HC Deb 17 July 1970 vol 803 cc1867-71

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

11.5 a.m.

Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)

This is a rather different Bill in scope, and the circumstances are rather different, from when I had the pleasure of discussing ports under your chairmanship, Sir Robert, earlier in the year. I do not wish to follow the precedent then or in any way to delay the implementation of the present Bill, but it would be for the convenience of the Committee if for the record the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport would give a little detail on the deliberate and, I am sure, extremely careful thinking that has gone into the provision of the two figures in the Clause, the lower figure of £75 million and the higher figure, which can be reached after a Resolution of the House, of £125 million.

What kind of time scale is envisaged? Will the £75 million only more or less meet the existing commitments? Of course, the figure bites only when it comes to the actual payment of loans as distinct from indications of support in the future.

Second, removing grants from the provisions of the Sections of the Harbours Act, 1964, mentioned in the Clause, gives a different bearing on the figures. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us roughly what the division has been between loans and grants over the period? Is it envisaged that there will be any change in policy as between payment of grant and telling the harbour authorities that they can proceed only by way of loan?

Can the hon. Gentleman give the Committee some indication on those points—how the figures are arrived at and what kind of period is involved, and the division between loans and grants and whether there is likely to be any change in policy on these matters?

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

The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) makes it quite clear that this is a different Bill in scope, and I fully accept the compliment implied in that. It is certainly very relevant to the immediate problem with which we are confronted in the ports—the provision of the necessary money to carry on with the modernisation processes.

The right hon. Gentleman asked some very reasonable questions, which I shall do my best to answer in a certain amount of detail because they are detailed questions and are entitled to that sort of consideration.

The figure of £75 million, like the additional £50 million, is bound to have the general safeguard behind it that it has been taken to provide a reasonable period before we return to the House for more. I think that I can help the House by explaining the sort of schemes we have in the pipeline for which money is required. The first stage is the additional £75 million-worth of loans, and approvals have been given, but loans not yet issued, for £19 million-worth of schemes for which the first of this money will be required.

I have here a detailed list of the schemes, but I am sure that it is as familiar to the right hon. Gentleman as it is to me, so I shall not spell it out in detail. It includes a considerable number of individual schemes. I see that the Forth Ports Authority is to have £1,300,000 in respect of interest on loans, and loans for the balance of the first stage of the Seaforth scheme will account for nearly £8 million. The B. and I terminal for the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board is to have £1.625 million. The Milford Haven dredging attracts more than £1 million. The Redcar iron ore terminal is just over £3½ million with another £1 million in respect of interest on loans. This first stage provision not yet issued amounts to about £19 million.

In addition, a further £12 million is in respect of applications which have been agreed, together with applications which are under consideration or pending. These now include two schemes in respect of Greenock and Grangemouth which my right hon. Friend said on Second Reading that he had approved for Section 9 of the Harbours Act, 1964, purposes, and jointly they will take £5.1 million. There are other applications in respect of the Ports of London, Medway, Tees and Hartlepool and certain other minor projects at another £6.8 million. That takes up all the specific schemes. There are always many schemes which have just reached us, or which are about to reach us, which we are considering, or may have to consider and it serves no purpose to try to give some degree of priority to them, or to say whether we may approve them.

Apart from the two categories, the £19.3 million for the one I have mentioned, and the £11 million to £12.9 million for the second, there is a considerable reserve within the £75 million for other schemes which in the judgment of the Department are likely to require money in the not-too-distant future. One of the things we shall look at is the next stage of the Seaforth project. This is a major scheme which has to be financed piece by piece.

The right hon. Member asked about the removal of grants from the ceilings within the Bill and asked whether I would distinguish between loans and grants. Up to 30th June, 1970, loans and grants totalling £81 million have been issued, and broken down that represents £54 million in loans and £27 million in grants. As my right hon. Friend said on Second Reading, we do not believe that it is necessary to continue to extend grants within the ceiling provided in the Bill, because this is dealt with in the annual Estimates, and Parliament therefore has every opportunity to exercise control.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the removal of grants from the ceiling implied any change in policy.

Mr. Mulley

I accept that Parliamentary control of grants is exercised by the annual Votes, and that was a provision which was included in the Ports Bill and no point is at issue on that. What I am asking is whether there is to be any change in policy as to when a grant or a loan is made.

Mr. Heseltine

I was about to mention that. My right hon. Friend said that this policy was under review, not specifically within the context of ports, but for the general industrial situation. The Government will be reaching their decision and it would be wrong to regard a change simply within the context of the Bill as a change in policy. It is a technical change in the Bill and it must be seen as something which is under general review by the Government for the industrial situation at large, as a means of encouraging and stimulating investment throughout the country.

11.15 a.m.

Mr. Mulley

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his explanation. He was wielding a dead bat extremely well. After watching with great interest his development as a promising Parliamentary stroke player, I admire his rapid mastery of the technique of the dead bat. I saw from his opening remarks that he still had the possibility of strokes in him, but, as every cricketer knows, one does not throw one's bat around at the very beginning. The Bill simply implements one Clause of the Ports Bill which the hon. Gentleman opposed so strongly.

However, we are agreed that the development of the ports should continue. I do not want to delay it. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend on their rapid and successful introduction of legislation. We cannot promise always to be so co-operative as on this occasion. However, I wish the hon. Gentleman success with his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House when he wants further legislation, and I hope that his right hon. Friend will be as prodigal in the provision of Parliamentary time. I hope that the Bill will rapidly pass its remaining stages.

Mr. Heseltine

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his very kind personal references to me, which are always much appreciated. I look forward to many more such references as time goes on. We have made it quite clear that we are happy to continue with this Clause which appeared in the Ports Bill, but our joy in doing so is as nothing compared with our joy at not continuing with the other 68 Clauses of that Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 55 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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