§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
My Lords, I should like to start by making two personal points. In the first place, I am at this moment presiding over a committee of inquiry into the shipping industry. It might be thought that it was questionable whether it would be possible to talk about ports without introducing the subject of shipping. Nevertheless, I was anxious to speak in this debate and therefore I will do my utmost to keep off shipping as such, as it would clearly be improper for me to say anything about that industry. I hope that your Lordships will not have any reason to criticise me on that score even though you may criticise me for other things that I am going to say. The second point is that the noble Lord, Load Shepherd, ended his speech by saying that he 875 hoped that this debate would be a constructive one. I hope I shall be constructive; but at the same time I know that I shall be somewhat critical and I shall try to avoid my strong feelings getting the better of me. I hope I shall be successful in that for I will then avoid embarrassing some of my friends in the port industry.
It might be helpful if I were to start by going some way back in time to explore some of the background that led up to the publication of this White Paper. I would go right back to the autumn of 1964 when the Labour Government came into office. The Harbours Act had just been placed on the Statute Book. That Act, although covering much of the ground in the Rochdale Report, was, in certain respects, admittedly very weak. To be specific, we recommended against a purely advisory council. It is true that, as has been said, we recommended a National Ports Authority; but it was a very different kind of authority from the authority now proposed in the White Paper.
Our authority, while having some advisory functions, also had some definite powers. I am not going to catalogue them here. Those noble Lords who are interested can see them in paragraph 146 of the Rochdale Report where they are clearly laid out. I would mention just one power which is fundamental to our present discussion and which is a subject which has already been talked about a good deal today, that is, the question of the control of capital expenditure. What we recommended was that investment in excess of a minimum figure (a figure which was to be determined by the Minister) was to be controlled by the National Ports Authority but with a right of appeal to the Minister by the port authorities if they were dissatisfied with the reception the Authority gave to their applications for investment approval.
The Act placed the matter entirely the other way round and placed control on the Minister subject to his being advised by the Council. However, despite the Harbours Act being very weak in many respects, it had one particularly strong merit. This was due to the fact that the then Minister of Transport, the then 876 Parliamentary Secretary, Admiral Hughes-Hallett, the then leader of the Front Bench of the Labour Opposition at that time, Mr. Mellish (whose name we read in the newspapers this morning), cooperated so well together that the Bill went through both Houses more or less as an agreed measure. So it looked then as if the backing of the Minister of Transport—of whatever colour he might turn out to be following the General Election of 1964—was assured; and that, therefore, something really good could be achieved by the Council and the industry during the following years.
It was my earnest hope at the time that, unlike what we had experienced in other sections of the transport industry, we should find that politics was not allowed to interfere with what was done. It was, however, all too soon before this seemingly bright prospect was seen to be little more than a pipe dream. Admittedly, if we look back to that first winter, the winter of 1964/65, there were considerable difficulties and considerable delays in the major ports. There were many reasons for those delays, largely outside the field of today's discussion, though it is, I think, pertinent to mention one in particular. The fear in the country just before the Election that the Labour Party might introduce considerable import controls resulted in exceptionally heavy buying overseas of all kinds of goods, which in turn resulted in, or aggravated, congestion in the ports. That was peculiarly troublesome because at that time as your Lordships will remember, there was in London a ban on overtime which spread elsewhere, so the situation was particularly unhelpful at that early time.
At any rate, serious congestion that winter in some of the major ports eventually provided a ready-made excuse for some important personage—I do not know whom, though one may hazard a guess—to float the idea of nationalising the port industry, perhaps as an alternative to nationalising the steel industry which, as your Lordships will remember, was a highly controversial matter at the time and clearly impossible of achievement with a Government majority of only one. So it came about that as far back as 1965 the uncertainty of possible nationalisation began to permeate the industry.
877 My Lords, I am not going to catalogue the rather tedious history of events. Some of them are referred to at the beginning of the White Paper in a sort of prologue; some, perhaps, it is in the interests of the Government to forget. But I would make the point—in effect it has been referred to already, I think, by both noble Lords—that five years of ebb and flow, of political uncertainty, is the most damaging climate in which any industry should have to operate, particularly an industry which has already embarked on a major reorganisation. However, my Lords, I am most anxious to be absolutely fair about the assistance or otherwise that we were given in those earlier years.
There were a few bright spots and I should particularly like to pay a most sincere tribute to the then Minister of Labour, Mr. Ray Gunter, because it was his determination to push ahead with the Docks and Harbours Act 1966, which followed my Committee's Report and then Lord Devlin's Report, that succeeded in implementing the most important points, namely, the decasualisation of labour and the reduction in the number of employers by licensing. This was of immense importance, and in that context I should like to pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Brown, which was very important. I would also pay tribute to the individual officials in the Ministry of Transport who, I am sure, were anxious to help if they could. But, my Lords, their political masters, I am sorry to have to say, created a situation which to me seemed to indicate that they were trying to work constantly against the Council rather than to spur it on to do more and to do it it quickly.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, made a very pertinent remark that the effectiveness of any organisation depends on the willingness of those who have to operate it. He went on to say that while something obviously had been done during these years, a great deal more should have been done and needed to be done. I would agree with him. Had we had enthusiastic backing from the then Minister of Transport, carrying her colleagues with her and using—if I may put it this way—all the fire and cajolery which we have come to expect of her, a great deal more would have been done during those first few years of the history of the 878 Council. But, my Lords, that enthusiastic backing was not forthcoming.
Despite all this, and the frustration and uncertainty that it engendered, the industry and the Council together have achieved a fair amount; and here I should like to pay a great tribute to my successor, Sir Arthur Kirby, and his colleagues for what they have done. Like other noble Lords, I would pay tribute to this new publication which I also have had the opportunity to look at rather briefly, and I commend it to all those who are interested in this subject. It is a very remarkable and worthwhile document.
My Lords, I feel that it is against this background that we should assess the proposals in the present White Paper. The proposals in the working document, which are also referred to at the beginning of the White Paper, have certainly been watered down very substantially, and in very good cause. I would go along with those who congratulate the Minister on having had the courage to bring the proposals down as far as he has. I imagine that in so doing he hardly pleased his colleagues on the extreme Left. Yet, on the other hand, these watered-down proposals are still basically bad, in my opinion, and they become even more irrelevant in their present guise.
At the risk of appearing to your Lordships to be insufferably conceited, may I say that I am still of the opinion that the basic structure which my Committee recommended in 1962 was right then and is basically right to-day; though of course I recognise that every structure, whatever it is, must be capable of constant adaptation and flexibility to meet changes, whether in the pattern of trade, technology or in any other circumstance. So my first real question on the White Paper is this: having had the courage to water down the proposals so far, why make this change at all? In other words, I repeat what my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn has already said: why not try to improve what you have already, even if it is of Conservative origin?
Let me remind your Lordships that the Labour Opposition did not vote against the Harbours Act at its Second Reading. In fact, right at the beginning of his speech in another place Mr. Mellish said that he could assure Members 879 that the Bill would get an unopposed Second Reading. Is the reason for going ahead that, having dangled the carrot of nationalisation for so long before the Left wing, there is no going back? I should be shocked to feel that it was due to any really strong support from the leaders in the industry that the Minister finds encouragement to go ahead. But, whatever the excuse, I, like my noble friend, can find no real answer in the White Paper.
Looking at the White Paper, one sees that there are two main objectives which seem to stand out. The first is in the field of port investment and is referred to in paragraph 6. It is that misdirection of resources shall not continue. The second is that there shall be a greater concentration of general stevedoring into the hands of the harbour authority. Since 1964 port investment, as we already know, has been in the hands of the Minister for approval; over half a million pounds for each project. So I find it difficult to interpret the White Paper other than by saying that when the Minister says that without national ownership misdirection of resources will continue, what he in fact is saying is that his immediate predecessor, the First Secretary of State, and to a less extent himself during the last year or so, have been guilty of the misdirection of very considerable resources. I cannot feel that he thinks that, and I do not honestly believe it myself. A scheme put up by the port authorities, following their own most careful planning, has to go to the National Ports Council and they have another rigorous assessment of it. Then it goes on to the Ministry of Transport and is assessed again. In passing, I would say that this is needless duplication and highly wasteful.
I know that it has been said that in some cases there has been misdirection. Let me take the case of deep-sea container berths. Some people think that approval has been given for too many. The total number of berths which have been approved is 16 and in the order of 12 have been completed, and all are in use except some in London. for regrettable reasons about which we know and which are best not spoken about much more. The present indications fire that there are not too 880 many container berths planned. That is particularly true when the number is compared with the numbers being planned for New York and in Japan.
Perhaps it would be as well to look for a moment at the overall figures. This massive document contains some important tables on port investment, where your Lordships will find a great deal of information about the schemes that have been approved, that have been completed or that are being put in hand. There is information about both major schemes and minor schemes under half-a-million pounds. I find it difficult to deduce from the totals the actual amount of major schemes approved by the present Government, whether completed or not, but I judge the total to be of the order of £150 to £170 million for major schemes and of the order of £90 million for minor schemes.
The important point I would make is that this latter figure will include schemes in many ports which the Government have no intention of taking over under these proposals and which are therefore outside present discussion. They will also include some minor schemes which have been approved by the Government, of necessity, because Government approval must he obtained when a grant is needed; so the balance of schemes relating to ports which will be included in the White Paper proposals, over which the Minister could, on nationalisation, assume control, becomes much more limited. In any event, even to-day the Minister could, if he wanted, get more control over those minor schemes under the provisions of Section 9(12) of the Harbours Act. But this would be restrictive and could only act against the adaptability and competitive prospects of the industry. The point I am asking is that I find it difficult to see how there can have been misdirection that needs radical change to put it right.
But what about the future? The position, as I see it, is that the broad pattern of major port investment is already in being and while, of course, there will be need for continuing heavy investment, it will largely be within the framework that has already been determined. To sum up on investment, I do not feel that a charge of misdirection holds water. At any rate, it offers no excuse for nationalisation. In my view, the present 881 machinery, with some improvements, provides a sensible and perfectly adequate measure of control.
I should like to move to port operations and I want to divide what I have to say about this under two headings: operations between ports and operations within ports. Paragraph 4 of the White Paper refers to some 300 harbour authorities, but, I would suggest to your Lordships, putting it in that way is misleading and tends to over-emphasise existing fragmentation and to discount the considerable amount of work already done in grouping port authorities in the major estuaries. Those that have been grouped have already been referred to and I will not repeat the list and so take up your Lordships' time. But, bearing in mind that of these 300 harbour authorities it is not proposed to nationalise at least 250—although somebody referred to 270—it really means that these nationalisation proposals will have no effect whatsoever on the so-called damaging fragmentation.
If we take the major groups referred to in Annex I of the White Paper and the fact that they are responsible for 87 per cent. of the total trade, what is important and what both noble Lords who have spoken have emphasised is that there should be the ability for competition between them. The White Paper says:It is, indeed, important to ensure that there should be competition on service and on price between individual ports in the public sector."—[Paragraph 22.]In passing, it is interesting to mention that in a recent speech I read, the Chairman of the British Transport DocksBoard said that he allowed his own ports competition on service but not on price, whereas the White Paper says that there must be competition on service and on price.
In paragraphs 19 to 22 of the White Paper the Government set out in some detail how the authorities should in general conduct their affairs, and it is summed up in paragraph 22, which says this:… as a result of these arrangements there will be co-ordination of investment and planning, and of operations within the ports,…I feel pretty sure that as he was writing this, the draftsman must have felt that 882 he was running into difficulties, and thought perhaps that at that stage he had better say something about competition, so he went on to say:… this will not mean the elimination of competition.That is completely ridiculous. The more facilities are controlled, the fewer must be the opportunities for competition. As I see this happening, port authorities will increasingly become the puppets of the central Authority. The result will be that they will not attract to them the individual members they have to-day, their structure will gradually become solidified and charges will rise. I do not see how that can be avoided. Yet the White Paper says that this will not interfere with competition. I do not see how that is possible. However, I will leave that point, and go on to say something about operating within ports.
I should not disagree in any way with the 15. Indeed, I have considerable sympathy with the comment in that paragraph where it points out that, despite the greatly reduced number of port employers brought about by licensing under the 1966 Act, the pattern is still complex and leading to divided responsibility. This question of divided responsibility in the ports is of enormous importance. I have always felt that it provided a serious weakness in our ports system. So I should not object in any way to paragraph 16, where it says that the port authority,should become the principal operators of port services and facilities within their ports, and, by virtue of this, the principal employers of port labour.That seems to me to be sensible and right: indeed, the move is already well on the way now under the 1966 Act.
I must qualify that by saying that I feel very strongly that there should be allowed to continue and develop the specialist operator, whether he be a shipowner, a through transport operator, or whoever he may be, being allowed to lease and operate, if he wants to, his own premises in the port. This already happens in this country very effectively, and it happens to an even greater extent in some of the most efficient continental and overseas ports. But I go further still and say that in the very long course I believe there may be room for one or two independent 883 providers of common user services, as well as the port authority itself, to operate in clearly defined areas of the port set aside for their sole use. These, and the specialist firms to which I have already referred, must be free to carry on and develop their business without the Sword of Damocles referred to in paragraph 17 being always there threatening to take them over if they do too well. In many respects, I cannot but think that the Minister would agree with much of what I am saying in this particular context, but he may feel that he has his hands tied and cannot do it. However, I put the suggestion forward.
There is another aspect which is absolutely essential. Jumping forward to paragraph 30 of the White Paper, it says:… the Government attaches considerable importance to fostering the direct relationship between registered dock workers and their operational employers …This, of course, is of absolutely transcending importance, and it really comes back to Lord Shepherd's point on the question of willingness to make the thing work. It was never possible with a casual labour system, but now that we have decasualisation the way should be open to reaching the position of normal employer/employee relationship, with some accepted form of joint negotiating machinery.
That more progress has not already been made with the advantages of decasualisation must, I am afraid, to some degree be laid at the door of the threat of nationalisation. I am sure that this has held up progress because the employers have not been willing. In saying that, I am not decrying the National Dock Labour Board. I would certainly pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Crook, who was for a long time the Chairman of that Board, and the present Chairman, Mr. Grint, and to others. But I believe there is evidence to think that even Ernest Bevin, when he originally created the National Dock Labour Board, regarded it as a transitional and not a final answer to the problem. This was a point that was entirely endorsed by the Leggett Committee when they reported in 1951. The question is: if that is so (and I believe it is so), why does the White Paper evade the issue?—because it does evade the issue. It 884 changes the name from "boards" to "committees", but the system seems to continue in perpetuity.
I have tried to confine my remarks to these three main issues of investment, organisation and operations, employer and employee relationship because I think they are the most important. I would not for one moment say that I have taken them in the most important order, but I have taken them in the order in which they occur in the White Paper. The conclusion that I come to is much the same as the conclusion to which my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn came; namely, that we are under present legislation already moving forward. There is much still to be done. There is certainly room for some legislation to improve the present situation and to strengthen the National Ports Council—and maybe to change the name to the National Ports Authority. The sort of changes which my noble friend suggested I should endorse 100 per cent. But there is absolutely no case for nationalisation. This, to me, is quite irrelevant, and I earnestly ask the Minister whether he will think again. I say that not in any Party spirit, not from any blind dogma or even resentment on my part, but because I am convinced that such an upheaval as is envisaged here must result in a set-back just when the industry is on the move forward, and when it needs to go faster and not slower.
§ 4.36 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF COVENTRY
My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships long, not least because I do not want to keep you long from the noble Lord, Lord Geddes. Your Lordships may wonder why a Bishop should desire to take part in this debate, and particularly a Bishop from a diocese in the very centre of this country and, therefore, as far as possible from the sea and the ports of this land. I can only say that for over forty years I have been deeply interested in, and concerned about, the employers and the labour force of the docks, ever since I was privileged to be curate to that very remarkable man the Reverend Tubby Clayton, founder partly of Toc H, and with him began to move around among the labour force in Dockland in London, and subsequently, a few years later, was a little responsible for the starting of what is now known as the South London Industrial Mission.
885 I suppose it is true to say that there can be few industries in this country with a more unhappy history than the docks, partially because of what we have already heard, the fragmentation of ownership—which, thank God, has been greatly reduced of recent years—but also because of the longstanding insecurity of the labour force, which also, thank God, has been very much improved since the decasualisation of the labour force, due in no small extent to the noble Lords, Lord Rochdale and Lord Devlin. There has been, also, a silent revolution in the handling and shipping of cargoes. Even so, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, there is a great deal of ground for improvement if one looks at the ownership of the docks.
I wonder how many of your Lordships know the full extent of this incredible division of ownership. There is just no uniform system of port ownership in Britain. Some ports are controlled by the British Transport Docks Board; some are organised independently as trusts under the management of statutory port authorities; a few are municipally owned, and a number are owned by private companies. Even in London, where the general impression prevails that the Port of London Authority own everything, ownership is in fact diffuse. The Port of London Authority own the closed docks, but not the river wharves; and there are more ship wharves on the river than there are ship berths in the enclosed docks. Furthermore, in the enclosed docks the Authority carry out all capital development schemes, including building of docks, quays, warehouses and sheds, and providing cranes, railways, forklift trucks, et cetera. But the Authority have no power to control the use of these facilities, even though they have been provided from public funds.
Side by side with these port authorities are a multitude of private firms and other bodies, covering such varied functions as pilotage, lighterage, conservancy, warehousing, and so on. In other words, in almost every port still there is a large number of employers of labour which leads to divisions of responsibility in the loading and unloading of ships. As we have heard in the debate of to-day, much has been done through the unifying of ownership under the National Ports Council, but much still remains to be done.
886 When we turn to the labour force we find that the port industry is, and always has been, at the mercy of wind, weather and harvest. The uncertainties of shipping and cargo have caused to gather around the ports small communities, as I well know, of a rather tough, independent breed of men, whose way of life is curiously isolated from the larger community in which they live. The insecurity of work—and how marked it was thirty years ago, when one saw them standing in hordes outside the dock gates!—has bred a determined independence in Dockland. The work can be hard, dirty, difficult, cold, hot, smelly, and often disagreeable. The former system of employment—the "free calls", as it used to be called—prior to decasualisation, encouraged the very worst in human behaviour. Men presented themselves for work and waited to be selected. Although this system ended with decasualisation, it has left an indelible mark in the minds of those who suffered from it for far too long.
To turn to the unions, the two main unions representing the interests of the dockers are of course, on the one hand, the Transport and General Workers' Union, and, on the other, the National Amalgamated Stevedores' and Dockers' Union. The latter has a smaller but very militant membership and a considerable foothold in London, Liverpool and Hull. The ground is ripe for unofficial activity, and the leader of almost every subversive sect in the country has a following in one or other of the docks. Although the unofficial port workers' committees were recently disbanded, the influence is none the less still there, and it would be difficult, I think, to estimate the numbers involved. The fact is that the militant, and often impossible, demands made by the leaders give the men a sense that someone cares for them and is prepared to fight their case; whereas their union officials do not always appear to do so. Agitators in the London Docks, in particular, are able to subsist on voluntary contributions from the men, leaving them free to pursue their destructive work, dividing the men more and more from each other, from their elected leaders and from the employers.
Let me now turn to the White Paper, which, like so many others, I have not had long enough to digest. Whether or 887 not we approve of the Government's plan for nationalisation of the docks is, of course, a matter of personal persuasion, but I can only say, as a layman, that one is rather doubtful whether there will be time to undertake legislation on so complex a matter, remembering in particular the vast number of owners, within the life span of this Government. And a Conservative Government are openly committed to unravelling any attempt in that direction. Surely this will present additional uncertainty in an industry already riddled with uncertainty and fear.
But, of course, the picture is not wholly without hope. Ever since the Second World War there has been progressive change in the way of management, in the movement of cargo and ships—larger and deeper vessels, up to 200,000 tons; heavier loads; greater use of road vehicles; greater cargo capacity. In other words, what bas been called the container age is definitely with us. Goods can now be packed at the point of origin and delivered, without repacking, to the point of destination.
My Lords, it is just at this point that the two main factors in industry meet and seem to be pulling in divergent directions. I believe that this is true not only of this particular industry but in many industries. On the one hand is the necessity to introduce to an ever-increasing degree mechanical aids and modern methods in the handling of goods, and on the other is the resistance to such change—vested interests at every point fighting to preserve the status quo. And, as in the case of so many other industries, the technological advance seems to have outstripped man's ability to release himself from the bondage of prejudice in favour of the wider vision. Technical development and advance, changing structures in industry, mergers and closures all bring in their train fear and insecurity. Many dockers to-day, particularly the older men, fear for their livelihood. To dismiss this fear as stupid, and the unrest it causes as mere intransigence, is not helpful to the situation; for the fear is very real, very understandable and of long standing. Many working practices which were not previously restrictive will become so under the impact of this technical advance.
Unions are frequently blamed for out-moded practices, and popular opinion 888 would have the unions give up such restrictions in the national interest. But every craftsman knows that it is his duty to the union and to his fellows to prevent trespass and, if possible, to gain more ground. Anything deliberately done to reduce even slightly the existing territory is suspect, because people think that it will lead eventually to the destruction of their craft.
My Lords, I believe that the solution lies more along what I would call human lines rather than along organisational lines—perhaps that is a Bishop speaking. Nevertheless, I believe that what is needed is an understanding of the nature of the man himself; of his background, his fears, his weaknesses and his longstanding pride; and, above all, a better communication. How often one hears this in every industry in the country to-day: a sharing of information, plans and hopes, between those who are responsible for the industry and the men whose livelihood depends on them! Were this to come about it would go a very long way to the elimination of many of the fears that grow in the human heart and fester there. It is, I believe, along these human lines of better understanding and communication that progress towards peace and unity in this very turbulent history may be found.
§ 4.47 p.m.
My Lords, I must first of all declare an interest. When the White Paper was published I was still President of the Chamber of Shipping of the United Kingdom. As such I led a deputation from the Chamber to the Minister of Transport, when we made known to him the preliminary views of the shipping industry. Those exchanges have since continued with my successor as President. I can no longer, therefore, speak to your Lordships with the authority of that office, but I know that as a director of a shipping company, and as one who is still closely associated with the Chamber of Shipping, I can reflect in what I say the views of an industry which is a major user of our ports.
And it is the user who, in the last analysis, must count most of all. It is one thing for committees or Governments to work out and proclaim a plan for port reorganisation. It may sound splendid, full of promise for this interest or that, 889 and bowing to this principle or that; but if in hard practice its end result is to increase the real costs of transport, then to the provider of transport, the user of the ports, it will have failed. That is the test which the shipping industry must apply. We are not concerned with theory or dogma; what we are concerned with is, first, to end the uncertainty which for so long has bedevilled the port industry of this country and secondly, to ensure that what is finally done really works in practice, that it does so efficiently and that it reduces, rather than increases, port costs.
These costs are high. To a liner company they represent something like 30 per cent. of total costs. We all, Government included, have an interest in such a high proportionate level of costs, for it directly affects our exports which are the staple liner traffic. In 1967 British ships themselves earned £460 million in gross exports, which is a measure both of the importance of the shipping industry as an invisible earner—the largest single contributor, in fact—and also, though only partly or indirectly, of the significance of port costs as a major factor affecting this contribution.
To speak plainly, port costs here in this country compare badly with those elsewhere in similar circumstances. This is the heart of the matter. It is therefore practical, pragmatic considerations that have governed the attitude of the shipping industry to the White Paper. We had been frankly worried by the previous proposals that the Government had aired. The new White Paper is unquestionably more realistic, and we welcome the changes in it. In particular, we were glad to see that the wholly unnecessary third-tier structure—the regional port authorities—had been dropped. There were other improvements, too, such as the exclusion, at least for the time being, of ports such as Felixstowe and Shoreham.
Nevertheless, there were also serious blemishes. These we have made clear to the Minister, and there has been a frank and valuable exchange of views. We have left him in no doubt that we regard the inclusion in the list of harbour authorities to be taken over of Milford Haven and the Medway, and also Finnart, as unnecessary and unjustified. 890 These authorities are almost exclusively engaged in the oil business. If the volume of oil handled in the privately owned terminals within the harbours were excluded there would be no question of the trade of these authorities approaching the criterion of 5 million tons per annum. The existing port authorities there arc concerned mainly with the conservancy work required by the traffic at the private oil terminals with whom they work very closely. The port authorities own few assets, and they have none of the dock labour problems that exist elsewhere. This is a highly specialised business, requiring and achieving close collaboration between the conservancy authority and the operators of the private terminals. The result is a degree of efficiency which is satisfactory to all concerned. Why, then, take them over? Who is to benefit; and how?
The Minister has told us that he will look to the National Ports Authority to put to him a scheme of organisation which it considers could be the means of providing for the most economical and efficient running of these ports. These are fine words, and I know that the Minister intends them to be helpful and positive. Clearly, once one assumes the basic decision to take over these ports much can be done, in terms of the constitution of the proposed subsidiary port authorities, to leave well alone in practice. The Minister can be sure that the Chamber of Shipping will co-operate to the full in this, if so invited by the N.P.A. But I must urge the Government to think once again before they bring these magnificent installations within the scope of this legislation at all.
For that matter, why include Manchester? Here is a port which, so far as I can see, already has all those qualities and attributes that we arc assured will be conferred by nationalisation. But it is independently and efficiently run. Why bring it within the scope of the Bill, just for the sake of it? What will be gained? What could well be lost? At the very least, give it an independent existence as an estuarial authority in its own right. Let us hope, here again, that the N.P.A.'s scheme of organisation will prove sufficiently flexible, in the event, to cope with this need, and similarly with the different but equally important problem of Bristol. I will not presume to put 891 the City's case for total exclusion, but what I will do is to emphasise how strong is the case for keeping Bristol separate from the South Wales ports. They may all be on one estuary, but there the resemblance ends.
I should like to say one last word on organisation. The ports which are not to be taken over have had a new lease of life; and how glad we all are! They will make the most of it and will provide that necessary competitive element, that sort of gadfly, which will be so very important. I know and appreciate that the Minister means to provide sound and adequate safeguards against further acquisitions merely at the whim of the N.P.A.—the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has assured us of that this afternoon. But would it not give these ports some rather more certain scope for enterprise if they were to know that there was a definite cooling-off period of, say, five years before further takeovers could be made? The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, made it clear that that was not in mind, but he did not explain why. Surely this is not very much to ask.
Let me now state briefly but clearly those matters for which the Bill ought to provide, if it is to work effectively. First of all, there must be competition between the ports. I know that the White Paper promises to preserve this as a principle, and again this is a matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has referred. But let it be genuine, in price as well as in service. The one is no good without the other. Together they mean everything to the shipowner, be he British or foreign. Second, it should be made clear that each port will stand on its own feet, with no cross-subsidisation. Then we can all see which is doing well and which is not. There is no better spur to efficiency. Third, port users must have an effective voice in port affairs. By this we do not mean, any more than the Minister does, that representatives of the shipping industry as such should be appointed to the N.P.A. or its subsidiary authorities. But what we do mean is that shipping men with hard practical experience in the use of ports should be included. Their voice and their experience do matter; and I know that the Minister agrees. We trust that the Bill will say so in specific terms.
892 Finally, my Lords—and this is probably the most important of all—the Bill should provide a realistic degree of flexibility as to the provision of port services and port labour. I wish I could feel confident that control of port labour by the N.P.A. will promote the desperately needed improvement in industrial attitudes and relations which we have all hoped would flow from the implementation of far different proposals for regularising employment put forward by Lord Devlin, after exhaustive inquiry, and, so I thought, approved by this Government. Such a fundamental change of direction at this stage carries grave risks.
As to services, what is to remain on the independent side of the line? Over many years most regular sea carriers have been involved in stevedoring activities to ensure total and continuous control over the movement of goods, since their handling from initial receipt to ultimate delivery constitutes a single process. In many cases port authorities are by agreement now playing a valuable supplementary part in this field, but to transfer the whole of it to them by Statute is a very different matter. This traditional involvement in through control becomes even more vital with the introduction of containerisation and other forms of unitisation, and shipowners believe that the concept of through transportation, which is rightly recognised as one of the cornerstones of more efficient maritime transport, would be seriously undermined by the wider division of responsibility between ship and shore which must result from the imposition of a totally autonomous cargo-handling organisation between the shipowner and his customers.
In our view, the creation of a monopoly by which the nationalised authorities became the sole operators of port services and facilities within their ports would undermine the degree of through control already exercised by a number of shipowners, and it is felt that the high level of efficiency obtained by it which is so essential to the rapid turnround of shipping would be lost. I would ask the Government to think again on this issue, and to think very carefully. We do not dispute the right of port authorities, including the nationalised authorities, to be substantial operators of port services and facilities, but we strongly oppose the creation of a monopoly situation and the 893 consequential elimination of competition. Let the Bill, therefore, leave scope for practical, realistic negotiation in this vital matter. Otherwise, we are convinced that there will inevitably be all-round increases in cargo-handling costs, which will put us at a still greater disadvantage with the highly competitive Continental ports, which, though publicly owned, arc privately operated.
In this connection I draw attention to a major example of the diversion of traffic to Rotterdam. The two British shipping consortia who have built the largest, fastest and more sophisticated container ships now afloat to serve the trade between the United Kingdom and Australia, and who planned to use a specially designed terminal at Tilbury, in the Port of London, as their base, have been frustrated in their purpose by the action of a lay committee of the union in imposing a ban on the implementation of all package deals and new agreements directed to the introduction of modern methods of handling cargo, pending the satisfaction of demands for revised pay and conditions throughout the entire port.
This ban was imposed last year and is being maintained in the face of an agreement freely entered into with the men in Tilbury and supported fully by their shop stewards and their union officials at all levels and after full consultation. The consortia were determined to honour their contracts with the wide and important range of exporters who wished to use the modern service being provided, and with the delivery of their new ships had no option but to make alternative arrangements to operate from Rotterdam. The service has received considerable support and it is only sad that this important volume of British trade is now passing through a foreign port rather than through London for which it was destined, and where great sums have been invested to provide some of the finest facilities available in Europe, if not in the world.
It is perhaps some consolation that the consortia, in being forced to move the trade across the North Sea, have proved convincingly one of the basic characteristics of the modern method of containerisation; that is to say, its flexibility. Nevertheless, the dangers to 894 British interests, including, of course, those of the workers in the ports of this country, are obvious, and it is a situation that requires urgent solution if a pattern is not to be established which would risk leaving Britain as a mere point of trans-shipment.
Be that as it may, what the shipping industry as a whole is saying to the Government is briefly this. "Your White Paper is not what we should have liked and it is doubtful whether it will achieve the efficiency in port operation which it claims. Even so, it offers a basis of re-organisation on which a lasting, effective ports system could be built. We, as port users, have a real stake in ensuring that this is achieved. We also have constructive contributions to provide, based on our practical experience and our need to be competitive world-wide. We know that you have taken careful note of what we have had to say. Let us now work together to make the Bill and its subsequent administration as good and effective as it can possibly be."
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
My Lords, I should like to offer your Lordships a few ideas of a practical nature about the White Paper, but before doing so I must declare my double interest, both as Chairman of the Port of London Authority, one of the ports which is proposed to be transferred to the National Ports Authority, and also as a member of the National Ports Council. Needless to say, any views I express are not the views of either of those two authorities. I do not want to talk at all about the pros and cons of nationalisation, except perhaps to remark that, listening to this debate, I have been struck by how narrow really the margin is between the two sides of the House. The sort of structure that we are all looking for seems to me to be a structure that could be equally adapted to a nationalised industry and to an industry organised without nationalisation. What is essential, I feel sure, is to get right the relationship between the Minister, with his responsibilities to Parliament, the National Ports Authority and the subsidiary authorities.
When I came to examine the White Paper, like everyone else I started at the beginning, and when I reached paragraph 2, which has, I think, already been 895 quoted, I felt very much encouraged. It says that the National Ports Authority… must have power to determine the nature and shape of the British ports industry …";and if we are to have a central controlling authority that is precisely what it ought to have. But this power is very considerably whittled away as we go on through the Paper. First of all, we come to paragraph 8, which I think may be open to two interpretations, because at the end it says:The take-over … will be supplemented by the continuation of the Minister's power under section 9 of the Harbours Act … to control major harbour developments.There is a sentence then that says:This will provide means of ensuring that investment in non-nationalised harbours does not conflict with the national interest.But I have made some inquiries and I am told—the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will correct me if I am wrong—that the Section 9 principle will also apply in the nationalised sector. So, as the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, pointed out, we shall be perpetuating this system by which proposals for development have to be approved not only, obviously, by the central Authority which will be in charge but also by the Minister. In what way is the central Authority really in control of the shape of the ports industry?
Again, when we come to paragraph 42, we find it says:The Minister's relationship with the … Authority … will be seen "—to be—the normal one between a sponsoring Minister and a nationalised undertaking.I wonder whether we feel sure that the operation of nationalised undertakings has been so generally successful that we must assume that the normal relationship established in the past between a Minister and a nationalised undertaking is the right one. It seems to me that a far better system would be for the national Authority to be, as the White Paper says, in control of its policy, subject to very general directions from the Minister. These general directions, I suggest, and the framework within which they work, should be made known to 896 everybody. The Minister should then advise, let us say, that, "During the coming year you may approve of £50 million of capital expenditure, of which I shall expect 25 per cent. to come out of cash flow; there will be the port modernisation grant, and the rest you are free to borrow". Then it should be left to the national Authority to decide how that money should be laid out.
If, as one can well imagine, there are claims for more than £50 million in a particular year—I have taken that figure at random—it should be for the National Ports Authority to say, "Having looked at the whole position, we feel that the cut will have to fall on that one". How do they have control over the position if the Minister can say, "No, you are not to cut that one but some other one"? I do not see how the national Authority get the position of power described in paragraph 2 unless the Minister's control in that direction can be limited. When I have discussed this subject with people they have said, "That is quite impossible, because the Minister is responsible to Parliament and he has to answer for everything that happens". But is it not a fact that a line is drawn beyond which the Minister is perfectly free to say, and does say, "This is a matter for the management and I have no power to intervene"?
If Parliament wants to achieve this, it must write the limit into the Bill in the right place, because, of course, every time you give the Minister power to intervene you give every Member of Parliament, whether in your Lordships' House or in another place, and indeed everybody outside, the right to urge him to intervene. And so a policy which might be a perfectly sound and proper policy to produce economic ports for the users is distorted by pressures from outside. I should have thought the Minister would he very pleased to accept in the Bill something which limits very strictly his powers of intervention so that he could properly resist the pressures which will undoubtedly be brought to bear upon him.
Now what about the relationship between the national Authority and the subsidiaries? There is one passage in paragraph 3 of the White Paper to which I should like to call your Lordships' attention where it lays down the task 897 of the National Ports Authority, which is,to plan the future development and rationalisation of physical facilities"—that is all right; and then it goes on,whilst at the same time adopting the organisation of work in the ports to modern needs.Surely that is the responsibility of the subsidiary authorities who are doing the work. I do not see the responsibility resting on the national authority to,adapt the organisation of work … to modern needs.That seems to me essentially a problem for the management of the subsidiary authorities, and I would hope that in the course of time that might be established.
Leaving that point aside, I come to ask myself, where is the thinking going to be done? Ultimately, there must obviously be thinking both in the subsidiary authorities and in the national Authority. But as I would visualise it, in the first place at any rate, the subsidiary authorities will be doing most of the thinking about future development. They will then bring their plans to the national Authority, whose duty it will be to mould these proposals from the different subsidiaries into a comprehensive whole—in fact, to be making the national plan which the National Ports Council has as its present duty. Of course there will be an exchange of ideas, a constant dialogue between the two; and as the national Authority becomes more, shall I say, well aware of the problems there will no doubt be increasing proposals coming in the other direction. There will be this constant discussion, and out of it will arise, I hope, a national plan that can be properly applied.
If I am right in visualising this sort of picture one thing follows. There has been some discussion, I know, as to whether the members, or some of them, perhaps the chairmen of the subsidiary authorities, should be members of the national Authority, the central body. I should have thought that that was quite wrong. In some cases it may work. The Minister has reminded us of what is in the White Paper, that the set-up is to be something like a holding company and its subsidiaries. Of course, there are as many different kinds of holding companies and their subsidiaries as one can 898 almost count, and there are certainly some where the practice is for the chairmen or the managing directors of the subsidiaries to sit on the parent board. I think that in most such cases it would be because the subsidiaries are rather more complementary to each other than competing with each other. In this particular case I should have thought that the danger of having representatives, if you can put it that way, of the subsidiary authorities on the central board is that it would almost inevitably lead to log rolling, and would make the task of the national Authority more difficult.
As a matter of fact, there is a particular point here because it is suggested—your Lordships will forgive me for not having the paragraph to hand—that members of the national Authority might be members of one or more subsidiary authorities. As I have said, I do not think they should be. On that point, all I would say is that if any of the subsidiary companies is going to be represented at the centre then I think all should be, otherwise I feel that we should have a situation that where decisions are taken, however objectively, it will be hard to convince the people who are not represented on the central authority that their interests and their proposals were adequately weighed up.
Before I leave this part of my argument, there is one point in paragraph 13 about the National Ports Authority. It is suggested that the national Authority might become the harbour authority and provide port facilities at any newly developed harbour such as a maritime industrial development area. This seems to me to be completely unsound. If the principle is that there is a national Authority controlling a number of subsidiary authorities, then any new harbour should either be absorbed into one of the existing subsidiary authorities or should be created a subsidiary authority in its own right. I cannot believe it is right to have some branches managed direct from the centre.
I want to move on from there perhaps to one other point about subsidiary authorities. If we get a set-up such as I have suggested—and I do not think it is far removed from what is in the White Paper—is there any reason why the, subsidiary authorities should all be set up in precisely the same way? Your Lordships will remember that the assets are 899 in fact vested in the national Authority, so that the subsidiary authority—I do not know whether they will lease them or what financial arrangement will be made—does not own the assets; it is simply operating under the general directions of the national Authority.
I do not see that there is any reason, in those circumstances, why all the subsidiary authorities should be set up in precisely the same way. I do not see why, supposing there were a subsidiary authority in the port of Bristol, a committee of the City Corporation could not continue to carry it on, having the duties and responsibilities to the national Authority that the other subsidiaries have. As your Lordships know, there are several ports where there has been a considerable reorganisation in recent times, where new authorities have been set up. I am told that they are working well. They are quite new and it seems a great pity to tear them up and start all over again.
The right reverend Prelate said, and we are always properly reminded of this, that dealing with industrial labour is a human problem. I would venture to suggest that managers are human too, and that when you have a new management structure set up a few years ago it is hard to tear it up and say that we are going to have a new structure just in order to fit in with some overall plan. Why should not the Hartlepools and Tees Authority, or the Forth Authority, which have been set up only in the last few years, be the subsidiary authorities for those harbours? I should like to put that view before the Minister, and no doubt the organising committee when it comes into being.
Apart from the actual harbours themselves, I should like to say a few words about the stevedoring services and other ancillary services. In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, said. I believe that there are tremendous advantages in bringing public stevedoring services under one hat, and if that is done I think it must be under the port authority, in this case the subsidiary authority. The noble Lord said (and this is a real danger) that we then get monopoly conditions and no proper competition. I must admit that that gave me a lot of concern when I first tried to think about this arrangement. 900 But if in fact the provisions about charging can be properly seen through, the effect will be that there will be keen competition; because if charges are to to be related to costs we all know that in a service industry the costs are extremely sensitive to changes in throughput; and I can be sure that the managers will be anxious to maximise their through-put in order to keep down their costs and to keep down their charges. There is no doubt of that, because otherwise they will be losing traffic to other ports, and the effect will be like having two people at one end of a seesaw: as their charges go up they will lose more traffic and the position will go from bad to worse. So I do not believe that we need be too worried about lack of competition. And, happily, under this scheme we shall always have the small ports outside the gadflies to which the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, referred, which I do not always like but which I welcome, if I may put it in that way.
I am not at all so sure about some of the other services that are mentioned in the White Paper. I do not see why lighterage should be taken over. This is a special problem in only a few ports, including London. Lighterage is just one way in which the shipper of cargo sends his cargo to the ship, or the receiver takes it away. It is an alternative to a lorry. Nobody suggests that the Port Authority should nationalise all the lorries that come into the docks, so why nationalise the lighterage? I am afraid the reason for it—and it is a very difficult one—is that running all through these proposals is the desire to nationalise the employers of dock labour. In the original Dock Labour Scheme dock labour was defined in certain ways, including the lighterage, and that is why this proposal is put in. I venture to suggest, however, that from the point of view of the efficient running of the port there is no need to consider the nationalisation of lighterage—and I put warehousing in very much the same category. In fact, the general tendency now is to get warehouses away from the port areas where land is expensive. The warehousing in the port is in any case in competition with warehousing outside the port, and I do not see that it is an essential part of a port's function, although for historical reasons some ports have engaged in the warehousing business.
901 Just a word about the ports outside the scheme. I welcome the decision to leave out the small ports, if for no other reason than that I think the National Ports Authority are going to have a tremendous job to do and it will be a pity to clutter them up with a number of very small ports which are of relatively little importance to the country's economy and which are, from all accounts, run very efficiently and well—they are, in my opinion—and they can very well be left alone.
I had a great deal of sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, when he spoke about Milford Haven. This is indeed a very difficult question. Everybody agrees, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, that the oil installations themselves are outside the nationalisation scheme; and whether it is really worth while nationalising a conservancy authority that is serving, practically speaking, nobody except those oil companies, I must say I rather doubt. I am not quite so sure that I go with him over the Medway, not because it is so close to the Thames, but because if there is to be any real forward planning in the Thames Estuary I think it must be done to include the Medway.
May I just say a few words about the question of employees? As is said in the White Paper, the two Reports of the Lord Devlin's Committee have provided an improved basis for better industrial relations. Certainly I should like to see that given a chance to work, but I agree with what has been said, that the many changes and the overhanging clouds have made this a little more difficult. Negotiations have been drawn out, and I blame, I suppose, both sides. I certainly cannot lay all the blame on one side for that. It is of tremendous importance to get these negotiations through, and I do not myself feel convinced that the measures here proposed will help to get them through. Will fundamental changes at this time really help us? I agree that in the schemes put forward by the National Port Authority under the White Paper the question is one of immense importance, and it is one that must be borne in mind.
There is a very peculiar provision in paragraph 32. The dock labour scheme, in my opinion, is not perfect. As I 902 think the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, said, even when the scheme was introduced it was regarded only as a first step, not necessarily as something upon which to build but as something on which to experiment. It has, unhappily, become an emotional issue, and I thoroughly agree with paragraph 34 of the White Paper which says that no attempt should be made to alter it now. It seems to me that paragraph 32, with the interim proposals, is quite unacceptable. It is provided, as your Lordships will remember, that the duties and functions of those dock labour boards are to be handed over to the nationalised authorities but to be exercised only with the consent of dock labour committees. If that is not power without responsibility, on one side, and responsibility without power, on the other, I simply do not recognise it. It seems to me a quite impossible suggestion. Of course it has been left in the White Paper that this proposal shall be open for further discussion, and I trust that further discussion will take place. I should have thought it was much better to continue the present National Dock Labour Board and local dock labour boards, with all their faults, until the new organisation is working, when the two sides can sit down and really try to work out a substitute.
While on this subject, I would mention one small point. The suggestion in the White Paper is that on these local dock labour committees the nationalised industry should always have the majority of employer representatives. I do not know whether it was overlooked that the district in which the dock labour board is organised includes districts in which there will not be any nationalised employers. I think Plymouth is a district on its own: Aberdeen is a district on its own; so is the whole of Cornwall. The only way in which the proposals in the White Paper could become effective would be by making the districts larger. But this, of course, would defeat the main object of having a local board, which is that when difficulties arise the men will realise they have someone on the spot, or reasonably near to the spot where they work, whom they can go and see. I think that that particular proposal also needs some further consideration.
My Lords, I apologise if I have spoken for too long. I have been rather living 903 with this problem for a long time now, and I could go on for a great deal longer; but I do not think I should try your Lordships' patience any more. I have tried to outline the sort of structure which I feel is what we all want to aim at, and I would only repeat what I said at the beginning: that it seems to me that that sort of structure is almost equally applicable to the proposals of Her Majesty's Government and to the proposals of the Opposition.
§ 5.28 p.m.
My Lords, I am very glad to be able to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, who of course is chairman of that great port organisation, the Port of London Authority. In the first year of World War II, before I went to sea, I had the honour to be the Naval Control Service Officer in charge of merchant shipping movement in the Port of London, and I need hardly say that I found the ramifications of this port very great indeed, and that they were admirably administered by the Port of London Authority. I am sorry to see from the White Paper that it will soon disappear into this new nationalised organisation.
I should like to deal for a few minutes with the small ports in this country. I would say that the shipping industry fully appreciates the reprieve which it has been given in the White Paper from the maw of nationalisation. It is interesting to note that two ports which handle less than 5 million tons of goods per annum and which, therefore, come under the reprieve, are Felixstowe and Ipswich. Under their present management expansion has really been phenomenal. For instance, at Felixstowe cargo handled has increased from 81,000-odd tons in 1957 to 1,242,000 tons in 1967, a very good example, I would say, of private enterprise at its best. I suggest that Her Majesty's Government should give these small ports a reasonable degree of security into the future, such as some definite period of time which should elapse before any acquisition can be made. I also hope that when the Bill is drafted the National Ports Authority will be precluded from acquiring other ports, unless it can be amply demonstrated that it is, in fact, in the national interest.
904 Your Lordships will be aware from the White Paper that it is intended to transfer to the National Ports Authority all the ports owned by the British Transport Docks Board. This will mean the inclusion of a number of small ports, such as King's Lynn and Lowestoft. I suggest that those ports will not really fit into the new organisation, and that it would be very much better to offer them for sale to their local municipal authority or, perhaps, to transfer them to private enterprise. In the past, the port of Whitstable was transferred from State ownership to the local authority with great success, and it is now a very thriving port. I hope that the national Authority will not be given powers which will enable it to veto harbour developments outside the nationalised sector, which developments would clearly be in the interests of trade and shipping. I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they can give the House some assurance on that point.
There is one other matter which I should like to raise. It is stated in paragraph 30 of the White Paper that:It is, however, the Government's general intention that all employees in the industry, including those in the residual private sector, should benefit from the arrangements for participation established for the nationalised sector, and be guaranteed terms and conditions of employment not less favourable than those obtaining under the National Ports Authority for similar work in the same area.I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether it is intended that that statement should be interpreted to mean that precisely the same terms and conditions of employment as at the large nationalised ports must also be applied to the small independent ports, where conditions can be vastly different.
Finally, as quite a separate issue, I should like to emphasise that any port, large or small, is only as efficient as its lines of communication. Better port facilities and improved cargo handling methods are all very well, but if there is a bottle-neck, due, for instance, to transit sheds being used as warehouses, to road congestion or to a shortage of railway rolling stock, delays to cargo and to the turn-round of ships are bound to occur.
As a case in point, I would instance the present position at the port of Immingham, where a British ship, the "Stephano" is discharging a cargo of 905 steel from Australia. I think that the ship arrived on April 10 and berthed on April 17, almost a fortnight ago. In that time, less than half the cargo of 21,500 tons has been discharged, because British Rail have been unable to provide the necessary bogie bolster wagons. I understand that at a time when steel business is brisk, British Rail take the view that priority must be given to their own normal domestic movements, and they are not prepared to give any degree of priority to the supply of rolling stock for the discharge of this vessel.
That may be the commercial approach which we should now expect, and perhaps accept, from British Rail, but is it in the overall national interest? If this ship is not discharged by the end of this week, a valuable dollar-earning time charter for a minimum period of four months will be frustrated, to the detriment of the nation's balance of payments. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will undertake to look into this particular matter, as well as to consider the overall position regarding transport facilities to and from our ports. I hope that when the proposals in the White Paper are drafted into a Bill, they will prove a satisfactory basis for the working of our ports. But I cannot help feeling that they will, in the end, produce a top-heavy structure which will be detrimental to our shipping and trade generally.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LAUDERDALE
My Lords, in seeking to intervene in the debate after so many noble Lords with great knowledge of the industry and great experience of sea-going or ship-owning, I must declare an interest in that my practice, as a consultant in economic geography, advising companies on location, involves my continually looking at the facilities and availabilities of ports, of container bases and of the communication links in between. The words I have to say are those of a layman, and I hope that experts among your Lordships will be tolerant as ever in putting up with the adumbrations of a layman's observations.
First of all, ports are not mere docks; they are active nodal interchanges within a vast organic network of communications, whereby goods and services flow and provide the life blood for our civilisation. The debate this afternoon has been 906 more about organisation than about the narrow and, I suggest with respect, somewhat tarnished and discredited issue of nationalisation as such. After all, it has been said many times that 18 out of the 19 ports being considered are already under public ownership and control. It is surely a question of their organisation. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, stressed the problem of fragmentation within this organic net, and I could not help feeling that there was much point in the stress that he laid. The question is one of efficiency but, surely, also of something more. Are we not looking for the sight of a recovery of what I might call, mixing metaphors, the spirit of the Hansa ports, great merchant venturer ports where all bent their energies and enthusiasm and love to the creation of great trade? This is something that those of us who have been to Felixstowe have sensed, something that some of us recognised again when we read that two private enterprise consortia were willing to talk in terms of raising £1,000 million for the Maplin development in the Thames estuary. If we are thinking in terms of recovery or restoring something like the Hansa spirit to our transport industry I believe that the White Paper fails.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, called for constructive proposals and one feature of this debate has been a desire on the part of every participant to help and not hinder a vital national interest. The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, spoke of the White Paper as a basis for collaboration and the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, remarked how narrow overall are the differences that appear to divide us.
With regard to paragraph 2 and the argument that the discipline of ownership is necessary to ensure efficiency and that this in turn must mean national ownership, my words are scarcely needed on top of those of the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and, indeed, of others both inside and outside this House, who have described that as a gross, a gargantuan non sequitur. We find other shortcomings in the White Paper before we come on to the positive and welcome part of it. In paragraph 21 we are told that the subsidiaries are to consult with the Regional Economic Planning Councils. What if they do not agree? What about Portbury, a project supported by the South-West Regional Economic 907 Planning Council but turned down in London? What about Humberside's claim for a share of the liner traffic that is now running from Scotland to Parkestone? The Yorkshire and Humberside Council would dearly like to see some of that traffic going to Humberside. We are told that port users—I refer to paragraph 37—are to have an effective voice through consultative committees. It is also admitted that those committees may—and I cannot help thinking that the word "may" means "will" in this case—well be chaired by a member of the National Ports Authority Board itself or of one of its subsidiaries.
My Lords, my friends in the shipping industry tell me that specialisation is the critical factor in contemporary development, and certainly the most obvious example to-day is the port of Immingham. Not many years ago that port was dead, but thanks to its concentration on cars on the hoof, as it were, roll-on and roll-off, on liquid sulphur and on cement, it has gone forward immensely.
If there is a case for the kind of conglomerate amalgamation proposed in the White Paper, surely it would extend also to specialised, and increasingly specialised, activities. But, of course, the White Paper dodges the isue of the most specialist case of all, the oil industry, and one can well understand why. If it dodges that issue, what about the other features of the transport industry relating to the ports that surely should come under this nationalisation proposal if it had any sense in it at all?
If the ports are to be nationalised, why not the container bases? And if the one and then the other, what about the road links between? Liverpool and London do not even have a motorway except the other side of densely-peopled areas. Southampton and Hull have no motorway at all. The packet ports lie at the end of roads that go back to coaching days, and the East Anglian ports are at the end of country lanes. Surely, if one is going to say that the entire operation should come under a single authority for management and control, then you take the lot. And, if so, what about erosion? Spurn Bight, on the Humber, is a case which comes to mind. If you are going to amalgamate the whole thing, can you 908 separate one function from another? There is either a case for nationalising the lot, which really means the lot, or else there is no case at all. But, having said that, we now find we are promised competition under this set-up. That is fine if we are able to believe it. But are we really able to believe that, for example, British and Irish Steamships would be as free under the new set-up proposed as under the present to switch their inquiries for roll-on and roll-off facilities from Liverpool to Swansea?
No, my Lords; surely the competition which exists between the ports is less between the ports for trade than between the ports for the investment which will enable them to hunt the particular kind of trade on which they have, rightly or wrongly, set their hearts in, of course, the proper spirit of specialisation. And, having regard to the immense, rapid and terrifying technical progress which we have seen, from the luffing cranes and 10-ton waggons of yesterday to the portrainer gantries and liner-trains of to-day, when we see the claims of the pallet, and the facilities for the roll-on/ roll-off, and maybe to-morrow the claims for special gear for handling cargo hovercraft—we know that all these make very great demands on capital. And of course the critical function (and here is where the White Paper is helpful and on the right lines) which has been stressed by one speaker after another in devising and implementing a national plan for port development is some screening of capital demands and some way of guiding this and perhaps discouraging that. There is always the danger of over-provision. Some people ask the question—I only repeat it here—whether there is not perhaps some overlap in the container provisions of Greenock and Liverpool at the same time. But certainly specialisation is happening. Bristol is going for trade with the smaller East coast ports of America; Manchester has concentrated to a considerable degree on Canadian ports; we have seen Newport going for the short sea routes to Ireland. Specialisation surely must come, must come further, must be developed, must be encouraged in a sophisticated and effective fashion—specialisation both as to destination and as to cargo types. Surely, my Lords, the lesson of this debate, the truth at the heart of this well-intentioned White Paper, is that by 909 a sophisticated handling and administration of Government grant and of subsidised loan so as to provide the critical component of any viable proposal for capital expenditure that draws upon the public's savings—by such a means, by such an administration, a financially viable ports system can be worked out and indeed the viability of particular projects can be made or broken.
We are talking, are we not, of capital investment that would involve amortisation over very considerable periods—possibly 50 years, possibly 60 years, perhaps even more. To determine the kind of priorities and the merits of this scheme over that, very wise men are needed. I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, will not take it amiss (I do not for a moment think he will) if I say that great men have also sometimes been wrong; and despite the immense value of the Rochdale Report there are one or two statements in that great and valuable document which, after a lapse of only seven years, look a little stranger than when they were written.
It was suggested, unless I misread the Report, that the Humber development lower down than the Salt End jetties was unlikely and not particularly desirable; that on the Clyde no great new port development was needed, that ore carriers were unlikely to go much beyond 50,000 tons. Those were judgments made, in good faith, by great and good and experienced men. But the fallability of such judgments surely illustrates that in the National Ports Authority, whatever its functions, there must be men of very far sight who can take account of highly recondite considerations. In order not to leave the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, alone, what about Esso? Esso's management in 1947 considered themselves far-sighted when they picked Fawley as a refinery site in the belief that tankers were unlikely to go above 60,000 tons.
My Lords, I cannot, of course, as a Scottish Peer, intervene without some reference to my own country. First of all, I think we shall all welcome (though I speak now entirely for myself) the mention in paragraph 19 of the White Paper that there shall be a Scottish Authority. We in Scotland are well accustomed to taking our own decisions; and that may well be why the motorway system in Scotland, instead of avoiding the ports as 910 it does in England, is designed to link them, from Greenock and the Lower Clyde to Grangemouth and Leith. We are accustomed to taking our own decisions; and we think that we take them very well and, on the whole, with very limited infringement of the public purse of the Kingdom as a whole. But we do think that we know our own business, and therefore when there is some sort of offer in this White Paper of a Scottish Authority, I would say, speaking for myself, "Yes". But this must be a independent Scottish Authority, not one subject to decisions by an N.P.A. in London—London-based and London-thinking—but having direct access to the Minister of Transport with, of course, inevitably flanking support from the Secretary of State.
My Lords, what about steel? There has been little reference in this debate to steel. I think it is fair to say that the steel industry, certainly in Scotland, possibly in Britain as a whole, has been spoon-fed with ore from small carriers. Ore has been unloaded at Glasgow from ships of 28,000 tons or thereabouts, and now we face a proposal from the Clyde Port Authority that a great ore discharge point should be established at Hunterston to take, not 3 million tons a year but 8 million tons from the gigantic tankers at a suggested saving in freight of 15s. a ton, so that some 3 million or 4 million tons of ore could be used in Scotland and the balance transhipped and sent down by pusher barge to the Mersey and the Midlands. It would be helpful perhaps if the noble Lord, when he replies, could make some comment on that very exciting proposal which has already won the hearts of a great many of my fellow countrymen.
My Lords, when we are thinking about the National Ports Authority's composition, are we—at any rate those of us who are laymen—not bound to consider; are not its members bound, looking 60 years ahead if possible, to ask: "How big are the ships going to get?" At present there are more than 20 ore carriers afloat of more than 80,000 tons each; double that number are on order. There is talk of ore carriers going to 150,000 or even 200,000 tons. With regard to tankers I am told by the best sources to which I can have access that there are already a dozen tankers afloat of more than 150,000 tons 911 but that there are another 150 major tankers on order, including 120 of more than 200,000 tons and about a dozen of more than 250,000 tons. There is talk of their even going bigger than that, to about half a million tons or even three-quarters of a million tons. We know that quarter-million tonners need 60 feet of water.
Whatever the naval architects may decide in the future about beam and draught, surely one thing is clear. Attention was drawn, first in the Rochdale Report and then in the successive Reports from the National Ports Council, including the document that we have been given to-day, to the vital importance of deep water sites, but still more, the importance of deep water with flat land beside it. This is a lot rarer. It is a matter not merely of finding deep water (which geology often provides as a continuation of a steep mountain or a hill) but of finding deep water in abundance with flat land beside it. This is rare unless you are forced to consider—and this seems to be the current line of thinking—land reclamation in the shallow waters beside the deep waters. This may be expensive; £5,000 an acre is often thought about.
It is because of this that I wonder whether the Minister of Transport was right when, as I believe, and I will certainly accept correction if I am wrong, his Department never gave a moment's serious thought to Loch Eriboll on the North coast of Scotland. I know the geographical disadvantages; I know that the population is only three and that all are in favour of the thing; but there are geographical factors there which I believe have never been considered. The Minister was kind enough to write to me in December about the navigational hazards in its use as a possible M.I.D.A., but inquiries that I have made among those with operational experience have not confirmed them.
But whether that is so or not, the wise men that we need for the National Ports Council of the future will have to be very wise indeed. They will need to take a view on some very fundamental questions. How are we to regard the North Sea? Is this something which lies between Britain and Europe or is it simply an extension of the estuary of the 912 Rhine, with Britain a convenient island in the middle of the estuary? What are going to be the best approaches for the very big ships of the future? Through the Western Approaches and the narrow Straits of Dover, or North about and around the North coast? We know that 60 ft. draught vessels, having cleared the Straits, can get up the North Sea well enough; but there are hazards; and it would be foolish not to bear in mind the great hazards in the North Sea and the Channel. They will not get less as ships get greater.
Some 300,000 ships pass through the Straits of Dover every year. At any one time there can be 40 in the Straits together. Half the world's shipping collisions occur between the Baltic and the Western Approaches. At Southampton something like 40 days of the year see visibility due to fog down to 1,000 yards. These are serious restrictions when thinking of big ships and the provisions for them in the future. And in thinking of the future we must ask ourselves which is the route most likely to be favoured by the bigger ships? Are we not bound to ask ourselves whether perhaps the West coast of Britain, or the West and North coasts, may not have a better chance and be geographically better suited to accommodate these ships than the East Coast?
Then what about the choice between the Humber and the Thames? The Thames already handles one-third of our overseas trade. London is so sited in the triangle between Paris, Birmingham and the Rhur as to be an ideal end port where ships could discharge their cargo for trans-shipping elsewhere. That these are not wild dreams is testified to by the proposal of two private enterprise consortia to arrange a £1,000 million development scheme for Maplin. But dredging will always be a problem. This is not so on the Clyde. The Clyde, with 100 ft. of water, can take ships up to 500,000 tons with no dredging. Loch Eriboll is better still, with 120 ft. What about the Humber? It is 12 hours sail from Rotterdam, and when the M.62 and the M.18 are complete the Humber and Hull will be less than four hours road distance from three-quarters of Britain's population. But once again dredging is a problem. The Bar is a problem and there is the shifting river bed.
913 One might suppose that only the Almighty could evaluate this nice calculation of the less or more that belongs to judgments of the sort I have been referring to. But the market forces are already taking decisions on their own with respect to one-half of all the cargoes carried. I refer to the private enterprise companies which are putting immense moneys at risk in the interests of the oil business. There is a moral surely in that.
Is there not another moral in the words of the National Port Council's 1967 Report in reference to the great Brunel? As was said of Brunel, the Report quotes:He was bold in his plans, and right … great things are not done by those who sit down and count the cost of every thought and act.And the National Ports Council continue with a final moral: "Time is not on Britain's side."
§ 5.57 p.m.
My Lords, we have been looking this afternoon at a vital area of our economy. It is right that we should do so at this time when, according to Mr. Stonehouse, we are fighting for our economic survival. It is perhaps appropriate that this White Paper should first be considered by your Lordships' House in view of the unquestioned expertise which some Members of it—not, I fear, myself—axe able to bring to this matter. That is why I am glad that we have heard to-day from our "holy port trinity", if I may so term them. I am glad that we have heard the Grand Inquisitor himself, my noble friend Lord Rochdale; the immediate past president of the Chamber of Shipping, my noble friend Lord Geddes; and the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, who for so long has presided over the destinies of our greatest port. I am glad, too, that some ecclesiastical light has illumined our discussions this afternoon. But I confess to a certain sadness that there was no Liberal light shed upon them. Looking at those empty Benches to my right I feel that in a way they are the expression of a certain historical lack of gratitude given the fact that the Gladstonian fortunes were largely founded on the Port of Liverpool.
I should like to make one thing straight away clear. As my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn pointed out in introducing my 914 Motion in his wide-ranging, lucid and moderate speech, there is indeed a large measure of common ground between the major Parties on this matter—perhaps not quite so wide a measure of agreement as the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, was trying to persuade us that there is; but nevertheless I think that most of us accept Rochdale—warts, authority and all. I think that most of us accept the need here for a degree of strategic national planning. I believe most of us feel that there is much that Government can do, and indeed should do, in this field, especially when public moneys are employed, directly or indirectly, in the determining of investment priorities and so on.
Above all, my Lords, I accept that here there is a field for a fruitful partnership between Government and public and private enterprise and I should like to instance two examples. There is the question of inland communication upon which my noble friend Lord Lauderdale was expatiating, I think so rightly. It was touched on in the Statement which the noble Lord the Leader of the House repeated to your Lordships earlier this afternoon. The National Ports Council, in this admirable blue and white document which some of us have just seen, draws attention, in a chapter headed "Land Access to the Ports", to the need for better West-East land communications linking the Western industrial areas of this country with their Eastern port outlets. I quote from paragraph 197 of that Report:There is therefore a good case on port grounds for first-class East-West lateral communications to supplement traditional lines of communication focused on London.They talk of the need for better communications between the Mersey and the Humber. And they draw attention to the need to complete by the middle 1970s the whole system based on the extension of the M.62 to link up with North and South Humberside. There is also the crying need for a motorway communication between the Midlands and Southampton. That is the sort of strategic area to which the Government can make a very real contribution. I am not singling out any particular Government but in the past there has not been close enough co-ordination in planning or the execution of plans in this field.
915 Another area, which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn, is the very interesting concept of MIDAS, the Maritime Industrial Development Area Scheme. Since my noble friend dealt with this I will not dwell on it, save to mention what seemed to me a rather barbed comment in the Progress Report from the National Ports Council. This is what the Council said in paragraph 172 of the Report:The council are therefore acutely concerned with the apparent slow progress up to now and they hope that the Government will press forward its examination of the concept with all possible speed.I echo that hope. Although those words have been carefully drafted, a note of exasperated frustration seems to run through them. This again is the kind of area where I believe the Government have a big contribution to make.
These are the examples of the areas which demand broad strategic planning decisions; which involve the determination and allocation of major national resources and which call for, even cry for, a fruitful participation between public and private enterprise. Those, I submit, are the sort of areas which are properly the concern of Government. They illustrate the sort of broad approach to port policy which a modern Government, to my mind, should have. I do not wish to be unfair. All I can say is that in some aspects of this White Paper, in its more niggling aspects, I do not find that sort of approach. I come straight away to the White Paper.
I should like to acknowledge with my noble friends Lord Rochdale and Lord Geddes, that this White Paper is a very considerable improvement on its predecessor, the working document of July, 1967, in two major respects: first, the abandonment of the concept, by Mikardo out of Castle, of the Regional Port Authority. I think that even the most ardent Mikardoites are not shedding many tears over the abandonment of that particular concept. Secondly, the raising of the ceiling of exclusion to leave out those smaller and very enterprising ports which are thriving under private enterprise. I believe that here credit is due—I do not wish to embarrass him with his political colleagues—to the present Minister of 916 Transport for his more sensible and flexible approach.
Yet, my Lords, there is to my mind—and in the minds of many of my noble friends—one major defect, one major blemish, in the White Paper. It is the determination to bring under national ownership, under sole ownership, all the major ports in this country. The Government seek to justify that policy decision in a few bland paragraphs in their White Paper. A Government in 1949 might have got away with this sort of approach; I hope that a Government in 1969, with 25 years of post-war experience of nationalisation, will not get away so easily with that sort of approach. I should have thought that a few trips on British Railways would be enough to destroy many of the illusions which many of us may have entertained in the past. I believe that this aspect of the document at least is plainly doctrinaire, and has been produced for doctrinaire and Party political reasons. That said, it is no excuse for being counter-doctrinaire one-self.
I am an admirer of the Port of Manchester, and of Manchester itself for that matter, but now, in the middle of the twentieth century, I am not a particular adherent of the Manchester school of economics, of the doctrine of complete laissez-faire and of the economic free-for-all. My right honourable friend Mr. Enoch Powell has not yet seriously applied his acute and penetrating mind to ports. Since he seldom fails to lift the stones off the corners of our national life, I am certain that our ports are in for a Powellite probe before long. But I am prepared to leave that to my right honourable friend. I would only say that if it could be shown—and no attempt is made to do so in this White Paper—that nationalisation, the principle of sole ownership for our ports, was really necessary and desirable, I for one would be prepared to examine the proposition very carefully indeed. After all, we are dealing with an area of vast national importance. But, my Lords, it is really not so shown. I know that in what I am about to say I am very much "recapping" on what has been said already this afternoon. But is sole ownership really necessary for investment purposes, for the provision of the physical facilities? We have heard to-day of all the progress—and goodness 917 knows! a lot of progress was needed—which has been made in investment and in the provision of physical facilities since the Rochdale Report. Average port investment pre-Rochdale was running at about £20 million a year. It is now in the region of £50 million plus. There are, of course, still two crying needs among the many needs. There is a need for provision to be made for suitable deep water terminals for the bulk import of iron ore. But, my Lords, that is something which the British Steel Corporation will be able to cope with.
There is the need, which doubtless will expand, for further facilities for the import of oil cargoes. But, the oil companies are not entirely impoverished. They should be able to look after this. I wish only to quote again what is said in the Progress Report, in paragraph 16, bearing on this point:The broad pattern of nationalisation of ports as projected in the recent White Paper does not affect the validity of anything stated in this survey and most of the changes in development? will come about or will be necessary irrespective of over-all ownership.Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said at the start of this debate, I believe that nationalisation, sole ownership, is in this context a total irrelevancy. Is it necessary for modernisation? I doubt it. The most significant modernisation in progress has been the container revolution. Admittedly, British Railways have played a notable part here. Nevertheless the real impetus, the real spur, has come from private entrprise. Again is nationalisation necessary to bring about the MIDAS concept? I should have thought this was essentially a concept that called for a partnership between Government and private enterprise. Are the well-run ports abroad under national ownership? I beg leave to doubt it.
Last, but not least, is nationalisation necessary for labour? I think that most of us will recognise that labour is perhaps the most crucial problem in its organisation in the ports; but will nationalisation, sole ownership, render this problem any easier? Again I beg leave to doubt it. It certainly has not, at least to my lay eye, rendered labour relations in the steel industry and on the railways any easier. Would it not indeed entail a greater danger than exists under the present set-up—a danger to which my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn 918 so rightly drew attention? I think that we all know that labour disputes in the ports tend, unfortunately, to be contagious. Will not sole ownership of our ports render the risk of that sort of contagion yet greater? If one comes out, may not all come out? I pose the question.
My Lords, I personally find little positive justification in the White Paper for this principle. Indeed, I see grave disadvantages. I would remind your Lordships that the Government are proposing here to create a total monopoly. In other areas of our economic life,—for example, in energy,—where our resources are in national ownership, there is a choice to the consumer between different forms of energy, be it Lord Robens and his coal, Sir Norman Elliot and his electricity, or Sir Henry Jones and his gas, or Dr. Hill and his nuclear power. But here for the consumer there is no effective choice.
Secondly, I believe—and here I know that I am only retreading the ground which my noble friend Lord Rochdale has already trod before me—that in this, as in other areas, it is a mistake always to be digging up the plant to examine the roots. We have had the ports industry under a microscope now for the best part of tea years. There have been the Rochdale Committee, the 1964 Act and the 1966 Act. There is surely a lot to be said for allowing the system to settle down and for getting on with the job, for giving it some years of stability. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, dwelt on this question of stability. He seemed to indicate that this White Paper would serve as a basis for stability. I very much doubt it. I fear that we are in danger of introducing into our ports the sort of instability which Mr. Healey has created in our Armed Forces by constant reviews, and constant chops and constant changes. And this is something which I very much deplore.
Finally, there is the political volte face. Again following what my noble friend Lord Rochdale said, I would remind your Lordships that the 1964 Act was introduced with bipartisan support from both major Parties. Now there is a danger of the discussion of ports policy. and of the whole approach to the subject, becoming a political football or shuttlecock. Is this really sensible? Before going down that road, I would ask 919 the Government to ponder carefully. I should like to reiterate that appeal to the Government to think again. I believe that all the main ends, most of which I think we hold in common, in this White Paper—save perhaps the Party political ends—are obtainable without clamping this bureaucratic rigidity on our new ports system, with far less disturbance to the whole ports system and with less waste of Parliamentary time by some simple amendments to the existing legislation. I very much hope that the Government, late in the day though it may be, will ponder this possibility.
I hope I have made it clear that I, for one, from this place cannot accept this principle of sole ownership. Even if it were accepted, I hold that in certain major aspects the proposals in the White Paper are defective, or at least that the Government's intention should be spelled out with greater clarity. I will run over the ground very quickly, because it has already been traversed pretty thoroughly this afternoon. In the first place, there are the undertakings to be transferred. Like my noble friend Lord Geddes, I find the case for taking over Milford Haven very difficult to follow. It seems hardly compatible with the principle enunciated in paragraph 7 of the White Paper, where it states:It is neither practicable nor necessary to take over port facilities which are controlled by manufacturers wholly or mainly for the transport of their own goods or raw materials …".Milford Haven is designed solely for the oil industry. Is there any real reason for taking this port into national ownership, apart from the constitutional danger that if it is excluded any resulting Bill might be described as hybrid legislation?
Secondly, there is the threat to smaller ports—the Geddes "gadflies". Here again we find that the Sword of Marsh, is to be suspended over them more or less indefinitely. This must be a disincentive to the progress. The prize which a thrusting and successful independent port will receive is nationalisation. This seems a poor carrot to hold out to private enterprise. Therefore, I support the plea of my noble friend Lord Geddes for some form of moratorium for the excluded ports. I noted the assurance given by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that before 920 any further ports were drawn into national owership there would be a process of public inquiry, and that a decision would also be subject to Parliamentary approval. I was glad to hear it. I hope that this will be written into any Bill which may emerge, and I hope also that the criteria for taking any smaller port into national ownership will be clearly spelled out in any such Bill.
Then there is the question of the possible concentration of port services in the hands of the nationalised port authorities. I do not wish to be dogmatic: the idea of a single port employer may or may not be right. It may be significant that Manchester is a sole employer of labour. I see that the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, is a "one hat" man in this respect, while the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, and the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, are both prepared to wear more hats. Personally I share their doubts as to whether the principle of one sole employer is right for our larger ports.
Certainly—and I know that I carry the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, with me here—the larger specialist operators should be excluded. I should like to know, incidentally, from the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, how that exclusion will be carried out. In any event, I believe that instability should be avoided. But here again this Government of de-stabilisers introduce the principle of instability into the middle of their White Paper. They say that the Authority will be able to put forward supplementary schemes subsequently if necessary. Once more we find the Sword of Marsh suspended over the private enterprise operator.
Is there not another and a better method? The Port of New York Authority operates all its waterfront operations through leasing arrangements. At Rotterdam, a municipal port, the facilities are all available either for leasing or for sale. Is not such a system more likely to lead to commercial competition, the keen commercial competition which the Government profess to wish to encourage? Such a system also seems to me to be perfectly compatible with a system whereby most of the port enterprises come under the control of a single operator. To have at least some of the common user services in private hands would give the large port operators a useful yardstick to gauge the 921 efficiency of their own services. But I will listen with attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has to say in this respect.
As for competition between the different port authorities, clearly this is possible only if these authorities are to be given real autonomy; such autonomy is unobtainable without a firm prohibition on cross-subsidisation between the various ports. Here again, if I understood him correctly, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, gave us an assurance. I hope that that assurance, too, can be written into any resulting Bill, as indeed should the principle of independent accounting, which goes with it.
As to the Authority itself, I must emphasise as forcibly as I can the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. One thing that we must try to get away from is the present system of double harness under which, as my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn explained, the boffins of the Port of London Authority produce a scheme with a great deal of care, and work it out, and it goes to the Ministry; the Ministry convey it to the National Ports Council, and their boffins look at it for weeks or months, as the case may be; then they pass it back to the Ministry, and their boffins look at it, maybe for months, and very possibly, as in the case of Bristol, they overrule the recommendation of the National Ports Council. This seems to me to be a time wasting process and, above all, a skill and manpower wasting process which must be avoided in whatever new system is established.
That is why I listened with some disquiet to what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, had to say about Ministerial responsibility. It seemed to me that his approach is likely to lead to just that form of day-to-day Ministerial interference with the Authority which at all costs must be avoided. The noble Lord shakes his bead, arid I am glad to see him do so; I am pleased that we are in agreement here. But anything that he can say about how the basic autonomy of the new Authority, if it is set up, is to be preserved, I shall be glad to hear.
I turn, in conclusion, to the question of manpower, which has featured quite prominently in the course of this discussion. I personally have grave doubts 922 about the perpetuation of the present existing labour organisation which seems to be foreshadowed (I find the weasel words of the White Paper in this respect extremely difficult to follow, but it: seems to be foreshadowed, if I read them rightly) in the White Paper. That would perpetuate the artificial distinction. which exists at present between the 50,000 or so registered dock workers in our ports system and the remaining 70,000 or so employees in the system, a distinction which makes neither for modern, sensible labour relations nor for efficiency. It would perpetuate the existing committee structure, which is in many cases a sure recipe for frustration.
It seems to me (and I speak on a subject on which I know there are many noble Lords in this House who are far more expert than I am) that if the Government continue to tread this path we are in danger of perpetuating a relic of an industrial age which is passing and of a primitive labour relations system which should be a relic of the past. New, with the decasualisation not only of employees but also of employers, we should he looking to, and working for, a more normal and more modern employer/employee relationship throughout the whole ports system, with very great emphasis laid on negotiation at the level of the Port Authority itself.
Those, my Lords, are my comments in summing up this discussion from this side of the House. I have voiced certain doubts, one of them very grave and others not unimportant, about the proposals in this White Paper. But, of course, the White Paper is not all black: there are white spots in it. Much of it is grey, as so much of the present policies of this Administration are grey. Nevertheless, I should hope—and in expressing this hope I have in mind the accommodating tone of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, earlier in this debate—that the Government will really reflect on the more important criticisms and suggestions which have been voiced in your Lordships' House to-day. I am not always an admirer of the Government's cerebral processes. But I have been impressed by their considerable capacity for Re-Think. I hope that they will use that capacity to the hilt in their consideration of their future action with regard to this White Paper.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to say a few words at the end of what I have found to be a debate of great interest. Clearly, it was going to be such a debate when one considered the noble Lords who had undertaken to take part. I should like again to express my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, for having put down this Motion, and for having marshalled such wise and experienced support for the debate.
I feel that I ought to comment particularly on the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry. I think he brought into our debate the other side of the problem of our ports and docks. It is not purely a question of bricks and mortar, or even of management. It is a question of labour relations, and the attitude of the men who work in the docks. Over the years they have gone through hard times, and I cannot help feeling that many of the problems which we find utterly frustrating, and which sometimes we find it difficult to understand, can only go back to the hard days which clearly are imprinted on their minds and create their attitudes. Therefore, I think that, when we are considering the changes that should take place within the ports and docks, the views and attitudes of these men need to be taken into account.
I would say to the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, that we have not put these proposals before the country or before Parliament in any way of capitulating to our Left Wing. If I may say so, I think that this Government for very many years are the Government who have been able to withstand the pressures of their wings; but I can well remember (my memory is not all that short, or even all that long) the noble Lord's Party opposite being forced to capitulate to its Right Wing on a certain economic tradesman's Bill.
It seems to me that the issue that is really before us is the question of nationalisation. We seem to have pretty well unanimous agreement as to the end we wish to see. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, that in many ways we are in very close agreement as to the means of achieving this. I think that if we got down to nuts and bolts, if there were any differences they could surely 924 well be hammered out very quickly by all of us. I think we all accept the three quotations which I take from the Rochdale Report. If I may, I will repeat them:the need for a properly planned programme of port development, which should be supervised by a non-operational National Ports Authority equipped with statutory powers; the need to concentrate development (with the exception of development to meet the special requirements of the oil and ore trades) at selected existing major ports on the main estuaries which already dominate the country's foreign trade …the need for a revision of port statutes and concentration of ownership and operation of port and related undertakings.I do not doubt that we all agree with that. The question is: How do we achieve it, and under what form of structure?
I know that noble Lords opposite, clearly for Party reasons (I do not put that remark forward in any cheap sense, because Parties believe in certain things), believe in free enterprise. They also however, I believe, agree to a mixed economy. If I may say so, I thought the debate lowered itself for only a slight moment when the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, made, I thought, a rather "snide" remark about nationalised industries by reference to travelling on three trains. I have travelled on trains throughout the world but I do not myself judge a railway structure by local inconveniences, even if they are perhaps more regular than we would wish. But I am sure the noble Earl would be one of the first to applaud the nationalised industries of this country such as the Atomic Energy Authority, gas, electricity, and many others, which have played a very dominant role, and, in fact, have given a great deal of "spin-off", for which private industry itself is grateful.
However, I look merely at the question: how best to achieve our objective? If I were the director of (shall we say?) a big electricity generating manufacturing firm and I wished to see development, not only of my company but of my industry, I would say that this desire is what has brought about mergers. Mergers have been brought about by people who wish to see not only their own firms but their own industry, and indeed their country, develop. Mergers have always been about ownership, because without ownership one cannot get the development, the drive, the co-ordination and 925 planning and, in many cases, the capital that are so necessary for that development.
I think that this bogey of nationalisation in terms of the docks is really too much to take seriously. What are we taking over? We are in fact taking over ports and docks—with one exception, I grant—which are this very day under public ownership. All we are doing is to group them together under some form of holding company organisation for their proper development. To take the one company that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, spoke about with so much fervour as a great example of free enterprise—the Manchester Docks—I am sure the noble Lord himself is aware of the capital structure of the Manchester Docks. Is it about some £10 million of private capital and some £11 million of public money? So here we have a mixed organisation. Although there is private capital in the Manchester Docks, there is a very large element of public money also. Perhaps the noble Lord may like to be reminded that in the case of Manchester the majority of the directors are in fact appointed by the Manchester Corporation, a local authority.
My Lords, this is the issue that appears to divide us: whether we should reorganise existing public authorities, corporations, statutory bodies. I do not see any great political principle involved in that. True, we are taking over one private—half private—company; but this is in order that there should be proper co-ordination, proper development, of clocks and ports that are basically in the same category. No doubt this is something we shall be able to argue about from time to time. But I myself do not see that here is a great political issue that needs to divide us. What we should now be concentrating on is how best, within this flexible scheme which is set out in the White Paper, and which I sought to outline to-day, we can build the framework within the docks for their development.
I said earlier in the debate that I intended to listen with the greatest of care. I intend to see the Minister of Transport to-morrow—no; unfortunately I cannot see him to-morrow, because I do not think that Hansard will be available to-morrow; but I will promise noble 926 Lords who have spoken that as soon as Hansard containing this debate is available I will. make arrangements to see my right honourable friend and with him to go through the various points and suggestions that have been made. If I am going to enter that scheme of things in this spirit, clearly I do not want to get into any debating position with noble Lords who have made these points. Therefore, I do not intend to answer the debate as such.
However, may I deal with just three questions that were put to me? The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, asked me about MIDAS. This, as the noble Earl himself will know, is a very complex subject. It involves a great deal of costing as to projects and the like. But I understand that we hope to be able to make a statement on this subject in the near future. I do not think the noble Earl should read into the words of the National Ports Council any criticism. The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, asked me whether I would look into the question of the ship that is having trouble with British Rail over cargo. I understand that no wagons are available at the moment, but both British Rail and the Road Services are doing whit they can to help in this matter. I will see whether I can get some further information from the Ministry to-morrow and I will drop the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, a line.
The other question the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, put to me was whether the Minister would deny agreement to capital projects to companies outside the nationalised field. I find it inconceivable that a Minister would do so in any sense of doing it because he is opposed to the private sector. Clearly he would have to take into account, as he now does, the national interest in the way in which the ports and docks as a whole should develop. But clearly no Minister would act so irresponsibly that where there was a proper scheme, where there was a real need for that development and the capital was in fact available, he would refuse such a grant.
The noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, has gone. I gather that he has great interest in the proposed ore terminal on the Clyde. My understanding is that this is receiving great support in Scotland, and clearly must be most attractive to 927 the Scottish economy. I understand that the British Steel Corporation are now considering the position as to whether a further plant should be developed there, because clearly this would be necessary if such an ore terminal was to prove economic.
There were a number of other points raised. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, asked me one or two detailed questions. I am going to be quite honest with him and say that, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Rochdale, or the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, I have not worked in the ports industry. I am a mere Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, asked to reply to a debate on a very difficult and complex subject. Therefore, I do not intend to try to give the noble Earl an answer off the cuff; what I will do is to communicate with him on those points.
In conclusion, my Lords, may I say that this has been for the Government a helpful and valuable debate. We shall certainly look at all that has been said; we may even want to have further consultations. We look on this debate as being of great help and use, and we shall make the best use that we can of it.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, before asking leave to withdraw the Motion I should like, first, to thank the noble Lord for the way in which he has replied to this debate. He has been extremely conciliatory and he is obviously going to take a further interest in the subject. I should like to make one further comment on what he has said. He said that he saw no political principle or issue in this matter. My Lords, nor do we. As I said in opening this debate, we are concerned with the best form of organisation for our ports—an absolutely practical issue: how much control is needed, how it should be exercised, and where it should be exercised from. These are the issues, and if the noble Lord talks of a merger then he must consider what are the benefits that are expected to flow from that merger in terms of economies or otherwise and where the interests of this country really lie.
Having said that, on behalf of my noble friend I should like to thank all those who have taken part in this debate and all who have spoken from their very 928 great knowledge. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that this has been a most useful debate. Having said that, I ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.