Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon), I did not intend to participate in the debate. I shall keep my remarks brief having regard to the lateness of the hour and the obvious hope of other hon. Members to take part.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney), who is not in his place, seemed to blame the Labour Government for the difficulties now facing the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. If he has examined the minutes of the Committee he will have noted the concern expressed by the Chairman, his hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body), about the responsibility of the previous Administration. I have not had an opportunity to study the minutes in detail, as I saw them only a couple of hours ago. I support the protest made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) about the availability of documents and information. I refute the allegation of the hon. Member for Wavertree about blame attaching to the Labour Government. I believe that a certain amount of responsibility lies with the previous board.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) pointed out the degree of responsibility which must be borne by certain members of the previous Board. It is generally accepted by hon. Members on this side of the House that, due to the vested interests of some of the Board members, port charges were deliberately kept low. Obviously those members were expecting the Labour Government to nationalise the docks. Following the election last June and the return of a Conservative Government, that hope disappeared.
It is no coincidence that the financial difficulties of the Board were first brought to public notice immediately after the General Election. In the annual report, published and presented in April, 1970, no mention was made of any financial crisis. Yet, less than three months later, Merseyside Members of Parliament were informed of the great danger of the Board going bust. I believe that the charge against some of the directors of culpable negligence is justified.
The real blame now lies with the Government. Their cynical attitude towards lame ducks seems to apply particularly to areas which have a strong Labour representation. We have had Mersey-side; now we have Clydeside. Through the Government's policies, these areas, which have always had their fair share of unemployment, distress and depression, will suffer further unemployment. I see nothing in the Bill which will do anything to help to solve permanently the problems for the future of the Port of Liverpool.