Most ports are now free from congestion. The situation has improved at London and Liverpool, but still gives cause for concern. I am meeting the port authorities and port users next Monday to see whether anything more can be done in the short term to improve the situation.
While I am sure the House will be glad to know that there has been some improvement, especially in London, and while appreciating that there is a long-term problem, especially with regard to the London docks, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he appreciates that in the short term we must have better co-operation between management and men, and will he impress on everybody concerned that the present situation is not only increasing the cost of exports, but is severely demoralising many firms who are doing their best to export more goods but are finding that they cannot get their goods out of the country?
Many improvements have been made as a result of the work undertaken by the committee of officials under the chairmanship of the Permanent Secretary of my Department. The position has greatly improved. I spent a day at the London docks recently to see for myself. As I said, I am not satisfied with things as they are, and I believe that many more improvements have to be made, even in the short term. That is why I am going ahead with the meeting I have mentioned on Monday of next week.
As this is so important and there is so much public interest in this matter, will the Minister consider making a substantive statement as soon as possible on the results which his investigations have achieved hitherto and the conclusions at which he has arrived, even if the statement is of an interim nature?
I or some of my right hon. Friends will keep the House informed. As the right hon. Gentleman realises, the debate that we had just before Christmas was largely on matters which were more properly within the province of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, as was the preceding supplementary question. As I said on that occasion—and I say again—I do not try to duck questions because they are more properly questions for my right hon. Friend. In reply to this question, I say that on some of these matters it may be more proper for someone else to make a statement, but we will see that the House is kept informed.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable and immediate scope for the diversion of traffic from London and Liverpool to other ports? The most modern docks in the country are in Middlesbrough, and there we have the only port in the country which works double shifts throughout the week and which worked at the weekend both over Christmas and the New Year, and yet these dock facilities are gross under-employed. Will my right hon. Friend consider taking up the conservatism of shippers and shipowners to make sure that traffic is diverted to where it can be expeditiously handled?