§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
We now come to amendment No. 1 with which it will be convenient to take the following amendments:
No. 4, in page 2, line 9, leave out clause 2.
No. 5, in clause 2, page 2, line 13, leave out '£500 million' and insert '£400 million'.
§ Mr. Chope
I regret that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) should have trivialised the important issues that affect the ports industry by rather flippant remarks dressed up as points of order. We had a useful debate on subsidy on new clause 1. I thought that my right hon. Friend's reply met what I said and showed that the Government will not allow unfair discrimination and the subsidy to the ports of London and Liverpool to continue indefinitely. That is good news for Southampton and other scheme ports. I am sorry that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have been inconvenienced by being put through a Division called by Opposition Members when I had made it clear that, in the light of what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had said, I wished to withdraw the new clause.
This group of amendments flow from the new clause. Because of what my right hon. Friend said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendments.
§ Mr. Snape
I rise to speak to the amendments. [Interruption.]. It is normal custom and practice for one hon. Member to speak at a time, except late at night when one or two Conservative Members have had rather a good dinner.
The amendments involve a large element of unfair discrimination and subsidy. The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) has used that phrase himself. From the wording of the amendments—
§ 12 midnight
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) must not speak to amendments which are not before the House. He can move the amendment.
§ Mr. Snape
I had not realised that the hon. Member for Itchen had not moved the amendment. What he said for 41 minutes bore no resemblance to what he did when the new clause standing in his name was put before the House. If the hon. Gentleman has not yet moved the amendments, for the purpose of discussing the amendments, I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 8, at end insert'other than those registered with the Port of London Authority and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company'.May I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether it is in order to debate amendment No. 2 with amendment No. 1, or whether you wish me to debate them separately?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are out of order. The hon. Gentleman or another hon. Gentleman can move amendment No. 1, and amendments Nos. 4 and 5 may be discussed with it.
§ Mr. Snape
I am appalled that the hon. Member for Itchen tabled amendments Nos. 2 and 3 which have been ruled out of order. Given his pretended expertise, I should have thought that he would have taken proper advice before tabling them. When the amendments are put to the vote, I reserve the right to demand a separate vote on amendments Nos. 4 and 5, although we may debate all three amendments together.
I denounce the appalling discrimination behind the amendments, which the hon. Gentleman did not have the courage to move. We heard a wholly unjustified tirade against the employees of the ports of London and Liverpool. Prejudice against those employees lies directly behind the tabling of the amendments. I move amendment No. 1 merely to discuss it.
The amendments seek to exclude from the nationally agreed scheme the employees of the Port of London Authority and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. In an earlier speech, the hon. Gentleman left the House in no doubt about his feelings about the employees of those two ports. Indeed, he was most outspoken about what he saw as their appalling strike record. He spoke of what he termed their appallingly low productivity, and sought to compare what he termed as inefficient and incompetent employees of those ports with the super-efficient employees of the port of Southampton.
Given the opinion polls and the results of the county council elections, I well understand that a Conservative majority of about 5,000 does not allow one to rest easy in one's bed, and that the hon. Gentleman would have to portray himself to his electorate as a great defender of their 283 interests and a proud advocate of the working practices in the port of Southampton. However, that is no excuse for his earlier attack on the employees of Liverpool and London, nor for the tabling of the amendment, which seeks to perpetuate those wholly unproven and unjustified allegations. Again I refer to the hon. Member who used to represent Anglesey. As an Englishman I would not even attempt to pronounce his present constituency. He assured me that the hon. Member for lichen spoke for no less than 41 minutes. I hope that, now that I have moved the amendment on his behalf, the hon. Gentleman will attempt to justify the allegations that he made. Without repeating any of my earlier points about the fortunate geographical location of the port of Southampton compared with the other two ports, I must say that such attacks are completely unjustified.
Indeed, given the complexity of the scheme, it is completely unnecessary for the hon. Gentleman to make such an attack, because the winding up of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company and its exclusion from the scheme is nothing new. As long ago as 1970, in the brave new world of Selsdon man, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who was then Prime Minister, decided that the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board was bankrupt and, therefore, should go to the wall sooner rather than later. Common sense prevailed, and even the Government of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, in their fairly Right-wing days—the Secretary of State for Transport was a fairly junior member of it—saw the folly of what they were trying to do and introduced legislation to bail out the port of Liverpool.
The fact that we are debating a similar matter tonight shows that the brave Right-wing rhetoric of the Conservative party soon melts away when it is faced with electoral reality. We saw that phenomenon in the speech of the hon. Member for lichen on new clause 1. In 1972, the House was asked for the first time, but certainly not for the last, to vote considerable sums of money in loans and grants for the preservation of jobs and the infrastructure of the port of Liverpool. The Bill is not unusual; indeed, a similar Bill was debated only about two years ago.
To try to exclude those ports from the benefits of the scheme is blatantly unfair. The Secretary of State—
§ Mr. Snape
I am not giving way, so the hon. Gentleman had better sit down or he will be ruled out of order. If he wishes to speak to the amendments that stand in his name, he should have had the guts to get to his feet and do so at the appropriate time. He could have done so when you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, called the amendments immediately after the Division—a Division in which he did not have the guts to vote—and I have no intention of giving way to him.
§ Mr. Snape
I have no intention of giving way to the hon. Gentleman. I could not possibly cast aspersions on his character, because I would not know him if he walked 284 into the Chamber, or even walked out of the Chamber, as he is doing now. The aspersions that the hon. Gentleman cast on the employees of those two ports were little short of deplorable.
For once, the Secretary of State and I are at one, because we both wish to guarantee the future of those two ports. He and I are. in our respective ways, anxious to ensure that the ports of Liverpool and London prosper, although it is an expensive business to guarantee, if not their prosperity, their continuation. The provisions of the scheme could extend far beyond the two ports that the amendment seeks to exclude.
As I said earlier, it is largely a matter of luck rather than judgment, of geographical location rather than productivity and of fortune rather than working practices that has brought some prosperity, not without much anguish, particularly in Southampton. It is clear that ill fortune has frowned on the ports of London and Liverpool. I hope that, in the more measured atmosphere that we now find ourselves, it will be possible to elicit from the Secretary of State some further concrete guarantees about the future of these two ports.
I assure the Secretary of State that if it becomes necessary, at some unspecified time in the future, for him to come to the House to ask for a further tranche of public money to fund the scheme in London and Liverpool Labour Members, albeit with a little light banter, will be delighted to support him. Although the support from Tory Benches may melt away, I assure him that, whatever the time of day or night, if jobs at Liverpool, London, or any other port, within the scheme or outside it, are affected, provided that he comes to the House properly to request that money, the Opposition can guarantee not only our support but our presence.
§ Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)
I do not intend to keep the House long, but I am somewhat puzzled I have been trying to follow the amendments and compare them with what has happened to Tory Members. I have listened to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) with interest, as I always do. As usual, I found his arguments cogent and reasonable. However, I cannot understand why certain Tory Members want to leave out references to the London and Mersey docks. Nor can I understand why they want to leave out clause 2, because if that were put to the vote and carried, the whole scheme would collapse. Nor can I understand where they get the figure of £100 million in the reduction that they propose in amendment No. 5.
It might seem odd that I, as a Member representing a Tyneside constituency, bearing in mind the interest of the Tyneside docks, should be speaking against amendments that would allow more money to come to Tyneside, because that is the import of amendments Nos. 4 and 5, if carried. However, I have a problem. I do not know why the hon. Members who tabled the amendments moved amendment No. 1. I have no clue. They sought to withdraw it before it was moved. If there is a problem with London and Merseyside, they should let the House know what it is. However, we have not had the benefit of the analysis of hon. Members who have tabled the amendment. It was only my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East who pushed the amendment so that we could discuss this fact. I cannot see any of the hon. Members who tabled the amendments here. Inceecl, I cannot see many Tory Members at all.
285 It is an abuse of the House to table an amendment, and then abandon it as this one has been. Some of the signatories have made use of the amendment to get a bit of cheap publicity, but where are they tonight to explain its purpose? I deplore the way in which this has been done. It is not within the best traditions or principles of this House for it to be dealt with in this way. I should dearly like to know what was in the minds of those Conservative Members who laid this amendment. They might have had a point which some Opposition Members would have been able to understand. We have not been given the opportunity to hear their argument since they have chosen to abandon it.
I hope that the amendment will not be pushed to a vote. If it is, I fear that, since no arguments have been advanced in its favour, it will suffer the fate that it so richly deserves.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes Nil, Noes 74.
§ Question accordingly negatived286 12.26 am
§ Mr. Snape
The House will be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that little burst of oratory, even at this time of the morning. Of course, it would be remiss of us to allow the Bill to pass without a few comments.
If anything illustrates the weakness of the leave-it-to-the-market view, it is the Bill. We are debating the disbursement of about £500 million of public money. It is a somewhat poignant figure, because it is about the same amount as the country spends on subsidising buses each year. To save £500 million of subsidy for buses, the right hon. Gentleman has spent considerable time in Committee, and provoked considerable political controversy from one end of the country to the other. Yet here we are debating the Third Reading of a Bill that involves the same amount of money, and on which the right hon. Gentleman has resisted amendments from his hon. Friends who sought to reduce that £500 million to what they considered to be a more reasonable figure. That is a somewhat unusual, if not invidious position, for the right hon. Gentleman. It is the result of the lack of an overall ports policy since the Government were elected in 1979. Indeed, the cynic would say that the lack of policy on ports has bedevilled the Conservative party since the early 1970s.
If the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends will not put these pointed questions, it is for us to do so. Although we agree with the expenditure of public money on ports, we feel that we have a duty to discharge. We must ask the relevant question about expenditure. The first and obvious question is whether the right hon. Gentleman will return next year, or even before, and say that the Government have been blown off course, things have gone wrong in the ports industry and there will be even more redundancies. Will he ask for an even greater amount of public money for that area? In short, will he be back again next year seeking to chuck even more money at that deep-rooted and, in many ways, grave problem of redundancies and the future of dockers and port workers throughout the country, but especially at the scheme ports?
§ Mr. McWilliam
I do not wish to imply that I am in any way opposed to the Bill, because I am not. Will my hon. Friend put another question to the right hon. Gentleman? Does he still believe in competition?
§ Mr. Snape
Valid though that intervention is, I have some other questions to put to the right hon. Gentleman. I hope to elicit some answers from him. I might even start answering for the right hon. Gentleman the question that my hon. Friend has put. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman agrees with competition, like many of his predecessors in that office. Under a Conservative Government he stumps the country advocating the principles of captialism and competition, if that is not a contradiction. Occasionally reality must intrude and it is necessary for him to don his other hat as Secretary of State and say to the House of Commons, "Capitalism is not working and it is necessary to find some public money to assist those in the scheme ports who regrettably have to be made redundant"—I am using his words even though one cannot see the bubble emanating from his mouth. He may say, "Regrettably it is necessary to persuade even 287 more dockers to leave the industry. Therefore, I must come before the House of Commons to ask for a further transfer of public money."
Conservatism is a strange policy and philosophy. As we can see from the legislation proposed by a Conservative Government, it does not work. It is strange policy for an avowedly Right-wing Secretary of State to come to the House to ask for this £500 million and to say that basically most of this money is intended as a loan against the redundancy pay of dockers in various scheme ports. Although he may not say so, we know that the burden of maintaining those dockers and their families will remain with the state because, once they have been made redundant, they will become eligible for state benefits. We shall pay twice. It is a strange form of capitalism although I am used to strange forms of capitalism emerging from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Loyden
Does my hon. Friend agree that we have a degree of sympathy for the Secretary of State? Having served with him on the Committee considering the Dock Work Regulation act 1976, and knowing how vociferously and adamantly he presented the argument against the national dock labour scheme, we now see him doing at least half a U-turn to maintain what were once the two major ports in the country. Probably he was a little afraid of the voices from his own Back Bench tonight that argued constantly for bankrupting the ports of Liverpool and London. I wonder how long the Secretary of State will be able to resist such demands from his Back Benches.
§ Mr. Snape
My hon. Friend has put his finger on a great dilemma that faces the Secretary of State. When the Conservatives are in opposition the answers are easy. They revert to the policies, philosophies and ideologies of the market place, which lead to some distortions, but by and large when in opposition the Conservative party would say that they work and that any Government interference or attempt to inject public money is to be regretted, if not deplored.
That is the philosophy of the Conservatives when in opposition. When in Government, reality frequently intrudes into that myth and it becomes necessary, even for this Secretary of State, to promote legislation such as this and, no matter how distasteful, to advocate the expenditure of substantial sums of public money.
I cannot answer my hon. Friend's question about how long the right hon. Gentleman will be able to defend the ports of Tilbury and Liverpool from the predators who sit on the Benches behind him. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will answer that because it is a justifiable question, because although Conservative Back Benchers failed to pursue their amendments to a Division, they left the House in no doubt about their detestation of a further tranche of public money being directed towards those two ports.
We cannot tell, therefore, for how long the right hon. Gentleman will be able to resist that pressure from his hon. Friends. Indeed, I know not whether he has been under pressure from his former colleagues at the Treasury. After all, one would have thought that the expenditure of £500 million of public money would have been resisted vociferously by Treasury Ministers. Given the right hon. Gentleman's track record, one would have thought that while he might not agree with his former masters at the Treasury, he would have a degree of sympathy for them in their endless pursuit of savings in the public sector.
288 I like to give the right hon. Gentleman credit when I can. As I said earlier, the need for him to advocate what might be regarded as Socialist policies must be distasteful to him. Tonight he must stand before us and say, "Regrettably, yet again the system has fallen apart and the philosophy of the market place has been found wanting. I have had to knock on the door of the Treasury and ask for £500 million to dispense in the area covered by the Bill." Whatever hon. Members on either side of the House feel about the right hon. Gentleman, we must be touched by the thought of this somewhat sad figure having to go through that exercise.
§ Mr. McWilliam
Does my hon. Friend consider it strange that while the Secretary of State is proposing to increase from £360 million to £500 million the level of financial assistance, he is, under clauses 3 and 4, seeking to withdraw himself from any real control of the expenditure of that public money? I thought that the Conservatives were keen on accountability.
§ Mr. Snape
My hon. Friend amply illustrates the incompetence of Ministers in the present Government in relation to the spending of public money. The House has spent a considerable amount of time, and some of us spent a great deal of time in Committee, discussing how money is disbursed by local authorities. Conservative Members left us in no doubt as to their views about that. They believed that some authorities— including, coincidentally, the top-tier authorities of London and Liverpool--were guilty of gross misspending. I think that that is a fair summary of the Conservative view on the Local Government Bill. Yet the expenditure under discussion today is a very imprecise science indeed.
As far back as 1981, the then the Secretary' of State for Transport—the right hon. Member for Sutton Cold field (Mr. Fowler)—was responsible for the Ports (Financial Assistance) Act which empowered the Government to make up to £160 million available to London and Liverpool by way of grant. At that time, the then Secretary of State said that that was the end of the road and that there would be no further advances for those ports.
Within a year, however, the Transport Finance Act 1982 raised that figure to £360 million. Admittedly, there had been a change of Secretary of State. By then, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield had gone on to seek fame if not fortune as Secretary of State for Social Services, but the new Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), sang a pretty similar tune. On that occasion, too, the House was assured that that amount would suffice for the scheme.
Whatever one's view of the characters of the two previous Secretaries of State, one would have thought that from a purely monetarist standpoint their diligence and desire to reduce public expenditure would be vastly exceeded by the hard Right-wing monetarist views of the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). Yet within three years he has sought to increase the £360 million, which his predecessor assured us was the final payment, to a new limit of £500 million? When it comes to talking about money, one just cannot trust anyone in the Government nowadays.
§ Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)
Does my hon. Friend agree that because the Government keep upping the ante many dockers will not accept this as a final figure either? Does he agree that they are likely to wait for the next round 289 of increases in the hope that more money will be available rather than accept what is now on offer, especially as taxi rounds and shops which eventually go bankrupt cost more and more on Merseyside?
§ Mr. Snape
My hon. Friend illustrates the scale of the dilemma in which the Government now find themselves. Lacking any national ports plan, the Government have spent years trying to bribe dockers and registered port workers to take redundancy, with the result that people in London and Liverpool especially do not believe that this is the end of the road, and who can blame them? Given the deplorable lack of consistency shown by successive Ministers in a Right-wing Conservative Government the average docker in London or Liverpool is most unlikely to say, "Well, this is it, lads—we had better take the money and run because this time they really mean it." The House deserves some assurances from the Secretary of State that this really is his last demand for more public money to be spent in this way — although of course, Labour Members are the first to agree that if it is necessary for people to lose their jobs under the scheme it is right that they should be compensated.
§ Mr. Roberts
Are the Government aware of the law of diminishing returns? There is a limit to the number of taxi drivers who can drive unemployed dockers, to the number of those who take redundancy money and buy shops to serve the unemployed who have only their redundancy money and to the number who can take redundancy money and run public houses to serve those who are living on redundancy money. Unemployment levels are such on Merseyside that if someone takes redundancy money he will be unable to buy a business to which any customers will come.
§ Mr. Snape
My hon. Friend has underestimated the ingenuity of the Secretary of State. For all my hon. Friend's ingenuity, he has failed to recognise an area in which those who have accepted redundancy payments can invest their money. The Government have introduced a Bill to save the £500 million of public money that we shall spend under the Bill. Under the Transport Bill, it will be possible for redundant dockers, provided that they have sufficient money, to buy a bus and operate a bus service. They will be able to cater for redundant dockers in pubs. Others will be able to drive redundant dockers in taxis. They will be able to drive redundant dockers in their search for new small businesses, or for work that does not exist, in buses that they have purchased with the lump sums available under the Bill. They will be free to apply for licences and obtain them under the terms of another piece of legislation for which the Secretary of State is responsible and to which I do not wish to refer in any detail this evening.
There is a lack of national direction. If we had not had a general election in 1983, the Labour Government would have created a national docks authority. That would have provided us with the opportunity sensibly to organise capacity throughout the ports. Under this Government we have a system whereby non-scheme ports are encouraged to proliferate and scheme ports are undermined because of a lack of central policy. Under the terms of the Bill, millions of pounds of public money will be disbursed in redundancy payments while millions of pounds from the 290 same source are being expended on infrastructure, including roads to non-scheme ports. The Secretary of State is known if not loved for his eccentricity, but even against that background the Government are pursuing a strange and expensive philosophy. They choose to pay off those who work in scheme ports while spending as much money in improving the infrastructure of the non-scheme ports and building them up.
The philosophy of the Secretary of State is to up the subsidies and scrap controls, which leaves us with the worst of both worlds. Perhaps that is a fitting commentary on the right hon. Gentleman's attempts to ruin public tranport industries since the unfortunate date when he was appointed Secretary of State for Transport.
§ Mr. Loyden
My hon. Friend will recognise that besides the medicine that is being offered for the scheme ports there is a poisoned chalice in clause 6, which will give virtually a free hand to the non-scheme ports to develop and extend their activities. That will be done only at the expense of scheme ports. The haemorrhaging of the scheme ports will continue as a result of clause 6.
§ Mr. Snape
That was the point that I was seeking to make. Public money is being devoted to building up the non-scheme ports while at the same time we are being forced by the Bill to stump up public money towards the redundancy payments of those employed in the scheme ports.
We are not merely discussing Liverpool and London, however important are those ports and their preservation. There are problems throughout the scheme ports. Cries of anguish and pleas for help are aimed at the Government. May I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the Tuesday 7 May issue of the Journal of Commerce and Freighting World, which is not an especially Left-wing newspaper? Under the headline:State aid plea for River Clydethe article said that a plea for Government assistance for funding maintenance dredging of the river Clyde in a bid to safeguard jobs in local industries had been made by the port boss. In his statement in the Clyde Port Authority's annual report, its Chairman Robert Easton was reported as saying that the cost of dredging in relation to the diminished level of trade in Glasgow continued to cause concern. He was said to be firmly of the view that central Government should directly contribute to that cost. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman agrees with that view, but it is one that is common throughout the scheme ports. If that plea for assistance to dredge the river Clyde is not answered there will be a further decline of the Clyde and no doubt that decline will be accelerated by the policy of moving containerised traffic from Scotland to ports such as Felixstowe.
As long as we have that illogical "hands off the non-scheme ports" approach by the Government, too much container capacity, and an apparent desire by the Government to create more container capacity outside the scheme ports, the right hon. Gentleman will presumably continue to come before the House year after year to beg for a further injection of public funds. The "pay up and hands off' approach contained in the Bill typifies the right hon. Gentleman's all too often muddled philosophy.
As I tried to show when I described the problems faced by the river Clyde, playing off a scheme port such as the Clyde against a non-scheme port such as Felixstowe 291 merely involves the nation in the expenditure of a great deal of public money. It does nothing for any coherent ports plan or to boost the prospects for the British economy. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. Are we to have a national ports policy or are we to have Secretaries of State for Transport continually coming to the House to say, "The policies of the past 12 months have not worked. We must seek another cash injection."? The Secretary of State should devote his reply to those points. No hon. Member would wish to see the right hon. Gentleman next year again under attack by his colleagues and again seeking the protection of those of us in the Opposition who happen to be interested in the preservation of jobs and the creation of a national ports council.
It is fortunate that those Conservative Members who made such warlike noises a couple of hours ago proved to have more wind than stamina, because it could have been embarrassing for the Secretary of State had some of us on the Opposition side of the Chamber not been around to protect him.
We do not oppose the Bill. Regrettably, it is necessary. We warn the Government that there is no point in saying day after day that public expenditure is inherently wicked when they are creating increased public expenditure by not having a national policy or by having, in some cases, ill-thought-out competition between ports in certain categories. The Secretary of State has been fortunate so far in receiving the support of Labour Members, but, unless he is more persuasive, he might have a great deal of difficulty in persuading his colleagues about the necessity for similar legislation.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
As I said on Second Reading, I do not oppose the Bill. My reason is encapsulated in the comments that I would have made on Report. if I had intervened, during the contribution of the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope). It would have been folly for a series of Governments to invest in an attempt to restructure the port industry —specifically specifically London, but also Merseyside — and then suddenly find, when there was a prospect of everything coming to life again, that the taps were turned off so that industry fell flat as an investment. That would have wasted the investment of years.
Not many weeks ago the House passed a Bill which was equally related to financing England's dockland areas the New Towns and Urban Development Corporations Bill. We substantially increased the amounts of money that the urban development corporations in London and Liverpool docks were to receive—to £400 million and £800 million respectively. On Second Reading, the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State said that the ceiling of financial assistance provided in the Bill was necessary because a promise was given and a scheme was established. As more and more people leave the dock labour scheme they have to be paid at the same rate as they were led to believe they would always be paid. One cannot break one's word nine tenths of the way through a deal. The increased provisions should be used to provide a regeneration in the ports which, because of their differing histories and circumstances, need the industry and are suitable in many ways for the necessary adaptation to the technological revolution. We cannot go back to the old style of port or trade. Trade has moved on, and we accept that. I have to ask the Secretary of State, as I asked his 292 colleague on Second Reading, whether we can get more than just the gleam of hope or glimpse of the vision referred to in reply to the questions that I raised on Second Reading. We need some clear and decisive answers as to how we bring hack the trade to the ports and up the rivers, particularly in this, our capital city.
It would be ludicrous if we did not seek to use the moneys that the Bill and the New Towns and Urban Development Corporations Act of this year provide by way of borrowing and funding to maximise what must be a great opportunity in the new containerised trade for either the port of London or part of the river further down the estuary, and capture trade from our competitors elsewhere. It is not trade that we need take from other ports on the east or west coast, but trade that we can take from ports on the other side of the North sea and the English Channel, to which we have been losing trade for a variety of reasons.
There are specific questions related to increasing the advantages for the private wharves as well as wharves that remain in my part of London, nearest to the Pool of London. They should be considered positively and urgently by the Government. I have not decried the ideas that have emerged since 1981, when the development corporation was set up. It is one of the areas that could produce something. It has not done so yet. I ask the Secretary of State and his colleagues to see to it that they continue their obligation, which they and previous Governments undertook to uphold, to the mass of' people who put their backs, years and lives into building up and sustaining our port industry through the blitz as well as times of peace. Those people now have to be relocated elsewhere, and a commitment is made to them in the Bill.
However, we need more than just a commitment to pay off those people; we need a commitment that the moneys that the Government invest will be invested to provide jobs anew for people with skills and the willingness to contribute to the rebuilding of industry in the areas now deserted by the industry that they knew and to which they wanted to contribute.
I look to the Government to do more in seeking ways to do that. I am sure that colleagues from other parties as well as mine will say that Merseyside needs help. Both Liverpool and London need continued incentives for employment, using the enormous skills that the people have.
§ Mr. Loyden
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, which is relevant to the Bill. Had alternative employment and training been available in the ports of London and Liverpool, the transition from the old method of dock working to the new technology would have been virtually painless, and would have been embraced by the people who worked in those ports. Sadly, that was not so. It has been a painful experience.
§ Mr. Hughes
I accept that entirely. In many ways, it is almost too late. However, it is just not quite too late.
I should like to end with this sombre warning. In London and Liverpool we have relied in large measure on transport for our jobs— not just in the docks, bur. in related industries, such as haulage and the warehousing that relates the two. Not only have we lost the industry from the ports and the docks in areas of London such as mine, as well as in Merseyside, but a substantial part of the remaining related transport industries is being pulled 293 away from us. Perhaps it is good for the silicon vallleys, the M25s and some employers that the haulage industries move away. But we cannot have the transport industries drained from us without having something to substitute.
I ask that the Secretary of State for Transport perceives more clearly the need for transport industries still to play a major role in the British economy. They have always been important. If we lose that sector of industry, we shall lose something which, in all probability, we shall not recover. It would mean not only many lost jobs but an enormous amount of lost opportunities for those who now have skills, and who are willing to learn and adapt those skills to apply them to our nation's wealth in the years and decades ahead.
§ 1.5 am
§ Mr. Ridley
The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) has not done his homework on the Bill. He said that it provides for £500 million. It does not. It is £150 million, not £500 million of new money, increasable by order to £180 million. He has missed the first and most elementary point about the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman also said that the Transport Bill is intended to save money. He obviously has not read that Bill either. There are no financial clauses in that Bill with such an effect. Its purpose is to improve the use of money that is spent.
The hon. Gentleman said that the Bill enables loans to be made to various dock undertakings. Again I must correct him; it makes grants. He said that a docker who lost his job as a result, sadly, of redundancy immediately went on social security. People with £25,000 of capital are not eligible for social security. That is the extent of the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of the subjects about which he wasted a considerable amount of the House's time today.
§ Mr. Ridley
I have not given way. I shall be delighted to give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I shall do so when I feel like it, not when he feels like it.
§ Mr. Ridley
It is nice to hear the hon. Gentleman grovelling I imagine that he could not read the writing of his superior, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who clearly had written his speech. I am sorry that her writing is so bad that he cannot get his facts right when he is brought in for a Bill at, I admit, very short notice. This is the first time that the hon. Gentleman has had anything to do with the Bill, as is clear from his performance.
I shall not come back to the House next year for a further Bill such as this. I have no difficulty in persuading my hon. Friends who voted for the Second Reading and who will vote for the Third Reading if so required and did not vote for the amendments. Only the hon. Gentleman called for Divisions on the amendments. I am in no trouble, but it seems that the hon. Gentleman might be because he could not get anyone to vote when he called a Division. Any support that the hon. Gentleman might have in his party has not been in evidence tonight.
§ Mr. McWilliam
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has noticed that the amendments on which my hon. Friend called a Division were signed by Conservative Members, with the exception of one hon. Lady.
§ Mr. McWilliam
We called a Division to enable Conservative Members who might have felt that they had a problem with the Bill to record that problem. Their failure to do so is a matter for them, not for my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. I hope that we shall not hark back to amendments which we have already discussed. We are now on Third Reading.
§ Mr. Ridley
I was also hoping that. If we are to discuss who put their name on the Order Paper, including the hon. Lady for the unpronounceable valley, we may get into considerable trouble. Most of the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who put their names to the blocking motion on Third Reading are not present. I assume that their names are there by mistake. May I withdraw the names of the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and so on because I have it on good authority that they did not mean to put their names to the motion? Anyone can play at that game.
The hon. Members for Liverpool. Garston (Mr. Loyden) and for West Bromwich, East said that a ports policy would make life difficult both until now and in future. When the Labour Government were in power from 1974 to 1979 there were 57 applications for investment permission under the Harbours Act 1964. They turned down two of them, one of which was simply for a fishing boat harbour and required 85 per cent. subsidy, and the other 55 were accepted. The net effect of their having the powers, which they now regret losing, was to stop one harbour development, thereby preventing a few people from getting jobs. That is a planned ports policy, as administered by a Labour Government during five years of office. The net result was to prevent jobs from being created at one port. Therefore, I simply do not know what is the point of the hon. Gentleman's criticism of the Government's port policy.
§ Mr. Loyden
Does the Secretary of State agree that the important point was the limit on the sums that could be spent, which prohibited ports from making a major development? Most of that money was used for capital equipment rather than for the extension of the ports.
§ Mr. Ridley
The Act provided that investments above a certain size had to be approved. The only way in which the powers can be used is by not approving those investments, thereby reducing port developments and the number of jobs created. If the Labour party thinks that a negative control of that sort will solve the problems with which we are grappling in the ports industry, it must think again.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) regretted, as does the Labour party, the fact that trade changes. It changes for 100 different reasons. It changes principally for technological reasons, but also for reasons of trade, geography, and the alteration of the type of business carried by ships. Obviously it is sad and regrettable when trade leaves a port. However, it is almost inevitable that it will move from the pool of London and narrow river harbours of the sort that front the hon. Gentleman's constituency. It is not good enough to say that somehow the Government must bring back trade, especially to Bermondsey and Southwark. It is hopeless and unrealistic to suggest that, on Third Reading and wholly out of order, I can announce a policy to bring back trade, which may have vanished 50 years ago from wharves in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. That may be good vote winning stuff, but the hon. Gentleman must do better than that.
§ Mr. Ridley
No. I said that I would not give way again. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, through flexibility, competition and private capital, we have seen the growth of continental ports such as Rotterdam and Antwerp. That has not happened because of a planned ports policy or nationalised state capital. It has not happened because of wishing that the Government would bring back the trade. It has happened because a long time ago those countries followed policies similar to those of the present British Government.
Rotterdam probably handles as much trade as all the United Kingdom ports put together, and it employs 4,100 dockers. Britain still employs 12,000 registered dockers. That is why we need the Bill, and I hope that the House will give it a Third Reading.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill read the Third time, and passed.