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The ruling of the Chair on this matter is that it would be inadvisable for any hon. Member to exercise his vote if he has a direct or indirect interest. An indirect interest could include benefits in kind. That is my advice.
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is well known that European Ferries achieved considerable commercial success in inviting shareholdings on the basis that shareholders would be entitled to cheap cross-Channel conveyance of their vehicles and families. Would such motives for holding a shareholding be an equal debarment?
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Very little of consequence has altered since the Second Reading of the Bill and, more particularly, since it was considered in the House last week. There is little to be said for wholesale repetition of arguments used in previous stages, and I intend to take up very little of the time of the House because there are hon. Members on both sides who wish to speak.
When the smoke and dust has cleared from this battle, the main issue will remain precisely as it was. The impressive history of the development of the port of Felixstowe is admitted by everybody who has taken part in the debate, and the transformation of Felixstowe by the pioneers, to whom I pay tribute, from a silted backwater to a port of great importance has an exciting ring.
But there were other factors. The first was the geographical position of Felixstowe in relation to the rapidly developing region of East Anglia which has caused expansion in all the haven ports, including, for example, Ipswich, whose development, ownership and control is substantially different from that of Felixstowe.
Felixstowe has also benefited from the technical revolution in cargo handling because it has had no residual hangover of the older, more traditional methods. In the older ports, transition from the old to the new involved very complex changes for the work force and threw up very different problems in management. Felixstowe port, if I may put it this way, developed in the new container era, and the difficulties of transition were not great. However, even though these two points are conceded, perhaps, the emergence of Felixstowe has been impressive and the evidence is there for all to see.
There is, however, another piece of evidence, to which I wish to draw the attention of the House. What sort of private enterprise development, I asked myself, does Felixstowe port represent? To find out, I looked at the gearbox of free enterprise in any company—the balance sheet. I should like to quote from the report and accounts of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company for 1975, page 23, section 13, headed "Stock and Loan Capital". The total debentures, loans and overdrafts in 1975 came to £7,610,164. Of that figure £2,718,545 was a secured loan from Department of the Environment at rates of interest varying between 6 per cent. and 16⅛ per cent., repayable at various dates up to 1994. Secondly, over £1 million-worth is of secured loans from the Department of the Environment at rates of interest varying between 6 per cent. and 16½ per cent. Therefore, out of a total of just under £7¾ million, £4 million represents Government money.
What sort of pure free enterprise development is that? It simply does not stand up to close examination. State aid has been forthcoming even in the heyday of private enterprise of this port. That is an inescapable fact.
At present, concerning the port of Felixstowe we are in a new ball game altogether. Last year Felixstowe reached a point at which the directors of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company realised that changes were needed. In particular, there was the realisation that continuing and substantial injections of capital investment were needed. Secondly, in addition, a new era is at hand with the National Dock Labour Scheme and the complex changes that that will bring about. These and other factors now intrude on to the situation. The future will be more complex, and more sophisticated techniques will be needed.
Here we come to the crux of the whole matter. The essence of this argument in principle is that with this new situation, given a choice between European Ferries, even with the flair and profitability which that company represents, and the British Transport Docks Board, the latter having experience of 19 ports of varied conditions over a wide geographical area, long experience of operating within the National Dock Labour Scheme and the weight of experience behind it of port ownership and control under complex modern conditions, it is a more rational and more advantageous choice for the port, for East Anglia and the nation that it should go to the latter rather than to European Ferries, which in the last resort has no such experience and, in the end, is a shipping company.
I can give a categorical "Yes". It is the intention of the British Transport Docks Board to do whatever dredging is demanded—indeed, to sink whatever capital investment is required by the commercial demand for facilities at Felixstowe, and to do whatever is required. My point, which is a general one, is that in the long run European Ferries cannot offer the same depth and breadth of skill and experience in this matter.
It is still not advisable, even given what the Felixstowe port users are saying and have said, to have a port under the control of a single port user. On my reading of the minutes of the evidence before the Committee, I did not find that counsel for the petitioners made any objections at all in principle to the Bill. There were objections to detail but none in principle.
Whatever the sentiments are now of the port users at Felixstowe, it is still the case that control by one user is such that it would permanently be in a position to hand itself advantages. One set of people who have not spoken, and indeed cannot speak, are the port users of the future, and that is another point.
I am still pointing out the danger that must remain in the long run. On Second Reading my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden), who has detailed experience of the port of Liverpool, testified that a substantial reason for its decline was that the port was controlled by a port user. Historical experience of other examples guides me in this decision.
There is another point that is worth contesting, and I do so because I want to face the argument put forward by the opponents of the British Transport Docks Board as one of their alleged points of strength. It has been alleged that the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company could not raise the capital: in fact it was there like a paralysed rabbit because of the threat of nationalisation. That argument does not hold water. What is being said, and indeed has been said, is that when the trumpet uttered the certain sound of public ownership the walls of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company fell down.
That argument gives me considerable cause for surprise and the Conservative Party and its supporters in the country, I suggest. considerable cause for concern, because it means, on the face of it, that free enterprise as a political force represented in the Conservative Party has no resilience at all. If public ownership came to Felixstowe through nationalisation, surely, if the Conservative Party continues to be a strong national force end eventually becomes the Government, and if the port is such a jewel in the free enterprise crown, I should have thought that the situation would not be beyond redemption, but apparently it is. We all know that we are in a fluid political situation, yet free enterprise in its political manifestations has apparently taken flight at the sound of the guns. Apparently the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company is the first fugitive from the field.
On the Third Reading of the Bill, I am asking the House for a solid vote in its favour. In summary, I believe that it is in the best interests of the port that the British Transport Docks Board agreement should be ratified by this House. I believe that that is also in the public interest and, in the last resort, confirmation of a commercial bargain already struck between the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company and the British Transport Docks Board, which is a continuing obligation.
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) as I represent the constituency containing Felixstowe, which is adjacent to Ipswich. One of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman was that, despite the fact that Felixstowe had done well, so, too, have the other Haven ports.
He quoted Ipswich as an example. The comparative traffic figures were, for Felixstowe, in 1966, 800 tons; in 1974, 3·7 million tons. That is ignoring fuels entirely. The figures for Ipswich were 1·9 million tons in 1966 and 2·5 million tons in 1974. I would suggest that the hon. Member for Ipswich concerns himself much more with the finances and operations of the ports in his constituency rather than straying elsewhere.
There is, inevitably, an air of deja-vu about this debate. We have been over the ground before: indeed, this was conceded by the hon. Member for Ipswich. He struggled to make what I thought were simply twists on points which had been made very adequately previously.
I am faltering? Let us see how we progress. I have only just started. When one clears the first fence or two, perhaps one gets a second breath. It is how one comes in which matters, not how one starts. I will not be diverted, because the time at our disposal is restricted.
The hon. Member for Ipswich played up the point about the financial involvement of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company with the Department of Environment, as it now is. It certainly was not in 1963 when the Harbours Act was passed. It was under that Act, with the approval of the Treasury, that these moneys were advanced.
I can only assure the House that it has caused me much anxiety and personal endeavour on behalf of my constituents with the National Ports Council over the years repeatedly to secure moneys under the Harbours Act. I am sure the Minister for Transport will understand precisely what I am talking about in this context. That is how this came about.
Indeed, I said on Second Reading, that the proportion of fixed capital which the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company derived from the Department of the Environment was at rates in excess of 16 per cent. All this derives from the Rochdale Report, but we do not have time to explore that situation tonight.
The further charge made by the hon. Member for Ipswich related to the danger of the port being controlled by a large user. I am glad to see some of our friends from Ulster present. The Port of Lame in Northern Ireland is owned by European Ferries and is used extensively by P & O and other shipping lines in addition to European Ferries.
An interesting contrast emerges. If one looks at the amounts which have now been generously made available to the British Transport Docks Board in respect of 1975—there are supplementary details in respect of the financial performance of each of the major ports—one finds that capital invested at Southampton, owned by the British Transport Docks Board, was about £40 million, and that the pro- fit last year was £190,000. European Ferries has invested £400,000 at Larne. Profit last year on an exactly similar basis was £1·5 million. The charges at Lame for exactly similar traffic—bearing in mind that shippers other than European Ferries use the port with great joy and alacrity—are a third of the comparable charges at Southampton.
The debate tonight should not concern itself with defaming the British Transport Docks Board. Our concern is to get the Bill into perspective. The hon. Member for Ipswich said that when the smoke and dust had cleared, the issue remained precisely as it was. I question that very much. The issue as it was when this Bill and all the preliminaries thereto first saw the light of day was that the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company was under the threat of immediate nationalisation, which had resulted from the last election manifesto of the Labour Party.
I have in my hand a letter from the past chairman of the company, Mr. Gordon Parker, dated 16th May, which I had hoped to read out on Report the other evening, but, unfortunately, points of order got us entangled. It is worth reading it out now:
During the Second Reading of the British Transport Docks Bill a number of complimentary references were made from both sides of the House to Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company. Some play was made that Gordon Parker"—
the letter is signed, "Yours sincerely, Gordon"—
a lifelong believer in free enterprise and a staunch practitioner, had come to the conclusion that the offer by the British Transport Docks Board should be accepted as it was then in the best interests of my company and indeed of Suffolk generally and that £5 million were required for plant etc., the latter being a figment of the speaker's imagination",
whoever that was, on Second Reading.
Consequently, he—Gordon Parker—had agreed to support the Bill before Parliament, as had the Docks Board. In this connection, it is pertinent to observe that, as distinct from London, Liverpool and Hull, Felixstowe 1976 continues to operate at a profit. To my mind, it would be unethical of me—not illegal but unethical—to withdraw from my undertakings. During the Second Reading, the reiteration that I had freely entered the final transaction, whilst correct, might have been accompanied or qualified with equal emphasis"—
there follows a series of important points—
"by reference to certain factors all of which were adverse to the future of my docks and which were proposed by the present Government in its election manifesto:
I presume that, had European Ferries not come along, with a heavy heart I would at least have acquiesced in—I might even have voted in favour of—the Bill. But now European Ferries has come on the scene with a bid which is not merely fairer to the shareholders but offers, as I see it, everything to the dock users, the employees of the port and the shareholders.
The offer of 150p means that the shareholders have been swindled. The figure was fixed last November and is due only in cash, despite inflation, 12 months thereafter, dividends being forgone in the meantime, whereas the European Ferries' offer in full is 195p, or the equivalent thereof, with immediate entitlement to dividends in European Ferries.
The employees in the undertaking have made it clear that they are indifferent to the question of ownership, whether by the British Transport Docks Board or by European Ferries, which can only be interpreted as meaning that they give at least equal marks to European Ferries. The port users have petitioned vigorously against the Bill.
The hon. Member for Ipswich, in referring to the question of the port users, said "We cannot prognosticate. We cannot determine the situation regarding future port users." They are the important people. It has been evidenced to me by the chairman of European Ferries—who is now chairman of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company, given that it controls 97 per cent. of the equity of that company—that a considerable number of protests and queries have been received from users, and that a number of users overseas have not only expressed their concern about the possibility of the control of the dock falling into the hands of the British Transport Docks Board, but have registered the fact that should that happen, they will withdraw their trade.
I do not think that the issue should be presented as it is presented in the Bill, in the context of ownership by European Ferries. Had the bid been conducted in terms of the takeover code of the City Take-over Panel, short of final acceptance, shareholders would have been entirely free to look to any other valid officer, and that would have had to stand on its own feet. The criteria have been overridden by what—
I am happy to have your assurance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the annunciators will be corrected and that everybody throughout the whole of this establishment, if that is a parliamentary term, will be duly alerted to the important proceedings that are taking place.
I must bring my contribution to a very rapid end. I submit that the Bill has changed its flavour entirely. It came forward in the context of this distressing letter which I have read out and which was written as recently as 16th May. The hon. Member for Ipswich can say what he likes about ownership and attitudes. Here is the letter from the man who founded it, who created it. Here are his fears.
In all decency, the Bill should have been dropped by the Government, but they are hell-bent on nationalisation. I should like to think that from the Opposition Front Bench tonight we shall have a positive undertaking that the next Conservative Administration will unwind any ill done by nationalisation, which is the only interpretation which can be put upon this Bill.
Finally, European Ferries Limited has already put £500,000 into the Felixstowe company and is honouring at least the spirit of the so-called contract of the British Transport Docks Board to the extent of discussions and commitments in the capital sense of very large sums indeed. The countervailing argument that has been put forward by various hon. Members—that the funds for this acquisition, were to it be made by the British Transport Docks Board, would come out of the coffers of the British Transport Docks Board and, therefore, that the takeover would not impinge upon the taxpayer or upon the Treasury—is a false argument of considerable magnitude.
What is wrong with Felixstowe and what is wrong with Suffolk in terms of the traffic that comes from and goes to Felixstowe is the roads of Suffolk. The hon. Member for Ipswich full well knows, and I hope desperately that he agrees, that the construction of the Ipswich southern bypass has for far too long been delayed. I put the question to him, as I put it to the House: how far would not £5½ million go in that direction, plus the recurrent subsidy received by the British Transport Dock Board of no less than £14 million a year? If one normalises the effective interest rate on £124 million borrowings from the Treasury and elsewhere at less than 5 per cent., at 15 per cent. one gets a recurrent annual benefit of subsidy to BTDB of the order of £14 million or £15 million. That is the Ipswich southern bypass, paid for, financed and completed.
That is what is wrong with Felixstowe. That is what is wrong with Suffolk. We do not want the British Transport Docks Board: we want better roads and we want Felixstowe Dock run by European Ferries Limited.
On Second Reading the Minister for Transport commended the Bill to the House in a speech heavy with Freudian overtones. He talked about unions, issue, and love matches. I do not know whether he saw himself as the father of the bride or as the priest or perhaps as the midwife. For myself, I find this a rather squalid little episode. I think that perhaps the Minister has been cast in the rôle of the procureur or—in the Anglo-Saxon—of the pimp.
The real reason for the Bill was revealed in a revealing slip by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley), who said that Felixstowe was too important a port to be left in private hands.
A more acceptable argument, but, on closer analysis, an equally spurious one, was that the opponents of the Bill were endeavouring to use the powers of the House to override a private agreement.
I shall address myself to that point now as time is not on our side. First, there was no binding agreement for the sale of their shares entered into by the shareholders of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company and the British Transport Docks Board. There was some kind of agreement conditional on the passing of a Bill in the House. All the propositions about the agreement scheduled to the Bill are entirely beside the point, as I shall endeavour to show.
There was an extraordinary general meeting of the company held against the background of Mr. Gordon Parker's extremely gloomy forecast. I shall not address myself to the curious arguments of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) about free enterprise because time does not permit. At that meeting, 48·6 per cent. of the stockholders attended and their holdings in the aggregate amounted to only 63 per cent. In fact, the vote was carried by the holders of only 55 per cent. of the stock of the company.
The House will recall that, in a normal takeover situation, if the purchaser wishes to buy out a dissentient minority he must hold at least 90 per cent. of the shares. That the British Transport Docks Board did not hold. It is true that the board, on behalf of a company but not necessarily on behalf of the shareholders, entered into the agreement, which is in a schedule to the Bill, with the British Transport Docks Board. That agreement, as I pointed out in reply to an intervention by the hon. Member for Leicester, East on Second Reading, did not pass any interest in the shares to the British Transport Docks Board. The interest in the shares passed under a subsequent perfectly respectable and binding agreement between European Ferries and the individual shareholders. It is that agreement that the House is being asked to override now. The interest in those shares passed to European Ferries, and the House is being asked to transfer that interest to the British Transport Docks Board. If there is to be any talk of breach, that is the breach and that is why this is a rather squalid manoeuvre.
It is well understood in commercial life that there can be two competing bids for the same company. If the British Transport Docks Board were to be competing on level terms with European Ferries and were, in fair fight, to have won the acceptance of the individual shareholders, I could not complain. But that is not the case. If there is any doubt about that, I suggest that a Law Officer be asked to come and enlighten the House. If that be the case, what argument is left? The argument is that the performance of the two competitors is unequal. We are told that the docks board has the greater weight of experience. I am not here to denigrate the activities of the docks board. The board has run a greater number of ports than European Ferries. But still European Ferries is not without experience in this field. If we look at general entrepreneurial experience, the palm must go to European Ferries.
The hon. Member for Ipswich was disposed to draw attention to the return of capital of the docks board—7·8 per cent., he said. In fact, it was 7·8 per cent. before any account is taken of interest. If we look at the accounts of European Ferries for the past few years, we find that its return on capital is between 15 per cent. and 20 per cent. after taking account of interest. If we look at the weight of public money involved, I can only remind the House that there is something like £76 million of public money at 3·61 per cent. that the taxpayers have loaned to the docks board, and in all, up to 1972, £123 million. That is the kind of public support that the docks board has enjoyed. I am not prepared to argue the merits of our investments in the docks Board, but, if we are to consider where the weight of public money has been cast, of course it is behind the docks board.
Let us consider the question of labour relations. The hon. Member for Ipswich, on the last occasion but happily not tonight, was disposed to dredge through the whole part of European Ferries, relying on some very doubtful evidence from the trade unions to regale the House with the number of strikes avoided by European Ferries. All I can say is that if the British Transport Docks Board had avoided one major strike, I would have been very happy indeed. I do not want to compare in an unfavourable light the performance of the two companies but if we look at the history of the British Transport Docks Board in Southampton it does not compare with that of European Ferries, certainly not in Dover. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who regrettably is not here, although he has changed his tune a little—in deference, no doubt, to the criticism of his hon. Friends—was disposed in another Select Committee to commend the industrial relations of European Ferries.
Again, is it right to hand over a port to one principal port user? Neither the hon. Member for Ipswich nor the Minister for Transport has addressed himself to that point if it be a valid argument. If it is, we must look carefully at the role of British Railways, particularly in the port so ably represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain.)
Since time is short, however, I shall come now to the one point of substance which emerged from the proceedings of the Committee. It was difficult for us on this side of the House to deploy the argument very satisfactorily last week when we did not have the minutes at our disposal. We are very concerned about the future of the port as regards those who work there, those who use it, Trinity College and the town of Felixstowe itself.
There was an undertaking in the agreement scheduled to the Bill between the Felixstowe Company and the British Transport Docks Board under which the docks board covenanted to do certain things. On the face of it, it was an admirable covenant, but on closer analysis it turned out to be not very valuable, for two reasons. First—this point was explored at considerable length before the Committee—it was open to either of the parties to the contract to vary the agreement at any point in the future; secondly, and more importantly, no one other than the two parties to the agreement could enforce it in the future.
In deference to the first of those criticisms, there has been a fairly substantial amendment to the Bill by which the covenant has been made immutable by agreement. It will not now be open either to the board or the company to alter the terms of the agreement. But the second point still remains—who can enforce that agreement other than the Felixstowe Company? If the Bill becomes law, the company will become a wholly-owned subsidiary, a creature, of the docks board, and as such will hardly be very concerned to enforce the covenant. At the end of the day, the cove nant is subject to the overriding condition that it is subject to any direction which may be given by the Secretary of State.
Last week, in Committee on the Finance Bill, we had occasion to take the true measure of the Minister for Transport in the discharge of his onerous responsibilities. We saw how he regarded the crucial question of how a motor car owner may transfer his number plates. We were told that it was beyond the wit of his civil servants to make in each case more than two transfers a day and that the cost would remain at the Minister's discretion. I shall not explore that point, but hon. Members who read the Hansard of those Committee proceedings upstairs will get a truer appreciation of how the Minister for Transport discharges his political and administrative duties.
At the end of the day, the question is this: who will have a more tender regard for the interests of the port users as a whole, of those who work in the port, of the town of Felixstowe itself and of Trinity College? Mr. Keith Wickenden, engagingly and rather naively, I suggest, told the Committee that his group regarded Felixstowe as the brightest jewel in its crown. Would he be likely to throw that jewel aside? On the other hand, in the hands of the docks board I think that Felixstowe will be no more than a semi-precious stone in one of the many bangles around its rapacious wrist.
I support my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) in his very valiant fight on behalf of his constituents about the private ownership of the very flourishing dock at Felixstowe. I consider the Bill to be unnecessary. Felixstowe is not a sick port. It is flourishing and prosperous.
Many of my constituents, coming from villages 10 or 15 miles from Felixstowe, work in the dock, and have been doing so for a large number of years. Not one of them has written to me or made any complaint to me about the way in which he has been treated there, or asked me to support nationalisation. From what I can gather, the feeling of the men who work in the docks is very much in the other direction. They want to remain in private enterprise.
If this enterprise is to be taken over by the British Transport Docks Board, have we any guarantee at all that those who use the docks after nationalisation will not be charged more? According to my information, this is what has happened in other docks taken over by the docks board. Is there any guarantee to the consumers at Felixstowe that their costs will not be raised?
The question whether a user should be an owner is a red herring which has been drawn across the main issue tonight, which is whether the dock shall remain in private ownership or be nationalised. There is a great deal of work which comes to Suffolk as a whole. It is a growing county and much of its success is due to the traffic which has come in through the dock at Felixstowe.
We shall always be grateful to the pioneer, Mr. Gordon Parker, for all the work and faith he has put into his enterprise at Felixstowe. The dock has become considerably more prosperous since our entry into the European Economic Community. We in Suffolk do not want the whole development to be thrown away just because hon. Members on the Government side follow a particular dogma.
The wives of the men who work in the dock are naturally anxious whether their husbands will continue to have a job. Will the dock survive? Will their husbands be thrown out of work? They know how jobs can disappear. Their husbands have good jobs now under private enterprise. We ought to set their minds at rest by voting against this measure once and for all tonight.
After all, in other industries the record of nationalisation is not one of great success. Why should hon. Members opposite want to take Felixstowe into the nationalised sector, unless it is that they are ridden by dogma? I plead for the people who work in the dock, their wives and their children. Let us set their fears at rest tonight by determining that there shall be no nationalisation of the dock at Felixstowe.
I hope that there will be a big vote, but I plead with hon. Members not to vote just for the sake of dogma or on party lines. Why change something successful when we have no certainty that it will be successful under nationalisation?
The Government have twice already made their view of this Bill very clear in the debates on Second Reading and on Report. For that reason, I intend to intervene only briefly in this debate to deal primarily with one or two misconceptions about the intentions of the British Transport Docks Board which have come up several times in our debates.
Opposition Members have referred to the position of Trinity College, Cambridge, which owns substantial areas of land in and adjacent to the port. Naturally, the college has been concerned to ensure that it is not adversely affected by the changes of ownership at Felixstowe and has very properly sought assurances from the board on this point. As I understand the position, the college has been mainly concerned to be satisfied that the trade of the port will continue to be maintained and developed under the new ownership. It has also sought assurances that the board's powers of compulsory purchase under the Transport Act 1962 will not be used against it. These points were considered in great detail by the Select Committee, and the Committee was at pains to find satisfactory solutions.
On the first point, the Committee made an amendment to the Bill to make it absolutely clear that the board will be under a binding commitment to promote the interests of the operations of the port of Felixstowe and their further development as opportunity arises. The only qualification to that commitment is that it is made subject to any directions which may be given by the Secretary of State. I am, therefore, glad to add my assurance and that if my right hon. Friend to those already given to Trinity College by the board and to say that neither of us has any intention of giving any directions to the board which could possibly affect Felixstowe.
The board has, therefore, undertaken to put itself on exactly the same footing as the previous owners of the port in respect of powers of compulsory purchase, and in practical terms I do not think that Trinity College has anything to fear in this respect.
I have gone into these points of concern to Trinity College at some length because it is obviously important that it should be dealt with fairly. In my view, the board has met the college on all the points of substance which it has raised. I hope that the college and those who speak on its behalf will take due note of the assurances which have been given and the amendment which has been made to the Bill and will not feel it necessary to pursue their objections to the Bill in another place.
As I said just now, I shall not detain the House by reiterating previous arguments on this subject. I content myself with repeating the three main grounds on which, as I see it, the Bill rests. First, it rests on an agreement freely made between the board and the Felixstowe Company which the House has decided by its votes on Second Reading and on Report that there are no good grounds for overturning. Secondly, we believe that Felixstowe is likely to enjoy excellent management and a secure and prosperous future under the board. Thirdly, it is only sensible to have regard to the Government's general intentions for the reorganisation of the ports industry and to plan for the future of Felixstowe in that context.
We have made it absolutely clear that we intend to bring commercial ports into public ownership, and I reiterate our firm commitment to this intention. With this prospect in mind, it must make better sense for Felixstowe to be acquired by the British Transport Docks Board now, rather than to leave it temporarily with European Ferries and to face the certainty of a further upheaval in the not too distant future.
This is the third debate on the Floor of the House in the past few weeks about Felixstowe. This process of debate has had one clear result: it has brought home to the public what is being proposed in this Bill, because Felixstowe is not some quiet East Anglian backwater, but a major British port with an unrivalled record of growth and a high international reputation.
It is a port which provides employment directly and indirectly for over 3,000 people and where labour relations are an example to the rest of industry. It is a port which has been built up by a combination of private enterprise and the combined efforts of management and work force. In short, it is the country's most successful port, but the Bill will force it into the public sector, into the ports empire of the British Transport Docks Board, which already has 25 per cent. of the market but wants 30 per cent.
After three debates, all the arguments have been used in favour of the merger. The first argument of the British Transport Docks Board is based on its modest claim that only it has the size and breadth of experience to run Felixstowe. It is as well that that argument was not used in the past, because if it had been applied when Gordon Parker started to work, when the port was run down and in disrepair, he would have been debarred from taking it over, as would any other innovator or small company.
"Big is beautiful" has been the claim of bureaucrats throughout history, but it is peculiarly inappropriate when applied to a company where local management and decision-making have been a characteristic. The docks board says that Felixstowe will complement its operations. That argument could be applied to any port in the country, but what makes Felixstowe special is that here the board will complement its operations by eliminating its most successful competitor. The docks hoard already has more than 19 ports. On the East coast it has Hull, Goole, Immingham, Grimsby, King's Lynn and Lowestoft. Surely there is enough scope there for the board to show its paces.
We come to the argument used by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley). He says that it is far too important a national asset to be left in private hands. He said the same thing on Second Reading, and I thought that was a slip of the tongue. Last Tuesday, however, he repeated the claim, and so we must assume that it is meant seriously, but what an argument! By common consent this port was built up by private hands and private effort. Gordon Parker took a risk with his own money, backing his own judgment. He received the loyal support of staff and work force. Felixstowe has been an outstanding success of what can be achieved by private enterprise and by private effort.
The hon. Member is extolling the virtues of Gordon Parker, and I would not decry them. He is, however, creating the impression that the British Transport Docks Board filched Felxistowe from Gordon Parker. Gordon Parker, however, entered very willingly last November into a deal with the docks board, a willing seller and a willing buyer.
The hon. Member's argument on that score was demolished in two debates in the past and again effectively a few moments ago. If Felixstowe had been left to public enterprise, the channel would still be silted up and the equipment would be rusted over. If we are talking about the national interest, let us give credit where it is due—to the private hands which built up Felixstowe.
Lastly, there is the argument advanced by the Minister for Transport. Sadly, he missed our last debate to go to the Finance Bill Committee to explain his plans for taxing cherished car numbers. His triumph there was fully reported in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday. It moved my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) to say that, having heard the Minister on cherished transfers, he preferred to listen to him on capital transfers. To hear the Minister at his real rock bottom worst it is necessary to listen to him on company transfers.
It is common knowledge that the docks board's attempt to take over Felixstowe is being resisted there and that a battle is taking place. But, according to the Minister, all is sweetness and light. To use the Minister's own words, the arrangement is a love match. I sincerely hope that the Minister never becomes a marriage counsellor.
I have one word for the Minister from last week's interview with the so-called Colonel Cheeseman. I predict a great future for the Minister on BBC television. Both he and the BBC work on the same principle—"don't let the facts get in the way of a good story."
The facts all point one way. Hon. Members on the Government Benches seek to make something of the agreement with Gordon Parker. My hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) has demolished all that remained of that argument. But even previously Gordon Parker had his problems because of the serious uncertainty caused by the Government's port nationalisation plans.
The threat of nationalisation hung over Felixstowe and it was that threat which forced Gordon Parker into a merger which, in normal circumstances, he would not have contemplated for one moment. To call that a love match is bizarre—and it became even more so when two months later European Ferries made its counter bid. All those most closely involved with Felixstowe want no part in the takeover, and 97 per cent. of shareholders reject the board's proposal. The local branch of the Transport and General Workers' Union has remained officially neutral, but most workers and staff make no secret of their wish to remain independent of the board. Nor is there any doubt about the views of the port users.
Hon. Members have sought to make something of the fact that European Ferries is also a port user. They claim that this has dangers but other port users want to see European Ferries running Felixstowe, not the docks hoard. Representations from customers are not against European Ferries but against the board. Let us not deal in theory when we have the evidence of fact.
We also have the evidence of experience. European Ferries has run the port of Lame since 1973. Competitors of European Ferries—such as the Scottish arm of British Rail's Sealink—use the port with discrimination. Trade has increased and the labour force has increased.
The House is being asked to impose its view—its will—against the views of the shareholders of the port, the users of the port and against the interests of those who work at Felixstowe or depend on it for employment. The House should not use its power in that way.
A better solution is possible. It is that European Ferries should be allowed to continue to run Felixstowe. It has an outstanding record of growth and nothing has been shabbier than the way in which hon. Members on the Government Benches have tried to denigrate it. It is 100 per cent. British owned and 70 per cent. of those shares are owned by individuals. It has made profits over the past two years and financed a shipbuilding programme of £50 million.
The company has created jobs. In 1965 it employed 300 people. Today its labour force is over 3,500. In many ways it matches the success of the Felixstowe company itself. Both companies started small and both today enjoy a success which means employment for hundreds of men during the most prolonged period of unemployment since the war. Hon. Members should reflect that that is an achievement.
On Second Reading the Minister sought to define Government policy in
We reject not only the Government's nationalisation plans but the case for Felixstowe becoming part of the British Transport Docks Board. The Government have a majority and may be able to force the Bill through tonight, but I hope that no one believes that that will be the end of the matter. The Conservative Party cannot accept that Felixstowe should continue as a nationalised port or as part of the British Transport Docks Board. An incoming Conservative Government will want to see Felixstowe restored to the private sector. I give the clear undertaking that we shall not be content until the private sector has had the opportunity to buy back Felixstowe.
|Division No. 153.]||AYES||[9.56 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony|
|Allaun, Frank||Buchan, Norman||Cunningham, G. (Islington S)|
|Anderson, Donald||Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiten)|
|Archer, Peter||Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)||Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Ashley, Jack||Campbell, Ian||Davies, Ifor (Gower)|
|Ashton, Joe||Canavan, Dennis||Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Cant, R. B.||Deakins, Eric|
|Atkinson, Norman||Carmichael, Neil||Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Carter, Ray||Dempsey, James|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Carter-Jones, Lewis||Doig, Peter|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Cartwright, John||Dormand, J. D.|
|Bates, Alf||Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Douglas-Mann, Bruce|
|Bean, R. E.||Clemitson, Ivor||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Eadie, Alex|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Cohen, Stanley||Edge, Geoff|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Coleman, Donald||Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Colquhoun, Ms Maureen||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)|
|Boardman, H.||Concannon, J. D.||English, Michael|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Conlan, Bernard||Ennals, David|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Corbett, Robin||Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)|
|Bradley, Tom||Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Ewing Harry (Stirling)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Faulds, Andrew|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Cronin, John||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Litterick, Tom||Rose, Paul B.|
|Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)||Lomas, Kenneth||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|Flannery, Martin||Loyden, Eddie||Rowlands, Ted|
|Fletcher Raymond (Ilkeston)||Luard, Evan||Sandelson, Neville|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Selby, Harry|
|Forrester, John||Mabon, Dr J. Dickson||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||McCartney, Hugh||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||McElhone, Frank||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Freeson, Reginald||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Mackenzie, Gregor||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|George, Bruce||Maclennan, Robert||Silverman, Julius|
|Gilbert, Dr John||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Ginsburg, David||McNamara, Kevin||Small, William|
|Golding, John||Madden, Max||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Gould, Bryan||Magee, Bryan||Snape, Peter|
|Gourlay, Harry||Mallalieu, J. P. W||Spearing, Nigel|
|Graham, Ted||Marks, Kenneth||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Marquand, David||Stallard, A. W.|
|Grant, John (Islington C)||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Stoddart, David|
|Grocott, Bruce||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Stott, Roger|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Strang, Gavin|
|Hardy, Peter||Maynard, Miss Joan||Strauss, Rt Hn G. R.|
|Harper, Joseph||Meacher, Michael||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Swain, Thomas|
|Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Mendelson, John||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Mikardo, Ian||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Hatton, Frank||Millan, Bruce||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Hayman, Mrs Helene||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Molloy, William||Tierney, Sydney|
|Hooley, Frank||Moonman, Eric||Tinn, James|
|Horam, John||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Tomney, Frank|
|Howell, Rt Hon Denis||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Torney, Tom|
|Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Tuck, Raphael|
|Huckfield, Les||Moyle, Roland||Urwin, T. W.|
|Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Newens, Stanley||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Hunter, Adam||Noble, Mike||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Oakes, Gordon||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||O'Halloran, Michael||Ward, Michael|
|Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Orbach, Maurice||Watkins, David|
|Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Watkinson, John|
|Janner, Greville||Ovenden, John||Weetch, Ken|
|Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Owen, Dr David||Weitzman, David|
|Jeger, Mrs Lena||Padley, Walter||Wellbeloved, James|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Palmer, Arthur||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford)||Park, George||White, James (Pollok)|
|John, Brynmor||Parker, John||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Johnson, James (Hull West)||Parry, Robert||Whitlock, William|
|Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Pavitt, Laurie||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Peart, Rt Hon Fred||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)|
|Kelley, Richard||Pendry, Tom||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Kerr, Russell||Perry, Ernest||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Williams, Sir Thomas|
|Kinnock, Neil||Price, C. (Lewisham W)||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Lambie, David||Price, William (Rugby)||Wilson, Rt Hon H. (Huyton)|
|Lamborn, Harry||Radice, Giles||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Lamond, James||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Richardson, Miss Jo||Woof, Robert|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Lee, John||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Roderick, Caerwyn||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Lever, Rt Hon Harold||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Mr. Bob Cryer and|
|Lewis, Arthur (Newham N)||Rodgers, William (Stockton)||Mr. Walter Johnson.|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Rooker, J. W.|
|Lipton, Marcus||Roper, John|
|Adley, Robert||Biffen, John||Bryan, Sir Paul|
|Alison, Michael||Biggs-Davison, John||Buchanan-Smith, Alick|
|Arnold, Tom||Blaker, Peter||Budgen, Nick|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Body, Richard||Bulmer, Esmond|
|Awdry, Daniel||Boscawen, Hon Robert||Burden, F. A.|
|Baker, Kenneth||Bottomley, Peter||Butler, Adam (Bosworth)|
|Beith, A. J.||Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Carlisle, Mark|
|Bell, Ronald||Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Chalker, Mrs Lynda|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)||Braine, Sir Bernard||Channon, Paul|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Brocklebank-Fowler, C||Churchill, W. S.|
|Benyon, W.||Brotherton, Michael||Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Clark, William (Croydon S)|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Clegg, Walter||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Cockcroft, John||James, David||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Jenkin, Rt Hon P.(Wanat'd & W'df'd)||Raison, Timothy|
|Cope, John||Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Cormack, Patrick||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Corrie, John||Jones, Arthur (Daventry)||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Costain, A. P.||Jopling, Michael||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Critchley, Julian||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Crouch, David||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)|
|Crowder, F. P.||Kershaw, Anthony||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)||Kimball, Marcus||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Kitson, Sir Timothy||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Knox, David||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Lane, David||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Dunlop, John||Lawrence, Ivan||Ross, William (Londonderry)|
|Durant, Tony||Lawson, Nigel||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Eden, Rt Hon sir John||Le Marchant, Spencer||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Royle, Sir Anthony|
|Elliott, Sir William||Lloyd, Ian||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Emery, Peter||Loveridge, John||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Eyre, Reginald||Luce, Richard||Scott, Nicholas|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Farr, John||McCrindle, Robert||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Fell, Anthony||McCusker, H.||Shepherd, Colin|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Macfarlane, Neil||Shersby, Michael|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||MacGregor, John||Sims, Roger|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Forman, Nigel||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||Madel, David||Smith, Dudley (Warwick)|
|Fox, Marcus||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Spence, John|
|Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||Marten, Neil||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)|
|Fry, Peter||Mates, Michael||Sproat, Iain|
|Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Mather, Carol||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Maude, Angus||Stanley, John|
|Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)||Mawby, Ray||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Mayhew, Patrick||Stokes, John|
|Godber, Rt Hon Joseph||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Goodhart, Philip||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Tapsell, Peter|
|Goodhew, Victor||Miscampbell, Norman||Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Gorst, John||Moate, Roger||Tebbit, Norman|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Molyneaux, James||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret|
|Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Monro, Hector||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)|
|Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Montgomery, Fergus||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Gray, Hamish||Moore, John (Croydon C)||Trotter, Neville|
|Griffiths, Eldon||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Morgan, Geraint||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Grist, Ian||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Grylls, Michael||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)||Viggers, Peter|
|Hall, Sir John||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Wakeham, John|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Mudd, David||Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Neave, Airey||Wall, Patrick|
|Hannam, John||Nelson, Anthony||Walters, Dennis|
|Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)||Neubert, Michael||Warren, Kenneth|
|Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Newton, Tony||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Hastings, Stephen||Nott, John||Wells, John|
|Haves, Sir Michael||Onslow Cranley||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Hawkins, Paul||Oppenheim, Mrs Sally||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Page, John (Harrow West)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Heseltine, Michael||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Hicks, Robert||Parkinson, Cecil||Younger, Hon George|
|Holland, Philip||Pattie, Geoffrey||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hordern, Peter||Percival, Ian|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Peyton, Rt Hon John||Mr. Fred Silvester and Mr. Michael Roberts.|
|Howell, David (Guildford)||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch|