§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Debate on Second Reading resumed.
§ LORD HOBSON
My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, for his clear and interesting exposition of this very complicated and lengthy Harbours Bill. I want, first of all, to raise the question of dry docks. It is rather significant that within the Rochdale Report there are long references to the dry docks, but no provision is made within the Bill for providing dry docks within our ports and for financing them. Rochdale made at great length the point that, by comparison with modern European and American countries, we are very short of adequate dry dock facilities. This seems something that ought to be put right quickly, and it is rather strange that there is no reference to this within this Bill. I should be grateful for an explanation from the noble Lord.
We are pleased on this side of the House that the noble Lord has intima- 1160 ted that an Amendment is to be moved to deal with the problem of redundancy. That is something my Party advocated in another place, and we are grateful that the noble Lord is going to produce an Amendment dealing with compensation for people declared redundant in the reorganisation scheme. We on this side of the House support the Bill and we shall do all we can to facilitate its passage during the remaining stages. That does not mean to say that we shall not move Amendments in order, as we see it, to make the Bill better and more effective; but I hasten to assure your Lordships that our Amendments will be constructive, methodical and certainly forthright.
As the noble Lord has said, this is a very large Bill: it has 61 Clauses and there are six Schedules. It follows the recommendations of the Rochdale Committee which are accepted by both sides. So there is no question of controversy in this Bill at all. It is just a question of both sides of your Lordships' House getting together to make it more workmanlike and effective. The noble Lord has already expressed thanks to Lord Rochdale for his lucid and comprehensive Report and the splendid analysis of the docks industry; and I am sure it must be an added pleasure that the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, is a Member of your Lordships' House. We are also pleased on this side that Lord Rochdale found it possible to become the new chairman of the Ports Council.
We are forced by this Bill to deal with the legacies of the past. Having been the first industrialised nation, many of our installations are now hopelessly outdated and do not fulfil modern requirements. We must face the fact that it is going to involve this nation in very considerable capital expenditure. We are also grateful that, under the Bill, noble Lords opposite have accepted the principle of planning. This is the first time we have had a measure dealing with docks which is providing for planned dock facilities and developments in this country. For far too long "planning" has been an ugly word, and we of the Labour Party were often denounced for advocating planning after 1945. We are, therefore, pleased that noble Lords opposite and members of their Party in another place have come round to accepting our premise that if we are 1161 going to have an efficient industry we must have planning, whether it be national or private.
I have already said that tremendous leeway has to be made up; and I think those of your Lordships who have visited Rotterdam and the new Europa Port, and have seen Antwerp and Hamburg, will appreciate the tremendous effort that we, as a nation, must make in order to bring our port facilities up to date. Paradoxically, the reconstruction of these large European ports was facilitated by their destruction by the enemy. Now they have been rebuilt and, in my submission, from the point of view of equipment, they are the most modern ports in the world.
The first seven clauses of this Bill, as the noble Lord has said, set up the National Ports Council and define its duties. The consequence of this is that, for the first time, we are to have planned development of our ports according to the needs of our nation. Development is no longer going to be pragmatic; it is no longer going to depend on whether a company or municipality have sufficient resources to raise the capital to develop their particular ports. Now we are to have the whole of the nation considered for port development in relation to location and to trade needs.
My first observation on these first seven clauses is that we are concerned that the Ports Council which is to be set up will have among its members representatives of dock labour as well as dock employers. We feel that dock labour, as such, should be represented; and, of course, there must naturally be among the Ports Council people of proven industrial merit. My idea of an effective board is one that will contain representatives who are functional, who know their jobs, who are representatives of labour engaged in that industry; and I believe that quite a large percentage of the total board should be people with wide industrial knowledge who have made their way in life and can bring to bear sound common sense on decisions.
We should also like the noble Lord, when he comes to reply, to tell us how many members of the new National Ports Council are to be full-time and how many part-time. There is obviously to be a full-time chairman and deputy chairman; but it seems to me that there ought to be a large number of the Council 1162 —and there are only eleven at maximum—who are full-time, in view of the magnitude of the task of having to plan development, and also because the distances between the various ports will involve a large amount of travel.
We feel that Clause 3, which the noble Lord dealt with and which concerns training and education, is commendable. It will enable a docker to receive the training which will enable him, if he so desires and if he be adequately qualified, to rise to the top. There is always a danger in industry, in my experience, that promotion for the manual worker stops half-way. This clause makes it certain that, should a docker qualify, he can proceed to even the highest effective position in the managerial ranks. I believe that this is the first time we have had a Government Bill in which this is actually written down.
I think that at this stage it would be pertinent to pay tribute to the work of the National Dock Labour Board training scheme. The Board set up this scheme in advance of the Industrial Training Act, which was before your Lordships' House a few weeks ago, and they have been very successful in their training of new dockers as they come into the industry. I should think that what will happen is that some of the bright men who received their original training in the Dock Labour Board schemes will pass to further education and provide the "sergeants" who will eventually become the "generals" in this industry.
Obviously, we accept the provision in Clause 8 for the presentation to Parliament of report and accounts, but I wonder whether we might consider going a little further. The present position is, that we cannot question a Minister on the annual report and accounts of any nationalised industry. I have always thought that that was drawing things a little too far. I remember raising this matter with two previous Prime Ministers, and whilst they viewed my contention sympathetically, they did not give way. I do not believe in interference by question and answer in the day-to-day management of any industry, whether nationalised or private, but this question of the degree of the accountability of nationalised concerns is something 1163 which both Houses of Parliament will have to consider sooner or later. So far as the other place is concerned, only six days are allocated for the discussion of the reports and accounts of the nationalised industries and, of course, it is always those which are most contentious, or where there has been a strike or shortages, which are most discussed. Therefore, it seems to me that, in future, consideration will have to be given to the accountability of these large public and semi-public organisations.
Clause 9 deals with the control of harbour development. This is to be achieved by the central control of national port investment. This, of course, is essential and we accept it without any reservations. Otherwise, if it is going to be left to the individual port authorities, there would be a useless duplication of capital expenditure. One can point to occasions at various ports when this has already happened. The Government and the Ports Council can take into consideration the location of industry.
This ports development is to be laid down by way of orders in Parliament subject to the Negative Resolution procedure. Why not the Affirmative Resolution procedure? We are faced with a fait accompli if a port is closed down or developed, when we have the Negative Resolution procedure. It seems to me far better that this should be in the form of an Affirmative Resolution before action is taken. Frankly, the longer I live and am associated with Parliament, the more suspicious I am of the Negative Resolution procedure.
Here I think it is relevant to deal with the capital sum for the development of our ports, which is to be between £50 and £100 million "to fit them for their responsibilities for fifty years", to quote the Minister in another place. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, put on another 30 and said, "80 years". I want to ask two questions on this. First of all, is this sum large enough? Secondly, are the ports going to receive an adequate share of the national "cake"? I doubt it very much. After all, £100 million in 50 years is £2 million a year. One does not get so very much maritime engineering for £2 million nowadays. And this is a very urgent task for this country. 1164 If it is going to survive and to be preeminent as a trading nation, it has to have up-to-date ports.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I want to follow the noble Lord's argument properly. He is dividing the sum available into fifty years, but he is misled. I said 15 to 20 years, and not 50 to 80 years.
§ LORD HOBSON
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord. I put down 80, but I must have misheard him. I accept his statement. But, coming back to the argument, I doubt very much whether the amount of capital to be provided is adequate. I know the difficulty. We on this side are not stupid enough to say that there are millions of pounds available for the development of every industry. We know pretty well what the national "cake" is, and the amount of capital available. It is a question of which industries are going to get a share—and it largely boils down to the question of what the nationalised industries are going to get. I went before several Cabinet Committees, during the time that my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth was a Minister, to plead for more capital expenditure for the Post Office. I know that one cannot pursue a personal ministerial line on these matters. Nevertheless, I doubt very much whether the sum included here is sufficient to modernise our ports.
Let me develop this aspect one stage further. With the change in the type of ship, with ships of increased length, wider beam and greater draft, in nearly all our major ports, except the double tidal ports, such as Southampton, there has unquestionably to be almost immediate capital development. This brings me to a question which may be rather controversial on both sides of the House. As the Bill now stands, and as the noble Lord has stated, harbour authorities can spend up to £500,000 for their own development. At first sight, this is satisfactory: they should not have to run to the Minister for re-equipment, for some cranes or for minor alterations. But, as my noble friend Lord Lindgren pointed out in his intervention, this is rather a two-edged weapon, and I think that between now and Committee stage the noble Lord may care to have a look at it. Half a million pounds to the Port 1165 of London, Tilbury or Southampton is (to use a colloquialism) a "flea-bite". But some of the smaller ports could make themselves into quite large ports on that amount of development and so undermine the whole idea of national port development. I think that there will have to be some new wording here, or some lowering of the amount of money, to prevent that from taking place.
We welcome, in Clause 16, the streamlining of the cumbersome Private Bill procedure to which harbour authorities have to resort. Those of us who have sat on these Private and Hybrid Bill Committees appreciate that that procedure is far too cumbersome, and welcome the provisions made here. There is no doubt that in the past many desirable improvement and development schemes have been pigeonholed purely because promoters have been frightened of this cumbersome legal and Parliamentary procedure—I am too respectful of lawyers to mention cost.
In Clause 18, we come to harbour reorganisation schemes—and to a rather awkward word which I, as a Yorkshireman, find hard to get out—estuarial groupings. We accept that of course. There has to be development; there has to be retrenchment. But I hope that the Ports Council and the Minister—who, after all, has complete power, in the last analysis—will be aware of the social consequences of closing down any port. Here I think it is fair to pay tribute again to the National Dock Labour Board. Where ports have been running down there has been very little trouble, because they have seen the need ahead of time, and through resignation and stopping of recruitment the matter has gone off without trouble. But I would give a warning that plenty of notice must be given in order to avoid trouble, because of the social consequences involved.
Here again, on Clause 18, the approval of this scheme is subject to the Special Parliamentary Procedure—that is the wording in the Act. I read the Report of the Third Reading debate in the other place, and frankly (I speak with 14 years' experience of the other place) I do not yet understand what form this special procedure is to take. I hope that when the noble Lord comes to reply he will give us some indication of what this 1166 special procedure will be, not only as it affects the other place, but also as it affects your Lordships' House. I do not know whether what is meant is that an order will come before a Select Committee, and will then come down to the House for approval, or what it means. With due respect, I found the Minister's explanation on Third Reading in the other place very nebulous.
I come now to Clause 19, which deals with the control and movement of ships in harbour. This matter, of course, at the Committee stage in another place was one of the most controversial issues. The Parliamentary Secretary has a great record in Her Majesty's Navy—he certainly knows something about ships and their movement—and we pay due tribute to the work that he did on the Bill. But his great idea in life (it is a very worthy one, and it makes me feel rather humble in criticising this clause) is the question of safety. It was because of his concern for safety that Clause 19 was drafted. But it soon got into trouble, probably not so much as a result of stupidity as from forgetfulness. Why on earth was there no consultation with the pilots, the marine officers, the navigating officers, the Chamber of Shipping and the National Union of Seamen before this contentious clause was drafted? There have been consultations since. Indeed, I believe the reason—which I shall not give, but which my noble friend Lord Lindgren has mentioned—is the reason why Clause 20 is included in the Bill. But this is stupid. If there had been consultation before, there would not have been half the trouble over the clause that there has been.
But what we are concerned about here is that, first, this is unilateral action on behalf of the United Kingdom. We think that this is wrong. We think it is wrong, not because we are against safety at sea, or because we are against safety in the harbour, but because of the retaliation that may be taken against our British merchantmen when they enter other ports. I do not want to delay your Lordships by giving illustrations, but noble Lords can think of many countries that have not the same sense of justice as we have in Britain. I know of one case where a British merchantman went into a foreign 1167 harbour and got into trouble by misunderstanding; and the retaliation that may be taken against British merchant seamen could well be severe.
I think this is something which should be done gradually. Presumably, what is involved in Clause 19 is the V.H.F. radar system. Let there be no doubt that we certainly have the finest radar system in the world. But the point of the matter is that we should proceed gradually with this control scheme, in order to see that other nations adopt our system. I do not want to weary your Lordships, but I think you will find, on examination of the facts, that the number of foreign nations which adopt our system of V.H.F. radar is increasing every year. Therefore, it seems to me that this is rather precipitous action. We could even forgive that. It may be said: "We are pioneering; we are doing the right thing." But when it comes to having a penal clause, with provision for a fine of £100, it seems to me to be going a little too far. Again, I cannot understand the contradiction that noble Lords get into in this matter. We went from 1960 to 1964 before we ratified the Geneva Convention for Safety at Sea—I think it has just been ratified. That took us four years; but here we are proclaiming this form of safety, regardless of the consequences, immediately.
This is an interesting Bill and, as I said, we approve of it in principle. But its success depends upon the cooperation of both sides of industry. I believe that one of the greatest inducements to the success of this scheme will be an early complete de-casualisation of dock labour. Casual labour is a Victorian concept; it is out-dated and undignified, and it should be abolished at the earliest opportunity. Both sides of the industry having agreed to this in principle, surely something can be done by the Minister of Transport or the Minister of Labour to see that the details are worked out as a matter of urgency. It is often said that we get a great many strikes in this industry. Well, in point of fact, we do not. I will not weary your Lordships with figures, but having had a long experience of industry, having been in strikes and stopped strikes, I think sometimes we expect a little too much. After all, there 1168 is no doubt that the only place where there will be complete harmony is in the graveyard. Therefore, in a complicated industry, where such things as dirty money and dirty cargoes are involved, I think there is bound to be friction. But, by and large, the record is a good one.
I think, too, that we could nail the lie of the slow turn-round of ships in British ports. It is always possible to quote exceptions, but this is something in which I have always been interested, and I have taken the trouble to get some Press cuttings. One says:Fast turn-round at Immingham. Eight days for two 14,000-ton cargoes.Another says:7,506 tons of coal in eleven hours.Then:Quick discharge at Thames tier.So I could go on. I could also give a very fine quotation, which is fact, of the way the dockers have readily accepted the new methods of unloading. Therefore, as I say, the dockers are a great body of men, and loyalty is probably their greatest trait. There are not a large number of disputes. I am sure that, given this scheme, with active and urgent support by the Minister of Transport, they will co-operate to make this industry efficient and pre-eminent.
§ 4.39 p.m.
My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord for the way in which he introduced this Bill, and indeed for introducing it. It seems to me that the more difficult his task—for he properly described this as a long and complex measure—the better he seems to do it. I wish to congratulate him. I should also like to pay my tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, and his Committee for producing a Report which, though a difficult one, touching a lot of rather difficult points in the industry, yet seems to have earned the approval, in general and in principle, of all the major ports in the country.
This is not a Party matter—I hope, also, that it is not controversial—and, therefore, I do not speak in a Party sense. But I must declare an interest, in that I am connected with various companies engaged in port activities. I see I am to be followed by the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, and the 1169 noble Viscount, Lord Simon, both of whom probably have much more experience than any of us in shipping and the handling of ships. But I speak merely as one connected with those who do the things which happen inside the ports when the ships get there.
In general, I would say that the people I presume to represent—I have no particular brief—approve of this Bill. But it seems to us—that is, the port people—that in one sense it impinges dangerously on the private sector of the industry of port work. The people about whom I speak are tug-owners, lightermen, warehouse keepers, wharfingers and waterside manufacturers. They feel that if this Bill goes through in its present state it will have a damaging effect on the private sector in industry. The sector, as I say, comprises tug and lighterage operations, stevedoring and wharfage, which has, of course, very specialised storage services, and all of which demand great expertise. These operations, done in these different branches, are essential for the speedy handling of shipping, to which the noble Lord has just referred. The slow turnround is a great obstruction in our shipping industry, and we must do everything, in the interests of import and export trade, to improve it.
I think your Lordships will agree that as a nation we have a genius for marine matters; and these things are handed on not necessarily from father to son or family to family, but within a tradition they go down from one firm to its successor, and it would be a pity to see the free enterprise firms swamped by the powers which seem to be given in Clause 9 of this Bill. I think it is inappropriate that companies should be brought within the control of development provisions of that clause, and I would ask that when we get to the Committee stage steps will be taken to take out private enterprise as much as possible. It will not be possible to get the speedy work necessary in turnround that we want if we are to hand over these powers to the port authorities. For instance, if they are to indicate to tug-owners that such a practice shall cease, or another practice may take place, it is impossible to put that into effect in a short time; and a tug-owner is naturally going to think a good long time before he spends the money necessary for a 1170 new tug which, as your Lordships may not know, is very often between £100,000 and £200,000 a vessel.
I am not going to keep your Lordships longer, but when we come to the Committee stage I should like Clause 9 and also Clause 55 (which is the interpretation clause) to be looked at. It defines "harbour land" asland adjacent to a harbour, and occupied wholly or mainly for the purpose of activities there carried on.I see a danger there that waterside manufacturers, for instance, may well come under that clause. People who should not properly be controlled or directed by the port authority may find themselves in real trouble. It is only a question of definition. With these few words I should like to welcome the Bill, and hope that Clauses 9 and 55 in particular will receive special attention when it comes to the Committee stage.
§ 4.44 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CHESTER
My Lords, I ask your Lordships' indulgence if, while speaking in this debate, I do not stay till the end of it. I am sure your Lordships will appreciate that in Holy Week my place is in my diocese, and I have to get back there to-night. If I have to leave early, I do not intend any discourtesy to your Lordships' House. I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord for the way in which he has introduced this Bill, and for the clarity with which he has set before us matters of extreme technical complexity. It is because of those complexities that I intervene in this debate with some trepidation.
But there is one aspect of the Bill which has caused considerable annoyance to a body of men with whom I have some contact, the master mariners, and to which I desire to call the attention of your Lordships' House, although the noble Lord, Lord Hobson, has already touched upon the matter. It is the penal clause in Clause 19, which subjects the master of a ship, if he is convicted on indictment for a failure or contravention of a control of movement order, to a penalty of imprisonment of up to six months. This possible imposition of a prison sentence upon the master of a ship has caused, to put it mildly, extreme resentment on the part of 1171 master mariners. They point out that nothing must be done to challenge the responsibility of the master for the safety of his ship. They feel that the present system of control (which I understand is by by-laws) has worked perfectly satisfactorily, and they stress that the knowledge that they may be taken to the Admiralty Court and their company mulcted of heavy damages should they show incompetence or carelessness in the face of a control order, is in itself a sufficient safeguard.
It is no consolation to these men to point out that under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, the master of a ship may be sent to prison, because they contend that the offences which are contemplated in that Act have a real element of criminal impropriety about them, whereas the threat of imprisonment in this Bill is imposed upon the exercise of professional judgment by a master concerned for the safety of his ship and all shipping. Nor does the fact that the defences provided in Clause 20 of the Bill bring any assurance, since, it is argued, if it is so unlikely that a master will ever be sent to prison under this clause, then why retain it in the measure at all, together with the hurtful sting which it inflicts upon a fine body of men?
This penal clause in the Bill has been condemned by the Chamber of Shipping, the Merchant Navy and Airline Officers' Association, the Mercantile Marine Service Association, and by the Honourable Company of Master Mariners, a formidable body of opinion. There is, I venture to say, no finer body of men in this country than our master mariners: men of the highest professional competence and skill, men exercising daily great responsibility, men of character, and men who are jealous of the dignity of their position. They are deeply hurt by this penal provision in the Bill, and they regret that, despite many protests in another place, Her Majesty's Government have declined to meet what they regard as a reasonable request. Surely, my Lords, this is an occasion where a little generosity and understanding would reap a harvest of goodwill. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will re-examine this matter and meet the legitimate complaints of this responsible body of men.
§ 4.48 p.m.
My Lords, if it were not for the known tolerance of your Lordships' House, I should not have the temerity in a maiden speech to address your Lordships on so technical a Bill as this, especially as, if it had not been for the special provisions in Section 4 of the Peerage Act, I should not be here at all—at least not in this Parliament. As I am a West countryman by descent I am, as you might say, masquerading as a Lowland Scot. I doubt very much whether my fellow Scottish Peers would even have considered electing me. I have lived in Cornwall for a good many years now, and certain aspects of this Bill have been brought to my notice.
Although I have no vested interest in the china clay industry, I have a great many friends—I might say, most of my friends in my part of Cornwall—tied up with the industry in one way or another. It is on how this Bill might affect the china clay industry in Par Port, in particular, that I should like to address your Lordships, as briefly as possible. Perhaps I should not say that the Rochdale Report has exceeded the terms of reference, but it seems to have included such small ports as Par in its recommendations without having previously heard relevant evidence, at least from the china clay industry; and if it were not for the china clay industry the port of Par would not exist.
Weighing up all the facts, it seems to me that the Bill, as at present drafted, could seriously affect the port, especially Clauses 22 and 28 which refer to costs. On the face of things, there is nothing in the Bill as it stands to change the status of ports such as Par, but it seems to me that various clauses in the Bill could do so. I am sure that any uneasiness as to the effect of the Bill on small ports could be allayed if a clause were inserted to make it possible for the Minister to make, at a later date, an order excluding certain harbours from its provisions. This would enable any small ports such as Par to state their case to the Minister after the Bill becomes an Act.
I must tell your Lordships that the Port of Par is a private, specialised port which was originally developed to serve the copper and tin industries, which 1173 have now been replaced by china clay. The china clay industry is a little known one, but any of your Lordships who have visited Cornwall must have seen the white pyramids known by the locals as the Cornish Alps. This is the solid waste from a clay pit, which is tipped on to this distinctive conical burrow. The clay stream is passed by a pipe-line until it arrives at the dries. The dries are often many miles away from the pit, and some of them are in fact alongside the quays at Par. If any of your Lordships are interested in china clay workings and cannot find the time to visit one in Cornwall, there is an excellent model of a pit and workings in the Science Museum in Exhibition Road, South Kensington.
Par Harbour has been enlarged and improved at the expense of English China Clays Limited. The port is now a subsidiary of English China Clay and has long overtaken Fowey Harbour in the tonnage handled. No general trade has been accepted by Par since before the war, except for a few isolated shipments amounting in all to about 54,000 tons, to honour arrangements entered into in the past, on which local merchants rely. No new general trade has been accepted since 1960. The harbour has handled, in each year during the last two years, three quarters of a million tons of cargo, 89 per cent. of which is china clay. It owns its own locomotives and has five miles of private track, with two connections to the main line, chiefly occupied in serving the adjacent clay works. It has a firm of stevedores and operates its own mechanical equipment.
It does not come under any statutory authority, which I think makes it unique in the United Kingdom. Plans are in train with the trade unions for the complete integration of the port sector of the china clay industry, which would lead to the "decasualisation" of dock labour, which is much encouraged by the Government and Opposition. In debate, the Government have argued that the exclusion of private ports generally from the Bill would create a precedent contrary to their general intentions. But, as I have already said, I think the port of Par is unique in the United Kingdom.
1174 I hope that the National Ports Council will hear evidence from Par if any of its plans are likely to affect the port. I would assure your Lordships that exclusion from the Bill is not sought for the sole benefit of the Port of Par, but for the whole china clay industry that it serves. Since the decline of copper and tin mining, china clay has become the life-blood of Cornwall. During the year 1963, china clay exports earned more than £10 million in foreign currency.
§ 4.52 p.m.
My Lords, it is my good fortune to congratulate my noble friend on his maiden speech. We all have this hurdle to overcome at some stage in our career; and very difficult it is! I am sure your Lordships will agree that my noble friend has acquitted himself very well. He has managed to be entirely non-controversial yet, at the same time, has made an important point in respect of the smaller ports, such as the port of Par, which we have discussed. And, while saying that I hope we shall hear him again, I would also say that I hope he will gain some encouragement with regard to the smaller ports from what may be said later this afternoon during the debate.
My Lords, may I also add this? I feel that I should be less than courteous if I did not express a word of gratitude to those noble Lords who have paid a compliment to my Committee and myself on the production of our Report. It has been a matter of great satisfaction to all my colleagues that this Report has been received throughout the country in the way that it has. To-day, in particular, is a day of some significance to me, when we come to the Second Reading of the Harbours Bill. It so happens that Sunday next will be March 29, and it was on March 29, 1961, three years ago to the day, that the Minister announced in the House of Commons the terms of reference of my Committee. Hence it is almost exactly three years from the first announcement of the establishment of the Committee to the occasion when the result of the Committee's deliberations, embodied in a Bill which has passed through another place, are being debated on Second Reading of the Bill in your Lordships' House. If 1175 I may say so, I would suggest that this is not too bad going.
It is also just about twelve months ago since the Minister indicated that, following the publication of the Report, he proposed to establish straight away a non-statutory advisory committee, to be called the National Ports Council. He announced the appointment of this committee in Parliament, so that it could proceed with a mass of preliminary work which could usefully be done, pending legislation to bring into being a statutory body of the same title. The Minister invited me to be chairman of that non-statutory committee. We have been working now for some months, and we had a Council meeting only this morning. As Chairman of that Council I was in some doubt whether it would be in order for me to take part in this debate this afternoon, and I took care to inquire in the appropriate place whether I should be in order in speaking. I was informed that as it was a non-statutory body, provided that I declared my interest, which I now do, I should be in order.
My Lords, with very few exceptions, the Bill deals with all the proposals included in our Report. It does not always deal with them in the way suggested in the Report; but here, as in most other activities, there are usually more ways than one of doing the same thing. The Parliamentary Secretary has given us a concise summary of the Bill, and I think and hope that it may be useful if I pick out two or three major matters which I regard as particularly important, and then try to indicate the thinking underlying the recommendations in the Report which have now been embodied in the Bill.
A large part of the Bill—Clauses 1 to 18, and the first four Schedules—deals with the subject of organisation, and it may well be asked why is all this necessary? Why do we need harbour reorganisation schemes? Why do we need revision or empowerment orders? I should like to say a word on that point. I have no doubt that in every industry there will be found any number of armchair critics, and I may say that we in the Committee of Inquiry certainly found that to be true in the case of the port industry. We had a great many pieces of critical evidence, and the two 1176 most favoured general avenues for criticism were, first, the alleged failure of the industry to use sufficient modern mechanical equipment for cargo handling, and, second, the problems surrounding dock labour.
We recognise that these matters are of transcendent importance, but further than that my Committee could not agree with many of the critics. It was abundantly clear to us that, in so far as there might be some truth in these criticisms, which would certainly call for, and should receive, urgent and careful attention, they were matters which should be regarded more as symptoms than as causes of some of our dock problems. What stood out to us very clearly was that it was the organisation that needed attention; and that if, in certain respects, that could be put on a better basis, then the rest could reasonably be expected to follow in due course.
In saying that, my Lords, I want to make it quite clear that what I have said is not to be regarded in any way as derogatory of port management for not having put, so to speak, their organisational house in order before. As has already been mentioned, the structure of the industry is largely established by Private Acts of Parliament, and without some such enabling measure as this Harbours Bill it could be virtually impossible to break through what in many respects amounts to a vicious circle. The port industry is one of some considerable antiquity, but, unlike so many other older industries that we know of, while there may be much out-dated and therefore redundant capacity, it is not an industry which can be either expected or allowed to contract. It must expand, and its expansion must look not at the needs of to-day but at the needs as we can expect them possibly to be in ten, twenty or even thirty years ahead. This expansion must be substantial, particularly so in respect of deep water berths.
The question therefore arises: how can we reasonably expect a medium-sized or small port to develop on this grand scale when it may well be in daily and continued competition with other ports in the same estuary, often all tending to be weak sellers? Looked at in that way, we were convinced that if the needs of to-morrow were to be matched by development to-day then there must, first of all, be a 1177 national ports plan within which major development would be concentrated at selected major ports. We were also convinced that the responsibility for development and management of these great projects should be that of large port authorities often established on an estuarial basis and enjoying all the advantages to be gained by economies of scale.
Of course, there is nothing new in the concept of an estuarial port authority. The Clyde Estuary Committee, under Lord Cooper, some twenty years ago recommended such an authority for the Clyde; that there should be one authority that should stretch from Glasgow, or, in other words, the territory of the Clyde Navigation Trust, away to the West down to the Cumbraes. It is an indication of the difficulty of getting agreement of this sort from within the authorities themselves—I think there were something like seven at the time—for us to remind ourselves that this great major Clyde authority that Lord Cooper's Report suggested is still something for the future; though I must pay a tribute, having said that, to those who are still to-day actively endeavouring to bring one about.
Since then there have been other ideas in different parts of the country about estuarial authorities, but those ideas have again led nowhere. But perhaps the best example of an estuarial authority is to be found in the great Port of London Authority, presided over by my noble friend Lord Simon. He will, I am sure, agree with me that that came into being in 1909 only because crisis conditions on the Thames resulted in no less an arrangement than a Royal Commission to bring it about. It had to be brought about from outside. The whole purpose, therefore, of the clauses in this Bill which deal with harbour reorganisation schemes is to provide adequate machinery for grouping existing authorities, where this may seem advisable, on an estuarial or some other area basis, with reasonable expedition and with proper safeguards for those concerned. This aspect of the Bill I regard as of the greatest importance.
Just as the harbour reorganisation schemes are intended, shall we say, to look outwards and to deal with the major aspects, so the revision and empowerment orders can be said to look inwards, to deal with internal matters of organisa- 1178 tion and powers as they affect the authorities themselves. Most ports, as we have heard, derive their powers and their organisation from private Statutes, often very old-fashioned. They can, of course, be amended by private legislation, and frequently are, but this takes time, is costly, and can often too easily be frustrated. These revision and empowerment orders seek to streamline procedure and help authorities in this respect to get on to a more modern basis.
As a Committee we saw several ways in which internal organisation could, with advantage, be altered so as to make it easier for the port authorities to do justice to themselves and to their users. I certainly do not propose to go into any detail of the sort of points I have in mind; they are all set out in the Report for anyone who is interested and range over all the activities of a port, including—and this is quite an important one—the size and function of the authority itself.
I should, however, just like to mention one important matter which has been referred to already: the question of cargo handling and who shall be responsible for carrying it out. Some port authorities do not themselves handle cargoes at all; it is left to private companies, ship-owners, master stevedores, master porters and all the other kinds of interest which the noble Lord, Lord Rea, referred to in his speech. Examples of ports where the authorities virtually do not handle cargoes at all are Liverpool and the Clyde. Going to the other extreme, there are some ports who virtually do all handling themselves, and here we have the example of Manchester or the great new port of Lackenby Dock on the Tees. Other ports, such as the Port of London Authority, do some of the work themselves, and leave a very great deal, perhaps the bulk, of the work to private firms of one kind or another.
The view we took in the Committee on this general point was that it was right, and indeed desirable, that the port authority itself should be one of the employers of dock labour and that otherwise, apart from the specialist firms, whether large or small, there should be in any large port a much smaller number of employer firms than is sometimes the case to-day, so that those that were 1179 there could be firms of substance with a real stake in the port. This we regarded as a matter of considerable importance when considering such matters as management, dock labour problems, the use of machinery and equipment, amenities and the general smooth running of a port. Under present Statutes I think it would be very difficult, if at all possible, for a port authority to begin to make changes to bring about the sort of organisation we have in mind; and the revision order procedure will, I hope, open the way for this to be thought about and brought into being if the port so thinks fit.
I have already mentioned the national ports plan. This arises under Clause 1 and it is obvious that this will be one of the National Ports Council's most importance functions. The Council will need information and statistics to produce it; and, in passing, I may say that statistics in the port industry to-day are woefully inadequate. We found this a great problem when we were producing our Report, and we had from the start ourselves to create many of the statistics. This provision of statistics is adequately provided for in the Bill. But to do this the Council will need something else; it will need goodwill and co-operation from the industry. That, I believe, is assured provided the Council itself behaves sensibly.
However, that raises one difficult matter. I have already referred to the need to concentrate major development on selected major ports. That implies that some ports will not be so selected, and this is where I see some heartburning arising. But this concept should not be taken as suggesting that other ports will necessarily need to stagnate or that every small port is doomed. Far from it, particularly with specialised ports. But what it does mean is that, as regards major projects, where there is only a limited amount to spend around our shores on port development—and looking at the national economy, with so many calls on its resources the amount must be limited; whether the amount to be spent on ports is the right amount or not is another matter—wherever the money comes from, whether it comes from private or public sources, that major 1180 development will, for the most part, have to be concentrated on those ports where it can make the most impact. Whatever happens it must not be shared all round so that the butter is spread far too thin and nothing is achieved. I have heard the view expressed that everything would be all right provided that the port was pegging along on an even keel, perhaps even making a modest investment from its own hard-earned reserves, but at any rate "out of the red"; but it is not good enough for a port merely to be doing that. If the national needs are to be met in the years ahead, some ports must be given priority, perhaps some financial help, so that by their very efficiency and enlarged facilities they will stand preeminent and will attract the ships and trade. It follows, of course, that some other ports will be hard pressed to compete with them.
All this concept is provided for in Clause 9 and 10 under the control of harbour development, and in passing may I mention that I would expect—and I hope that this will give my noble friend some comfort in regard to Par—that the sort of development that a smaller port might reasonably contemplate would escape through the pretty wide mesh in Clause 9 (6). This raises in my mind an interesting point. I was very interested to hear the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, on the question of whether a figure of £500,000 was the right figure for all ports. I would merely make this observation. This was a point that we considered in great detail in the deliberations of the Committee. We took the view that what we did not want to do was to go round each port and say, "This port shall be enlarged so much, and that port shall be enlarged so much", the amount being dependent on the size. That was not our concept at all.
Our concept was a different one. What we were trying to do was to control major development, which is, after all, the major matter that affects the port industry as a whole; and, provided that we had control to be able to say where the major development was to be, it did not really seem to us to matter what the little ports did, as long as they did not get swelled heads and become attached to some big financial house which 1181 could turn them into major ports. When they tried to do that, then of course the control would come into being. But we did not feel that the single figure was a wrong concept, and in fact the Bill as it now stands entirely reflects the thought and discussion we had during the deliberations of the Committee.
That leads me to say something about charges. Our ports have sometimes been criticised as being expensive, and this of course can be a very serious matter. But what I would suggest for your Lordships' consideration is that even more important is the overall costs of bringing our imports from the original port of despatch overseas or taking our exports to their ultimate destination. Looked at in this context a port's efficiency may be even more vital than its charges because on its efficiency can so well depend freight charges and premiums, which can easily nullify any advantage from very low port charges and dues considered in isolation. Having said that, let me hasten to add that this does not in any way indicate that the Committee had in mind a wholesale increase in charges. Far from it.
However, it was painfully clear to us that there was no major port which we investigated which over the years had achieved what we regarded as reasonable financial objectives—not one. Those objectives, I might remind your Lordships were that ports should aim to provide for the following: first, working expenses; second, interest on loans; third, depreciation of assets at replacement cost; fourth, taxation; and we hoped that it would be possible for a port to provide a modest margin for reserves to meet contingencies such as premature obsolescence. No major port has achieved this end, and in general terms one can say that the outcome was that without fresh borrowings they would be unable to replace their fixed assets as they wore out. In other words, these ports could be said financially to be running down.
This was the basis, the background, of the recommendation we made that, whilst doing everything possible to reduce expenditure and to improve efficiency, ports should have greater freedom in regard to charges and dues. And so it comes about that Clauses 25 to 38, subject to certain safeguards, aim 1182 at giving authorities greater latitude in this respect. I would just add that the existing statutory control of charges is cumbersome and has therefore often led to authorities, when applying to Parliament for an increase, to ask for, indeed receive, as much as 25 per cent. increase at a time. This, of course, means that the present system is often in fact serving no useful purpose, because these large increases would be expended over a number of years. Nevertheless, I am quite convinced that greater latitude for the port authorities in respect of their charges and charges system is of real importance if they are to make themselves financially viable.
Those are the main points about which I wanted to speak. There are other points one could talk about, very important points, large and small—for instance, research, management training, and so on. But I hope that what I have said is sufficient to indicate the need for some central body, first, to hold the reins, second, to prepare a national ports plan and to promote the execution of the plan, and generally to be a focal point of the industry. I believe that in this way, with an organisation of this type—major port authorities, smaller specialised ports and a national authority speaking for the port industry as well as the Government of the day—we shall see that the skill, the experience, the enthusiasm, and (may I say?) the pride that there is to-day in the industry, both in management and in the dock workers, will have the best opportunity for showing its mettle and working together for a common end.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
My Lords, I should like to join in the welcome that has been given to this Bill; but before doing so, I have to declare a double interest, both as Chairman of the Port of London Authority and as President for the time being of the Dock and Harbour Authorities Association. In both these capacities I have been closely in touch with the discussions which have been going on and which have led to the introduction of this Bill. I should like also to pay a tribute to the Minister, to the Parliamentary Secretary in another place, and to the staff of the 1183 Ministry of Transport for the understanding way in which they have approached the problems of the port authorities. Having said that, may I go on to extend my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Rochdale and his Committee for their really magnificent Report which sets out so clearly the situation with which we have to deal.
The first objective of the National Ports Council (this has been repeated to-day both by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, and by the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale) is to prepare a coordinated national plan. That was laid down by the Minister, speaking in another place as long ago as July 10 of last year. So that it came as something of a surprise to me to find that there is no reference in the Bill to a national plan. If your Lordships will refer first to Clause 1 of the Bill, you will see that the words used are that the Councilshall be charged with the following duties, that is to say(a) formulating comprehensive plans"—your Lordships will note the word "plans", in the plural—for the improvement of existing, and the provision of new harbours … and of services and facilities …The noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, has made it clear that his instructions are to proceed towards the production of a national plan, and I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, when he comes to reply, can explain why this has been left out of the Bill. I must say that an ordinary reading of the words in the Bill suggests to me that the intention is to provide comprehensive plans for each and every port. That, I am sure, is far from the intention, and I would ask the noble Lord whether the Government would consider accepting an Amendment which would make specific reference to the preparation of a co-ordinated national plan, and would link the comprehensive plans for the development of ports within the co-ordinated national plan.
If I had a suspicious nature, there are several curious points during the discussions on this Bill to which I might call attention. For instance, the Minister, again speaking in the debate on July 10 in another place, said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 680, col. 1252]:… it is no part of our overall plan 1184 to control the day-to-day developments in our smaller ports.My Lords, why "in our smaller ports"? Is the implication that it is part of the plan to control day-to-day developments in our major ports? I know that it is not. But why was it put in that curious way? Later on, in the Report stage in another place, there was an even more curious remark, when the Minister, in resisting an Amendment on the lines referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hobson, about the inclusion in the National Ports Council of a representative of the dock labour, said that if we did this we might have port interests urging representation, in which case the whole managerial function of the body, the National Ports Council, would be destroyed. As I say, I have not got a suspicious nature, but one wonders whether, behind the Minister's mind, there is some idea of extending the control of the major ports, at least. I feel that it would put the major ports in a much happier position if what is, I am sure, truly intended could be written into the Bill and not left to be inferred from the speeches that have been made from Government Benches. Incidentally, as I have mentioned that Amendment, might I tell the noble Lord, Lord Hobson, who asked for representation on the Council of dock labour as well as of dock employers, that there is no representation of dock employers on the Council, and it was indeed specifically recommended, and accepted by the Government, that there should not be.
Assuming that I am right, and that there is no intention of avoiding this primary objective of creating a national plan, I want to ask how effective is the machinery that is provided in the Bill. Have the National Ports Council or the Minister sufficient powers to make this plan effective? Can this be done by the control of major capital expenditure? I believe it can. There have been arguments that the powers of the Minister could have gone further. I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, and the Committee recommended that they should have power to compel in some way the execution of a plan which was thought necessary.
My own feeling is that the balance in this Bill is just about right. I think that if you went any further you would really have no stopping place until you 1185 came to nationalisation of the ports. I am not in the least dogmatic about nationalisation, but if it involved central control of all the ports of the country, I am quite sure it would not work. It would lead to atrophy of local initiative. It would lead to the inability of the ports to attract the best brains into harbour management—that is a point on which Lord Rochdale rightly expressed concern. In my view, the control of major capital expenditure, although it is admittedly a blunt instrument, will, in fact, do all that is required, because I am convinced that the ports of this country will be anxious to collaborate once they know what the national plan is. If they have grown up in a haphazard way, it is not from any original sin in them; it is simply that there has not been a national plan within which they could work out their proposals. I believe that they will be not only happy to co-operate, but most pleased to have a lead from the National Ports Council as to where development is wanted.
I was glad to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, say that he did not visualise that any port would be likely to contract under the suggestions of the National Ports Council. That agrees strongly with the view that I have formed: that if there is any hope of dealing within twenty years with an increase in trade of 100 per cent., every single port in existence will have to be used to full capacity, quite apart from any development of other ports.
How then, is this control going to work? I must confess that I think the procedure in Clause 9 is rather wasteful and time consuming. The port authority which has a proposal which exceeds the limit of half a million pounds is required to go to the Minister; the Minister then goes to the National Ports Council; the National Ports Council then seeks the advice of interested parties and consults with the port authority, and then recommends back to the Minister who reaches his decision. I must say that it seems to me that it would be much simpler if the port authority went to the National Ports Council in the first place; if the consultations then took place, and if the port authority and the National Ports Council then went hand in hand to the Minister and said, "Here is a proposal which is jointly agreed." I am assuming that there is a constitutional 1186 reason for the Minister to have the final decision. I, for my part, would rather have seen the National Ports Council in a relationship with the Minister similar to that of the Research Councils to the Minister for Science, where they would have a certain amount of money and within that money could deal themselves with the port authorities. But I quite understand there may be difficulties there, and the analogy is not a complete one. In practice, I think we shall find that the procedure I have suggested will be adopted. I certainly hope so.
Then the question arises on any project: how many technical evaluations are there going to be? First of all, any project of this size will obviously be examined with great care by the port authority with its own technical advisers or perhaps with consulting engineers. The project then goes to the National Ports Council and, as I understand it, they will look at it again with their technical advisers. When it goes to the Minister he has the discretion and, therefore the responsibility, of deciding whether to accept the proposal or not. Is it going to another set of technical advisers?—because for a scheme of this kind to go through three hoops like that is not only going to be time-consuming but also liable to lead to frustration. In the engineering profession, as in other professions, experts do not always think alike; and it is quite probable the three experts would think quite differently as to which was the best way to do a scheme. I come back to the point of retaining really good people in the port industry and how we are going to retain them, if what they propose is subject to being taken to pieces not only by one but by two advisory bodies.
Another important point arises which I would put to the noble Lord, Lord Chesham. As I see it, proposals of this kind will have to be considered from two aspects: both whether they are technically sound and fit into the national plan, and also whether they are financially admissible. I consider that it would be very unfortunate if plans which have been agreed between the port authority and the National Ports Authority as desirable and necessary were then to be turned down by the 1187 Minister on the grounds that the country's resources could not afford them. I hope it will be possible for the Minister to keep the National Ports Council fully advised as to the financial position, so that that situation does not arise and so that the National Ports Council will not accept the proposal and bring it forward if it is going to be turned down on financial grounds.
I come to Clause 4, dealing with the finances of the National Ports Council. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, dealt with this very fairly, but I would disagree with him. I think the proposal that the administrative costs of the National Ports Council should be met, in effect, by a levy on the port authorities is quite unsound in principle, because here you will have a body which is spending quite a substantial amount of money on an organisation and getting its finances by a precept on people who have no say whatever on how the money has to be spent. It is quite true that the Minister determines the salaries and allowances of the members of the Council and therefore exercises control over that aspect; but all the other administrative expenses are determined solely by the Council.
I have the greatest confidence in the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, and in his very capable Chief Executive, and I am quite sure they will keep these things well under control. Nevertheless, the principle seems to me unsound. And your Lordships will remember that the Rochdale Committee recommended that the costs should be borne by public funds, at least in the early years. I do not think we can do anything about that here, but I thought it was worth while to mention the point. The burden is not heavy, though it may fall quite heavily on some of the smaller ports. We may hear more from them on the subject later. I am not suggesting that the cost of research and training should be borne otherwise than by the industry. I think it is perfectly right.
I would turn for a few moments to the point I raised when discussing the Industrial Training Act, as to the question of training arrangements in this Bill. I cannot see why at the time when the Industrial Training Bill (as it then was, for it is now an Act) was going through Parliament it should have been 1188 thought desirable to introduce a separate system of training for the ports industry—that is, the ports industry excluding dock labour as such, for which the National Dock Labour Board have done such good work already. It seems to me that the scheme proposed in the Industrial Training Act is better, for three main reasons: first of all, that by adopting a scheme under that Act the industry would enjoy the expertise which will grow up in the Ministry of Labour in dealing with these matters. It will have the exchange of information with other industries; and it will in particular have clear access to training courses provided for industry in general, such as training in management, training for engineers, electricians, and so on. From that point of view it would be much better.
The second reason is that an industrial training board under the Industrial Training Act is composed largely of representatives of the employers and the employees—and I should have thought it necessary to get those into a training board. Yet the National Ports Council has neither. Finally, there is the matter of participation in Government grants. Under the Industrial Training Act grants are payable for approved training facilities in any industry where an industrial training board has been set up; whereas in this Bill—and it is a rather curious provision—in Clause 6(1)(a) a grant is payable for training only where the Minister has issued a direction under Clause 3(2). One might almost think that the employers (I am sure they would not) would be found dragging their feet, in the hope of nudging the Minister to issue a direction; because if he does so they can get the grant, and if he does not they cannot.
When I mentioned this matter previously, the noble Viscount who was in charge of the Industrial Training Bill said that he did not see any reason why the port industry should not enjoy the benefits if both sides of the industry thought it right. And the Minister, speaking on Second Reading of the present Bill in another place, said that the Council would co-operate with the National Dock Labour Board or with any training board set up under the Industrial Training Act. I think that that is probably all right, but I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he would 1189 ask the draftsman to consider this point carefully, and perhaps give us an assurance that, if both sides of the industry want to take advantage of the Industrial Training Act and if an industrial training board is set up, then nothing in this Bill will prevent the organisation of training by the industrial training board without interference from the Minister or from the National Ports Council. For the Minister has power to give directions under Clause 3(2), and of course the National Ports Council have the duty to take steps that seem to them desirable in this direction.
May I move on to Clause 19, about which the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Chester made such an interesting speech in regard to the control of movement orders? I cannot help feeling that on this matter there has been a complete misunderstanding and I hope that it can be cleared up. I do not believe that anybody has ever contemplated people sitting ashore and directing a master of a ship when to reverse his engines, or how far to turn the wheel. It seems to me that the fears of shipmasters in this matter are quite illusory. There are many ports in the world (I think the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, will agree when he speaks later) where a ship approaching the port has to comply with certain instructions. There are ports with narrow approach channels where one must not go in if a ship is coming out, and a signal is put up on the flagstaff accordingly. There are also ports which it is not possible to enter at night, and the shipmaster makes his arrangements accordingly. All that is contemplated in these schemes is a series of perhaps rather more elaborate traffic instructions, like "No parking between 6 a.m. and 12 noon", or "One-way street", or "Clearway during peak hours", or whatever it is. No master complying with such an instruction is being asked to surrender for one moment his responsibility for the safety of his ship. While on this subject, I should like to say that I fully agree with what the right reverend Prelate said about penalties, and I would join with him in expressing the hope that at the Committee stage we may remove the penalty of imprisonment in this clause.
I should like next to say a few words about harbour charges, which were fully 1190 explained by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham. The Bill begins in Clause 25 by removing statutory control, and one may pause, if one is a port operator, and wonder why it should not be left there. Why should the port authorities be the only people in the transport chain who cannot charge what they like? The railways can; the road traffic authorities can, and the shipowners can. All the people that we have to deal with can charge what they like; but the Bill has proposed that we should be subject to regulation. The principal reason put forward for this when it has been discussed in another place appears to be that the ports have some kind of monopoly. My Lords, I think that is a complete misconception. There is the keenest competition, I can assure your Lordships, between, let me say, the Port of London, the Port of Liverpool, the Port of Bristol and the Port of Hull for Midlands traffic; there is very keen competition between the Port of Glasgow and the Ports of Leith and Grangemouth for Scottish traffic; and, in a different sense, and coming nearer home, there is very keen competition between the Port of London and the periphery ports, like Felixstowe and Shoreham, for the traffic for the South-East of England. I think this idea that there is a monopoly is quite misconceived.
It is true that through the years there has been provision for appeals, at present to the Minister of Transport, and the port authorities have accepted that there should be a right of appeal to the National Ports Council, as provided for by Clause 29. I believe that there are here considerable difficulties which will, I trust, be overcome as we go along. There is no criterion laid down, and any of your Lordships who have been associated with the transport industry and tariffs will know how difficult it is to establish a proper criterion for the relative charges of one particular service as against another. I cannot help feeling that the National Ports Council will have difficulty here. The Minister was good enough to suggest that if anybody could produce a good criterion he would be willing to consider it, and I am hound to admit that nobody did produce a good criterion. Nevertheless, though I think there may be some difficulties, I feel fairly confident that they will be ironed out as we go along.
1191 Then I come to Clause 30. And this Clause, I must say, sticks in my gullet. Here is the Minister taking power, on the advice of the Council, to revise tariffs when no complaint has been made—because, of course, if a complaint had been made, it would be dealt with under Clause 29. The first object of this that was suggested to us—by the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale—was that the power of revision should be exercised if the Minister was satisfied, on examination of the accounts (I beg your Lordships' pardon: this is actually from the Rochdale Committee's recommendations) that charges were not being made on an economic basis. That, I think, was the gist of the argument which the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, used this afternoon. Could this power perhaps be limited to such cases? Could it be limited to those ports that were running in the red? The Parliamentary Secretary in another place said, "Oh, but the accounts might not be right; they might be misleading". But provision has been taken for accounts to be put forward in a specified form, and I see no reason why they should be misleading. But there is an even more difficult question on this. Suppose it is established that a port is running into the red and the Minister decides that its charges should be increased. Does the Minister guarantee that the revenue of the port will go up? It does not follow that, if you put up your charges, you will get more revenue; you may get less. That is one of the fundamental judgments which management has to make.
A number of other suggestions have been made as to the use to which this clause might be put, and they seem to be widening all the time. There was a suggestion that a port might be unfairly reducing its charges to compete with a new development which had been financed by the Government under the National Ports Council's advice. Surely, a new development has to be prepared to stand on its own feet, and ought not to be freed from the possibility of competition. Then, the Permanent Secretary in another place produced a new, additional reason. He said:If we make a loan, we must have power to protect the public purse".That is extremely arguable, but I would have thought that, if a loan were made, 1192 the Government could impose any conditions they liked on the loan without having this provision in the Bill.
Then, a still more (if I may say so) sinister suggestion was made during the Report stage in another place. There the Parliamentary Secretary, again, suggested that this clause could be used to revise other charges which might have become, I suppose, out of line following a decision by the Council on an appeal under Section 29. That is certainly extending the use of this clause far beyond the suggestion of the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, in the Committee's Report. I cannot help feeling that, while this may be a very convenient arrangement, it is an example of "Whitehall knows best"—or, in this case, North Audley Street.
It was said somewhere—I am sorry I cannot give the reference, but I think it will be agreed on both sides of the House—that one of the main aspects of managerial responsibility for running a business is fixing rates and charges, and I think it will be a great pity if this responsibility is taken away from the dock authorities. But if the Government are quite convinced on this—and they certainly indicated as much in another place—I wonder whether it would be possible to get a stop of some kind put upon it? Could the Sword of Damocles be put away in a cupboard, just to be brought out by the Minister, by an Order in Council, if he really found that it was necessary to do so? My Lords, we are dealing here with people, and I ask your Lordships to think of the people who are running the Ports, who feel that they alone in the transport chain are not being trusted to put their charges right, are not being trusted to be reasonable. I believe it would do a great deal to foster the co-operation which I am sure we are going to have with the National Ports Council if it were possible for this proposal to be in some way kept really as a reserve power, not to be brought into force until the Minister had come to Parliament and said, "This is happening, and it is really necessary to do so".
After the welcome I gave to the Bill in my opening sentence, your Lordships may feel I have been doing little but criticise. I confess that I think there are defects in this Bill, but I do not believe 1193 that any of the defects are overwhelming. I believe that the port authorities will co-operate with the National Ports Council, and with the national co-ordinated Plan which they are to bring forward. The noble Lord, Lord Hobson, referred, very properly, to the question of dock labour. As I see it, it does not really arise under the Bill, because, if I am right in thinking that the National Ports Council has no managerial functions, it will not in fact concern itself with negotiations with dock labour; but I think that, as the point has been raised, I should like, if your Lordships will bear with me for a few minutes, just to refer very briefly to this. Most of the port authorities, whether they undertake the handling of cargo or not, are in fact employers of registered dock labour, and as such they play their part, with other employers, in the talks going on about "decasualisation"; and I think everyone on both sides of the industry is disappointed that the progress has been so slow. But anyone who is familiar with this complex industry knows that it is easier to agree a principle than to agree the detailed application of it. I am afraid that that is what has happened in our two greatest ports, London and Liverpool, where we are very near deadlock.
I have tried to find out how this arises—it may be that the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, can help over this—and I think it arises because the dock workers have somehow got the impression that the employers are wanting to "ditch" the National Dock Labour Board. The employers have done their best to dispel this belief, which is completely erroneous. What they have suggested is that, to make "decasualisation" possible, it will be necessary for the port employers to form consortia so that men can be moved freely from one job to another; and, in doing that, they will be acting in conformity with the Rochdale Committee recommendation that the number of employers should be reduced.
The suggestion that the place of these consortia could be taken by the local dock labour board is fallacious. The Dock Labour Board, although they are the legal employer; of registered dock labour, and look after a number of matters as well as discipline, have never directly employed labour in the sense 1194 that they tell a man what to do; and they are not equipped for this task. Under these proposals the Dock Labour Board functions will not be altered by the establishment of the consortia. The consortia will stand in the same relationship to the Dock Labour Board as any other employer who employs weekly paid labour as many do to-day. I hope that this misunderstanding can be cleared up because it is bringing these negotiations, which we all want to see finished as soon as possible, to a dead stop.
My Lords, I have no more I want to say, except just to state that I hope the National Ports Council will get on with their national Plan, that they will publish it, that they will see it is not too tightly drawn, so that there is still room for competition between the ports, and that it does not get down to a case of cargo being directed to a particular port because the capacities are so small. I hope we can, above all, get some planning that has a certain life to it. I realise the difficulties from the point of view of the national finance position; and of course one wants a plan to be flexible enough not to knock one's head into a brick wall that was not seen when the plan was drawn up. But port development is a long-term business, and I hope we can reach a position where the National Plan is laid down to cover, let us say, the next five years, and the ports can get on with development and fill in the details of that Plan.
In national planning there is always a tendency to tinker with the plan, and I do not know any field in which it is more true that the best is the enemy of the good. The artist may go back, picking a little here and altering a little there, but in this matter we shall waste so much if the Plan is altered once it is under way that I hope it will be possible for the Plan to last for a reasonable length of time. If it is, I am quite certain that the National Ports Council will have the support of the port authorities.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
My Lords, with the welcome proposal before us to set up a national body which highlights the importance of the port industry to the national economy, we seem to have travelled a long way from the time when, 1195 under the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act, 1847, the master of a vessel could be fined up to £10 for navigating under sail in or into any dock. However, Her Majesty's Government should be complimented for taking the necessary steps to implement the main recommendations of the Rochdale Committee—although possibly, as the noble Viscount said, with a certain difference with regard to emphasis.
Here, I should like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Rochdale and his colleagues for having produced such an extremely interesting document. I would however, with respect, make one comment: In view of the fact, as was mentioned in the Report under paragraph 609, that there are about 300 small ports around the coast of Britain, it would seem to me a pity that recommendations should have been made by the Committee (and these recommendations are applicable to all docks and harbours) without the small ports having been given the opportunity to submit evidence. In this context, a port which has already been mentioned springs to mind: I refer to the port of Par, which was stated, in Lloyd's List and Shipping Gazette on September 6, 1963, to be the busiest small port in the country.
To revert to one of the most important recommendations of the Rochdale Committee—and it is one which has been accepted by the Government; that of the urgent need for the development of a co-ordinated national plan for port development—it seems to me regrettable, as was mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, that there is no reference in the Bill to a national plan. The Rochdale Committee, in paragraph 146 of their Report, stressed that the most vital function of the Council would be to supervise the development of ports in accordance with a national plan which would involve examination of the schemes of individual authorities and the assessment of priorities. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Hobson, referred to it as "dividing the cake". However, Clauses 1(1)(a) seems to go much further; and, indeed, further than the Government statement of July 10, 1963 (to be found in column 1251 of Hansard of another place), that a central 1196 planning agency should formulate a national plan and supervise its execution. For it seems to me that the Bill would place on the Council the onus of responsibility for detailed planning; and I should have thought that it would be necessary purely to have a general national plan, the details then coming from the port authorities.
Moreover, the Rochdale Report recommended, in paragraph 57, that developments should take place at selected major ports, as the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, mentioned this afternoon, while the wording of the subsection to which I have referred would seem to imply the formulation of comprehensive plans for the improvement of all existing harbours. Perhaps I have misinterpreted the wording of the Bill; but it seems to me that the stress is laid here in the Bill on the improvement of all existing harbours. It could well be that some of the smaller ports may not need development at all. As the Bill is worded, I feel that the national body which is to be set up will be empowered to act in much more than an advisory capacity. But I should have thought that the Council's main functions should be merely in keeping under review likely changes in the pattern of trade and ship design, the improvement of cargo-handling facilities, and the action required to ensure adequate present and future port facilities and services. The Council should also advise the Minister regarding major construction proposals emanating from the port authorities, within the framework of the national plan as set up by the Council.
On the question of the contribution by all the ports to a levy, the Rochdale Committee may be right when they say that it should be possible to arrive at an equitable basis on the volume of shipping and tonnage of cargo handled, but I think it should not be forgotten that not only the port authorities will be benefiting from any action taken by the National Ports Council, but also those firms or other organisations who are providing facilities and services at harbours.
With regard to the provisions of Clause 9 and the insertion of the sum of £500,000, as the figure above which harbour development will have to be 1197 approved by the Minister I would express the hope that when the Minister is exercising these powers he will bear carefully in mind the particular requirements of specific industries. The china clay industry has already been mentioned, and I would stress its importance to Cornwall. The noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, said that the port of Par may be able to go through the mesh of Clause 9, but I believe that the port is considering extension works—the construction of a jetty—which would enable larger ships to come alongside. At the moment, there are shipments for America which have to go to Fowey, and shipments for Continental ports which have to leave from Par—not a very satisfactory arrangement. With regard to the non-statutory ports, could my noble friend say whether the provisions of Clause 9 would put such a port within the definition of a harbour authority, should such a port seek approval for development from the Minister? My understanding of the definition of a harhour authority under Clause 55 is that it would not, but I should like an assurance from my noble friend on this point.
I feel that the efficiency of an industry could be interfered with by the powers given in Clause 18, which authorise the Minister to transfer property, and even labour, from private hands to harbour authorities. This could also apply to amalgamations. For instance, a port principally used or required by a specific industry may be called upon to amalgamate with a port handling quite different cargoes—in effect, the amalgamation of a general-cargo port with a specialised port handling bulk traffic in the main. Surely such an amalgamation would not he compatible with recommendation 77 on page 224 of the Report, to the effect that in appropriate cases specialised bulk-cargo installations should be financed by firms or consortia of firms in the industries concerned.
My noble friend Lord Simon, with a greater knowledge than I have, has referred in much detail to the proposals in Clause 30. I agree with him that they are unprecedented. Harbour authorities are in competition, and I believe that they should remain so; in fact, the Rochdale Committee stressed that ports should be regarded as commercial undertakings. In paragraph 192, the Committee state that the permissive powers contained in Clause 30 would seldom, if ever, be needed by the 1198 Council, for settlement would generally be achieved on an informal basis. I agree with my noble friend Lord Simon that it would be interesting if, on Committee stage, Her Majesty's Government would consider his suggestion of shelving this clause and bringing it off the shelf only by an order initiated by the Minister, which could be considered by Parliament.
I should like to add a few words to the plea made by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, for the port of Par. I intend at Committee stage to put down an Amendment on small ports. The port of Par was originally created 131 years ago, and has recently been modernised and enlarged. It serves an industry responsible for one of Britain's large and valuable bulk exports. This port, as was mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, feels that it is unique; and I believe it is unique, because not only is it a non-statutory harbour, but also it does not come under any by-laws which could have been made pursuant to the 1847 Act. I believe that the Port of Fawley is a non-statutory harbour, but it comes under the by-laws of the Southampton Harbour Board, so I think I am right in saying that the Port of Par is unique. I would ask my noble friend Lord Chesham to bear in mind the interests of an industry which is so vital to Cornwall, and also to recognise that the problems of Par are special. Possibly this port should fall into a special category. Apart from those few comments, I welcome this Bill most heartily.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT RUNCIMAN OF DOXFORD
My Lords, at this late hour I hope not to detain your Lordships for long, particularly as I may find myself under the unhappy necessity of asking for your Lordships' indulgence, and especially that of my noble friend Lord Chesham, if I have to leave the House before the end of the debate. It is my first duty to declare my interest in this matter as a shipowner—I think perhaps the only one who has spoken this afternoon. I am particularly glad to do this, because it gives me an opportunity—though, naturally, I have no mandate to speak for anyone but myself—to say what I think I can say with fair confidence; that is, that the shipping industry as a whole welcomes this Bill warmly 1199 and is extremely hopeful of the good that may flow from it.
If I should be a little critical of the Bill, it is on one fundamental ground, which can perhaps be most simply expressed by saying that I think the relations between port authorities and shipowners are rather like those between a man and the Sabbath. You can, after all, and in some parts of the world still do, conduct overseas trade by ships without the intervention of a port at all. But a port, however elaborate, which does not attract shipping to it is not likely to perform any very useful function. I cannot help detecting here and there in this Bill a slight feeling (I hope I am not any more suspicious than my noble friend Lord Simon) that ships are being considered rather as objects which port authorities can order about and levy dues on, those ports being considered as places designed to facilitate the movement of goods and persons by sea. Perhaps I may illustrate this for a moment with three points, all of which have been mentioned in your Lordships' House this afternoon, but all of which, if I may say so with respect, deserve mentioning again.
Two of the points arise from the control of movement of ships in harbours. I agree with my noble friend Lord Simon that there is already, and should be, a measure of control. But I doubt, with respect, whether the extremely elaborate provisions set forth in this Bill are really necessary, or even desirable. For it cannot be denied that the existence of powers is always a temptation to use them; and it cannot be denied, either, that for the highest possible motives zealous professional men are rather apt to think that the good of the whole is necessarily best served by the proliferation of their own activities.
I am not happy about the provision which requires certain specific equipment to be carried by a ship, in default of which she may be refused entry into a port on the authority of those who control the port. The provision of equipment in ships is, at least it has been hitherto, an international matter—after all, shipping is an international business; even more so than ports, which in their own ambit are highly domestic 1200 affairs—and it seems to me that you are risking the introduction of a dangerous element into the conduct of international shipping affairs if you are going to say that the equipment required to be carried by ships for safety purposes is to be determined, not by international agreement and convention, but by what might almost, in an extreme case, be the whim of a particular professional adviser to a particular port or authority.
Allied to this is the provision, which had already been attacked with such eloquence by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Chester that I would not seek to add to what he said about it—namely, the entirely novel and wholly undesirable suggestion that a master mariner can render himself liable to six months' imprisonment for disobeying a movement order in a port. As has already been said, those things for which a master can be imprisoned are those which involve and imply criminal intent. I do not think it is too fanciful to say that under this Bill, if I interpret it rightly, it would be possible (I am sure it would be most unlikely) for a master, on the one hand, to risk imprisonment for not taking his vessel to sea when ordered to do so, because he might fear that the port authority would not accept a defence that in his view she was not in a fit condition to proceed to sea; whereas, on the other hand, if he did obey the order and take the risk, he might be prosecuted under the Merchant Shipping Act for taking a vessel to sea in an unseaworthy condition. That, I know is an extreme case, and it is almost a reductio ad absurdum. But I do not think it is wholly impossible under the Bill as it is drafted. I beg the Government to consider again this particular penalty when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill.
Both of these matters of equipment and penalties, as the noble Lord, Lord Hobson, has already justly observed, have their repercussions abroad. There is, happily, I think, a tendency on the part of several emerging countries, notably those of the British Commonwealth, to model their legislation upon the legislation of this country. But I am not at all sure that they are apt, as yet, to be as understanding in the application of the penalties which that legislation empowers them to impose. While, if the Parliamentary Secretary says that 1201 the risk of a master ever being imprisoned under this Bill is negligible, I should be inclined to believe him—only asking him, if that is so, why there is any point in putting the provision in the Bill at all—I should not be prepared to accept an assurance that the risk was negligible if the clause were incorporated in legislation copied from our own by some countries less experienced and less wise. The same is also true, I think, even with more experienced countries, when it comes to questions of equipment. If these are to be things which can be the unilaterally-made conditions for the use of certain harbours, I think the more gadget-minded nations of the world, whom I will not name to your Lordships (I am sure you can readily name them to yourselves) will be inclined to have too much of a field day.
On the financial side, which is, naturally, important to shipowners, since they are inevitably largely going to provide the finances, there is only one thing I would say. I shall not seek to attempt to lead your Lordships through what is still a difficult maze of financial provisions in this Bill, but I think I am right in saying that it is still possible for a situation to arise where, the National Ports Council having directed a harbour authority to make certain charges, the objection by the users to those charges can be made, in the ultimate resort, only to the National Ports Council on whose instigation the charges were originally imposed. I am not for one moment suggesting that the National Ports Council would not act with perfect wisdom and propriety. What I am suggesting is that it is a bad provision in any Bill to put any body in the position of being advocate and judge in its own cause. I hope that that point, too, may be looked at, and some action taken on it in Committee. Having said this much, I should not like to detain your Lordships any longer other than to say that I hope in these ways it may be possible to make a good Bill even better.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, we are now coming to the closing stages of this debate and the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, and his colleagues must be proud of the very warm reception given to his Report. We are even more grateful that it has been made the basis for the 1202 Bill which the Government have now brought forward. Although he is not here at the moment, may I congratulate from this side the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, on his maiden speech. It was a speech for a specialised port, in which he seems to have more than a passing interest, and I hope that the phrases used by the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, have gone a long way to allay the fears he had about his port at Par.
The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, raised some objection to Clause 4 and the levy on the harbour authorities. I will be quite frank. For myself, I would prefer the charges to be a national charge.
I cannot go all the way with the noble Viscount, because he seemed to object to the fact that those on whom the precept was made would not have a say in the manner in which it was spent. Perhaps that is owing to my local Government background, because in local government it is happening all the time. When the county council levies a precept on the district councils, neither the district councils nor the person who pays the rates really has any say in how the money is spent—although, of course, if they have the courage they can sack the councillors when the local elections come along. However, we have to face the fact that we have a Tory Government.
§ LORD LINDGREN
The cheers may not last long. A provision of funds from the Treasury would be a subsidy to the shipping industry. There is not the slightest doubt about that, because it has its reflection in the industry on the costs charged by the ports and harbours.
I was not quite sure whether the argument of the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, was that the ports and harbours thought that ships were made for them, or that the ports and harbours were made for the ships. Somehow or other we have to get away from this attitude. It is a partnership. Shinning could not be facilitated unless there were adequate port facilities; and the more efficient they are the better it is for shipping and for our country. Ship-owners are not any different. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, has to deal with this problem in regard to air. Those who use aerodromes think they ought to be provided, and that they ought to be 1203 allowed to enter without paying for the facilities which the airport gives. We have more arguments over the scale of landing fees than perhaps anything else.
From this side, as my noble friend Lord Hobson made quite clear in his speech, we welcome this Bill. It appeared to me, as one not directly associated with the dock industry, to be a very technical and complicated Bill. I must add my appreciation of the detailed explanation that the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, gave to the Bill. With his explanation the Bill becomes comprehensible to one who has read the Rochdale Report, if one is not directly associated with the industry. While talking about the Rochdale Report, may I also say that this is the first time that there has been a Report on the industry outside the shadow of a dock strike.
It has not been said to-day, but I think we ought to say—and perhaps we can say it better from this side of the House—that, by and large, the industry emerges from the Rochdale Report with credit to itself and to Britain. Of course, there are some very efficient harbours and docks; there are some not so efficient; and there are some which are inefficient. That was the reason for the setting up of the Rochdale Committee, and it is really to deal with that problem that we have the Bill which is before your Lordships to-day. If everything in the garden had been lovely so far as the ports and harbours of this country were concerned, then, of course, there would have been no necessity for the Committee and no necessity for this Bill.
We can only emphasise what has been said before in a different form: this country of ours is dependent upon imports and our shaping of those imports for exporting as manufactured articles. We have only one basic raw material ourselves, which is coal, and if we are to live as an industrial nation then we must import and export. If we are to survive, then the manner in which we are able to survive depends not only upon the skill of the worker in the field, factory, workshop and mine but upon the efficiency of the ports to handle the incoming materials and the outgoing products. If those ports are inefficient there is an added charge on the industry in 1204 freight charges, and an added inconvenience for those who are purchasing or selling the goods.
We agree that, to secure real efficiency throughout the whole of the port and harbour industry in this country, there must be planning, and that planning must have relation to the siting, to equipment, and to the operation of the ports. We are delighted, as my noble friend Lord Hobson has said, to congratulate the Government upon having made this deathbed repentance, not only in this Bill, but in one or two other Bills recently, and upon being prepared to plan the nation's resources for the nation's good, and to get away from this "free-for-all". They are now accepting what obviously ought to have been accepted some considerable time ago, in place of a "free-for-all" society for which they have been arguing. The ports of this country can never become efficient on the basis of a "free-for-all"; there can never be fully efficient handling and a fully efficient labour force.
Having welcomed the Bill and welcomed it, I think, very generously—much more generously than Bills are generally welcomed from this side of the House—I would suggest that many of the points that have been raised to-day are really Committee points, and I do not intend to weary the House by dealing with too many of them. I should like just to follow up what my noble friend Lord Hobson said, namely, that we intend to put down some detailed Amendments to the Bill—constructive as well as detailed—on questions of administration arising from the Bill rather than on the fundamental principles of the Bill.
I want to call attention to just one or two points. The first is the construction of the Council itself, the membership of the Council. I would agree right at the start with what the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said when he introduced the Bill this afternoon, that members appointed to the Board ought not to be considered as representative of any particular interest. They should be free, knowledgeable, of course, and able persons; but to accept anybody on the basis of his being a direct representative would be wrong. The Council as it is at present constituted consists, I believe, of seven members. Six of them 1205 are employers and there is one trade unionist. That trade unionist has no association with the docks industry. That is not against him; he still has knowledge of labour relations. If this Bill is to be a success and if the Rochdale recommendations are to be implemented (and everybody who has spoken has agreed that they should be) that can only happen if there is the fullest cooperation and good will on all sides of the dock industry—the harbour authorities, the employers, the labour force and, for that matter, shipping companies as well as the users of the ports.
If the best of good will is to be obtained from the labour force within the dock industry—and the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, this afternoon referred to a section which is a little suspicious in regard to certain consortia which are being sit up—if we are to get their full co-operation, free from suspicion, I think it would be wise (I put it no higher) to have some person on the National Ports Council who has a fairly detailed knowledge of the labour conditions arising in the ports of this country. I would emphasise the point made by my noble friend Lord Hobson. This is going to be a very big task for the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, and the members of his Board. I think at least three members of that Board ought to be full-time members in order that they can give the greater part of their time to the work, which will necessarily mean that there has to be a considerable amount of travelling, detailed inspections, negotiations and the rest.
Reference has been made by a number of your Lordships to-day to Clause 3 and to research and training. I am afraid I cannot go with the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, in his reference to a preference for the Industrial Training Act. We welcome this clause within the Bill. We think it is first class, and reference has already been made to the good work done in the training of the docker by the National Dock Labour Board. Not only the newcomers into the industry, but many of the men who have been in it for a long time are being trained to do their job more efficiently. I think that, if it sets about this job properly, the National Ports Council can make it 1206 possible for those within the industry to fit themselves for managerial and executive posts. It is a change to have this opportunity within the industry, particularly for the manual worker. Let us face it: the manual worker starts with a very considerable disadvantage. There are exceptional men in the industry, and those exceptional men can take advantage of and profit from this provision and secure reasonable appointments arising from it, but they start at a disadvantage.
The fact that the scheme is here is to the credit of the Bill and I hope the National Dock Labour Board will operate it to the full. I hope, too, that the workers in the industry, be they clerical, professional, technical or manual, will take the fullest advantage of it, because they can play the biggest part in making the industry efficient if they themselves are efficient in their own jobs, and this has to be encouraged right the way through.
There has been much discussion on Clause 19, on the control of movement. We have had not only the reference to it from my noble friend Lord Hobson, and that in the opening statement, but other references from the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Chester, the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, and the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. I do not think any of those who have been critical of this clause have made any suggestion at any time that the very utmost should not be done by everyone associated with the ports of this country in order to ensure the safe movement of ships. The greater the degree of safety which we can get, the better. Everyone agrees on that, and I think all those who have criticised this clause will agree that there is a right and a wrong way of doing things and, to put it no higher, the way the Government have tackled this matter seems to be a little ham-fisted.
As perhaps is natural, we on this side of the House get representations, not from the shipping companies or the users of ports, but from those who get their livings in the ports; from pilots, members of the National Union of Seamen, members of the Merchant Navy and members of the Airline Officers' Association. These are the men who operate 1207 in the ports, and who are likely to suffer the penalties, if penalties be imposed, arising from this clause. Yet my information is that in the preparation of the clause and its inclusion within the Bill there was no discussion with them. Some noble Lords have suggested that there should be an Amendment at Committee stage to take out the penal part of the clause. We have had representations, particularly from the Merchant Navy and the Airline Officers' Association, and arising from those representations an Amendment will be tabled at the Committee stage.
With regard to Clause 25 and harbour charges, while reference to this matter has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, in his opening statement, and by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, I approach it from a different point of view. I regret very much that in another place, in the closing stages of the discussions there, the non-preferment charges clause was taken out of the Bill. I would ask, quite bluntly, why. Here is a Bill where the Government have been converted to planning, upon which we congratulate them; and yet we are now making it possible for the absolute negation of planning in a cut-price war as between one port and another on charges for the facilities of the port. Here there is to be the modernisation of ports; there is to be the provision of more up-to-date equipment; and, of course, if there is to be modernisation and more up-to-date equipment it must be paid for. It will be quite possible, now that the non-preferment clause has been taken out, to equip one port and make it more efficient and for another port to offer a lower tonnage charge, and for shipping companies, concerned about the immediate effect of 2d. a ton on cargo, to switch from the port that has been modernised to some other port. My Lords, I think that the clauses dealing with the charges as a whole give the user of the port pretty good protection against overcharging. Therefore I think it was all the more foolish to have withdrawn this non-preferment charge clause from the Bill.
Winding up from this side of the House I will close as I opened. We welcome the Bill. As my noble friend Lord Hobson said, we will facilitate 1208 its passage through the House, subject to giving detailed consideration to a number of what we hope are constructive Amendments. We will do all that we can, both inside and outside this House, fully to implement the desire of the Rochdale Committee and of this Bill to make the ports of this country the most efficient in the world. Having said that, I will repeat what I have said in this House on a number of occasions. I have never hidden the fact that I worked for a living as a railwayman, and that, as a transport worker as well as a railwayman, I have always accepted the fact that the various forms of transport—road, rail, air, shipping, aerodromes and the ports—are all part of a transport industry and ought to be worked and planned together.
A little while ago I was congratulating the Government on having accepted planning. Yet there is nothing in the Report—it was not within the terms of reference of the Rochdale Committee—and there has been no statement by the Government, about something which is equally as important as the Rochdale Committee and this Bill; that is, the access by road and rail to the various ports of this country. If you ever get up early in the morning, just go down to the London Docks and see the scramble there, with miles of lorries having arrived at 5 o'clock at night and not being able to discharge or be loaded until next morning. If we are to have really efficient ports, then road and rail access must be dealt with as well. It is no good implementing "Beeching" at the same time as implementing the Rochdale Committee Report. One is dismantling facilities, the other is calling for their provision. You can make the most efficient ports for the handling of goods and you can give provision for what is perhaps the most serious lack in our ports, additional dry dock facilities; but unless you deal with the problem of the approach to the docks by road and rail, then you will not get the fullest effect from the Bill to which we are now giving a Second Reading.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I should like, before I forget it, to take up the last remark which was made in the very reasoned and reasonable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, about the question of road and rail access. 1209 May I ask him just to look at Clause 1(1)(d). The noble Lord said that it had never been mentioned in any context. But it is written into the Bill. I feel I must make that point, but I am not going to make a lot of it. I want to go on to what has been said by other of your Lordships who have taken part in this debate, which has been, I think, a very constructive one; and I should particularly like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale—I am sure your Lordships would also like me to do so—for the extremely valuable and enlightening contribution he made.
In my turn I should also like to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, on his maiden speech. The former speech more or less answered the latter, particularly in regard to the port of Par, a subject with which my noble friend Lord Merrivale associated himself in his remarks. I can only echo what the noble Viscount, Lord Rochdale, said: that small ports such as Par have nothing to fear from the provisions of the Bill. I should have thought they may well benefit from the activities of the National Ports Council. I think it would be a disservice to such ports to put them outside the scope of the Bill, where, of course, they are included in Clause 9(2).
My Lords, I particularly appreciate the welcome that has been given to this Bill, and the generosity of noble Lords opposite, in particular, in what they have said about improvement effected by the Bill, has certainly not been lost upon me. I would disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, only to the extent that it seemed to me, as, indeed, it has proved, that a large number of points that have been raised in this debate are rather more of a Committee character than of a Second Reading debate, unless I misunderstood him: and we are all concerned not so much—in fact really not at all—with the "if", but with the "how" of it. Therefore, as I feel we shall return in some detail to the majority of the points which have come up to-day, I am not going to attempt to tackle them at any length now; but there are, nevertheless, a few that I must mention.
The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, both doubted whether the real purpose of the 1210 Bill was written into it. I should like to allay any fears they may have that the Bill does not make the preparation of a comprehensive plan absolutely clear. I would point out that it does; I would say that I thought the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, was in a rather sinisterly suspicious mood to-day and has seen too much in the drafting of this Bill, because I must tell your Lordships that where it refers, in Clause 1, to "comprehensive plans", it is no more than a drafting device to ensure that all development is not held up until the whole plan has been produced. If it were produced in such a way that there must be a plan, nothing could be started towards implementing the plan until the whole thing was there. That is the reason the clause refers to "plans" in the plural.
The noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, and the noble Lord, Lord Hobson, told us they would be putting down Amendments, and they used the words "constructive", "considered" and "forthright" in relation to them; and I am quite sure they were right to do so. Whether your Lordships would wish to apply the adjective "acceptable" we can only wait and find out in due course.
The noble Lord, Lord Hobson, asked about the dry docks and pointed out that they were not included in the Bill. That is because the dry docks industry is part, in fact, of the ship repair industry. I know that all that goes on within the sphere of harbour authorities, and some dry docks are in fact owned by them, but not, of course, operated; and it would be extremely difficult to try to drag into the Bill an industry within an industry. That is the reason why it is not referred to.
He also, as did the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, raised the question of the composition of the Council, and I must try to deal with this point. I know it has been the view—it was pressed in another place—that there should be full-time members of the Council. In fact, that has been rather the custom in the past; for instance, in the case of the Railways Board. But the analogy of the Railways Board is not very strong. That Board is engaged in active management. This Council is engaged much more in an advisory and planning capacity. What is wanted, and I think 1211 this has commended itself all round the House, is a body of people of proved experience and knowledge to advise the Minister, to adjudicate on charges, to promote research. It does not necessarily require some statutory provision whether they should be full-time or not. In fact there is nothing to prevent the Minister from appointing as many full-time members as he may wish. Neither is there an obligation that all or any must be; and I think in the case of a council of this kind that is the better arrangement.
As to the other members, I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, agreed with my view that it should not be a sectional interest that should be represented; it would almost ruin this body's activity if it were so. It is true that there are members of the shipping industry, but they are not there to represent that industry; they are there to give their experience and contribute their knowledge to the work of the Council. I think that if we drew this thing in too close and there were statutory representatives of any given organisation—whether it be the National Dock Labour Board or any other—one would be unable to resist the argument that there should be a representative of all kinds of other people, or, indeed, of different regions. Therefore, I think the Council is better left as it is, although I would point out that there is nothing to stop the Minister if he so wishes from appointing any person of any organisation who happens to have the expertise which is necessary. Probably from time to time he will so wish, and he will do so.
The next point the noble Lord, Lord Hobson, made and which I think I ought to mention is whether the £50 million or possibly £100 million, mentioned in Clause 13, is adequate for the job. I am sorry he did not hear me say "fifteen or twenty years"; I must have mumbled. He mentioned fifty to eighty years. If he had divided that, he would have got a very astonishing answer. This money is not an actual piece of the national cake which has been earmarked for this purpose and is therefore sitting in some drawer marked "Private, Ports only" or something like that. This sum was decided on rather rough consideration, as best one can tell, of what was likely 1212 to be required; it seemed, on due consideration being given to it, the appropriate sum to put in the Bill at the present time. It was not just picked out of a hat, so to speak; it was on such consideration as could be given. The noble Lord, Lord Hobson, went on to a query on Special Parliamentary Procedure. I hope he will forgive me if I do not take up time on that matter now, because it will take time; it is rather detailed. It might be better to go into that at some convenient moment in Committee.
I feel I must deal, though I hope not at length, with the question which I think has exercised the minds of all, and that is Clause 19 and particularly the penal provision. Various noble Lords who have taken part have had to go, which is unfortunate, because I should have liked them to hear my remarks, but I have no doubt they will read them. There is one particular aspect of this matter which I think has been misunderstood. Nothing is actually written into this Bill which, when it becomes law, is going to send any master of a ship to prison.
What I think has been missed is that this is an enabling clause, enabling the authority which is making the scheme to make by-laws whereby offences against their scheme can be dealt with, either summarily, in which case the maximum penalty is £100, or upon indictment, when to preserve anything like equality with the law in other respects the maximum penalty of imprisonment is six months. If there is to be indictment, then that is the proper penalty. It will depend, surely, on the difficulties which are to be encountered in the harbour concerned whether the authority wish to make a by-law calling for indictment or whether they do not. I cannot stand here and say I think many will, or many will not. The other point to remember is that this is a safety arrangement; it is entirely in the interests of safety.
I think that between now and the next stage of the Bill we all ought to consider very carefully what is the alternative. Ships now are becoming very large; cargoes are sometimes explosive—I do not say ships are all full of gunpowder, but their cargoes may be oil, or petrol, or something like that, 1213 in what are getting to be very large quantities. Tankers are getting up to 100,000 tons, and you do not manœuvre an 80,000-ton tanker just as easily as a speedboat. It is in the interests of safety, not only of the ships, not only of their crews, not only of the responsibility of the master; we have to think of the safety of people in adjoining districts, living on land, who may easily be affected, and we have to take precautions against what could be a very major disaster. I think it would be a pity to wait until we had it rammed down our throats by having to suffer a major disaster before we tightened the law to deal with compliance with traffic control schemes. I think that is what we should ask ourselves before we take the matter to a further stage.
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, with most of what the noble Lord has said one is in perfect agreement. To my mind, at least, the worst feature of this matter is what is claimed to be the lack of consultation with those concerned.
§ LORD CHESHAM
A good deal has been made of lack of consultation in these matters, but I do not see quite what the noble Lord is complaining about. The noble Lord, Lord Hobson, gave us a long list of people who should have been consulted in this matter which, so far as I can make out, did not, with the possible exception of the Merchant Navy and Airline Officers' Association, include the masters. I do not know, but I do not think you usually necessarily have to consult people who are going to suffer a penalty under the law before you fix the penalty. I think that would be an unusual, rather than a usual, procedure. I may be wrong about that, and I should like to think about it a little more. But I rather think that the point that noble Lords have made has been a little overstated. For the moment, I should like to leave the matter there. Undoubtedly we shall be returning to it.
§ LORD HOBSON
My Lords, when the noble Lord returns to it at a later stage, will he pay particular attention to Clause 23, which gives me the impression—I am 1214 not a lawyer—that the man is guilty and has to prove he is innocent?
§ LORD CHESHAM
Yes, we shall look at the whole question, because undoubtedly there will be Amendments which will call for detailed attention at the next stage.
I want now to refer quickly to what the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, said on the question of an industrial training board. I echo what my noble friend Lord Blakenham said in the debate on the Industrial Training Bill. I see nothing inconsistent between what is in the Bill and the possibility in the future of an industrial training board for the industry. I should have thought that with these provisions and the possibility that the National Ports Council may have been promoting training in the meantime, if, later, an industrial training board came into existence, this would really have done nothing but good. Certainly, there is no intention that there should be any interference by the Minister or the National Ports Council with the activities of such a board if it were set up in due course. I do not think it will do to rely on an ultimate possibility of an industrial training board when we ought to be doing this and getting on with it now. That is my view.
The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, was, I think, in a darkly suspicious mood. Whilst I shall certainly be glad to look at Clause 30 and to think about what he said about it—Lord Merrivale mentioned the same point about its being put into cold storage—I think that what has been said is probably going unnecessarily far. When I opened I made it clear that this power was regarded as a reserve power and probably that is quite sufficient for this clause. However, I will look at what the noble Viscount said again—indeed, I will look at what all your Lordships have said again—with considerable interest before the Committee stage. But now, I hope your Lordships will see fit to give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.