter for the Chair to rule on.
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.
The whole House will agree that I am in some difficulty in the sense that the speech which I intended to make will obviously be affected to some extent by this afternoon's Ruling. However, despite this slight difficulty, I shall do my best to put my case, bearing in mind the point which you have made, Mr. Speaker.
The question of the future of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board has been concerning Merseyside Members for some time. We realised that the Board was moving into a difficult situation. On 14th July, when we discussed the Amendment to the Ports Bill, I pointed out that the measures which were being taken could only be interim measures for Merseyside.
It is recognised that the management of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board 1086 has not been the most efficient management in the world. I want to put that on record in case any hon. Gentlemen are of the opinion that I and my colleagues are defending every action of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board management. That is not the point of this debate. There is no argument about the reorganisation of the Board; this may well be an important step forward, and I believe that the Board had to be reorganised.
I draw to the attention of the House the differing attitudes adopted on the one hand by the Government and on the other hand by the Labour Government when they were in power. The Merseyside docks, the Merseyside people and the whole future economy of Merseyside are being thrown into a state of uncertainty by the Government's action. At Birkenhead, across the river from Liverpool, when the future of the shipbuilding company Cammell Laird was at stake, when the workers were concerned about their employment and the future of the shipyard, the then Labour Government acted completely responsibly. They removed the fear from the minds of the workers, they took the matter to the I.R.C., they solved the problem and reorganised the Board in the process of doing so. The result was that those who worked at Cammell Laird in Liverpool and Birkenhead felt that they had been rescued by the action of the Labour Government.
What do the workers in Liverpool feel now? We are told that by 1972 the south end of the docks will be closed. The new chairman said only yesterday that the port will be at a lower gear, whatever that means. How many redundancies will there be? What guarantee can the Government give that those redundant workers will find employment in an area which already has far too high a level of unemployment? No wonder there is fear and uncertainty amongst dock workers in Liverpool. No wonder the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions is making it plain that it is not prepared to accept any redundancies and will fight the Government on this question.
There is a different way of dealing with this. The Government should have done what the Labour Government did for Cammell Laird. I do not think that the putting in of a receiver will inspire the 1087 people of Merseyside with any great confidence. I will not get involved in whether it is an official receiver, an unofficial receiver or any other sort of receiver. How will the people on Merseyside feel about the putting in of a receiver to perform the Government's so-called rescue operation, when all that was required was £10 million to overcome the immediate financial crisis? I am not saying that that would have solved the problem; there needs to be better management and greater efficiency.
No doubt we shall hear a lot about the industry standing on its own two feet and the joys of private enterprise. The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board is composed of members of companies in all sorts of local private enterprise businesses. It is strange that, in spite of the joy of private enterprise, these people could not run the Board efficiently. Why should a new form of private enterprise run it any more efficiently?
Our answer to this problem was to bring ports under public ownership. We said that a nationally efficient docks industry could be achieved only by bringing the industry under public ownership. But the Government are not even prepared to go half way. They say, "We reject public ownership; it will not work". [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is right. They are all nodding their little, stupid heads. It has not worked under private enterprise, but it will work under public ownership, so why not go half way? Why not do as the European ports do? Why not pay subsidies to our ports so that they can compete with European ports which are subsidised by central and local government?
In January, 1970, Touche Ross and Company made a report to the National Ports Council. The terms of reference were:To determine whether the Continental ports of Dunkirk, Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg have any special advantages relating to costs which would enable the level of comparable port charges to be lower in the Continental ports than in the United Kingdom ports. To distinguish natural advantages from man-made advantages. To establish the effect of applying the man-made advantages of the Continental ports to the United Kingdom ports of Liverpool, London and Southampton.The main conclusions of the report were: 1088From our investigations we have reached the conclusion that the four Continental ports we studied have a major advantage over the three United Kingdom ports. They receive massive financial aid from central and local government who regard the ports as a vital part of their overall economy rather than as commercial enterprises in their own right. If the United Kingdom ports had received aid on a similar basis it would enable them to reduce port charges substantially.In addition to financial aid, all Continental ports receive benefits from central and local government in the form of services provided free, which United Kingdom ports have to pay for. Examples are dredging in the river, and police.I would commend that suggestion to the House and particularly to hon. Gentlemen opposite, because the ports in Continental countries with which we have to compete are sustained by their Governments on a private enterprise basis. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are so bigoted, so ridiculous in their attitude to standing on one's own feet, that they cannot see that if as a nation we are to compete we have to sustain our ports in the same way as such ports are sustained in other countries.
It is relevant to point out that in Liverpool the costs of dredging in one year amounted to £1,380,000; it cost over £500,000 to police the area. Liverpool pays enormous rates which amount to almost £500,000. These costs do not apply to the Continental ports. But hon. Gentlemen are not proposing that these ports should be sustained. Instead, they propose that the ports should merely sell off their assets.
What are those assets? One-third of the port is likely to be closed, and we already knew that there was to be a partial closure over an extended period. However, I hope that this will not happen too quickly because some of the berths at the south end of the docks are valuable and can be used for many years to come. The Harrison Line and the grain silo, which is one of the best in the country, are also in the south end of the docks and if they were closed it would be a most serious economic blow to Merseyside's future.
I am talking from experience. For many years I was the senior shop steward of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, and I know those docks like the back of my hand—much more than any hon. 1089 Gentlemen opposite know them, including the Conservative Members from Merseyside—though not my hon. Friend from Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn), who worked with me at the Board.
The Bill that is now before the House has been forced upon us as part of the plans for reorganisation. The Conservative Party is always deeply concerned about the poor old widow who cannot manage on the pittance she receives and about the small investor. Hon. Gentlemen have a right to be concerned about the small investor, especially if in the past he has invested in the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. Clause 5 of the Bill proposes that the repayment of bonds be postponed for two years. It is bad enough if people are not to get their money for two years, but the Clause then says that the value of the same bonds will be reduced by 30 per cent. Then it goes on to say—and this is the wickedest part of all—that the amount of any annuity is to be reduced by 30 per cent. The poor old widow living on her annuity will find that it is 30 per cent. lower than it has been in the past. It is a shameful situation, and when I said that the Government were abdicating their responsibilities I meant it. The Government have a responsibility to the investors, to the people of Merseyside, to the workers of Merseyside and to the country as a whole. The record of the present Government on this matter is shameful.
I believe that the answer to the problem, as we said before the General Election, is that the ports should be brought into public ownership. If we are ever to get an efficient national system, then public ownership is the answer. In the meantime, I wish to urge two courses on the Government. First, that they should reconsider their action and, even at this late hour, should be prepared to ensure that the money for the bridging action is forthcoming. I would accept the rest of it as a temporary measure, but something else is required as well. People need to know what has really happened. Therefore, we require a searching public inquiry into the whole situation. The Liverpool Labour Party, the Liverpool trade unions and many other organisations on Merseyside have been asking for such an inquiry for some time. This is a sound and sensible proposition. I hope 1090 the Government, even at this twelfth hour, will be prepared to look again at the whole issue and to put themselves in a proper position with the people of Merseyside by carrying out the suggestions that I have put forward this afternoon.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ The Minister for Transport Industries (Mr. John Peyton)
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) reminded the House that at one time he was the senior shop steward in the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. I endeavoured to say yesterday, in what I hope was not regarded either as patronising or controversial way, that I thought very few people in this House could do as much as the hon. Gentleman, or could make as an important a contribution as he can to the future of the Port of Liverpool.
I hope I can say, without being unfair or unduly raising the temperature, that the hon. Gentleman's contribution this afternoon was well below the level he can achieve. He pleaded first of all that he was in some slight difficulty in making his case today. I shall refer to that matter if only because the point was made by the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) that the Government took the legal step yesterday. If they had not done so others might well have acted, but I can assure the House this action was not intended to be in any way discourteous to the House.
§ Mr. Michael Foot
Could the right hon. Gentleman say why this action was taken at 3.45? Could he not have waited until he had heard the views of the House as to whether there was to be a debate? When the right hon. Gentleman left the House, could he not have given an immediate instruction that the matter should be held up until the debate had taken place?
§ Mr. Peyton
In the view of the Government it was important that that action should be taken promptly. It was taken promptly and was not in any way intended to be discourteous to the House.
The hon. Member for Walton has said that the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board did not have the most efficient management in the world. It is essential that the House should be fair to people who have taken part in the management of the Board, a board which 1091 has come in for a great deal of public criticism. I am bound to say that if I were attempting to set up an organisation to run anything I would not have chosen the pattern of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. But that is in no way to blame the men who took part in it. To have six representatives of ship-owners, six representatives of port users, aided by four nominees of the Minister, all part-time, is hardly a very great recipe for success. I must remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that this was an organisation which survived during their period in office.
The hon. Gentleman was good enough to say, and I am grateful to him for this, that he offered no argument on the merits of the reorganisation which is now being carried out, even though only on a temporary basis. I should like to take this opportunity of saying how grateful I am to the men, whose names I gave to the House yesterday, for taking on a task of very considerable dimensions. I very much hope that I can take both sides of the House with me in wishing them well in successfully tackling a task which would daunt many.
The hon. Gentleman has made the gravamen of his charge that the Government's action yesterday was such as to throw the whole of Merseyside into uncertainty. A few of us on this side of the House feel, and I must make this clear, that whenever warnings have been given in the past, whenever it has been said that we were sailing into difficult and dangerous waters, the Government of the day have in the event yielded to the temptation to reach for the anaesthetic bottle, and the easy specific which persuades people that there is a painless way out of our troubles. I do not believe that this is true.
Only the other day I was in one of our ports and talking to the trade union members concerned with its running. One of the dangers with which they were concerned was that of the excess capacity of ports which they thought might arise in the future. They asked me: "What are you going to do about it?" I said that the difficulty always is to find a body, whether it is the National Ports Council, the Government or whoever else it may be, having the courage to take decisive action; courage which is acceptable 1092 everywhere in the country except where the action is taken.
That being so, when the hon. Gentleman says we have plunged Merseyside into anxiety I do not feel that anxiety in these circumstances is wholly improper or to be deplored. Indeed, there are abundant grounds for anxiety—I must make that clear—otherwise there would have been no basis for the action which the Government took yesterday.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
While I accept that anxiety may be attributed to what the right hon. Gentleman has just described to the House, would he not agree that the fact that this state of things emerged only in June of this year, with the members of the Board apparently previously completely unaware of it, and the Minister told only in July, should cause grave anxiety and concern?
§ Mr. Peyton
I profoundly agree with the hon. Member. The fact that a Government which he supported were in power until the middle of June, and apparently either knew nothing of this situation or were content to leave things so that they could be pushed under the carpet with the overall solution, if it can be so called, of nationalisation and that the hon. Gentleman should wish to draw attention to it, I find strange.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that far from doing nothing, despite opposition from himself and his hon. and right hon. Friends, we were bringing in a solution to deal with the very problem of which he has so eloquently spoken as it affects not only the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board but a number of other statutory bodies? Is he not also aware that under the Conservative legislation which we were amending and reorganising the Minister of Transport was not allowed access to the confidential financial information which, under that Act, those statutory trust bodies gave to the National Ports Council?
§ Mr. Peyton
The right hon. Gentleman would probably accept without much difficulty that there has been a certain irreconcilable difference of opinion between the two sides of the House on the merits of the Ports Bill; and that we did not, and do not, for one moment regard what he describes as the "solution" of nationalisation as deserving that title.
1093 The hon. Member for Walton drew attention to the fact that the Labour Government had come to the rescue, as he put it, of Cammell Laird, and reassured those concerned. What did that operation achieve? I believe, and I am certain that the country will have to face it, that there is in Liverpool a situation which requires a new united effort. It is no good calling for specifics from one Government or another.
I believe, and I said this yesterday to the hon. Gentleman, that he himself and a great many others can make a contribution of a far more significant kind than merely rattling the begging bowl on behalf of a great port like Liverpool. I believe that the Port of Liverpool is assured of a great future and an immense place in our commerce so long as a new effort is made, and a new understanding is reached, and a determination shown to win for Liverpool among the traders of the world the reputation of a port which gives a quick turn round and a first class service. That is the best contribution anyone can make to ensuring the future of a port.
The hon. Gentleman put in a plea for public ownership and in doing so made one of his rather noiser asides, which I shall disregard, in which he described my hon. and right hon. Friends. I do not believe that in this particular instance public ownership would have made any contribution whatever to the general stability and efficiency of the port. He compared, and this is a very relevant matter, what he considered to be the greater opportunities enjoyed by ports on the Continent vis-à-vis the Port of Liverpool and our ports in general. I admit that this is an exercise which should be regularly carried out and that time could well be spent examining the differences in treatment. No Government could afford to underrate the importance of our ports to the economy.
At the same time, I find very hard to accept his total failure ever even to refer to such operations as the Seaforth Dock. That dock represents an investment of nearly £40 million of Government money. I believe that both sides of the House concede that it represents the future of the Port of Liverpool. It seems odd, in those circumstances, that an hon. Member moving a highly critical emergency Motion of this kind should forbear even 1094 to mention the very significant contribution which the Government are making.
Perhaps I should also mention the fact that the Government have agreed—
§ Mr. Heffer
Is the Minister aware that I personally first raised the desirability of an extended Seaforth Dock about 12 years ago in the Liverpool City Council? It is something which the Liverpool people have wanted for a long time. Is he further aware that the money was first forthcoming from a Labour Government? The present Government are rather silly, but I did not think that they would be sufficiently stupid to stop all assistance for what will obviously be a first-class dock.
§ Mr. Peyton
What an argument that is. The point is that the money comes from the British taxpayer. Some £16 million or £18 million has already been spent on the Seaforth Dock, leaving another £22 million to £24 million to come, which has to be raised by the Government of the day. The Government are prepared to do that. But whatever the hon. Gentleman may have said in the past about Seaforth, it would have been relevant to an understanding of the whole scene today for him at least to have referred to the existence of a project so important and significant to the port.
The hon. Gentleman made his final denunciation of my right hon. and hon. Friends by saying that we were bigoted and dogmatic, and levelled the accusation that we were becoming addicted to this mania or habit of people standing on their own two feet. If that is the gravamen of the Socialist Party's charge against the Government, I am sure that most of us on this side will be very happy to accept it. It seems to us of urgent importance that this country and its immensely significant operations—in which I include the port of Liverpool, of course—should get back to the habit of economic independence and not always be looking for help, because there will be fewer and fewer in a position to give it.
As this is the first opportunity I have had to address the House on this subject at any length, perhaps I may say a few words about the recent background. One of the difficulties in handling the management of the port is that it is a statutory trust and, as such, cannot be wound up 1095 without an Act of Parliament. Therefore, any radical restructuring of management depends either upon Act of Parliament or upon the close co-operation and help of the board, as was made available to me yesterday and in the past few weeks. Without the consent of the board no one could have achieved even the temporary rearrangement of management which has been arranged.
I believe that one of the troubles here is that Liverpool is almost haunted by the spectre of its past successes. There is a great deal too much of the clutter of the past, and not only is this physical but it endures in human attitudes as well.
The Chairman of the Board, Mr. Taylor—I wish to say how sorry I am that he became ill during the last few months—came to see me at the end of July, accompanied by the Director-General, and informed me that the Board was in serious financial trouble. I suggested that he should appoint accountants to carry out an immediate investigation and report to the Board as soon as possible on the extent and definition of the trouble.
The accountants whom the Board appointed produced a fairly sharp initial reaction in September, and finally made recommendations to the Board in October, which, I think, the Board was commendably quick to adopt. At any rate, suffice it to say that economies and increases in charges were determined upon, and policies involving getting rid of surplus assets were adopted, with the result that the Borad's own forecasts of substantial losses mounting to the year 1974–75 were very considerably turned round. I think that one can say that, on the basis of those figures, there is at least the prospect of a material improvement in the port of Liverpool.
The House will be aware that on Friday last the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board deposited a Bill which involves deferment of capital repayments and a reduction of the nominal value of capital by 30 per cent. The Bill makes provision also for a new constitution for the Board. I believe that it offers a major step forward for the port.
§ Mr. Joel Barnett (Heywood and Royton)
Does not the right hon. Gentleman accept that the provisions of the 1096 Bill have serious implications for many thousands of people in Lancashire, small investors in particular, who treated an investment in the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board in the same way as they treated an investment in, for example, local government stock? This is a most serious matter which I should have expected the right hon. Gentleman and other right hon. and hon. Members opposite to treat with the seriousness it deserves. Even at this stage, will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Board—after all, it is his reorganisation scheme—to reconsider the whole question of the writing off of 30 per cent. of small investor's money?
§ Mr. Peyton
It is not my scheme of reconstruction; it is the Board's scheme. Unfortunately, in a hard world—the hon. Gentleman is well aware of this—investors who make mistakes are apt to lose their money. The hon. Gentleman is putting forward a doctrine where-under, apparently, all investors, particularly small investors, should be protected—
§ Mr. Barnett
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is not aware that there are many thousands of investors in Lancashire who have treated investments in the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board precisely as they would treat investments in any local authority in Lancashire or in the country at large. This has serious implications for investment generally. If the right hon. Gentleman does not understand that, he cannot understand the whole purport of what I am saying.
§ Mr. Peyton
I fully understand the seriousness of this matter. The cause of it is in itself very serious. The hon. Gentleman seems to wave that on one side and to reach for some painless answer. I do not believe that we can go on searching for painless answers in this country and expect to get away with it.
§ Mr. Mulley
The right hon. Gentleman appeared to indicate that the Government as such had no knowledge of, or, at least, had no responsibility for, the Private Bill which has been presented. But no body can bring forward a Bill of this character, particularly one giving substantial and onerous duties to a Secretary of State, without the Government's blessing.
§ Mr. Peyton
The Bill will be discussed in due course. The duties of the Secretary of State were a matter on which the Board could, should, and did consult me. But apart from that the Bill remains the Board's proposals, and I must leave it there.
I revert for a moment to the point made by the hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett). I do not want him to be in any doubt about what is in my mind. I fully realise the seriousness of this matter for bond holders, and particularly when they happen to be people of small possessions. I absolutely accept that. But what I say—I think that the country can well learn from this—is that, if a major operation such as the port of Liverpool drifts into these difficulties, there will inevitably be quite widespread casualties.
Perhaps it will help the House if I wind up my remarks today by detailing the four courses which, roughly speaking, presented themselves to the Government. First, there was the possibility, canvassed quite widely, that the Government should take no action but merely allow events to take their course, in which case, I believe, the only conclusion which could follow would have been the total closure of the port. To my mind, with the port of Liverpool handling nearly a quarter of our general cargo exports, and taking in 12½ per cent. of our crude oil imports, quite apart from the enormous number of people who have their livelihoods in the port, that was unthinkable.
The second course, equally unacceptable, was that the Government should stand behind the port in all its obligations and bail it out to the extent of about £20 million. Had that happened, we should have taught a bad lesson not only to the ports of this country but to every commercial operation which ever looked like running into difficulty.
§ Mr. Peyton
Again, we have the comparison with Rolls-Royce. I cannot bring the hon. Gentleman to remind himself at appropriate moments of the enormous contribution which the Government are making at Seaforth in the port of Liverpool.
A third choice was the bridging operation dealing with a smaller sum of money. I should point out that not only did this have disadvantages of a slightly smaller order than the alternative of a total bailing out, but it also involved considerable unfairness to some of the bond holders as against others. The final alternative was the appointment of a receiver upon which the Government decided.
Without in any way infringing upon the ruling which has been given, I think I am in order in reminding the House that the appointment of a receiver is a very limited operation. It does not involve the Official Receiver, it does not entail liquidation, nor does it involve any management powers over the port or any power of recourse to the assets of the port. I believe that the future of this immensely important port depends upon the contributions which can be made, and should be made, by a lot of people of differing backgrounds, differing functions and certainly differing political beliefs.
The hon. Member for Walton who knows an enormous amount about this port, could, despite his speech today, make a valuable and positive contribution. I would almost dare to hope if I were a better orator that I might be able to persuade him on this occasion not to vote, not because he is totally satisfield with anything that I have said, but because in his heart he must realise that new attitudes are required from all involved in this port and that a significant and signal gesture such as is in his power to make this evening would be a contribution of great and untold value.
If there is any step that I can take, of almost any nature, to improve understanding, to win co-operation and to dispel the suspicion and mistrust which is sedulously sown by the mischievous, whom I know to be the enemy of all people of goodwill on all sides who have at heart the interests of this port, I would most gladly take it. If I may respectfully say so to the House, I think at the 1099 moment that the Opposition is in some danger of over-reacting to what is a sensible proposal which contains hope for the port.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Edmund Dell (Birkenhead)
What we worry about on this side of the House is not the Minister's oratory, it is his argument. The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board was set up in an Act of 1857, entitled:An Act for consolidating the Docks at Liverpool and Birkenhead into One Estate, and for vesting the Control and Management of them in One Public Trust; and for other Purposes.I emphasise "Birkenhead". The River Mersey, like most rivers, has two sides.
The question of pensions was raised with the right hon. Gentleman earlier. I took his answers in the House yesterday to be a categorical guarantee that pensions would be paid and that there would be no default. That I welcome. I wish he had said so before. If he had, there would have been a great deal less anxiety on that score. That is what I understand from his answers and I take it I am right.
What the House is discussing is the Government's policy of disengagement. The Times Business News in an editorial this morning said that if the Government were to disengage they might as well start with the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board as anywhere else. I doubt whether that was the Minister's original view. I do not think he originally thought that this was an appropriate point at which to start. This case is supposed to be different from Rolls-Royce and the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the Seaforth Docks. We need not go into amounts. The fact is that the Government have recently put a good deal more into Rolls-Royce than they are willing to do in this case and I do not think it will be understood in Merseyside that this case is considered by the Government to be of less national significance than that of Rolls-Royce.
Even granted the Government's philosophy of disengagement, let us consider this case. First we are not dealing with a single firm. The right hon. Gentleman referred to commercial firms that fell upon bad times as a result of bad 1100 management. This is not a case of an individual firm, this is the Port of Liverpool, upon the success of which and the development of which the whole of the economy of Merseyside and the northwest to a considerable extent, depends. What the Government are proving is that they are prepared to take actions which will make the whole problem of solving the situation of the Merseyside development area very much more difficult.
We are dealing with an immediate crisis which is the result of inadequate management. There is nothing in the situation which better management supported through adequate resources by the Government could not rectify. The right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) referred to the case of Cammell Laird. The justification for what the Labour Government did with Cammell Laird was the prospect of success for that firm and there is every sign that it will be successful. Evidently hon. Gentlemen opposite would have allowed it to go to the wall because of some theory of disengagement. This was an immediate crisis which could have been solved with proper Government help and solved in a way which would sustain development at the rate at which it should take place in the Port of Liverpool.
The third thing about this case is that the Government bear a responsibility. Governments have appointed people to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and have received accounts from the Board. This Government cannot throw this off as something for which they have no responsibility. The Labour Government wanted to nationalise this pert and to deal with the long-term problems of the ports of the country by nationalisation. The new Government decided that they will not take this course. For the Port of Liverpool this has been a sudden change of policy and I suggest to the Government, as a matter of public faith, that they should have given the port time to absorb the implications of this change of policy by assisting in this immediate crisis. Governments have such duties to companies.
If I may say so, from my present position, one thing that worried me about the attitude of the previous Government to Cammell Laird was that there was a 1101 change of policy and there was not sufficient assistance to enable it to get out of the problems brought about by that change of policy. In the end the then Government took the necessary action and there is every sign now that that action will have successful results.
One characteristic of this situation that the Government think that here there is a way to discipline the workers in the Port of Liverpool. The right hon. Gentleman as good as said so this afternoon—that this was a way of making those employed in the port responsible and susceptible to industrial discipline.
§ Mr. Peyton
I did not say that. There is no question of the Government wanting to wave a big stick over everyone and discipline them. It is merely the fervant hope of the Government that, at long last, after a dangerously long interval, the country will begin to look at the facts and meet them.
§ Mr. Dell
The right hon. Gentleman has again as good as said what I attributed to him in my original remarks. It has been clearly indicated by many spokesmen that this is part of the thinking behind the Government's action. The Government could not have thought of a worse way of going about it. People in the Port of Liverpool are told that they are responsible for the situation but they know they are in no way responsible for it. They are not responsible for the failure of a particular management to add up its cash flow and make a forecast as to it. They find themselves blamed for everything. Their reaction to this will be that whatever they do, whatever co-operation they offer to the management of this Port, they will be blamed if anything goes wrong whosever's responsibility it is. The Government are creating precisely the wrong atmosphere by their action. Better industrial relations will not be found in an atmosphere of crises and redundancy.
This is not an appropriate case for disengagement. That has been shown by the Government's own action in this case, which the right hon. Gentleman has described. The principal argument for saying that it is not an appropriate case for disengagement is that the Government are not disengaging. The Government have taken action which puts them in direct control of the Port of Liverpool. They 1102 have appointed a new management. The right hon. Gentleman, in answer to a supplementary question yesterday, told me that he was not interested in the minutæ. I did not think for a moment that he was. But the power he has taken to instruct the Board to appoint a new management makes him responsible.
The Bill placed before the House by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board enables the Secretary of State to appoint new management. This is a permanent power. The right hon. Gentleman cannot throw off responsibility and say that he is disengaging when what he is doing is to take the power to appoint the management of the Board. What the Government are doing is appointing new management but refusing new money. They have taken responsibility. They appoint the management and sponsor the Bill but refuse the money—the cheapest take-over bid in history.
Where is the money to develop the Port coming from? The right hon. Gentleman has referred to what the Government are doing for Seaforth. But is that all they are going to do? In the past the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board has obtained money from the public. Do the Government think that the Board will obtain money from the public in the future, after the Bill? It will be a long time before the public will invest money in the Board after the Bill, except on very high risk terms. Is it the intention of the Government that the dues earned by the Board shall cover the total capital expenditure of the Board? If not, where will the Board obtain the money to develop the port at the rate at which it should develop to provide the export and import necessities of that area? The Government must answer that question. Will the Government provide money? If not, then the development of the port will be affected. If they provide money the port falls even more into the control of the Government.
One of the most pathetic elements in the situation was the decision of the Board to oppose the nationalisation of the docks. The Board argued that it was in favour of local autonomy. Now it is in the position of not having local autonomy and not having nationalisation either. Perhaps it is rethinking its position and would now prefer nationalisation.
§ Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)
The right hon. Gentleman has not dealt with the possibility of raising the money municipally, in the same way as the Manchester Ship Canal was financed by the Corporation of Manchester and the Port of Bristol by the Corporation of Bristol.
§ Mr. Dell
The hon. Gentleman should know that the Manchester City Corporation was able to raise money for the Ship Canal only by means of an Act of Parliament. Local authorities do not have the power to provide money in that way. It would require an Act of Parliament. Let the Government do that if they think it right. I suggest that the body which should provide money in this case is the Government and not the local authority.
The most extraordinary part of the affair is the policy of confiscation by legislation, and confiscation without compensation or consultation. The right hon. Gentleman said that this was the Board's Bill and not his. Does he imagine that any Board could bring such a Bill before the House with any hope of its being passed without Government sponsorship? This is not the Board's, but the right hon. Gentleman's Bill. There has been nothing like it by way of confiscation of private savings by a Government since the action of Mr. Neville Chamberlain in 1932 when he did something not dissimilar—not actually as bad—in the case of War Loan. I can imagine the outcry if a Labour Government had done this. It might be thought that we were slouches not to think of it. But a Conservative Government can think of this way of financing ports or other industrial enterprises. The right hon. Gentleman should be careful. He might teach us too much.
This is a trustee security, advertised as such. There are 35,000 investors of all kinds who have invested in the Board.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Does the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) wish to raise a point of order?
§ Mr. Dell
On Merseyside this investment was regarded in the same terms as investment in local authorities. Indeed, many small investors on Merseyside regard it as better than local authorities, which are involved in politics. People used to say of this investment, "At any rate, there is no politics in it". People have put life savings into it and expected the Board to meet the terms. It has always been understood that the Board will meet the terms. Now we have the Government confiscating by legislation. Have the Government considered the effect on the credit not just of the Board but of other ports in this country? Have they thought of the effect on the credit of local authorities?
This Government believes in saving. Could they think of any greater blow to saving than what they have done? They are writing down the nominal value by 30 per cent. and postponing repayment by two years. At present rates of inflation that means that they have virtually halved the value of the investments put up by private persons often with very little money to invest in the Board and trusting the honesty of Governments. We have a Government who believe in saving but are not even prepared to stand up for the public faith which people have always vested in Governments of this country.
The Chairman of the Northern Stock Exchange is reported as saying that this was regarded as a safe investment by people who could not afford a gamble. The Chairman of Liverpool Stock Exchange described this as a terrible thing. That is precisely what it is. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that this Government will not be forgotten on Merseyside.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd (Wirral)
When I and other of my hon. Friends did not rise yesterday to support the demand for this debate there was a certain amount of jeering from the other side. I think it is a great pity to have had this debate before proper consideration of the Government's proposals and before an opportunity to have consultations with the people concerned on Merseyside, 1105 because such a debate was bound to result in the kind of political overtones which we have heard both from the mover of the Motion and from the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell). I have tried hard—
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
Indeed there was. There are plenty of Supply Days and it would have been easy and much better to have had a debate next week. I have tried hard during the past few weeks, and indeed longer, to find a satisfactory solution. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the patience he has shown and the way he has listened to all my points, even though I do not agree in toto with the results.
I deprecate all this talk about the past, the merits or otherwise of public ownership, and also this talk about a lame duck. I think that the Board was a lamed duck. It was lamed by the threat of nationalisation and the way in which the previous Government interfered with its borrowing policies. It wanted to borrow £15 million for 10 years, and the present crisis would not have arisen if it had been allowed to do it. It was given permission, instead, to borrow only £6 million for two years. It has suffered from Government interference and to that extent became a lamed duck. Ideologically, it cannot be wrong to give a crutch to a lamed duck for a time if it will enable it to walk again, and I believe that it could have walked again.
With regard to the past, the port has long been regarded as an institution: the view has been that once a man had a job there he would be there for life. There were mistakes in management. The direct labour scheme introduced after the war was very expensive and, on the whole, did not redound to the benefit of the Board or its ability to deal with the affairs of the port.
I want briefly to make four points. The first concerns the future of the port. I do not think that it is possible to conceive of the Port of Liverpool, including Birkenhead, not continuing to exist. I am told that at the moment only 5 per cent. 1106 of its cargoes could be handled by other United Kingdom ports and, even if there were large recruitment programmes in other ports, they could handle only 15 per cent. of Liverpool's cargoes. The port must go on, and I welcome my right hon. Friend's indication of his support for the Seaforth scheme. There is to be a further £24 million of public money put into it. But will the 20 per cent. modernisation grants under section 12 of the 1964 Act be continued? They are very important to the viability of the Seaforth scheme, as they are with regard to developments in other parts of the docks on Merseyside. Do the Government intend to continue those modernisation grants?
Then, with regard to the pensioners, I understand the technical difficulties of giving a legal guarantee. However, it appears that the pensioners have nothing to fear, and I am glad to know that that is the position.
My third point concerns the particular steps to be taken to make the port viable. They will involve the closing down of certain unprofitable operations, the sale of disposable assets, the improvement of efficiency and a new structure of management. I welcome the new structure of management which has been put forward, but it will entail a great deal of realism on the part of many people on Merseyside and a re-examination of their attitudes. I hope that there will be more co-operation and possibly joint operations between some private concerns and the new management with a view to improving efficiency and profitability in the port.
My final point, which is perhaps the most difficult for me to deal with, is this question of a bridging operation. It comes down to a bridging operation between a large deficit and a surplus. We are discussing the chances of getting the present deficit of about £4 million into surplus. I have seen suggestions of a surplus of between £1 million and £2 million. However, that cannot be done overnight, and some form of bridging operation will be necessary.
The Government have put forward their idea of a bridging operation, but I regret to see that it will involve sacrifices for the 36,000 bond holders. I agree that it was never a trustee stock, but they are bonds in which people have had 1107 confidence. It is also a pity that the nature of the Government's plan should affect the credit-worthiness of port authorities generally. If matters remain as they are, I doubt whether port authorities will be able to raise money in the future without some kind of Government guarantee. That ties round the necks of future Governments the responsibility for raising capital for port developments, and perhaps that was not the intention of this exercise.
This is not the end of the story. We have heard about the legal processes and the possibility of a Private Act. But there will be other developments. This debate will not help very much but, as the situation develops, I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear in mind the points which have been raised from this side of the House.
There are many difficulties, but there will be a great deal of good will for the new management. I am glad that the Director-General is to continue. He has been a splendid servant of the Dock Board under very difficult conditions, and he has discharged his duties manfully. We wish the new management well.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
Perhaps I might follow the line adopted by the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) in that I would like to see co-operation and good will in the port, quite apart from any other move which may help resolve the present crisis.
Before any solution is possible, those who will be called upon to co-operate must know all the facts. At present, those facts are not readily available to either side of this House, with the exception of the Minister. Judging from some of the recommendations which have been put to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and announced to the House yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman, it is clear that the report of the independent consultants directed that certain actions should be taken. However, that report is available only to members of the board and the Minister.
Clearly the report contains some important facts. I was not interrupting the Minister on a party point when I asked him whether he was aware of the 1108 anxiety about the method of disclosure of the board's financial crisis. He may be unaware of it, but the first suggestion that there might be a crisis appeared in the local Press at the beginning of June, though the extent of it was still very uncertain. Following that, there came more positive information when it was announced that the Minister would be consulted about some of the problems. A decision was taken on 18th June. However, between the beginning of June and that decision, there were 18 days.
The previous Government were unaware of the exact cause or, indeed, of the crisis itself, and the incoming Minister was unaware of it until the end of July. Even then, you were not certain. You received a deputation from Merseyside, and points of view were put to you. You very kindly indicated your concern and full co-operation with everyone involved. Since that meeting and the receipt of the report of the independent consultants, much has been revealed to you that was unknown to you previously—
§ Mr. Dunn
I must apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am addressing my remarks, through you, to the Minister for Transport Industries.
One of the great problems that we will face in the coming days it that unless we are given the fullest information by way of a public inquiry or at least the publication of the report of the independent consultants so that the issues involved can be got over to the Merseyside community and everyone else who will be asked to co-operate in any rescue operation, there is no possibility of co-operation. The right hon. and learned Member for Wirral pointed out that it is estimated that the revenue accounts of the Board will be in surplus within two or three years. However, it would be a poor industry which could not get a surplus, having increased its rates and harbour charges by 45 per cent. in the last six months.
The people who will be asked to pay these charges are now accepting that this is absolutely necessary. But we must look back some time, because in the last four or five-year period the Board itself 1109 refused to increase rates by 5 per cent. Had these decisions been taken at the appropriate time the grave financial crisis now upon the Board would not have arisen. That is the real cause, not the fact that the Bank of England recommended and the previous Government accepted that it should not be allowed to float a £15 million loan. The Board's users and customers dominated the economic decisions as to the price which they would pay. It was similar to a shopkeeper asking his best customer to come to his shop and decide what price he would like to pay for the article which the shopkeeper wished to sell him. These were the great difficulties.
Other suggestions have been made by hon. Members representing Merseyside constituencies. I should like to deal with one or two of those suggestions in the short time I wish to occupy the House with my contribution. It was suggested that if the dock workers were to forgo a portion of their wages or, indeed, were not to press so vigorously for some of the negotiations on their behalf to be successful, the port would find itself in better financial circumstances. This is a grave misunderstanding and perhaps I can correct it.
The wages paid to dock workers in Liverpool have no influence or effect upon the revenues of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. Indeed, those who suggest otherwise are doing themselves a disservice and making it more difficult to get co-operation at the level at which they suggest co-operation should be sought.
Another suggestion was that the local authorities might make a contribution towards resolving this crisis. Everyone on Merseyside, particularly with experience of local authorities, is fully aware, as was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell), that the local authorities do not possess the power nor at present the absolute will. Whatever might have been said about this situation, the Board itself was responsible for it happening. It was unaware of the deficit until June, and even then it was unaware of its extent. This does not inspire the confidence of local authorities. In the way that the Government have thought about this matter, no doubt those local authorities of a somewhat similar political character which 1110 subscribe to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board would also have some regard, although not all. The City of Liverpool has taken a somewhat different view.
There is no way of giving the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board absolution for this situation. The Board created it, perpetuated it, and enjoyed it. I join right hon. and hon. Gentlemen when they praise those who are the administrators of the decisions taken by the Board. It is well known that they have often advised and that their advice has been refused or neglected.
The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board has appointed a sub-committee to represent different interests and it will have executive powers. What are the terms of reference of this executive committee? To whom will it be responsible? Will the Board itself disappear? Will the Minister accept responsibility for the decisions of this executive committee?
Without going too far into the question, which is now a legal issue, will those who receive the rates on behalf of this executive committee be able to curtail the moneys which would become available for any extension or other services which the Board wishes to undertake, particularly in relation to its day-to-day operations, of which dredging is important? I finish on this point. If the river is not dredged the first investment for Cammell Laird goes for a burton, to use a colloquialism from my side of the river. If that happens, there will be a catastrophe.
Other comments could be made. I resist the temptation, because I am watching the clock.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Marples (Wallasey)
The whole House will agree that the speech made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) has been reasonable in tone and has contributed to lowering the temperature of the debate. For that I am grateful. The hon. Gentleman contributed a number of points with which I agree, but one or two with which I do not.
I agree that it is a pity that the debate is taking place today. I know that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) had no option—at least, he had an option, but he took it rather quickly. I am sure that we cannot have a sensible, intelligent and coherent debate on the 1111 basis of the facts before the House today. We have not seen the accountants' last reports. We have not had a complete breakdown of what will happen.
I have searched in many ways for information and I have had great difficulty. I will explain some of those difficulties. It is difficult, even for an ex-Minister of Transport going to his old friends, to get sufficient information. Therefore, it must be worse for others. It is this lack of information and the taking of the debate today about which I am sorry for both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Mulley
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's point about lack of information. But is the right hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that we should have had more information available if we had not had the debate today? I am hoping that many of the questions raised will be answered during the debate.
§ Mr. Marples
I am suggesting that sufficient was not available to us before debating the matter today. Debates tend to be meaningless unless hon. Members study correct information before the debate. Without information we get wild rhetorical speeches which add to the heat but not to the light.
I want to talk about three particular points. First, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board (Capital Reconstruction) Bill. This is a local authority Bill, but it must have been known by the Ministry. It is odd to ask Parliament to legislate for the reduction of bonds. I am worried about this, because my constituency is on the Cheshire side of the Mersey so we have bond holders. But, at the same time, I do not think that in principle this is the right thing to do. My first impression is that it is not. The suggestion is that it be postponed for two years and then reduce it by 30 per cent. If we get inflation, then the poor chap who has those bonds will be in a mess. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider this point very seriously before we have a debate on the Bill. I should like my right hon. Friend and the Opposition to consider whether, when we get the information, we might have a fuller debate in a calm atmosphere.
I was going to ask what the receiver of the rates would do, but I am told that that would be out of order—[Interruption.] 1112 I can try. I know that the Receiver's function is not to wind up the company. He is not an Official Receiver in the ordinary way. He cannot get at the assets, but he can get at the money. In other words, he runs the cash flow. If he runs the cash flow, how does he dish out the money? What are his priorities? It is said that it is to protect the interests of the Government, to protect the interests of the secured creditors, and to give the expenses necessary for the continued operation of the port. What is the order of priority? Surely the first priority must be to continue the port.
Then what about the pensioners and bond holders? Where do they come in? And what about management, because what they can do depends entirely upon what this banker does with the money which he receives. Any debate about management is virtually meaningless unless we know what is to happen to the allocation of the cash after it is received.
I now turn to one point which I hope will not raise the temperature of the House. I have not done this recently anyway—largely because I have not spoken much. The dockers in Liverpool are due to strike on 8th December. They may not. I hope that they will not. But if they do, the cost to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board will be about £30,000. That is the estimate. Of course, this figure may be wrong, because there are so many of these figures being quoted.
§ Mr. Dunn
The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that if on one day there is a loss of £30,000 the next day there is a similar gain. I believe that the dockers will support the directions given by the T.U.C. If they do not, they will have to bear the consequences, but I believe that this situation has been brought about by the Government's intervention in another matter.
§ Mr. Marples
I must keep the temperature down, otherwise I shall be accused of all sorts of things. If there is a strike on 8th December, if the receiver gets the money he will have to pay another £30,000 to the board for the running of the Board, and get no revenue. If he pays that sum for that purpose it means that he has £30,000 less for pensioners or bondholders, if that is his order of priorities. We do not know what the receiver is doing, and no explanation has 1113 been given of what he will do with the cash. It is worse than being married. I never know what happens to the money that I give my wife, and I dare not ask her, but in this instance we can ask what is to happen to the money. I hope that some light can be thrown on to what will be done by this financial man who holds the purse strings, what priorities he has been given, and how they will affect the many and poor pensioners and bond holders.
I now come to another matter, and that is the question of comparable costs at different ports. I shall not follow the hon. Member for Walton, because he brought in foreign ports, which he said were treated differently. I have up-dated the files that I had when I was Minister of Transport in an effort to compare the costs of Liverpool with those of two other United Kingdom ports—London and Glasgow. This is a difficult operation and I do not say that I am right or accurate, but I have made a shot at it. There are two types of port charges. There are those related to the tonnage of shipping, and then there are the various charges for services provided at the port, such as cranage, tallying, and the various labour charges. The latter varies considerably, but the former does not.
An exercise has been carried out based on actual experience of which I have knowledge. On the cost to ships for dock facilities, at the top of the league is Liverpool, with 121. If we take London as the norm of 100, Liverpool's costs are 121, which is 21 per cent. above the London figure. The figure for Glasgow is 68. I have the figures for two continental ports, but I do not think that they are relevant because that would not be comparing like with like, and in this respect I agree with the hon. Member for Walton.
According to the Liverpool Post on Saturday, part of the management's proposals is to raise charges by another 20 per cent., having just got 25 per cent. That will make Liverpool's charges to ships 41 per cent. higher than London. Of course if we are to discuss management in a meaningful way, we must have accurate figures. I am not claiming that my figures are accurate, but they are the best that I have been able to get hold of in these difficult circumstances.
1114 If charges are raised by that amount, the management will chase away the ships, and by that I mean not only British ships, and smaller ships, but foreign ones, too. I think that one Polish company has already left Liverpool recently for that reason. I am anxious about the situation, and I should like my right hon. Friend to give us the comparisons because these are what shipowners of all countries will look at. Liverpool must measure up to a competitive standard if it is to survive.
I support my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries, and the hon. Member for Kirkdale in making an appeal to the hon. Member for Walton for co-operation between both parties. It is my feeling that in this House we are still fighting the June Election, and it is about time that we stopped doing it. The contribution that we have had from the hon. Member for Kirkdale will go a long way towards producing calm co-operation. I make my plea because the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board is in a mess, and it will not get get out of that mess unless all of us on Merseyside get together and stop bickering and, instead, try to help.
I speak from bitter experience. I know Merseyside very well, indeed, having fought eight elections there. I know the people. They are difficult in some ways, but they are very good if they can get together. One has only to think of Everton playing Liverpool at football to realise how difficult the people there can be, and sometimes how awkward, but once they get together they form a good team.
As Minister of Transport I had very little trouble during my five years in office with any local authorities about agreeing to a tunnel or bridge. Any problems were solved reasonably easily. The only trouble that I had was on Merseyside, and there I had more trouble than I had with all the rest put together. I thought that as a Member of Merseyside they would treat me nicely, kindly and gently, but I found that it was worse being a Member, and I got pretty rough treatment, indeed. However, I soldiered on, and eventually things worked out, and all Merseyside authorities agreed to a scheme.
1115 The main quarrel was between two Labour Parties in power, one in Liverpool, and one in Birkenhead. The one in Birkenhead wanted to design the road in such a way that it suited Birkenhead. The one in Liverpool wanted the tunnel to be designed in a way that suited the traffic. The local authorities had to promote a private Bill to get the tunnel, but they could not agree on such a Bill. They could not even agree about presenting one, never mind drafting it. The Mersey Dock and Harbour Board has done well in having drafted three Bills, which means that my right hon. Friend the Minister has had more luck than I had.
But what I think we ought to do on Merseyside now to solve this problem is to get together in a reasonable spirit. What I had to do when I was confronted with the problem to which I have just referred was to convene a meeting at the city hall. I got all the local authorities together to discuss with me the draft of a Bill which I was going to introduce if they did not introduce one. I said the nastiest things in the nicest way, and finally Birkenhead agreed to the proposal and drafted its own Bill. I give the council all the credit for agreeing to it, so we got it through. It took a long time, but it went through in the end, and then they worked together splendidly.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) said, all local authorities on Merseyside are concerned. On Mersey docks it is not only Birkenhead and Liverpool that are affected, but many other places as well. It may be that the Lancashire County Council and the Chamber of Commerce ought to come into this because they depend on the docks. Nobody around Merseyside can opt out of this situation.
Somebody spoke about the dockers. I should not be against the dockers coming in on management discussions. Nor would I be against dockers and dockers' unions becoming capitalists if they were to become capitalists as they did on the Upper Clyde. This might not be a bad idea because, if we are to have total participation and involvement in all this business, it is not a bad idea to have total financial participation on all sides, and it may solve many of the dockers' problems, as it did in America when they first introduced containerisation and gave 1116 and sold shares in a certain manner to the dockers. They, in effect, became capitalists and were involved from then on.
I suggest that the Liverpool City Council should take the initiative by calling together all councils as I did when I was Minister of Transport, and all the Members who would like to go to such a meeting, and all the various interests, too. If we on the Merseyside are stuck with this problem only we on the Merseyside can solve it.
I hope that we can have another debate with much more detailed information than we have had so far, so that we can discuss the matter more intelligently. Above all, I hope that we can take the heat out of the problem and see whether we can instead bring more light to bear on our difficulties.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Crawshaw (Liverpool, Toxteth)
I regret that this debate did not take place two or three weeks ago. I believe that the Government are not giving a bridging loan to Liverpool because of the difficulties they got themselves into over Rolls-Royce, not only in the House generally but among their own supporters. I believe that the Minister had it in mind to give this bridging loan two or three weeks ago, but was overruled by the Cabinet.
But a bridging loan would not solve all the problems of Liverpool Docks. I should be doing less than my duty if I did not try to point out some of the difficulties that will have to be overcome in order to make the docks a viable concern. We are dealing with a country that has 100 ports, many of which, including London, are losing money. It is not all that much to the discredit of Liverpool that it is losing money. I reiterate the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) about the way in which foreign ports are subsidised. One cannot put them on a par with British ports and say that foreign ports are making a profit, so why cannot Liverpool?—because we are not operating under the same circumstances.
I want to deal with the problem in three phases. I want first to say what I think about the Board; secondly, I want to give my opinion on labour relations; 1117 and, thirdly, I want to speak about the way in which the Ministry is handling the problem. The Board has not had consultations with the people that it should have consulted. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have always been prepared to discuss problems with the Board. We have had discussions, but matters like those with which we are now dealing have never been brought up. Within a matter of weeks of having these discussions, the present problems have arisen.
If, as a result of the report made by an independent auditor, it is now deemed improper for the Board to go to the public market for more money, how was it that the Board was able to raise money in that way last year? Did the management of the Board commit a criminal offence last year when it obtained money on the market? I do not know when the circumstances that obtained last year changed to the present circumstances in a way that now makes it a criminal offence for the Board to go to the market. If the Board did not realise that that was the situation it illustrates the kind of management that we have had at the Mersey Docks. The main reason for these failures is the fact that there has been too much part-time work by the management.
Another important factor is that many of those who are on the Board have been using the facilities at the docks themselves. They have been fixing the charges to be made for facilities that they were going to use themselves. Is that the best way to make an enterprise economic? Modernisation has fallen behind—why, I do not know. The dockers have been blamed to a considerable extent for the lack of cargo that they have handled, but this has been because they have been unable to use the quaysides, owing to the material that has been stored on them. Many of the warehouses to which the stuff should have been sent were being used by the merchants in the city—the very people who were on the Board—in the form of cheap storage. Is it so mysterious that the docks have not paid their way?
For months a great proportion of the 800-strong maintenance force of the docks has sat on its backside, doing nothing, while outside contractors have been brought in to remedy defects in the dockyard cranes. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. 1118 Dunn) that we want to know the facts about these things. It is no use blaming one side. The dockers have received enough blame. I apportion some blame to them but let us have both sides of the picture. Many a docker has said to me, "I have not done a decent day's work for weeks, and I am on the maintenance staff. They have brought in outside contractors to do the jobs that I should be doing." Where is the logic in that? That sort of action has brought discontent to the docks.
Some people have accused the dockers of being bloody-minded. There is every reason for that. That is why I say that a bridging loan will not solve all the problems. We are here concerned with an exercise in human relations. In the last two or three years there is no doubt that the prospect of nationalisation has meant that investments have not been made and modernisation has not been carried out. An investigation should be undertaken to see how much has been hived off to private enterprise in order that it would not be there when nationalisation took place.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is well versed in our economic problems and knows the harm that will arise if the investments that have been placed in the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board are written down. Perhaps they were not recommended as trustee investments, but to many people who have been brought up on the Merseyside they were gilt-edged securities, and if they are written down untold harm will be done not only to port facilities throughout the country but also to local authorities.
I have so far dealt with the matters in respect of which I feel critical about the actions of the Board. We must face the fact that one reason why Liverpool has lost money on the docks is that fewer and fewer people are sending their ships there. We must ask ourselves why. I believe that it is because of uncertainty as to the time a ship will be held up at the port when it gets there—because a strike can increase costs by £600 or £800 a day These are basic problems, going back many decades. The best manager in the world will not be able to break through and make a success of the job unless he has worked on the shop floor and knows what it is like to fear for 1119 his job and to wonder where he will get the next penny, and has worked in the conditions in which the people in the docks have worked.
A mental blank now exists between the employers and the workers in the docks. I blame both the employers and the workers. I understand what motivates the workers, and if I were in their position I should probably be doing what they are doing, but at this stage I appeal to them to forget what has happened in the past—to forget about the scars of casual work, and about the intolerable conditions and lack of facilities. We must think about the future. The previous Government did more to raise the stature and dignity of the dock worker than any other Government, and it behoves those working in the docks now to consider the conditions under which they are working and the money that they receive, and to ask themselves whether they should throw all this overboard because they are not prepared to accept the new situation. I ask them to discuss the question frankly.
I appeal to them not to join in the one-day strike on 8th December. It is not popular to say this, but the present Government were elected last June. Every day when I see the legislation they bring in I am sickened more and more, and I am confirmed in my view that I was right to change from a Tory to a Socialist. But until the next election the Tory Government are in office, under our democratic process, and I shall never subscribe to the idea that this country should be ruled by marches outside this Parliament. I plead with the people of Liverpool, in view of the seriousness of the situation, if for no other reason, to act responsibly on 8th December and to have nothing to do with the one-day strike.
I may be wrong, but I do not believe that the Chairman and Deputy-Chairman knew when they came to London on Monday that they were to be replaced. The Minister has had dealings with them over the past few weeks.
I do not believe that the Government are acting logically or consistently. They are not acting consistently, because they give £42 million to Rolls-Royce and refuse a bridging loan to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. That they are not 1120 acting logically was proved in the debate last night. The Minister of Posts and Telecommunications said:We would not in this Administration think it right to go to individuals outside and ask them to take on the chairmanship of a nationalised industry before we had even told the existing chairman."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1970; Vol. 807, c. 984.]The Minister who wound up the debate for the Government said that it would be absolutely wrong to go jobbing round for a successor when the present Chairman had not been notified of the intention to remove him.
I do not want to enter too deeply into the rights and wrongs of this. However, I believe that when it is intended to remove someone from office the first action taken is to look around to see who is to replace him. Let the Government be consistent and not go jobbing around, as they did last week, according to The Guardian today, for the gentleman who is to take over before either the Chairman or Deputy-Chairman was told that they were to be relieved of their posts. Let the Government be consistent, I say. That is why I criticise the Minister.
§ Mr. Peyton
As the hon. Gentleman is mentioning my personal reputation, perhaps I should say that the Chairman himself has been seriously and genuinely ill during the course of all that has happened. He had undertaken, very considerately, to make his resignation available at a suitable time.
As I explained to the Deputy Chairman on Monday, there has been a limit to my willingness to bring him constantly down to London for consultations which were in no way conclusive. I have done my best over a considerable period to keep clear in his mind what my intentions were, namely, that there was to be a committee which would, so to speak, sit above the Board. I want the hon. Gentleman to accept my assurance that with some limitations as to where we both were, I have done my best to keep the Deputy Chairman fully informed. The Director-General, who has been in London more frequently, has been kept up to date throughout.
§ Mr. Crawshaw
I accept what the right hon. Gentleman said. However, he has not answered my point that the Chairman and Deputy Chairman were not told 1121 before Monday that they were to be removed.
Is it correct that £6 million is owing to the Board on the Seaforth project, money which has been paid out on an undertaking that the Seaforth project could go ahead but, because it was not initialled by the Department, the Government now refuse to pay? We were given to understand by the Board that if it got that £6 million it could tide itself over to next year. If this money is owing, is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to release it to the Board?
I understand that the expression "difficulties of its own making" has been used about the Board. I have told the House what I believe the difficulties of the Board have been. If these difficulties were of the Board's own making, the Minister should have an inquiry into the whole running of the Board. Unless there is such an inquiry and unless there are the frankest of disclosures, we shall never get the confidence which is necessary between management and workers.
In conclusion, is the £6 million owing; and, if so, is it to be paid? I see the Secretary of State nodding his head, but I understood that the Minister told us when we saw him a few weeks ago that it was not owing.
Is it correct, as reported in The Guardian today, that the new Chairman will not be a full-time Chairman? I am sure that most hon. Members believe that the reason things have gone overboard in Liverpool is that there has not been sufficient control. If the gentleman who has been asked to fill this post is not prepared to give full-time service, somebody else should be appointed who is prepared to do so.
What has the Minister done about trying to resolve the labour difficulties which exist in Liverpool and which are basic to the problem? Has anything been done about worker participation. Here I want to take up a point made by the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples). Unless the Government carry the workers on the docks with them and the workers feel that this is a viable undertaking, good money will be thrown after bad, because the project will not get under way.
1122 Why are not some of those on the shop floor put on to the Executive Committee which is to be established? It may well be true that they cannot give the weighty considerations to overall policy that is expected of other Board members, but they could at least bring before the Executive Committee the difficulties and fears genuinely felt by the men on the docks. Is the Minister prepared to advise that this should be done? I believe that this is the only way of overcoming the difficulties.
I understand that the pensions are secure. It would be terrible if investments in a concern such as the Board were written down. Despite anything that we on this side say about inconsistencies over Rolls-Royce and despite any criticism the Minister has had from his hon. Friends, the Government should make a bridging loan. I am not asking that the Board should be bailed out indefinitely, but it should be given some time to make itself viable. If it is given that time, I believe that the people in Liverpool will do it. They are entitled to that and nothing less than that.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw), because much of what he said is correct. We are over-ported, largely, I fear, with ports which are out of date. Of course we want a bridging loan, but that is not everything that is required. However, we want time for manoeuvre and that is what a bridging loan would give us.
I agree with some of the hon. Gentleman's strictures on the Board, although it is as well to remember that the Board was reorganised in 1965 in the days of the Labour Government.
There are certainly fewer ships in Liverpool, because ship-owners think that their ships will not be turned round fast enough. Last month I was in Singapore, which is a very different port from Liverpool. I have never seen more ships or more activity. The average turn-round time was only 36 hours. Admittedly, Singapore is a very different form of port. With ships costing £1,000 a day to keep, the turn-round time is of immense importance.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) said that the wages of 1123 the dock workers had no effect. I agree, but strikes, whether official or unofficial, frighten shipowners away. Shipowners have the option of going to many other posts, both in Britain and in Europe.
It is not my wish to apportion blame to either the Board or to the workers, not even to the Labour Party because of its nationalisation proposals, which lulled the Board into inactivity. What it is essential to debate now is how we shall get the port working at a profit, because only in that way can the pensioners be secured long term. I happen to believe that even in a nationalised industry it is essential to have the discipline of the profit motive.
We do not wish to be featherbedded on Merseyside, but we are at present on a sick bed and we need a certain amount of help, and help not particularly from the taxpayer. I should like to see help come not only from those directly involved—there are about 35,000 of them—but from those indirectly concerned who live on both banks of the Mersey. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) has called for contributions from the unions and from shipowners. The latter are now being forced, rightly in my view, to pay more, but 20 per cent. on top of a 25 per cent. rise is a pretty big levy. I should like the importers and exporters to contribute, too. But it will not be easy, as I see it, to force any of these people to come in. We must in the long run come back to the local authorities which represent all those who have interests in the port of Merseyside.
In this connection, I shall quote from the report by the accountants, Touche Ross & Co., to the National Ports Council, to which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has already referred. As regards Hamburg, we are told:Port operations are included in the accounts of the City as a whole and no separate records are kept of the port as an entity. We have estimated, however, that total expenditure on the port currently exceeds total income … by over £6 million per year. If the financial conditions under which Hamburg operates were applied to the three United Kingdom ports, they would be in a position to reduce port charges on ships and goods"—and so on. About Rotterdam, a port which I visited not long ago and which 1124 now does three times, or more, the trade of the Port of London, the report says:… the position is open-ended in that the City as a whole bears any deficit, but, ignoring that aspect, the application of Rotterdam conditions to the United Kingdom ports would enable them to reduce their charges by about a sixth to a third".I am not suggesting that the local authorities should give as much help as either the people of Hamburg or the people of Rotterdam give to their ports, but there is much that we can do in our different local authorities. Unfortunately, we have no Merseyside county council—I happen to believe in that—and we are, so to speak, Balkanised on Merseyside, so we must get together to try to salve the port of Liverpool, in the same way as the ratepayers of Bristol have backed their port and those of Manchester for many years have backed the free enterprise Manchester Ship Canal. There is much to be said for municipalisation. Many of us on this side, when the Ports Bill was being debated in the last Parliament, argued in favour of such municipalisation.
§ Mr. Heffer
I moved a resolution in the Liverpool City Council many years ago for the municipalisation of the port of Liverpool, but it was rejected by the Conservative majority on the city council.
§ Mr. Tilney
Only a small portion of the port of Merseyside is now in the City of Liverpool. The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board has to deal with no fewer than eight different authorities: Liverpool, Bootle, Crosby, Wallasey, Birkenhead, Bebington, Cheshire and Lancashire.
§ Mr. Tilney
Whatever one does singly cannot be of much use by itself, and in any case the local authorities have not at present power to guarantee. I should greatly like them to have such a power, and that is the plea I put to my right hon. Friend.
I am told that the port can well be in the black not in three years, as has been said, but in 12 months, provided that £8 million to £10 million is lent at the present market rate to make the port viable. I only hope that this can be done. Admittedly, any local authority which is asked to give a guarantee 1125 must be shown the budget produced by the Board and must agree that that budget is sensible and such as can put the port in the black.
What of the investors? About £150 million has been invested by people in Europe and elsewhere in local authority loans. Will they differentiate between the Port of Liverpool and the City of Liverpool? Will they know that boroughs on the banks of the Mersey are not, perhaps, going the same way as the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board? It is difficult enough to bring investors in different parts of Great Britain to understand that, and I agree with those who have said that few investors are likely to lend money eagerly in the future to the Port of London Authority or to any harbour board. The same is true of some minor local authorities which have done exactly the same as the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board has done; they have had to borrow short, at the suggestion of successive Governments, in order to invest long, and their finances, too, are illiquid.
The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board never had trustee status under the old Trustee Act, but its bonds and securities were in the narrower section under the new Act. Any default by the Docks Board will be dangerous, not only for the credit of Merseyside but for the credit-worthiness of a number of local authorities. All of us who live in the different boroughs bordering the Mersey, therefore, have a direct interest in what will happen to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. A partial default would be dangerous for us. In any case, what about the £40,000 loss on the Mersey ferry terminal? Who is to look after that loss, or are the ferries to stop?
Confidence is a shy animal. It is in all our interests, but particularly in the interests of all the Merseyside boroughs, to avoid a default. I am not asking for any money from the taxpayer or from the ratepayer. I am asking for power to be given to the Merseyside local authorities to guarantee the capital and interest of any bonds which are issued by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board on the market. This has been done before. Between the wars—I remember that Austria was one case—this country guaranteed some of the bonds issued by certain countries. It could be done in 1126 this case quite easily by each of the eight local authorities taking a fraction of the obligation.
We are in for tough times on Merseyside, but we can stand on our own. The port must go on. A third of the population of the United Kingdom lives within 100 miles of Liverpool. We do £1,000 million in trade every year. The port is sick. We need some help, or, rather, means to help ourselves. There are people in the port, some anarchists, who would be only too delighted to see our trade through the port founder.
We require some bridging finance from somewhere and we cannot get this without guarantees being given by the local authorities. Let us use our own credit-worthiness in the different boroughs to come to the aid of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. Neither the world nor the United Kingdom taxpayer owes us a living. I accept that a painless solution cannot be reached. If we are to avoid being hanged we have to hang together. I ask my right hon. Friend to give us the means to do just that, to give us time to avoid a partial default.
The Government are right to be tough on maladministration and unnecessary strikes. They have to say "No" some time to the issue of public money and, of course, we dislike it when such a policy hits us on Merseyside. The Minister called for a new united effort and said that he would gladly take any step to help. If he is to deny us the money, at least give us the chance to help ourselves.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney), with his knowledge of the Port of Liverpool and of the shipping industry throughout the world, offers this House as his considered opinion to the solution of the present problem on Merseyside the suggestion that we should get together and hold a collection. If that is the best he can offer, I will not hang with him or his Government tonight. Hon. Members opposite have suggested from time to time that we on this side have been hasty, unfortunate, that we have been rushing our fences, that we ought to have waited for more information from the Government or elsewhere before we tried to force this debate.
1127 May I remind hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that what started this operation was simply the doubt raised in my mind and possibly the minds of other hon. Members as a result of the statement on the future of the Mersey Docks and Harbours Board. That statement was made not in the House of Commons last Friday when we were in session from 11 o'clock in the morning until 4.30 in the afternoon and when there was a minister present from the Department of Trade and Industry—there was ample opportunity then for statement in the House, but, instead, the announcement came from the Dock Board offices in Merseyside, at the Pier Head. There could have been a dual statement.
Over the weekend all we heard were reports of the statement and on the Monday we heard that the Chairman and members of the Board were invited down to meet the Minister. There was no indication in any of the leaks—and the present Government are as good at kite flying as any Chinese Emperor ever was—that there was to be a statement by the Minister in the House on Monday afternoon. We were right to try to get some Private Notice Questions down, and maybe that played some part in forcing the Government to make their statement rather than face a Private Notice Question. I do not say that it did, but it may have done, because until that time no information had been forthcoming.
§ Mr. Ogden
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. If information were to be made available to the House of Commons there were ways in which the Government could have indicated that they were more than willing and able to come to the House on Monday afternoon and to make that statement. The result was that a debate was forced, which they might think is unfortunate. As the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) has suggested, this does not prevent a further debate a little later if and when we get more information. I do not think that this debate has done any harm.
1128 There is a great desire shown by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to forget past history. There are some kinds of history that it is right to remember and some which it is advisable to forget. There are some pieces of history about which I want to remind the House. I cannot forget that the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board is the Western gateway to these islands and the Western gateway to the oceans of the world outside. I cannot forget that that Western gateway is important not only for Merseyside and Lancashire but for the whole of the North-West, for the whole of the Midlands and, indeed, for the United Kingdom economy. This is no mere local row taking place among half-a-dozen boroughs on Merseyside. Think of the cotton industry, the coal industry, ore and machinery, imports, exports, think of anything. This is a national matter, not one that can be taken away and hidden in some far-off corner of the region.
Part of that port's history was recognised at least by Sir Winston Churchill. In his book "Their Finest Hour" he referred to the port and the estuaries and harbours of Merseyside. He said:As November and December (1940) drew on, the entrances and estuaries of the Mersey and the Clyde far surpassed in mortal significance all other factors in the War.I do not believe that Sir Winston Churchill's Government would have treated the Mersey Docks and Harbours Board as the present Government have treated it. From the time when I was a merchant sailor, sailing in and out of the port of Liverpool—and the finest sight in the British Isles or anywhere else in the world for a sailor is the New Brighton Lighthouse on one side and the Pier Head and the Docks Board on the other side—I have looked forward and worked for the day when the port of Merseyside could be the finest port in Western Europe, linked by air, road, by rail through a Channel tunnel to the continent of Europe.
That has been my dream and my hope. It has been partly shattered, deferred and delayed by the announcement of the Government, but I hope that we shall be able to win through and to build the kind of port which I believe every hon. Member representing Merseyside wants and which, to be fair even the present Government want.
1129 I want to compare the present attitude of the Conservative Government towards the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board with the attitude of the previous Labour Government to Cammell Laird. A little earlier today, through one of the Opposition Whips, I said that I was likely to compare the present attitude of Merseyside Conservative Members towards the help that has been given to the Docks Board with the claims that they were making for help from the Labour Government with Cammell Laird and what they said about help for one side of the river as compared with the help for the other side.
I will get that over as quickly as I can, but it has to be put on to the record now. Then I want to go ahead and look at the management of the Board and its future. Cammell Laird, as we all know, was a private enterprise with a proud history. It needed financial help because of its financial and managerial incompetence. The only hope was Government aid, and we all wanted to help. The Labour Government, particularly through the Paymaster-General, were the first to provide that help through the I.R.C. When the Conservative Government destroyed the I.R.C., they destroyed one of the best ways of making that help possible for the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
The hon. Gentleman says that he is speaking for the record. What we Conservative Members wanted the Labour Government to do was to give Cammell Laird that part of the refitting of the nuclear submarines of which it was capable. My questions were directed to that end.
§ Mr. Ogden
I remember from the campaign in which we were all involved that there were promises of help from a new Conservative Government, for another Polaris submarine, for frigates, rebuilding, Navy contracts, everything but the kitchen sink. The right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) had an honourable part in that campaign but others among his colleagues on Merseyside were not quite so honourable or so helpful. I put on record that over the past years there has been in Merseyside the fortunate situation whereby Members of Parliament of different parties have been able to hold each other in 1130 respect, to have violent disagreements from time to time but equally to work together from time to time. That respect is in some jeopardy because there is a great contrast between what Conservative Members were saying about Cammell Laird and what they are now saying about the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board.
The right hon. and learned Member for Wirral, a very responsible and respected Member of this House, tried very hard to get help for Cammell Laird and when that help was announced, on 7th May, by the then Paymaster-General, he said:Is the Paymaster General aware that all of us who represent Merseyside constituencies wholeheartedly welcome the objective of the right hon. Gentleman to save the employment of these 20,000 men?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1970; Vol. 801, c. 595.]That was a six-line comment. His comment about the help coming from the present Government has been much longer, much less enthusiastic and much more critical, and I can only regret that the efforts he has made, very responsible efforts, to get help for the Board have not had the success from his Government that we hoped they would have. It was not for want of trying, but there is a difference between the two responses.
The right hon. Member for Wallasey did not say much about Cammell Laird and as far as I know has said little in the past about the Board. But he remembers Merseyside well. He has a good memory. Yesterday, he seemed to accept without any criticism at all the Government's decision. Today he has been much more constructive and much more critical. There is a change today from what he said yesterday. I want to read carefully in HANSARD what he has said, because when he is at his most reasonable, most understanding and most "let us all get together", that is when he is most dangerous.
I am glad to see the hon. Member for Bebington (Mr. Cockeram) in his place throughout the debate. We have worked together on this venture for the Board. He and I have been at the same meetings. Yet I have not heard him—and perhaps it is my own fault—making the claims for the Board which he made for Cammell Laird. I have to say to his face that if ever an hon. Member came to this House on the basis of a false prospectus, he did, because the campaign which brought him 1131 here was based on a false prospectus. He said very different things in his claim for Cammell Laird from what he has said for the Board.
The present Minister for Local Government and Development, the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), supported our case for help for the Board. The Seaforth Dock is right on his constituency. How will he vote tonight? How will all these right hon. and hon. Members opposite vote?
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Fortescue) is a silent Member, although he has listened to the debate. He has taken part in all the negotiations of which I know and all the meetings with the Board. He is a silent Member because he has duties to the Government as a junior Whip. He has nothing to lose in this but his job as a junior Whip and the respect of his fellow Merseyside Members. How will he vote?
Now for the hon. Member for Waver-tree. After all he said about Polaris submarines, frigates, repair facilities and everything but the kitchen sink for Cammell Laird, the best he could say today was, "Let us have a collection among the local authorities". There is a complete contrast between the claims he made for Cammell Laird and the begging bowl he is suggesting now. Even if I am breaking the rules of order, I must say that I regard him in this as John "Pass-the-Buck" Tilney.
§ Mr. Tilney
The hon. Gentleman cannot have heard what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) said. We were asking the Labour Government to give proper repairing facilities for the Polaris submarines to Cammell Laird. That was denied to Cammell Laird by the Labour Government. I am merely suggesting that we should pledge the credit of the local authorities around Merseyside—I do not want to increase the rates in any way—so that the Board can go to the private enterprise market for its money.
§ Mr. Ogden
What the hon. Gentleman said about the Polaris submarines and Cammell Laird is on record both in Parliament and in the Liverpool Post and the Liverpool Echo. He must know more about local government than he is pre- 1132 tending. Everyone of us knows that the local authorities have no power to raise revenue from their rates for private enterprise unless they get that power from Parliament, and they have not got it. The only solution which the hon. Gentleman can offer the House is to hold a collection.
I will try to be a little more helpful to the Minister for Transport Industries and I begin by thanking him sincerely for the help that I believe he tried to obtain for the Board. He is, as everyone knows, a tough "cookie"—and that is not meant to be disrespectful. He made visits to Merseyside, which had their moments, and from the meetings he had with local Labour Members of Parliament and from the advice which he received from his right hon. and hon. Friends from Merseyside, I believe that he understood the problems. He gave no commitment at all to any hon. Member who came to see him. He said, "I cannot say what we will or will not do". But I was convinced that he understood the problems and the urgent need for some bridging financial support.
I believe that the recommendations he made to the Secretary of State were more favourable and more helpful than those he has announced and which he is in duty bound to defend today. I would like to know what those recommendations were, and perhaps the weekend papers will tell us. It is possible—information gets around in this place—that even the Secretary of State made recommendations to the Cabinet and the Prime Minister which were more favourable and more helpful than those announced. I believe that those recommendations were, however, overridden by the Cabinet and by the Prime Minister. Our new Prime Minister does not know a lot about Merseyside. All I would say to him is to keep himself and his bloody boat out of the Mersey.
Now for the present and the future. The appointments to the Board have gone some way in the right direction. I think that there is complete agreement on both sides of the House that there has to be a drastic reorganisation of the old ways of the Board. My complaint to the Minister is that he has left too many members of the old Board. All the members gave good service to the Board as far as they could or as far as they saw their duty, but there are still too 1133 many of them left on the new Board. Incidentally, I do not know of any other organisation which has a two-tier system of top government. It is really a large committee and the work is to be done by an executive committee. If the Minister is to be a butcher, he has to wield his axe more firmly in future than in the past.
The newspapers today reported that Mr. R. L. E. Lawrence, General Manager of the London Midland Region of British Rail, did not know that he was going to be appointed.
§ Mr. Peyton
I am not responsible for all the reports that appear in the newspapers. I know that Mr. Lawrence was aware of the position but I am advised that he was not certain whether the news had become public and whether he should not be cautious in his reaction.
§ Mr. Ogden
Tact is appreciated from whichever quarter it comes. The right hon. Gentleman has cleared up a point and I am grateful to him for doing so. The right hon. Gentleman has appointed Mr. John Cuckney as Chairman and Sir Matthew Stevenson as Deputy Chairman of the Board, with possibly one or two other members, and their function will be to reorganise the structure of management of the Board. It will be an internal, managerial operation. Here, I take up a point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw). Whom did the Minister consult in making these appointments? A few days ago, the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications was saying that it was not his or the Government's intention to canvass the opinions of the workers in any industry for which the Government were responsible. So, on whose advice were these appointments made—on the advice of the I.R.C., the C.B.I., the T.U.C. or anyone else?
I think that there is still an urgent need for a professional board full time that will organise and arrange the professional operations of the Board. It is needed not only at director level. With all due regard to the services which individual managers of the departments have done, there have to be some pretty hefty and dramatic changes in management itself.
Just as with Cammell Laird, it was not just a matter of clearing out the old 1134 board, but of bringing in professional people from other shipyards in order to get the best expertise available, so we have to go all the way through the Docks Board office to get all the necessary management knowledge. We need reorganisation of the professional management all the way down the line. Productivity must begin to be discussed inside the Dock Board Office, and at long last there must be a first genuine attempt to involve those who work in the docks in responsibility for the circumstances in which they work.
It has been suggested that the Mersey Docks and Harbours Board employs more militants who are more reckless than most. I do not think that that is so, but the more I hear about the activities of the Board, the more I can understand anyone who works for it becoming bitter and militant. However, I agree with those whose advice about the demonstration on 8th December is that workers should take the advice of their union officers. The strike will do no good for the men or the port.
The assets of the Board may have to be sold to provide some ready capital. I hope that the Minister will be careful about to whom he disposes of these assets. A Board in difficulty may be tempted to under-price its assets, to have long-term losses for temporary gains. This has to be very carefully controlled.
It has been necessary to have the debate at least to get something out of the way before we go ahead: there must be more involvement locally, but we could not allow this opportunity to pass. Anyone on Merseyside who thought that there were no differences between the Labour and Conservative on 18th June now knows what the differences are.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Cockeram (Bebington)
I regret the tone of the speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden). The hon. Member made a series of personal attacks which contributed nothing to a solution of the problems of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. I am interested in the future rather than the past, because Merseysiders are more concerned about the future of the Board than with throwing mud at individuals because of alleged incidents in the past.
I implore the Minister to ensure that the new Bill, which we understand is to 1135 be introduced early in the new year, contains certain provisions one of which will be to permit the Board to pursue sound financial policies rather than be subject to Treasury control and forced to borrow short when spending long, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) mentioned. That is the traditional bankers' error and it is one which the present Board has been forced to pursue.
Secondly, I make the plea that the new Bill will ensure that the Board is more of a harbour board and less of a dock board. It is clearly necessary for dredging, piloting, marking the channel and so on to be undertaken by a harbour board, but it is clearly not necessary for so many of the dock facilities to be provided at the expense of the taxpayer.
Many of the docks on Merseyside, as at other ports, are in effect one-company docks, used exclusively by one company for its regular sailing lines. It is unnecessary for these dock facilities, sheds and so on, to be owned and employees and dockers employed by an amorphous body somewhere across the river. There is no reason why the shipping lines concerned cannot provide their own facilities. Shell, for example, has considerable facilities in my constituency and it has its own facilities in many ports around the world. In this country it provides storage and pipeline facilities, but the last few hundred yards of those pipelines to the ships are provided by the Docks Board. That is quite unnecessary, for Shell is perfectly capable of providing all its facilities on Merseyside, as it does elsewhere. I should like the new Bill to enable the various shipping companies to provide more of their own purpose-built facilities than is now the case.
Finally, I make the plea that the new Bill will provide for pilotage facilities to be arranged in closer consultation with the pilots. There is considerable apprehension on the Mersey because, as tankers get larger and larger, with the bridge at the stern the pilot of such a vessel in a crowded river cannot always see what is going on just below the bows. On Merseyside it is feared that this will lead to an accident, such as that which occurred elsewhere. I hope that the 1136 Minister will make provision for pilotage facilities to be arranged in closer consultation with the pilots.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear that the new Bill to which he refers is not the new Private Member's Bill which was laid in the House last Friday and which affects Anglesey and which is not guaranteed to go through the House?
§ Mr. Cockeram
I was referring not to that but to the new Bill to be introduced early in the new year.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
I am not sure to which Bill the hon. Member for Bebington (Mr. Cockeram) was referring. If he goes to the Vote Office, he will find that there is a Private Bill concerned with reorganisation which has already been published. Perhaps the Secretary of State will confirm, because I do not think that it has been publicly stated, that the Government are to bring in a Bill during the present Session.
Several hon. Members have suggested that it was a mistake to debate the subject today. I do not accept that. I agree with the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) who said that we do not have enough information to form final views on the merits or otherwise of these proposals. However, I still believe that it is a function of the House of Commons to require explanations of the policies of Ministers, and I cannot think of a better place to probe such policies than on the Floor of the House.
The tone of the debate has been of serious concern for the future of a great port. I do not think that anyone has tried to make any party political point. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) said, while it seriously concerns the whole of Merseyside, it is of national concern because of the importance of Liverpool as a port through which so many of our exports go. We are all concerned with the situation, and we realise that radical action is necessary.
I do not want to go too far into the past, but the Minister said that as his predecessor I should have known how serious the financial situation was. I 1137 interjected to say that under the Conservative legislation setting up the National Ports Council, while the Council received financial and other statistical information, it was expressly enjoined not to make that information available to the Minister or his advisers. When the Ports Bill was going through the House, I did not know and could not give the House a clear financial forecast, and I made that clear on Second Reading.
However, I then said that, as everyone in the House knew, a number of ports, including Liverpool, were losing money and there were serious financial problems to be faced by the new ports board, once set up. I do not want to re-fight our arguments about port nationalisation and I accept the right hon. Gentleman's sincerity in trying to find the best solution to the problem. I agree that the situation in Liverpool is a challenge to everyone involved in the working of the port.
I am sure that the whole House also joins the Minister in wishing Mr. John Cuckney and Sir Matthew Stevenson well in the very difficult jobs they have undertaken. But whilst I in no way wish to bring in personalities, the House is entitled, in the light of yesterday's debate, to an answer to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) as to how those gentlemen were appointed before the Deputy Chairman had been told that he was no longer required.
Second, the House, is entitled to know how it was that the members of the Board, having been asked to see the Minister, no doubt read in the Daily Telegraph on their way down an accurate forecast of what they would be told, way ahead of the House of Commons hearing it. Indeed, I believe that the report included the name of the gentleman it was proposed to appoint as the Receiver. Hon. Members will have noticed that that newspaper boasts that it exclusively forecast yesterday the outcome of a meeting that had still not been held, and I am informed that the other party was totally unaware of the nature of the business the Minister wished to discuss. We are entitled to be told how this came about.
We are all concerned to make this "immensely important port" viable, successful and efficient, to quote the Minister's words. I do not doubt the sincerity of the Minister for Transport 1138 Industries. I confess a personal preference for the title "Minister of Transport", but I shall not develop that point now. When he came new to the job, the Minister took a new look at the port industry, as I did eight months before, and he very fairly summed up what he found when he addressed the Institute of Transport. The Port newspaper of 19th November reported him as saying:Consider our ports … the diagnosis of a newcomer is clear—our ports have been conducted not as independent undertakings but as things annexed to and subordinated to other activities. They have been managed on an amateur and part-time basis.His later remarks might have had the Port of Liverpool in mind. What he said is very relevant not only to Liverpool but to the number of other important ports with the same kind of statutory public trust organisation, with a predominant membership of shipowners and port users. He said:Port users have been allowed, even encouraged, to pay as little as possible and to take as much as they could. Add to that permanent staff with no career structure and meagre prospects, and the present state of affairs is at least partially explained.What the cure may be, is difficult to say; I would only hazard the opinion that it is not going to be based on the suggestion that everything is someone else's fault.The right hon. Gentleman having seen so clearly the problem of the ports and made a speech that I should have been proud to make introducing the Ports Bill, it is deplorable that he has now proposed a solution that gives the Government control but totally without responsibility. For example, instead of the Minister or the Secretary of State appointing a quarter of the membership of the Board, he is to appoint the whole membership. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) said, this must be the cheapest take-over in history. Whilst I do not want to argue the merits or otherwise of nationalisation I think that the proposals we put before the House would have gone a long way to resolve a number of these issues not only for Liverpool but elsewhere, particularly because we were bringing into the total picture the profitable part of the industry, the port businesses as well as the port operations.
The most doctrinaire person is someone who just says, whatever the situation, that public ownership is totally out. I 1139 agree that people who want public ownership for every industry are also doctrinaire, but the right hon. Gentleman must not think that he escapes the label of "doctrinaire" because he takes the opposite view—that no public ownership should be involved, that no public money should be involved—when the Government are now seeking control over the Port of Liverpool and doing it by cutting down by 30 per cent. the investment of those people that have lent money.
We want to know from the Government more clearly now than we learnt yesterday or at the beginning of this debate why no bridging operation is possible, why the Government are not willing, if the local authorities in the area would be willing, as some hon. Members have suggested, to give a credit guarantee. Seemingly, that is all that was required to avoid the other very unpleasant measures involved in this package.
The Government cannot escape responsibility—they should not even seek to do so—by saying that the Private Bill that is to come before the House is the responsibility of the Board. They have now appointed the people who are to run the Board. That is what the statement yesterday was all about. I understand that the whole of the arrangements are designed as a temporary step between now and when that Private Bill becomes law.
Have the Government considered what they will do if the House will not pass the Bill in its present form? It is not for me to say whether the House should do so, but, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, I must say that the Bill contains provisions of confiscation by Act of Parliament. I believe it to be almost without precedent that that should be done by a Private Measure.
It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say quite fairly, that investors who make mistakes lose their money. But none of the people concerned is an investor, in the sense that none of the bonds or securities are equity or risk capital. I understand that they are all fixed interest investments. Quite apart from the merits of this case, I ask the Minister who is to reply to address himself to the point made from both sides of the House about what the pro- 1140 posal will do for the credit standing of public authorities generally.
I happen to have a copy of one such bond. It is headed:'Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, incorporated as a public trust by Act of Parliament of 1857.It says quite clearly that it will be redeemed on a certain date, provided that… if, with the holder's consent, a later date shall be appointed by endorsement …payment would be deferred. There is no suggestion that such a right will be defeated by a Private Act introduced with Government approval. I think that the lady whose bond that is will get her money, because it is to be redeemed next January. But that is the other great unfairness. Nobody knows when the Private Bill, if it becomes an Act, will come into operation. Some people will be paid in full perhaps the day before it gets Royal Assent and some people, whose bonds mature shortly after that, will not only have their repayment date deferred by two years but will get back only 70 per cent. of the sum due. The passage of a Measure with such a provision will cause great anxiety to many hon. Members on both sides.
Is it right for the Government to defend a scheme the whole fabric of which is based on the capital reconstruction set out in the Private Bill? What will the Government do, and what will the great port of Liverpool do, if midway through next year a Committee of this House, having heard the evidence, throws out the Private Bill or requires it to be very substantially amended?
Without stirring up too much of the past, may I say that I hope that all hon. Members who sent me letters about compensation for the Manchester Ship Canal Company shareholders will be equally assiduous in promoting petitions in this matter. In the case of the Manchester Ship Canal Company, we were to pay full compensation on the basis of a valuation that the Stock Exchange, which understands these matters, had assessed to be right. The bond holders or preference and fixed-interest shareholders of the Manchester Ship Canal Company would have received a litte more. Certainly under my proposals the Mersey bondholders would have got 100 per cent. of their money.
1141 I am glad that the Seaforth scheme, which was one of the first matters I looked at as Minister of Transport, is going forward. It is true that £16 million has been paid out in respect of the scheme, but there is still a substantial sum to go. I wonder whether the Government would have authorised this scheme had it not already been under construction as the result of the approval of the previous Government? We are still waiting to hear, as is the City of Bristol, for example, about the future of the modernisation grants. I have a Question down for answer tomorrow on this matter. Will they continue to be paid? If so, at what rate and what sum is expected to be paid next year?
We need to be told the answers to a large number of questions. The House of Commons is the place in which Ministers should defend their policies and, through hon. Members, inform the public. While we do not want to have party arguments or to re-fight the battles of previous nationalisation Bills, we and all the people who live on Merseyside, and particularly the workers and pensioners of the Board, want the fullest information. In particular, people are entitled to know what will happen if the Private Bill is not passed. Why have not the Government themselves taken the responsibility of introducing a Bill to deal with the local authorities?
The Secretary of State must seek to allay our anxieties tonight. Like many hon. Members, I was much impressed by the Minister's appeal not to divide the House. This might, although I am not convinced that it would, make a difference to the situation in Liverpool. We are seeking to judge whether the Government have discharged their responsibility to the House of Commons. Unless we get satisfactory answers to the questions posed, not only by me, but by hon. Members on both sides of the House, I must advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to divide on the Motion to register our concern and anxiety about the great port of Liverpool, and to put on record our view that what the Government have done and propose to do does not represent an adequate or fair solution of a very real problem.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Walker)
I thank the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park 1142 (Mr. Mulley) for what he has said about the tone of the debate. The House has shown that it is extremely concerned about a very difficult problem and about all those who might be threatened as a result of what might happen in this great port.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) asked about the payment of £6 million in respect of Seaforth. I am informed that all payments which should legally have been made have been made. The question of the port making certain payments before applications are made will be dealt with in the normal way. I am assured, however, that this point makes no difference to the cash flow. These payments are for the development of Seaforth and they will have to be used for that purpose. However, I understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety about this point.
The hon. Member for Toxteth made a comparison with the provision of finance for Rolls-Royce. The money being provided for Seaforth is a direct analogy with the Rolls-Royce situation. In both cases, development money is being provided by the Government. About £40 million will be provided for the Seaforth scheme.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn), in a very constructive and helpful speech, said that it was vital that the men and unions in Liverpool should be aware of all the facts and be well informed about what is happening and what is likely to happen. I share his view. One of the first actions of Mr. Cuckney has been to make contact with the unions, and I know that he is shortly to meet the union leaders. I am confident that he will go out of his way to ensure that the best possible communications exist between the new management and the unions and that the facts are disclosed to them.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) produced some interesting and important figures concerning comparisons in charges between various authorities. I do not propose to give him the figures for which he asks, not because I am not able to produce them, but because they would deceive him. I am advised that the basis of charges differs considerably from one port to another. Therefore, it would deceive him if I gave him any basic 1143 figures. Perhaps we can go into this matter in greater depth and try to make the comparisons for which he asks.
The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park asked questions about the manner in which news of the appointment of a receiver leaked out in the Daily Telegraph yesterday. There has been speculation for some time on the possibility of a receiver being appointed. It was suggested that Sir John Nicholson would be the receiver. I say this without disrespect to those who made the suggestion, but nobody was more shocked than Sir John or the Government by it. I do not have him in mind as the receiver.
The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park paid tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries for the patient way in which he has endeavoured to meet Liverpool's problems. I join the right hon. Gentleman in that tribute. Having worked closely with my right hon. Friend, I know the immense amount of trouble that he has taken to find solutions which will enable the port of Liverpool to survive and thereafter to expand. In all the actions which my right hon. Friend has taken, sometimes in an advisory capacity in offering Liverpool whatever knowledge was available to him and in making suggestions about people who might help, my right hon. Friend has taken a great deal of trouble. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are aware of my right hon. Friend's considerable anxiety and his attempt to find a proper and sensible solution to this problem.
I turn to what the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park said about the position of the bondholders. He intimated that the January bondholders, and not the rest, would be met in full. The Board said in its statement yesterday that one of the reasons for appointing a receiver was its inability to meet the claims of the January bondholders.
§ Mr. Mulley
My reading of the Bill was that at law the claims of the January bondholders would be met whereas others would not. Whether the Board can find the money is not within my knowledge.
§ Mr. Walker
Unfairness would have occurred if bridging finance had been provided, because it would have been for 1144 the payment of the January bonds. For bridging finance of the dimension that has been talked of it would have been necessary to write down the existing loan capital of the Board. The Board has made it clear that equity will be provided to the bond holders whose capital is affected.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the Manchester Ship Canal, but I do not want to go into that in the short time available. This is quite a different matter.
In introducing the debate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) very understandably, expressed primarily the deep concern of the men employed in the ports about redundancies and the effect that this was likely to have on the port. I understand fully his apprehension about this. In an area of high unemployment such as Merseyside the alternative is not necessarily the provision of some other occupation, it is unemployment. I understand the fears created by the prospect of unemployment, and I appeal to him to do all he can to see that the new management is given every co-operation by the unions concerned. The hon. Gentleman quoted Mr. Cuckney as talking about redundancy straight away. In fact, John Cuckney did not say this yesterday—
§ Mr. Heffer
I did not say he talked about redundancy. He said that the port would be on a lower key, and I said that this could well mean redundancy.
§ Mr. Walker
From what I know, what he said yesterday was rather the opposite. He said that his main purpose and that of his colleagues was to see that the Port of Liverpool became an expanding port. This is the way to tackle the potential problem of redundancy. I happen to know that he said that at Press conferences yesterday. Sometimes there are differences between what is said and what is reported. I believe that Mr. Cuckney will make a genuine attempt to get proper liaison and communication between unions and management. I believe also that Sir Matthew Stevenson, whom I know well as he was until recently my Permanent Secretary, will do all he can to ensure that the Port of Liverpool has an important future.
Let us try to understand the changes that have taken place. In 1964 this port was making a surplus after meeting all its 1145 commitments—interest charges and everything. This year it will be making a deficit approaching £3 million. This is during a period of expanding world trade, expanding exports and a substantial increase in imports into the Port of Liverpool.
§ Mr. Walker
There is agreement on both sides that there is considerable potential for the improvement of the port, given good management and good labour relationships. This is really the key.
The hon. Member for Kirkdale mentioned rates. When rates have been increased, and it is found that the rates can be borne, it is frequently asked why they were not put up before. This is a perfectly genuine query.
The hon. Member for Walton argued that certain of the assets of the port would be continuing and should be used, but I am sure he will agree that there are assets of the port which, given sound management, might be put to better use.
Whenever there are strikes someone always says that the dockers are to blame, although it may be the fault of management. I am not trying to apportion blame between management and unions, but in the first eleven months of this year on average there were 560 men on strike each day and on average 435 men absent without authority. This illustrates that the port has not been operating properly. I am not trying to apportion blame between unions and management—
§ Mr. Heffer
Will the right hon. Gentleman make it absolutely clear that the dockers do not work for the Dock Board but for private employers who in turn have a relationship with the Dock Board?
§ Mr. Walker
I am aware of that. The hon. Gentleman knows that if a port has such a record of absenteeism and strikes something is fundamentally wrong and needs to be put right.
Merseyside has had to face the considerable shock of being a major port that everyone thought was solvent and bound to continue in prosperity but which, for a number of reasons associated with the way in which it has been run, has ceased to be so. For some the answer is to provide a subsidy. It is said that because the Europeans provide a subsidy we should provide a subsidy to meet the problem. My argument is that the Port of Liverpool does not need a subsidy; it needs good management and good relations between men and management. There will then be no need for a subsidy to be paid by those who have invested in the port, or by local authorities or Government. The course of action which we are suggesting will give the opportunity for a major break-through in the running of the port.
It has been said that one-third of this country is dependent on and related to the activities of this port. With sound management by a new team which includes leading representatives of the trade union movement I believe, given good will, that we shall look back upon this as a tragic incident which brought people to their senses, introduced sound management into a great port and provided a great future for a port which performs such an important activity.
§ Question put, That this House do now adjourn:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 226, Noes 272.1149
|Division No. 39.]||AYES||[6.40 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, Central)|
|Allen, Scholefield||Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)||Crawshaw, Richard|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Cronin, John|
|Ashton, Joe||Buchan, Norman||Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony|
|Atkinson, Norman||Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James||Dalyell, Tam|
|Barnett, Joel||Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, West)||Darling, Rt. Hn. George|
|Beaney, Alan||Cant, R. B.||Davidson, Arthur|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Carmichael, Neil||Davies, Denzil (Llanelly)|
|Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield)||Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Davies, Ifor (Gower)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Clark, David (Colne Valley)||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr Tydvil)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)||Davis, Clinton (Hackney, Central)|
|Boardman, H. (Leigh)||Cohen, Stanley||Deakins, Eric|
|Booth, Albert||Coleman, Donald||de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Concannon, J. D.||Delargy, H. J.|
|Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)||Conlan, Bernard||Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund|
|Bradley, Tom||Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Dempsey, James|
|Devlin, Miss Bernadette||Lambie, David||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Doig, Peter||Lamond, James||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Dormand, J. D.||Latham, Arthur||Probert, Arthur|
|Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)||Lawson, George||Rankin, John|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Leadbitter, Ted||Reed, D. (Sedgefield)|
|Driberg, Tom||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Lestor, Miss Joan||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|Dunn, James A.||Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Eadie, Alex||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham N.)||Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Lipton, Marcus||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Lomas, Kenneth||Roderick, Caerwyn E. (Br'c'n & R'dnor)|
|Ellis, Tom||Loughlin, Charles||Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|English, Michael||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, East)||Roper, John|
|Evans, Fred||McCann, John||Rose, Paul B.|
|Faulds, Andrew||McCartney, Hugh||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)|
|Fernyhough, E.||McElhone, Frank||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)|
|Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood)||McGuire, Michael||Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)|
|Foley, Maurice||Mackie, John||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)|
|Foot, Michael||Mackintosh, John P.||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Ford, Ben||Maclennan, Robert||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Forrester, John||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Sillars, James|
|Freeson, Reginald||McNamara, J. Kevin||Silverman, Julius|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||MacPherson, Malcolm||Skinner, Dennis|
|Gilbert, Dr. John||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Smith, John (Lanarkshire, North)|
|Ginsburg, David||Marks, Kenneth||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Marquand, David||Stallard, A. W.|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard||Steel, David|
|Grant, John D. (Islington, East)||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)||Meacher, Michael||Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)|
|Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert||Stoddart, David (Swindon)|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Mendelson, John||Strang, Gavin|
|Hardy, Peter||Mikardo, Ian||Swain, Thomas|
|Harper, Joseph||Millan, Bruce||Taverne, Dick|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Thomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Hattersley, Roy||Milne, Edward (Blyth)||Tomney, Frank|
|Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Molloy, William||Torney, Tom|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Tuck, Raphael|
|Horam, John||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Urwin, T. W.|
|Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Varley, Eric G.|
|Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Moyle, Roland||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Wallace, George|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, North)||Murray, Ronald King||Watkins, David|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Ogden, Eric||Weitzman, David|
|Hunter, Adam||O'Halloran, Michael||Wellbeloved, James|
|Janner, Greville||O'Malley, Brian||White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)|
|Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras, S.)||Orbach, Maurice||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Oswald, Thomas||Whitlock, William|
|John, Brynmor||Palmer, Arthur||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Pardoe, John||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Johnson, Walter (Derby, South)||Parker, John (Dagenham)||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)||Wilson Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)|
|Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)||Pavitt, Laurie||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Jones, Barry (Flint, East)||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred||Woof, Robert|
|Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)||Pendry, Tom|
|Judd, Frank||Pentland, Norman||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Kaufman, Gerald||Perry, Ernest G.||Mr. John Golding and|
|Kerr, Russell||Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.||Mr. William Hamling.|
|Kinnock, Neil||Prescott, John|
|Adley, Robert||Boscawen, R. T.||Churchill, W. S.|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Bossom, Sir Clive||Clark, William (Surrey, East)|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Bowden, Andrew||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)|
|Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)||Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John||Clegg, Walter|
|Astor, John||Braine, Bernard||Cockeram, Eric|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Bray, Ronald||Cooke, Robert|
|Awdry, Daniel||Brewis, John||Cooper, A. E.|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||Cordle, John|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Cormack, Patrick|
|Balniel, Lord||Bryan, Paul||Critchley, Julian|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N & M)||Crouch, David|
|Bell, Ronald||Bullus, Sir Eric||Curran, Charles|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Dalkeith, Earl of|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Campbell, Rt. Hn. G. (Moray & Nairn)||Dance, James|
|Benyon, W.||Carlisle, Mark||Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry|
|Biffen, John||Cary, Sir Robert||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen. Jack|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Channon, Paul||Dean, Paul|
|Blaker, Peter||Chapman, Sydney||Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.|
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.)||Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher||Digby, Simon Wingfield|
|Body, Richard||Chichester-Clark, R.||Dixon, Piers|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Reed, Laurence (Bolton, East)|
|du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||Kinsey, J. R.||Rees, Hn. Peter (Dover)|
|Dykes, Hugh||Kitson, Timothy||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Eden, Sir John||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Knox, David||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Lane, David||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, North)|
|Emery, Peter||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Le Marchant, Spencer||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Fell, Anthony||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'n C'dfield)||Rost, Peter|
|Fidler, Michael||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Royle, Anthony|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral)||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton)||Loveridge, John||Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||MacArthur, Ian||Scott, Nicholas|
|Fowler, Norman||McCrindle, R. A.||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Fox, Marcus||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||Sharples, Richard|
|Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone)||McMaster, Stanley||Shaw, Michael (S'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Gardner, Edward||Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)||Shelton, William (Clapham)|
|Gibson-Watt, David||McNair-Wilson, Michael||Simeons, Charles|
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest)||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)||Madel, David||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Glyn, Dr. Alan||Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest||Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)|
|Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.||Marten, Neil||Soref, Harold|
|Goodhart, Philip||Mather, Carol||Spence, John|
|Goodhew, Victor||Maude, Angus||Sproat, Iain|
|Gorst, John||Mawby, Ray||Stainton, Keith|
|Gower, Raymond||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Gray, Hamish||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Stewart-Smith, D. G. (Belper)|
|Green, Alan||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)|
|Grieve, Percy||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.|
|Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Miscampbell, Norman||Stokes, John|
|Grylls, Michael||Mitchell, Lt.-Col. C. (Aberdeenshire, W)||Sutcliffe, John|
|Gummer, Selwyn||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)|
|Gurden, Harold||Moate, Roger||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)||Molyneaux, James||Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N. W.)|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Money, Ernle||Tebbit, Norman|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Monks, Mrs. Connie||Temple, John M.|
|Hannam, John (Exeter)||Monro, Hector||Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret|
|Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||More, Jasper||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)|
|Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.||Tilney, John|
|Hawkins, Paul||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Trafford, Dr. Anthony|
|Hay, John||Mudd, David||Trew, Peter|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Murton, Oscar||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Hicks, Robert||Nabarro, Sir Gerald||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Higgins, Terence L.||Neave, Airey||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)||Nicholls, Sir Harmar||Waddington, David|
|Hill, James (Southampton, Test)||Onslow, Cranley||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Holland, Philip||Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally||Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)|
|Holt, Miss Mary||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Hordern, Peter||Osborn, John||Wall, Patrick|
|Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate)||Owen, Idris (Stockport, North)||Walters, Dennis|
|Howell, David (Guildford)||Page, Graham (Crosby)||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, North)||Page, John (Harrow, W.)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Hunt, John||Parkinson, Cecil (Enfield, W.)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Peel, John||White, Roger (Gravesend)|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Percival, Ian||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|James, David||Peyton, Rt. Hn. John||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Pike Miss Mervyn||Wilkinson, John|
|Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Pink, R. Bonner||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Jessel, Toby||Pounder, Rafton||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch||Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher|
|Jones, Arthur (Northants, South)||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Jopling, Michael||Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.||Worsley, Marcus|
|Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Proudfoot, Wilfred||Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.|
|Kaberry, Sir Donald||Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis||Younger, Hn. George|
|Kellett, Mrs. Elaine||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Kerby, Capt. Henry||Raison, Timothy||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Kilfedder, James||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter||Mr. Tim Fortescue and|
|King, Evelyn (Dorset, South)||Redmond, Robert||Mr. Keith Speed.|