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Column 33Liverpool is a city schooled in adversity. However, not since the blitz has it had to face a tragedy on such a shocking scale. I am sure that the House today will wish to express its solidarity with those who grieve and those awaiting news of loved ones, whose lives still lie in the balance.
Mr. Hurd : All the points raised by the hon. Gentleman are clearly covered by the terms of reference of the inquiry, and Lord Justice Taylor will be able to look into them. I am slightly surprised that he suggests that Ministers should become involved in deciding, match by match, how tickets should be allocated. He is perfectly right in his understanding-- these are matters for the football authorities. They consult on them and are guided by the police. I shall repeat my earlier point that, although the matter of total allocation will certainly be looked into, it was not the total allocation, so much as the concentration of that allocation in a part of the Liverpool terrace, which resulted in the terrible damage.
Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe) : May I, as a regular supporter of the Nottingham Forest team, speak on behalf of all its fans and the people of Nottinghamshire, and associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer)? It was a most tragic accident and, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, no words uttered in this place will fill the gaps in those families who have lost young people who went out on a happy day which ended in tragedy.
We should recollect that more factors unite football fans than divide them. That was clearly shown at the Hillsborough ground when the Nottingham Forest supporters--as soon as they realised that a tragedy was taking place --behaved in an exemplary fashion and helped in every way. The majority of people who follow football are united in the game's interests. The Home Secretary has an opportunity to utilise that good will on all sides. There is no shortage of suggestions or ideas. I beg him not to rush ahead too far but to think carefully before he proceeds in any direction. He should take all the advice given from all those of good will who want the future of football--this country's national game--to continue in a proper and rightful way.
Mr. Terry Fields (Liverpool, Broadgreen) : Like thousands of Liverpool families on Saturday, my wife and I waited tearfully and anxiously because we had two sons and a nephew in that part of the ground where the disaster happened. My relief on discovering that my family was all right was tinged with the realisation that thousands of other Liverpool families would never see their kids come home as a result of the terrible tragedy. After the Heysel tragedy we were assured that the Prime Minister would leave no stone unturned in discovering who was responsible. I want an assurance today from the Home Secretary that, similarly, no stone will be left unturned when this incident is investigated.
Others have said that they are not looking for scapegoats, but the anger that permeates Liverpool today reflects the tragedy that occurred in Georgia in the USSR, after which the top tier of the country's leadership was forced to resign. We need assurances, because we do not
Column 34want a whitewash. The fans are paramount in this incident, and must be consulted when the in-depth inquiry takes place- -no matter how long it takes for their point of view and experiences to be put across. If they were decent, honest and honourable, the responsible Minister, chief of police and FA officials would resign.
How long are we going to carry on treating fans like cattle? Their treatment contrasts with the champagne swilling that goes on in the plush directors' boxes. The views and conditions of the fans must be taken into account. If we lock people up we create a certain mentality, and it is little wonder that they react in these circumstances.
Mr. Hurd : Nothing that we heard yesterday at the ground or in the hospitals bears out the sort of rhetoric that the hon. Gentleman has sought to employ. It is precisely because of the incredible nature of the tragedy that we have moved quickly to set up what even the hon. Gentleman would agree is a fully independent inquiry with what even he would agree are wide and complete terms of reference. The proceedings will be conducted in public, unless there is a special reason for not doing so. It will be open to everyone to make their views and recommendations known. That is the proper way to proceed and then to reach conclusions afterwards--instead of gabbling with malice, as the hon. Gentleman has done today.
Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale) : I ask my right hon. Friend to think again about putting the Football Spectators Bill on ice. Is he aware that many of the police are concerned that if the Bill is enacted and crowds build up outside stadiums the same sort of thing could happen again as happened on Saturday? Would it not be better to wait for the results of a full inquiry and then to bring forward a Bill that is acceptable to everyone concerned with football?
Secondly, was my right hon. Friend, like me, nauseated by some of the pictures in some of the tabloids, which must have caused enormous distress to some of the bereaved families? Would it not have been better if they had never been published?
Mr. Hurd : On the first point, perhaps I can add something to what I have already said. I remind the House, which has not yet considered the Bill, that it is an enabling framework and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has already given a full commitment not to implement the scheme within that framework until the necessary technology has been satisfactorily worked out. My hon. Friend will agree that the point about terraces that I emphasised at the beginning is also relevant.
I note what my hon. Friend said about newspaper photographs, and I also note that the new chairman of the Press Council has said today that the Press Council should inquire into that matter.
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) : I was at the other semi-final on Saturday at which the other Merseyside team, Everton, was successful, but there was no real rejoicing. When we came out of the ground and learned of the problems at Hillsborough, we were all united in grief with all football fans on Merseyside.
Will the Home Secretary use his influence to get football clubs to be more flexible about kick-off times? One of the reasons why crowds try to crush through turnstiles
Column 35quickly into the central areas of grounds is that they hear the roar from inside the ground when the teams run on to the pitch and play starts. Matches in Germany are often held up for half an hour to ensure the safety of the spectators, which should come first. When, oh when, will the Government escape from the "We never make mistakes" syndrome? When will they learn from their Back Benchers, not one of whom has supported them this afternoon, withdraw part I of the Football Spectators Bill and start from scratch?
Will the Home Secretary ensure that the inquiry examines the location of football grounds? I know that there can be improvement--by relocating grounds when necessary--only in the long term, but too many of our grounds are in built-up urban areas. Because of the war, Germany and Holland have been able to build grounds in open space areas in which there are far more facilities for controlling crowds. Will the right hon. Gentleman look into that?
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Hurd : I shall try to be succinct. I have much personal sympathy for the hon. Gentleman's point about flexibility and timing of the start of matches. I am sure that that will be looked into. I have nothing further to say on the other matter.
Mr. Churchill (Davyhulme) : May I on behalf of my constituents and supporters of Manchester United join in the expressions of sympathy to the families of the bereaved? Will my right hon. Friend have urgent consultations with the football authorities to ensure that in future special coaches and trains for away matches do not leave their points of origin unless everybody on board is already armed with a ticket? That would avoid thousands of fans, many of them without tickets, arriving simultaneously five or 10 minutes before the start of a match.
Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside) : I should like to be associated with the condolences and the messages of sympathy to the bereaved families. I pay tribute to the Liverpool supporters and the Evertonians for their tribute to Liverpool yesterday at Anfield and at Liverpool metropolitan cathedral. I was present at both those ceremonies and they were very moving. My brother's son lost three friends on Saturday, all of whom were in their twenties. That was a tragic loss of life. I welcome the public inquiry and hope that there will be no cover-ups. Such a tragedy must never happen again, although any preventive measures are too late for all those people who are now dead.
Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West) : My constituents are shocked that even the London suburbs should now be associated with this terrible tragedy. Sarah and Victoria Hicks, two teenage girls attending the match with
Column 36their family, now lie dead. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the shadow of this tragedy it would be easy to jump to conclusions and adopt what might be fashionable solutions? Will he give us an assurance that the widest possible brief will be followed by the inquiry to ensure that we can genuinely call our sports grounds safe? Will he ensure that all recommendations by the inquiry are legislated into action?
Mr. Hurd : Certainly, as my hon. Friend will have seen, the terms of reference are very wide. When we receive the report--whether it is an interim and then a final or a single report--we will need to act quickly.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker : Order. The whole House knows that we have a heavy day ahead of us. I shall call those Members whose constituents have been most severely affected, the Liverpool Members, and then we must move on.
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) : May I, too, associate myself with the statements made to the families who lost people on Saturday? I find it impossible to express the despair that I feel and that suggests something of the utter desolation that those families must be experiencing at this time. While none of those families will today be thinking about compensation, does the Home Secretary think that we have a duty to them? Am I right in saying that some families who lost members on Saturday will receive no automatic compensation payments? Is that right or fair? If it is not fair, will the Government change the law?
Mr. Hurd : I think that the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that there is no automatic compensation. Of course I have read about the possibilities of civil action and I have also read and spoken about the fund that has been set up. I should like to look further into the matter.
Mr. Sean Hughes (Knowsley, South) : I represent half the borough that is today mourning the deaths of 12 young people, including the infinitely tragic death of a 10-year-old child from my constituency. As an Everton season ticket holder, I was at the other semi-final. As a football supporter I share the disappointment of many people at the Home Secretary's reply about the ID scheme which demonstrates a woeful ignorance of the nature of the football fan. Increasingly, in the greatest spectator sport in Britain, the least important person is the spectator. We feel very deeply that the Government and the Football Association do not demonstrate an awareness of that fact. Finally, in addition to the disappointment that has been caused by what we have heard about the ID scheme, there will be disappointment about the Home Secretary's response to questions concerning the allocation of tickets. I remain absolutely convinced that the allocation of tickets for big games, such as semi-finals and finals, is crucial. Going to a football match is not like going to the theatre ; it is a way of life for an enormous number of people. Those people will be acutely disappointed by what has been said about the allocation of tickets. The fans who turn up without tickets, and those who pay exorbitant amounts to ticket touts, are not the ones who are intent on hooliganism ; they are the ones who have been going, match in, match out, throughout the season, but cannot get tickets for the big games. Therefore, the Football Association too must be thoroughly investigated.
Mr. Hurd : I agree entirely that the allocation of tickets--working out the totals between the two clubs--is extremely important. What I was arguing against was the argument of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), that this is a matter that Ministers should decide.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North) : I should like to associate myself with the sympathy that has been expressed. At the invitation of the Merseyside fire and civil defence authority, I visited Sheffield yesterday. I was very touched indeed by the response of some Nottingham Forest supporters, who had organised a collection in their pub the previous evening and had come to the ground to present more than £100 towards the appeal fund. It was very helpful of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) to make arrangements so that those of us who came over were able to find our way around and could go to the appropriate places.
Having spoken to several people who came over to Sheffield yesterday to find out what had happened to their relatives, I think it is clear that the emergency telephone system simply did not work satisfactorily on Saturday. I spoke to one woman who had tried for eight hours to find out what had happened to her son, but had been unable to get through. I understand from the fire and civil defence authority that an exercise was conducted recently--using the Bristol exchange--aimed at dealing with precisely such problems, and that that exercise was relatively successful. On this occasion, the provision of far more lines would have enabled the emergency telephone number to work more effectively. I understand that that system was used for the flotation of the British Gas shares. If it was good enough for the flotation of the British Gas shares, it would have been good enough as an emergency system.
Mr. Hurd : As the hon. Member has said, there certainly was a problem of swamped lines, as there often is on these occasions. I understand absolutely the distress, anxiety, and worse, caused by that, but I think that it is rather apart from the terms of reference of the inquiry. Perhaps I may look into the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised and then get in touch with him.
Can the Home Secretary confirm that the trouble started outside the ground because of the late arrival of fans and the inability of the turnstiles to cope with them? Will he ask Lord Justice Taylor to look into the traffic arrangements for visiting fans, bearing in mind the abysmal signposting and the sometimes rather odd decisions of traffic police when they are directing fans towards the ground?
Secondly, can the Home Secretary inform us that the South Yorkshire police will reply directly to the inquiry, and will not allow the West Midlands police to answer on their behalf?
On the second point, as I explained earlier, the chief constable believes-- and I think that he is quite right--that since the actions of some of his officers are obviously a
Column 38matter for the investigation, it is right, for the credibility of the exercise, that the police preparing the information for Lord Justice Taylor's inquiry, let alone for eventual inquests, should not belong to the same force. Therefore, the chief constable looked for, and found, another force and another chief constable with a high reputation and with experience in these matters to do that job on their behalf. I think that that is the right course.
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) : As somebody who has constituents who are now dead, or are relatives of those who are dead as result of this tragedy, and as someone who lived in Sheffield for 25 years, I have a dual interest in this matter. Will the Home Secretary take one urgent step, which I hope is non-controversial? Will he arrange that all the film coverage and the pictures that were taken on Saturday both by ITN and the BBC and by amateurs be made available to the inquiry? Unless we move quickly, that footage may be lost and it contains evidence that may be of great value to the inquiry, because it will enable the inquiry to see the pressures both inside and outside the ground, and allow it to draw some valuable conclusions.
Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West) : I shall not comment on the Hillsborough ground itself, but my right hon. Friend will be aware that in many grounds, the facilities are deplorable. Will he have discussions with his colleagues in the Treasury to see whether the tax system can be adapted so that there is an incentive to invest in improved stadiums, and a disincentive to spend ludicrous sums on transfer fees? I do not expect my right hon. Friend to make any decision about the Football Spectators Bill this afternoon, but will he say that the Government will reflect on the views that have been expressed in the House this afternoon?
Mr. Hurd : I have noted those views on the Bill. I believe that the Bill, which addresses a different problem from the one that caused the tragedy at Hillsborough, is soundly based. There will be a pause, as I have said, and there is a case for adding to the Bill and strengthening it. However, the improvement that we are seeking for football cannot be total without a provision along the lines of a national membership scheme. On the first matter, my hon. Friend is touching on a point that is sensitive in the football industry, but he is right to say that those in it must examine carefully the priorities for spending their not inconsiderable resources.
Mr. Richard Caborn (Sheffield, Central) : I associate myself with all the remarks made by my Sheffield colleagues on the Opposition Benches. I was at the ground, with my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth). I ask the Home Secretary to take action on perimeter fencing. Yesterday, I spoke to some experienced engineers, one of whom said that this was an accident waiting to happen. I call on the Home Secretary to ensure that no major games are played with fans kept behind perimeter fencing.
Column 39Today, the media have been singled out, and the local radio stations in Sheffield, both Radio Hallam and Radio Sheffield, played a major part in helping to co-ordinate the magnificent efforts made by the Sheffield people in, for example, blood donation and other services, and the arrangements between the Liverpool and Sheffield families. When the Home Secretary looks at the White Paper on broadcasting and particularly at that part dealing with local radio, I ask him to bear that effort in mind. Local radio showed what magnificent assistance it can give in a tragedy.
My main point to the Home Secretary is that he should consider carefully the removal of those fences. I think he will find that all the major engineers were saying that that was an accident waiting to happen.
Mr. Hurd : I agree with the hon. Gentleman about local radio. The perimeter fences are not there by accident. They are there because local authorities, to issue safety certificates, have often required them as a form of protection against violence.
Mr. Hurd : The danger of violence has not gone away. What is required is a way to reconcile the need to protect spectators against violence with the need for people to be able to get out on to the pitch, or to get back in the case of emergency. That is tackled in the Home Office guidance, but it did not work successfully at Hillsborough. That is the nature of the problem that the inquiry will have to tackle.
Mr. David Evans (Welwyn, Hatfield) : Is not the Football Spectators Bill about separating the hooligans from the football fans? It is an enabling Bill and the FMA and football itself will put forward a scheme for the Secretary of State to approve.
Are there any plans to introduce legislation to remove the control of football from the Football Association and the Football League, which have consistently been incompetent and, some would say, bloody-minded in their attitude to football spectators? Can my right hon. Friend assure us that football families will be able to go to football grounds in safety and be safe within those grounds?
Mr. Hurd : On the second point, there is evidence of thinking ahead, which I welcome. I notice that Mr. Graham Kelly said on television that he supports the move towards all-seated matches in important stadiums, and I notice that the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), with his experience, agrees. It is partly because of the evidence of fresh thinking among the football authorities that we have given that suggestion the impetus that I have announced today.
Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South) : At the end of these questions, I ask the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister to reflect on the view, which has come from both sides of the House, that, in the light of Saturday--we all saw it on our televisions and have read the newspapers and the views of interested parties--the Government should withdraw the Football Supporters Bill? They would not be losing political face, in the light of the feelings that have been expressed. The Taylor report will look at these matters afresh--those are the words of the
Column 40Home Secretary. The police inquiry, under the chief constable of the West Midlands force, is a statutory inquiry. It will be looking, legalistically but carefully, at the role of the police.
Why not wait until those reports are out and come back with a new Bill? I am sceptical about the identity card scheme, and I say that from experience because I live alongside the Leeds United football ground. However, if the reports are in favour of identity cards, I would be prepared to change my mind. Therefore, the Bill should be abandoned until the reports are in.
Mr. Hurd : I have listened to the right hon. Gentleman and to others who have said this. The comments would be just if this tragedy had occurred under the new regime. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman knows the origins of this proposal. He knows the recommendation in the final Popplewell report and the nature of the scheme. He knows, as I have said and as my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn, Hatfield (Mr. Evans) has just confirmed, that the Bill sets up an enabling framework. He knows that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has already committed himself not to implement the membership scheme, which is the core of part I, within the enabling framework, until satisfactory arrangements have been worked out. He knows what is in the Bill about the making of those arrangements. The right hon. Gentleman is accustomed to seeing things in the round and I do not believe that he would argue that, because there was no violence at Hillsborough, which I concede, we can forget the lessons of earlier disasters where there was violence, and which were examined by Mr. Justice Popplewell.
Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath) : On behalf of all those who were present on Saturday to face first the trauma and then the grief of what happened, I ask the Home Secretary firmly to repudiate the provocative, inaccurate and disgraceful statements made by representatives of UEFA and FIFA. In particular, Mr. Jacques Georges said :
"This region seems to have a particularly aggressive mentality." He drew comparisons with Heysel, and said that the fans were "savages". Sepp Blatter of FIFA said :
"Will the fans never learn?"
Will the Home Secretary support us--I speak with the authority of the Football Association and the Football League--in totally rejecting that suggestion, that the Liverpool supporters and fans were in any way responsible for this tragedy? The Home Secretary would carry us all with him if he did so.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to realise that there is a difference between crowd behaviour control and crowd safety. As one who was there on Saturday, I know that there was no crisis management there. There was no apparent relationship between the fears of those outside the ground and the danger to those inside the ground. There was no appreciation or understanding expressed about conditions and delays on motorways and of the effect that they would have on late arrival at the ground. There was no proper crowd control and no arrangements were apparent inside the ground for dealing with the disaster and with the mass of injuries and deaths which had to be dealt with. It was not apparent that any member of the police force--I do not say this critically--understood that the first priority was to get the fences
Column 41down and to get the 10,000 spectators on to the field, that being the only possible place to which they could be evacuated. I turn to the controversial aspect of the Home Secretary's statement. Lord Justice Taylor's appointment to conduct the inquiry is a commendable choice and I fully support it. Is he to proceed with his inquiry on the assumption that the Football Spectators Bill will be enacted? It will have a profound effect upon his thinking, and that is one of the reasons why the Bill should be withdrawn. Many of us are distressed by the adversarial philosophy that the Government practise on sport as in other matters. They never trust the supporters associations, and the Minister has not even suggested that the association be appointed a member of the Football Membership Authority. It is my experience, having dealt with the association in recent months, that there is enormous collective wisdom and good will to be harnessed, especially from football supporters and their associations' representatives. Will the Minister please take counsel from them? Will he listen to what they say, as should the police and the football authorities? The good will has to be tapped. I say to the Home Secretary as gently as I can, but I am afraid harshly, that the decision to continue with the Football Spectators Bill in all these circumstances is a profound mistake. It is appalling arrogance for the Government to think that they know better than anyone else. The Government never consult the Opposition on these matters. They never consult football generally about these matters. As far as I can see-- [Interruption.] It is true. The Minister for Sport may get upset, but three times I have offered from the Opposition Dispatch Box to formulate a policy that would, in effect, cross the House. I have never been invited to meet the Minister to discuss these matters. This is disgraceful and it is time that this lack of discussion came to an end.
I hope that the Home Secretary will reflect on what he has said today. He keeps telling us that the Government will proceed with the scheme because of previous violence, but there has been no substantial violence within football grounds for three years. I am grateful to the Prime Minister for remaining in her place throughout the exchanges to listen to what everyone has to say, but I say to her and to the Home Secretary that anyone who was present on Saturday, as I was, will know that advocates of a membership scheme that requires harassed gatekeepers, in addition to their great traumas and problems, to inspect cards, possibly to look at photographs, and then to put the cards into a machine, are saying, in effect, that they wanted the disaster to be aggravated. That is the essence of the problem.
I ask the Home Secretary to try to achieve a consensus within football generally and within the House so that we can all agree to get through this place a Bill to deal with football troubles, whether they be behavioural or are related to ground safety. If we are all convinced about the merits of such a Bill, we shall be happy to support it and to secure its passage in record time. I ask the Home Secretary to take on board the collective view of everyone in the country, except the members of Her Majesty's Government, that the Football Spectators Bill should be withdrawn in the interest of public safety.
Mr. Hurd : I have not read the generalisations which the right hon. Gentleman quoted at the beginning of his intervention. If they are as he stated, they are certainly wholly unjustified by what occurred at Hillsborough. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for getting in touch with me on Saturday night. He is correct in saying that the problems of control and communications, some of which he listed, are central to the inquiry.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) concluded the exchanges by using what happened at Hillsborough as a stick to beat the Football Spectators Bill-- [Interruption.] That is what he did. He is straining and upsetting history to argue that the approach of my right hon. Friends has been arrogant or adversarial. I have been present at several meetings at which my right hon. Friends and my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport have been straining nerves to try to carry football with them. They have done this year after year. What is the date of the Popplewell report? The answer is 1986. The effort which has been made by my right hon. Friends to build support and to carry the football authorities with them has been prolonged and conscientious. It is only because that effort did not yield a voluntary scheme on the lines which Mr. Justice Popplewell recommended that the Bill has been drafted.
I repeat that the Bill is an enabling measure. It has been worked out by my right hon. Friend's working party. The assurances that have been given about implementation are crucial to it. It is in the interests of football supporters--the right hon. Member for Small Heath rightly stressed their importance and their commitment--that there should not remain the gap in protection that the Bill is designed to fill.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, arising from the statement. The terms of reference of Lord Justice Taylor's inquiry are clearly wide and the timing of the report is indeterminate. It surely follows that the conclusions of such an inquiry could be contrary to the views of House that are taken in pursuit of legislation of which we have just heard. Will you confirm, Mr. Speaker, that in this instance the sub judice rule does not apply? Would not that be the view of most persons with legal training?
Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Given the importance of the inquiry to our greatest spectator sport and to thousands of our constituents, can you assure us that the report will be debated before any recommendations or observations are acted upon?
That European Community Document No. 4092/1/89 on pesticide residues be referred to a Standing Committee on European Community Documents.--[ Mr. Maclean. ]
Dock Work Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Before we debate a highly controversial Bill, may I seek your advice on an issue that raises serious public concern? You will be aware of recent reports about hon. Members having interests outside the House and receiving rather large sums in remuneration for them. Is it acceptable for hon. Members who represent business interests in the docks and who are remunerated for representing those interests to debate the Bill or to vote upon it? Will you give me a clear ruling on that?
Mr. Speaker : That question was asked of me last week. I do not know whether the hon. Lady was present. I confirm that it has always been in order for hon. Members both to speak and to cast their votes on matters of public policy.
Given the late start of the Bill, I propose to limit Back-Bench speeches to 10 minutes between 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock. I ask those on the Front Benches and those who may be called before 7 o'clock to bear in mind that constraint.
Before I begin my remarks, on the Bill, I associate myself with the words of sympathy from both sides of the House on the preceding statement.
There are a number of ways of stating the case for this Bill. It is possible to set out the glaring but inevitable anomalies in a dock labour scheme which dates back to legislation passed just after the end of the second world war and which was designed to meet the needs of the ports industry in the 1930s and 1940s. It is possible to establish the cost of the scheme which has led to a bill of almost £1 billion for the taxpayer and the ports industry put together, plus the extra costs which the customers of the scheme ports have had to bear. It is possible to describe some of the restrictive practices which have grown up and which have made the ports covered by the dock labour scheme less competitive than they should be.
Those are all strong arguments, and the House should consider them all. They all add to the overwhelming case for the abolition of the scheme, but I believe there is one factor which precedes all that. It is that the abolition of the scheme will ensure a better future for the ports industry in this country and will provide a better future for those working in the industry. What is more, abolition will provide a better future for the areas--often inner-city areas--around the ports themselves.
The fact is that, for all its restrictions, the scheme has provided no security in the docks. Jobs have gone ; companies have gone bankrupt ; new recruitment of young men has been limited and sometimes non-existent ; and long lines of workers have volunteered to leave the industry altogether.
Clearly some of that change--some of that contraction--has been inevitable. Modern technology has meant that
Column 44fewer dockers have been required. Nevertheless, scheme ports have lost both jobs and trade. Twenty years ago, there were 45,000 registered dock workers. Today there are 9,400. Twenty years ago, scheme ports handled over 90 per cent. of our nation's trade. Today they handle something like 70 per cent.
Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East) : In view of the information that the Secretary of State has just given to the House, is it not misleading for Government supporters to go round the country talking about "jobs for life"?
The scheme has created surpluses, and those surpluses have threatened the viability of the ports. The only way to reduce those surpluses has been through voluntary redundancy, which has been massively financed by the taxpayer because the industry could not afford it. That is the essential case and it is a strong and unanswerable case.
It is instructive to compare what has happened in the non-scheme ports. In the main, the reason why those ports are not in the scheme at all is that they were of no consequence for cargo handling in 1947 when the scheme was drawn up. Felixstowe, for example, was, just a wharf. Yet the ports outside the scheme now account for 30 per cent. of our trade in volume and half our trade in value. In addition, their employment of dock workers, has risen to nearly 4,000 : nearly one in three of all dockers ; and Felixstowe is today one of our leading ports.
Non-scheme ports have gained trade year by year--and with the trade has come investment. In his response to my statement, the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) made much of the investment at four scheme ports --Tilbury, Bristol, Hull and Newport. Put together it is less than the £54 million committed to investment for 1989 at Felixstowe for the expansion of its container facilities. Over the past six years, Felixstowe has invested £92 million and Dover has invested almost £85 million. No scheme ports have come near that figure. It is that kind of investment that best ensures competitive ports and preserves jobs.
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) : Even if one accepts what the Secretary of State has said, will he explain why the Bill came as a bolt out of the blue and without any prior knowledge, making it, under this leaky Government, the only piece of legislation that has been kept totally secret until it was sprung across the House of Commons? Would it not have been much better if the Government had proceeded to try to get discussions and agreement between the port employers and the unions? Why has the Secretary of State precipitately decided to bring the Bill forward in this way, instead of taking the path of conciliation and discussion?