HL Deb 09 October 1990 vol 522 cc226-40

8.10 p.m.

Lord Goold

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

The promoter of the Bill is the Clyde Port Authority, which is a self-governing public trust port operating under its own Acts of Parliament, the principal enabling legislation being the CPA Order of 1965 together with successive amendments and additions. The authority was formed on 1st January, 1966.

Its present board numbers 10, comprising seven non-executive and three executive members, the former drawn from local government and trade union backgrounds, in addition to shipping and commercial interests. The Secretary of State for Transport is responsible for non-executive appointments, including that of the chairman.

The Bill received its Second and Third Readings in another place, where it was not petitioned against. A petition has been lodged against the Bill in this House, by the Greenock Waterfront Heritage Association, but this is a matter for the scrutiny of the relevant committee of the House and not, as I see it, a matter for the Second Reading debate today.

Similarly, the promoter of the Bill has undertaken to draw to the attention of the appropriate committee of this House certain minor technical amendments to the drafting of the Bill; but I believe these also are not of relevance to our Second Reading debate.

Clydeport is the principal port on Scotland's west coast, uniquely endowed with natural deep water facilities, capable of accommodating the world's largest ships. I know the port authority was delighted recently to act as host to the QE2 on her visit to the Clyde, her birthplace. The Clyde Port Authority's jurisdiction extends over 450 square miles of the River Clyde, its estuary and sea lochs. Principal areas of port activity are Glasgow, Greenock, Hunterston and Ardrossan. Together, these provide a range of modern and well-equipped facilities for handling bulk cargoes, containers and break-bulk traffic.

The authority's port traffic has changed dramatic-ally over the last 20 years. Britain's trade with Europe has increased significantly while trade with America has reduced. Therefore, there has been a decline in shipping traffic to the west coast in favour of ports on the east coast. This, together with the mechanisation and rationalisation of port facilities in this country and the decline in traditional industries in the west of Scotland, has led to the reduction in the traffic using the port.

The authority's powers principally relate to the operation of a port undertaking. Its powers are severely restricted by existing legislation, which prevents the authority from developing its business and from competing commercially. Changes to the authority's powers and structure can only be achieved through legislation. The Government have been reluctant to permit any extension of powers without increased accountability such as is found within a limited company structure and have encouraged the trust ports to utilise the Private Bill route in order to restructure.

In mentioning the Government, I am delighted to note that, speaking for the Government, my noble friend Lord Cavendish of Furness will be making his maiden speech in this debate. I am sure that we all welcome him and wish him well.

Having considered the need to take the Private Bill route, the authority's board unanimously supported the proposal to lodge such a Private Bill for the express purpose of enabling the authority to restructure itself, recognising the need for the port to create a strong, commercial base and to diversify.

Existing legislation restricts the authority from operating its business on equal terms with Continental ports or rival ports which are already in the private sector and not bound by trust port legislation. In particular, the authority's present powers are severely limited in relation both to the acquisition of land and to investment opportunities. For example, the authority has no ability to acquire new land for other than port development and must dispose of its interest in surplus land once redeveloped. At the same time its borrowing powers are limited by statute and, accordingly, funding of major opportunities is extremely difficult without approaching Parliament for an increase in the borrowing limit.

These are merely examples, stated very briefly, where the present powers of the authority have inhibited its activities. Further, the constant need to verify the limits of the authority's powers, to ensure that the board is acting intra vires at all times, places an additional and unproductive burden on the board and its executive, who are expected to run the port on a wholly commercial basis.

The Clyde Port Authority Bill retains the existing powers, duties and responsibilities of the authority regarding the maintenance and improvement of the port undertaking. I must emphasise that the authority's commitment to the port will be reaffirmed by the restructuring scheme. The core port business will be operated by the successor company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the new holding company, which is created by the Bill. The successor company will inherit and preserve the statutory duties of the authority including the general duty, to take such steps from time to time as they consider necessary for the maintenance and improvement of the port and the accommodation and facilities, including navigational facilities, afforded therein and in connection therewith". In another place concern was expressed on the subject of dredging, but let me make it quite clear. If dredging were, in the authority's estimation, necessary to maintain and improve the port then the authority would dredge. The successor company will be in exactly the same position as the authority in relation to statutory provisions.

The holding company will have wider commercial powers than the authority has at present. For the moment, it is anticipated that four separate elements will be involved in the share capital structure of the new body. These will be: first, that the authority will put forward an employee share ownership plan (ESOP); secondly, that current employees will be invited to subscribe for shares for which interest free loans may be available to assist; thirdly, that past employees, pensioners and their spouses will also be invited to subscribe for shares; and, fourthly, that the authority will seek subscription by institutional investors, with a preference for institutional support in the west of Scotland.

Noble Lords will be aware that Sections 114 to 119 of the 1990 Finance Act put in place a mechanism whereby the Exchequer can share in the proceeds of the sale of shares in trust ports, given that these ports are not owned by government.

The authority has stated that, under this new structure, which is similar in concept to that of Associated British Ports, existing cash reserves will be applied to fund essential repairs, maintenance work and investment in plant and equipment to upgrade the port's facilities. The proceeds will also be required to expand these facilities in the future and to develop its business.

I am convinced that it is essential for the authority to be freed from the restrictive powers of trust port legislation. The restructuring programme will increase job security for current employees—around 350—and it is hoped that in due course it will lead to increased employment throughout the west of Scotland. The change in status will allow the company to increase its role in local projects for renewal and regeneration of the Clyde waterfront, as well as enabling the authority to continue to expand upon its involvement in environmental projects. Future initiatives could include using the spoil from dredging operations in the production of bricks and for conversion to topsoil.

The operations at Rothesay Dock have stimulated some, but limited, local scrutiny. Rothesay Dock is part of the core business of the authority. It was built to handle coal and has traditionally been the home of less environmentally attractive cargoes such as coal, scrap and salt. They may be unsightly, but they are significantly beneficial to the local and national economy. Non-operational areas in Rothesay Dock could be developed, but only successfully when the increased powers of the restructured authority afford it the opportunity to do so.

We have before the House today a Private Bill which is supported not only by the board of the Clyde Port Authority but also by the employees and trade unions and not opposed by any of the relevant local authorities. Taking into account the fact that there is only one petition against the Bill, and that is concerned with a small area at Greenock which will not in fact be affected by the change in status, I believe that I can say it has the support of the wider community of Glasgow and the west of Scotland. It is clearly in the interests of the authority itself, the local Clydeport economy, the docks industry and the local community for the Bill to proceed without delay.

Opportunities abound for the authority, but they can only be pursued if the authority is freed from the constraints of trust port legislation. The authority needs to be able to develop its business opportunities and to compete fully within today's marketplace. It needs to diversify and to establish a strong, commercial base. It needs to ensure job security for its existing employees and, in the longer term, strive for job creation. It needs to protect the environment and develop further environmental initiatives. More than anything else, it needs to be freed from existing restrictions so that it can be run properly on a wholly commercial basis.

I commend the Clyde Port Authority Bill to your Lordships for its Second Reading and seek your full support for the Bill today. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. — (Lord Goold.)

8.20 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, we all thank the noble Lord, Lord Goold, for his introduction of the Bill although not, I hasten to say, because we accept its purpose. We all accept that a great deal has happened since the Clyde Port Authority Order was passed in 1965 and that a great deal needs to be changed, but this is the wrong way to do it. We should be grateful to the noble Lord because he gave us rather more information than seemed to be available to the mover of the Bill in another place. I shall read the noble Lord's words with great interest before we reach the next stage of the Bill because we now have more information than we had before.

At the outset I should explain that we on this side of the House will, by convention, not oppose the Bill at this stage, it having been passed, however acrimoniously, through the elected Chamber. I shall also take the opportunity to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish of Furness, to the Front Bench to reply to the debate on behalf of the Government. My only disappointment is that I thought it was Furness on Loch Fyne. It is the other Furness. Nevertheless, although he is from just across the Border, we are pleased that he can take part in the debate. We look forward to hearing what he says and hope to hear from him frequently in the future.

We are entitled to reserve our position with regard to the next stages of the Bill. There are amendments. We do not as yet know much about them. We have been told several times that they are technical. I understand that we shall not know the details until the Committee stage, and so we obviously have to reserve our position.

It is unfortunate that the Bill is a Private Bill. The matter is too important to the Clyde to be left to this forum merely because the Government's timetable is in a mess, which is the basic reason for the procedure. Although I have not been able to trace it in the press —it may have been on television—I understand that the Secretary of State for Transport has made a decision as to the privatisation of ports. The noble Lord, Lord Goold, may be more aware of that than I am. There was today an announcement about government legislation on the privatisation of ports, and that may change matters considerably. It may be because there is a shortage of legislation for next Session and therefore the Government are putting in a few more measures.

A great deal has happened to the port since 1965, which was the last time the Clyde was discussed in Parliament. No one —not even my honourable friends in another place—advocates leaving things as they are. Ministers in another place normally do not speak for long on Private Bills. The Minister for Aviation and Shipping, Mr. Patrick McLoughlin, in a brief intervention compared this Private Bill with the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority Bill. I believe that that was wrong. He correctly said that the measures were almost identical, but there is a big difference because if I read it correctly the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority Bill was concerned primarily with a large port development designed to take ships of 200,000 tonnes. The opposition to the Bill was national and concerned the future of the mining industry. That Bill was different.

From the little information we have been able to obtain, the Bill is clearly concerned with the development of large and valuable tracts of land on the banks of the Clyde. The Minister made it clear that the Government would receive 50 per cent. of the proceeds from the sale of the shares. One valuation of the assets is £53 million. I do not know how accurate that figure is. It was referred to at col. 775 of Commons Hansard of 2nd July 1990. No one corrected Mr. Brian Wilson, the Member for Cunninghame North on that point and so we must work on that figure.

I have been told that little money was involved in the building up of the Clyde Port Authority, but I would not call the £26 million, which according to Mr. McCloughlin, the Secretary of State will receive from the sale of the assets, an insignificant contribution to public funds. We should add that to what has been put into the Clyde Port Authority and, going further back, to the Clyde Navigation Trust, by the Government and local authorities. There is no doubt that there was a great deal of good will. A great deal of invisible help was given to the Clyde Navigation Trust over decades by the riparian burghs and the municipalities when it was built into an effective and helpful body in terms of port development.

We are told that port development will follow from the profits of diversification, but I have heard nothing —including the helpful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Goold —which approximates to the Tees and Hartlepool legislation. If there are big ideas for port developments, we have not heard of them. We have merely heard about bits and pieces. The only big ideas we have heard about relate to land development. They are the Braehead scheme, which is sub judice, that of the consortium which is opposite the marvellous Clyde Port Authority building in Robertson Street and that at the Broomielaw which is partly Japanese. I am sad about the fact that the port authority cannot have a bigger say in that development. I am not anti the combination of public and private capital. It is just that that is not development by the Clyde Port Authority or the Clyde Development Authority.

Mr. Allan Stewart in another place has made much of the support of Mr. Lawrence McGarry and Mr. Tom O'Connor. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Goold, refrained from doing that. Although they are in the same party as I am, I happen to think that they were wrong to be as enthusiastic as they were. I have discussed the measure with one of them and he has no doubt about my position on it.

We here have a different function in Parliament. I should like to probe the mover and the Government on some aspects of privatisation which have been put to me. Had this been a government Bill that could be done in Committee. We can discuss in Committee matters which are not admissible before a Select Committee or a Private Bill Committee.

On dredging, the noble Lord, Lord Goold, with all his clout as a former chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party, says that this should appear on the face of the Bill. There is a power to carry out dredging but no duty to do so. I anticipated that the assurances of the noble Lord, Lord Goold, could not be considered law.

I could go into the question which was discussed in great detail that if a private company has been set up with no one to curtail it in any way and no duties from the Minister of Transport or the Secretary of State for Scotland, the only duty of that company will be to look after its shareholders. In terms of company law that is its proper duty. It may well decide that having got so far up the river, dredging beyond a certain point will not be profitable and it will make nothing from it. Someone cleverly in another place discussed the question of what is a port. Once we get beyond a certain point we can say, "It is a port but only for boats of a certain size or ships of a certain size". I may be wrong, I know that there are experts present but I believe that beyond a certain distance up river the Clyde can only take 27,000 tonnes. That is pretty small for modern shipping.

For example, if the Yorkhill Dock were no longer considered profitable, would the new Clyde Port Authority stop dredging beyond it? That might possibly cut out sailings of the "Waverley", as well as losing a second boat. The noble Lord, Lord Goold, may have read debates in another place and be aware that this argument was never properly answered. The new company will have a free hand to do as it pleases.

This is an unsatisfactory Bill. Privatisation is not the way we think such an important function should be carried out. However if there is to be privatisation, we should know much more about the body for which the public will be asked to subscribe—if the public, and not just the Scottish financial institutions, is the only source other than a few employee shares. What will be the price of shares? How many will there be? How will the value of the shares be decided? How will they be allotted to the employees and their relatives? Will it be on the basis of years employed, the salary scale or a combination of these? Can they be sold in the market or must they be made available to the board first? That is not uncommon. Anyone who knows the football scene in Scotland will know that with certain clubs one can only sell the shares back to the board. I believe that that is the situation in a number of places.

Gas, electricity and water privatisation was much more open. I do not wish to embark upon the question of ownership, but it may be quite important in future to know that a comparison was made between the sale of the TSB and this case—who owns the Clyde Port and who owned the TSB. While it may have been proved in law that the TSB had no real owners—and we had long, acrimonious discussions in the House about this—everyone felt that there was something slightly wrong about the way in which the TSB was taken away from its ordinary depositors. There will be the same feeling in this instance. The Clyde Port Authority and the old Clyde navigation, rightly or wrongly, are felt by people to be a public body, responsible to the public, given certain grants by the public and given a great deal of goodwill by the riparian owners. For that body to be taken away and suddenly sold to people who, as was said in another place, may turn out to be bankers in Zurich and Tokyo, cannot be considered in the best interests of the people of Scotland, particularly those in the west of Scotland. Having said that and registered my attitude, I reiterate that we shall certainly not oppose the Bill at this stage.

8.35 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I think that at this hour of the night it behoves us all to express as best and as briefly as we can our strong and heartfelt support to my noble friend Lord Goold for introducing this important Bill. Your Lordships may wonder why an Angus loon like myself should speak in support of the Bill. Glasgow and the economic life of the west of Scotland are of particular importance to all of us who live in Scotland, even 70, 80, 90 miles or more distance away from Glasgow. It is in that spirit that I seek to say a few words in support of my noble friend's Bill this evening.

I also wish to congratulate in advance and say how much we look forward to hearing the first remarks of my noble friend Lord Cavendish. I am sure he has picked an excellent Bill on which to make his maiden speech this evening. Your Lordships may not be aware that the Clyde Port Authority were kind enough to afford me and my noble friend Lord Goold a tour of the entire port authority area last month. As I toured the area beyond the tail of the bank, having seen Greenock and various aspects of the Firth of Clyde, the immediate thought came to me that we had had a debate in your Lordships' House on the subject of "Oceanspan". I have the report and I shall spare your Lordships from hearing it quoted. Noble Lords will remember the great debate we had on it, particularly my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy who is to follow me and the noble Lord, Lord Home, who was to speak and who may attend later. Those noble Lords will be aware of the great and excellent concept of 20 years ago.

In his Bill this evening my noble friend is putting more flesh on that concept. Perhaps I may draw your Lordships' attention to one or two aspects of the Bill and several remarks made in the report and accounts of the Clyde Port Authority for 1989. The chairman of the authority refers in the report to the members to the port of Ardrossan. Your Lordships will see a particularly glossy picture on the back cover of the report which shows the facilities of this excellent port. The chairman mentions the possibility of increasing trade with Northern Ireland. I strongly recommend that, because anything that can reduce traffic going south on the A.77 to Cairnryan and Stranraer should be supported. On my brief trip to the Firth of Clyde I was able to see the magnificent deep water port and terminal at Hunterston with, as I am sure my noble friend will agree, considerable room for development.

Perhaps I may briefly refer to four points raised by the chairman of the port authority in his report. First, he mentions what he calls the "new trades" which will have a new opportunity further up the river and I hope also at deep water ports. Secondly, the chairman refers to the re-opening, at least partially, of the Granary which I think is familiar to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, although possibly he did not refer to it this evening. Thirdly, the chairman refers to the new goods shed at Greenock of which there is a picture in the report. Fourthly, the chairman mentions Ardrossan.

On my tour of the area with my noble friend I noticed one enormous object that I thought was very much part of the scene. I thought, "What is this?" and asked my noble friend and the guide. I was told it was a memorial to the battle of Largs in 1263 which is familiar to all Scottish schoolchildren. What happened there was a 13th century concept of "Oceanspan". Alas, the Vikings and the Norsemen did not organise their procedures as well as my noble friend Lord Goold. Unlike the Vikings and the Scots who chased them out, I shall be merciful tonight and not refer to that.

I only wish to add my support for this excellent and professional concept whereby the Clyde Port Authority wishes to take some action which is spelt out in the Bill. It is complicated, but if noble Lords read through the Bill they will find that it will give the power to the Clyde Port Authority to improve the entire Firth of Clyde and, I believe, the west of Scotland. I wholeheartedly support the Bill.

8.40 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, the authority's area of operations includes the estuary as well as the river. The Firth of Clyde has deep sheltered water near land at Hunterston. It is all within the authority's jurisdiction. I am personally glad to support the Bill because 20 years ago I took the planning decision as Secretary of State which enabled Hunterston to become a deep water port and enabled the ore terminal to be built which has since supplied the steel works at Ravenscraig. A year after my decision Ravenscraig was accepted as one of the principal steel making centres in the United Kingdom and appropriate resources were invested there.

In 1970 the era of massive bulk ore carriers had arrived. That was one of the reasons for the planning decisions at the time. The ore carriers could not go up the River Clyde as the small ore carriers had in the past. Containerisation and other shipping developments meant that all the natural assets of the Firth and the river could be adapted to modern uses. As a result the responsible authorities have developed the necessary facilities, including those at Greenock and Ardrossan. To be able to compete with other ports at home and abroad, the authority needs to diversify its functions. The city of Glasgow was in the past the commercial centre of the British Empire. It should not continue to be placed at a disadvantage because of restrictions on the activities of the authority which supervises its shipping traffic.

The changes proposed in the Bill will encourage sea traffic to and from the industrial and most populated part of Scotland and will make employment in the port industry and associated businesses more secure. My noble friend Lord Goold mentioned the recent visit to the Clyde of the QE2. I shall end with a recollection of my own. As a boy living near Glasgow I was taken by an uncle in a chartered steamer from Ardrossan to see the first queen, the Queen Mary, soon after her launch at John Browns on Clydebank, carrying out her speed trials on the measured mile off the Isle of Arran. That was in the early 1930s but it is not the kind of occasion one forgets.

The Clyde and Glasgow have made a prodigious contribution to our country's progress, especially in maritime affairs. The Clyde must be allowed to function in the 1990s without having to suffer disadvantages compared with other ports. This Bill should receive our wholehearted support.

8.43 p.m.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, I wish to add my name to the supporters of the Bill. I wish too to extend my good wishes to my noble friend Lord Cavendish on the occasion of his maiden speech. I hope and expect to hear my noble friend often in the future. We in Britain have always been at the forefront of navigation and trade by sea. The Clyde is the main artery of Glasgow. Therefore the Clyde Port Authority which controls "doon the water" to the sea is a pretty important body. However, its powers are strictly limited. These can only be extended or increased by legislation. That is the reason for the Bill.

The only complaint against the Bill is a petition from the Greenock Waterfront Heritage Association on the ground; that the new powers might interfere with lands feued to it in 1772 by my ancestral noble kinsman Lord Cathcart. The Clyde Port Authority has said that its restructuring proposals in this area would only be to deepen the channel so that ships could pass up it.

The present Clyde Port Authority is not renowned for its efficiency nor for the lowness of its dues. This, in part, is the result of the limitations under which it has to act as a trust in total contrast to the port of Ayr which is not owned by an inhibiting trust. I have been told that Ayr "runs rings' round the Clyde Port Authority", and that its charges are very much less. The net result of the Bill will be to free the hands of the Clyde Port Authority so that it can be as competitive and efficient as Ayr. I support the measures.

8.45 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsey and Abingdon

My Lords, I shall be extremely brief in view of the other business before y our Lordships' House. I wish to support my noble friend Lord Goold on this Second Reading debate of the Clyde Port Authority Bill. I also wish to extend my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish of Furness, on his recent appointment. I look forward to hearing his maiden speech.

My interest in this matter arises from the fact that for part of the time I live within an hour's drive of the area under discussion. I therefore took the opportunity during the recent recess to cover as much of the ground in that area as possible. I drove from Govan on the south bank of the Clyde at Glasgow along the old A8 to Port Glasgow and Greenock and then down the A78 to Hunterston and Ardrossan. At Greenock I tried to establish the whereabouts of the waterfront land which is the subject of a petition brought by the Greenock Waterfront Heritage Association against the Bill. From what I saw of the area I believe there is a real opportunity for controlled development by the Clyde Port Authority. It is obvious that under its present constitution the powers of the Clyde Port Authority are too restricted. I am also convinced on employment and environmental grounds that the benefits will outweigh any disadvantages which may arise.

Finally, the west coast must be given every opportunity to revitalise itself—my noble friend Lord Goold referred to this in his speech—because of the severe competition it faces from east coast ports both in England and Scotland.

8.47 p.m.

The Viscount of Oxfuird

My Lords, I, too, look forward to the contribution of my noble friend in his maiden speech. I am sure that Cumbria's loss will be the gain of your Lordships' House. The Bill is an essential vehicle in ensuring the future of port operations on the Clyde. It does not require too much imagination to see the effects of the change in commercial pattern that has occurred over the past few decades. This makes it essential to arm management with sufficient flexibility to counter the ravages of the recent past and to continue to offer a level of employment to those whose lives are bound up with an industry whose roots are historically linked with those of Scotland.

It is important to concentrate for one moment on the changing patterns of trade over the recent past. What has happened is entirely beyond the control of the authority. Some 73 per cent. of Britain's trade is now with Europe. That trade has shifted across from the west to the east and south coasts of England. Scottish industry is now based mainly on financial services in the high-tech province which is concerned with high value and low volume and is serviced by air freight or containers. There has been the advent of North Sea oil. Some 12 million tonnes of crude oil trade from the Middle East has been lost to the Clyde.

Scotch whisky used to be made from maize and corn from the United States and Canada. Today, except for a few tonnes of maverick imports from France, it is made from home-grown barley. Britain was formerly a net importer of 30 million tonnes of grain and cereals per year. The European common agricultural policy has changed that. We are now essentially self-sufficient. If anything, we are a modest net exporter.

In 1970 the Clyde exported 1.6 million tonnes of general cargo, mainly to Australia, New Zealand and the Far East. Containerisation changed all that. The trade was lost. Nevertheless the Clyde managed to convert some of it into 750,000 tonnes of container traffic. It is in that container business—dealing with the handling of those massive units—that I have been involved for a large portion of my life in industry.

We see today the effect of movement in the containerisation field. All it takes is for one shipper to leave a port and a dramatic decrease of over 73 per cent. can take place within a year. These are fairly difficult times. And there is a definitely difficult period ahead for anyone who operates a port. However, if management is to redress the imbalance, it must have the freedom to manage and use its experience to create the competitive environment so essential to its customers, the carriers and Scottish industry. By passing the Bill, we give it the tools to do the job. I am sure that the faith that we show will be well rewarded.

8.52 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, apologise to your Lordships for delaying what I know will be an admirable maiden speech. I shall be only two brief minutes.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, suggested that it might have been more appropriate for the Bill to have been introduced as a public Bill. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that the Bill was introduced in another place and that this very point was raised with the Speaker before the Second Reading there. It was raised at the same time in relation to another Bill with a similar purpose—the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority Bill which is still before another place.

During the Second Reading of the Tees Bill in March this year, the Deputy Speaker stated that the Speaker was satisfied that the Bill was proper to be proceeded with as a Private Bill as it was concerned with the regulation of an authority that had been established by means of a private Act. Subsequently, at the Second Reading of this Bill—the Clyde Port Authority Bill—in May, the Deputy Speaker confirmed that the point had been dealt with by the Speaker and there was nothing further that he could add.

Bearing in mind that the present Bill was introduced in another place and that the Speaker considered and ruled on the specific point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, I hope that Members of this House will appreciate that the doctrine of comity in the two Houses makes it undesirable for this House to take a different view on the question of the propriety of proceeding by way of a Private Bill.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. He will realise that I was making a general political point—not a procedural point—that the Bill could have been introduced as a government Bill. We thought that that would have been preferable, but we have no objection. The other place plays around with procedure much more than we do.

8.55 p.m.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I rise this evening very conscious of the fact that I am making my maiden speech and addressing your Lordships from the Dispatch Box for the first time. I would ask your indulgence on both counts. I would also like to express my most sincere thanks to my noble friends and to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, for their kind and generous words of encouragement.

Perhaps I may take this opportunity to say that the principle which underlies the Bill, and the very similar Bill which is being promoted by the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority, has the Government's support.

The trust ports are independent statutory bodies. They are not accountable to anyone. Their powers and sources of finance are limited by their constitutions. Most of them simply run small harbours, but a smaller number run undertakings which play an important part in this nation's trade. These have to hold their own in what is now a highly competitive industry with ports run by companies such as Felixstowe and the Associated British Ports group. Those company ports have greater flexibility to raise capital and broaden their scope.

The Government have long recognised that the major trading trust ports need similar scope, but if they are to diversify they should also be made more accountable. To convert them into public companies needs primary legislation. The private initiative taken by both the Clyde and the Tees and Hartlepool port authorities followed encouragement on the part of the previous Secretary of State, my right honourable friend Mr. Paul Channon, in an address to the British Ports Federation. He told the trust ports that he could not hold out any prospect of early government legislation on the subject. As an alternative, he suggested that some might table their own Bills if they saw benefits in turning themselves into companies.

Although the measure before the House is a Private Bill, it is in many respects a close parallel to the provisions in the Transport Act 1981 which converted the British Transport Docks Board into Associated British Ports Ltd. The new company will be the harbour authority with just the same responsibility and powers as the present Clyde Port Authority; no more, no less.

There is however one important difference. Trust ports have no explicit owners. The introduction of this and the Tees and Hartlepool Bill therefore raised the issue of who should get the proceeds from the sale of shares when a trust port is turned into a public company. That was a matter for Parliament to decide.

On the one hand there were the interests of the taxpayer and the need to ensure a level playing-field between existing private ports and the newly privatised trust ports. On the other hand, we had to recognise, first, that those port authorities had taken the initiative in introducing their Private Bills; secondly, that they intended to invest their new funds in new developments; and, thirdly, that there would be the bonus of their conversion into companies earlier than would otherwise have occurred.

The Government accordingly proposed that 50 per cent. of the proceeds of the sale of shares following enactment of these Bills should go to the Exchequer. Provisions to that effect were approved by Parliament and are incorporated in the Finance Act 1990.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, referred to remarks today by the Secretary of State for Transport indicating that there may be government legislation on the subject in the coming Session. I cannot at this stage add to what Mr. Parkinson said and there will be an announcement in due course. In the event of the Government bringing forward general enabling legislation, it will be for the sponsors of the Bill to decide their further course of action. Their initiative is well ahead and they may feel that they should hold on to the lead which they have won.

I hope that the Clyde Port Authority Bill will be the means for that body, in its new guise, to strengthen its business and reinforce the contribution that it already makes to the local economy.

9 p.m.

Lord Goold

My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Cavendish on an excellent maiden speech. It was positive and robust, for which I thank him. It cannot have been an easy speech to prepare knowing that his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport was making relevant announcements this afternoon at a certain south coast resort. I am sure that we all look forward greatly to many more speeches from the Front Bench by my noble friend.

I should also like to thank all noble Lords who took part in this interesting debate. I believe that it has been constructive and helpful. I know that the promoter of the Bill, the Clyde Port Authority, will appreciate it. I thank also the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, for his usual courteous, thoughtful and thought-provoking speech. He raised a number of points and, as he said, most of them can be discussed at the next stage of the Bill. However, I should like to touch on two of them.

First, the noble Lord mentioned dredging. I want to repeal that the authority at present has a power but not art obligation to dredge. As I just mentioned, that power will be transferred to the successor company, which no doubt will wish to exercise that power to keep open the navigable areas of jurisdiction and thereby ensure a continued source of revenue. I can also add that those advising the port authority are not aware of any port authority which is subject to an obligation to dredge but there will be no change in the duty on the successor authority.

The noble Lord also mentioned amendments. When the Bill was considered by the Select Committee in another place, counsel for the Speaker advised the committee that in his view a number of amendments were desirable and two were essential. The authority gave n undertaking to that committee to propose at the Committee stage in this House that the two amendments which counsel to the Speaker regarded as essential should be included in the Bill. The authority also undertook to draw to the attention of counsel to the Lord Chairman the other amendments which counsel to the Speaker regarded as desirable. Pursuant to the se undertakings, the authority's parliamentary agent, wrote on 20th July this year to counsel to the Lord Chairman to draw his attention to the undertakings and provide details of those amendments.

With regard to ownership, which was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, I would remind him that this Bill has the support of the board, the employees and the trade unions and is not opposed by any of the riparian local authorities to which he referred. I firmly believe that it is a Bill which will benefit the employees, those same riparian local authorities and the wider community of the west of Scotland.

I thank also my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, who, as Secretary of State, had so much to do with earlier Clyde legislation. It is good to have his wholehearted support for this Bill today. I also thank my noble friends Lord Lyell, Lady Strange, Lord Lindsey and Abingdon and Lord Oxfuird for their contributions and obviously genuine interest in the Clyde and this Bill.

As has been said, the new technology that has come into the west of Scotland and is doing so well does not require the same type of freight transport as did heavy engineering years ago. As the noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird, said, because of North Sea oil, which is very welcome, no longer do we have oil shipments from the Middle East, nor have we many other bulk imports. The whole pattern of shipping has changed since 1965. The authority is asking for greater flexibility and powers to develop the port in the way in which it feels necessary and which will provide job security and help the wider community. That is what this Bill is all about I ask noble Lords to support it.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.

Viscount Long

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 10 minutes past nine.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 9.4 to 9.10 p.m.]