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Ports (Nationalisation)

Volume 884: debated on Wednesday 15 January 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he can now say when he intends to introduce legislation to nationalise the ports; and if he will make a statement.

Which of the ports now run by public bodies does the Minister hold up as examples of efficiency, good labour relations and quick turn-round? Is he aiming to try to make Felixstowe as efficient as Liverpool? Will he ensure that before he does anything he will undertake full consultations with those who are now working in ports operated by free enterprise compaines?

I am having consultations on a general rather than a selective basis. Those who represent workers in Felixstowe will be included in the consultations, along with those who represent workers elsewhere. If the hon. Gentleman took the trouble to look at Southampton as an example of a publicly owned port—and I can think of other examples—he might take a different view. But perhaps this is not a suitable occasion on which to conduct a Second Reading debate on a Bill which necessarily is not yet ready.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the British Transport Docks Board has a long history of remarkable success? As a result of recommendations made over many years to ensure accountability to the public in respect of nationalisation, should we not project this example? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the process should be undertaken in such a way that the maximum amount of discussion will be brought to an end at a reasonably early stage to enable nationalisation of the ports to be brought about in the national interest?

I endorse my hon. Friend's view about the operation of the British Transport Docks Board and the other publicly owned ports. I have always made it clear that, if I am to have the wide consultations that I deem necessary, it will not be practicable to introduce a measure this Session. Furthermore, the House will appreciate that in any event the Government have a rather full programme in the present Session.

Will the Minister undertake to leave well alone one port in particular—that is, the municipally owned port of Boston in my constitutency, which is and has for years been free from industrial trouble and is growing in importance to port users?

In my original consultation letter in August I made clear what was intended. The final phase will arise after consultations are carried out. Where a port is municipally owned, we do not intend to bring about any change of ownership.

Will my right hon. Friend bear two matters in mind? First, does he appreciate that it will require little effort to introduce legislation of this sort, because in a previous Parliament similar legislation passed all its stages in this House and was defeated in the Lords, and then came the General Election and we had to start the process all over again? Secondly, will he bear in mind that all workers in the docks are in favour of complete nationalisation of ports?

I am afraid that the matter is not as simple as my hon. Friend suggests, because in 1970 the proposal was to take into public ownership only those ports handling a tonnage of more than 5 million tons per annum. Because of developments since that date, we believe that it is now essential to bring into a form of public ownership all commercial ports and cargo-handling activities. The ports legislation in 1970 was complicated enough, and our proposed legislation will be much more complicated.