HL Deb 24 July 1973 vol 344 cc1770-800

8.23 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3ª. —(Viscount Simon.)

On Question, Bill read 3a.

LORD STOW HILL moved Amendment No. 1: After Clause 3 insert the following new clause—

Restrictions on charges on goods loaded or unloaded overside at Hull Docks

"(1) In this section the following expressions shall have the meanings expressly assigned to them: the Board's merchandise dues" means the maximum charges at any time made by the Board for services and facilities which the Board provide at Hull Docks in respect of goods loaded or unloaded over the Board's quays, wharves, piers, jetties or embankments or any other charges of a similar nature; goods loaded or unloaded overside" shall mean goods loaded or unloaded over-side to or from ships into or from lighters, barges or rivercraft in the Port of Hull without passing over any of the Board's quays, wharves, piers, jetties, or embankments.

(2) Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 3 of this Act the Board shall make no charges in respect of goods loaded or unloaded over-side in the period expiring on 31st December 1973 and thereafter may make maximum charges in respect of goods loaded or unloaded overside no greater than the amounts following, that is to say: For the period expiring on the 31st December 1974–25 per cent. of the comparable rate of the Board's merchandise dues; For any period thereafter—50 per cent. of the comparable rate of the Board's merchandise dues.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move this Amendment which stands in my name and which, as your Lordships may see, puts into statutory form what in fact was an undertaking given by counsel with regard to the upper limit of charges that might be made in certain circumstances with which the Bill deals. I think that perhaps I should, in order to make the case, outline the background of the argument which I propose to adduce to your Lordships relating to this Amendment, although in a sense I would submit to the House that nothing is directly relevant to the Amendment but the fact that it is in terms of an undertaking given by counsel and which those who are affected by the undertaking now wish to see, in order to have complete certainty on the matter, recorded in the terms of the Bill itself.

The background is this. Some ships using the Hull Docks bringing merchandise to the docks are in cases unloaded on to the dockside, or the quayside, and make use of the land installations of which the docks consist, including the storage and other equipment and facilities which are provided by the docks managers; other ships when they come into the Hull Docks do not use those facilities at all, they do not unload on to the quayside but are unloaded directly into river craft, barges and lighters and other craft, sometimes by cranage and sometimes without cranage, directly from the ship's hold into barges and lighters or other craft as the case may be. That practice is called overside loading. It stands to reason, so I would submit, that if you do not use the dock facilities, if you do not unload on to the quayside, if you do not use the storage facilities and so on, but you load directly into barges or lighters which carry away the merchandise unloaded from your ship, it is obviously unreasonable that the same charge should be made as would be made if the full land facilities of the dock were made use of for the purpose of unloading the ship. I have spoken of unloading the ship. What I have said applies equally to loading the ship. Some ships are loaded directly from barges or lighters and some ships are loaded from the quayside. The difference in charges applies both, so I should submit, as a matter of common sense and logic, to loading and unloading.

Ever since 1774 it has been recognised that there should be such a difference in the charge. For over a century and a half loading overside, as I have described it, has been either subjected to no charge at all or to a charge very much less than the charge made for quayside loading or unloading. The difference I think I can describe in this way. If you use the quayside and the land facilities, you are charged ship dues, you are charged merchandise dues and there are other charges such as cranage charges which you have to pay if you make use, as you generally do, of the cranage facilities that are provided.

As matters stand at present, before the present Bill is enacted, the position with regard to overside loading is as follows. If the ship which is loaded overside loads into craft or barges that do not stay in the dock premises for a period in excess of seven days, the lighter or barge company, as the case may be, has to pay ship dues and also has to pay a rent; but it is not charged merchandise dues. That makes the big difference. The charges in consequence are substantially less than they would be if the quayside and dock facilities and land facilities were used. That system has gone on, as I have said, in varying forms since 1774. It does not apply in other docks which are under the control of British Transport Docks Board, except in the case of London, where there is a not wholly dissimilar arrangement into which I will not go. In Rotterdam and Amsterdam, I am told, a system very similar to that which applies in Hull Docks is at present in operation. In other words, overside loading, broadly speaking, is free. What the Bill seeks to do is to give the Docks Board power to make charges for overside loading on the same scale as in the case of quayside loading. In other words, it seeks to take away that degree—


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, but he is telling your Lordships that the Bill makes provision for charging on the same scale as on goods loaded over the quay. With respect to the noble and learned Lord, I do not think that appears in the Bill at all.


My Lords, may I modify my language and say this. What the Bill seeks to do, and I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, would probably agree about this, is to cancel any exemption contained in the existing legislation limiting or exempting craft from charges. I think that would be a more accurate statement, and I am sorry if I stated the position inaccurately. Those exemptions, as I have said, are contained in Statutes, beginning with one in 1774 and extending right through the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century. This Bill has come from a Select Committee and it was there spoken of as a Bill designed to cure an anomaly, to remove something which was anachronistic and out of date and not justifiable in modem circumstances. I submit that that is a wholly wrong way of looking at it, and for the following reasons.

My Lords, in 1960 there was a hearing before the Transport Tribunal which lasted for 29 days, in which this particular question of exemption or reduction of charges in the case of overloading was before the Tribunal. In that case I appeared as counsel for the Hull Chamber of Commerce which to-day is one of the Petitioners, the other Petitioner being the British Waterways Board. That was 13 years ago, in 1960, and I declare it to your Lordships. I hope that it is not necessary for me to say that today I have no sort or kind of financial interest whatever. I left the Bar in 1964 and I was asked if I would move this Amendment perhaps because it was thought that, having been engaged in that case for some 29 days, I would have some recollection of it. In fact, I have very little and I have had to re-study the whole matter rather thoroughly since. But that is my own personal connection, and I do not think that it counts as the sort of interest about which your Lordships would feel concerned. There is no question of money or any other sort of advantage.

My Lords, I say that there was that hearing in 1960. After that hearing, and I think it would perhaps not be incorrect to say as the result of the decision at that hearing, there was provision made in a Statute passed in 1962, the Transport Act of 1962, preserving these exemptions in 1962, They were deliberately preserved by Parliament after that long hearing in 1960 and, in those circumstances, to call them an anachronism or an anomaly is, in my submission, to use a complete misnomer. They were reenacted specifically as part of the law in 1962 by Section 43 of the Transport Act of 1962, and are still part of the law. So that in 1973 we are not setting about destroying something which is old and antiquated and serves no useful purpose at all. What we are doing by this Bill is seeking to destroy something of as recent re-enactment as 1962; re-enactment, as I shall venture to seek to show your Lordships, for a very sound reason. It is not an anchronism.

If I may continue with the background of the case, the position is this. Hull Docks has been declining in traffic for a number of years. I hope that I do not speak disrespectfully of it when I say that for various reasons it is regarded, apparently, by shipowners as uncompetitive. I do not want to burden your Lordships with figures, but in 1963 the tonnage using the dock was 9½ million—I speak in round terms. In 1972, it was just under 6 million tons, so it is going downhill. The overside loading is going downhill still more. If I may again give rough figures, in 1963, that is the first date I mentioned, out of that 9½ million, overside loading accounted for 1½ million tons, or some 14 per cent. In 1972, overside loading and unloading accounted for only half a million tons, or under 10 per cent. of the reduced tonnage as a whole. So the situation is that the Hull Docks traffic is going down and the overside loading and unloading is going down very much faster.

I read in the speech of one of the learned counsel appearing in the Select Committee that, even so, with that reduced tonnage there were a considerable number of craft lying unused in the port, say last year. So the position is bad in the case of both the tonnage generally and also the overside loading and unloading in particular. If I may complete the picture, to give your Lordships some sort of idea as to the amount of overside loading and unloading, take last year. There were some 3,000 ships that came to the Hull Docks in 1972. About 100 of that 3,000 were unloaded solely overside, about 450 were unloaded partly on to the quay and partly overside, and the remaining 2,400 were unloaded on to the quay only. May I make this point, my Lords. It was said during the hearing that the over-side loaders and unloaders were obtaining a service for which they do not pay. It would be a wholly misconceived view to think that they do not greatly assist the port.

In point of fact what happens is that a ship's turnround is very greatly accelerated by this overside unloading. Frequently the position is that a ship may be anchored alongside the quay; it may be unloaded on to the quay, in part, by suction, cranage or by other methods, and at the same time, on the other side of the ship, there will be a lighter or a barge and there will be loading from the same ship into the lighter or the barge which is moored alongside. The turnround of the ship will thereby be greatly accelerated; and if it is the situation that Hull docks are regarded as on the whole uncompetitive and the traffic is accordingly declining, it is of great advantage to the docks to have the services of these lighters and barges which assist the process of loading, and, equally, the process of unloading. In the case of the process of loading the ship, if I may give your Lordships the figures for the same year, outgoing ships were loaded to the number of some 2,300. Of those, 85 were loaded overside and from quayside and only two were loaded from lighters or barges; so that one is not talking of a very large feature of the dock loading and unloading.

If I may complete the figures by one more set of figures (and I apologise for troubling your Lordships with figures) the position is that the total revenue of the docks and revenue from overside loading and unloading is as follows. In 1972 the total revenue at the Hull Docks was just under £9 million £8,865,000. The barges and lighters contributed, in the form which I have described, in the way of ships' dues and rental some £50,000. If they were charged the full amount that was charged for loading and unloading on the quayside and for using the full facilities of the dock, the revenue from them would be £290,000 out of £9 million. As it would be wholly unrealistic to charge them the same charge as is charged for quayside unloading, and supposing one takes a charge of, say, 50 per cent. As being appropriate, then the only loss to the Hull Docks from the fact that a lesser charge is made for overside loading and unloading is some £145,000 as against a total of nearly £9 million. So it is a comparatively small feature of the picture.

My Lords, I want to add this. As I have said, overside loading and unloading from barges and lighterage are declining badly. There is hope at the moment because there are new technical methods. One is called latchat and the other bacat. I will not go into the details, but that is a new technique which is now being developed and which holds out considerable hope for the future, under which the barge or lighter is loaded direct on to the outgoing steamer and transported direct from Hull Docks which means probably merchandise coming from Nottingham and Leeds—across the North Sea to Amsterdam, and it is hoped to take them even to Scandinavia. That is a new technique which is being designed and which holds out considerable hope for the future, and it would be a great pity if, owing to this extra charge being put upon overside loading, the downward process which I have described were accelerated.

One final feature in the background picture is this. There were two Petitions. One was by the Hull Chamber of Commerce and the other by the British Waterways Board. Really this is a dispute (and there have been negotiations and arguments about it for a long time) between two nationalised Boards. It is not a case in which it could be said that there was some sinister private interest which was seeking to deprive the public purse of money which rightly belonged to it. It is logical that the charge should be less, for the reasons I have given; and this is really a dispute between two nationalised Boards. Those two Boards were set up by the 1962 Transport Act, to which I have referred. Both, the Waterways Board just as much as the Docks Board, are under an obligation, under Section 17 of that Act, to carry on their undertaking in such a way that their outgoings are covered by their revenue. That is the ordinary provision in the case of nationalised undertakings. If this extra charge is to be imposed it will make little difference to the overall situation of Hull Docks. It will simply, as I have said, further depress overside loading and unloading and thereby deprive one of these two nationalised Boards, the Waterways Board, of the substantial toll income which they derive from the tolls paid by barges and lighters using the Trent and Humber complex of waterways. So it is simply taking from one Board and giving it to another, for no necessary reason. That is the background, and I do not think I need enlarge upon it.

My Lords, I now come to the immediate scope and purpose of the Amendment. After the case had been going on for three days, learned counsel who appeared for the Promotors of the Bill, the Dock Board, Mr. Marnham made a plain statement of intention as to what the charges were that the Board would seek to make if this Bill were brought into effect. I should like, if I may, to quote a little from learned counsel's speech. What he said was this: What I am instructed to say is that, so far as the intention of the Board is concerned,"— that is, the Dock Board— they would not intend in the year 1974 to do more than charge 25 per cent. of the relevant goods due (merchandise due), which will be chargeable for the time being on the same traffic if landed on or loaded from the quays at Hull. He then goes on: What the Board would intend would be not to charge more than 25 per cent. of those goods for overside cargo in the first year, in 1974, and not more than a maximum of 50 per cent. at any time. Then he went on to explain this undertaking in this way: The answer is not more than 25 per cent. or 50 per cent., and individual items would have to be discussed with the port users in order to see whether the maximum was appropriate in each individual case or not. That is what counsel said as being the intention of the Board. Later on, towards the end of that hearing, on the last day, he repeated that undertaking, and he added one thing which I should like to bring to the notice of your Lordships.


My Lords, if the noble Lord would give way for a moment, I think it is important that the House should have this right. At the beginning the noble Lord referred to "an undertaking". A little later on he read out "a statement of intention". He has now again referred to it as "an under- taking". It was in fact a statement of intention, which I think is rather different.


My Lords, one of the weaknesses of a lazy mind is to be inaccurate in the use of language. In using the word "undertaking" I was using inaccurate and loose language. I withdraw it, and I emphasise that the word is "intention" because that is part of my argument. The whole trouble is that what counsel has limited himself to saying is that "it is the intention". Those who run these riverside craft have to programme their operations over a period of years. These craft are expensive; they need maintaining; and these people have to formulate their budgets. Their anxiety is that the word is "intention" and is not "undertaking". What I seek to do by the Amendment is, in effect, to convert the word "intention into the word" undertaking ".

That having been raised, and counsel in effect having been asked, by implication at any rate, why he objected to it being in the Bill, he said this: The Board would certainly not wish to see incorporated in the Bill any restriction or definition of that amount. One of the principal reasons for that is simply that if it was included in the Bill it would not be possible to make any alteration without coming back to Parliament again. What a reason! Here is a whole industry. These riverside craft are very expensive (I am afraid I repeat myself), and those responsible for conducting them must look ahead. These enterprises cannot be conducted on a day-to-day basis or on five-minute decisions. You have to programme what you are going to spend over a period of years; how far you are going to fit into this bacat or lashat system; and how much money you are going to expend—and it is a substantial capital expenditure. Anybody with the least sense of responsibility who wants to manage an undertaking of this sort must look ahead. It is not satisfactory to him simply to know counsel's statement of an intention, knowing also that counsel felt it necessary to use the word "intention", and was very reluctant, or his clients were, to have anything precise put in an Act of Parliament.

My Lords, why should they not come back to the House? This is a Private Bill designed to assist the interests of one of these nationalised Boards. If they want to disadvantage the other nationalised Boards, why should they not come back to this House to do so? That is what I am asking. Therefore, what I have sought to put down is an Amendment that proposes precisely that result. This being a Private Bill, it is not printed, and your Lordships may not have seen the Amendment. It is designed to implement in the terms of this Bill counsel's statement of intention. I say at once that I do not suggest for a second that there is any ill-faith. I am quite certain that counsel was instructed by people who really mean to honour this intention, and to honour it not only in 1974 as to the 25 per cent. limit but after 1974 as to the limit being raised from 25 per cent. to 50 per cent. I am sure they are perfectly genuine in that. I do not think there is any question of ill faith: if I did, there would not be much point in asking your Lordships to incorporate that intention in the Bill. It is a bona fide statement of intention, and those who are concerned to manage their affairs and who pay these dues to the Docks Board simply want to know whether they can in confidence look forward in the future to not having to pay the Board more than a certain amount. Therefore what the Amendment does—I will not read it to your Lordships—is simply to put into legislative language that intention, but it makes it an undertaking, not an intention. I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Simon for reminding me of the difference.

I should like to call attention to one small feature. The merchandise dues which the Docks Board are allowed to charge are defined in the Amendment as being the maximum charges at any one time to be made by the Board. It simply means, so far as this Amendment is concerned, that they can increase their merchandise dues. If they do so, any party affected has a right of appeal under Section 31 of the Harbours Act 1964 to the National Ports Council, and can dispute the amount of the increase. But so far as this Amendment is concerned, they can increase their merchandise dues beyond the present figure and anybody affected can appeal against it. So far, so good. As the charges that may be made for overside loading and unloading are to he limited to 25 per cent. and 50 per cent. respectively of those merchandise dues, when the merchandise dues are raised then equally and proportionately the charges for overside loading and unloading can also be raised. So it is not putting anybody in a straitjacket, but simply taking counsel's clients at their word—and counsel speaks simply for his clients—and saying, "If that is your intention; namely, that there will be nothing up to 1974, 25 per cent. during 1974 and 50 per cent. for succeeding years, put that in the Statute and if you increase those merchandise charges, correspondingly you can increase the overside charges for loading and unloading."

My Lords, I respectfully submit that this Amendment will bring some sort of business sense or logic into this situation, this ridiculous dispute between two nationalised Boards. I do not say "ridiculous" from the point of view of the Inland Waterways Board—they are trying to be as reasonable as they can: they only want to know where they stand. May I withdraw the word "ridiculous"? This dispute, which has been the subject of much discussion, should be finally resolved by being put into the terms of this Bill, which is a Private Bill. I have read in the transcript of the proceedings of the Select Committee that the Government are neutral and do not take up a stance one way or the other. It is a matter between the two Boards and the Hull Chamber of Commerce with one of the Boards. I ask for it to be finally resolved—simply to introduce certainty and to put in plain terms into this Private Bill what counsel has said, on instructions, are the intentions of his clients. I beg to move the Amendment.

8.55 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, for giving us the benefit of his knowledge, which arises out of the background of these docks and these charges. His, of course, is a peculiar knowledge of the matters which are dealt with in this Bill; but I am bound to say that I do not believe that to-night we have to go deeply into overside loading and the method of charging. I believe the question we have to decide to-night is a relatively simple one. As the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, said, an undertaking was given during the passage of the Bill—and despite what the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, has said, I have read this as an undertaking and I am fairly sure that members of that Committee, sitting and listening to the evidence, accepted what Mr. Marnham, the learned counsel for the Promoters, said as one. He said: I said at the start of these proceedings this morning that the intention of the Board would be to restrict their charges to the 25 per cent. in the first year and to a maximum thereafter of 50 per cent. That was an undertaking made in specific terms. The question is: ought we to embody those figures in the Bill? It was also said by Mr. Marnham that the Harbours Act 1964 gives a right of appeal to the National Ports Council in respect of any charge which is imposed or any charge which could be imposed on over-side cargo if the Bill were allowed to proceed.

The question that the House is being asked to decide to-night is not one as between the undertaking given by the Promoters' counsel and the Amendment now before us, but as to whether we ought to embody the undertaking in the Bill itself. If the circumstances of the Hull docks changed to such an extent that the modification of the charges set out in the Promoters' undertaking was desirable, and perhaps even acknowledged by the port users, the overside users themselves, ought this House, by embodying the undertaking in the Bill, to tie the Board to the extent that such a modification would be possible only by an Act of Parliament? I am bound to say that I do not agree with my noble friend when he said that undertakings of this size could come to both Houses, that money could be spent to get an Act of Parliament passed, and that we ought to take steps here which might indeed cause them eventually to have to do precisely that. To carry a Bill through both Houses of Parliament involves a very heavy expense indeed. I do think the safeguard of the right of appeal to the National Ports Council appears to be sufficient for the overside loaders and users. Only if a considerable change had taken place in the Board's circumstances would the Board face the National Ports Council, knowing full well that the undertaking of the Board is on record and that it would be quoted against them.

I believe that if such an appeal were made to the National Ports Council, that Council would take into consideration the undertaking that had been given, and I am sure they would not find for the Board if in fact the circumstances had not changed to such an extent as to justify a change in the charging set out in the undertaking given by Mr. Marnham on behalf of the Bill's Promoters. No Board would attempt an alteration of the 25 per cent, and 50 per cent. charges unless they could face the National Ports Council and support and fully justify the change which might be proposed by the Board. I am bound to say, having sat on some of these Committees and listened to all the evidence, as this Committee did over three days, and having come to the conclusion which it has now come to, to permit the Bill to pass in the form that it has reached us, that I do not think it would be right for the House to-night to alter what that Committee did, and certainly not to embody in the Bill the Amendment now before us.

9.0 p.m.


My Lords, it will be within the recollection of your Lordships that this matter was briefly alluded to on Second Reading of the Bill. I took the liberty to detain your Lordships for a moment or two then to draw attention to the conflict which had arisen between two nationalised industries each of which had been set up by Parliament with a particular purpose. I also drew attention then, as I do now, and as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, did so admirably, to the critical importance in the future of encouraging rather than discouraging transport on the inland waterways.

On Second Reading I ventured to say that unless an accommodation were reached between the Promoters and the Petitioners during the hearing in Committee, the Promoters must expect serious difficulties and opposition on Third Reading. I am not concerned to apportion blame as between these two nationalised industries. But since even the Department of Trade and Industry declared in Committee the most neuter of neutral stands, and since that position was reached despite the fact that there had been no representations from, or lobbying by, the British Waterways Board to the Department (and page 20 of the proceedings of the final day in Committee bears this out) we in Parliament have an obligation to look more closely at the matter.

Much has been made already of the point as to whether a statement of intention is or is not a binding undertaking. Also, some rather heavy weather was made just now on the costs of a Private Parliamentary Bill. I would have thought that this particular Bill must have cost its Promoters less than most Private Bills do in going through the two Houses of Parliament because it has arrived at this stage so quickly and with so little fuss. I submit the reason for that is because the Petitioners have shown the greatest restraint. Whether that be the case or not, I am not concerned to apportion praise and blame between the two, in effect, organs of the State. The simple fact is that the British Transport Docks Board have given the appearance of meeting the Petitioners' objection in that they gave their declaration of intention. But when the Chairman of the Select Committee asked whether the Promoters would put that declaration of intention into the Bill, they refused. The refused for a simple reason of which they made no secret. It was that if they wanted to change their minds they would not be able to do so. In other words, it was no more than a declaration of intention. They made it clear directly, and by inference, that they might change their minds; there might be a change of policy; there might be new situations; and for that reason they were not prepared, and refused more than once, to say that their declaration of intention was to be regarded as an undertaking.

It has been argued that the Petitioners, the British Waterways Board, still have left to them, if the Bill proceeds in its present form, the option of an appeal to the National Ports Council under Section 31 of the Harbours Act 1964. Both the Chairman and the Director of the National Ports Council will know that I personally have the utmost respect for them and admiration for the job that they do; but can it really be argued that the Inland Waterways, who have one job to do, should rely alone for their pro- tection in this matter on the National Ports Council, which is mainly and properly concerned in making ports pay, not in developing inland waterways or inland water transport?

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, said, the matter at issue in monetary terms and in volume terms is not a large feature of either the dock traffic on the Humber, or of the Hull Docks revenue; but it is a big feature of inland waterways transport. The British Waterways Board have said frankly enough that they recognise the chance to load and unload into and out of barges in sheltered water is itself a facility for which proper payment should be made. They do not deny that. They have said that they accept the range of the British Transport Board's intention of a 25 per cent, and 50 per cent. limitation provided they could be certain that those intentions would endure. It may be said that the Hull Docks and the Humber Estuary are like a key that turns the lock on a door. The Hull Docks and the Humber Estuary can kill barge transport with little damage to themselves, or they can assist it with some advantage to themselves.

In view of what has been said—and I have strong feelings about this—particularly since the Promoters were warned on Second Reading that there might be difficulty now if they did not compose their differences with the Petitioners, I hope and believe that unless the noble Lord who replies is able to say that the Promoters will accept this Amendment, noble Lords will agree to press this matter to a Division to test the feeling and thinking of the House.


My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down I wonder whether he can help the House, and certainly help me, by telling me at what point the British Waterways Board said they would accept this proposal, provided it was put into the Bill?


My Lords, I am speaking purely from my private understanding. I do not think it is absolutely clear in the record of the Committee hearings. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, will I think be able to infer quite readily from his reading of the Committee proceedings that when the Committee Chairman asked the Promoters if they were prepared to put this into the Bill, and the Promoters said they would not, he then said, in effect, "Well then, this is a disappointment. We have got to carry on without it." In so far as the proceedings of the Committee, the deliberations of the Committee, are not recorded for the public—we have only to go by the transcript of the hearing of evidence—that is my direct inference. But it is also supported by my own private understanding of the situation. I do not, I should stress, in any way represent he British Waterways Board. I have no financial interests in either party to declare; I am merely speaking from such knowledge as I have been able to gather.

9.10 p.m.


My Lords, I think I should start by saying that I have no interest in either of the parties concerned or indeed any other parties in the area. I have no connection with Hull Docks. I have had considerable connections with the British Waterways Board in the past. On occasions I have helped them; on very many occasions, as the House has certainly in its memory. I have fought them very bitterly. The reason why I rise to-night is that I have one prejudice and two points which I think are of national interest; and for these three reasons I think that this undertaking, or whatever one sees fit to call it, ought to be in the Bill and not just a few words spoken in a Committee room upstairs.

My prejudice is simply this. In the course of the years that I have been in this House I have never liked at any time seeing a Minister or anybody else rise to his feet and say that he intends to do something, or even promise to do something. I have always wanted to see it in the Bill. This might be called a good Liberal principle. So far as I recollect, the Liberals have always supported insertion in the Bill of all such undertakings as being very much clearer, very much more certain, and very much more likely not to cause trouble later. It is the undertakings which are not in the Bill which cause disputes at a later date. Apart from that prejudice there are two points of national interest, and for these reasons I should like to see this undertaking, or whatever it may be, in the Bill.

Overside loading and unloading of ships is enormously valuable to this country. One of the largest capital investments ever made by any body, any company, is into the building and operation of a ship. Its capital value is enormous; its continuous outgoings build up all the time whatever it is doing and especially when it is at a standstill. It is therefore important whenever a ship enters a dock that it should be got out of that dock at the earliest moment possible. The best way of doing this is to load it or unload it over both sides and not merely on to the dry land of the dock. For this reason, the loading and unloading of at least one side of a ship into barges has continued in many cases when it might appear to be uneconomic, simply because it got the ship away to sea earlier and thus saved enormous capital charges, insurance charges, crews' wages charges, demurrage and all sorts of things. The loading and unloading of a ship overside has thus for many years been regarded in this country as of supreme importance and this has appeared in Act of Parliament after Act of Parliament, including the Transport Act 1962, as has been mentioned earlier. I consider that any undertaking, any variation, any solidification of this position that overside loading should be treated specially is extremely important and should be put in a Bill which becomes an Act of Parliament and be seen by other port authorities and everybody else in the country as important.

There is a secondary point, which I know a number of your Lordships have well to heart. It is this: anything put into a barge is not taken by road. A number of your Lordships have pressed this point on me over and over again, that they support what I have always advocated; namely, the use of the inland waterways simply because a barge holds a great many more tons of cargo than does a lorry. If a heavy barge is going up a waterway it is positively pleasant and very different from the unpleasant state of affairs produced by heavy lorries on the road. Therefore, there is a national interest in preserving this barge traffic, in keeping it economic and, if possible, in building it up. I think all your Lordships have this at heart. If that is so, it is important that a point like this should be firmly in legislation where it is visible to everybody, whereas the proceedings of a Committee of ours upstairs are not quite so visible. For this reason in addition—a small reason but I think your Lordships may well find it important—I also wish to see this Amendment in the Bill and, if necessary, I shall support it in a Division.

9.15 p.m.


My Lords, I was a member of the Select Committee on this Bill and I voted against allowing it to proceed. We considered all the evidence very carefully but we never really considered whether or not the subject of a declaration of intent by the Promoters should be mentioned in the Bill. There was a slight reference to it by counsel for the Promoters but it was their opinion that it would be undesirable to have any definition or restriction of actual rate of charge put in the Bill, on the grounds that it would not be possible to make any alteration without coming back to Parliament.

But there must already be a precedent for this. It must be recognised that this legislation would take away established rights. It is right that Parliament should protect the Petitioners by requiring the Promoters to include the subject of the declaration in the Bill, which is what this Amendment seeks to do. We have 339 miles of commercial waterways in this country, of which 158 miles—that is 47 per cent.—of the national total are accessible from the Humber Estuary. Owing to its geographical situation Hull has always been a big distribution centre, particularly by water; but traffic has been slowly disappearing over the years, showing that it is very vulnerable. Despite this, on the credit side over the last year or two there has been a slight upward trend, particularly in cargoes from South Africa. There is a continuing need to attract new traffic to Hull, and new technologies have been introduced by the British Waterways Board to encourage this on their system.

The effect of a charge, whatever it may be, is something one cannot assess. Therefore, it is imperative that Parliament should still preserve some control in this matter. This clause, representing the solemn statement of intent given by the Promoters to Parliament, would achieve this. However, as I feel I have already had my vote in Committee I shall abstain tonight; but I hope your Lordships will support this Amendment.


My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, referred, in a phrase, to "business sense and logic", and it is this that completely bewilders me to-night. Business sense and logic dictates, so far as I am concerned, that if I set up a Committee to examine a problem I accept their conclusions unless there is something quite deleterious in them. It would seem that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, and indeed the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, should have appeared before this Committee and made their expertise available to the Committee as a whole. Why should we bother with just a small section of the evidence which doubtless was given in the two and a half to three days that this Committee sat?

The noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, said, on Second Reading of the Bill: My purpose now is to express the hope that under the influence of examination in the Select Committee good sense may yet prevail, whereas negotiations between the two nationalised industries concerned have hitherto been disappointingly abortive."—[OFFICIAL REPORT; 11/6/73, col. 376] I maintain, looking at the matter as a complete outsider, that good sense has prevailed. All the points that have been made should have been brought up at the time when this Committee sat. This expression of opinion was mentioned to the Committee; it was quite clear that they did not feel that they should improve the Bill in that way by bringing in this express provision, and I feel most strongly that it would be a retrograde step to rehearse once again all that happened in the Committee, only to come out with the same answer, which is that the Bill should go forward without any amendment.

9.20 p.m.


My Lords, I speak also as a member of the Select Committee who considered this matter, and I feel that it may be helpful to your Lordships if some explanation were given regarding the decisions to which the Committee came. Those of your Lordships who followed the proceedings will recall the transcript of the second day and will note that the Committee were very unhappy about the method by which the Promoters were proposing to introduce the charges, and the Committee sought that evening to establish the intention in order that they could give some support to the Petitioners' figures. Such an intention was given the following morning. It was quite clear and quite unequivocal. It appears to me that there has been from the start of this Bill, right through almost until this stage, a marked distrust between the two parties. If counsel for the Promoters of the Bill, in the circumstances in which they find themselves at that time, gives a declaration of intent that the charges shall be 25 per cent. of the shipping and merchandise dues for the succeeding year, 1974, and not exceeding (to quote it correctly), "to a maximum of 50 per cent. thereafter", it really should be good enough for the Petitioners to accept.

Until that time I was myself very much against the Bill proceeding. I must confess also that I was not tremendously enamoured with the management of the Hull Docks, in so far as they presented their case. After all, if one looks at any kind of business and finds a diminishing amount of business and a diminishing return on capital, one looks to a suspect management. Nevertheless, when the Committee came to make their decision I failed to persuade my colleagues of my point of view. I rested with that, which appears to me to be a quite reasonable way for a Select Committee to deal with their business. It is quite wrong for anybody to suggest the Committee were not seized upon both the matter of principle and the matter of cash. The Committee were indeed seized upon those things very well, and it worried them enormously. They were equally seized upon the necessity for the Docks Board to be able to negotiate with shipping owners, with barge owners, with lighter owners, with their customers, without one hand tied behind their back, and the Committee were equally seized of the point which the Promoter and the Petitioners made in suggesting that the dock haulage business was a changing business. It is quite fair to say that very many members of the Committee were quite aware that the technological changes that may well occur within a comparatively short period of time may militate against the Docks Board, putting them in an unfavourable position with the lighter owners, and that they should therefore be free to negotiate. In the event of such negotiation proving to be unacceptable, barge owners, lighter owners, the customers of the Hull Docks Board, have a right of appeal.

Surely that is the right way of going about things. I find myself, speaking from these Benches, perhaps too often in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Champion, who said quite clearly that the question before the House to-night was whether the Docks Board should have the Bill as it was promoted and get along with their business, allowing the Petitioners the right of appeal. In effect, I believe, that is what the noble Lord said. The noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, suggested, as did the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, that an intention was not really good enough, because, after all, they could do anything afterwards. I must say, as a businessman, that I find it incomprehensible that any two parties should enter any kind of business undertaking with that kind of feeling. If that is the feeling, I would suggest to the Hull Docks Board that they ban the barges, and I would say to the barge owners, "Quit and go somewhere else", because this is no way to do business.

There is going to be a change in the kind of merchandise that this dock is going to handle if it is to survive as a port, and I do not believe that the managers should be hampered in any kind of way in getting on with that piece of business. I do not think a nationalised industry is going to say one thing to a Select Committee and do, unreasonably, a totally different thing. That is why I am inclined now to support the Promoters of the Bill and go against the Amendment.

There is just one other very small point which I think it would be reasonable for your Lordships to consider. In the short time I have been in your Lordships' House it has appeared to me that a midsummer madness overcomes the House just before Recess. All sorts of things get carried through the House, timetables get upset, and because of the expediency of the Recess various matters appear to get passed. We have had a number of Select Committee Reports which have been challenged. Now it occurs to me that there is little purpose in your Lordships sending a Bill to a Select Committee and not having trust in that Committee to do that Committee's business, and with the full intention as declared perhaps at Second Reading, that notwithstanding what a Select Committee may do, we will raise the matter again at Third Reading.

Some of these Select Committees are a little arduous. This one was not very arduous; it meant three days of close attention with an extra half-hour on the second day. If Select Committees are going to do this work on behalf of the House, I think it would be in the better interests of the House to accent their recommendation, unless there are very momentous, pressing reasons why it should not. Otherwise I can see Select Committee procedure in the future falling down for sheer lack of people willing to serve and having then to proceed over the matter again. My Lords, do not be deceived that your Select Committee did not attend to their affairs properly or pay due regard to those things said and some of those things unsaid. They deliberated tremendously hard at the end of the hearing. I think, in fact, it was for about three quarters of an hour that the Committee talked among themselves before they finally came to the decision, clearly recorded in their minutes, that the Bill should proceed. It is upon that basis that I would support the Promoters.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I raise a point on what he said about a certain undertaking from the Promoters, understood to have been given by their counsel? He said, as a business man, that he would accept that. Businessmen do not normally operate under Acts of Parliament. Here we are trying to lay something down in an Act of Parliament; we are making a law. The important thing about a law is that it should be unambiguous, and if this is the intention of everybody concerned I suggest that it should go into the Bill.

9.31 p.m.


My Lords, I thought that it might be of help to the House if I intervened at this point in view of the very great interest that has been expressed in this Bill. It is of course a Private Bill and, as such, the attitude of the Government is one of neutrality, and I should like to confirm what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State indicated in his report—that he has no objection to the proposals this Bill seeks to implement. I should, however, like to say this. Port authorities are expected to operate on a commercial basis and in competition with each other, and they are, in general, free to exercise their own commercial judgment in determining port charges. The British Transport Docks Board are no exception.

A point was raised on the question of free overside trade at other United Kingdom ports. My understanding of the position is that of the major United Kingdom ports only the Port of London Authority are under statutory restrictions of the kind which is the subject of the Bill. Even so, a separate levy is made by the Port of London Authority on all goods entering and leaving the port. The noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, raised a question as to whether traffic would be diverted on to the roads. I understand that the Board have stated that they do not seek, by their rate structure, to influence the movement of goods by road, rail or water, and that users must be free to choose their own form of transport. We cannot tell in advance how much traffic might be diverted as a result of the Bill. However, having regard to the current and prospective road improvements in the Hull area, and in particular to the schemes designed to improve road access to the docks, I am assured that there is unlikely to be any undue problem about accommodating any resultant additional road traffic.

In conclusion, I should like to make it clear, as I think other noble Lords have mentioned, that there is a right of objection to the National Ports Council under Section 31 of the Harbours Act 1964 in the case of ship, passenger and goods dues. In considering objections in a particular case, the Council can take into account the importance of the charges in question to the operations carried out by the objectors. There is, therefore, an effective safeguard in relation to any charges which the Board may impose on goods transferred overside at Hull. This being so, I should not think that there is any need to include in the Bill the restriction as proposed by the Amendment.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, will she allow me to ask a question as to whether there will not be a considerable amount more traffic on the Hull roads if the overside loading continues to decrease and is transferred to ordinary quayside loading? The figure that has been given to me—and quite frankly I am not certain that I have got it right—is something like 100 extra 20-ton loads per day. I may be wrong about that, and if I am I apologise to the House, but that was the figure which I think was given to me as an estimate.


My Lords, it is for the Promoters of the Bill to answer on all the general arguments that come up. On this particular matter I am afraid that I do not have the figures before me about numbers of extra lorries. My point was that, as regards extra traffic, there are to be road improvements near Hull, and it is not expected that this will create any extra difficulties.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness be so kind as to answer this further question: on the subject of her Department's neutrality, would she confirm the words that are recorded on page 20 of Day 3 of the Committee as coming from her Department's representative, Mr. Monk, who said: It would certainly be going too far to imply in the words 'no objection' that we actively support the Bill. Would the noble Baroness be so kind as to confirm that those words do represent her Department's policy?


My Lords, the only words which I am prepared to confirm are that we do take a neutral attitude on this matter, and on looking at this sentence I would have thought that that was exactly what was expressed.

9.35 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a long discussion on this Amendment and I must do my best to satisfy your Lordships that the Amendment is, first of all, ill-conceived and unnecessary and, secondly, objectionable. Perhaps I may deal first with the merits of the clause and the argument and then come to the procedural point; so I will not take Lord Stow Hill's first point which was that those affected now wish to see the undertaking written into the Bill—and I will not quarrel with the noble and learned Lord's reference to the undertaking, or whatever the word was. I corrected the noble and learned Lord only because I thought there was perhaps something a little pejorative in the suggestion that an undertaking has been given from which somebody is now trying to resile. Anyway, he said that those affected wished to see this undertaking in the Bill. I am bound to ask why they did not say so to the Committee. I do not want to trouble your Lordships with all the evidence, but when the notice of intention was given my recollection is that the representative of the Objectors—and the matter was just a little difficult to follow because the same person was representing both Objectors, so one was not quite sure which one he was speaking for—said that he did not think that did any good.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, went on to recite the long history of this matter and all the figures—and of course I am sure he got his figures right. These were all presented to and rehearsed before the Select Committee, and I venture to suggest to your Lordships that the Bill has been given a Third Reading and the principle that a charge can be made on overside cargo is now accepted. Therefore I do not think it is necessary to go back into all the history. However, I should like to make just one comment on the history because it was not taken up before the Select Committee. As is so often the case, the great port of Rotterdam was thrown in the teeth of the British Docks Board; but whoever threw it in their teeth did not realise that the great port of Rotterdam has not got any enclosed docks, so the position that the port of Hull is dealing with does not arise in Rotterdam.

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, went on to refer to these new concepts of "bacot" and "lash", and of course we all welcome this, the port of Hull as much as anyone, because it appears to offer possibilities for a substantial increase in cargo through Hull. That increase in cargo will be brought to and from the ships in barges. So far as I can see, the whole basis of the Amendment is the assumption that the imposition of a charge is going seriously to affect the use of barges. I went very carefully through the evidence given to the Select Committee, and I did not see any evidence to that effect. A lot of estimates were made, and I think the Committee finally agreed that it was not possible to tell. As one noble Lord said recently one cannot tell what the results will be. But, certainly, the British Waterways Board, through their principal witness, appeared to be quite satisfied that it would not greatly affect the traffic; he was merely concerned with the matter of principle. I cannot find evidence for the statement by the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, that to do this will further depress overside loading and discharge, and thus damage the interests of the British Waterways Board and of merchants.

The fact of the matter is that traffic by water is cheaper than traffic over the quay by land, where it is appropriate and useful, particularly when the cargo is going direct to premises on the water. In fact, the water has gained a certain amount of the traffic which goes some way up by water and is then transferred to the road. This is admirable. I saw it stated by the Road Haulage Association, Hull branch—admittedly a source that might be suspect—that if a full charge similar to wharfage were put on to lighters, it would still be cheaper to send goods by lighter than to send them by road. The proposers of the Amendment obviously do not think that the decline in traffic has anything to do with charges on cargo that is discharged over-side, because up till now there has not been any. The decline in overside traffic has occurred largely because the waterside mills have closed down and there is less cargo that is suitable for carriage by water.

One point which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, made, I should like to suggest he did not get quite right. He said that under the proposed procedure, if the dues for landing over the quay were raised, then the percentage charged to the cargo going into barges would be correspondingly raised, by perhaps 25 per cent. or 50 per cent. With great respect to the noble and learned Lord, I think that he was not right, because the appeal to the National Ports Council against an increase in charges could be limited to the cargo discharged into barges. So that the effect of the Amendment might be that the cargo discharged into barges would have its rate increased willy-nilly. because that is what the Act states; whereas, in fact, if they relied on their present power to appeal to the National Ports Council they could get the matter dealt with on the basis of the overside cargoes only. I am assuming that if this Amendment were put into the Bill, the receivers would not have a second shot, in that they could go to the National Ports Council as well. I should have thought that that would be asking for too much.

I was most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, who dealt with my next point about whether it is right for this House to challenge the recommendation of the Select Committee, and I think I shall come back to that a little later. The noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, reminded us of the warning which he gave us on Second Reading, and I hope he will not take it amiss if I say that I think that that slightly weakens his argument, because it shows that he was prejudiced, in the proper sense of the word; that is to say, he prejudged the issue before hearing the arguments of the British Transport Docks Board. He referred to what happened in the Select Committee, and said that the Chairman asked counsel for the Promoters whether they would put this note of intention into the Bill, and they said that they would not do so and gave a reason.

I suggest that there are other good reasons beside the one which they gave. For one thing, it is a completely open-ended statement of intention and if it had been in the form of a contract nobody would have said that they could guarantee that the charges would not be more than 50 per cent. of the quay charge for ever and ever. If it was going to be in the form of a contract, I should have thought you would have to have some limitation on it. One can conceive conditions in which, for instance, these new methods of transport, bacat and lash, become immensely successful. Let us suppose that 50 per cent. of the cargo which goes through Hull is carried in barges. In those circumstances, I am sure the Docks Board would have to come to some agreement with the shippers and receivers, because they would otherwise lose far too much revenue. It is not very likely to happen, but it is the sort of thing which can happen if they are tied up in this way in the Bill.

The noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, told us of his prejudice against intentions not being put in the Bill, and he rather chided me with not accepting them at once, as a good Liberal. This is not a Party matter at all, and I am not going to be drawn into that. I fully agree with him, of course, that overside loading and unloading is immensely valuable, but the point I have already made is that there is no evidence that this relatively small charge is going to have the effect that some people seem to think. Of course it was natural that, in the Select Committee, people concerned who saw a charge being put on should go and object. We all do that as soon as we hear that a charge is going to be put on or increased. I would merely remind your Lordships that it is only in the last two weeks, I think, that the Price Commission has authorised quite a substantial increase in road haulage charges. That, it might be thought, again, would tip the scale a little in favour of barges. The exact relationship between barge traffic and traffic over the quay cannot remain static, and I do not think that the amounts we are talking about here will have a substantial effect.

I am reminded that the House is sitting rather late and that I must get on, so I will just say a few more words on the procedural position. I took the trouble to have a look at Erskine May this morning, and perhaps I may read a very short extract from it. I can give the reference if any noble Lord wants it. Speaking of Private Bills, it says: The House, although it has undoubtedly the power, should normally never reject the decision of a Select Committee unless new or special considerations arise". I submit that there are no new or special considerations. All the considerations that have been canvassed to-day were discussed before the Select Committee, and it seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill has not shown us any reason indicating that there are new or special conditions which could justify our going against the normal practice of this House as set out in Erskine May. This House is a quite unsuitable body to discuss an issue of this kind. I recognise how badly I have dealt with it. The noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, is an accomplished advocate, and to that extent the promoters of the Amendment have a great advantage. But I think it is utterly wrong, as has already been said—and I welcome what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said—that here we have a Select Committee which has recommended that this Bill should go through in its present form and we are asked to accept an Amendment. I hope that, if the noble Lord goes to a Division, noble Lords will support me in voting to reject the Amendment. But I would much rather that the noble Lord, who I am sure cannot say that there are any new or special considerations, should think fit at this stage to withdraw the Amendment.


My Lords, as I have not a right to speak twice may I, before the noble Lord sits down (or, rather, immediately after he has sat down), venture to answer a question which I think he put to me on the effect of the Amendment? That was whether there could in any circumstances be a case in which the 25 per cent. or 50 per cent. could be increased, as I said. I said I thought there was not the slightest doubt about that, and may I just say why? The first subsection says that the Board's merchandise dues means the maximum charges at any time made by the Board, and so on. If one looks at the second subsection one finds that the relevant wording is that thereafter, from the beginning of 1974, they may make maximum charges in respect of goods loaded or unloaded no greater than the above, that is to say, for the period expiring on December 31, 1974, 25 per cent. of the comparable rate of the Board's merchandise charge, and after that, 50 per cent. I should have thought, as a matter of construction, that there could not be the least doubt that if the merchandise charge, as defined, is increased, it follows automatically that the 25 per cent. remains 25 per cent. of the increased charge. Therefore it is self-increased.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble and learned Lord. I do not know what question of mine he was answering. The point I was trying to make was that, as he said, with the Amendment this would be the result. Without the Amendment, supposing the intention was to charge 25 per cent., for the sake of example, and the basic rate went up, it would still be open to the receivers of overside cargo to appeal to the National Ports Council against a proportionate increase.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?

On Question, Bill passed.

Their Lordships divided: Contents 11; Not-Contents 24.

Conesford, L. Macleod of Borve, B. Stow Hill, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Moyne, L. Strange, L.
Lauderdale, E. [Teller.] St. Davids, V. [Teller.] Wise, L.
Loudoun, C. Saint Oswald, L.
Arran, E. Ferrier, L. Rankeillour, L.
Balfour, E. Gowrie, E. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Bowden, L. Hacking, L. Seear, B.
Carnock, L. Hayter, L. [Teller.] Shepherd, L.
Champion, L. Hood, V. Simon, V. [Teller.]
Colville of Culross, V. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Denham, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Emmet of Amberley, B. Mowbray and Stourton, L. Young, B.
Ferrers, E.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.