HC Deb 01 July 1971 vol 820 cc761-77

Order for Third Reading read.

12.25 a.m.

Mr. Alan Green (Preston, South)

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

I move this Motion formally, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because the Bill has been well discussed, although I realise that there are some points still to be answered.

12.30 a.m.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

It is regrettable that we should have to discuss the Bill again, especially at this hour of the morning. I shall endeavour to be as brief as I can. But this is a bad Bill which, quite rightly, is not being allowed to pass easily through the House. My hon. Friends are not opposing its Third Reading only because there is no viable alternative before the House and the Port of Liverpool. Without it, we recognise that the port could well close. Even with the Bill, the problems of the Port of Liverpool will not be solved satisfactorily. The Bill is unfair to investors and to port workers, and it places Liverpool Docks in a peculiar situation. In the last debate, one of my hon. Friends suggested that there should be a full inquiry into how the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board got itself into its present difficulties. I am still convinced that that suggestion should be adopted.

A number of interesting casualities have arisen in this affair. For example, it is proposed that members of the previous Board should not sit on any future Board without the agreement of the Minister. The present director-general, who has been in that position only for a short time, is retiring fairly early. What is more, the deputy chairman of the new Board is to take up an appointment with the Steel Board. That is a strange appointment, in view of the present circumstances of the port.

The hand of the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry may be seen in this situation. It is interesting to note that, when my right hon. and hon. Friends were in office, the hon. Gentleman came to Liverpool and put forward a scheme which, in many respects, is very similar to the Bill before us.

The Bill turns the Dock Board into a private company. But I do not think that it offers any long-term solution to the problems of the Liverpool Docks.

In the last debate, we discussed Clause 8 in some detail. Since then, we have seen a letter from the Minister and the Promoters have made Amendments indicating that there has been a serious attempt to meet the points raised in that debate. But the fact should be brought out that the Liverpool Corporation held a special meeting yesterday and passed a resolution by 131 votes to 6. Incidentally, it was supported by the majority and minority parties. Only the Liberals voted against it, since they wanted to go much further in their opposition than the two main parties.

The resolution was in three parts, the first of which made it clear that the city council felt that it must oppose the Bill unless outstanding points of disagreement could be settled. This is not a case of all-out opposition to the Bill, therefore.

The second part said that the chairman and deputy chairman of the City Council's major committee—I think that it is the Finance and Policy Committee—together with the leader of the Labour Party, Alderman Sefton, were authorised to agree to any settlement which could be reached.

The third part of the resolution was that, in the event of a settlement not being reached, the City Council would go ahead with its opposition. So the whole matter can easily be resolved by a settlement between the City Council and the promoters of the Bill.

The City Council is concerned about the situation because, during the course of discussions with representatives of the board, it was clearly told that the board had no general duty to operate the port; it had a duty to do only three things: first, to maintain the landing stage, which is of importance to the City of Liverpool anyway; secondly, to maintain the cut to the Leeds and London canal; and, thirdly—the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) will be interested in this, but he probably knows it—to maintain certain sewers in Wallasey. These were the statutory obligations which the Board argued that it had to carry out, but did not have to go beyond.

In today's Liverpool Daily Post the Board's chairman, Mr. John Cuckney, is reported as saying: Under previous arrangements"— that is under the 1857 statute— the Dock Board did not in fact have a statutory obligation, in so many words, to keep the port operating. The obligation was implicit. It is the implied duty about which the Liverpool City Council is concerned and regards as of immense importance.

It would be a bad thing if the Dock Board had power to wind up the port operations at any time. I stress that the major matter of concern to the City Council is the continuing operation of the port.

In the article to which I referred, Mr. Cuckney also said that the Bill is modelled on the Port of London Authority Bill. That may be so, but I understand that that Bill clearly states that the Port of London could only be wound up with the consent of Parliament.

The city council's position is outlined in a letter from Stanley Holmes, the Chief Executive and Town Clerk of Liverpool, dated 1st July, in which he says: The Corporation's real concern is to ensure that under the new company the port must continue unless there is further recourse to Parliament first. If the Corporation can be satisfied that the proposed amendments in the House of Lords referred to in the letter from the Minister for Transport Industries do, in fact, give the necessary protection, the petition will not proceed. I may appear to be making heavy weather of this matter, but it is of importance when a city the size of Liverpool, by a decision of 131 to six, feels so deeply concerned, that, in the interests of the port, of the city and of the people of Merseyside, the matter should be resolved as quickly as possible.

My next point concerns the investors. This matter is causing a great deal of hardship. A lady came to see me at my constituency surgery last Saturday morning. She told me that all her savings, which amounted to £3,000, had been put into the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. She had expected to receive that money back this year, and some of it would have been reinvested, but now she finds that although she was relying on getting the money back, because she wanted it for certain reasons of her own, it is not available to her.

I have here a letter from the trustees for Methodist Church Purposes. It was sent to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas), and perhaps I may quote from it: Furthermore the observations of Mr. Edgar Fay, Q.C., as quoted in the press, seem to suggest that ' financial institutions which are entitled to their money' are not hardship cases. This type of reasoning makes us increasingly concerned because as a Board of Custodian Trustees we represent a number of smallholders for whom the loss of capital, as well as reduced income would constitute a real hardship. In our letter to the Prime Minister we ventured to point out that our holdings in the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board are in the nature of contractual loans and it was not, therefore, expected that they would be subject to the risks of the ordinary equity market. Such contractual loans have always been regarded as good Trustee securities even though, as we fully appreciated, no Government is obliged to guarantee them. Our fundamental concern is that this way of escape from financial obligations should be facilitated, when it would not be tolerated in private behaviour. We fully recognised that some measure is called for if the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board is to be preserved but with respect we think the basis of any financial measure should be a long term solution designed to salvage the position rather than a short term solution which rescues the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board at the expense of those who in all good faith have entrusted their money to them. I think that the position of the small investors is of the gravest importance, and in other circumstances it is possible that those who were involved in this affair would have been brought before the courts on a charge of fraud. I am serious about that, and I do not think that the Bill should go through the House without the whole matter being aired, again, even at this late hour, because we should never forget what is being allowed to happen in this House.

My hon. Friends and I are deeply concerned about the future employment position of the workers in the Port of Liverpool. We come from an area which has 40,000 unemployed workers. If any section of workers in the port is affected by the closure of the South End Docks sooner than expected, that will have a serious effect on the whole employment position on Merseyside.

We believe that the Bill is not the answer to the problem. We believe that the real answer is to bring the Port of Liverpool under public ownership. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney), in his Second Reading speech, suggested that the port should be municipalised. In a sense that is a form of public ownership, and it was a recognition of the fact that the real solution to the problem lies in bringing the port under public control.

We shall let the Bill go through, but we shall do so under protest. We shall not vote against it, but, if there were a vote, we should have to vote against it, because this is a bad Bill. It is basically a Government Bill, and it is a Bill which should never have been brought before the House of Commons.

12.40 a.m.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

I will not go over all the ground covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), but there is one small point I wish to add.

I should like first to thank the Minister for Transport Industries for the comprehensive way in which he circulated all the people who spoke in the last debate with the precise position on the point we raised about operating the port. I should like also to thank the promoters for letting hon Members have the text of their Amendments.

I have looked at that Amendment, as have my hon. Friends, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Sir A. Irvine), a former Solicitor-General, says that in his view that the Amendments conform to the assurances given by the Minister for Transport Industries.

An argument appears to have arisen subsequently because the assurance was that existing duties would be continued in the new Act. We said in the previous debate that the existing duties were being diminished by the new Bill. The question now is what are the existing duties. I am glad to see the Solicitor-General present because this possibly is a point for him. If he looks at the proceedings in Committee, he will see that although the point was not discussed in detail in Committee, the Committee was given the impression—I put it no higher—that the existing Acts provided for a statutory duty to operate the port. The Town Clerk of Liverpool seems to be suggesting that he has been told by the promoters that that is not the case and that the statutory duty provides only for the points which were mentioned by my hon. Friend.

Frankly, I do not know about the situation. I am now somewhat confused. As one who served on the Select Committee, I had the impression that there was a statutory duty to operate the port and that this was the reason that all the assets of the port could not be taken into the receivership. It now seems that there is some argument about the existing duties, and I am satisfied that the Minister and the promoters have carried out their assurances.

The point that worries me—and I gather it also worries the Liverpool City Council—is the technical point of how far the existing duty provides for the operation of the port. A port such as Liverpool, which is one of the primary ports in the country, should not be capable of being extinguished by the liquidation of the company. I do not know whether in that way it could be extinguished as a port, but it should be put beyond shadow of a doubt that this could not be possible without parliamentary approval. I hope that we will hear from the Solicitor-General on this matter. I hope the Minister will go a little further than his original assurance and say that the port of Liverpool should not cease to exist without Parliament's approval, because that is what the argument is primarily about.

12.45 a.m.

Mr. James A. Dunn (Liverpool Kirkdale)

We are obliged to the Minister for Transport Industries for the way that he wrote to us fulfilling the obligation that he undertook during the verbal exchanges in the House on 21st June. The way in which he gave assurances may have given rise to the anxiety expressed by the Liverpool City Council—rather belatedly, but nevertheless expressed—in a letter that it sent on 25th June to Members representing Liverpool constituencies and other interested Members, in which the Council said that following the debate in the House on 21st June, on the 23rd June the appropriate committee asked that a recommendation be made to the city council that a petition be made on the Bill when it reaches the other place.

At no time during the deliberations on the Bill has the Liverpool City Council sought to make any representations other than this. It would be wrong of me not to say that I view this with some anxiety. Ample opportunity has been given, and at this late hour, to voice some complex legal problems, in a letter and in discussions by Liverpool City Council yesterday, shows that the awareness of the city council occurred rather late. I should have wished that this would have been dealt with differently.

During our representations in the House to the right hon. Gentleman, we may not have obtained all that we wished, but he gave us something that we asked for, and we may have caused him additional work. We apologise for that, but it was beyond our control.

In our discussions, running through our minds has been the thought that the Bill contains some rather unpalatable provisions that, under different circumstances, we should have wished to discuss. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said, given the choice between voting for or against the Bill, if those were the only choices, we should be compelled to vote against it on principle. There were other methods of dealing with this problem. But we have to face things as they are and not as we would wish them to be. My concern, shared by my right hon. and hon. Friends, is to come to terms with a very bad Bill and to get the Receiver out of the port, discharged of his duties as quickly as possible, so that we may attempt to restore confidence in the Port of Liverpool as soon as possible, thereby contributing to the easing of the potential unemployment which might follow if we do not do something about it now.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Walton said, we have a great problem already, and this must bear very heavily upon our minds when we reach this point of decision. If there were to be major redundancies in the port rather quickly and the figures were in hundreds rather than just a few, not only would those employed in the port be affected but also those in the ancillary services attached to the port, which would be gravely affected. This was have disastrous consequences in our area. On that basis also, very reluctantly, we do not voice all that we would wish to say. Even say it now may delay the restoration of confidence in the port.

The promoters very kindly sent us copies of the Amendments which they propose to lay before the authorities in the other place. They meet the requirements expressed in the House which were received with good grace and assurances. Nevertheless, I urge the Minister even at this late hour to seek to prevail upon the promoters to be reasonable in the approaches which will have to be made to those who may wish to petition. I do not want the Bill to be delayed over long. If the procedure is delayed over long, the receiver will stay in the port for much longer than is expected; and, if the Bill is not through its final stages by July, it may not get through this Session.

I again stress the disastrous consequences this would have upon Merseyside and upon the national economy, because it would affect all our export trade. The port is one of Britain's largest exporting ports.

The fundamental issue is that those who act on behalf of the Board have not communicated in the proper manner to the Liverpool City Council exactly what the new proposed Amendment entails. The interpretation appears to be at fault. I should be failing in my duty if I did not voice the anxieties of the Liverpool City Council and ask the Minister to take the opportunity through the Solicitor-General to give guidance on this point and tell us whether the Amendments which have been circulated, supported by the assurance contained in the latter dated 24th June, comply with the views that the Liverpool City Council have expressed.

The hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Temple) was the sponsor in this House on behalf of the promoters. I have learned that he is suffering from some indisposition. I hope that through the channels that exist our good wishes will be conveyed to the hon. Member. We bear him no malice for the fact that he brought to us a chalice from which we do not want to drink.

12.52 a.m.

Mr. Edmund Dell (Birkenhead)

I associate myself at the outset with what my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) has said about the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Temple). We hope that the hon. Member will speedily recover.

We notice that once again it appears not to have been found possible to find a Merseyside Member to sponsor the Bill.

Mr. Green

I am from Lancashire.

Mr. Dell

Yes, but not Merseyside. We have argued against the Bill in the House, for two principal reasons. The first is the injustice it causes to small investors. The Government's decision to sustain the Port of Liverpool, in so far as it is sustained by the Bill, is at the expense of the small investors. This point has been argued not merely by hon. Members on this side but by right hon. and hon. Members opposite. Indeed, many hon. Members opposite have said at various stages during the discussion on the Bill that they could not give it their support.

Despite the complete absence of support for the Bill in all parts of the House, remarkably enough it has made its progress to Third Reading and will soon be in their Lordships' House. It is remarkable how the absence of support on the benches opposite has altered in no way this disastrously bad Bill. It is causing hardship. The example my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) gave is only one example of a very large number of possible examples that have come to the attention of hon. Members of the hardship caused by the Bill to people who were in no way responsible for the calamity that befell the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board.

It is arguable that equity shareholders in companies are responsible for the fate of their companies and, therefore, must suffer if those companies go down just as they profit if the companies prosper. These investors in the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board were responsible in no conceivable way for the fate which faced the Board last autumn.

The second ground on which we criticise the Bill is that it does not secure the future of the port. Even if, with the Amendments proposed to be made in the other place, it is adequately worded, it still provides no sufficient guarantee of the future of the Port of Liverpool.

The primary reason why the Bill has been opposed on Third Reading tonight has been the need to discuss a little further the point which has recently—or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walton said, belatedly—been raised by the Liverpool City Council as to whether the Bill even as now proposed to be amended gives sufficient guarantee that the port could not in any circumstances be shut down without the authority of Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Walton quoted some words of Mr. Cuckney as reported in today's Liverpool Daily Post. I shall quote another part of what Mr. Cuckney is reported to have said: In the Bill we have written in statutory obligations modelled very closely on those of the Port of London Authority. They are not entirely watertight because, if they were, they would upset the representatives of the security-holders, who would see a possibility of their money being poured down the drain while the port was maintained at all costss. It is a matter of reaching an acceptable compromise, and I am sure we can do that. I have argued in the debates on the Bill that the way in which this statutory company has been established has created a conflict of interest between the future of the port, on the one hand, and the interests of the security holders, on the other. Here is another example. If he is accurately reported, it seems that Mr. Cuckney is saying that the future of the port cannot be made water-tight because that would be unacceptable to the security holders.

From the point of view of the national interest, from the point of view of Merseyside, and of employment on Merseyside, it is the future of the port which must have primacy. It is wrong that that future should have been made to conflict with or be associated with the interests of the security holders who found themselves conscripted into this statutory company by the Bill. Our requirement—not a requirement just of Merseyside but of the country—is the maintenance of the Port of Liverpool, so that the port may continue to give proper service to Britain's imports and exports and to the economy of the North-West.

One question arises as a result of the conflict. It may have been sufficient for the old legislation to provide simply for such requirements of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board as it did, but it is at least arguable that, in view of this new facet of the situation and the interests of the security holders, the statutory provisions should be stronger, not simply equivalent to those in the old legislation.

I think that it is this point which the Liverpool City Council has argued, not that the Minister has not fulfilled his undertaking to ensure that the requirements are as strong as they were but that, in these new circumstances, the guarantees should be even stronger than they were so that there can be no question in any circumstances of the Port of Liverpool being closed without the consent of Parliament.

I think that the Solicitor-General has got the point, and I hope that he will be able to give us a sufficient guarantee on it. If he cannot, the City of Liverpool will clearly feel it necessary to petition against the Bill in the House of Lords, and obviously if that can be prevented it will be to the benefit of the process of the Bill through its remaining stages.

1.0 a.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

The principal question raised by hon. Members tonight is that concerning the proposed powers of the company that is to be set up by the Bill, and the effectiveness of those powers to meet the anxieties expressed by them and by the City of Liverpool.

As a Member who formerly had the privilege of representing a constituency on Merseyside, I shall try to reply to the point as clearly and firmly as possible, conscious of the importance to Merseyside in its widest sense of an assurance for the continued future of the Port of Liverpool. I do so without responding to the temptation to deal with the wider and more general matters that hon. Members have raised.

I challenge the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) that the Bill is disastrous. There is understandably a concern that it should secure not only fair prospects for the investors but also a fair assurance for all those who work and depend upon the port of Liverpool, so far as it can be done. I think that all hon. Members now agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) that the one thing that would be disastrous would be the prospect of further delay for the Bill in its passage through the other place.

Perhaps I may say something about the purely legal position. It is clear from what hon. Members have said that several different points are raised. First, what, if any, are the duties of the Board as it now is? Second, what are to be the duties of the proposed company to be established by the Bill? The right hon. Gentleman was anxious that its duties should not be simply as strong as those of the Board but stronger. The third question is, what difference is made in the duties by the proposed Amendments circulated by the promoters?

If we look in the long chain of Statutes that underlie the present state of the Board, we cannot find any statement of a general duty imposed upon it, apart from the three to which hon. Members have referred. We find an accumulation of powers being conferred upon the Board, as a result of which Parliament gave the Board yet further rights to raise money, acquire land and so on. This pattern is continued right up to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board (Seaforth Works) Act, 1966. We find there, attached to the power to carry out, "construct, place and maintain"—and so on, the Seaforth works, the proposition that the Board shall execute such works in accordance with the plans laid before Parliament, and an additional power that the Board may from time to time maintain, renew, enlarge, alter, reconstruct and so on, the Seaforth works. I refer to that as being the most recent in this long chain of Statutes giving powers to the Board to construct works.

The effect in law of that series of powers being conferred on the Board is not merely to give the Board its enabling power to construct and maintain; it has to be coupled with the fact that it is given in the existing Statutes no power to discontinue. As "hon. Members have pointed out, there is no provision for winding up or discontinuance of the Board in the existing Statutes.

Taking all these matters together and remembering the central proposition that powers conferred for one purpose cannot be used for another, conflicting, purpose, the law as to the present position of the Board is plain—that it operates under clearly implied duties which can be spelled out from the case to which hon. Members have referred in the letter sent by my right hon. Friend, the Salisbury Market case, in which it was clearly stated and this is the central proposition that, to quote Mr. Justice Buckley—[1969] 1 Ch. 354: It has long been recognised that where a company has been incorporated by a special Act of Parliament for the purpose of providing some service, such as a railway, for the public benefit, the incorporating statute may, by inference if not expressly, impose a statutory duty on the company to establish and maintain the service in question, with the consequence that the company cannot properly dispose of any asset, such as part of its railway line, which is necessary for the maintenance of that service. That is the position of the Board as it now stands.

Put simply in another way, in more graphic words from Mr. Justice Buckley's

judgment, if the company is to carry on with all its incidental powers, Death is not an incident of life. The life conferred on the Board by the existing statutes does not confer upon the Board the power to extinguish it.

The point of anxiety is what change is made by the Bill. Hon. Members will notice that Clause 8 contains a specific statement of duty, a more express statement of duty than any previously laid upon the Board. It says: It shall be the duty of the Company to take such action as it considers necessary or desirable for or incidental to the maintenance, operation and improvement of the docks and the conservancy of the port of Liverpool… We have here a firm assertion of duty. It is in the same form, as hon. Members have observed, as that contained in the Port of London Act, 1968, and in the same form as that contained in the Transport Act, 1962, giving to the company, alongside a statement of duty, an element of judgment to take such action as it considers necessary or desirable.

The Transport Act 1962 says: It shall be the duty of the British Transport Docks Board in the exercise of their powers under this Act to provide, to such extent as they may think expedient, port facilities at the harbours owned or managed by the Board. One plainly has to have, in order to secure this balance between effective commercial management and the underlying duty, an element of discretion of that kind vested in the company. That is the position which emerges from the present provisions in the Bill. The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) would acknowledge the necessity for this balance because of the case which he argued previously about the extent to which the old Board was overwhelmed by the demands of the users—and I simplify his case—tending to disregard the other interests. What we are concerned with is not to go too far in the other direction.

The other point still concerning hon. Members is the clear statement that the provisions of Part IX of the Companies Act should apply to the new company so that it may be wound up and therefore the powers of a liquidator under Section 245 of the Companies Act be said to apply to it.

As the law is, even without any change in the Bill as it stands that is not a real anxiety, because when a company is under a statutory duty of the kind I have explained, the court will not allow the destruction of the tree that bears the fruit and, as the Salisbury Market case makes clear, and there are many others going back over a century, a statutory company with a statutory duty cannot have that duty over-ridden by mere exercise of the power to wind up and appoint a liquidator, and certainly the liquidator cannot exercise his powers so as to dispose of necessary assets.

So even on an analysis of what the powers of the company as proposed amount to, there need be no anxiety about the possibility of the company escaping the duty, and of its being wound up, without the necessity for reference to this House. But the anxiety has been expressed, and hon. Members will appreciate that the Amendments proffered by the promoters are twofold—

Mr. Heffer

When the hon. and learned Gentleman talks of reference to the House, can he say what form that reference to the House will take?

The Solicitor-General

Legislation. The Bill, if it goes through, will establish the company, subject to the duties laid out in Clause 8 which, as I say, are much more specific than the duties contained in the existing legislation. Because of the proposition of law that a company subject to these duties cannot be wound up and liquidated so as to destroy its primary purpose, for those duties to be changed it would be necessary to promote further legislation. That is quite clear.

But if one takes it a stage further by reference to the proposed Amendments, hon. Members will appreciate that the proposed Amendment to Clause 8 is to the effect that subsection (1) of that Clause shall not derogate from the obligation of the Board under the existing Acts to maintain, operate and improve the docks, and the conservancy of the Port of Liverpool, and so on. There is a duty in the existing Acts, although not explicit, and that duty is not to be derogated from, under that proposed Amendment.

The second proposed Amendment is perhaps more important from the point of view of reassurance, because it proposes to make plain that the ordinary powers of a liquidator under Section 245 of the Companies Act shall not be exercisable in respect of this statutory company so as to dispose of assets which are necessary for the continued performance of its duties. Hon. Members will appreciate that when one says that in the exercise of powers under Section 245 of the Companies Act, 1948, no part of the real or personal property of the company which is required for the performance by the Company of the duties to which it is for the time being subject shall be sold, it makes clearer the second point about which there has been some continuing anxiety.

Mr. English

I am perfectly happy with what the Solicitor-General has said so far. He seems to be supporting the view given to the Committee on the existing statutory duties. What is puzzling us now is the view expressed in one letter from the Town Clerk of Liverpool, which states: … and since the Board contend that these —that is, the existing statutory duties: only relate to the maintenance —and then he mentions three specific things which are much more limited than either the view given to the Committee by the lawyers appearing before it or those given by the hon. and learned Gentleman. There seems to be a conflict of legal view, and I bow to the hon. and learned Gentleman's eminence and that of the people who came before us. The town clerk says that the Board is contending to him that it is only limited, whereas the Board's lawyers contended to us that it was wider.

The Solicitor-General

That was why there was some misunderstanding which I hope I have resolved. It appears that the points put by the town clerk in his letter refer to specific statutory duties, whereas the point put to me by the hon. Member concerned the nature of the general duty. That was the point put to the hon. Gentleman in his capacity as a member of the Committee. The general duty of the Board is a duty to maintain, implicit from the powers it has accumulated over the years. The general duty of the company is of a similar quality but is made more explicit by Clause 8 of the Bill.

Taking the third point, the duty of the company as modified by the two proposed Amendments is plainly one to maintain the operation of the port subject to its discretion as to the factors affecting its management, and it is a duty which cannot be disposed of save by reference back to Parliament.

It would seem to me that it is not necessary to go further in order to make assurance, not merely doubly, but trebly sure. I can understand that people have wanted to be satisfied about it. The hon. Member for Walton said that the matter can be easily resolved by settlement. I suggest that there is now no need of a substantial change, that the balance suggested in one of the earlier letters from the town clerk of Liverpool has been achieved, and that the assurance that Parliamentary intervention would be necessary if the Port of Liverpool were to face the prospect of closure, which is quite unthinkable, can be given. I hope that on that basis the House will be willing to give the Bill a Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.