HC Deb 24 March 1976 vol 908 cc476-541

(By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

7 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I draw your attention to Clause 6 of the Bill: The agreement between the Board and the Company dated 21st November, 1975, set out in Schedule I to this Act is hereby confirmed and made binding upon the parties thereto. Schedule I sets out the terms of an agreement which was made between the British Transport Docks Board and the Felixstowe Company. That agreement has ceased to exist, because the Company has changed. The directors are not able to make an agreement on behalf of their shareholders. Only the shareholders can enter into such an agreement. The shareholders, for reasons I shall not go into at this stage, have changed their minds.

My point of order is that the Bill is surely technically deficient in referring to an agreement which no longer exists. Therefore, I ask you to agree that the Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time", should not be put until the Bill is brought to the House in a shape which is in order and correct according to the state of the agreement between the Board and the Company.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. All the requirements of Standing Orders have been complied with. The Bill is in order. Subsequent events which may have taken place have nothing to do with the Chair. The point made by the hon. Gentleman might be considered a good debating point for the House to consider. However, it is not a matter of order.

7.3 p.m.

Mr. Tom Bradley (Leicester, East)

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

I do not wish to weary the House with an elaborate explanation of the individual clauses of the Bill, which are simply put and make their intention very clear. The principal purpose of the Bill is to enable the British Transport Docks Board to acquire the ownership of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company.

In recent years Felixstowe has become one of Britain's most successful, flourishing and fastest-growing ports. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad that neither side of the House is in dispute about that. What was once a silted dock has grown into a modern port with roll-on/roll-off cargo facilities, passenger ferry services, cold-storage buildings and a high standard of handling equipment.

As an expanding port, it has been able to invest in all the new technologies. However, towards the end of last year the directors of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company came to the conclusion that they simply did not have the cash available to develop the port because despite the recent completion of a £10 million improvement scheme, at least a further £5 million was needed to spend on new cranes and other equipment.

Added to the problems of this financially highly-geared private company were certain political doubts. Rightly or wrongly, the directors were deeply concerned about the extension of the Dock Labour Scheme and the possible nationalisation of the Company at some unspecified future date. I mention these as matters of fact, not for doctrinal discussion between the two sides of the House.

The directors, taking those views, had to decide the long-term future of the port. Therefore, when the British Transport Docks Board last October, after preliminary discussions, made an offer to acquire the Felixstowe Company on a cash basis of 150p per share, the directors recommended it to their shareholders. A deal was agreed and was confirmed by nearly 88 per cent. of the votes cast at a shareholders' meeting on 21st November 1975. In effect, this Bill ratifies that contractual agreement.

I emphasise that the agreement was freely entered into and is set out fully in Schedule 1. I believe that it is still binding. Despite the control of the Company passing effectively to another concern in the meantime, that concern inherited that agreement. The opposition to this Bill tonight is neither more nor less than an exercise to use Parliament to breach that agreement. Frankly, I think that that is indefensible.

Mr. Ridley

Surely the hon. Gentleman is aware that no contractual situation exists until the shares have been exchanged and payment has been made for them. Therefore, how can he suggest that the provisional agreement was anything near approaching a contract? It was just a provisional agreement, as he said.

Mr. Bradley

The directors signed the agreement. It was freely entered into and they have not departed from it.

Mr. Ridley rose

Mr. Bradley

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. We cannot have a dialogue at this stage. The directors are holding to their original position. The agreement forms part of Schedule 1.

The directors have throughout supported and still support the Bill. They have not exchanged their 134,00-plus shares for the counter-offer put in by European Ferries.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmuns)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I realise that interrupting him at the beginning of his speech is a discourtesy. I declare an interest in intervening in that I have been a director of one of the Felixstowe companies. What the hon. Gentleman said is untrue. I shall not go into detail now. However, it is not the case that the directors hold to the original agreement.

Mr. Bradley

The directors have made it perfectly plain that they are prepared to continue—

Mr. Eldon Griffiths


Mr. Bradley

I shall give chapter and verse before concluding my speech, because I have a certain quotation to make later. I ask the House to note particularly that, were it not for the provisions of Section 17 of the Transport Act 1962, this deal would have been completed before last Christmas and would not have been the subject of discussion here at all.

In the meantime, there has been an alternative bid by European Ferries at a theoretically higher price than that previously agreed between the Felixstowe Company and the British Transport Docks Board. That offer is mainly in the form of a share exchange. Its ultimate value depends on the stock market valuation of European Ferries' shares from time to time. I believe that the share quotation today is 64p, which makes the value of its offer only marginally above the 150p offer originally made by the British Transport Docks Board. I fully understand that the offer made by European Ferries has been taken up by about 81 per cent. of the shareholders, but not, I repeat, by the directors of the Felixstowe Company.

Why did not European Ferries make an offer at the time the British Transport Docks Board was in this business last October? The Chairman of European Ferries has suggested that no consideration was given to him or his company. I suggest that he and his company knew perfectly well what was going on. Indeed, in the Journal of Commerce of 6th February 1976 the chairman is quoted as saying: We wanted to do it then, but quite frankly we weren't in a position because we had just come to the end of a rights issue and our share price was only two-thirds of what it is now. So this company comes along and gazumps the offer of the British Transport Docks Board—

Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)


Mr. Bradley

I use that term because it is readily understood. No doubt Opposition Members will use a more felicitous expression—

Mr. Rees

Or a more exact one.

Mr. Bradley

—but I can find nothing better to describe the activities of European Ferries than to say that this company was gazumping the agreement of the Docks Board with the Felixstowe Company. It did so in the full knowledge that the directors of the Felixstowe Company have said, and are still saying, that it is in the best interests of the port, the security of the port, its users, its employees and the surrounding area that the ownership of the port should pass to the Docks Board.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

It is not true.

Mr. Bradley

I am sure that the hon. Member will have ample opportunity to express the view that he holds so intensely. He is only delaying his opportunity of doing so by seeking continually to interrupt me.

I remind the House that the directors of the Felixstowe Company have throughout maintained a perfectly consistent position. They are not members of the Government, they have not been pressurised by the Government and they are certainly not Socialists. They are people who have built up a very prosperous port with links with the town, and their attitude must be respected.

What is the case against European Ferries, which has made a counter-bid to the deal done between the Company and the Docks Board? I suggest it is that European Ferries' main business is shipping. In my judgment and in the judgment of many better qualified people than I, it is a bad thing for a single port user to be in control of a port. It will quickly discover, should it continue with ownership, that it is impossible to balance its own long-term interests with those of other port users and the employees. Anyone with any knowledge of the port of Liverpool and of the difficulties with the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board will know what I mean. It is emphatically not in the national interest for any port to be in the hands of a single port user.

It is important that Felixstowe should remain free to maintain its existing business and attract new customers without being inhibited by a single-user owner. If the port of Felixstowe becomes part of the British Transport Docks Board business, it will continue to be operated as a multi-user port. It will enjoy the advantage of being merged with a larger organisation with a record of commercial success. No single user will be given preference at the expense of others.

The Docks Board has already demonstrated at its other ports the success of its policies of decentralised management and commercial expansion. Southampton alone is proof of that. Only today it is reported that Southampton has gained a new container service to the Far East, involving 35,000 containers a year, in direct competition with other ports.

The Docks Board has said that it will develop Felixstowe. It has the resources to do it and it means what it says. There will certainly be no drain on the public purse. The Board's cash flow is sufficient to buy the port for the £5½ million on offer and it can go on with the necessary development of the port.

In their statement of 5th March, the Felixstowe directors confirmed their belief in the assurance of development given by the Docks Board. In a circular to ordinary stockholders they said: Your Board continues to rely upon the assurances of BTDB for the long term development of the Port of Felixstowe and will continue to give support to the bill before Parliament not only because of the long term consideration but also because the Company is under a commitment to BTDB to aid and assist in and support the promotion of the Bill "—

Mr. Eldon Griffiths


Mr. Bradley

Did someone say that it was rubbish?

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I did.

Mr. Bradley

I am quoting from the official circular issued by the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company to its ordinary stockholders. That is the answer to the interruptions of the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have a good deal of regard for him, but I am afraid that he is out of date. The directors have said today—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not aware of it, or he would not have said what he has—that they recommend all the ordinary stockholders who have not already accepted the offer by European Ferries to do so before 2nd April 1976. The individual members of the board have said today that they themselves are doing so. The board has certainly gone back on what it previously said, as the hon. Gentleman fairly described it to the House, but what he is now saying is no longer true. There has been a change by the board today.

Mr. Bradley

The board, of course, has always advised its stockholders that it would be to their financial advantage to take the offer of European Ferries, speculative though it is. Their position, as I have understood it, as directors is that they were not exchanging their 134,000-plus shares. If the hon. Member has later information than I am quoting, in print dated 5th March—which was certainly the position until yesterday—he has the advantage of me. It is my understanding, however, that the Felixstowe directors are holding themselves to the binding agreement which they contracted with the Docks Board.

I know that it is part of the folklore of the Conservatives to denigrate public involvement in industry, but I want to disabuse their minds of any preconceived notion that they may have about the nationalised undertaking known as the British Transport Docks Board. This is not some frail, flagging, incompetent, inefficient publicly-owned organisation. It is a highly successful undertaking with an excellent record of profitability. Since 1972 it has been self-financing. It has borrowed no Government funds for its capital investments. The Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company was certainly supported by Government money in recent years.

In 1973 the Docks Board had a surplus of £11.7 million, showing a return on capital of 7.6 per cent. In 1974 it had a surplus of £12.1 million, showing a return on capital of 7.8 per cent. The 1975 figures are not yet available. It is well known that it was a difficult year for all ports. However, I am told reliably that when the British Transport Docks Board accounts for 1975 are published we shall see yet another improvement on the previous year's figures.

It is in the interests of employees of Felixstowe—I understand that they have expressed an open mind on this contentious matter—that the port should develop on as broad a base as possible, without being inhibited by a single port user. I do not wish to enter now the controversy over the Dock Labour Scheme. I have given my reasons for that earlier. As I have said, it is certainly, rightly or wrongly, one of the factors that influenced the directors in the first place to seek an arrangement with the Board.

I remind the House that the British Transport Docks Board docks are all schemed ports. The Board has learned to live with the Dock Labour Scheme. It has immense experience in the running of ports. On the average, industrial relations throughout the Board's undertakings have been far better than in the ports industry as whole. The TUC evidence to the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries in 1972 testified to that. With great respect European Ferries is a shipping company and has never had to deal with dockers.

I Know that there have been anxieties—I fully understand them—about the Board's intentions. But the Board's policy is very clear. It is to encourage competition within and without its own port structure. Felixstowe will certainly continue to be free to compete with Hull and Immingham, which are BTDB-owned ports, and with other Board ports such as Southampton. There will certainly be no stranglehold, neither is it the intention that there should be. The Board does not permit cut-throat competition within its structure. However, it will certainly be in Felixstowe's interests as well as those of other people that it should become part of this vigorous and publicly owned sector of the transport industry.

At present the British Transport Docks Board accounts for about 25 per cent. of the United Kingdom seaborne trade. With the acquisition of Felixstowe that percentage will rise to 30 per cent. In other words, the British Transport Docks Board will remain in a minority position, and there will be continuing competition within the ports industry.

I know that petitions have been laid against the Bill. They are concerned about Section 15 of the 1962 Act. The British Transport Docks Boards has made it abundantly clear, and has given the necessary assurances to the various petitioners, that it has no intention of seeking compulsory purchase by the operation of Section 15 of the 1962 Act. It has no intention of invoking that section and it never has done that throughout its history. The Board is quite clear—it has expressed this repeatedly to petitioners—that it would come to Parliament if ever it required to acquire further land for development. However, that is an aspect that can be properly and adequately probed in Committee.

To sum up, I believe that Felixstowe is a national asset and that it is far too important to remain in private hands—hands which now belong to a single shipping company. I believe that it is the intention—I hope it is—of the present Labour Government eventually to bring commercially-owned ports in Britain into public ownership. The British Transport Docks Board, in seeking to acquire Felixstowe, is taking a step in the right direction. Surely it is better to do it now than to leave the port with European Ferries for another year or two's uncertainty to hang over the dock before, in any case, it is taken into public ownership.

If the Bill is given a Second Reading tonight, ownership will move to a responsible and successful public body, over which this House will continue to have some control. I therefore urge my hon. Friends to join me in the Lobby tonight in support of the Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Before I propose the Question, it will be convenient to inform the House that Mr. Speaker has not selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Hutchison) and the names of other right hon. and hon. Members.

Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm that despite the existence of the Register of Members' Interests, it is still imperative for hon. Members to declare an interest, should they have one, in any legislation that is before the House? I did not hear the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) fully. I did not hear whether he said that he had an interest as a director now, or that he had been a director in the past. May we have your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as to the need for all hon. Members participating in the debate to declare an interest if—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. This is a matter for individual Members and not for the Chair. The Chair understood that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) did declare an interest as a former director of the Company. Perhaps that will clear the hon. Gentleman's mind on this point.

Mr. Ridley

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This matter cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) made a full and frank declaration of past interest.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths indicated assent.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It has been confirmed by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds. It is not a matter for the Chair; it is a matter for individual Members. However, I think that that settles the question.

Mr. Ridley

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that it does not settle the question. The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) may not have been present, or he may not have heard, but whichever it was, it seems to be absolutely monstrous and quite out-with the courtesies of the House that he should make an absolutely baseless insinuation against my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds. I therefore request you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to ask the hon. Member for Sowerby to make a fulsome apology to my hon. Friend and to rebuke the hon. Member if he is not prepared to do so. It was one of the worst breaches of courtesy that I have heard in the House for a very long time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Perhaps the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) would care to reply to that suggestion by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). It is a matter for individual Members.

Mr. Madden

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry if I offended the sensitivities of the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). I was asking you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to confirm that it is imperative for Members to declare an interest in the proceedings of the House should they have one, despite the existence of a Register of Members' Interests. I was asking you to confirm what I had not heard fully, and to say that if a Member had an interest it should be declared during the debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The House has debated this matter fully in the past. There is a register, and an understanding on the matter.

7.28 p.m.

Mr. Keith Stainton (Sudbury and Woodbridge)

Forthwith I bare my breast and declare an interest—a beneficial interest in 1,800 shares of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company, in regard to which I have accepted the offer from European Ferries.

Having said that, I should like to strike a note of amicability with the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden). He has fought against me in campaigns in my constituency. We have been over the ground about Felixstowe Dock, on the spot. I am sure that the hon. Member will find much accord with what I shall say as the Member affected by this issue and not as the Member for the landlocked constituency of Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley) who might have been better advised, instead of concentrating his speech so much on invective vis-à-vis European Ferries, to concentrate on the content of the Bill, and the importance of Felixstowe and the A45, and all that goes with that, in terms of getting the produce out of his industrial area to the seaboard, the Continent and elsewhere.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East put his finger on the root of the matter but ended by taking a side-swipe at European Ferries. He said that he hoped that it would not be too long before the Labour Government found it possible fully to nationalise all ports. He put the matter in terms of another year or two of uncertainty. But it is that year or two of uncertainty that has provided the background of my campaign in Sudbury and Woodbridge ever since the by-election of 1963. Ironically, that has stood me in good stead in the township of Felixstowe.

There are three documents now before the House—the Bill, the three petitions, and the statement by the agents for the promoters. Our overriding concern must relate to the Bill itself. My purpose is to speak against what I consider to be a straightforward nationalisation measure—a disruptive and confiscatory measure, and, indeed, a measure that will not advance by one iota the well-being of the port of Felixstowe, its employees and users, the transport and shipping industry, and the nation at large.

Last year Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company, to give it its full and splendid title, celebrated the centenary of its foundation—100 years of mixed fortunes which have culminated in one of the most remarkable success stories of the individual entrepreneur and of British port development. Felixstowe is the only private port of any size in the United Kingdom, and it owes its existence and much of its achievements to the present Chairman and Managing Director, Mr. Gordon Parker. When he took over 25 years ago the once grandiose concept of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company had been reduced to a small silted-up dock, rotting away, and unlikely to be used again. That, presumably, was the opinion of those enlightened gentlemen who were then in charge of the fortunes of the British Dock Board.

If at that time they had chanced their arm and "had a go", they could have made something of it but it was all left to the individual private sector to resuscitate the fortunes of the port. Now the port handles upwards of 4½ million tons of cargo a year, compared with a figure of 423,000 tons in 1965. Now the tonnage is up by a factor of 10, and since 1965 the number of ships has more than doubled. All this has been achieved by a slow, methodical build-up with, throughout, an eye to Europe.

Many said that it could not be done. Indeed, many people doubted it personally and averred strongly that it could not be done. But by working on a shoestring and ploughing back profits, by methodically building up and reshaping the port, by a young and enthusiastic approach, and by aggressive selling, much was achieved. I quote from the Financial Times of 14th March 1969, when the Director and General Manager of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company, Mr. Ian Trelawny, said: We went out and sold the port of Felixstowe. We carried out market research into cargo patterns and movements, we advertised to specific trades, such as cars, timber and plastics, and we put in a lot of leg work at home and abroad trying to interest potential customers. All this was quite unusual for a British port. What's more, we were spending our own money. Other important reasons for the development of Felixstowe included the creation of a bond of common interest with a work force willing to accept new handling methods. This led to a quicker turn-round of ships than was being achieved by any other rival in this country. This was combined with the development of the hinterland, with adequate assembly areas, wharves and cold stores, and also the role of Trinity College. I hope that we shall hear a good deal from both sides of the House about the role of Trinity College and the land that it made available for this purpose.

By these means Felixstowe has had such success that it now finds itself eyed covetously by the public sector—the very people who sat in the Ministry of Transport in the late 1960s and told me that the A45 did not justify "trunking" between Ipswich and Felixstowe because they regarded our traffic projections as wildly optimistic. I went to see the Minister every month, armed with a census of traffic compiled by the county council. The Minister must have got so fed up with me that he caved in and relented. Under pressure, the National Ports Council invested funds to supplement those of shareholders.

I agree with the hon. Member for Leicester, East that substantial public money has been invested in this concern, but it comprises no more than 88 per cent. of the fixed capital, and none of the equity. Let us keep the matter in proportion. It is not for me to develop the point about the importance of the infra-structure imposed on the locality, because many of these loan tranches from the Department of the Environment have interest rate of up to 16⅛ per cent. This contrasts vividly with the borrowing powers and capital liabilities as set out in the last report and accounts of the British Transport Docks Board. Under the subheading "Capital Liability: Loans from the Secretary of State to the Environment", we see a figure of £76.9 million out of a total of £123 million. It is of the order of 70 per cent., with interest of 3.61 per cent. per annum, redeemable in 1978 at 8 per cent.

In Felixstowe dock, we have four roll-on/roll-off berths, a specialist container and bulk cargo-loading apparatus, and rapidly growing passenger ferry services. The ferry services started in the early part of last year, but in August alone 59,000 passengers were transported through the dock. From a labour force of about 30 men on a make-and-mend basis at the start, the last annual report and accounts shows 1,160 employees in the company's payroll. Aggregating all the dependent activities in the immediate hinterland, I estimate that there are between 3,000 and 4,000 people fairly directly engaged on business to do with the activities of the dock. They are all deeply concerned about their future.

The latest figures that I have been able to obtain on the efficiency of docks are, unfortunately, for as long ago as 1972, but it is as well to put Felixstowe in perspective with other docks, especially those run by the British Transport Docks Board with its magnificent return of 7½ per cent. on historically-valued capital. In terms of cargo divided by the number of dockers, the figures in thousand metric tons are 6.2 for Felixstowe, 1.3 for Liverpool, 1.4 for London, 1.7 for Hull and Goole—a BTDB dock—2.5 for Medway, 4.3 for Grimsby and Immingham—another BTDB dock—5.6 for Rotterdam and—I give this figure in the hope that the Scottish National Party will support us tonight—6.4 for Clyde. I apologise for not having been able to provide more up-to-date figures, but they are the latest available from the National Ports Council.

Although overtime bans have been part of Felixstowe Dock life from time to time, a hard-headed appreciation on both sides of the value of consultation, together with skilled planning and enthusiasm, has made Felixstowe into a veritable paragon compared with what has been referred to as the jungle of dockland elsewhere. The elements of success in this story are a determined, dedicated and responsive local private enterprise management—an enterprise not wedded to the past but constantly advancing—an eager, competent and involved team of employees and an aggressive build up of marketing, shipping and forwarding agents.

Why does the Docks Board, that creature of Government and happier twin of the British Railways Board—they were both born out of the same roan—want this Bill to take over Felixstowe? Why are there these political exclamations regarding European Ferries? Sir Humphrey Browne, the Chairman of the Board, said in a letter to The Times on 30th October 1975: It has potential and is suitable for further investment and expansion. He did nothing about getting it off the ground or through its serious phases of development. He has now discovered that it has potential and is suitable for further investment and expansion. One welcomes such a clear, flat-footed statement of basic business motives from a nationalised undertaking, but let us probe it further.

It is no secret that the Board has looked endlessly at Felixstowe over the last three or four years. From the mid-1960s, if not earlier, Felixstowe has been threatened with nationalisation. There is a whole sorry story, starting with the Rochdale Committee in 1962, whose report suggested the establishment of the National Ports Authority.

The Labour Party manifesto of 1964 made no mention of dock nationalisation. We thought we were in the clear, but along came the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) who, in 1966, chaired a Labour Party commission which suggested dock nationalisation. In 1969, we had the White Paper from the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) on the organisation of the ports, which precipitated into the Ports Bill of 1970. My hon. Friend for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) and I sat through the Committee stage of that Bill. We had got to the last lap when the Dissolution of Parliament was announced, we started a General Election campaign, and the Bill disappeared without trace. Since the 1974 elections, the social contract and all that has gone with it has made nationalisation increasingly more likely.

The Government's position is difficult to determine. We had proposals from the Minister on 20th August which were described in The Times as wide ranging in concept, although vague in detail. There has been a further consultative letter which, in my judgment, emphasised certain points, but made no substantial change.

The proposals of 20th August are in a vacuum. There is no Government statement on a concerted overall transport policy, though this has been much promised and long awaited. At present, 80 per cent. of overseas trade is through ports which are, in one way or another, already publicly-owned. Of our total trade, 25 per cent. is handled by the 19 ports operated by the BTDB. We are told with complete equanimity that this would rise to 30 per cent. if Felixstowe were taken over and that this would be inoffensive.

I find it offensive that the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) can endeavour to refer the case of European Ferries to the Director General of Fair Trading under the monopoly legislation, but does not find it appropriate to comment on the fact that, as a statutory authority, the Docks Board is exempt from any of the monopoly tests. The proposal of 20th August failed to recognise the vast changes that had come about in the dock industry since 1969. I refer to decasualisation and massive investment, of which there would have been more had there not been a constant nagging doubt in the background.

Throughout all that, Manchester and Felixstowe coped fairly well for themselves by themselves. It can be said that there has been duplication. I cite the example of the construction of two new major container terminals, one at Tilbury and the other at Southampton. I commend Ministers to reflect that the Southampton end was constructed by the British Transport Docks Board. The link ought properly to have been with the National Ports Council. I see no reason why that organisation should not be rapped over the knuckles and appropriately strengthened.

Against that background, Felixstowe encountered growing difficulties in rephasing its finances. Here I start to close with the hon. Member for Leicester, East. As a result of these measures and its financing difficulties, Felixstowe was thrown into the extended arms of the British Transport Docks Board and that, purely and simply, is the reason for the Bill.

The Bill is petitioned against by one of the port's major users, European Ferries, by the Port Users Association, and by Trinity College—not admittedly, in its capacity as a shareholder. The Bill is a grab for 150p per share when the net book asset value written down is 196.5p. It extinguishes competition between the Thames and the Tees. It is drawn in such terms that the so-called undertakings in paragraph 2 of Schedule I are qualified by overriding powers held by the Secretary of State under the Transport Acts of 1962 and 1968. The users of Felixstowe attach great importance to paragraph 2(a) and (b). It is qualified by such phrases as "financial policies and objectives" and "subject to general trading conditions ". It is qualified by the omission of freedom to compete on specifically normal financial terms. Those words are not written in. I have endeavoured to have them written in, but have merely had an exchange of letters. I have been told that the Department of the Environment felt itself fully stretched in producing what is now within the Bill and that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to persuade it to go further.

If the Bill is successful, the logical course would be for it to go to Committee. I find it deeply offensive to read in the Bill and in the supporting document sent out by the promoters that in the event of a material alteration which is not acceptable to the Board, the Board shall have the option to withdraw. In other words, Parliament is being put under threat in terms of what it can or cannot do, otherwise the British Transport Docks Board risks turning tail and letting down the whole enterprise.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Surely the hon. Gentleman is aware that there is a threat to Parliament the other way. Has not European Ferries told its shareholders that it will give an additional 15p for every share if the Bill is defeated tonight? Is not that a threat to Parliament? I suggest that it is a breach of Privilege. On the basis of his 1,800 shares, the hon. Gentleman is likely to pocket another £270.

Mr. Stainton

I ask this rhetorically, because I have not seen the hon. Gentleman's last election address, but did he not offer roads, hospitals and schools in his own constituency, or wherever, were he and a Labour Government elected? He has not a point there at all. I rest contentedly on my point about material alteration to the Bill.

In this enlightened age of worker participation the Bill is curiously drawn so as to take no cognisance of it. It is brought forward in the face of a bid worth, on paper, 190p—that is, 175p plus a bonus of 15p. If it passed the winning post it would be 46.1 per cent.—a vastly higher percentage than is offered by the British Transport Docks Board.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East talks about the market price of European Ferries shares. He was Parliamentary Private Secretary to a former Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am sure that the efforts of the last week or two, the reverberations of the vote in the Chamber, the comments from his colleagues, the eloquent comment from the Stock Exchange when the index fell below 400, and the eloquent comments from the foreign exchange market mean something to him. Let us hope that once his endeavours in the present campaign for leadership are over—I wish him bonne chance—European Ferries and all of us will happily retrieve this situation.

European Ferries is a quoted public company with a dynamic record, adequate finances, a clean bill of health from the Director General of Fair Trading—who has examined its operations in detail—extensive experience of shipping and a good port ownership and operation record. It has received acceptances from 85 per cent. of the stockholders of Felixstowe.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East and the promoters of the Bill make much play of the green handout—the resolution passed by the 87.9 per cent. majority at the extraordinary meeting on 21st November 1975. We have to be precise about this. It was 87.95 per cent. of the votes cast. The votes against were 12.05 per cent. That gives us 100 per cent. in terms of votes cast, but as those votes represented no more than 62.92 per cent. of the total capital of the company, the assenting votes are not 87.95 per cent. but, according to my Boots the Chemists Japanese calculator, 55 per cent. of available votes.

The bid is unconditional. The Board is due to change, and I am informed that employee representation and the representation of local interests are very much in mind, as is a fresh extraordinary general meeting. There has been a mass meeting of dockers at which a vote was taken. The alternatives put to the men were these: first, "Do you favour the British Transport Docks Board?"; secondly, "Do you favour European Ferries?"; thirdly, "Should we let matters take their course? "

It was the third option that prevailed at that meeting. Indeed, on this point I quote from The Times of 7th October: Mr. Albert Booth, Minister of State for Employment, visited Felixstowe yesterday to discuss extending the Dock Labour Scheme to the port. I shall not go into that part, which is quite contentious, but the article goes on to say that the senior shop steward said the men were in favour of the labour scheme, with its guarantee of employment, but they disliked the idea of nationalisation. I also received, this morning, a large petition, which is headed: We, the undersigned salaried employees of Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company, wish to record that we are giving our full support to European Ferries Limited following their take-over of the Company, and that we hereby require Mr. Keith Stainton,"— that is a breach of Privilege if anything is— the Member of Parliament of the constituency of Sudbury and Woodbridge, to do all in his power both personally and by the encouragement of his colleagues towards the defeat or withdrawal of the British Transport Docks (Felixstowe) Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who signed it?"] A vast number of people. The petition will be available for inspection after the debate, should there be any doubt as to its veracity or content.

I close now—[Interruption.] I must beg the indulgence of the House. As the local Member, I am more than a little concerned. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shareholder."] As to shareholding, I wish that whoever made that remark would address himself to the Chair. If we are talking about Members' interests, and slurs can arise after such a frank and straightforward declaration, I think that such observations should be made from a standing position, so that we would know who made them. I should then be able to address myself to them and deal with them properly. How else can I seek justice?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I did not hear, in fact, any comments made from either side. If such comments were made as the hon. Gentleman has suggested, they should not have been made. The hon. Gentleman declared his interest at the very beginning of his speech.

Mr. Stainton

The interest is quite tiny. This organisation—I was about to say "institution" but it is far too dynamic to be damned with that title—has been of fundamental importance to my constituency over the years. In closing, I quote from an article by Alan Hamilton in The Times of August 21st last. He said: Even the most nationalised of port authorities, the British Transport Docks Board, is no friend of Mr. Mulley. Sir Humphrey Browne, BTDB Chairman, is a strong believer in a mixed economy, and has said that he welcomes the competition of the private ports. He is in a position to be of such a mind, as his board shared with the British Steel Corporation the food fortune of being the only profitable nationalised industry last year. I condemn the Bill. I regard it as superfluous, harmful and hurtful. I only hope that we shall vote it down tonight, and that, in addition, Sir Humphrey Browne will have cause to reflect on the wisdom of the words that he used, as given by the writer of that article. Instead of having £4¼ million of Treasury money at 3.61 per cent., or whatever it was, absorbed in this venture, why not repay it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and help him with the funding of the National Debt?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Before calling the next hon. Gentleman I remind the House—it is self-evident—that the Bill relates only to Felixstowe Docks. Although the Chair has allowed some latitude in the arguments advanced for and against the measure before the House, we must not now allow the debate to develop into a general debate on nationalisation. The Chair would deprecate it if that should occur.

8.5 p.m.

Mr. Ken Weetch (Ipswich)

I have a number of reasons for speaking in this debate on the British Transport Docks (Felixstowe) Bill. I am interested, first, in the general principles of the argument. I support the purpose of the Bill, which is to implement an agreement freely arrived at between the board of management of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company and the British Transport Docks Board.

Secondly, I have a close constituency interest, because some of my constituents work in the port and have long done so. For a considerable period they have been in touch with me over a varied range of matters, and particularly of late they have been concerned with the question now before the House.

My third reason is more important than either of the first two. The efficiency and prosperity of the port of Felixstowe is of very vital importance to the economic development of this part of East Anglia. I hold that principle to be of the first importance, especially in view the rapidly developing threat from Europe.

I am very sorry that the dispute has degenerated into a battle along party lines.

Mr. Stainton

Who started it?

Mr. Weetch

I shall answer that in a moment. It need not have happened in this way. I am also very sorry that so much of the language has been emotive. A report in The Guardian of 27th November last described Felixstowe as the white hope of capitalism in East Anglia.

It has also been described as the jewel in the crown of free enterprise. I have read remarks about resisting the stranglehold of the State. All this language does the essential argument no good at all. Much of the jargon of the Right and Left is totally beyond my political thinking. I want to consider in the debate what is best as a practical proposition for the future of the port.

I submit that the aims and objects of the exercise must be to ensure an efficient and prosperous future for the port of Felixstowe for those who trade in it, for those who work in it and for those, including myself, who want to see the port expand and develop. That, I think, is the crux of the whole argument from start to finish. These are the thoughts which are uppermost in my mind in arguing in this debate in support of the Bill.

The main arguments in outline were put by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley) when he opened the debate. The main lines of his analysis, I submit, are absolutely correct. But let us first clear the ground. The Bill is being promoted on the basis of an agreement freely reached last November between the management of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company and the British Transport Docks Board. That is an agreement still honoured by the board at Felixstowe port, which, even under the heavy pressure of the last few months, has not gone back on its word. I saw no official announcement before I came into the debate which suggested anything to the contrary. That is my most recent advice.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

This is material to the deliberations of this House on the Bill. I make no editorial points. The hon. Gentleman should know of the announcement made this evening from the directors of Felixstowe port. It says: Your directors therefore recommend that those ordinary stockholders who have not already accepted the offer by European Ferries should do so". They say also that Individual members of your Board are now free to accept the offer, and will be doing so. That has changed the situation completely from what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Weetch

The hon. Gentleman is telling me nothing that I did not know before. I always knew that the directors of the Company would recommend the sale of its shares. That is a natural commercial operation, as I understand it. But my latest information is, as I have said, that the board of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company is still on record as being of that view and has not gone back on its word. If there is later information to contradict what I say, I shall give in to it. At the moment, however, I stand by what I have said.

The point I wanted to make is that this is no Draconian manoeuvre. It was an agreement arrived at by a willing buyer with a willing seller, and this was the judgment reached by the board of management of the port—a board of management which, I agree with the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton), knows its business.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

Is not it a fact that the directors do not own the Company? The shareholders own it. All that the directors can do is to put before the shareholders the offer and get their views. If a better one comes up, it is the duty of the directors to give the shareholders, who own the Company, the opportunity to express their views.

Mr. Weetch

Indeed, and subsequently they may do that. I am talking about the factual situation as it is at the moment.

In support of what I say, let me quote some words of the Chairman of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company, Mr. Gordon Parker. In an article entitled Felixstowe Docks opts to desert capitalism". Mr. Parker described himself as a self-confessed bastion of free enterprise. He would not have advocated any such agreement with the British Transport Docks Board had it not been in the best interests of the port of Felixstowe itself, he said. That is on record. Those are the words of a "bastion of free enterprise".

Mr. Parker went on to underline the point by saying: You must look at the reality of the situation. You must not allow your sentiments to cloud your judgment". I suggest that that is a suitable theme for this debate. In fact, I might suggest to the free enterprise thinkers on the Opposition Benches that when this agreement was reached by this apostle of free enterprise with the British Transport Docks Board, it may be that he was guided in making it by the hidden hand of Adam Smith. We never know in these matters. We can go only by what we read in a facsimile report going back to last November.

If the Bill is passed, the agreement will be implemented, with very substantial advantages for the port of Felixstowe. In my view, the practical arguments—I am advancing practical arguments at every stage, if I can—are overwhelming. The first is that the British Transport Docks Board has the resources, arising from the commercial profitability of its operations, to provide a sound economic future for the port. It is quite unscrupulous to suggest that it will mean a charge on public expenditure, because the Docks Board has financed all its expansion since 1972 from retained profits arising out of the efficiency of its operations. That is the plain commercial fact of this matter. In fact, the British Transport Docks Board, from start to finish, is acting in a commercially responsible way. I hope that that will appeal to Opposition Members.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

The hon. Gentleman will recall that the port of Bristol, which is municipally owned, was prevented from expanding so that his friends in the British Transport Docks Board could make money on the other side of the Bristol Channel.

Mr. Weetch

I cannot comment on that intervention because it is totally irrelevant to the issue under discussion.

The second point that I make is the crucial one in this argument. It is that the British Transport Docks Board is not a shipping company. It is an organisation which can bring enormous experience and expertise to bear on the practical problems of the port of Felixstowe and its future for the benefit of all concerned. It has a wealth of experience, and it has the overwhelming advantage of group strength combined with decentralised management and local port autonomy in day-to-day operational matters. The Docks Board can muster the experience of Britain's largest port authority, stretching from the Humber to Southampton and to the ports of South Wales and elsewhere.

I have heard it argued that the Docks Board's overall policies might conflict with the aim of expanding Felixstowe. Frankly, this is rubbish. I have heard it agreed that, just because the British Transport Docks Board has an overall policy, this is likely to limit the expansion of Felixstowe in some way. Personally, I am glad to see that the Board has some overall policy and that it can bring such expertise and experience to bear as part of the total framework of its operations.

The fact is that the British Transport Docks Board has demonstrated the success of its policy of decentralised management and commercial expansion. I have sought its advice and I am assured that Felixstowe will be told by the British Transport Docks Board to go out for more business and to be competitive. As far as I am concerned, that is fair enough.

It is my view that the port of Felixstowe, for whose future I care a great deal in practical terms, would be in good hands with the British Transport Docks Board. If I did not believe that, I should not be participating in this debate.

But what of the alternative? Here we have a guardian angel waiting in the wings to bring sweetness and light to the port of Felixstowe in the form of free enterprise. Let us examine that for a moment. If we look at the alternative, I see first of all that the whole of this operation has been jeopardised by this counter-proposal, which has led to uncertainty, delay and procrastination when what we should be doing is pushing ahead with constructive plans for the future.

If the counter-proposal were successful, we should have a situation where the port was controlled by one of the users. I suggest that that is a very unhealthy situation. We have had an example of that in Liverpool.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Is my hon. Friend aware that during the period when the merchant princes and the port users made up the composition of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board they ran the place into bankruptcy in 1970 in their own interests by keeping charges artificially low because they were the people paying them?

Mr. Weetch

I thank my hon. Friend for reinforcing my point. He has more knowledge of the port of Liverpool than I have. My general point, however, is that it is an unhealthy situation when control of a port devolves into the hands of a large user. It is an unhealthy situation in principle.

Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Weetch

No. I have not much time.

Mr. Ridsdale

The hon. Gentleman appears willing to give way to his hon. Friends.

Mr. Weetch

Yes, but the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) was the first from my side of the House.

I want now to touch briefly on labour relations at the port of Felixstowe and to say a little about certain events which have occurred concerning labour relations in the past week. I am sure most hon. Members will agree with me when I say that the basis of prosperity of any port is good labour relations and that without good communication and a spirit of understanding, in addition to good working machinery, no port will prosper. As a general principle, I think that that is defensible in any terms. I agree with the hon. Member for Sudbury and Wood-bridge that without a shadow of doubt labour relations at the port of Felixstowe have been very good. I go further and say that both management and unions at the port can take very great credit for this substantial performance over the years.

What of the future? Everyone would agree that the record I have just described must continue. I firmly believe that this record of good relations will be maintained by the Docks Board and that there is every precedent for that assertion. Labour relations at British Transport Docks Board ports have, for an industry plagued with the difficult problems of technical change and the legacies of the past, been above average and high in quality. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East said, that point was submitted by the TUC to the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. Although the TUC admitted that there had been difficulties in a difficult industry, it submitted that the overall pattern in the British Transport Docks Board was above the average and that it was good in comparative terms.

We come now to the 64-dollar question. What about the alternative of European Ferries, which is poised waiting in the wings? Last Saturday night I was asked to go to an emergency meeting in my constituency to meet the National Union of Seamen working for European Ferries. They told me about the dissatisfaction that exists throughout that organisation about labour relations. One of them, a representative on the Felixstowe Port Committee, described labour relations in European Ferries as an archaic, paternalistic, monolithic and appalling framework of consultation.

A substantial strike was narrowly averted this week at European Ferries at the Felixstowe Docks. It arose because two ships were withdrawn without consultation. The whole situation hit the men like a bombshell. They were due to discuss washing machines at a meeting, but then they were told that two ships were to be withdrawn, affecting redundancy. This was a matter in which there should have been close and detailed consultation, but there was not. The trouble brew up, but luckily for everyone the matter was settled. If it had not been, there could have been considerable damage.

When the strike was settled, two statements were issued. The National Union of Seamen said that in view of European Ferries management's offer of no redundancies and its offer of discussions on consultation machinery, the union would advise its members to withdraw the dispute notice. Hon. Members should note the offer of consultation machinery. If the company is going to bring all these reforms to the docks, I must say that it has not done much so far.

I now quote from a letter from the Merchant Navy Officers' Association. It recommended no participation in the dispute and said: We must stress that failing a marked improvement in the matter of communications and consultations, we shall be forced to reconsider the advice given to our fellow officers. That is a striking comment on industrial relations in European Ferries. That was the moderate element speaking, and it spoke with some knowledge.

The crucially important point is that ominously, in the critical area of labour relations, European Ferries wishes to establish its control as the alternative to the British Transport Docks Board. It does not have a tradition of good labour relations and will not bring that to the port of Felixstowe. It has been emphasised to me that the incident in which a damaging strike was narrowly averted was symptomatic of general dissatisfaction within the European Ferries organisation. The British Transport Docks Board has the labour relations and expertise to continue the traditions of good industrial relations of which the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge spoke.

I believe that after a decision freely reached by the board of management of Felixstowe Docks and Railway Company to enter into an agreement with the British Transport Docks Board, the counter-bid by European Ferries has created uncertainty and instability. This champion of so-called free enterprise, European Ferries, is playing political ducks and drakes with the future of the port. Its intervention was not only irresponsible but was thoroughly disreputable and unscrupulous.

I shall now quote from page 5 of the offer on behalf of European Ferries by Warburg and Co. Limited, which states: Provided that the British Transport Docks (Felixstowe) Bill in its original or any modified form (' the Bill ') currently before Parliament does not receive the Royal Assent, Ordinary Stockholders who accept the offer will be paid an additional amount of 15p in cash for each Ordinary Stock unit of Felixstowe Dock within 21 days of the Bill being withdrawn or otherwise lapsing. Let us get to the root of that. It means that if the Bill falls each shareholder will receive another 15p apiece. I stress that I am not making any personal imputation. I have a high respect for the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge, and I wish to scrub any such thought from the minds of hon. Members. It could well have been the case and can be interpreted that any hon. Member was being given a financial inducement to take a certain political course of action. That is the principle at stake in this issue.

Mr. Ridsdale

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is the hon. Member casting an aspersion on all hon. Members of the House?

Mr. Weetch

Certainly not.

Mr. Burden

The hon. Gentleman took the view that this could be considered as an inducement to hon. Members to throw out the Bill because they would receive financial gain.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant God-man Irvine)

Order. If that was what the hon. Gentleman said, I am sure that he will withdraw.

Mr. Weetch

I shall not alter one semicolon, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because the facts are on record.

Mr. Burden

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to pursue the matter, but it is completely wrong for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that hon. Members on the Opposition Benches can be bribed to vote in a certain way on a Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have indicated to the hon. Gentleman that if he suggested that there is any question of bribery he should withdraw that suggestion.

Mr. Weetch

There is no question of my suggesting bribery, Mr. Deputy Speaker. All I am saying is that the 15p above the odds if the Bill falls can be construed as a financial inducement from European Ferries. The facts are on record, and I have them in front of me.

Mr. Stainton

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand the purport of the word "construe" to be "construe to some purpose". The hon. Gentleman must finish his sentence.

Mr. Skinner

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr Weetch) has been trying to tell the House is that an offer has been made by European Ferries that if the Bill s thrown out 15p will be added to the amount paid for the shares. On the basis that there may well be hon. Members who would gain a financial advantage if the Bill were thrown out, my hon. Friend is saying "If the cap fits, wear it".

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sure that if there are any hon. Members in that situation they will declare their interest.

Mr. Weetch

When I read that part of the printed offer, I took the advice of senior Members as to whether I should raise it as a question of Privilege. I decided on balance not to do so. But I am certainly in order in raising the matter in this debate. The word I used was "disreputable", and disreputable it is.

I have already said that I give the Bill support so that a freely-reached decision may be implemented. I know that the argument will suggest itself to all hon. Members that the Bill represents the honouring of an agreement freely reached. If Opposition Members defeat the Bill, they must realise that they will increase the period of uncertainty and that a large question mark will hang over the future of Felixstowe.

There is talk about free enterprise and the shareholders. The shares in the Felixstowe port are not now held by little men, the yeoman of East Anglia. They are held by a great juggernaut. The situation has greatly altered.

I am a strong supporter of the Bill on practical and, I hope, hard-headed grounds. I hope that its provisions come to pass. If they do not, because of doctrinaire opposition, there must be uncertainty for a long time about the port of Felixstowe.

8.33 p.m.

Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)

My interest in the Bill stems from the fact that I was at Trinity College, Cambridge, with which I have kept in touch over the years. Hon. Members may laugh, but I owe a great debt to the College. Trinity takes no partisan or political view of the matter before us, but it is deeply concerned, because it owns land in the area. That lands, most of it agricultural, was acquired many years ago. It provides income that is used entirely for educational purposes. No individual is involved, and no individual receives direct money benefit from the land.

A number of years ago, 100 acres belonging to Trinity were leased to the Dock Company for development- More recently, another 200 acres have been developed by the College, with excellent roads, drainage and other services. The area has been made available to commercial firms using the docks. There are now office blocks, considerable warehousing facilities, cold stores, a lorry park, a hotel, and other facilities, which have all contributed to the efficiency and success of the docks and the well-being of the people in the town. Relationships all round have been excellent.

Trinity does not take a political line, but it is concerned that a change of ownership could have adverse affects. The British Transport Docks Board already controls about 19 ports, including Hull and Southampton. If it acquired Felixstowe it might not be quite so single-minded in development there as those responsible have been in the past. Any falling off in use and efficiency at Felixstowe would, of course, affect for the worse the prosperity of firms there and individuals in the area for whom Trinity feels some responsibility, as a landlord.

The second and perhaps more important question is that of education. I mentioned that no moneys from the area go to private individuals; all the money goes for educational purposes. Nor does the College keep all the revenue for itself. Under an agreement operating with Cambridge University, certain of the wealthier colleges pay into a pool to build up the endowments of less well-off colleges. About £250,000 has been involved in this system in the past few years and it has been very helpful to the women's colleges.

In addition, Trinity had a large stake in the founding of Darwin College and through its own resources it has estab- lished the Cambridge Science Park—a 30-acre area on the outskirts of the city for special science-based industry working in close touch with the university science departments. I am not a scientist, but I am very glad to be able to tell the House that among Nobel Prize winners in science, 20 have been at Trinity College—just the one college—compared with 21 for the whole of France and 17 for Belgium, Holland and Italy combined. I believe that we would all agree that this is an outstanding and generous record, which should, if possible, be continued.

In these days, when money is not so readily available for education, it seems to me that no steps should be taken which could lessen these contributions—but that could happen if Felixstowe does not continue to prosper.

Trinity probably would have preferred it if the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company could have continued as before, because its relationship with the Company was excellent, but in the new circumstances of today the College feels that Felixstowe would be better in the hands of a one-port owner than in the hands of a multi-port owner. That would ensure more competition, better development, greater concentration on a single entity, and a steady income. Dispersal of effort would be avoided. As we all know, size is not everything, and it very often leads to inefficiency. Small, single entities can often prove more efficient. For all these reasons, Trinity College petitioned against the Bill, and in my humble view it was right to do so.

8.39 p.m.

The Minister for Transport (Dr. John Gilbert)

It may be helpful to the House if I intervene at this stage of the debate not to reply in detail to it but to indicate very briefly the Government's attitude to the Bill. This is, of course, a Private Bill; it is not a Government measure. The Government are, however, sympathetic to the objectives of the Bill, for the reasons I shall explain, and I very much hope the House will give it a Second Reading tonight. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley) has given the House a full and eloquent explanation of the background to the Bill and its detailed provisions, and it would not be appropriate for me to go over all the ground again. I should, however, re-emphasise that the Bill derives from an agreement between the British Transport Docks Board and a Felixstowe company—a freely-negotiated commercial agreement.

I make clear also that the Government were in no way the instigators of the agreement. So far as I am aware, the Docks Board and Felixstowe came together entirely of their own volition. It was a love match, and not an arranged wedding. The Docks Board properly informed me of its intention at an early stage in the negotiations. I made clear that it would have to win the consent of Felixstowe by its own efforts but that, provided agreement could be reached on reasonable terms, I could see no objection to its proceeding with the matter.

Last October, the Docks Board reported that it had made the proposal to acquire the company at an agreed price of 150p a share. After due considerations, I told it that the Government were prepared to bless the union, and consented to the introduction of the necessary Private Bill. The Government's reasons for supporting the Bill were, and are, straightforward.

In the first place, it seems to us that the take-over makes good sense for both parties. The Docks Board will acquire a flourishing East Coast port of particular strength in short sea trades, which will provide a useful addition to its ports of Southampton and Hull. For its part. Felixstowe will gain the advantage of a merger with a larger organisation with a record of success and one which enjoys the financial strength and experience to undertake further developments at Felixstowe, as they are needed.

Mr. Burden

Does the Minister agree that it is not the directors but the shareholders who own the Company? Was this offer put to the shareholders? Did they accept it? If not, why not? The board of the Company alone could not accept. If a better offer was put before the shareholders as the owners of the company, had they not the right to accept that offer rather than a lower one, which was apparently negotiated without their being consulted by the board?

Dr. Gilbert

I have no quarrel with the proposition that the shareholders of Felixstowe are entitled to accept a higher offer. The consequences for European Ferries are another matter, which no doubt were taken into account by the board of that institution when it made its offer.

For its part, we see Felixstowe gaining the advantage of a merger with a much larger organisation which has a record of success and financial strength and experience to undertake further developments at Felixstowe, which is one of the matters which, in this debate, have weighed clearly in the minds of hon. Members. The original price was freely negotiated between the parties, and seemed reasonable in the circumstances.

However, apart from these immediate advantages to both the Docks Board and Felixstowe, the Government support the Bill because this merger would fit in very well with our general plans for reorganisation of the ports industry. I am still considering the precise shape that this reorganisation should take, in the fight of reactions to the two consultative documents issued by my predecessor. One essential objective will certainly be to bring commercially-owned ports into public ownership, and the Docks Board's acquisition of Felixstowe would therefore be a step in the right direction.

As I have said, European Ferries was perfectly entitled to make the counter-bid that it has made. I understand that a large number of Felixstowe shareholders have now accepted its offer. European Ferries will soon, therefore, be in effective control of the Company, and it will presumably be seeking withdrawal or defeat of the Bill. I say "presumably", because I do not wish to speculate as to its motives in making the counter-bid.

The Docks Board, however, continues to believe that it is right to press ahead with the Bill. The basic question that we have to consider, therefore, is whether it will be better for the port of Felixstowe to be owned and operated by the Docks Board or by European Ferries. To this, I believe that the answer must be "the Docks Board". The Board has immense experience in the running of ports and, as I have said, a very long record of success both in financial terms and in labour relations. In recent years, it has made steady progress in financial terms, in its share of United Kingdom traffic, and in the quality of its services.

I am confident that, quite apart from political considerations, which I am happy to proclaim from this Box, the Docks Board would be the better organisation to own and operate Felixstowe. When, in addition, we take account of the Government's intended reorganisation of the ports industry, it must surely make better sense for Felixstowe to join now with the Docks Board, rather than to go it alone with European Ferries for a year or two before it is in any case taken into public ownership.

In conclusion, I should like to emphasise once again that this is a Bill to ratify a contractual agreement, freely entered into by the Docks Board and Felixstowe. Part of the agreement was that the Docks Board should bring forward the Bill now before us and should use their best endeavours to secure its enactment For part, the Felixstowe Company agreed to aid and assist the Board in the promotion of the Bill". The intervention by European Ferries does not alter this agreement. European Ferries knew the terms of the agreement before it made its offer, and, as owners of Felixstowe, must, of course, inherit the obligations of the Felixstowe Company to carry out its part of the agreement. I suggest that those who oppose the Bill are really trying to use Parliament to secure the breach of a binding agreement. I am sure that Parliament would wish to be very wary of using its powers to overrule a private agreement in this way, and since in the present case there are strong grounds of public interest for upholding the agreement, I strongly urge the House to give the Bill a Second Reading tonight.

8.47 p.m.

Mr. Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

I shall intervene briefly in the debate. I had intended to be brief in any event. The Minister's speech allows me to be even more so, because there was nothing in it to persuade anyone who had not already made up his mind.

There is general agreement on one point; the growth of the Felixstowe Company has been an outstanding postwar success story. When Gordon Parker took over in Felixstowe in 1951 the dock basin had silted up, the piers were damaged, and the equipment and warehouses were in disrepair. Recovery was the result of combined efforts of management and staff—and I emphasise "staff". About two weeks ago I went to Felixstowe and, like any visitor, was struck by the good relations that exist. They are an example to the whole industry, and they have played a significant part in the success of the port. No one can dispute that success. Whatever measure is used, the result is the same. In 1957 the port handled 82,000 tonnes of cargo. Last year it handled 4.2 million tonnes. In 1963, 1,200 vessels arrived at the port. Last year the number was 4,500. When the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley) says that Felixstowe is too important to be left in private hands, he may reflect that this is exactly how its development was achieved.

Trade has expanded sharply. Felixstowe has earned for itself a world-wide reputation for efficiency and reliability, as evidenced by the number of users who have transferred there. They include the United States Line, Sea-Land Container-ships, and American Export Lines—three big companies in the United States. The net result has been that the increased trade and profits earned have lead to a dramatic rise in the number of people employed in Felixstowe. When Gordon Parker took over in 1957 the labour force was around a dozen. Today the company alone employs 1,150 people directly, while the port users provide hundreds of additional jobs. That is the true background to the Bill.

A great deal has been made that in the original negotiations last autumn the board of Felixstowe recommended acceptance of the Dock Board's offer. We are told that this was a willing buyer—willing seller situation. That argument, however, conveniently ignores one crucial point. Felixstowe, like most other companies in this country, was hit by the recession. Had it been any other private sector company with the same profit record there would have been no great problem, but, of course, Felixstowe faced the prospect of nationalisation, and that introduced serious uncertainty.

Gordon Parker has made no secret of the effect that this threat had. When he circulated shareholders on 30th October, he specifically mentioned the threat of being taken into public ownership in an unspecified way and at an unspecified date". He added that unless Felixstowe Dock's future is clarified it is now faced with increasing uncertainty". That is the true background. At that stage the board of Felixstowe Docks and, indeed, the shareholders, neither saw nor had any alternative.

But that position changed dramatically two months later, when European Ferries put in its counter-bid. The result is that, whatever the position may have been last November, no one can seriously suggest that today we are dealing with a willing buyer-willing seller situation. The British Transport Docks Board certainly remains a willing buyer, but the vast majority of those most closely affected by the proposed take-over do not want it. I suggest that their views should be treated as overriding in this debate and in taking a decision on the Bill. The House should follow their guidance.

The shareholders could hardly have made their views clearer, as has been said. The people and the institutions who have invested money in Felixstowe have voted overwhelmingly in favour of the counter-bid, and therefore against the Bill.

We have not heard much about the port users. Many users at Felixstowe are seriously concerned about the effect of the Bill. They have been accustomed to local management and local decision-making, and to the port's being run by an independent company. I gather that the reaction from customers has been adverse. Indeed, some say that they will transfer their business if the Bill goes through. Therefore, to put it at its most moderate, there is no evident enthusiasm for the Bill among the port's users.

What about the people who work there? The local branch of the Transport and General Workers' Union says that it will work with whichever party gains control. However, many workers make no secret of the fact that they would prefer the port to remain independent. Again, to put it at its most moderate, there is no pressure to have the port taken over in the way proposed in the Bill.

Lastly, there is the view of Trinity College. If hon. Gentlemen opposite believe that Trinity College takes an unworldly, academic view, I suggest they arrange to meet the bursar, Dr. Bradfield. Trinity's interest is in the revenue from the warehouse estate adjoining the dock. It is interested in seeing Felixstowe prosper and develop. That is Trinity's concern, and it, too, is against the Bill.

Mr. Bradley

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why, in its petition, Trinity College says it is no part of your petitioners' "— that is the College's— case that the Board —that is, the British Transport Docks Board— should not acquire an interest in the port of Felixstowe in the manner proposed in the Bill"?

Mr. Fowler

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has grasped the point that I was making. There is no doubt about what Trinity College wants. That has been published, and can be confirmed by the hon. Gentleman in minutes. Trinity College is against the Bill. Of that there is absolutely no question.

Mr. Stainton

The Trinity College petition was laid prior to the offer emerging from European Ferries.

Mr. Fowler

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information.

There is hardly a voice raised in support of the Bill by the people most closely concerned with the port of Felixstowe, yet the effect of the Bill—this point should be emphasised—is to defeat their will. This is not an enabling Bill. If we give the Bill a Second Reading we shall effectively be giving control of Felixstowe to the British Transport Docks Board. I cannot see how, in all honesty, we can give a Second Reading to a Bill that defeats the will of the shareholders and those most closely connected with the successful operation of Felixstowe.

It is a common view in the House that Parliament should rely on the advice of the people on the ground. We are being asked here not only to ignore their advice but to override their view that such a step simply cannot be justified. We are left with arguments that seek to denigrate European Ferries. I regret the introduction of those arguments, particularly the way in which they were used by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch). If there is anything disreputable about this debate it is the kind of attack that he made on European Ferries.

Although I oppose the Bill, it is no part of my case to claim that the BTDB is incompetent or yet another candidate for public subsidy. It makes profits, and men like Sir Humphrey Browne and Keith Stuart are shrewd and profit-oriented business men. But I would have hoped that Labour Members would show the same fairness in their view of European Ferries.

Some might take the view that a company which has built itself up from 1963, when it had 7 per cent. of cross-Channel trade, to its present position, when it has 50 per cent., is precisely the kind of company that this country needs. Some might take the trouble to check with the port authorities at Dover, where European Ferries is one of the biggest users. I visited Dover two weeks ago. The reputation of European Ferries stands high there because it has brought extra trade and employment to the town.

Some might think it more appropriate, rather than attacking the labour relations record of European Ferries, which is in fact very good, to remember that the company now provides employment for over 3,500 people, whereas 10 years ago it employed only 300. Nor are the other arguments used against the company any more accurate.

It is claimed that it would discriminate against other users. Yet the other users at Felixstowe do not take that view, and experience at Larne shows entirely the opposite. European Ferries bought Larne Harbour Limited in 1973. At that time the Scottish arm of British Rail's Sealink was the largest user, and it has continued its use without discrimination. In addition, a subsidiary of P & O Shipping, one of European Ferries' biggest competitors, has been encouraged in, while in the same period that Larne has developed profits have increased and the work force has risen by 40 per cent.

It is claimed that European Ferries does not have the necessary financial strength to develop Felixstowe, yet in the last two years it has financed a shipbuilding programme of £50 million. The most immediate need at Felixstowe is likely to be a deep-water channel to handle the large container ships, at a cost of £1½ million. Therefore, there seems to be nothing in the record of European Ferries to justify the kind of criticism that we have heard tonight and there is a great deal which deserves our praise.

We are told in the Press this morning that European Ferries has "very limited experience" of port management. Exactly the same argument could have been used against Gordon Parker 25 years ago when he started to redevelop Felixstowe. It could be used against virtually every other innovator in the country.

What is certain is that there is nothing to justify the House seeking to intervene and to impose its will, as would be the effect of the Bill. I have said that I do not wish to attack the British Transport Docks Board. It already runs 19 ports and has 25 per cent3, of the market. If the Bill goes through, it will have 30 per cent. If Felixstowe comes under the Board's control, the biggest of the private enterprise companies goes too. The public interest is better served if Felixstowe remains independent and in competition. The Docks Board says that it will seek to preserve the independence of the Felixstowe operation. That independence and that local management, which have so much explained Felixstowe's success, are better preserved outside the BTDB structure.

What we are in effect being asked to do tonight is to intervene and to defeat the expressed wish of the shareholders and to ignore the equally clear views of those who know most about Felixstowe and depend most upon its prosperity. I do not believe that we in this House would be justified in taking that course. In my view, the interests of Felixstowe port and its customers require that the House should reject the Bill

9.0 p.m.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

As the speech of the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) has shown, and as has been reflected in speeches from both sides of the House, it is inevitable that the differences between us on this matter, however we view Felixstowe, tend to be influenced by our political attitudes on how we should reorganise this important industry. It is not necessarily an ideological battle, but there are very strong differences between various people in the House reflecting differing political philosophies as to how we reorganise our very important ports industry. When one takes into account the circumstances and the ingredients of the events involved here, one appreciates that it is inevitable that these differences have arisen tonight and that the debate would follow in the way I have described.

Felixstowe is a very important and growing port. Those who have taken a considerable interest in port development and the future of our ports have noticed this port in particular. There are a number of reasons for that. We must give credit where it is due. There has been a great deal of entrepreneurial ability, good management and good labour relations. Felixstowe also has good deep water as well. These are factors that have played a significant part in the development of the port.

Felixstowe has become a thriving port. It is a private port and thus has connotations in our general debate in regard to the differences between the parties. It has been held up almost as a private enterprise jewel, particularly in regard to the entrepreneurial judgment that has built up the port. However, people do not seem to draw the same conclusion when it comes to the fact that those who exercised the entrepreneurial judgment to give it this force of growth are the same people as are recommending that the British Transport Docks Board should be given the ownership of the port in order to continue with its growth. That is the judgment of the one person who has been personally identified in the Press and by the Opposition Benches on occasions in ports debates. It is clear that it is his judgment today that the British Transport Docks Board deal should go through despite the offer now made by European Ferries.

Perhaps I may add that an awful lot has been said about shareholders and about the management team. Whatever decision the team comes to, the final decision lies with the shareholders. How- ever, it was not the shareholders who gave growth to the port, as has been amply illustrated this evening. It was this entrepreneurial ability. Therefore, there is a contradiction and a conflict in this matter.

Mr. Burden

With great respect to the hon. Member, may I say that he should recognise that, no matter how good an entrepreneur a man may be, in order to develop a port such as Felixstowe he has to have the backing of finance, without which he can do nothing?

Mr. Prescott

An awful lot of companies have had the backing of finance but have been disasters—both private and public companies. I do not know why hon. Members are shaking their heads. If they had been present during previous port debates, they would know that much play has been made about entrepreneurial ability by one particular person. All right. He required labour and capital in order to make it a successful enterprise. That should come as no surprise. But this man has been the very key to Felixstowe's success, and this has been illustrated in our debates. It is his continued judgment that the port should now be given over to the Board.

However, a private organisation has entered into the arena at a late date offering a better deal. That is the essential ingredient in the considerable political disagreement in the debate. Clearly, the intervention was somewhat late. As evidenced by the offer of European Ferries, the delay was able to arise particularly because of the requirements of the Transport Act 1962 and the delay enforced by the Prayer against the Bill put down by a number of Opposition Members.

I do not flinch from any conflict on these matters. This is not only an ideological battle, because obviously there is a fundamental difference of view between the two sides as to how to deal with this important port industry. We are dealing not just with Felixstowe or even with the ports industry but with the whole transport question.

When we consider the subject of the ports, we must also consider the subject of infrastructure such as the roads comlex. As soon as cargo begins to grow in ports like Felixstowe, we must ensure that we provide good communications to assist development of that port and others. However, we as politicians must face the problem of allocating resources and of setting the priorities between the ports.

It is clear that the ports have been plagued with considerable problems. Felixstowe has been held up to the House as an example in its handling of labour relations. We all appreciate that the Rochdale and Devlin Reports and various Commissions have examined the problems of the industry. We also appreciate that the industry has lacked investment. That argument is true of both the public and private port concerns.

Various Governments have produced differing policies. The Conservative Government tried to bring financial disciplines to bear. They decreed that the ports should pay their way and they laid down financial targets at a high level, thus forcing the ports to put up their rates. In that process many of the ports were put to considerable disadvantage and traffic was diverted. A number of reports have examined the problems in various areas, such as the Humber, and have tried to analyse the situation thrown up by dock strikes and other difficulties in the industry. Certainly those reports contained recommendations to the effect that the Government had to do something in developing small wharves and in certain cases in siphoning off traffic.

Some large ports face problems flowing from the return on capital. Obviously the problems related to an investment of £20 million are much greater than those related to an investment in a small wharf involving, say, £30,000—a wharf which, because of that very fact, can charge lower rates. Those arguments are separate from the question of labour relations and whether they are good in Felixstowe or bad in Hull or wherever it may be. We must try to solve the problem, and in setting our priorities we must look at the existing traffic as it is dispersed throughout the ports.

Obviously we have reached the conclusion that there needs to be more control over the development of traffic so that one port should not be played off against another. We must remember that the State is often called upon to pour millions of pounds of public money into various ports and wharves. This is a problem that Parliament must decide. Felixstowe highlights that problem in a nutshell.

I believe that the previous Labour Government were mistaken in not including Felixstowe within their nationalisation plans. We have now recognised that mistake and are awaiting proposals that will include that port within our plans.

The main issue before us is to decide whether Felixstowe, which is undoubtedly an important port, should be allowed to develop under the British Transport Docks Board or European Ferries. A number of arguments have been deployed against both organisations. We must now examine the problem and decide which organisation represents the best bidder in the interests not only of the port of Felixstowe but of the development of the ports industry as a whole. There is the nationalised body, the British Transport Docks Board, which owns 19 ports, and there is European Ferries, which owns one or two ports and has experience in shipping.

I was a seaman for 10 years. I suppose I should declare an interest. I shall not be paid, but it seems to be a night for declaring interests. I never sailed on Townsend Ferries, which is a part of European Ferries, but I know something of the history of the company and the development of its shipping activities. We cannot yet measure its ports activities because it has only just taken over some ports, but it certainly had considerable success in expanding its shipping fleet.

When Mr. Wickenden gave evidence to the Select Committee, he told us why the company had been able to expand at such a tremendous rate. He said that due to tax allowances and free depreciation for shipping, his company had not paid any taxes in the past few years. I asked whether this had assisted the massive capital development which had enabled his company to have much newer ships than its major competitor, British Rail. He replied "Yes, without doubt." Unfortunately, although British shipping had made money, British Rail had made a loss and British shipping was not able to enjoy the same tax advantages as the private company.

Mr. Peter Rees

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that in his cross-examination of Mr. Wickenden he complimented the company on its labour relations?

Mr. Prescott

That is quite right. When I asked Mr. Wickenden about labour relations, we were having certain problems with the nationalised Board in Dover and he gave us his view. Naturally, I am interested in why labour relations are good in some areas and bad in others, but I should point out that labour relations can be good in one place and bad in another even though the men are all employed by the same company. There are many factors affecting labour relations.

The hon. Member for Sutton Cold-field spoke about the great expanding private sector. There are a number of reasons for this which the hon. Gentleman could read in the Select Committee's Report, together with our recommendations.

I am surprised that the Opposition are not concerned that a single shipper has control of Felixstowe. I should have thought that this would concern them a great deal. When a nationalised industry owns a port and the shipping, the Conservatives criticise the monopoly aspect of it, but there is no such criticism of the private sector.

The port of Liverpool collapsed when it was deliberately put into bankruptcy by the last Government. The money which many people had invested in shares was thrown away. The owners who controlled that port refused to put up freight charges as demanded by the Government. That was what destroyed the port.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ips-which (Mr. Weetch) has referred to the question of labour relations at Felixstowe, and the members of my union are extremely concerned about the situation there. I do not know whether those members are the politically motivated onces, but this description does not apply to the union's officers and they share the concern about the handling of labour relations. The company did not call the officers to tell them that two ships were being taken out. The men told the officers that they had heard the rumour. The officers were not even given the courtesy of being told that information at the meeting.

What has emerged from the debate is the close association of the Conservative Party with the development of the company. I shall give some examples. When the Labour Government was disposing of Transport Ferries, of which European Ferries was a part, it was proposed that the company should be sold to British Rail. When I asked the Conservative Government whether they proposed that that sale from one nationalised concern to another should go ahead, the Conservative Government said "No" and sold it to the private sector. That was how European Ferries came to be such a thriving company and to own ports. At that time at Hull, there was a dead shipping company, owned by the same Transport Ferries, not making a profit, which was not bought by the private sector. As a result, 300 or 400 men were put out of work. Had British Rail taken it over, it would have been developed on the profitable North Sea routes.

The close association of the Conservatives with this company is also shown by the number of Conservative Members who have declared a personal interest. Apart from the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen, all Conservatives who have spoken have declared an interest.

Delay has been caused by the Prayer tabled by six Tories against the Bill, which I regret. The directors of the Company did not oppose the sale of the Company to the British Transport Docks Board. Then we heard of the documents of 5th March and 19th March, which clearly stated, after the shareholders' decision, that the directors still agreed that the Company should go to the British Transport Docks Board. Then, in time for tonight, we are told that the directors have conveniently changed their minds. All that suggests close association which reflects badly on the directors, and it is about time they went. Clearly, there is something wrong with their judgment.

The alternative purchaser, the British Transport Docks Board, is a large organisation which employs 11,000, 4,000 of whom are highly experienced on the direct labour scheme. That labour scheme is important if we are to have good labour relations. There have been times when there have been far from friendly relations. There is a large amount of investment in the Board, and profitability has increased from year to year, which should be a telling factor for the Conservatives. As we are to nationalise the ports, and soon, Felixsttowe should be put into the public sector as a first step towards public ownership of all ports.

9.18 p.m.

Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)

I do not intend to follow the speech made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) nor shall I speak at such length. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton), who has already given much help to the Felixstowe Dock Company. I recommend his speech for consideration by all hon. Members before they vote on the Bill. I wish that it had been heard by more.

In Suffolk we are proud of what has happened in this port and we are ever grateful to Colonel Parker for leaving his neighbouring county of Norfolk to carry out that work. Many in my constituency travel up to 25 miles to go to Felixstowe Docks, yet I have never received a letter showing dissatisfaction with the conditions under which those people work. Relations have been good, and good wages have been paid.

I had letters of disapproval from some of the shareholders when the first offer was made because they felt that it was at too low a figure in relation to the assets of the Company. Acceptance was recommended because there was a threat of nationalisation. I think that was behind the board's agreeing to it. It thought that under the British Transport Docks Board, which has some decentralised control, it would be left as an independent business.

The haven ports, as we regard Felixstowe, Harwich and Ipswich, with one estuary, together form the third largest port in England. My figures are not up to date, and it may well be that it has now overtaken Liverpool. It is important for the whole of the area that it should be well served by the port. Both this Government, and the Conservative Government before it were keen that there should be proper communications from the Midlands, from which so many goods are exported through Felixstowe to all parts of the world. They wished to see the communications brought up to a high standard.

I was very glad to see the Minister for Transport here earlier, and hope that he will be told about these matters. I know that from the point of view of his own constituency interests, in the Birmingham area, the Minister is also anxious about road communications with the port.

A great deal has been said about European Ferries and the extra bid made tonight. I believe that it is perfectly legitimate that this offer should be made to shareholders who did not accept the previous offer. There was no contract. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), in his intervention, showed a lot of non-knowledge of contractual law. If my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) had caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sure that he would have drawn attention to this.

We are all concerned with the future well-being of Felixstowe, but there is no secret on the Government side that they want Felixstowe Docks to be nationalised. Here we have a big private enterprise dock, and it would be a very good example to keep outside nationalisation, so that we can compare one with the other.

Since we have been in the EEC, the importance of Felixstowe as a dock has increased tremendously. A great many ships can come there now. When it is dredged, so that the bar is lower, many more ships, which would otherwise go to Rotterdam, will be able to come direct to Felixstowe. There is a chance to increase the trade of the port.

I hope that some hon. Gentlemen on the Government side will have been convinced by these arguments. I believe that the Bill in its present form should be turned down. If it goes through, the people employed in the port will not have the knowledge they now have that their future is assured. At present, they have opportunities to advance. That is what I want them to have. Great expansion is taking place in Suffolk and that expansion can continue, provided that the Felixstowe dock expands and grows. It has a tremendous record under private enterprise—far better than that of any other port. Let us keep it that way in the future.

9.25 p.m.

Mr. Walter Johnson (Derby, South)

At the outset, I have to declare my interest, in that I happen to be an honorary national officer of the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association—one of the unions that negotiate for the staff of the British Transport Docks Board—and vice-chairman of the National Joint Consultative Council of the Docks Board, in that second capacity, I have opportunities to see the Docks Board in operation and to understand the fundamental way in which it approaches the problems in this industry.

In the Docks Board Joint Consultative Council there are provisions for each port to make regular reports. The meetings are held every two or three months, and the opportunity is provided at those meetings for individual reports on the activities of the various port authorities. This means that each of them has the opportunity to run its own show, and that is what we are saying in the terms of the Bill.

Whether we like it or not, this debate has developed into a fundamental one. Opposition Members obviously believe in private enterprise. Government supporters believe in public ownership where it is essential in the national interest, and we shall continue to pursue that line.

In any event, the record of the Opposition is not a very proud one. Most of our national industries were taken over between 1946 and 1950. Then, for 17 years, we had two periods of Conservative government, Apart from handing back the profitable section of the road haulage industry in the 1950s, there has been no denationalisation of the major industries taken over by the Labour Government between 1945 and 1951. The Conservative Government burned their fingers when they were last in power by denationalising Thomas Cook and Son. We know that that business is in serious financial difficulty today. The Conservative Party has nothing to boast about in its attitude towards the nationalised industries.

I consider it necessary to give some of the facts about the port of Felixstowe. As we know, the port is the largest privately-owned port in Britain, excluding the Manchester Ship Canal. The docks employ approximately 1,200 staff. In1974, the Company made a pre-tax profit of £724,388 on a turnover of £8.55 million—an increase of almost 35 per cent. over the previous year. In 1974, 4.2 million tons were handled—an increase of 14.8 per cent.

Felixstowe is a modern installation, and a £10 million improvement scheme has been completed only recently, but it needs - to spend at least another £5 million on new cranes and other equipment. I submit that a takeover by an existing public body such as the British Transport Docks Board would be a distinct advantage for the port.

The Docks Board has stated that it is prepared to put money into Felixstowe to ensure a more rapid growth rate for the; port. At the same time, the Board has: stated that the port would be run outside its overall umbrella, but that if the port: is to draw money from Docks Board assets for future expansion, the returns from the port should be fully integrated with Docks Board finances, to the mutual benefit of all Docks Board staff.

European Ferries, which is the company behind the alternative bid, is one of the five major users of the port. The others are International Paper Corporation, Tor Line, British Anzani and Christian Salvesen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley) told the House that at an extraordinary meeting of the Felixstowe shareholders on 21st November 1975 a proposed acquisition was approved by a majority of more than 75 per cent. of those voting. The final figure, however, showed that 871 stockholders, representing 1,932,598 shares and 87.95 per cent. of the votes cast, were in favour of the takeover, while 434 stockholders, owning 264,758 shares—12.05 per cent. of the votes cast—were against it.

The Chairman, Mr. Gordon Parker, stated at the extraordinary meeting that in his view the acquisition by the Board would enable the port to be developed further, to the benefit of customers, employees and the nation. I emphasise that he thought it would to be the benefit of "customers, employees and the nation". I hope that hon. Members will take that into account when they vote tonight.

The Bill contains a unique undertaking from the British Transport Docks Board not to divert traffic using Felixstowe to any of its other ports. That provision is contained in Schedule 1(2)(a). The unions in the industry believe that the port should be completely absorbed within the Board. The general manager of the British Transport Docks Board has outlined the advantages of leaving the Company as a wholly-owned subsidiary. In his view the Company has built up statutory rights and obligations during its 100 years' existence, and he believes that there are advantages in operating through the existing framework. In addition, there are further advantages in retaining the Company's financial structure, including the existing debentures.

An alternative bid for the port has been submitted by European Ferries, and during the debate much has been made of the suggestions that this is a better offer than that made by the Board. It could be said that the success of such a bid might militate against the other port users and, in the long term, be disadvantageous to the port, the customers and those who work in the industry.

Mr. Ridley

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, who is reading from a union brief. Can he explain why the users of the port have made it clear that they would like European Ferries to take over?

Mr. Johnson

That is contrary to the information we have. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) made it clear that in discussions he has had with the staff he learned that they wanted this takeover. My hon. Friend also had discussions with European Ferries, whose labour relations leave much to be desired. That is the information that has been given to the House, and I see no reason to say that it is not correct. I believe that this is the right move, and that it will be in the interests of customers, users and staff. I believe that the British Transport Docks Board will do an exceptionally good job. The Bill requires, and should have, the support of the House, and I hope that we will vote in favour of it tonight.

9.34 p.m.

Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)

Since there have been a variety of allegations levelled against my hon. Friends from the Government Benches, I shall declare my interest before taking part in the debate. In deference to the sensitivity of Labour Members, I must tell the House that neither I nor my family have any shares in the Felixstowe Dock Company or European Ferries. But I notice that, in common with all other taxpayers, up to 1972 I contributed my share of £120 million to the finances of the British Transport Docks Board.

It may come as a surprise to hon. Members on the Government Benches to hear it, but if they had taken the trouble to look at the Public Expenditure White Paper—perhaps it is a little unkind to remind them of the traumas of a fortnight ago—they would have discovered that this year we are again contributing £12 million to the Board and we will continue to do that for the next four years. If we are to make comparisons between the finances of European Ferries and the British Transport Docks Board, we should know all the figures and not just a partially doctored account.

I am participating in the debate because European Ferries has operated with conspicuous success and with a great deal of local good will from, and in, the port of Dover.

After listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch), I find some imperfectly understood words of Dryden coming to mind: Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike". It would have been better if the hon. Gentleman had thought through his speech a little more carefully and if he had grounded his allegations against Opposition Members and the companies concerned more carefully on facts and perhaps repeated them outside the House, where those who are not Members could have had some recourse against him.

However, enough of the hon. Gentleman's speech. I make only the following point, because the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson) placed some weight on the evidence that the hon. Gentleman gave the House about the state of labour relations in Felixstowe. After listening to the hon. Member for Ipswich, I would not accept a word he said on that subject unless it were corroborated to the hilt.

I wish to reassure those of my hon. Friends who represent East Anglian constituencies that I am not for a moment advocating the colonisation of Felixstowe by Dover. I want to put my credentials on the record so that they may be scrutinised. We could enlarge the debate—as Labour Members have done, including the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley), who moved the Second Reading—into a far-ranging debate on the merits or demerits of nationalisation. I would willingly take up that challenge. If it would not embarrass him, I could portray Mr. Keith Wickenden of European Ferries as a free-enterprise David taking on the Goliath of nationalisation.

However, in the time available I prefer to concentrate on the narrower issue of whether it is right for the House to legislate to override a bid freely made by European Ferries and freely accepted by 85 per cent. of the Felixstowe Company's shareholders, in order to substitute a less attractive bid by the British Transport Docks Board. It has been argued that the Board's offer preceded that of European Ferries. So it did. We can examine the reason in a moment. It has been rightly argued that, initially at any rate, it was recommended by the board of directors of the Felixstowe Company and accepted by a majority of the shareholders. However, it failed to become a binding agreement.

That is a point that the hon. Member for Leicester, East and the Minister for Transport—

Mr. Bradley

The agreement to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has just referred, which forms Schedule 1 to the Bill, is under seal. Surely that makes it binding.

Mr. Rees

I do not want to be led into a mesh of legal arguments, though I would willingly enlighten the hon. Gentleman. The mere fact that the agreement is under seal does not of itself make it immediately enforceable. If the hon. Gentleman had studied the agreement scheduled to the Bill a little more closely, he would have seen that it was conditional on the Bill's becoming law. In other words, it was not immediately enforceable.

The Minister, I hope unwittingly, misled the House on this point. He would have been better advised to seek the advice of the Law Officers, who, I am sure, would have given the same advice as I am perhaps rashly giving him now. There was no question of there being an immediately enforceable agreement between the Board and the shareholders of the Felixstowe Company.

All these arguments must be viewed against the background of the facts. The Felixstowe Company received in October 1975 a conditional offer worth 150p a share. Be it noted that that would have involved the shareholders in an immediate charge to capital gains tax. The European Ferries offer is worth about 190p a share, based on the value of its shares. The hon. Member for Leicester, East said, as he is entitled to say, that it was a speculative offer and that the value of the shares is likely to rise and fall. So it is, but the shareholders were well able to weigh that, and when the offer was made there was no doubt where the balance of financial advantage to them lay.

The recommendation of the board of the Felixstowe Company to its shareholders is about the coolest recommendation I have ever read. It was cool to the point of frigidity. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler), who spoke from the Front Bench, read a passage from the chairman's letter. I should like to add one short passage: I have set out the background so that you can understand the difficult situation which confronts your Board and also so that you can understand the reason why your Board is receptive to the conditional offer made by the BTDB. In a way, that letter of the chairman is one of the most revealing industrial documents that has been presented to us, because in a non-partisan, almost unconscious way it passes a verdict on 13 years of Wilsonism. It demonstrates so very clearly why British industry has not been able to compete as effectively as its foreign competitors, because those in British industry have never at any moment been able to say exactly what the Labour Government were going to do to them or able at any moment in time to see the way ahead and whether any investment required would have yielded fruit.

If hon. Gentlemen want to know why there has not been sufficient investment in British industry, they should read and re-read the letter of Mr. Gordon Parker to his own shareholders against the background of this particular bid. It seems that, in spite of all the sensitive treatment of private capital by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the even-handed way in which the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) has treated the most outrageous claims of the major unions and the Wykehamist moderation with which the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) has handled private enterprise, Mr. Gordon Parker had firmly come to the conclusion by October 1975 that he had had enough, after building up one of the most successful private enterprises in Britain. That is a commentary on 13 wasted years of Wilsonism.

Unfortunately for the shareholders of the Company and its board, they did not at that time know that help was at hand in the shape of Mr. Keith Wickenden and European Ferries. In February 1976 a much better offer was made which was accepted by 85 per cent. of the shareholders, including, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) will confirm, the board and, I believe, the families of the board. If anything was needed to demonstrate the altered view of the board against the background of the offer by European Ferries, it is this particular fact. That offer now has become unconditional.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East, with all his legal knowledge, cannot gainsay that the offer is now unconditional, and, if he would like me to condescend to legalities, the beneficial interest in the shares of the Felixstowe Dock Company has now passed to European Ferries.

I would, however, ask the House to look beyond the situation of the shareholders, important though that is. First of all there is the question of the future of the dock itself. It will be noted that the guarantees of the Docks Board are highly qualified and they depend on directives that will be given to it by the Minister for Transport, who read to the House tonight, with his head down, a brief presented to him by his civil servants.

The Minister was remarkably uncommunicative on what he had in mind for Felixstowe, but those who work in the dock, both management and employees, will want to know his future plans. What about the future effects on those who work there? All who have direct experience of Felixstowe—and I totally disregard the evidence of the hon. Member for Ipswich unless it is corroborated to the hilt; it was so shot with partisan bias that it was not worth the hot air that the hon. Member blew into the Chamber—have told us that labour relations there are excellent.

I can testify that the labour relations so far as they concern European Ferries at the port of Dover are very good. It has been involved in only one official strike in 20 years, that by the National Union of Seamen in 1967, described by the Prime Minister as a strike by politically-motivated men. I am sorry to say through you, Mr. Speaker, to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull. East (Mr. Prescott) that the Prime Minister is now less mealy-mouthed and calls them not politically motivated men but Marxists, and is backed up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer calling them blackmailers with tiny Chinese minds. I leave the House to choose which of those particular descriptions it prefers. My point is that the only major industrial confrontation in which European Ferries has been involved was the strike in 1967 by the National Union of Seamen.

It is no part of my case, or that of the Opposition Front Bench, to attempt to criticise the position of the Docks Board. It has a difficult industry to run, and no doubt, with the Minister for Transport breathing down its neck, the position of the Board is yet more difficult. I ask the House to consider labour relations in Southampton, however. Regrettably, labour relations there are in an unenviable state. Would the people who work at Felixstowe welcome this change of allegiance?

I turn now to the situation of the port users. It was rashly said by Labour Members that it would be wrong for a shipping company operating from Felixstowe to be in control of that Dock. Does the same principle apply to the British Rail ports? What about Holyhead and Folkestone? One may well say that what is sauce for the private enterprise goose is sauce for the nationalised gander. Is it a good idea that British Rail should have this monopoly position?

Let us test it this way. European Ferries controls two ports, Larne and Cairnryan. How has it exercised its monopoly position there? It is noticeable that it has admitted one of its most formidable competitors, P & O. If there were any real worry on that score, would the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection have turned down the suggestion by the hon. Member for Ipswich that this matter should be referred to the Monopolies Commission? She sized him up in about the same way as hon. Members will have done this evening.

If any monopoly position is involved in this issue it will be the position of the Docks Board if it acquires the Felixstowe Company, because it will acquire 30 per cent. of the market. Every container port on the East Coast—excluding Harwich, which is not a container port, of course—will be under the control of the Docks Board.

Mr. Ridsdale

Parkeston is a container port too.

Mr. Rees

Then every major container port, leaving aside Parkeston, will be under the control and ownership of the Docks Board. Is a near-monopoly any more healthy if it is public? I doubt it.

I turn now to the question of port expansion, because we are told that the reason why the Felixstowe company has had to bow out is that it has not got access to funds. One understands the position. It is made clear in Mr. Parker's letter to his shareholders. One sympathises with his predicament.

But European Ferries is well able out of its own cash flow, without recourse to the public purse, to finance the developments that are necessary. Hon. Members have made cheap jibes about the company not having paid any tax. It has not paid any tax precisely because it has taken advantage of the capital allowances presumably introduced and left in force by Labour Governments because they wished British shipping to take advantage of them. Is that a legitimate basis of criticism of European Ferries?

It has been admitted by hon. Members opposite that the Docks Board has not paid much tax—I doubt whether it has paid a penny over the last 10 or 12 years. When we look at the sources of capital for Felixstowe for development and maintenance, is it better that the money should be found from the capital market by private enterprise or that the Docks Board should come to this House year after year for greater and greater infusions of capital? I remind the House that £123 million of our money was injected into the Docks Board up to 1972. Do Labour Members want public money to be channelled into hospitals, schools and so on or into Felixstowe when money for Felixstowe could be found far more readily and administered with greater efficiency by a private company? I am unconvinced that the Docks Board could run Felixstowe more efficiently, more cheaply, more competitively or with better labour relations than European Ferries.

We must look for a little reason behind the Bill. Of course, the hon. Member for Leicester, East has no concern in his constituency for the viability of our ports, exception a general sense. I find behind this Bill the urbane but sinister figure of the Minister for Transport. That has come out. We are told that this is too important an asset to be left to free enterprise. Of course, with the laurels of his great victory in the seat belts debate still fresh on his brow, the Minister is now moving in for the kill in another sector. The hammer of the motorist has now become the hammer of the private docks. His greedy hand is hovering over this Naboth's vineyard in East Anglia. I hope that we shall be able to brush that hand aside. He has secured his niche in history, along with his predecessor who introduced the Belisha beacon, as the introducer of the Gilbert seat belt. Let him be satisfied with that and let us reject the Bill tonight.

9.51 p.m.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

In seeking to draw together the threads of the debate I have to declare an interest that will no doubt delight hon. Members who sit below the Gangway. My interest is recorded. It is that I have visited ports in the United Kingdom and Germany by arrangement with the British Transport Docks Board. I found the visits most valuable, and I learnt to respect the Board's management.

We have heard a lot this evening about the dramatic growth of the Felixstowe Dock and Railways Company from its incorporation in 1875 through to the 1950s when it was virtually moribund, with only nine dockers. We have heard about the dramatic growth since then and of the developments that have taken place supported by the twin pillars of dynamic management and private enterprise, reaching out across the North Sea to secure trade. Felixstowe Dock has always had a good pensions scheme, profit-sharing bonuses, life insurance and sick pay at basic rates. These are important. The growth of the dock was a triumph of private enterprise.

We have heard about the threat posed to Felixstowe from both nationalisation and the extension of the Dock Labour Scheme. The Scheme is irrelevant in the context of the thriving and thrusting spirit of Felixstowe's expansion, and its imposition on Felixstowe would undoubtedly dampen the port's competitive edge.

We have heard about the approach by European Ferries. Its offer was better than that of the Docks Board. This has been clearly demonstrated, because the holders of 85 per cent. of the shares of Felixstowe Dock have already accepted European Ferries' offer. The question is whether European Ferries is a worthy operator of a major port. It has an exceptional profit and growth record. Its value on the Stock Exchange is £50 million. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) called it a juggernaut, perhaps not realising that it represents 70,000 shareholders, 70 per cent. of whom are private shareholders and the other 30 per cent. institutions, including the trade unions.

European Ferries' cross-Channel ferries are the most modern in existence. The average age of its ships is five years. The average age of the ships belonging to its main competitor—British Rail Sealink—is 17 years—

Mr. Loyden


Mr. Viggers

Why, indeed? It is a good example of the way that private enterprise can plan and buy modern ships.

European Ferries has a short but excellent record as a port operator at Larne. Since it acquired Larne Harbour in 1973, the work force there and at its associated port at Cairnryan has increased from about 100 to 160. The profits at Larne have trebled, despite the fact that it has some of the lowest port charges in the United Kingdom.

When Larne was acquired by European Ferries it was used by British Rail's Sealink. It is now also used by a P & O subsidiary, which proves that European Ferries will not operate solely for its own benefit and is not frightened by competition. More port activity in Larne means more jobs and prosperity for the area. That is what will happen at Felixtowe.

I have no intention of attacking the British Transport Docks Board. Its return on capital employed is fair. To use the chairman's words in the 1974 report, the return on assets of 7.8 per cent. in 1974 was not discouraging in the un-favourable circumstances that prevailed. But he went on to say that it was clear that if the Board were to be assured of a sound commercial and financial future the rate of return on assets employed must be substantially increased.

It is a fact that the Board benefits from substantial amounts of loan capital, totalling £76 million, which are linked by the Secretary of State for the Environment at a rate of 3.61 per cent. That is £76 million, at approximately 3½ per cent., aiding the profits of the Docks Board. I pay tribute to those who work to achieve results for the Board, but none of these is relevant in the context of deciding which is the better offer for Felixstowe. Such a comparison should be made from the point of view of those concerned.

From the employers' point of view, the European Ferries offer will be better. The British Transport Docks Board has given an undertaking that it will not seek to direct existing traffic away from Felixstowe. No one doubts the good faith of that offer. But it would be contrary to the duty of the Board and of the interests of its other port employees and operators if it were to seek to build up Felixstowe at their expense. However, European Ferries would have the single-minded and whole-hearted determination to build up Felixstowe as rapidly as possible.

From the shareholders' point of view, the offer by European Ferries gives a substantially higher cash value than the other offer. Felixstowe shareholders who have accepted and will accept the European Ferries offer are free to realise more cash than they would have received under the other offer, or they can continue as shareholders in a private enterprise company with a fine growth rate.

The hon. Member for Ipswich indicated that the 15p extra offered by European Ferries could be construed as an inducement to hon. Members to vote the Bill out. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that we can be bought for 15p, I suggest that that shows the breadth of vision of his "Chinese mind ".

From the national point of view, it must be right that the only substantial port in private enterprise ownership should continue to blaze a trail of success and innovation. On every count and from every point of view, the European Ferries offer must be preferred.

This Bill does not call on us, as a legislative body, to judge the comparative

merits of two competitive take-over offers. The better bid has succeeded and European Ferries now owns 85 per cent. of Felixstowe. Events have overtaken the Bill. Instead of permitting the British Transport Docks Board to buy the Felixstowe shares from the original shareholders, the Bill will have the effect of compulsorily wresting the shares from European Ferries. The effect will be a compulsory nationalisation and the Felixstowe company will be wrested from the welcome embrace of European Ferries and thrust into the arms—

Mr. Walter Johnson rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 264, Noes 236.

Division No. 98.] AYES [10.00 p.m.
Allaun, Frank Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Freeson, Reginald
Anderson, Donald Corbett, Robin Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Archer, Peter Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Armstrong, Ernest Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) George, Bruce
Ashley, Jack Crawshaw, Richard Gilbert, Dr John
Ashton, Joe Cronin, John Golding, John
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony Gould, Bryan
Atkinson, Norman Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Gourlay, Harry
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Dalyell, Tam Graham, Ted
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Davidson, Arthur Grant, George (Morpeth)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Grant, John (Islington C)
Bates, Alf Davies, Ifor (Gower) Grocott, Bruce
Bean, R. E. Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Deakins, Eric Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Bidwell, Sydney Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Harper, Joseph
Bishop, E. S. Delargy, Hugh Harrison, Waiter (Wakefield)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Hart, Rt Hon Judith
Boardman, H. Dempsey, James Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Doig, Peter Hayman, Mrs Helene
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Dormand, J. D. Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Douglas-Mann, Bruce Heffer, Eric S.
Bradley, Tom Duffy, A. E. P. Horam, John
Bray, Dr Jeremy Dunn, James A. Howell, Rt Hon Denis
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Dunnett, Jack Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Eadie, Alex Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)
Buchan, Norman Edge, Geoff Hughes, Mark (Durham)
Buchanan, Richard Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) English, Michael Hunter, Adam
Campbell, Ian Ennals, David Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)
Canavan, Dennis Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)
Cant, R. B. Evans, loan (Aberdare) Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)
Carmichael, Neil Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)
Carter, Ray Faulds, Andrew Janner, Greville
Carter-Jones, Lewis Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
Cartwright, John Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Jeger, Mrs Lena
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Flannery, Martin Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)
Clemitson, Ivor Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford)
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) John, Brynmor
Cohen, Stanley Foot, Rt Hon Michael Johnson, James (Hull West)
Coleman, Donald Ford, Ben Jones, Alec (Rhondda)
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Forrester, John Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Concannon, J. D. Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Jones, Dan (Burnlay)
Conlan, Bernard Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Judd, Frank
Kelley, Richard Newens, Stanley Stoddart, David
Kerr, Russell Noble, Mike Stott, Roger
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Oakes, Gordon Strang, Gavin
Lamborn, Harry Ogden, Eric Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Lamond, James Orbach, Maurice Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Ovenden, John Swain, Thomas
Lee, John Park, George Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Parker, John Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Lever, Rt Hon Harold Parry, Robert Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Pavitt, Laurie Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Lipton, Marcus Peart, Rt Hon Fred Tierney, Sydney
Loyden, Eddie Pendry, Tom Tinn, James
Luard, Evan Perry, Ernest Tomlinson, John
Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Phipps, Dr Colin Torney, Tom
Mabon, Or J. Dickson Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Tuck, Raphael
McCartney, Hugh Prescott, John Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
McElhone, Frank Price, C. (Lewisham W) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
McGuire, Michael (Ince) Price, William (Rugby) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Mackenzie, Gregor Radice, Giles Ward, Michael
Maclennan, Robert Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S) Watkins, David
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Richardson, Miss Jo Weetch, Ken
McNamara, Kevin Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Weitzman, David
Madden, Max Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Wellbeloved, James
Magee, Bryan Robinson, Geoffrey White, Frank R. (Bury)
Maguire, Frank (Fermanagh) Roderick, Caerwyn White, James (Pollok)
Mahon, Simon Rodgers, George (Chorley) Whitehead, Phillip
Mallalieu, J. P. W. Rodgers, William (Stockton) Whitlock, William
Marks, Kenneth Rooker, J. W. Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Marquand, David Rose, Paul B. Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Maynard, Miss Joan Rowlands, Ted Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Meacher, Michael Sedgemore, Brian Williams, Sir Thomas
Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Selby, Harry Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Mikardo, Ian Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South) Wilson, Rt Hon H. (Huyton)
Millan, Bruce Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne) Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Shore, Rt Hon Peter Wise, Mrs Audrey
Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford) Woodall, Alec
Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich) Woof, Robert
Molloy, William Silverman, Jullus Wrigglesworth, Ian
Moonman, Eric Skinner, Dennis Young, David (Bolton E)
Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Small, William
Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Snape, Peter TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Spearing, Nigel Mr. Bob Cryer and
Moyle, Roland Spriggs, Leslie Mr. Walter Johnson.
Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Stallard, A. W
Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Adley, Robert Cockcroft, John Glyn, Dr Alan
Altken, Jonathan Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Godber, Rt Hon Joseph
Alison, Michael Cope, John Goodhart, Philip
Arnold, Tom Cormack, Patrick Goodhew, Victor
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Corrie, John Goodlad, Alastair
Baker, Kenneth Costain, A. P. Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)
Banks, Robert Critchley, Julian Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)
Beith, A. J. Crouch, David Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Bell, Ronald Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford) Gray, Hamish
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Griffiths, Eldon
Benyon, W. Dodsworth, Geoffrey Grimond, Rt Hon J.
Berry, Hon Anthony Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Grist, Ian
Biffen, John Drayson, Burnaby Grylls, Michael
Biggs-Davison, John du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Hall, Sir John
Blaker, Peter Durant, Tony Hall-Davis, A. G. F.
Body, Richard Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Hampson, Dr Keith
Bottomley, Peter Elliott, Sir William Hannam, John
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Emery, Peter Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Eyre, Reginald Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss
Braine, Sir Bernard Fairbairn, Nicholas Hastings, Stephen
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Fairgrieve, Russell Havers, Sir Michael
Brotherton, Michael Fell, Anthony Heseltine, Michael
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Finsberg, Geoffrey Hicks, Robert
Bryan, Sir Paul Fisher, Sir Nigel Higgins, Terence L.
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Fletcher-Cooks, Charles Holland, Philip
Buck, Antony Fookes, Miss Janet Hordern, Peter
Budgen, Nick Forman, Nigel Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Bulmer, Esmond Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Howell, David (Guildford)
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Fox, Marcus Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Carlisle, Mark Freud, Clement Hunt, David (Wirral)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Fry, Peter Hurd, Douglas
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Gardiner, George (Reigate) Hutchison, Michael Clark
Clark, William (Croydon S) Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushclitffe) Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) James, David
Clegg, Walter Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)
Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Shepherd, Colin
Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Silvester, Fred
Jopling, Michael Mudd, David Sims, Roger
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Neave, Airey Sinclair, Sir George
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Nelson, Anthony Skeet, T. H. H.
Kershaw, Anthony Neubert, Michael Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Kimball, Marcus Newton, Tony Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Normanton, Tom Speed, Keith
King, Tom (Bridgwater) Noll, John Spence, John
Kitson, Sir Timothy Onslow, Cranley Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Knox, David Oppenheim, Mrs Sally Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Lamont, Norman Page, John (Harrow West) Sproat, lain
Lane, David Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Stanbrook, Ivor
Langford-Holt, Sir John Parkinson, Cecil Stanley, John
Latham, Michael (Melton) Pattie, Geoffrey Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Lawrence, Ivan Percival, Ian Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Lawson, Nigel Pink, R. Bonner Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Le Marchant, Spencer Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch Stradling Thomas, J.
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Price, David (Eastleigh) Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Prior, Rt Hon James Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Loveridge, John Pym, Rt Hon Francis Temple-Morris, Peter
Macfarlane, Nell Raison, Timothy Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
MacGregor, John Rathbone, Tim Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Rees-Davies, W. R. Townsend, Cyril D.
McNalr-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts) Tugendhat, Christopher
Madel, David Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon van Straubenzee, W. R.
Marten, Nell Ridley, Hon Nicholas Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Mather, Carol Ridsdale, Julian Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Maude, Angus Rifkind, Malcolm Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Mawby, Ray Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW) Wall, Patrick
Mayhew, Patrick Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Walters, Dennis
Meyer, Sir Anthony Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Weatherill, Bernard
Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Ross, William (Londonderry) Wells, John
Miscampbell, Norman Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Royle, Sir Anthony Wiggin, Jerry
Moate, Roger Sainsbury, Tim Winterton, Nicholas
Monro, Hector St. John-Stevas, Norman Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Montgomery, Fergus Scott, Nicholas Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
More, Jasper (Ludlow) Scott-Hopkins, James
Morgan, Geraint Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral Shaw, Michael (Scarborough) Mr. Richard Luce and
Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Shelton. William (Streatham) Mr. Peter Viggers.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time and committed.

Postponed proceeding on Question, That this House do now adjourn, resumed.

It being after Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.