'The Secretary of State shall not make any grant, loan or guarantee under the provisions of this Act or the Ports (Financial Assistance) Act 1981 save on condition that the same is applied so as not to alter the relative competitive position of any employer of registered dock workers.'.—[Mr. Chope.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.10.15 pm
§ Mr. Christopher Chope (Southampton, Itchen)
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
I do not expect the clause or the second group of amendments which you have selected, Mr. Speaker, to result in Divisions. I hope that I can draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State my important reservations about the Bill.
My first reservation concerns the increase in public expenditure contemplated by the Bill—£180 million—and whether there are sufficient safeguards of the taxpayers' interests, especially having regard to the financial record of the Port of London Authority and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board.
My second reservation is that, if we have to pour another £180 million of taxpayers' money into subsidising our ports, we should do so in an even-handed and non-discriminatory fashion. It is to that second point that the new clause is especially directed.
There are three categories of port, and I shall list them in order of privilege. First there are the ports outside the national dock labour scheme. Felixstowe is a prime example of that, and there was a debate about it last night. Those privileged ports are unencumbered by the national dock labour scheme: they are free to bargain terms and conditions with their work forces in accordance with privately arranged agreements.
The second category comprises the ports of London and Liverpool. They are national dock labour scheme ports, weighed down by the burdens of the scheme. However, to a large extent, they are relieved of their burdens by the generosity of this Government's legislation.
The third category comprises the other scheme ports which have to survive without the subsidies that are given to London and Liverpool but which have the millstone of the national dock labour scheme levy around their necks. Principal among those least privileged ports is Southampton.
I understand the Government's policy to be to promote free, open and unsubsidised competition between our many ports. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said on Second Reading that it is right that in a competitive industry we should insist upon an equitable framework for competition.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services was even more explicit five years ago when he was Secretary of State for Transport. He said:The Government basically believe that the ports of this country should operate in full competition with one another and meet the normal tests of commercial viability.It would be unfair to other ports and to British industry generally if we were to pursue any other policy. My concern is that expressions of good intention by Ministers have not been realised.
263 We began down the road of steadily increasing subsidies to the otherwise bankrupt ports of London and Liverpool in 1980. The Port of London (Financal Assistance) Act 1980 gave £70 million towards to the cost of severing registered dock workers and other staff and for grants, loans and guarantees. The then Minister referred to the strict financial limit as an inherited obligation from the Labour Government. He warned that problems such as those facing the PLA could become permanent if the limit of Government help was not clearly spelt out.
In the Act the limit of Government help was spelt out at a maximum of £70 million—would that that was so today. This Bill proposes that the limit should be raised yet again to a new ceiling of £500 million. My hon. Friend the
Parliamentary Secretary was explicit in 1980 when he said:The aim set for the PLA is to cope with its major problems and to return to profitability by 1983.He expanded on that by stating that he included within the definition of a return to profitabilitythe need for it to service its capital debt, just as any other business does."—[Official Report, 16 April 1980; Vol. 982, c. 1313–79.]Would that the Port of London Authority had returned to profitability even on the basis that it was not servicing its capital debt. It is far from being in a profitable position today. I am much concerned that nothing that my right hon. Friend or my hon. Friend the Minister of State has said has indicated that there will ever be an end to the open-ended subsidy that is now going to certain ports.
§ Mr. Chope
The hon. Gentleman tries to pooh-pooh that, but under the Bill the subsidy that will go to the port of Southampton is limited to a share of £10 million in the first instance with a maximum of £40 million, whereas its principal competitors, the ports of London and Liverpool, are getting £140 million extra. In other words, their subsidy is being increased from £360 million to £500 million. That is just for those two ports alone. If the hon. Member think that that is fair shares, certainly the dockers in Southampton and their Members of Parliament do not agree.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
The new clause refers specifically tothe relative competitive position of any employer of registered dock workers.The hon. Members seems to be complaining that the subsidy for Southampton compared to that for Merseyside
or London is too small. Is that the point that he is seeking to make? If so, he is making it very badly.
§ Mr. Chope
The point that I make is that the subsidy that is going into London and Liverpool is far in excess of the subsidy for any of the other scheme ports, that that subsidy has been largely wasted in the past and that such limited subsidy as is going to Southampton and scheme ports other than London and Liverpool is far too little compared with what London and Liverpool are getting. My private view is that the ports of London and Liverpool should have been allowed to go bankrupt a long time ago. If that had happened the port of Southampton would be thriving to a far greater extent than it is.
§ Mr. Chope
I do not question the sincerity with which my right hon. Friend spoke in 1980 in the debate on the Port of London (Financial Assistance) Bill, but the sad reality is that there is no evidence that the port of London is any nearer profitability than it was in 1980, despite financial assistance of over £ 170 million. Of that, £45. 4 million was for registered dock worker severance, £ 56. 9 million for the severance of non-registered dock workers and £ 68. 1 million for guarantee loan deficit grant and written-off debt.
On the basis that all scheme ports have benefited from the £ 45. 4 million subsidy for registered dock worker severance, the payments to the Port of London Authority in breach of the principle of fair competition enurticated in the new clause total £125 million since 1980. That sum has been ploughed into the Port of London Authority in unfair competition with other ports.
It is perhaps fortunate for other ports that the Port of London Authority has not used that subsidy solely to improve its competitive position. Much of it has been frittered away in subsidising strikes, restrictive practices and employee terms and conditions which are generous to say the least.
The sad aspect of the subsidies that are going into our ports is that they are going to people who are earning £190 a week or more and are being paid for by people earning £100 a week or less. That is my main complaint. The Government are expecting people on relatively low earnings to subsidise the privileged dockers in a group of ports who are benefiting from these indiscriminate subsidies.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile that argument with the fact that in some areas there is, for the local work force, almost no other industry, unlike the position in his town, while in some areas, not least in London, the cost of living—the cost of homes and the like—is considerably greater than in some of the places about which he is speaking? If there is to be justice, it should be justice for the workers and not simply in relation to competition. That principle too should concern the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Chope
I shall be dealing with that. If those who work in the Port of London Authority were that conscious of their privilege in having jobs there, I am surprised that they were prepared to forfeit 40,800 man days in strikes last year and 88,400 in 1983, to cite but two recent years.
The hon. Gentleman fails to take account of the reality that in the Port of London Authority is a group pf privileged registered dock workers who are taking advantage of their privileged position and have been holding the rest of the country to ransom, who are enjoying the privilege of not being able to be made compulsorily redundant, who have been withdrawing their labour and adding to the cost of the port and who expect the bill to be picked up by the taxpayers, and they are ordinary people earning much less than the dockers.
The scheme ports, other than London and Liverpool, are entitled to know when this unfair subsidy to London and Liverpool will end. The taxpayer is entitled to know what conditions the Government are putting on the new finance of £140 million under clause 2. Is it throwing more good money after bad, or is there a strategy behind it?
265 Most of that money, as I say, is coming from people who would enjoy being in the privileged position of the dockers in the Port of London Authority, enjoying a minimum rate of pay of £120 a week, even for doing nothing, and an average rate of pay of £190 a week for doing, relatively speaking, precious little.
§ Mr. Chope
My right hon. Friend acknowledged on Second Reading that the taxpayers' paymentshave given the PLA and the MDHC an advantage which other port undertakings have not had".—[Official Report, 23 April 1985; Vol. 77, c. 800.]The purpose of the new clause is to blow the whistle on this unfair competition and to accept that there must come a time when it ceases to be subsidised by the general body of taxpayers.
Let us reflect on some of the facts concerning the Port of London Authority and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. Even with £170 million in subsidy to the Port of London Authority—that authority had a turnover in 1983 of about £74 million—it suffered trading losses in the four years to 1983 of £24.45 million. 10.30 pm
There were 1,691 registered dock workers employed in the port of London on 1 January 1985. That was substantially fewer than in 1984 and previous years. Those still employed in the port of London feel that they can strike when it suits them regardless of the consequences for their port. That is in stark contrast to the attitude in Southampton where, as a result of carefully negotiated agreements between the work force and the employers, a no-strike agreement and a two-year pay and conditions agreement have been entered into. Many dockers in Southampton have taken a pay cut to keep the port of Southampton viable. Would that the port of London dockers had accepted the same approach to deal with the financial difficulties facing that port.
Unfortunately, the attitude of those dockers, perhaps encouraged by the legislation that the Government have passed, is to assume that they have an indefinitely rosy future based upon grants and subsidies provided by the taxpayer.
If those who work in the port of London recognised that their jobs were on the line, they would not spend as much time on strike as they have during the past two years. During 1983 and 1984, in the port of London alone, 129,000 man days were lost. The revenue cost of strike action to the Port of London Authority in 1984 was apparently £1.25 million. That compares favourably with the revenue lost by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company which suffered a similar loss of man days. That is perhaps a sign of the productivity of the different work forces.
§ Mr. Snape
The hon. Gentleman will concede that for various reasons some man days have been lost in Southampton. He has plainly done some work on this new clause. If he feels that London has had a greater share of the scheme than it deserves, will he compare container manning in Southampton with Tilbury?
§ Mr. Chope
I wish that I could give the House the details of container manning in the port of London. 266 Unfortunately, the questions that I have asked my hon. Friend the Minister of State about efficiency increases in the port of London have resulted in bland answers and a protestation that a detailed inquiry would be in breach of the responsibility that the port has for its own activities and in breach of commercial confidentiality.
The work force and management of the port of Southampton agreed that they would eliminate the restrictive practices which had burdened the port for a long time. They reduced the basic rate of pay by up to 25 per cent. and substantially reduced the work force. For about three months, there was no regular work load. These measures resulted in the port of Southampton being highly competitive in national and international markets and winning back business from the ports of Felixstowe and Liverpool. The port of Southampton intends winning back business from other ports as well. It is doing so on the basis of sacrifices by the individuals who work in the port to ensure that the port survives to fight another day.
The evidence that I have been given in answer to about 40 parliamentary questions during the past fortnight is that the attitude of those who work for the Port of London Authority and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company is very different from the attitude of those who work for the port of Southampton. Those who work for the port of Southampton realise that their destiny is in their own hands, whereas those who work for the other two bodies seem to think that, regardless of what they do, the Government and the Conservative Goverment in particular, will give them a handout to meet the deficits that they cause by their irresponsible actions.
Before the intervention by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), I was reminding the House that, even after £170 million of subsidy, compared with an annual turnover in 1983 of £704 million, the Port of London Authority suffered trading losses of £24.45 million in the four years to 1983. That shows that the authority has not begun to become competitive and self-financing in accordance with the Government's resolve when they began to give subsidies to that port in 1980. Whenever those subsidies have been increased, my right hon. and hon. Friends have responded by saying that the subsidies were made to enable the authority to get back on its own feet and become financially viable.
§ Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)
Can my hon. Friend help us with his observations on the effect of subsidies on the efficient operation of scheme ports, especially the Port of London Authority and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company? What effect do the subsidies have on the ability of non-scheme ports to compete with scheme ports?
§ Mr. Chope
I cannot deal in detail with my hon. Friend's intervention. It is estimated that the national dock labour scheme adds 7.5 per cent. to the cost of each container dealt with by the port of Southampton. That is a cost that the ports of Felixstowe, London and Liverpool do not have to bear. The ports of London and Liverpool also receive additional subsidies. Scheme ports, other than London and Liverpool, are severely discriminated against. They are in the third division when it comes to fair competition.
§ Mr. Hickmet
In that case. if the port of Southampton and similar ports were no longer in the national dock labour scheme, what effect would that have on the viability, profitability and efficiency of those ports?
§ Mr. Chope
I can only speculate that on the basis of the commitment shown by the work force in Southampton and its management, and given fair competition between the ports up and down the country, Southampton would come out pretty near the top, as it has done in the first division of the Football League this season. There is the will in Southampton to succeed. Given fair competition, it will succeed. I venture to suggest that if we did not have the national dock labour scheme we would not have had the submission before the House last night from the port of Felixstowe to extend its operation. Felixstowe is benefiting from the fact that all its competitors have a millstone round their necks, otherwise known as the national dock labour scheme.
It is the burden of my argument that a port that wishes to get its own house in order, as the port of Southampton has shown clearly over the past few months, is still inhibited because of that unfair competition. The purpose of the new clause is to ensure that there is fair competition between the ports in a way that there has not been in the past.
I think that the House will agree that the position of the Port of London Authority is bad enough. However, the Ports (Financial Assistance) Act 1981 extended the regime of indiscriminate subsidy to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company and lifted the ceiling on payments, which had originally been £70 million, to £160 million. Later, in the Transport (Finance) Act 1982, that ceiling was raised to £360 million.
What has the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company done with all the subsidy money that it has received from taxpayers? Admittedly. it has to an extent reduced its work force. It has reduced the number of registered dock workers. With the benefit of subsidy, it has also reduced the number of non-registered dock workers. However, its net trading losses in the five years between 1980 and 1984 amounted to £18.91 million. That is after subsidy of £144.4 million. I accept that £37.5 million of that sum was on account of the severance of registered dock workers, and it could be said that that subsidy was common to all the scheme ports.
However, I cannot say the same in respect of the additional £106.9 million that the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company received in respect of severance of nonregistered dock workers and on account of guaranteed loan and deficit grant. Those are enormous sums of money. One can compare them with the turnover of that company in 1983, which was £57 million. The total subsidy that has supported the unfair competition about which I complain so strongly has been excessive. It has been the equivalent of two years' turnover of the whole port.
If I could say to the House, "Well, they are trying to do their best in the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company to put their house in order," that would be some mitigation, but I have to tell the House that last year 48,200 days were lost through strike action in the port of Liverpool. That has resulted in £4 million in lost revenue and an additional £2 million in lost profits. It is clear from those figures that the docks are being subsidised indiscriminately.
268 The management of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company has thought fit to increase the basic wages of dock workers in Liverpool far in excess of those enjoyed by most others, not least teachers, during the past five years. The House should not have much sympathy for that organisation. In 1984, the basic wages of dockers were raised by 7.4 per cent., the previous year they were raised by 9.1 per cent., the year before that by 10 per cent, the year before that by 14 per cent. and in 1980 they were raised by 18 per cent. Although there is still a substantial surplus of registered dock workers, they receive an average of £189 a week and overtime is available.
When do the Government expect the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company and the Port of London Authority to be able to trade profitably and without the benefit of any financial assistance from the Government and the taxpayer? I am sorry to say that, on 13 May, in answer to a written question to that effect I received the reply:That will depend primarily on how quickly they can match their work forces to the requirements of present and future patterns of trade."—[Official Report, 13 May 1985; Vol. 79, c. 66.]I also asked when restrictive working practices would be eliminated and received the bland answer that the details were commercially confidential. The details of the agreement made in Southampton last year to remove restrictive practices to make the port competitive were not regarded as commercially confidential. They were available to employees, shareholders and those with an interest in the port. Surely the great British taxpayer, who is keeping the ports of Liverpool and London from bankruptcy, should be entitled to more detailed answers about the progress — or lack of it — towards the elimination of restrictive working practices.
On 25 March 1981, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services said on Second Reading of the Ports (Financial Assistance) Bill:At any successive stage I shall be prepared to provide assistance under the Bill only if the authorities can demonstrate substantial progress towards reducing manpower and eliminating restrictive working practices, and if I am convinced that all concerned are committed to making the changes that are needed."—[Official Report, 25 March 1981; Vol. 1, c. 993.] Although there has been substantial progress in reducing manpower, there is no evidence of similar Progress towards the elimination of restrictive working practices. I suspect that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister are still reluctant to reveal the full facts because they might be embarrassing.Under clause 2, the contemplated subsidy per dock worker in the port of London Authority and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company amounts to £44,500. I base those figures on the fact that there were 1,349 registered dock workers in the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company on 1 January 1985, and 1,691 in the Port of London Authority—about 3,000 registered dock workers. Under clause 2 there will be an additional £140 million of taxpayers' money given in subsidies. That works out in excess of £46,000 per registered dock worker. If those ports cannot sort out their problems with that amount of money, they should be forced into bankruptcy.
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment said in Committee that of the relatively modest subsidy in clause 1 a maximum of £40 million—which will go to the dock labour scherne ports in general, other than the ports of London and Liverpool — £17 million was already bespoken. That was the 269 extent of the overdraft facility that had already been taken advantage of. We are talking of possible additional expenditure of £23 million under clause 1. If clause 1 were balanced with clause 2, and my right hon. Friend could assure me that there would not be discrimination between the various scheme ports in giving Government subsidies, I would have no complaint. However, I am worried that the relatively modest sum available under clause 1 will be far outreached by the massive sum available to the ports of London and Liverpool under clause 2.
I hope that my right hon. Friend can tell the House that he will ensure that the £10 million, which is immediately payable under clause 1, will be paid this year to the scheme ports other than London and Liverpool, so that they receive some compensation for their suffering from the imposition of the national voluntary severance scheme.
I realise that I have detained the House at length over the matter, but it is vital. Too often hon. Members on both sides disregard sums such as £140 million as being small beer, while they agonise extensively over sums less than £40 million for higher education and the grant system. They certainly agonise extensively over sums even smaller than that, and rightly so. I am disappointed that this Bill, which proposes such massive injections of additional taxpayers' money into our ports, should have received relatively little comment from hon. Members.
Everyone realises that the national voluntary severence scheme must be supported. The Government have made considerable contributions to it. I hope that in reply to the debate on new clause 1, my right hon. Friend will be able to tell the House that there will be a limit on the extent of these new subsidies, and that there will come a time when those who work in the ports of London and Liverpool must face up to reality, as those in Southampton did last year. They will have to say to themselves, "Our jobs are on the line. If we do not agree to remove restrictive practices and become more competitive, we shall fold as our port will fold". That was the ultimatum that the port of Southampton had last year, and I am proud to say that those who work there decided that the port came before their narrow interests. They decided that, for the greater good, they would keep the port going and make sacrifices. Would that the same was the case in London and Liverpool. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will ensure that there is no continuation of the unfair subsidy to London and Liverpool, which inevitably must be at the expense of ports such as Southampton.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
I listened with great interest and mounting anger to the comments of the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope), who obviously does not understand the history of the ports or the position in which the dock labour scheme ports have been placed. It is not a matter of competition, but of how the ports of the south-east and south-west coasts of Britain have taken over the role that was previously played by the major ports of London and Liverpool. They used to be the two largest ports in the United Kingdom, dealing with massive imports and exports of materials that we no longer see in our docks. The port of Liverpool employed about 15,000 registered workers after the decasualisation of the docks industry, which, it would appear, the hon. Member for Itchen wishes to be revived. He also favours the 270 withdrawal of the right of dockers to strike, because he seems to believe that there should never be a reason for dockers resorting to strike action—
§ Mr. Loyden
Yes — although Liverpool benefited from that strike, for a change.
The Bill's purpose is to wind down further the number of registered dock workers employed by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. The number of ancillary workers at the port has fallen to almost nil. That has had a dramatic effect not only on Liverpool, but on large areas of the north-west far beyond Merseyside. The hon. Gentleman should recognise that in places such as Liverpool, where unemployment is 21 per cent., there is bound to be resistance to the sort of dramatic change that has taken place in the port transport industry, with a reduction in registered dock workers from nearly 15,000 to fewer than 2,000. In the 1960s, about 18 dredgers operated in the port of Liverpool, and there was a total dredging fleet of more than 40 ships. Now there are only three, because of the closure of most of the docks at the south and north ends of the city.
The effect of the change on employment and the port-related industries is dramatic. It amazes me that there is no trace of sympathy from Conservative Members for the devastation caused by the decline of the port, which happened because of the political decision of a Tory Government to enter the Common Market. That ended the possibility of those ports continuing to flourish as they had for the whole of the century.
The speech of the hon. Member for Itchen showed the unacceptable face of Toryism towards the areas that have been devastated by the policies that he and his Government have followed. There is not a shred of sympathy for the many unemployed or for a port which was once flourishing but which is now employing, in comparable terms, only a handful of men. He recognised that one of the main purposes of the Government's port policy is to kill off the national dock labour scheme, which, in 1946, ended the inhumane way that dock workers were treated. Thousands of men used to parade on the docks to be taken on by the employers on whim. That is the sort of indignity that the Tories offer to working people, and that is what we expect from this new brand of Tory MPs.
There will be no welcome for the Bill from the port of Liverpool, the registered dock workers and ancillary workers, or the people of Merseyside. It will hasten the further downward spiral of the port by reducing the labour force. The hon. Member for Itchen did not mention the savings that had been made by the massive reduction in the payroll of both the port of London and the port of Liverpool, although he spoke at length about subsidy. Anyone who has examined these things knows that the recovery of that subsidy was amazingly quick once the payroll was reduced. It is a scandal and a shame that there has been no understanding or sympathy for the plight of these two great ports, but I should not expect that from this new brand of Tory.
I hope that the Secretary of State will ensure that the problems facing London and Liverpool will be met as they should be. They are not the responsibility of the ports but result from the dramatic changes that have taken place, not only technologically but in the location of our trading 271 ports, and they have led to the deterioration and downfall of our ports. There should be constant Government sympathy and understanding of the position. They could show that by ensuring that the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company and the port of London are not left with a burden that is not of their making, but has been acquired to sustain those ports. and to give employment opportunities, and the services provided by both ports.
§ Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)
I am much in sympathy with the thrust of the new clause. I would prefer it if the House were discussing the abolition of the National Dock Labour Board scheme, but that was not to be, at any rate not for this year. The scheme is a major distorting factor in the ports and docks industry, in which there is plenty of capacity and competition is keen between scheme port and scheme port, and scheme port and non-scheme port.
My interest in this matter arises out of the fact that in my constituency I have the most recently constituted dock in the country. On 1 January 1984, the Medway Ports authority moved into the royal naval base at Chatham, set up a subsiduary company, the Medway Chatham Dock Company, and started a commercial dock operation. The MPA already operated a highly successful deep-water dock at Sheerness.
Much that I have to say about Chatham applies equally to Sheerness, although the latter is situated just outside my constituency, and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate). Both Sheerness and Chatham are scheme ports, and are successful to boot. The new Chatham docks has started with all the disadvantages of an old-style enclosed dock, just like the London docks, the royal docks, the Surrey docks and all the old-fashioned ports. Ships have to be locked in and out and they are dependent on tidal estuarial water. Despite that, in its first year of operation, the Chatham docks showed a profit. It handled over 400,000 tonnes out of 336 vessels, and used all of its eight berths in the great number 3 basin of the former Royal Navy dockyard.
In 1985 that tonnage is expected to rise to more than 1 million tonnes. By 1988 it should reach 2.5 million tonnes. The tenants of the Medway Chatham Dock Company expect to invest £5 million in new facilities at Chatham during 1985. That is not a bad record, when one considers that in 1984 there was an irrelevant and damaging attempt to involve dock workers in the coal strike. Jobs have been created in an area of high unemployment and deindustrialisation. There may be gloomy predictions from many of Britain's ports, but the considerable success of Chatham shows that Medway is an exception. Its success is already putting a strain on the infrastructure.
One may ask why the Medway scheme ports are doing so well. Where is their business coming from? Chatham, which is well placed for the motorway network, is probably taking trade away from the east coast ports, but there is little doubt that the growth of Sheerness has been at the expense of port of London facilities, particularly at Tilbury. Why has that happened? The most telling single factor is the difference in the attitude of the work force. The men on the Medway are paid a good day's pay for a good day's work, whereas I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) would say that PLA men are paid a fair day's pay for an hour's work.
§ Mr. Couchman
The contrast in attitudes towards the 1984 strikes between the Medway men, who rapidly cleared the backlog of cargo that accumulated during the first strike and who did not go on strike at all when the second strike was called, and the PLA men in Liverpool, to whom strike action is a knee-jerk reaction. is stark indeed.
The men in the ports of London and Liverpool bear much of the blame for their lack of competitiveness and success and for the need for this House to consider raising the ceiling for financial assistance from £360 million to £500 million, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport may give to the PLA and to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company by means of grants, loans and guarantees. The Bill stipulates that that assistance should be devoted to reducing manpower in the ports and, to quote from the explanatory and financial memorardum, tosupporting them while such measures are being taken.It is the latter vague description and definition which worries the movers of the new clause, for there is a heavy suspicion that Liverpool and London are offering discounts to offset their mediocre industrial ielations, discounts which will be paid for by means of the financial assistance that they are to receive. That creates unfair distortion of the whole market and serves to put the successful scheme ports of the Medway at a grave disadvantage. The Bill both accentuates and perpetuates that unfairness.
There is another unfairness. Because the Medway ports are successful and are recruiting labour, they are paying heavily into the National Dock Labour Board levy, whereas the unsuccessful docks which are shedding labour are receiving money from the levy. The make-up of the board of 50 per cent. employers and 50 per cent. representatives of the work force controlling dicipline, employment protection and, above all, recruitment means that competition from the successful scheme ports can be stifled by the competitors of those ports and by trade unions whose interests may be very different. The scheme must mitigate against the successful scheme port in several ways and it distorts the whole market. It should have been scrapped when decasualisation took place in 1967. It should be scrapped now and the money involved in implementing the provisions of the Bill should be used to that end.
To continue to pour money into unsuccessful ports, propped up by such a distorting agency as the dock labour scheme, is as wasteful and as sterile as pouring money into unviable coal mines, unused railway lines and unwanted steel capacity. The money would be better invested—[Interruption.] It would do Opposition Members well to listen instead of chiacking from a sedentary position. The money would be better invested in making even more attractive the successful ports, such as those on the Medway. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State could make a start by providing within his roads budget a much needed new access across the Medway to the new docks scheme so that the projected 1,100 heavy lorries a day which will thunder through Gillingham and Chatham do not make the life of my constituents hell. That would be a good way of spending the £40 million included in the Bill and proposed to be used for propping up London and Liverpool docks.
273 I have a great deal of sympathy with the clause, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will accept it.
§ Mr. Snape
At the outset of the debate, I thought that we would have a nice, quiet and pleasant evening. One imagined that the Secretary of State would creep into the Chamber wearing his carpet slippers and throw a bucket of public money at the latest problem that he and his Department have managed to create by their incom-petence. The debate has been much livelier than we expected.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden), who rightly pointed out that industrial relations problems are not peculiar to Liverpool, did so with particular effect on the comparison between Liverpool and Southampton. It is not customary for Opposition Members to exacerbate the effects of industrial disputes anywhere in the country. Until comparatively recently, somewhat regrettably, the port of Southampton appeared from time to time in the long list of industrial disputes in the country. Indeed, until quite recently it was said by various Fleet street newspapers—we understand that they are not renowned for their accuracy in dealing with industrial relations — that the activities of a minority of dockers in Southampton were leading to the transfer of traffic out of the country, and that our competitors in the EEC were benefiting as a direct result.
According to the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope), who somewhat tenuously represents one of Southampton's constituencies, all these problems are behind us. The Opposition, of course, welcome that. We are delighted that industrial relations in Southampton have shown this much-needed improvement.
If ever the time of Parliament was wasted, it was for 40 minutes or so tonight with the hollow sound of whatever sort of grapeshot one could call it that came from the hon. Member for Itchen — perhaps Bordeaux grapeshot would be a good description— because the hon. Gentleman has no serious intention of asking his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to accept the clause. If the Secretary of State declines to accept it, as I fairly confidently predict he will, I hazard a guess that the hon. Member for Itchen, for all the chest beating and tub thumping that we have listened to tonight, would not dare vote for it. The port and the constituents that he represents have directly benefited from the scheme about which he complained so bitterly tonight.
§ Mr. Snape
I will give way in a moment or two. The hon. Gentleman will find it helpful if he allows me to finish giving him the verbal box round the ears before he starts to retaliate; otherwise we might well be here for considerably longer than we should.
Listening to the hon. Gentleman, one would have thought that the only two ports that had benefited from the scheme were London and Liverpool. We heard a great deal from him about the working practices and the comparatively high salaries, so he said, that the dockers earned at Tilbury. The figure of £125 was one that—
§ Mr. Snape
I always like to listen to banisters talking about the salaries of other people. I have no doubt that 274 £125 a week would not interest most of the banisters in the hon. Gentleman's chambers. I hazard a guess, looking at the hon. Gentleman's dad's occupation. that it would not keep his dad in lunches for too many wet Wednesdays.
When the hon. Gentleman talks about dockers and their wages, he should be a little less offensive. I hazard a guess that all the empty threats that we have heard this evening will not be followed by action—indeed, they could not be, because the hon. Gentleman knows full well that there have been redundancies in Southampton that were directly funded by the very scheme that he affects to despise and which he implies he will vote against if he pushes new clause 1 to a vote.
I cannot understand why the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet) has disappeared. If any hon. Member who has put his name to the new clause has a legitimate grouse, it is he. Unlike the warlike hon. Member for Itchen, the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe has in his constituency the scheme port of Immingham, which has not so far benefited from the redundancy payments payable under the scheme. Perhaps that is why he made a quick intervention, to prove to his local newspapers that he was here for a minute or two, and the scuttled from the Chamber. There is a legitimate gulf between the two hon. Members. The hon. Member for lichen represents a port that has benefited from the scheme, while the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe does not.
§ Mr. Chope
What proportion of the £360 million so far voted under the Ports (Financial Assistance) Act 1980 has been to the benefit of Southampton, and how much of the remaining £140 million proposed in the Bill will be to its benefit?
§ Mr. Snape
Again, we have the problem with Conservative Members who are all in favour of capitalism —but not too much of it in their constituencies—and against subsidies, except when the subsidies to their constituencies are smaller than those to other parts of the country.
It has nothing to do with the productivity record of Southampton that it has benefited less than the port of Liverpool. As my hon. Friend the Member for Garston accurately said, the fact that Britain joined the EEC benefited Southampton at a stroke, and provided an enormous disbenefit to Liverpool. I do not think that even the hon. Gentleman, in his desire to blow his constituency trumpet, can deny that that geographical accident —Southampton being nearer than Liverpool to the other countries in the EEC—will inevitably benefit that port and tell against Liverpool.
§ Mr. Snape
I shall give way in a moment. The hon. Gentleman had 40 minutes huffing and puffing—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Forty one."] so he had 41 minutes huffing and puffing, and if he is ever to blow down this House, he will need more ammunition than he has produced so far. I am a patient man and I am prepared to give way to him again.
§ Mr. Chope
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I do not know whether he saw a national newspaper earlier this week which had the headline:Pay-cut port sets hourly record in container trade".It stated:275The Port of Southampton, where dockers have accepted pay cuts and lower manning levels to try to win more business, set a record last week for the number of containers handled.To what extent have the ports of London and Liverpool sought to help themselves in the same way as Southampton?
§ Mr. Snape
It is not rubbish at all; it is fact. If the Secretary of State has brought the right brief, he will tell the hon. Member for Itchen that. The benefits which Southampton has enjoyed have been funded directly by the scheme which he seeks to complain about and to vote against, although we doubt whether the donning of war paint and the brandishing of spears will lead to much when the Division bells ring. We shall do our best to provide the hon. Gentleman with the opportunity of proving to his constituents that he is serious, that the chest beating that he has indulged in tonight meant something and that he seeks to prevent the port of Southampton from receiving any more benefits from this scheme which, in the terms of the new clause that he has moved, is designedso as not to alter the relative competitive position of any employer of registered dock workers.That comes from an hon. Member who has seen the competitive position of the dock workers in his constituency boosted by the scheme. For him to indulge in 41 minutes of empty rhetoric about the working practices of Tilbury and Liverpool is an abuse of your tolerance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and, as we shall see in due course, is likely to be regarded by the rest of us as an abuse of the procedures of the House.
The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) read his notes very well. He referred to the miners' strike. One can always tell when the Conservative party is getting desperate because it delves into history, whether a long way back or a short time ago. According to Conservative Members, the miners' strike was a good investment. They do not seem to be too eager to remind us of those days now, but, to give him his due, the hon. Member for Gillingham did so. He, too, was against any sort of subsidy. He implied that there could be no subsidy for outdated industries and under-used railway lines.
In the next breath he demanded extra roads to be paid for by the taxpayer to take the extra heavy lorries that he did not want thundering through his constituency. Where does he think the money will come from to pay for new roads? Is it to be plucked out of the air? The Secretary of State does not have much credibility these days, let alone any money. The money for roads comes out of general taxation or the taxation of private motorists. Certainly it does not come out of the budget for the road haulage iudustry or, fortunately for the hon. Member for Gillingham, from the ratepayers in his constituency.
Again the hon. Gentleman is fortunate, because the port to which he referred has not so far had to apply for benefits under the scheme. Is he sure that that will continue to be the case? He must not fall for the sort of empty rhetoric that was used by the hon. Member for Itchen. After all, his hon. Friend is a barrister; he is used to blowing hot and cold with empty rhetoric, and charging a pretty penny for the use of it too. The hon. Member for Gillingham has had 276 a much more varied career and he must not indulge in that sort of thing. He cannot guarantee that in the future the Medway ports will not need to apply for benefits under the scheme.
The Secretary of State is determined never to have any sort of national ports policy. He believes in the philosophy of the market place. We are eagerly awaiting his honeyed words. As I said, he will no doubt chuck another bucket of public money at yet another disaster. Nominally he believes in the freedom of the market place and he is not in favour of a national ports policy. In a moment or two he will tell the House why he cannot accept the new clause so ably if not too briefly moved by his hon. Friend the Member for Itchen.
I confess to some relish about tonight. I have not had the privilege of listening to the Secretary of State for some weeks, and when he appears before us to advocate a little Socialism, I should be the last to complain. He will tonight advocate the spending of more public money to con-ect a series of mistakes made over the years by the Department of Transport and to contradict some of the fine Right-wing phrases used by some of his predecessors.
In view of that, I urge the right hon. Gentleman to accept the new clause and show us what a good capitalist he really is. I cannot say that the hon. Member for Itchen is a good capitalist, because his port has had its nose in the trough for some time. Although the right hon. Gentleman will not want too many noses being put in the enormous trough that he will fill tonight, I hope he will demonstrate that at heart he is still an old-fashioned Treasury Minister, and accept the new clause. By so doing, he will demonstrate that, no matter what sneers come from Opposition Members or what unkind comments come from his hon. Friends, he remains a lovable and unrestrained capitalist of whom the Prime Minister approves so much that she keeps him in her Cabinet despite all the newspaper prophecies about his future and despite the more than a dash of Socialism that he will offer the House tonight.
§ The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)
What a pathetic speech the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) made. He has never made a constructive remark about anything. Indeed, if he had an entry in "Who's Who", he would list under hobbies only one—there might be others, but I had better not go into those now—and that would be "fishing in troubled waters." That is all he has ever tried to do. I assure him that tonight the waters are not as troubled as he thinks. His bait is easy to see, with a great hook sticking through it, and I advise my hon. Friends to pay no attention to that part of the debate that has been totally and utterly wasted by him.
The debate has otherwise ranged wide. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) said that Liverpool had declined because we joined the Common Market. Why, then, did London decline, as it too is on the east coast, as is Felixstowe? The hon. Gentleman stretches that point too far and fails to notice the enormous technological revolution that has taken place in the docks, with containerisation, roll on roll off and oil and bulk cargo moving by pipeline, all of which has been the cause of the massive decline in dock labour in this country.
I agree with the hon. Member for Garston that nowhere has that decline been more massive than in London and Liverpool. He quoted some figures. In 1960, there were 277 14,823 registered dock workers in Liverpool. Now there are 1,925. In London the drop has been even bigger, from 28,401 in 1960 to 2,744 now. On many occasions the House has felt that problems on that massive scale, with an industry which is not profitable, has required the intervention of the taxpayer to assist in managing the decline.
This is not the occasion, and it certainly would not be right for me, to go into comparisons between Liverpool, London and Southampton or even Chatham and Sheerness, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) referred. It would be quite wrong to go into which had the best strike record or productivity record or which, as it were, deserved rewards or penalties from the taxpayer. That is not the way to look at the matter. I acknowledge that my hon Friend's ports are now beginning to prosper and I hope that many others which have suffered serious decline will go in the same direction.
I believe that the basis on which the Government have assisted the industry is the only correct one. It is not based on strike records, efficiency, productivity or anything of that kind. It is based on the need to assist people who have to leave the industry because there is no longer any work for them. Assisting those albeit voluntary redundancies has been the purpose for which the vast bulk of the money has been used in the past. In a sense, there is no competitive advantage in it for one dock or another. That which suffers the biggest drop in its labour force will receive the largest amount of severance grant, but I am not sure that that is really relevant to the efficiency aspect.
There are three ways in which the Government can assist ports, under the 1981 Act and under the Bill if it becomes law. I should like to describe them, as I believe that this will help to allay the fears of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) that there is discrimination and that too much money will go to London and Liverpool at the expense of other scheme ports.
First, there is the money paid for the severance of registered dock workers. I believe that the figures given by my hon. Friend were correct. but that money does not go to the benefit of London and Liverpool particularly. It is paid to the National Dock Labour Board, which then compensates those dock workers whose jobs are to be voluntary severed, whatever their port of origin. Under the dock labour scheme both London and Liverpool pay the levy towards the severance fund. The benefit of the money paid for the severance of registered dock workers goes to the industry as a whole. The amount paid under clause 2 is determined by the number severed in London and Liverpool. That is the trigger determining the number of severances to be paid, but it is not and never has been an advantage for London or Liverpool. Recognising that the way in which this is funded should be broadened, however, clause 1 enables the Government to pay money direct to the National Dock Labour Board, which will be of equal benefit with the clause 2 money for the severance of registered dock workers.
Secondly, the money has been used in the past to pay for severance payments to non-registered dock workers in London and Liverpool. In this context, my hon. Friend the 278 Member for Itchen is absolutely right to say that that is an advantage which goes to those two ports and not to other scheme ports. That is why I announced on Second Reading the Government's intention to phase out the payment of severance money for non-registered dock workers in London and Liverpool in two or three stages over two or three years. We have not yet settled the details precisely but that will bring this form—it is not discrimination—of favourable treatment, compared with other ports, to an end.
§ Mr. Ridley
The hon. Gentleman has the better of me in forming the term of words.
The third way in which London and Liverpool have been assisted is through grants, loans and guarantees for their economic performance. My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), told the House in December 1982 that he would continue to meet the cost of severances by the Port of London Authority and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company and to make loan finance available for justified projects until he judged that the authorities could make their own arrangements to cover those items. He said that he would guarantee overdrafts to cover normal trading fluctuations.
I am as anxious as anyone to bring to an end the special assistance that the PLA and the MDHC receive and which other ports do not, but that must be done in a realistic way. To end it now, completely, would place a greater burden on both authorities than they could reasonably be expected to bear. That is why I intend to phase out the assistance that we have been giving in the form of guarantees and loans, and more especially grants, for the cost of severing non-registered dock workers. We have already reduced the overdraft guarantee for the MDHC from £5 million to £1 million. My predecessor said that we would not resort again to deficit financing for London and Liverpool and that I reaffirm we shall not do.
I share the objective of my predecessor of working towards a position of no favouritism. I agree that some ports have been in a third group, as it were, and have had the least help, including Southampton. That is why we, my hon. Friend and I have both suggested a way of moving such Government finance as will be needed towards the scheme ports as a whole under clause 1. Secondly, we have announced the phasing out of the payment of severance grant to non-registered dock workers at London and Liverpool. Thirdly, we shall tighten the financial regime on London and Liverpool so that as soon as it is ever possible for them to do so they will stand on their own feet without Government support.
Given the size of the decline in the work forces in the ports of London and Liverpool, there would be no possibility of anything but total collapse if the form of assistance that the Bill provides had not been extended to the ports. We are near the stage when special assistance can be brought to an end. The two ports are nearing the point where labour requirements are not far below the labour that they still have on their books.
I was shocked to hear the hon. Member for Garston say that within the Government there is no sympathy for the plight of the ports. As my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen said, there is £180 million-worth of sympathy in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman took an extreme and unjustified position.
279 I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen will accept that I have announced active measures to end discrimination. There has been an enormous reduction in the number of registered dock workers due to the impact of technological change. We are close to obtaining our goal of even-handed and non-discriminatory competition. We intend to use the Bill to reach that stage as soon as possible. I hope that my hon. Friend will not feel like pressing the clause to a Division.
§ Mr. Chope
Although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has not given a specific date by which the special assistance will be brought to an end, I hope that the House will accept what he has said in the spirit in which he said it. I hope also that his remarks will be borne out by results. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for going as far as he has, which I think is further than hitherto. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes nil, Noes 80.
|Division No. 207]||[11.39 pm|
|Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Mr. Eddie Loyden and Mr. Simon Hughes.|
|Mr. Simon Hughes|
|Amess, David||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Lester, Jim|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Lilley, Peter|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Lord, Michael|
|Best, Keith||Luce, Richard|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Maclean, David John|
|Bottomley, Peter||Major, John|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)||Mather, Carol|
|Bright, Graham||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Brinton, Tim||Mitchell, David (NW Hants)|
|Burt, Alistair||Neale, Gerrard|
|Butterfill, John||Neubert, Michael|
|Cash, William||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K, (Rushcliffe)||Penhaligon, David|
|Colvin, Michael||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Coombs, Simon||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Cope, John||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Couchman, James||Rowe, Andrew|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Dover, Den||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Durant, Tony||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Eggar, Tim||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Spencer, Derek|
|Forth, Eric||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Franks, Cecil||Stern, Michael|
|Freeman, Roger||Stevens, Martin (Fulham)|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Gregory, Conal||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Ground, Patrick||Thurnham, Peter|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Trippier, David|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Viggers, Peter|
|Harris, David||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Watson, John|
|Hunter, Andrew||Watts, John|
|Jackson, Robert||Wood, Timothy|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Yeo, Tim|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Knowles, Michael||Mr. Archie Hamilton and|
|Lang, Ian||Mr. Peter Lloyd.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Mr. Snape
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not unprecedented for an hon. Member to detain the House as long as did the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) without finding the courage to vote — [HON. MEMBERS: "Bogus."] Conservative Members do not know yet what I am about to say. The hon. Gentleman did not find the courage to vote for his new clause. Indeed, he did not find the courage even to call a Division. Bearing in mind the seriousness of the new clause that we have just been discussing and the fact that the hon. Member for Itchen took no less than 41 minutes to explain the reasons behind his tabling of the new clause, surely it must be discourteous, if not unprecedented in the House, for the hon. Gentleman then to seek to withdraw the motion, although the explanation that he received from the Secretary of State was manifestly unsatisfactory.
I have no intention of detaining the House for a moment longer than is necessary, but it is for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as an old campaigner, to guide the hon. Gentleman on his duty in the House, particularly in regard to the contents of the Bill, which are vital to thousands of people who work in ports throughout the country. I hope that you will consider, if not formally reprimanding the hon. Gentleman from the Chair, at least guiding him on the moving of new clauses and their impact on legislation as important as this Bill.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
I do not know about precedents, but I know that what the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) did was not out of order. It is not unknown for amendments and new clauses to be moved and for the mover to be persuaded by the argument. However, it is not for me to decide why the action was taken. It is for me only to say that it was perfectly in order.
§ Mr. Snape
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker — [Interruption.] I should have thought that even at this comparatively late hour the House would be interested to learn the views of at least some of us who were concerned enough about the legislation to remain here until this time of night. I object to verbal abuse from Conservative Members who have been conspicuous by their absence from the debate so far, yet on the bidding of the Whip, the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garet-Jones), come into the Chamber to seek to barrack Opposition Members who wish to make a constructive point.
In reply to the point of order that I raised. Mr. Deputy Speaker, you said that it was not unprecedented for an hon. Member who has moved a new clause, albeit at some length—and I notice that you did not comment on the time that it took the hon. Member for Itchen to move his new clause — to be persuaded by the argument. An inordinate time was taken in moving that new clause, and the explanation to which you referred, Mr. Deputy Speaker, was specious to say the least. The House is worthy of better consideration than that which it has received from the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Itchen.
In conclusion, I ask that if the hon. Member for Itchen pursues the amendments, which deal with fairly substantial matters in the Bill, they should be moved with a little more diligence and brevity than the new clause on which he recently failed to vote.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I had intended to inform the House that I allowed a fairly wide debate on the new clause —clauses 1 and 2 were referred to often—so the debate on the amendments will be much narrower.
§ Mr. Snape
To an Englishman, one valley is pretty much like another. It is bizarre even by the standards of the House of Commons for us to be taught Welsh by a resident of Brighton at midnight. My point of order is that I believe that my hon. Friend's name appears in error, and I should like your guidance on how to remove it before the amendment is debated as I know she would not want to be associated with it. I hope that when the hon. Member for Itchen moves the amendment he will make that plain.
§ Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have noticed the protest of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), but he has failed to inform us that there are no Back Benchers behind him—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. That was not further to a point of order about signatures to the amendment.
§ Mr. Harris
With the greatest respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East said that the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) wished to be dissociated from the amendment, but she is not here. No Opposition Back Benchers—rs—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a matter for me. I think that we can now consider the amendments.