HC Deb 14 July 1970 vol 803 cc1371-427

Order for Second Reading read.

3.45 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. John Peyton)

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

The Bill has a single and strictly limited purpose—to enable the Government to continue to make financial assistance available for harbour development under Sections 11 and 12 of the Harbours Act, 1964. It is necessary to introduce it now, before the Summer Recess, so as to allow for existing commitments. These consist of loans and grants which would take us over the £100 million limit fixed under Section 13 of the 1964 Act.

If developments already planned and urgently needed are not to be held up, those commitments must be honoured. The most recent were undertaken by the previous Administration in anticipation of the Ports Bill, which would have abolished the limit under the 1964 Act.

I have said that the Bill has a limited purpose. The House will not now expect me to anticipate the outcome of a wider review of the needs of the ports industry. Meanwhile, there is no "policy vacuum" after the disappearance—welcome to us on this side—of the previous Administration's Ports Bill. The Harbours Act, 1964 is still in full operation. The National Ports Council under the vigorous leadership of Sir Arthur Kirby continues to give valuable service. In the vital field of labour relations there is general agreement about pursuing the objectives of the Devlin Report.

To explain the provisions of the Bill, I should first say a word about the provisions in the Harbours Act, 1964, to which it relates.

Section 11 of the 1964 Act, as later amended by Section 40 of the Docks and Harbours Act, 1966, gives the Minister power, after consultation with the National Ports Council and with the approval of the Treasury, to make loans to statutory harbour authorities for certain expenses of a capital nature incurred by them. Section 12 of the 1964 Act gives the Minister power to make grants to statutory harbour authorities and also to other persons engaged in harbour operations.

These grants are at present payable at a standard rate of 20 per cent. on all eligible expenditure—basically harbour works which make a substantial and desirable contribution to international trade, and specialised mechanical equipment used in handling cargo. Both loans under Section 11 and grants under Section 12 are subject to the limit I have already mentioned, and it is with that limit that this Bill is concerned.

Section 13(1) of the 1964 Act provides that the aggregate amount of loans and grants taken together shall not exceed £50 million or, if so authorised by a Resolution of this House, £100 million. As the House knows, such a Resolution was passed in June, 1968, and the limit now stands at £100 million. Issues of loans and grants to 30th June, 1970, total about £81 million, about £54 million of this being in loans and the remaining £27 million in grants.

Taking into account the other loans approved but not issued, and the estimated grant payments which are becoming due, the limit of £100 million is likely to be reached within the next few months. I think it fair to make clear the position of the previous Government. They intended that under their Ports Bill the limit in Section 13 of the Harbours Act would disappear and that other arrangements would be made for parliamentary control of the totals of loans and grants. It was against that background that commitments continued to be made, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) explained during the discussion in Standing Committee on the Ports Bill. This is one of the reasons, as I have said, for needing further provision now.

The Bill itself is simple. Clause 1 repeals Section 13(1) of the 1964 Act and establishes a new limit of £75 million, or, if so provided by a Resolution of the House of Commons, £125 million, on loans by the Minister under Section 11 of the 1964 Act after the passing of the present Bill. Clause 2 is purely formal.

I call the attention of the House to one change in the scope of the provision, in that the new limit does not apply to grants. Loans under Section 11 of the 1964 Act are issued by the Treasury out of the National Loans Fund, and it is right that there should be a statutory limit to the amount which may be made available. Grants under Section 12 of the Act, however, are provided on a Ministry of Transport Vote. The inclusion of grants in the limit in Section 13 is, therefore, I suggest, unnecessary, since Parliament controls the amount of grant through the annual Estimates. I propose, therefore, that the Bill should provide only for a limit on loans under Section 11 of the 1964 Act.

Before explaining the amounts contained in the Bill, I should remind the House that loans under Section 11 of the 1964 Act are available only for that part of the port industry which is not nationalised. Loans to the British Transport Docks Board—and to the British Railways Board and the British Waterways Board which both manage ports—are made under the Transport Act, 1962. Moreover, Section 11 loans may be made only to statutory harbour authorities and in respect of specific types of capital expenditure on works, equipment or land. They cannot be used for the general capital expenditure of an authority. The limit which we are today discussing is, therefore, in no sense an indication of the prospective total capital expenditure in the ports as a whole.

The new limit will apply to all loans which are made after the passing of this Bill. The first charge is, therefore, the amounts which still have to be issued in respect of loans already approved by my predecessor.

Loans for schemes not yet formally approved or otherwise committed have to be considered rather differently. I shall come to them in a moment. I must, however, digress to explain to the House that these proposals in no way prejudge the possibility of changes in the arrangements for Government financial assistance to harbour development. The Government will be reviewing the general question of assistance to industry, whether by way of grant or loan, and in that context we shall be looking at the special problems of the ports. It is possible that new arrangements will be arrived at which will supersede for the ports what we are proposing today.

It would, however, be plainly wrong to impose an arbitrary slowing down of major port investment by withdrawing loans and grants without warning. I am, therefore, taking this early opportunity to seek the necessary parliamentary powers so that help can continue to be provided without interruption.

Apart from the £19 million of outstanding commitments which I have mentioned, there are about £12 million of outstanding loan applications. There are also other schemes, some of them large, for which harbour authorities may well wish to seek loan assistance. To allow for all these known and possible schemes, I consider that the basic limit on loans should be £75 million, and that is what is proposed in Clause 1. That £75 million does not cover requirements for loans which might arise over, say, the next two years for harbour developments which cannot now be foreseen. It seems to me, therefore, that, just as the 1964 Act provided for a two-tier limit, it would be prudent to provide some flexibility in the arrangements and so avoid the need for a further Bill. The present Bill provides, therefore, that the limit of £75 million may be increased by affirmative Resolution of this House by a further £50 million.

I think that the House would wish to have some examples of the works which would be provided for by the Bill. Existing commitments include the balance of loans towards the first stage of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board's important new dock at Seaforth, interest loans related to previous loans for the new entrance lock at Leith, and important dredging works at Milford Haven.

Loans have been approved towards other new developments at Liverpool—a car ferry and container terminal for the British and Irish Steam Packet Company Limited—and on the Tees mainly for the new iron ore terminal at Redcar.

Major new schemes awaiting approval for loan and grant purposes include two important projects in Scotland. First, there is the new entrance lock at Grangemouth. My predecessor formally authorised construction work for the purposes of Section 9 of the Act, but it was not possible for him to enter into a formal commitment to make a loan and pay grant as, once a Dissolution had been announced, there was no longer a Bill before Parliament to justify such a commitment. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman considers that I have put his position fairly. He did, however, accept in principle the case for loan and grant, and this work is urgently needed to replace the existing lock, which is in poor condition, and to make it possible for larger ships to use the port.

The second of these schemes is the construction of an extension of the Greenock container terminal on the Clyde. This work has not yet been authorised under Section 9 of the Act, but after considering the Clyde Port authority's application and the recommendation of the National Ports Council I am satisfied that it should be so authorised, and I am informing the Authority accordingly.

Both these proposals seem to me sound and desirable investments which should not be held up. I have no intention of doing so or delaying Government assistance for such valuable developments while wider problems are being considered. Without the powers the Bill contains, I cannot proceed with the port authorities of the Forth and Clyde on the subject of loans and grants.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

Can the Minister give us an indication of what he is doing for the fishing ports? I understand that the working conditions in docks like St. Andrew's, Hull, Lowestoft and elsewhere for filleters and those processing fish need careful attention. Has the right hon. Gentleman any schemes for the renovation of such ports?

Mr. Peyton

I would not dream of having such schemes without careful attention, but it would be premature for me this afternoon to seek to go into details on any port other than those I have mentioned. Projects will come forward. They will be considered by the National Ports Council, whose advice I am obliged to consider. The hon. Gentleman may be certain that the interests of the ports to which he has referred will be very carefully considered.

For the moment, may I express the hope that for the reasons I have given the House will give a Second Reading to the Bill, which will enable finance to be provided for essential developments in this vital industry.

4.2 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)

I should first like to congratulate the Minister on his appointment and to wish him success in his Ministry. All of us realise the vital importance of transport in its full ramifications to the efficiency and prosperity of our industry and the convenience and enjoyment of all our citizens. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will work on the basis of building on the policies he inherited, rather than spending his time dismantling them. There were some signs in his speech that he would work on that basis. We shall see as time goes on.

I also hope that he will find the work at the Ministry of Transport both exciting and challenging because, perhaps as much as or more than any other Ministry, it impinges on the daily life of practically every citizen. For that reason he will often be thought to be wrong. In my experience, it will be very rarely that he receives any tributes for the wisdom of his policies.

I should also like to put on record my appreciation of the tremendous services I had at all levels in the Ministry. The Minister may already appreciate that he has a body of able dedicated advisers. I should like it to be clearly understood how I benefited from my time at the Ministry.

I also congratulate and welcome the Parliamentary Secretary. He has already made his first appearance at the Box in his present capacity in a previous debate. He has the advantage of having had a lengthy apprenticeship in the subject during the passage of the Transport Act, 1968, with which I was at no point concerned, and more recently in our consideration of the Ports Bill, in which I was involved. I only hope that the hon. Gentleman will have benefited from his education, although I am bound to say that I noticed that he was sometimes a little more anxious to instruct than to learn. It will be extremely interesting to see how his thoughts and ideas on transport develops with his present responsibilities.

It is perhaps appropriate that the new Minister should have made his initial appearance on the subject of ports, in view of the enormous amount of Parliamentary time I spent on the subject in the previous Parliament. Since it will be his fortune to be thought to be wrong more often than right, perhaps I should tell him at the outset that after, in the current fashion, taking a long hard look at the Bill and after calm cool and collective consideration of it, we have no opposition to its principle. Indeed, as the right hon. Gentleman very fairly said, the need for increasing the maximum existed some months ago. It was to have been taken care of, if the previous Administration had remained in office, by the Ports Bill that was before the last Parliament. In view of the demise of that legislation, it is clearly necessary for the right hon. Gentleman to take a step of this kind.

I join in the tribute he paid to the work of the National Ports Council and, in particular, to the work and leadership of its Chairman, Sir Arthur Kirby. I am glad that the Minister will continue to have the Council's advice, but we shall want a little more information about the policy framework in which the future loans are to be made. We quite understand that in the future there may be other arrangements, but the House is being asked to approve additional borrowing powers and we should like a little more information about the kind of structure of the ports industry in which the loans and grants will be made. Many of my hon. Friends with constituency involvements will want assurances that the amounts proposed will be adequate in the longer term for the considerable developments envisaged.

We certainly do not want to oppose or hold up the Bill, because we believe very much in the development of our ports. One of the achievements of the last Government was the increasing rate of investment in the ports industry. The Minister may cause one or two of his colleagues to raise their eyebrows at his rashness and precipitate speed in having the Second Reading today and the remaining stages of the Bill on Friday, but we shall not object, because we do not want the modernisation of the ports to be held up.

The matter was well summed up by Sir Arthur Kirby at the Press conference at which he introduced the Annual Report of the National Ports Council on 7th July, when he said: We make the point in the Report that, apart altogether from any reorganisation, a phase in port development and planning is coming to fruition. This is the phase during which major works have been undertaken to modernise port facilities which had remained little changed for several decades. One can now say that our ports have the tools which are required to provide a service fully up to modern standards, and all that now remains is for them to get on with the job; and getting on with the job will be largely a matter of resolving labour problems in cargo handling. It is widely recognised that a great many capital works were undertaken in the past few years, and we want to do nothing that will hinder or delay that process.

But it is necessary to know what criteria will be applied when applications are made for loan approval when, as I am sure will happen, individual ports authorities and so on come forward with schemes that they think should have grants.

To get some guidance about Conservative thinking on the subject of the ports, I looked carefully at the document "A Better Tomorrow" which was issued as the Conservative manifesto. It said: We will prevent the waste of £76 million on the nationalisation of the ports. We will end the uncertainty hanging over both large and small ports by giving them the freedom to build in competition with each other but co-ordinated through a strong central authority". While one appreciates, as the Minister has said, that it would be premature for him to disclose today any of his thinking on the kind of structure for the industry, or the way in which grants and loans should be made in future, someone in the Conservative office should have given thought to this matter before those words appeared as the policy in the election campaign.

I hope that it is not the case that, having no regard to what they were likely to provide in the kitchen, the Conservatives just put this in the window as their most attractive menu to get people into the shop. It may well be that many people who bought the menu will find that they are getting quite a different diet from that which they contemplated. However, there should be some indication of what is meant by "co-ordinated through a strong central authority" and it would be helpful if we could be given some idea of the lines on which this policy is to develop.

I should like in parentheses to deal with this reference to £76 million. This was the most misleading statement made by the Conservatives in the election, and that is saying a great deal. There was to be no payment on the implementation of public ownership of the ports. The £76 million was to provide for three elements. About £50 million was for the acquisition of the port businesses, which by common consent are the profitable part of the industry. The then Opposition bitterly opposed the acquisition of these businesses, which are clearly the remunerative part of the industry. Another £20 million was to be spent on the acquisition of the Manchester Ship Canal Company. Although I did not accept it, the whole of the Opposition's criticism was that we were acquiring those shares at less than their true value. The small residual sum was to be spent on acquiring the Bristol port, again at a figure which the then Opposition argued was too low a valuation.

The whole of the £76 million was for items which the Conservative Party said we were acquiring at less than their proper value. It could not have been a waste of public money, but a prudent investment on behalf of the British people, who would have acquired assets in ports which, by the standards of the Conservatives, were being acquired at less than the proper market price—although I do not accept that it was less than the proper market price. It was extremely misleading to say in the manifesto that this was a waste of £76 million.

We are here considering what may amount to large sums of public money without being given any guidance as to the policy and the steps to supervise the expenditure and to ensure the increasing efficiency of the ports industry. I know of no one knowledgeable about ports who is content with the present situation. Clearly, if the Conservative manifesto means anything, it means that the Conservative Party, at least in the pre-election situation, shared that opinion. The speeches of both the Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend, the present Minister of Housing and Local Government, indicated that that was their view. While I understand the pressure of time, I hope that going back to the Harbours Act, 1964, does not suggest that no changes are desired.

The recent report of the National Ports Council put the matter extremely clearly. In operations under the Harbours Act and in the loans presumably to be made under these new provisions, I hope that the Minister will be guided by the advice of the National Ports Council, which makes it clear what difficulties it has had in discharging its duty over the years. In paragraph 5 of its Report it said: The Council, not being responsible for the financial results of port authorities, have not thought it right in assessing a potential successful profitable scheme at one port to weigh against the scheme any possible losses of revenue which might result at another port. Indeed, without any definite national plan, each scheme had to be considered on its individual merit. Furthermore, since the Council were not in a decisive capacity, no other course was practically possible. The report went on: The Council have always been conscious of their limited responsibility, especially in the field of industrial relations and they would subscribe to the view that the present organisation of the industry cannot in the national context he wholly satisfactory on a longterm basis. They are satisfied, therefore, that there is a case for a more effective form of national organisation. It is all to the good that the setting up of an N.P.A. will do much to remove the anomalies and unsatisfactory limitations within which the Council have had to operate without executive powers or responsibilities. We are therefore bound to ask the Government for some guidance on their view of the future of the industry. Although we had protracted debates in Committee, the attitude of the Parliamentary Secretary and his hon. Friends was always one of opposition, and we had no indication of the kind of organisation of the industry which they would like.

I remain convinced that the principles underlying the previous Government's Bill were right and that we will not get a satisfactory organisation in the ports unless we deal with them on three basic principles: public ownership, the acquisition of not merely the ports authorities, but the port businesses; and the introduction of an element of worker participation in the management of the industry.

As is well known, all the ports to have been taken over—and this would apply to any system for creating a strong central body—are public trust or public bodies with no element of private ownership. The exceptions are the Manchester Ship Canal Company, which is a privately-owned company, although much of the drive and the finance derive from Manchester Corporation, and Bristol, a local authority. The major ports are all in some form of public ownership, but not a publicly accountable form of ownership and not with a structure conducive to efficient management. Certainly there is not the cohesion between various public trust bodies which is clearly necessary if one is to get a plan for the new capital developments for which loans and grants may be required, or anything else.

Therefore, while I personally believe in public ownership and welcome the opportunity to extend its sphere, I do not have a doctrinaire view that it is always the solution to a particular problem. The real doctrinaire people these days are those who oppose any proposal with an element of public ownership simply because it has that element. Now that the party opposite have achieved office, I would plead with the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend to try to consider the merits of a new scheme of organisation and put aside the political prejudices which they might have had when they went through the doors of St. Christopher's House.

Second, it is essential in any reorganisation—this may be equally applicable to the public money by way of grants or approval of loans for the ports—that the Ports Authority should manage and operate the ports business. A good deal of the industrial relations problems with which we are all familiar in this industry, together with the very serious financial situation of a number of our leading harbour authorities, stems from the fact that the profitable part of the cargo handling business was often in private hands, while the public body was providing the harbour facilities.

We were frequently given in our debates—we may hear it again today—the example of Manchester's success in terms of industrial relations and their financial record, as compared with a number of other ports. The real moral of Manchester was not, unfortunately, taken by the party opposite. The real difference between Manchester and the other ports is that in Manchester there is a single employer and not the plethora of port businesses which give difficulty to management—

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

I am listening intently to what my right hon. Friend is saying about Manchester, but I cannot allow to pass his reference to good industrial relations. Unfortunately they do not exist in that port; I was hoping that public ownership would have considerably improved them.

Mr. Mulley

In the ports industry, as in most others, all these things are relative. Over the last decade in Manchester, there has possibly been less difficulty, because of the single employer concept, than in a number of other ports. I was thinking of Liverpool and London by comparison. But I agree that public ownership would have assisted the general climate of opinion.

That, of course, brings me to the third point—the importance of workers participating, as I propose they should, in the management of our ports. This is not the time for a long dissertation on the subject, but I believe that, in the long run, British industry of all kinds and at all levels must pay much more regard to bringing in workers—not merely by way of negotiating about hours and wages, but so that they are part of and understand all the problems of management. The experiment proposed in the Ports Bill should be preserved and built on in any reorganisation of the ports industry of the future. For historical reasons, the ports are a particular example of where this experiment should be tried and where I think it would have succeeded, although I concede that the same underlying arguments can be applied to other industries as well.

Certainly, before we decide to approve the Bill—I urge my hon. Friends not to oppose it, since I am sure that the Minister is right in saying that the amount of loans for which there is parliamentary approval is near to running out, and we do not want to delay the legislation—we should like to have a little more knowledge of the kind of ports industry envisaged, the kind of criteria which will be applied.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, who has been extremely eloquent on this subject in the past, will do what, understandably, his Minister could not do—give us a preview of the statement of Government policy in this field. If for any reason that is not possible, I am sure that, in deciding to conduct a bitter battle against my Ports Bill, they had at least thought what kind of industry they wanted before they went with a prospectus to the British people, and did not just write in these words to fill up the page—[Interruption.] The Parliamentary Secretary laughs, but I hope that we shall have some explanation of the cryptic phrase "co-ordinated through a strong central authority".

If we can get those assurances, obviously we shall be very interested, but if we cannot have a complete statement today, it would be of great interest and help not only to us but, I am sure, to the whole industry and the people in the ports, to know when a definitive statement of Government policy here will be made. With that, I invite my hon. Friends to give a Second Reading to the Bill.

4.26 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

Considering that we are a maritime nation, we have been strangely neglectful of our ports and harbours. My own constituency is entirely composed of islands, which necessarily depend entirely on sea transport, yet even at this date there are several without any port or harbour or even a pier.

I was interested in what the Minister said about the development of vehicle ferries across the Irish Sea, because that is also a matter which should have been tackled long ago in the North of Scotland across the Pentland. I appreciate that it does not come directly under the Bill or the Minister's responsibility, but he clearly has an interest in all these kinds of maritime communications. I hope for some indication that the Government will, as a matter of urgency, examine not only the trans-ocean communications but those within the British Isles itself.

It is common form, when a Bill of this sort is presented, to ask whether it is enough, but it is a very pertinent question in regard to certain developments which are likely in the near future. The Minister said that we must not take this as necessarily laying down the lines of Government policy, that they might in- troduce new legislation to deal with the whole question of ports and harbours. I appreciate that, but this is an occasion to draw their attention to the situation in Scotland.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned three developments in Scotland—the improvements to the entrance of Leith Harbour, the new lock at Grangemouth and the extensions to the container port on the Clyde. It is a strange fact that, at the moment, in spite of the amount of deep water which surrounds Scotland, particularly on the West, there is only one place at which a medium-sized passenger liner can tie up in normal circumstances, and that is under the command of N.A.T.O. and therefore generally unavailable. This is something of a reflection on our failure to develop deep sea routes.

Second, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with the developments which are either being undertaken or about to be undertaken on the Forth? There is no doubt that masters of vessels have experienced difficulty in getting into the new basin at Leith, although it has not been built very long. What is the draft of vessels which it is expected now will be accommodated either at Grangemouth or at Leith?

The Grangemouth lock is almost on its last legs, and the question is whether the new one will be big enough to take the type of vessel which will want to use that rapidly expanding port. This links up with the general question of what has been called the "land bridge"—that is, the possibility of landing bulk cargoes on the West of Scotland, transporting them across land and shipping them to Europe from the East Coast ports. This is already happening to some extent. The container port on the Clyde is invaluable in this respect. It is the best container port in Britain because it is the one which can be most easily approached. The lower reaches of the Clyde are not overcrowded with shipping and there is plenty of deep water in which to manœuvre, which is the essential feature of a container port. If there are delays in getting to it, the advantage of quick loading and unloading disappears.

The Minister said that this port was to be extended. I take it that there is to be an extension of the face of the container port to enable it to take bigger ships or two ships at once. But there is the very important matter of access to the container port. As the Minister well knows, the idea of container ports is that the cargoes are assembled inland. Greenock is not a very easy place to get to. If the container port is to be used to the maximum, it will not be enough to improve the face of the jetty. The whole system of communications will have to be expanded and improved, together with expansion of the port. This links up with the question of whether the Government are giving thought to the concept of bulk cargoes and large cargoes being landed on the West of Scotland and taken across land and, if so, what type and size of ship will use the Forth.

My next question relates to the general situation in the North of Scotland, an area in which there are many places with deep, sheltered waters. Scapa Flow, in my constituency, is an obvious place and there are others all down the West Coast. The oil port at Finnart is already making use of a very sheltered loch in which there is very deep water. I am told that the future of sea traffic to Europe will make this type of facility extremely valuable. Not only are the Continental ports overcrowded and very limited, particularly in draught, but even the Channel is becoming a very difficult piece of water for very large ships. There will be an increasing tendency for these ships to transfer their loads in less crowded waters and the West Coast of Scotland is a place where this might increasingly be done.

There is also the question of our possible entry to the Common Market. It would be disastrous if this meant that there will be an immense increase in the traffic going to the South of England and out of Dover and the Port of London and other Channel ports. It is very necessary to consider our direct links with the Continent. The area with which I am particularly concerned is Scotland, but the situation must be the same in the North-East of England. Even with the improvements, I should not have thought that Grangemouth and Leith offered very good facilities looking to the future. I do not wish to criticise them, but only now are they being brought up to reasonable standards. I do not know how far the Minister will be able to assure us that he has looked ahead so as to ensure that they are in a position to cope with the traffic which might arise were we to enter the Common Market.

Going north of that, there are Dundee and Aberdeen principally which no doubt are excellent ports in their way, but if we go into the Common Market there may be a considerable increase in trade—for instance, in beef—from the North-East of Scotland which should be taken direct to the Continent, with cargoes being brought back from Rotterdam and other places to Scotland.

It is legitimate to raise these questions on this Bill because this is the first indication which we have had of the Government's thinking about the development of the ports and sea transport. If they are contemplating introducing other legislation, I urge them to remember the situation in Scotland and the great opportunities and problems which almost certainly will arise in the very near future. I am glad to say that considerable use is already being made of the Clyde and the improvements on the Forth, but, to my mind, greater expansion could take place. Therefore, while I support the Bill and the extra £50 million to which it refers—and that is not a firm sum;—it is only a limit—it is not such a great sum when we consider what needs to be done, not only in Scotland's ports, but in ports all round the country if we are to remain in the forefront of world trade.

4.35 p.m.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

I crave the indulgence of the House so that I may embark on the ritualistic ordeal associated with maiden speeches which I hope will be neither too lengthy nor too boring.

Commander Pursey, whom I have the honour to succeed, made a distinct impression during his 25 years' service in the House. He was an orphan who joined the Royal Navy as a rating where his ability was quickly recognised. He was promoted eventually to the rank of commander—a considerable achievement in those days. This experience, combined with a period in journalism when he wrote on naval affairs, gave him an unparalleled range of experience and detailed knowledge of naval matters, from anchors and chains to the broader philosophy of naval policy. He was able to use this to great effect in debates in the House on naval matters. Divorced of personal ambition, he sought to use his skill and energy to improve the lot of those less fortunate. Many will remember his efforts on behalf of orphans in the debates on the Royal Naval School for orphans at Greenwich.

The House may not fully appreciate the extent of Commander Pursey's constituency work, which included his efforts, against tremendous opposition, in bringing about the raising of the banks of the River Hull, whose continual flooding caused a great deal of anxiety and misery to people in the East Hull constituency. He was both colourful and controversial, and his presence will be sorely missed in the House.

Kingston upon Hull is the home of Britain's largest port. It is third in the value of tonnage handled and is surrounded by a diversity of industries of national and international repute. Their importance has been recognised by the number of awards which have recently been made to them for their export performance.

Hull is equally renowned for its advance health and welfare services, well-established comprehensive education and architecturally-awarded council housing estates built by its own direct-labour department. They are the evidence of the foresight and planning of a post-war Labour local authority.

However, Hull's greatest asset is its people whose warm Yorkshire hospitality and generosity and shrewd judgment of character and appreciation of value are universally renowned. Never was this so amply demonstrated than in the recent General Election when the Labour candidate was elected with no evidence of the national swing against the Labour Party. I like to think that this was due to the personal qualities of the candidate, although I am prepared to accept that the advent of Hull's first 12 months of rule by a Tory council since before the war in which rents were raised from £3 to £9 a week played no small part.

Kingston upon Hull has a consistent record of electing Members with seagoing experience and understanding. As long ago as 1890, it offered Samuel Plimsoll the opportunity to represent it in this House. Commander Pursey served his period in the Royal Navy, whereas I served for 10 years as a seaman rating in the Merchant Service. In fact, I am the first seaman sponsored by the National Union of Seamen to be elected to the House. Of that I am particularly proud. I will endeavour to put the point of view of the British seafarer and that of the East Hull constituents, many of whom are seamen, particularly on legislation affecting the welfare of seafarers and the shipping industry. Indeed, I shall be pressing the Government to implement legislation to correct many of the faults which have been made obvious in the recent Reports of the Rochdale Committee of Inquiry into shipping, the Pearson Inquiry and the more recent safety report.

May I also advise the Government that the seamen sincerely hope that they will honour the promise of the previous Government, who in their much-awaited reform of the Merchant Shipping Acts promised to review the penal clauses within a three-year period. The seamen will not tolerate those penal clauses remaining in the Acts. I hope that the Government will take due note of this, particularly as this was the running sore which led to the problem of the 1966 strike.

It is fortunate and appropriate that I have been given the opportunity to make my maiden speech on a Bill directly affecting the future of Hull. No constituency is so dependent on the future growth and development of its port. Much of the local industry is in some way or other, directly or indirectly, associated with the development of a transport economy and the port of Hull.

The port covers seven miles of river bank, 12 miles of quays and 11 docks. The new £7 million container berth, which is evidence of its desire for greater trade, was recently opened by Her Majesty the Queen. It is situated on a major undeveloped estuary, recommended for consideration as a maritime industrial development area, ideally suited as the gateway to Europe and serviced by canals which transport over 50 per cent. of its exports and imports to the industrial heart of the Midlands and Yorkshire. It enjoys a potential not unlike that of Rotterdam 10 years ago. The Port of Hull has all the assets but is prevented from success, like Cinderella, by her ugly sisters, represented in this case by the lack of capital and imaginative co-ordinated planning.

The Government could go some way in using their powers to raise the loans referred to in the Bill to correct some of the glaring examples of the failure to co-ordinate the overall planning of a port system and an overall transport network. Ports are purely the links between internal transport systems and sea transport systems. These sectors are part of a vertically integrated industrial system in which each part is vital to the operation of the whole.

Failure to appreciate that important principle has led to the building in Hull of a container berth which is required to pay for itself without the essential requirement of a container crane. Indeed, the Rochdale inquiry into the docks, reporting in 1962, pointed out in paragraph 280 of its Report that the ports of railway origin, of which Hull is one, should provide a choice of transport. Those who have taken the decisions concerning the development of Hull's port have taken this extremely literally and have proceeded to rip up all the railway lines on the dock, losing the vital traffic of coal and timber and providing no rail line on the new container port, which is one of the essentials of a container transportation system, resulting in the rundown of the railway and the shutting of workshops. The excuse which is continually given for these activities is a rundown of traffic, which is the direct result of faulty planning decisions. We have recently heard that a restriction is to be placed upon the freightliner centre, which is situated on the wrong side of the city. We are now, apparently, to lose or to have the freightliner services very much restricted. We shall certainly be saying something about this to the Minister.

The Port of Hull is serviced by, possibly, one of the worst road systems facing any port in the country. We will be pressing to have something done about the infrastructure, which includes the roads, on which the Government were elected. We hope to enjoy the benefit of road works. It is essential that we have immediate access to the industrial hinterland, from where we must draw the cargoes for the very survival and expansion of the port.

In 1962, Lord Rochdale recommended the provision of a bridge crossing the river and said that this should be provided if the Midlands continued to expand and exports to Europe continued to develop. Both these things have happened. We therefore look to the Government to make a definite statement about a Humber bridge, which is essential to regional development and to the port.

In giving the Minister that advice, however, I must confess that it would fail to meet the essential ingredient which has been so lacking in the past: that is, developed, co-ordinated planning, which could be envisaged only by a National Ports Authority with executive powers. In presenting the Bill, the Government have made it clear that, as they promised, they intend to reject the essential provisions that were embodied in the previous Government's Bill and were designed to tackle the fundamental problems facing port development.

I should, therefore, like to point out to the Government that in their consideration of the alternatives, they should give due weight to the innate conservatism which bolsters traditional attitudes with little prospect of change among those who have mismanaged this vital sector of our economy. To my mind, this can be changed only by a fundamental reorganisation of the industry, beginning with public ownership and accompanied by the implementation of industrial democracy, so that the vast knowledge and experience of the port workers are fully utilised and there is a breaking-down of authoritarian management's attitude which is typical of both ports and shipping industries.

It is no coincidence that the criticisms made of the port industry by Lord Rochdale in his 1962 Report on the ports were followed and repeated almost word for word by the recent Rochdale Inquiry on shipping. Both industries are fragmented by both growth rates and the multiplicity of ownership, documents and procedures, contributing to their visible decline, and accompanied by bad industrial relations and low wages for dock workers until they were recently changed by a Labour Government.

It is not my intention to discuss the present dispute, which is a further manifestation of the organisation of these industries. It should be noted by the Government that almost exactly the same problems are peculiar to both docks and shipping and, I suggest, for exactly the same reason. Both have a history of casual labour, controlled in the supply by the employer, disciplined by means of fines and penalties, plagued by a higher record of occupational accidents and deaths and further soured by the lack of welfare facilities and amenities. The means of trade union representation through shop stewards, so fiercely resisted by both these industries, has only recently been implemented.

As labour has become less cheap, both industries have found means of securing cheaper labour, with the exploitation of Asiatic seamen for shipping and, in the case of the Port of Hull, by the diversion of cargoes to fly-by-night non-registered ports such as Flixborough, Howden Dyke, New Holland and Whitby, using cheap labour, unsafe working practices and little capital investment which is required by the major ports to develop.

The Rochdale Inquiries on both ports and shipping found that one of the cardinal reasons explaining the failure of both these industries could be traced to the general low quality of management in those sectors. This has recently been confirmed ten years later in the Report on shipping. Private management has visibly failed in both these important sectors of our economy.

The only solution is to take both industries into public ownership in the interests of the nation. As a first step in regard to the docks, I suggest that the Government should implement Sir Arthur Kirby's recent suggestion to rid the docks of the private employers and go on further, I hope, to take the docks into public ownership. Those are the only sort of actions that will solve the major problems in both docks and shipping.

4.50 p.m.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Poplar)

It is always a pleasure for a veteran Member of this House to offer congratulations to a new Member. Those which I offer to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) are not merely the conventional expressions that are normal on these occasions. All who heard him will agree that his speech, on its merits, had he been a Member of 10 or 20 years' standing, would have commanded the attention of the House, combining, as it did, the fruits of personal practical experience and manifestly a good deal of research, with not a little wit.

It is one of our traditions that maiden speeches are not controversial. Whatever right hon. and hon. Gentlemen may think, I did not find my hon. Friend's speech in the least controversial, in the sense that I could not detect a single syllable from which I would dissent. I express, with more than conventional warmth, the conventional wish that we shall often hear my hon. Friend in our debates. I hope to have him for long with me in the battle which we on these benches will conduct to reverse the Government's policies for the ports and eventually, I am sure, successfully go back to a Ports Bill similar to, but rather better than, the one which died with the Dissolution.

I should like to associate myself with the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) in extending a welcome and congratulations to the Minister. If we must have a Tory Government, I can put up with the right hon. Gentleman sitting there. We all knew him in the last Parliament and in previous Parliaments as a cheerful, swashbuckling back bencher. Many a buckle have I swashed against him, and the two of us have thoroughly enjoyed it.

I look forward with some trepidation to discovering whether his sharp, sometimes mordant, but always delightful, wit has its edges nibbled away by the cares of office. Indeed, I am sorry to say that I detected today, in the way that he ploughed through his brief without any of his past cracks, a certain unfortunate departure from his quondam effervescence into a ponderous solemnity. Without any personal unkindness, I hope that he will soon be back in his old place so that he can be cheerful again and enjoy himself as much as in the past.

As my right hon. Friend said, during the last Parliament the Conservative Party's only policy with regard to the essential port transport industry was purely negative. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite did not like what the Labour Government were proposing to do. They said so fairly in clear and often strong terms. But at no stage did they ever suggest, by a single scintilla of information, what alternative they would put in place of the policy which they were condemning.

I saw a television programme about the docks last night. Taking part was a gentleman who was described as the spokesman of the Conservative Party. The Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary seem surprised. So was I. I wondered why one of them had not been chosen as the spokesman of the Conservative Party. Doubtless that is not their fault. However, this gentleman more or less admitted in terms that the Conservative Party had no policy. He said that they had now got to sit down and think out a policy.

That is not a great deal different from what the right hon. Gentleman said today. He said that he did not want to anticipate the results of a long look that they will have at the problems of the industry. I think that this is nonsensical. We do not need any research into the industry to discover what its problems are.

Over the last 15 years the industry has had more commissions, committees of inquiry, investigations and publication of facts than any other industry, except possibly crime and psephology. Apart from those two matters, this is our most investigated industry. It has been dug up by the roots more times than I can count, and exposed to public gaze.

In the decade from 1956 to 1966 there were five major and two minor inquiries into the industry. Out of that lot the Rochdale and Devlin Reports between them provided a completely comprehensive review of the industry. That review has since been up-dated by the successive Annual Reports of the National Ports Council, by the reports of many specialised studies commissioned by the National Ports Council, and by one which was commissioned by the British Transport Docks Board. They have been up-dated by the work of the Modernisation Committee, and recently we have had the Bristow Report.

It does not say much for the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that in their years in opposition they could not find time to study all this factual material and they are now starting from scratch with a blank sheet of paper to find out about the port transport industry and what to do about it.

Unfortunately, the industry's problems cannot brook this delay. If we had time, I would say to the right hon. Gentleman, "God-speed with your studies". But we have not got the time. There are crucial, urgent problems in the industry which will not brook the leisurely studies of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. For one thing, while the Government are taking a year or so to do their highly belated homework, our competitors in the continental ports are not standing still. A great deal of research, development and new technological expertise is being put in. While the Government are enjoying their homework, we shall be falling further behind.

One thing that is universally agreed, whatever else we may differ about, is that the industry cannot carry on as it is now. That is manifestly obvious. Everybody knows it to be so. The trade unions in the industry know it to be so. The port employers know it to be so. Most of them were not only reconciled to the coming of nationalisation, but were positively welcoming it as providing a solution to problems with which they could not cope. That was true of most of the port employers, including the chairman of their association who is their spokesman in the current wage negotiations.

The most authoritative body in the industry, the National Ports Council, has said in the clearest terms that the industry cannot continue as it is. The Minister paid tribute to the Council. So did my right hon. Friend. I ask the Minister to remember that there are more years of experience in the port transport industry represented on that Council than he has days of experience in the industry. He really ought to take note when the Council says that there have to be fundamental changes and goes on to say, with becoming and fair modesty and clear understanding, that it is not competent to make the necessary changes. The Council has said more clearly than anyone else that its powers and functions are inadequate to cope with the industry's problems.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has read the Council's Annual Report for 1969, which was published last week, from which my right hon. Friend quoted one or two passages. That Report not only underlines some of the major defects in the industry, but it also lists a number of ways in which the Council expected those defects to be remedied by the coming of public ownership which, it says, could have been remedied only by the kind of National Ports Authority provided for in the Labour Government's Ports Bill.

The language of the National Ports Council could not possibly be clearer. There is one passage in the report—my right hon. Friend quoted part of it, but I must quote it again—which encapsulates the whole thing. The report says: … the present organisation of the industry cannot in the national context be wholly satisfactory on a long-term basis. They are satisfied, therefore, that there is a case for a more effective form of national organisation It is all to the good that the setting up of an N.P.A."— this was written before the General Election— will do much to remove the anomalies and unsatisfactory limitations within which the Council have had to operate without executive powers or responsibilities. I have never made a speech as strong as that in favour of the nationalisation of the ports, and certainly I have never made one as authoritative and as convincing as that passage.

I want to refer specially to four problems in the industry at which the Minister ought to have a close look, because these are problems at which the Council has had a close look and which it says are not being coped with, and show no signs of being coped with.

The first is one which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, and that is overall planning, including the overall planning of the capital expenditure, for which the right hon. Gentleman is taking powers in the Bill to raise the money. The report says, and again my right hon. Friend quoted one bit of this passage: The Council would be the last to claim that what they have done"— the Council sets out what it has done, and takes some justifiable pride in it— adds up to a national ports plan.… Since the Council were not in a decisive capacity no other course was practically possible. By contrast, a National Ports Authority will have to be decisive. The second of those four points concerns the important development called M.I.D.A.s, the maritime industrial development areas which, if they are carried out properly, may make a really startling contribution to economic growth in this country. This is the concept of a major industrial area linked to a large port, with, nearest the port, primary industries taking off the raw materials from bulk carriers at the port, and behind them secondary industries using the raw materials from the primary industries. There is a whole chapter about M.I.D.A.s in the Council's report, and it has something very clear to say: In the longer term the studies of the M.I.D.A.s concept may result in advance provision for large industries, but in the shorter term the offer of adequate capacity will depend upon the liveliness and forward looking planning of the port boards, stimulated by a National Ports Authority … There are not now to be ports boards. There is not now to be a National Ports Authority. What does the right hon. Gentleman propose to do to carry forward this important development of the maritime industrial development areas?

The third of the four points concerns research, and again the Council describes what it is doing, and the limitations upon what it is doing. Having done that, the Council admits freely: … there remain wide gaps to be filled, not least because of the Council's limited rôle in relation to personnel in the ports. The Council cannot solve the problem; nor would the problem be solved, the Report makes clear, if we change the National Ports Council into a National Ports Authority with wider powers, because the report says that, whether it is a council or an authority, it cannot fully carry out research unless it has an executive relationship and a control relationship with the chaps who work in the ports. The Council can do the pure research, but the most important part of the research is the applied research, and the council cannot do that in the laboratory. It can do it only in the docks, but it cannot do it in the docks with its own personnel. The Council do it only with the dock managements and dock workers, and it cannot instruct the dock managers and workers to carry out any research work on its behalf.

Fourth, and last, is the problem to which my right hon. Friend referred, and which I suspect will crop up again in the debate, that of labour relations. Nobody can doubt that labour relations all round in the port transport industry leave a great deal to be desired. Nobody can doubt that something must be done about them, and on this I propose again to quote shortly from the Council's report. The Council thinks, as I do, that this is the most important problem facing the industry; the one which needs to be solved, because unless it is none of the other developments such as technical training, research, capital investment and planning will get us very far.

Referring to the Bill of the last Session, the Council says: … the Bill dealing with the acquisition of port businesses within the nationalised sector … carries with it the possibility of the most important change of all, the development of a new framework for the employment of labour in the industry … That is the most important problem facing the industry at the moment. That is particularly the case because of the structural changes in the labour force and the huge rundown in the labour force due to technical developments, and here I make possibly my last quotation from the report, because we ought to learn a lot from these experienced gentlemen on this Council.

The report says: The Council are not equipped with powers to plan manpower recruitment, selection and development for the industry but they are nevertheless aware that this is one of the most intransigent problem areas … Indeed, with some 25 per cent. of the industry's managers, 30 per cent. of its foremen and supervisors and nearly 30 per cent. of its dock workers over the age of 55 … it is apparent that it will be necessary to establish planned recruitment and management development policies if the industry is to develop a well-balanced labour force in the next quarter-century …. The lack of a recognised career structure throughout the docks … is a constant handicap to mutual understanding. The Council suggest that only an organisation with greater powers to set standards than they possess at the present time will be able to make the real progress needed. To my mind that is the most important thing that the Ports Bill was about. That was the most important element in the Bill. That was the most important element in the previous Government's policy for the port transport industry, and I think that as a concomitant of that we should have been able, through the development of participation procedures, to get into a position of substituting participation for autocracy, and co-operation for conflict.

The only thing that saddened me about the long Committee stage on the Ports Bill, during which I had one or two battles with the Parliamentary Secretary—it was a good Committee stage; we had our bash-about, but that is what we were there for—was that the Opposition, as they then were, were so hostile to the Bill that it seemed to me at times that they were arguing for the maintenance of conflict rather than the creation of co-operation.

I remember the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor), who has now been translated into a different plane in heaven but who was then a very active member of the Committee, saying: Strong, powerful, trade unions should have the right to advance their own interests in their own traditional ways, using traditional weapons, disciplines and responsibilities. I agree with every word of that. The hon. Gentleman went on to define what he meant by "traditional weapons". He referred to: consultation, negotiation, strikes … from time to time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D; 19th March, 1970, c. 1355–1356.] Later, the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) said the same thing. If we have a strike this week—if our hopes for tomorrow's meeting are dashed—whoever can complain about it it cannot be the hon. Member for Cathcart or the hon. Member for Tavistock, because that is the sort of thing that they seemed to be urging.

I agree that we must have a strong trade union movement, using its traditional weapons, but it is a pity that we could not at least, in 1970, start to see to what extent we can limit the use of those weapons and create a situation in which the need to use them is lessened.

If through this delay in making their study—if, through doctrinal obstinacy, ignorance or inaction—the Government allow the present uncertainties, inefficiency and frictions in the ports to go on, they will bear a very grave burden of guilt.

5.12 p.m.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)

This Bill asks for the authorisation to spend money. As Members of Parliament we are entitled to ask for what purposes the money will be spent. It would seem that in terms of policy the cupboard is bare. The Tory Party, as usual, seems intent on retaining the inefficient and inadequate system still to be found in the ports industry. There is still some truth in what Sir Arthur Kirby said in March, 1965, namely, that To anyone making no more than a cursory study of the ports it must surely seem that if we had set out to devise the most difficult way to work our ports we could not have succeeded better than the existing state of affairs. I point to the Labour Party policy document, presented by a body of which my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) was chairman. In passing, I would point out that my hon. Friend's expertise on these matters is now recognised throughout our ports. Paragraph 3 of the document reads: The industry has been shaped by historical accident rather than economic planning and this has resulted in some startling anomalies:

  1. A. Various types of port ownership.
  2. B. A marked difference in the powers and constitutions of the port authorities.
  3. C. A fragmentation of responsibility for port functions.
  4. D. A multiplicity of agencies and documents at every stage of port life.
  5. E. The maintenance of a system of casual employment."
That seems to be the situation even now, despite certain improvements made in the past five years.

I was one of those hon. Members who spent no fewer than 94 hours in Standing Committee on the Ports Bill, which was an attempt to bring a measure of rationality to the ports industry. It was essentially a mild Measure, but it attempted to tackle the difficulties to which Sir Arthur Kirby has so often referred. Those of us who supported the Bill were nevertheless attacked from time to time as Maoists, as Trotskyists, as wanting worker soviets, and so on. To my way of thinking those attacks portrayed the Tory mind, which has never advanced beyond the nineteenth century.

I venture to suggest that if the Bill had become law our ports industry today could look forward to a much brighter and more confident future, as could all the workers employed in the ports. Our economy would certainly have been better if the Bill had become law. I also venture to suggest that if it had become law the present dispute would have been headed off long before now.

In opening the debate the Minister of Transport indicated that there was no policy vacuum. In other words, he indicated that it was merely a case of "back to 1964". Just over a week ago we had the report of the National Ports Council which, in paragraph 20, said—referring to the content of the Bill: The Council have always been conscious of their limited responsibility especially in the field of industrial relations and they would subscribe to the view that the present organisation of the industry cannot in the national context be wholly satisfactory on a long-term basis. They are satisfied, therefore, that there is a case for a more effective form of national organisation. To a large extent that was what the Ports Bill was about. This small Bill makes no attempt to tackle the difficulties of the industry; it merely asks for a blank cheque. But spending money will not necessarily improve industrial relations—a factor that is essentially the crux of the problems facing the industry. What we need is, first, public ownership of the ports transport industry and, secondly, a major extension of the measure of industrial democracy that already exists in the running of the industry; and a building on the experience of 25 years of joint operation of the register and of discipline and of the Dock Labour Scheme.

From debates that I have heard on the port industry and from those in which I have participated—added to my experience on the Standing Committee of the Ports Bill—I have gained the impression that the Tory Party has little conception of the real problems facing the industry. Hon. Members opposite seem to be turning back to the days of Adam Smith. They call for competition, but cannot they see that there is a host of competition in terms of the ports on the other side of the Channel—such a short distance away? We are too small a country to be able to afford all these little tinpot concerns in our ports.

As a South Wales Member I noticed particularly that in his appointments to the Ministry of Transport the Prime Minister has appointed two West Country Members. Although I congratulate them on their appointment—

Mr. Orme

They are not here, so my hon. Friend cannot do that.

Mr. Hughes

—I wonder whether it is by accident or design. I am a little suspicious about these appointments. I see that the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) has just returned. I was about to ask whether the appointment of two West Country Members to the Ministry of Transport means the opening of the old vendetta between South Wales and the Port of Bristol. Of course, I appreciate that many promises have been made to the Port of Bristol for purely narrow electioneering purposes. Hardly a weekend went by in the months and years before the General Election without a senior Member of the Conservative Party being in Bristol and making these promises about development schemes for the port.

Therefore, is part of the money in the Bill to be allocated for a new form of Portbury scheme? I sincerely hope that there will not be a further attempt to play politics with our ports in the Bristol development. My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh), when Minister of Transport, went into this matter in detail and pointed out Bristol's lack of industrial hinterland and the fact that exports were generated within a very short radius of the port. I hope that the present Ministers will maintain the same level of impartiality.

Also, any tinkering with haphazard developments in the Bristol Channel could have grave effects on the long-term planning of the area. There is, of course the M I.D.A. site to be considered, because, together with Humberside, and the Thames and Medway area, the flats to the east and west of Newport was one of the three key areas to be considered for this type of project, which could provide undeveloped land for large-scale industry alongside deep water, so that the large carrier ships which are now in use could berth nearby. Nothing should be allowed to jeopardise such wonderful potential, even if it is essentially for the long term.

The Bill is essentially about money. I wanted to draw the Minister's attention to the situation in my part of Newport. There have been some technical difficulties with the lock gates which have necessitated a partial closure of the docks. It can receive only small ships at present and this has been the case for the last two months. From 1st August, the docks will be closed completely for three months for essential repairs. This brings important problems to the town and particularly to the port workers and their families. May we be assured that the cost will be no impediment to carrying out these repairs speedily, so that Newport docks can be reopened at an early date, to prevent long-term damage to its prospects?

Therefore, the new Tory Ministers have a very difficult job on their hands, particularly in persuading the people of South Wales that they are concerned about the welfare of the area. The people of South Wales have an abundance of experience to the contrary.

5.24 p.m.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

I am pleased to take part in this debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) has stated the Labour case very clearly in relation to the Ports Bill and this Bill, which is a financial memorandum for necessary payments. In fact, it is in place of the Ports Bill, which a Labour Government would have put on the Statute Book: that would have made this form of payment unnecessary and would have allowed much wider development in our ports.

I want to speak particularly about the Manchester Ship Canal, which, although it is called the Manchester Ship Canal runs mainly through the City of Salford, part of which I have the honour to represent. This issue raised a good deal of controversy in our debates on the Ports Bill and inspired the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) to make some of his most flamboyant speeches in defence of it as a bastion of private enterprise within the National Ports Authority. In fact, as my right hon. Friend said, the Manchester Ship Canal Company is composed of various facets, including Manchester Corporation and private shareholders.

The hare raised by the then Opposition about public ownership of the canal and the terms of compensation was out of all proportion to the facts. I received 400 letters from shareholders and, after sending them the Ministerial reply, I received not one complaint from any of the shareholders who had sent to me the photostat letter with which the company had supplied them.

I have recently talked to the dockers who work on the Manchester Ship Canal. When my right hon. Friend was talking about labour relations in the docks, which are vitally important, and are highlighted by the present negotiations, he referred to the industrial relations in Manchester. As I said, that is only relative, because the dockers on the Manchester Ship Canal are very disturbed about industrial relations. This can be confirmed by my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) who visited the port only recently and spoke with all his authority to several hundred dockers, who impressed upon me and my hon. Friend the fact that the urgent need for ports nationalisation was not just to improve the economic structure and the method of production and use of the ports but also the industrial relations, which had deteriorated to such an extent. The present cavalier action of the Manchester Ship Canal Company is deprecated by the port employees, and I was hoping that the Ports Bill would have eradicated this.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) made a distinguished maiden speech. It is often said that maiden speeches bring a breath of fresh air to the House. This one had a tang of the sea and the cutting edge of the North-East Coast. I am certain that many hon. Members opposite will feel that cutting edge in the months to come, when many of these issues will be much more fully debated.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister of Transport. Not long ago he was sitting in Opposition on the bench behind the one from which I am speaking and we frequently exchanged pleasantries, particularly when debating Finance Bills. I hope that his waspish sense of humour, if I may call it that, has not completely disappeared and that he will stand up well to the great pressure which my hon. Friends and I are bound to put on him in future about the ports industry.

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that time and again we shall return to the subject of rationalising and modernising this industry and the arguments for taking it into public ownership. It is on this industry that not only our exports but our whole economy depends. I hope the port workers will put as much pressure on the Government as they put on us when we were in office, though only when a Labour Government are back in power will all the vital changes that need to be made in this industry really be implemented. We are seeing the tip of the iceberg now. We warn the Minister that we shall be returning time and again to the fundamental and basic issue of the ports.

5.34 p.m.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston-upon-Hull, West)

My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo), being an old colleague of mine, will not mind my saying that I had the curious feeling as I listened to him that by some sort of levitation I was not in this Chamber but had been wafted on high up to the Committee Floor and was, in Room 10, listening to one of his speeches about port nationalisation. I enjoyed every word of it but we are really talking about the money that needs to be spent on the ports in the near future.

Seated near to me is my colleague and hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) who made an eloquent maiden speech. Maiden speeches are always sincere but they are by no means always so eloquent. He will be here long after I have left this House. He is a young man and can expect to be 20, 30 or 40 years in this place. After all, his seat is not only safe but cast iron safe. They do not count his votes. They shovel them in.

Commander Pursey used to be called a colourful and controversial figure. I am sure that many of the phrases which used to apply to Commander Pursey will in time be applied to our new colleague who represents Kingston-upon-Hull, East. After all, he is the first hon. Member on this side to be upon the sponsored panel of his union. Years ago we had Havelock Wilson—not on our benches.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) widened the debate somewhat by speaking of Britain being a maritime nation. I intervened earlier to mention something that affects not only my constituency but all fishing areas. When I intervened the Minister could not answer me. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will speak on this topic later. I refer to the fact that the fishing docks do not have the capital expenditure which applies to other major docks.

In my part of the country, in Hull, we have the third biggest port. I welcome the fact that in the last five years the Government have spent £19 million on the Hull docks, including King George V dock and the Queen Elizabeth Dock. Our filleters and other fish dock workers do an excellent job and they are represented by my union, the General and Municipal.

As the fish dock workers engage in their daily tasks they are swept by northeasterly winds of gale force that blow off the North Sea. The Minister might look at these conditions in the fish docks and he will agree that facilities need bringing up-to-date. If we are a maritime nation, we are also a fishing nation. We have a magnificent fishing fleet but we do not have the on-shore facilities and conditions to match the new vessels mainly stern-fishers which we send out to catch fish.

Comment has been made on the Common Market. No estuary is better placed, by geography and oceanography, than the Humber from the point of view of supplying goods to and receiving goods from Common Market countries. We have Europe and the Baltic before us and we have our roll-on and roll-off container services available. We are an are par excellence from the Common Market point of view, and I hope that the Minister will pay us a visit. He will be extremely welcome, and he will see at first hand the favourable position which we occupy, though we need the good will and good services of the Government to expand as we should.

I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East about the siting of the freight terminal. In the West Hull constituency there are two cargo docks and a fish dock. Nevertheless, most of the cargo goods come into East Hull Docks beyond the Hull river. Although there is this freight terminal in my constituency, goods are landed on the other side of the river. Many of the railway lines have already been taken up. We have the ludicrous situation of timber and such like cargoes being docked in East Hull and having to be taken through the middle of the city, causing congestion to traffic and being taken further past West Hull to the Al and the Ml. This is a glaring example of inefficient and inadequate planning.

As a major port, we are the gateway to Europe, but we ask the Minister to consider particularly the fishing sector. Fleetwood, besides Hull, needs to be looked at as do Grimsby, Lowestoft and many Scottish ports.

Sir Arthur Kirby, of the National Ports Council, has been mentioned in this debate more than once. Whatever he says is worth listening to. I knew Arthur Kirby 20 years ago when he was in charge of docks, harbours and communications in East Africa and did a magnificent job, with the High Commission in what was formerly Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika. I commend to the Minister one thing that Sir Arthur has said. He has said that each port should have a single authority; none of this huggermugger of 10, 20, 50 or 80 employers, but a single employer.

At our fish dock at West Hull we have fish porters who are employed by the vessel owners whereas all the other port workers are registered by the docks board. We should like the new Minister to carry out the job which was suggested in the Committee on the defunct Ports Bill. The fish "bobbers" are members of my own union, the G.M.W.U., and they want to join in the same ports labour scheme that all the other dock workers enjoy in Hull. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will note this suggestion.

I make this most parochial speech quite unashamedly, because those of whom I speak are my people. I hope that the Minister will look at the physical conditions of all the fish docks in the United Kingdom and see that they get equality of treatment with the cargo docks. I also hope that he will give specific consideration to special terms of the working conditions of the fish "bobbers" of the dock in my constituency.

5.43 p.m.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

I believe this to be a unique occasion. It is the first time, and may be the last time, when all three Hull Members speak from the same side in the same debate and on the same subject. That is quite right and proper, because all our constituencies are linked with the port—with our lighterage, our commercial and fish docks, interests. It is therefore right that we should speak with a single voice about the problems affecting our own important port, but affecting also the port industry as a whole.

Before I develop my speech I have one observation to make which I am sure the Minister would have made had he now been on this side of the Chamber. With this particularly important industry, with its workers regarded, as the miners were regarded immediately after the war, as dangerously militant people in the industrial work force, with so much heated opposition in the last Parliament to the Ports Bill, we have not heard one backbencher opposite speak on this Measure. It is most regrettable.

I think of some of my friends who were replaced at the General Election—John Ellis, for instance, who represented Bristol, North-West, and others of my friends who represented Preston, Dover, Southampton and Ipswich. Competition then on the Government side to join in a debate was so keen that they would have wanted to intervene even for only a few minutes. Yet today not even the hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd) has spoken from the Government benches. This is typical of the attitude the Conservative Governments have taken towards the ports in the past, and I think that the present Government are likely to take the same attitude in the future.

The Bill meets existing commitments, and provides, as a holding operation for the next two years, a paltry £50 million—in order to have something in the kitty against whatever future commitments there may be. When we came into power in 1964 the average investment in the dock industry was about £18 million a year. By 1970 it had risen to £50 million—a considerable improvement. What we have not had yet is any indication from the Government of their future thinking on the ports. How do they see the ports develop? What is to be their principal function? My right hon. Friend said that all the Government could say about it was in "A Better Tomorrow"—and what a mixed up contradiction that was! What sort of competition do they envisage if there is a strong central authority in control? Where is the investment to go, and how is the industry to develop? We are entitled to know such things.

The Government, with all their talk, and with all the working parties and subcommittees which the Prime Minister set up, have come here on issue after issue with no set pattern for anything and, in particular, for something of such vital concern as the docks. We have a right to expect something better from the Government. When we were in Government, we did much to clear the relics of a bad industrial history. We were able to have serious talks on the second stage of the Devlin scheme, and we got rid of the casual nature of dock employment as a result of the 1966 Act, one of the most important Acts passed, which paved the whole way to modernisation, improved labour relations and modern techniques to be used in the docks. Until we got rid of casual labour we had an industrial jungle and could get nowhere.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) has said, the industry has a tremendous imbalance in its age structure, quoting Sir Arthur Kirby's report that we must get the register opened again for recruitment. But in present circumstances, dock workers will be suspicious of the effects of these new techniques on earnings and on their own prospects unless we have a definitive statement of what is to happen. We could then open the register and get the infusion of young people at all levels which will give us the proper age balance and the continuity we need. Instead, we have the Minister trying considerably to restrict the area of debate.

It is because of existing suspicion that we need a clear statement on the future of the employer-employee relationship. We must have a system in which there is only one employer. The 1966 Act went a long way to getting rid of many anomalies. Nevertheless, it had some important anachronisms and defects. For example, the sharing of workers between one employer and another can lead to industrial dispute and discontent in connection with the awarding of forms of work which attract different rates of pay.

These are some of the things which have to be met. They can be met only if we have one employer of labour, get to a realisation of stage 2 of the Devlin proposals, and get certainty in the docks now that the old Ports Bill has gone.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston up Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) made a notable maiden speech. I say that not only because I have to travel up and down the country with him by train every week, but because it is true. He has not only a wealth of experience, but the ability to get out very complex and difficult ideas so simply that even I can understand. That is a considerable ability and valuable not only for this House but for his constituents and people generally. Hon. Members may have been surprised at the quality of his maiden speech, but if they had listened to him as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) and I have done, they would not have been surprised.

My hon. Friend made the point about the use of unregistered ports for off-loading cargo and then the vessels being taken to registered ports for the rest of the cargo to be taken off. That is an abuse of public investment. It is using the publicly-owned ports as a convenience for the shipper of goods. We ought to make very strict regulations to ensure that ships should not be able to use publicly-owned ports and the facilities provided by the taxpayer purely as a convenience. Severe restrictions should be put on the use of ports where there is unregistered labour. It is not only an abuse of the taxpayer and of persons working in the docks. It affects their wages and employment. Very often these men are working for rates of pay considerably lower than registered workers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West spoke about the future of M.I.D.A.s. On this we ought to have a definitive statement from the Government. Although my hon. Friend extolled the virtues of Hull he left out one of the most important aspects—the estuary with its deep-water facilities, and the great advantages this has for an an expansion of an oil terminal and bulk ore cargo traffic. There is great need for an examination of the M.I.D.A.s idea particularly in relation to Humberside.

What is to be the future of our ports? Are they to be set in abrasive competition one against the other depending on from where the vested interest comes? Or are we to treat the whole of the United Kingdom as an enormous M.I.D.A.s. and use the limited resources we have as a nation in the best possible manner by planning, careful execution and building up of the infrastructure properly? This will be the keynote in the development of our docks in future. It was sadly lacking in the years up to 1964 and was only just beginning with the provisions of the Docks and Harbour Act of 1966 and the lamented Ports Bill of this year. It is something about which we shall have to know.

5.54 p.m.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) in his closing remarks touched on a theme I wish to develop, because I am primarily concerned with getting information. A matter of interest on which anyone might philosophise for a moment is how far back our thinking often is in relation to practice and how difficult it is to keep abreast of practice.

I recognise this among my colleagues in the Socialist movement. We like to think of ourselves as progressive in our thinking, but on many things our thinking is behind the practice which has developed about us. If I can say this about my hon. Friends I can say it with greater emphasis about hon. and right hon. Members opposite. Practice goes ahead despite us in many cases, certainly despite our understanding of that practice, while we keep reiterating the old theories and dogmas. I am rather afraid that hon. Members opposite will find themselves compelled time after time, despite what they think they believe, to act in ways contrary to those imagined beliefs. This will work out on the question of docks and harbours and what kind of national policy we are to pursue regarding harbour and dock facilities.

We must recognise that changes are taking place and have taken place which will certainly completely outmode the facilities which exist at present. If hon. Members opposite think that it is merely a question of setting harbour authority against harbour authority and that out of this general competition the best facilities will emerge for the country, they will very quickly find that they are completely out of date. It is already being found that as a nation we have to think of the relatively few points of entry and exit of the country and how best we can utilise the facilities we have—natural facilities or facilities which arise from the fact that certain areas are near to other areas.

I am thinking particularly of the Clyde estuary and the Forth estuary and their relationship to Scotland as a whole and also to the United Kingdom as a whole. I have not generated these thoughts out of my own head, but from what I have heard and seen it seems that there are certain natural advantages in that part of the United Kingdom which ought to be developed in the interests of the whole kingdom. I was happy that when the Minister listed some of the projects for which this Bill will enable money to be found he mentioned the container development on the Clyde estuary at Greenock. That has been a very successful venture. It started with facilities for one container ship but it was soon found that facilities were needed to enable two ships to come in together.

We have the facilities in terms of depth of water, sheltered water and no question of tides, and we have exceedingly good industrial relations there. Perhaps one should keep one's fingers crossed but for a very long time the industrial relations have been exceedingly good. There has been much expedition in the handling of ships and this has impressed the various shipping lines. One after another of the shipping lines have taken decisions to call regularly at this container port. So I was glad to hear that the Bill will enable the existing plans to be fulfilled.

These plans consist of more than the mere extension of the container berth facilities. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said that it is not just facilities at the docks. There is the problem of moving goods into the hinterland. One of the developments for which the Clyde Port Authority has pressed and received sanction is the development of the railway system to come right into the docks. I do not claim to be conversant with all the details, because it is not in my constituency, but I understand that the Port Authority must find a substantial part of the cost of making it possible to take freight liners right into the dock to transport goods throughout the country. How do the Government view this? Do the provisions made for extending the container berth facilities relate also to the rail transport facilities behind the dock which are so necessary if the project is to proceed?

I come to a point which is particularly important to me, because I represent the main steel-producing area of Scotland. Some time ago the Clyde Port Authority proposed to build a deep water ore terminal at Hunterston at an estimated cost of £12 million. I know that we have not yet had a decision. The Steel Corporation has stated in principle that it wishes the development to take place. If it does not take place and if the building of facilities for bringing ore in are not begun speedily, the Scottish steelmaking industry will be in for a rough time; the existing steel-making industry will be phased out—over a lengthy period, admittedly—because existing facilities just will not enable the industry to meet the conditions that exist in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the world. The present facilities are meeting the needs at the moment, but those facilities are quickly becoming inadequate and it is essential that a decision be taken quickly on the deep water terminal question and it is important that we know whether the Authority will be able to carry on with its proposed project of building a deep water terminal. I hope to receive information about this.

The opinion is held virtually unanimously in Scotland that, apart from the nationalising of the ports, the Clyde and Forth Authorities should merge and form one authority. This view has been strongly advocated by the Scottish Council (Development and Industry), which is not a labour organisation. Influential members of the Scottish Branch of the Confederation of British Industry also think along these lines. When representatives of the Scottish Branch of the Federation gave evidence to the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs on 15th December, 1969, this question—No. 2,777—was put to them: If the Clyde and Forth were brought together under a single unified control, this would seem to be something you would favour? Mr. Miller, who led the team of representatives, replied: It is under consideration at the present moment. We have not expressed a view, but the individual views round this table would be yes. In reply to the question: This is a measure you would urge the Members for Scotland, all of us irrespective of party, should push ahead with? The answer was, this time by Mr. Grant, the Secretary of the Scottish Branch of the Confederation, "Yes". So both the chairman and the secretary made definite statements of support for the merging of the two Authorities.

Perhaps even more important, both authorities wish to merge, because they could then function in a way which would be of immense benefit to Scottish industry as well as to the United Kingdom as a whole. I do not know whether this has been made public, but it has been put to me. It has been put to me, for instance, that with the developments now taking place in terms of big ships a regular shipping line might have a ship crossing twice a week, unloading at the nearest port of call—the Clyde—with goods being sent across the narrow belt of land that forms the central belt of Scotland and loaded on to ships at Grangemouth or Leith for transhipment to Northern Europe. This has been called "ocean span", which is perhaps an ambitious title. If these two Authorities could merge, Canadian and American shipping companies would be able to deal with one authority in Britain and not two authorities. Ships are becoming larger.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is straying a little far from the rather more narrow confines of the Bill. I should be obliged if he would return to the strict terms of the Bill.

Mr. Lawson

I would not wish to question your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but in view of the extent of the discussion which has taken place I find it difficult to see in what respect I have strayed beyond what seems to have been in order up to the present. To bring myself within order, I am talking in terms of expenditure on harbour and dock facilities, of the possibilities of development, and what the Government should have in mind.

I began by saying that, very often, practices go ahead of our thinking. One practice going ahead just now is the building of bigger and bigger ships, ships which will spend more time at sea, the economics of their operation to a large extent determining that they are in harbour for only short periods. In the autumn of last year, the shipbuilding division of Vickers released details of an atomic-powered ship which was visualised as potentially as large as 450,000 tons. I do not say that such a vessel will appear tomorrow or even next year, but the evidence is that ships are becoming bigger and faster, and the ports will have to handle them much more expeditiously than hitherto.

Our facilities on the Clyde are, so far as I am able to learn, in no way behind anything else, but one of the great advantages which Northern Europe has had over our own country has been the great development at Rotterdam. I understand that Rotterdam will take ships up to about 200,000 tons and that it might be possible to extend on that. But one of the problems confronting Rotterdam is that ships have to reach it either up the English Channel or round the North of Scotland and across the North Sea, and vessels larger than 150,000 tons going up the English Channel already have serious difficulties. This being so, it seems to me, and to many others, that it is urgently necessary to press ahead with the development of our facilities on the West Coast of Britain to handle the very largest ships likely to sail the seas.

I return to my requests for information. Do the financial arrangements now proposed permit the Clyde Port Authority to go ahead with the development of rail facilities as well as container berth facilities, and would the Clyde Port Authority, if the decision be taken to proceed, be enabled under the Bill to go ahead with the building of the deep-water ore terminal? Finally, what is the Minister's view about the coming together of the two port authorities if they themselves express the desire to do so? Quite apart from any prejudices which one may have about nationalisation, would the Minister bless it and enable the amalgamation to take place quickly? I assure him that it seems to be the opinion of most people in Scotland who have given thought to the matter that the two authorities should combine.

6.13 p.m.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

First, I apologise to the Minister for not being present throughout his speech. I heard only part of what he had to say and then had to go to another meeting. I apologise to him and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), and I hope that they will accept it.

I have grapsed the drift of the speeches which were made, and I understand the reasons for the Bill, but I regard this as a sad day for the House and the country. Instead of an important Bill which would really have modernised our ports and ensured that vie had a system of national investment to make our industry as good as, or better than, the European, all we have before us is an amendment to a previous Act so that we may continue ticking over with the situation as it is now. I had great hopes that we should have passed the Ports Bill and thus made real strides towards the genuine modernisation of our ports.

This Bill is very much an interim Measure. It cannot be anything else. It cannot of itself make any long-term contribution to the future of the British ports industry. It is interesting to recall that the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), now a junior Minister at the Ministry of Technology, came to Liverpool a year or so ago, at the request, I believe, of the Chamber of Commerce, and produced a report. He was there about two days and then came up with a report on the future of the port of Liverpool. He said in his report that public ownership was totally unnecessary and that what we had to do was to give free enterprise a chance in the port of Liverpool. Free enterprise has now got that chance in Liverpool. I shall be watching the situation closely to see what free enterprise does in the Port of Liverpool and what contribution the Government make towards the development of the port. In the past, free enterprise has totally failed the Port of Liverpool, as it has failed the nation through our ports industry.

We have a series of problems which must be aired and on which it is important to know the Government's attitude. If we are not to have the sort of planned national investment envisaged under the Ports Bill, what will happen, for example, about the Port of Liverpool and the Summers steel works near Chester? What will happen to the proposal which has been bandied about for some time that there should be a deep-water berth able to take the iron ore ships which are essential if there is to be development of both the Port of Liverpool and the steel industry in North Wales? What ideas have the Government on that subject? It is true that the project has not been fully worked out on Merseyside either, but many people have been concerned about it for a long time, and I want to know the Government's view.

The question of labour relations has been discussed at some length in the debate. In the ports now, modernisation is going ahead—part of it is containerisation and palletisation—and this is leading to a reduction in the number of dockers required to do particular jobs. In the port of Liverpool there has been a fairly rapid reduction in the number of dockers. The dockers are now saying, as they did in San Francisco on the West Coast of the United States when they, as it were, sold their rule book, "If we are to have modernisation, we wish to participate in the benefits of it".

In Liverpool the shop stewards have put forward a proposal—a long-term proposal, though some people thought that it was a sort of overnight scheme—for £60 a week for 20 hours. Some people thought that a fantastic suggestion, but if the number of dockers is to be run down so that the labour force is almost halved within a matter of years, obviously they wish to benefit in the modernisation processes. It is not silly to suggest that there should be a reduction in hours, and that if extra profits are to be made the dockers should receive their just reward for being prepared to agree to the modernisation of their industry. It is an essential part of the modernisation process that there should be modernisation of labour relations just as of the docks themselves.

The shop stewards in Liverpool have been proved to be essential and a very important part of the improved industrial relations on Merseyside. We did not have shop stewards until the modernisation schemes were introduced. We often hear statements about all sorts of difficulties in the docks, but people do not seem to understand that because of the system of shop stewards which now exists many of those problems are ironed out before they cause dispute and trouble. The system of shop stewards has been proved to be absolutely correct. I am glad that it is developing, and I hope that it will continue to grow.

The Port of Liverpool has a number of problems. One which could well get worse is our declining trade over the years—not in certain spheres, but in passenger traffic. A number of our great companies have gone to Southampton and elsewhere. If we enter the Common Market we could face much more serious problems, because trade will obviously be oriented towards Europe. Liverpool, a west coast port, will face the problem of getting the goods that come in over to the east coast, many of them to be shipped straight to Europe. We must ask the Government whether they have any ideas on how they envisage the future of the Port of Liverpool in the Common Market set-up if we enter the Common Market. I am sure that they have not at this stage, but that is not their fault because they have not been in for long enough. It is not an academic question for us. It is a matter of great importance because, despite all the new industries brought to Merseyside, the people of Liverpool and Merseyside accept that the prosperity of our area still largely rests upon the prosperity of the port. If the port is not prosperous, Merseyside is not prosperous, despite the new industry. It is essential that we should have positive ideas on this.

This is a sad day for the workers in the ports and for the future of the ports. I well remember the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine), now the Parliamentary Secretary, making a statement in a discussion before the General Election, which I said had without doubt ensured my return to the House. I am certain that he contributed towards that, because the dockers in my area voted solidly for the Labour Party to ensure that we had public ownership of the ports. They will be bitterly disappointed that we are discussing the Bill before us instead of a Bill that would really put the ports on a proper, modernised basis.

But we have not heard the last of the demand for public ownership—and not because it is merely a dogma which we on this side of the House trot out. We have had private enterprise in the ports, and it has largely failed. If we are to have a proper, modernised port system with nationally-planned investment, we shall need to extend public ownership and to plan our ports throughout the country. We shall continue our pressure for that throughout the years, and I hope that when we have another Labour Government, which I believe will be after the next General Election, we shall come up with a further Bill for the public ownership of the ports—and an even better one than we had before.

6.26 p.m.

Mr. Bob Brown (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) in congratulating the Minister on his appointment and in congratulating his Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine).

I also join in the tribute my right hon. Friend rightly paid to the Department that we have just had the misfortune of leaving, and particularly on the work it did in the preparation of the Ports Bill. I hope that it will not be too long before its staff are bending their backs to the preparation of another Ports Bill when we nationalise the ports.

The man who should have been standing at the Dispatch Box instead of me now is Albert Murray, who was the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in charge of the ports side of the Ministry of Transport whilst I was in charge of the other side of the Department. I am sorry that Albert is not here today. I pay tribute on behalf of my right hon. Friend and myself—and, I am sure, of my hon. Friends—to the work Albert Murray did in the Ministry of Transport and particularly in the Standing Committee considering the Ports Bill. He took a great deal of the brunt of the work in Committee. I am sure that everyone recognised Albert as a first-class Member and a first-class Parliamentary Secretary. We are all sorry that he got scant justice and very little reward from the Gravesend constituency, which he represented extremely well in the House. His successor has a tremendously high standard to live up to if he is to serve the people of Gravesend as did Albert Murray.

The only maiden speech today was that of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). I understand that he is the first seaman representative of the National Union of Seamen in the House. We were all delighted with his clarity, and we all enjoyed the quality of his speech, which displayed his tremendous knowledge of the problems of those who go down to the sea in ships. His knowledge will be invaluable to the House. I am certain that we shall hear very much of my hon. Friend.

After hearing many worthies at the Dispatch Box in the past week or so giving the much-worn replies, "We are giving consideration to this matter …", "This and other issues are being looked at …", "I hope to make a statement next week ", "Sometime", "Possibly before the Recess …" and so on, I am grateful to have heard from the Minister a positive proposal. Although this is a minnow, or a tiddler, of a Bill, at least it is a positive step by the Government, and that is good to see. I am happy to help it on its way to the Statute Book.

I note how interested Government supporters have been today in the subject of the docks. They have been conspicuous by their absence. At the election, the Labour Party lost no fewer than nine port members, two from Bristol, two from Preston, from Southampton, Ipswich, Manchester and Tees-side. We lost John Ellis, who represented Bristol, North-West. I remember the absolute filth which the editor of the Western Press used to peddle about John Ellis. I wonder where John Ellis's successor is. We are entitled to ask where these worthies are today, because, as this is the first debate on the subject of the ports in this Parliament, they should have been sufficiently interested to attend, but they have been conspicuous by their absence.

Mr. Martin McLaren (Bristol, North-West)

I am the successor of Mr. Ellis. I am back for Bristol, North-West. I think that this is a very good Bill, and I welcome it. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

It is not in order to clap in the Chamber.

Mr. Mikardo

I apologise, Mr. Speaker; I was absolutely carried away!

Mr. Brown

I am delighted to welcome the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren). It is interesting to note that he has found out where the Chamber is.

What my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) said is worth repetition. He said that no industry had been more investigated than the ports industry. Almost everyone, except the Conservative Party, agrees that the only solution to the problems of the industry is full public ownership.

Sir Arthur Kirby has been mentioned ad nauseam, but I do not apologise for referring to him again. At his Press conference, introducing the report of the National Ports Council, he spoke of labour problems and cargo handling problems, and said: These problems are likely to persist for so long as there is fragmentation of employment and split control of labour in the port industry. The problems will be solved only by patience and by adopting means of bringing management and labour together in greater confidence. The docker himself, understandably, is very concerned about his future when he sees the new technologies of cargo handling bringing about a drastic reduction in the labour content. This is why we sound a warning with the danger of a critical collapse of confidence if this effect of new technology and procedures are not brought to a solution and adequate provision made for people's livelihoods, stature and security. The nationalisation of the major ports was one possible road towards a solution of the problems, but it was certainly not the only one, and I am confident that if the ports authorities can become the major employers of labour and be masters of all operations within their own ports, this should open the way to a much better standard of industrial relations. No clearer statement is needed to show that the future of the ports lies in a fully integrated system of public ownership.

I permit myself a luxury which for nearly three years I have been denied; I refer to my own constituency. As a Member representing a Tyneside constituency, I believe that there is a clear need for the Minister to get together with the Minister responsible for regional development—I am not sure whether he is a Privy Councillor—to discuss the development of the Port of Tyne. Development on the banks of the River Tyne is needed so that there are activity-producing industries to increase the prosperity of the North-East of England, which is one of the hardest pressed areas of the country.

I fully accept that the Tyne will never be a major international seaport, but it has an important part to play in the prosperity of the North-East. With all the wealth of knowledge of city and business matters which it constantly reminds the country it has, surely the Tory Party should have been able to say something of its intentions for the future of the ports, but the Minister has said nothing. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us some of the Tory pearls of wisdom for the future. I promise him that when we return to the Government benches, as surely we shall, and, I hope, after the next General Election, we will take the necessary steps quickly to bring the ports into public ownership and thereby improve the prospects for our national trade.

6.38 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

This has been a wide-ranging debate, as was expected, on a narrow Bill. I should like to begin by expressing my personal thanks to the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) for his kind words about me at the beginning of his speech. I much appreciated his generosity, as I always did when we worked together in another Parliament.

I am delighted to see the right hon. Gentleman where he is: we worked long to bring him to that position, and I hope that he will have the chance to spend a long time gaining stature and experi- ence on those benches. He suggested that when we worked together on the Ports Bill I was guilty of wishing to instruct rather than to learn. In the circumstances, it seemed appropriate, just as it now seems appropriate to reverse the process and to learn more than one instructs.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to ask what criteria would be applied to individual schemes coming before the Minister for approval for loan or grant. He will remember that the decision is based on the widest national and economic considerations of the totality of a scheme, with the proviso that its financial return shall be sufficient to cover the loan charges.

The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked a long series of questions which were of major importance to those interested in the Scottish ports. He asked what was the draught of vessels using the Grangemouth and Leith ports. These ports have considerable potential, which we hope will be more widely used. The sill depth at Grangemouth will be 38½ feet, which will enable vessels to a draught of 32 feet to use the facilities, with a maximum of 37 feet at spring tides. In Leith there is a depth of 40 feet allowing a maximum loaded draught of 39 feet.

The right hon. Member then moved on to the question of the container port on the Clyde and raised the interesting possibilities, which have to be fully considered, of the new ideas of a land bridge and the implications following from that. We certainly will want to look at these ideas and form clear views about them.

When the right hon. Gentleman raised the question of the implications of the Common Market on the Scottish ports situation he was not fully taking into account the fact that any growth in demand which might have effects on the South-East of England does not necessarily mean that there will be a retraction of demand in the northern part of the United Kingdom. There could be such an overall increase in growth that there would be extra growth for everyone. It is much too early to predict now what the effect will be.

The hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) went on to amplify the right hon. Gentleman's last point, dealing with the Greenock container berth. This is an extension of the existing 850 ft. container terminal quay and is intended to provide an additional 336 ft. with facilities, and six acres of land for container stacking, which is needed to provide further for the estimated build-up of traffic by 1972 so that we can avoid the delays which would otherwise take place.

The hon. Member for Motherwell amplified this point and asked for information about the co-ordination of development in the railway system and freight liner terminal at Greenock. Our view is that this is a commercial arrangement in the first place between the Clyde Port Authority and the various local authorities and inland transport authorities in that area. It is for them to devise any scheme thought necessary or desirable. If, within the context of the powers available to my right hon. Friend, they wish to submit proposals to him for consideration and he is able to deal with the matter, it will be for him to decide whether they come within the general criteria he lays down from time to time.

The hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) made a speech which I have always enjoyed on this subject. I have great sympathy with him that he should now be on that side of the House looking at the problems of the port industry in much the same way as he has done on so many occasions in the past. It was a little harsh for him to lecture my right hon. Friend about the urgency of the situation so soon after my right hon. Friend has taken up his new position. The hon. Member knows that it was his Government which introduced legislation in the ports five years after his proposals were adopted and then cancelled them in the middle of a General Election to conform with a parliamentary timetable which the Prime Minister of the time told us had been designed four years before. It is difficult for the hon. Member to come to this House and demand that within about 10 days of taking office my right hon. Friend should have solved all the problems of the ports which the previous Government ignored so conspicuously for six long years.

The industry will welcome the determination of the Minister to consult it and look at it calmly, consider the facts, weigh up the evidence, a great deal of which has been produced this afternoon, and then make up his mind in the context of consultation and full reflection, without taking precipitate action.

I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Roy Hughes) raise the question of the regrettable accident that happened to the lock gates at Newport. I know that he will be delighted to hear that my right hon. Friend has authorised the expenditure necessary for the repair of the gates. I hope that the minimum disruption of traffic will ensue in this most regrettable situation.

I was sorry to miss so much of the speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), although I think he will forgive me if I say that I feel that there was a certain familiarity with the arguments. I appreciate that he feels strongly about this subject, and he has made this clear.

The speech about which I would like to say more came from the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), in one of the most remarkable maiden speeches I have heard in the House. I congratulate him upon it. I was amused by the remark he made about there being no swing in his constituency against the then Government, saying that he liked to believe that this was a tribute to the personality and integrity of the candidate. I would go along with that view, because there can be no other explanation for the fact that there was no swing against the then Government.

I was slightly dismayed to hear some of the hon. Member's comments about the British Transport Docks Board ports in his constituency. It has always been my view that the British Transport Docks Board has been a rather well-managed nationalised industry, and I was sorry to hear that after six years of partnership with the Socialist Government there should be so many difficulties yet to be solved. Certainly we will look at the arguments put forward.

I want to say a word about the arguments put forward by the three hon. Members representing Kingston upon Hull. They raised a range of problems of real concern locally meriting the closest consideration. There are certain problems. First of all, they asked for general indications about the future of the fishing industry. I am sure that they will appreciate that that is the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Their views will be drawn to the attention of the Minister. It is not, specifically in terms of the fishing industry, within the power of my right hon. Friend to make grants for the improvement of fishing facilities.

Secondly, we are concerned with British Transport Docks Board ports, and, therefore, the loans granted come under the powers in the 1962 Transport Act and not the Bill that we are now considering. This is not to say that the general well-being of the Hull port is not something that comes within the responsibility of my right hon. Friend, because it is. I ask hon. Members to believe that we are anxious to take their views wholly into account in all our considerations. I couple this general view and observation about Hull with a warm commendation to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East who made his maiden speech. I am pleased to have the opportunity of congratulating him from this bench, and I am sure that we shall hear from him on many occasions with equal enjoyment in the near future.

In opening the debate my right hon. Friend explained the purposes of the Bill. He said that he hoped hon. Members opposite would not expect him to enter into a wide-ranging debate on the industry and its problems, although he made it clear that he did not expect hon. Members opposite to contain themselves within the same discipline. He has listened to what has been said and will want to consider the many valuable points raised. I would not want to pretend that they were all totally consistent but they are part of the broad picture that he will be absorbing in the course of the ensuing months. Hon. Members opposite will not expect me to follow the generality of observations. My right hon. Friend will be considering the broader aspects of port policy.

Mr. McNamara

Can the hon. Member say whether his right hon. Friend will be producing a White Paper on the future of the ports soon?

Mr. Heseltine

My right hon. Friend will want to make up his mind about what to put in another White Paper before deciding that a White Paper is necessary. We must allow him to con- tinue his consultations and deliberations before committing himself to the form in which he expresses them or to the time when they are expressed.

I appreciate that hon. Members opposite will be mourning the loss of their Ports Bill for one reason or another, but we must get one thing clear and that is that there is now an end to the awful uncertainty which has been hanging over the industry for the last six years.

Mr. Mikardo

It has just started.

Mr. Heseltine

It was an intolerable situation, to say in 1965 that the ports were to be nationalised and to do nothing about it until 1969. This was to inject the most unforgiveable uncertainty into the industry. Now the port industry knows that the shadow of nationalisation has been lifted. I am only sorry on personal grounds that it should have cost hon. Members opposite the loss of nine of their colleagues' seats in our ports to show quite clearly what the electorate thought about the policy they advocated.

I do not pretend that the industry has no problems. We are all aware that it has very real problems. Any developing industry in an expanding economy is bound to have problems. Some will be day-to-day problems capable of being handled by the ports and the industry within the framework of Government help and encouragement, but other more serious problems may need legislation from time to time to deal with them. But we are absolutely certain that we should be very careful about introducing legislation which would have the effect of standing the industry on its head. The Government have not the slightest intention of finding instant problems to match preconceived instant solutions put forward by hon. Members opposite. If major changes are to be made in the ports, they will not be made until we have looked at the problems comprehensively.

Therefore, the sensible thing to do is to deal with the practical problems as they arise in a practical manner, and a practical approach is provided within the Harbours Act, 1964.

Mr. Mulley

I realise that the hon. Gentleman is not making a statement of policy today, but it would help not only the House but the industry if some idea could be given when a definitive statement will be made. Not only will vague statements that this or that is being considered or studied cause many people anxiety and concern, but there is on record the manifesto on which the hon. Gentleman's party fought the election, and surely the people working in the industry are entitled to an explanation of what is meant by it. We have already had the statement that there is to be a strong central body. May we have some idea of what is meant by that or when we shall be told what is meant by it?

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure that those in the industry will greatly appreciate the desire to consult them and the wide-ranging discussions which we shall have with them and the measure of agreement which we shall be able to reach with them. I do not think that they want us to state an arbitrary date line for an arbitrary policy which we have not announced. The right hon. Gentleman must allow my right hon. Friend time to do the job as thoroughly as he is determined to do.

The main problem with which the Bill deals is not exactly of our making. On the other hand, we accept that the statutory limit laid down for port finances by way of loan or grant had to be reached at some stage or other. In view of the importance of port development, it is very desirable that we should have these powers to continue in the way explained by my right hon. Friend.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Eyre.]

Committee Tomorrow.