Mr. Alan Roberts rose --
Significantly, the hon. Member for Oldham, West refused to give a straight reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern), who asked whether the right hon. Gentleman would pledge the Labour party--if it were ever again elected to government--to reintroduce the dock labour scheme. The fact that the
Column 64hon. Gentleman has failed to answer that question is significant because it meant that the dock labour scheme--even in the Labour party's eyes--is now a dead duck.
Mr. Leigh : Does my hon. Friend also recall that the Shadow Secretary of State refused to answer my four questions--including one in particular? I asked whether, if there were a Labour Government, they would activate the dock labour scheme, as Lord Callaghan's Government wanted to do. Such an activation would bring many other industries into the scheme-- including those miles from the coast--and result in many industries not wishing to set up in scheme areas. The effect of the scheme on employment is worrying and it is that upon which we should focus our debate.
Mr. Churchill : The hon. Gentleman says that there is no port of Manchester. A significant part of the reason for that is the dock labour scheme. In its heyday, the port of Manchester employed nearly 10,000 people --including 3,500 registered dockers. In 1965, the port of Manchester moved 16 million tonnes, which represented 5 per cent. of the nation's imports and exports. By 1987, that figure had slipped to below 10 million tonnes, less than 2 per cent.
The demise of the port of Manchester was, above all, due to two factors. The first was technological evolution--specifically, containerisation and the move to larger vessels. But secondly, there is no question but that restrictive practices and endless unofficial strikes and the dock labour scheme-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) thinks it funny to destroy jobs by endless unofficial strikes and restrictive practices. Those factors played a key part in the demise of the port of Manchester.
Operations at the port of Manchester, which was a scheme port, were plagued by inter-union squabbles between the Transport and General Workers Union, known as the white union, and the stevedores' union, known as the blue union.
The TGWU would not allow employers to negotiate with the blues and neither union could control its members. The Opposition Chief Whip is well aware of the problem--he has similar difficulty controlling his hon. Friends.
It took just one militant on a bicycle to go around Manchester docks with a bull horn yelling, "Everybody out," for everyone to down tools. Disputes and unofficial strikes were endless, and ultimately customers and operators went elsewhere--to Felixstowe and the continental ports. This was one of the principal reasons why, in 1982, Manchester Liners, a key part of the operations into the port of Manchester, abandoned its home port and went elsewhere.
After 80 years of operation between 1898 and 1979, the port of Manchester virtually ceased to handle general cargoes. The dock labour scheme acted as a barrier between employers and employees. Its aim, laudable in its time, was to provide regular employment, but it has long since outlived its necessity. Today it is an anachronism.
Column 65The Secretary of State has today assured the House that there will be no return to casual labour in the docks--an important assurance. The dock labour board proved utterly incapable of resolving the many disputes that arose in the port of Manchester and other scheme ports throughout the country. This inability was inherent in the board's make-up : The chairman might be a Socialist and his deputy a Conservative. Unions and employers took turn and turn about to occupy different positions on the board. Its constitution almost guaranteed that there was no means of resolving any impasse that might crop up. Today, the only cargoes going into Manchester by sea and ship canal are oil and chemicals, apart from grain to Cerestar in Trafford Park and a little scrap metal and lumber. There are no general cargoes any more, and there is no question but that the dock labour scheme played a significant part in the demise of the port.
The port of Manchester is now coming alive, but not as a port. It is coming alive with the transformation of the Salford docks into upmarket housing and of Trafford wharf into a series of significant high-tech industrial developments. As long as the scheme existed, the port had no future.
It is no coincidence that the non-scheme ports have thrived, while the scheme ports have declined in relative or even absolute terms. The Opposition have accused the Government of bringing forward this measure precipitately. This is nonsense. If anything, the Government have been too dilatory about scrapping the outdated dock labour scheme. Its abolition is long overdue. I warmly welcome this measure and the generous severance terms for any dockers who will lose their jobs within 18 months. This is a fair and necessary measure, and I wish it well.
Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston) : One does not have to search far to discover the real reason why the Government have introduced this Bill, callously and cynically, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) said. They have made no effort to debate the subject in the House and given the unions no opportunity to discuss it with the employers. They are rushing through the Bill as quickly as possible.
Everyone who knows the industry is aware of the Government's reasons for abolishing the scheme. When discussing why the scheme existed, Minsiters have in the past accused me of being out of date and living in the 18th or 19th centuries. When the national dock labour scheme was introduced in 1947 it had to be forced on the employers, who were unwilling to change the industry from what it then was--an industry of hyper-exploitation and low pay which imposed misery on those who worked in it and ignored the conditions in which they worked. The Government tell us, by implication, that employers do not act like that today, but I am afraid that I do not trust them. I do not trust any employer who wants to remove the rights--not the privileges--that have been achieved by dock workers over generations to enable them to stand against and remove the excesses of ruthless employers.
It is not only the dock workers who are affected. Many books have been written about the poverty of the dock areas, which affected the women and children in dock workers' families, too. Anyone who has read these books will understand why intervention of the sort enacted in
Column 661947 was needed. It was possible, right up to the 1950s and beyond, for employers to come into the port industry by putting a wooden hut on the quay and bringing with them three or four wire strops--and they had a business. They were responsible and accountable to no one. If the Secretary of State would listen to me he might learn something. He has clearly shown today that he knows nothing about the docks industry, except what he has heard in the Goebbels-like propaganda that keeps being repeated about bobbing and ghosting and restrictive practices. In many cases these practices are to do with rights that have been negotiated with employers, who are being allowed to hide behind the Government's skirts.
The employers and those who represent the Conservative party never wanted the scheme in the first place. It gave workers rights that they wanted to deny them. One of the aspects of the scheme that really hurt the Conservative party and the employers was that for the first time in the history of industrial relations in this country a degree--only a degree--of democracy was introduced to the business of hiring and firing. The Conservative party and its backers outside will not tolerate giving workers a say in determining whether their employers have been justified in sacking them. This has nothing to do with casualisation or decasualisation. It is part of the Government's continued and relentless attack since 1979 upon the trade union movement. That attack was designed to weaken the movement so that it could not respond to the ruthless nature of some employers. All the signs are that the employers are taking great advantage of the Government's policies on industrial relations. That is the central issue. It has been argued that the dockers have been resistant to change. I am long enough in the tooth to have gone to the docks in 1946 after spending eight years at sea, including the war. At that time the docker's only equipment was a hook in his belt and he picked up a hand bogey when he went into the dock. The dockers did not decide on that method of work.
At that time labour was cheap and there was plenty of it. Sometimes men went to the docks for work and were sent home for three days or a week. No wonder that was an attractive proposition to employers and it made them resist change in the docks industry. Labour was a cheap commodity available at any time and often without pay, and employers exploited that to the full. That is why there was no capital investment in the ports which would have changed methods of work and the lives of dock workers.
What have we seen since that time? Instead of the hook and the hand bogey there is now capital equipment each piece of which is worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, perhaps £250,000, and that equipment is operated by dock workers who were trained in the industry. There are side loaders, tug masters and other high-tech equipment. The industry is being transformed and the number of dockers is down from 80,000 to just over 9,000. In the pre-war era and in the immediate post-war era Liverpool employed up to 20,000 dockers and had a shipbuilding industry employing the same number. That has all gone and there has been no compensation and no replacement with new industry.
In the general election campaign the Prime Minister paraded around the country talking about her fears and saying that she wanted to do much for the inner cities. Liverpool is still a port-dependent city and by what they are doing the Government will make the situation there
Column 67and in other ports in the north a damn sight worse than it is at present. We should lay bare the deception of the Government in putting forward this pernicious legislation.
There is no doubt that the campaign against the scheme has been carried out with the support of the employers to the accompaniment of howling and baying by Conservative Back Benchers. The scheme is seen as the last bastion of trade union power and has to be removed because, ideologically, the Conservative party and the employers do not like the phrase "workers' rights". Those rights were forced upon employers. Now the Government say that they want to remove that and give the employers a free hand. To do what? It will enable employers to return to casualisation and to sack the shop steward who is a bit of a lad, a bit of a nuisance who may cause problems for employers. The joint boards can decide who shall be sacked and the Government see that as ending his complete control over hiring and firing. The Secretary of State appears to be chosen for the most outrageous tasks in the House, and that was illustrated by his performance on the review of social security that has left families all over Britain impoverished. People such as old-age pensioners are pleading for something to be done about what the Secretary of State did when he held another office. He has brought that philosophy and attitude to this industry.
It is clear that the Conservative party and the employers have waged a carefully orchestrated campaign and they see this as the most convenient and appropriate time to bring it to fruition in a most cynical and ruthless way. I am surethat in the long term the Government and employers will have to pay a price that they would not be prepared to pay if they knew the outcome of their policies. I do not have a crystal ball and do not know what sort of case will be presented by the employers and the trade unions.
The Government argue that they are a Government of
non-intervention. However, their intervention is always in areas that affect workers and their rights and where they affect the benefits conferred on workers by the first post-war Labour Government, such as the Health Service and the welfare state. They do not like local authorities. They intervene everywhere except where it affects capital, the power of capital and the City. They have seen a shift of power and they want power handed back to the port employers. The dockers are quite right to use every method that they can to stop the Government's reckless actions. I shall give my support to dock workers for whatever action they take. They deserve it and they are right. For generations they have assisted other workers in dispute and in struggle. At the end of the day victory will be theirs. 6.56 pm
Mr. Davis : The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East calls me a part-timer. After he made that allegation last year, I looked at our relative voting records. I was in the top 100 because I voted 338 times. The hon. Gentleman voted in just over half the Divisions, on 248 occasions- -90 times fewer than me.
Column 68I agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) on one matter. It is that, when the legislation that created the dock labour scheme came into being, it dealt with a real evil, the evil of the casual system as it stood then. The hon. Gentleman also explained why it is no longer a real evil. Time and technology have transformed the ports. He talked about expensive equipment, and that there may be cranes costing £500,000 or £1 million. People are not called off the street for half a day to operate a £1 million crane. A manager with a high capital investment in a port is interested in maintaining a continuous, maximum throughput. He has the same interest as the well-trained man who wants a permanent, highly skilled job. That is what has done away with the casual system.
Dr. Godman : It is possible to bring highly skilled, professional men from the streets to work for a short time--if they are unemployed. That is precisely what happens in my constituency with shipyard workers.
The second point is that, in a company with a very high capital investment, there is pressure on the management to keep the throughput up, to keep sales up--precisely the same interest as that of men who want to have permanent jobs. There is no interest in having an "up and down" shipping pattern.
I want to pursue some of the issues that were raised by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). He referred briefly to a number of malpractices that we have heard talked about. He said that ghosting was a result of unwillingness to train. In my port of Goole, there is a cement operation which unloads from self-discharging cement ships. When the ships come into port they are linked in one movement by sailors. There is no other work to be done, yet the customer has to pay for two dockers to ghost. I do not know how that would be dealt with by training ; it is a simple additional useless cost.
Let us go on to bobbing and welting. In my port of Goole there are Swedish liner services. When the lines come in, 27 men are allocated to them. They need 18, so nine men go home--they "bob off" or welt. That does not arise from weak management ; it arises because the manning levels are set by the joint board for the whole port. There is nothing that the management can do about it. There is no way in which it can negotiate its way out of that option.
Let us consider discipline. In Hull and Goole, which for this purpose are one area, 12 people were dismissed between 1980 and 1986. All 12 were reinstated. Among them was one man who had been convicted of smuggling and had gone to gaol for seven months. Despite the fact that he had committed a criminal offence, and the fact that that offence related directly to his work, he was reinstated when he came out of gaol. That sort of thing, plus similar gaolings for theft and other offences related directly to the work of the ports, is what drives customers away from those ports.
On the Humber, there are a number of scheme ports. They are all on deep water, are all served by motorways and railways, and all have good facilities, yet customers go to little ports at the end of country roads-- ports with no
Column 69railways, or shallow water in fast-running rivers--precisely because they cannot bear the costs, the malpractice and the unpredictability of the scheme ports.
Mr. Davis : Precisely--17 years ago. [Interruption.] I will correct the hon. Member if he will pay attention. I was talking about the period 1980-86, when the proportion of the Humber throughput that was dealt with by private wharves increased from 15 per cent. to 21 per cent., entirely because of the terrible practices in these ports. The hon. Gentleman has attempted on many occasions to rubbish my arguments. He says that I do not know what I am talking about. Before coming to this House, I started work at the bottom of a transport company. I worked my way up to the position of managing director, and had to deal with problems of this sort. Hon. Members can decide for themselves which they consider to be the more useful experience : that, or serving gin and tonic on a Cunard liner. [Laughter.]
People can make their judgments about the character and ability of hon. Members. I gave the hon. Gentleman the evidence of the National Ports Council, which is still relevant. That is the point that the hon. Gentleman must address.
Mr. Davis : The hon. Gentleman should learn to use the evidence of his own eyes. He should go and look at some of these ports. What is the advantage in going down a tiny country road to a port on a fast-flowing river that can be used only at marginal times by small ships? The hon. Gentleman's argument is ridiculous, and there is no point in pursuing it.
This practice drives trade to other ports, and, as we have seen in the White Paper, it drives trade abroad. In 10 years, the share of intercontinental trade going through European ports has increased from 4 per cent. to 11 per cent. In other words, it has more than doubled in that period.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West referred to the WEFA report. He said that he did not like it. I, too, read the WEFA report very carefully, and was rather sceptical about it because, after all, it was sponsored by the port employers. But I was surprised by something different. The report completely ignored the concentration of trade going through the ports after 1992. We must expect, particularly on the Humber and in the north-east, a massive expansion of trade through ports--if the ports are viable. I am thinking of firms like Toyota, Nissan and Fujitsu. I understand that when Toyota went to Derby, the first thing it asked was, "Which is the way to Felixstowe?"--from Derby, for heaven's sake. My judgment is that the WEFA report under-estimated the employment that would be created by the abolition of the scheme. It will not be 50,000 but 100,000 jobs by 1993.
Column 70This Bill gives registered dock workers the same rights as are enjoyed by the dock workers in Felixstowe, where there was a 21 per cent. increase in cargoes last year and therefore, an increase in recruitment, and where up to £700 a week was paid to dockers. In conjunction with Dover, that part has had more investment than the rest of the scheme ports put together. [ An Hon. Member-- : "And not a penny from the public purse."] Exactly--not one penny from the public purse, but no casualisation, yet massive investment and growth. I must draw to a close quickly, as the 10-minutes rule is in operation. I tried to look charitably at the perspective of the Labour party and the trade unions. I looked very carefully, and, like the Secretary of State, I found it very difficult to tie them together.
Let me summarise Labour's position. It seems to be to support a strike that cannot be won, to sustain a scheme that it knows is wrong, against a reform that it will not reverse. That is not particularly logical. Opposition Members cannot fault our laws, but they fear their own paymasters. They accuse us of provocation.
Mrs. Mahon : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Earlier, I raised with Mr. Speaker a point of order about declaring interests. Mr. Speaker told me that he had replied in full to it last week. When the hon. Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) started his speech, somebody said, "part- timer". The register of interests says that he is a director of Tate and Lyle plc. May I have your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker? In view of the concern outside this Chamber about the amounts of money that Members of this House are earning on a part-time basis, would it be in order for the hon. Gentleman to declare how much he gets from Tate and Lyle, exactly what he has to do to earn it, and whether what he is now promoting constitutes an interest?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : That is not a matter for me. At the start of his remarks the hon. Gentleman did declare that he was a director of Tate and Lyle. Whether the rules for the Register of Members' Interests require him to go beyond that is a matter of doubt.
Let us get back to the subject. Opposition Members did not like my reference to their paymasters, which is where their real interest lies. What do they really believe? In the past five years, there have been five attempts by the employers to negotiate with the unions--five attempts, five rebuttals, and any number of strike threats. However, I too was sceptical, so in January of this year, at a conference on the dock labour scheme, at which John Connolly was present, I raised the issue of negotiation. Mr. Connolly said no. He said that he was not interested in it.
The Labour party is not the same as the trade unions, so last year I introduced a ten-minute Bill proposing a negotiated settlement to the scheme.
"Finally and most important, the Bill aims to create a timetable for both sides of the port industry to negotiate an end to the current practices which cripple the industry, and to give us a new industry by the crucial date of 1992."--[ Official Report, 11 May 1988 ; Vol. 133, c. 321.]
That offered four years of negotiation, but the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, East and for Oldham, West voted against it. Where is their interest in negotiation now? Where is their interest in representing anybody except the 9,000 dockers? This Government and this party represent the 100,000 ; that is why we should not negotiate.
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : As the hon. Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) said, the historical reasons for introducing the dock labour scheme in 1946 were valid then. As the Minister of Labour at that time said, the labour market was such that only the fittest survived. However, in the first part of his speech, the hon. Member for Boothferry also gave us examples of how that system has become anachronistic and outlived its usefulness.
If there is any merit in consistency, I can point out that, in an amendment to the Loyal Address on 25 November 1975, the Liberal party tabled an amendment in which we said that we
"regret that the Gracious Speech contains proposals for the docks which, if carried out by an extension of the areas covered by the National Dock Labour Scheme, will lead to further unemployment in those areas, further strangulation of Great Britain's successful ports and higher costs and inefficiency."--[ Official Report, 25 November 1975 ; Vol. 901, c. 681.]
History has shown those remarks to be relevant.
In a sedentary intervention earlier a member of the Front Bench referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who has made his position clear. I remind the Minister that, as recently as 10 March 1988, the Under-Secretary of State for Employment said :
"I cannot believe that the mere abolition of the scheme would have all the desirable effects that they seem to believe."--[ Official Report, 10 March 1988 ; Vol. 129, c. 600.]
If he has changed his mind in a year, I have some time to persuade my hon. Friend to change his.
The 1975 amendment referred to "higher costs and inefficiency." We have heard already today of practices such as ghosting and bobbing. Inevitably, the costs of these practices have been passed on to the consumer. In competition with both non-scheme ports and continental ports, many of the registered scheme ports have undoubtedly lost out. The "jobs for life" provision is not part of the statutory scheme. Rather, it is a result of the Jones-Aldington agreement. It has meant that dockers have been retained on at least basic pay. This has led to overmanning and levels of employment have been reduced only through voluntary redundancy which, since 1972, has cost the taxpayer some £420 million. As a consequence, the labour force has aged. For example, in the port of Tees and Hartlepool, there is a shortage of labour but there is also a reluctance to recruit new labour, and no one working at that port is under 35.
The amendment warned also of the
"strangulation of Great Britain's successful ports".
Some have suggested that the scheme should be allowed to wither on the vine. I disagree with that suggestion because,
Column 72as the White Paper says, the scheme operates in ports that have been in existence since 1945, and are our best ports, because of strategic and geographical positions and water depths. Earlier this year, the great historic port of Aberdeen, with a history of 800 years as a fishing port, came within an ace of losing that fishing trade as a result of the scheme. As Aberdeen's fishing interests have declined, there has been an increase in the use of Peterhead as a fishing port.
The amendment also warned that the scheme would lead to "further unemployment". Much of the unemployment has resulted not from the scheme but from the changes in technology and the move from the west to the east. The hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) referred to the difficulties at the port of Manchester, many of which are due to the fact that the Manchester ship canal is not capable of taking the larger ships on which so much trade is now carried.
The dock labour scheme can hardly be said to be a guarantee of employment. Since 1972, only the ports of Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Poole have shown any increase in employment. I suspect that this increase, certainly in the cases of the first two and possibly in the case of the last, is related to oil and gas developments in the southern basin of the North sea and the English channel. The figures speak for themselves. Let us compare the figures in 1972 and 1988. In London they are 11,702 and 1,703 ; in Hull 2,064 and 665 ; in Liverpool and Birkenhead, 8,401 and 1,395. Clearly the scheme is not a guarantee of employment.
Replying to an intervention from the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts), the Secretary of State dismissed lightly some of the achievements made by the dock labour force in places such as Liverpool. In spite of the decrease in employment, there has been a considerable increase in productivity, and other advances. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) would want it to be recorded that, since 1982, Liverpool has been a profitable port. Last year, it made a pre-tax profit of £5,885,000, some 56 per cent. up on 1987. The port's industrial record has been transformed and tonnage has steadily gone up, with a 10.2 per cent. increase in 1987, to 19.5 million tonnes.
Although Liverpool has shown great adaptation to circumstances and the capacity to develop as a port, we cannot overlook the fact that, according to figures that I have seen today, there is no registered docker in Liverpool under the age of 35, and the average age is 47.8. That is a matter for concern.
Mr. Wallace : I should like to give way, but I have only 10 minutes. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand. If these ports are to develop and take the opportunities, new blood must be introduced and the present scheme does not encourage the port employers to do that.
So far, much of the debate has concentrated on consultation. Introducing a White Paper one day and publishing a Bill the next is provocative, to put it mildly. I hope that Ministers will agree to consultation and that the unions will have a meaningful dialogue with the port employers. If the unions insist on changing a statutory scheme to a voluntary one, discussions will never get off the ground.
Column 73I can understand, from my examination of the history, the anxieties about the wide-scale reintroduction of casual labour. Why should there not be discussions between unions and port employers to try to get some contractual, negotiated guarantees that there will not be the reintroduction of casual labour, as the port employers have suggested? The general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union said that he found that as convincing as the statement that the National Health Service is safe in the hands of the Prime Minister. Perhaps with some negotiation he can get some firmer guarantees.
There must also be negotiations about training after the interim period changes. My understanding is that, on 1 January, regulations that would give non-scheme ports a requirement to do with training functions came into being. What will happen after the transitional period to the provision on training in the scheme ports? The training of new recruits for those ports is needed above all else. If we are passing legislation to end that scheme, we cannot leave training hanging in the air without any sign from the Government about what they see as the provision of training for new recruits once the scheme is abolished and all ports become non-registered.
I and many others believe that the abolition of the scheme will lead to an increase in jobs and employment opportunities in many ports, but it is expected that initially there will be a fall-off in employment. A reduction of 10 per cent. has been mentioned by some. That will be a matter of concern for those who are most directly affected. However, the redundancy terms are generous and many, especially those aged 50--about 40 per cent. of those who work in registered dock scheme ports are of that age--may be tempted to get out and to take the terms that are on offer. If they do, it is important that provision should be made to assist them in retraining for other forms of employment in addition to giving them money. I believe that getting out and taking the terms will be an initial response to the Bill.
There will be opportunities in the long term, not least as a result of the competition that will come as we march towards 1992. We can look towards more jobs being created in many of our ports. As the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) fairly said, there is a need for a strategy for the ports, and that will not be introduced automatically through the operation of the free market. Many of the ports on the west coast, not least on Merseyside and the Clyde, can be entrances to the European Community for trade coming from north America. The Government have been silent on how they would like to see the ports develop the opportunities that are available to them, especially those on the west coast, in 1992. My parliamentary colleagues will support the Bill but we want to hear more ideas from the Government on a general port strategy.
Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test) : I am glad to have been called to contribute to the debate. The Southampton docks, which constitute one of the largest scheme ports, have been one of my most prominent political problems since I entered the House. We have heard this evening about the rights of workers but we have not heard much about workers who were made unemployed as a result of numerous strikes. We have not heard much of the ancillary
Column 74workers who suddenly find that the port is not working, which means that their employers give them the sack and perhaps re-engage them later.
I suppose that the Southampton docks have suffered more than most docks. The port was derelict for over 12 months from 1981 onwards. We had a succession of strikes and as a result the entire city began to suffer. No passenger ships came in and the channel ports operation ceased. The roll- on/roll-off activity moved to Portsmouth. That trade was lost. The atmosphere of the city was blighted by the atmosphere of the port. During this period there was a more militant approach to employment than one could even hazard a guess at merely by being in a place such as the House of Commons.
There was an extremely fierce chief shop steward. Fortunately, that man took his redundancy pay about four or five years ago. I believe that he is now managing a public house in Southampton. He led a militant bunch of shop stewards who were only too anxious at any time to impose new obligations on employers.
The Conservative party cannot be exonerated completely from blame for the legislation that was built up to form protectionism. It was during the time that my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was Prime Minister that we agreed to the Jones-Aldington arrangements. That was perhaps the greatest and most powerful lever that we gave to registered dock workers. There were two significant features of the arrangements. The first was that port employers would have to pay a basic rate--I believe that today it is near £150 a week--to any registered dock worker, even if there was no work to do. Secondly, and most serious of all, the survivors of the then strike had to take up their percentage of the dock workers who no longer had an employer. The costs of port employers escalated and at the end of the day there were very few employers. Townsend Thoresen became so fed up with the system that it decided to move to Portsmouth. That was one of its main reasons for the move. The passengers of the Cunard shipping company had to manhandle their baggage when the dockers claimed that that was part of their dock work. The QE2 had to go to Cherbourg on one of its trips to off load and load passengers. They were flown out from the United Kingdom and flown back. The baggage had to be handled by French dock workers. The problem was that registered dock workers were beginning to get a jugular-vein grip on the scheme ports.
I do not blame the dockers. The Labour Government presented a scheme and a Conservative Government added to it the two conditions to which I have referred. If I were presented with Christmas every day, I would not refuse it. I would say, "No, I do not really want all these guarantees. I do not want to have a job when all those around me are losing theirs." My response would be, "This is obviously a good trade union agreement and we must stick to it as a matter of life and death." Unfortunately, it was the life of the registered dock workers and the death of many port employers. I imagine that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) was a dock worker for many years. He said that the rights of the workers were such that they had to be protected. He appeared to have a wrong-end-of-the-telescope view of the problem. Not all dock workers are registered dockers. Indeed, in almost every port the registered dockers comprise only about one third of the labour force.
Column 75It has emerged clearly this evening that those on the Opposition Front Bench are running pretty scared. They know that there has been disagreement. I have a cutting from my local newspaper in which it is stated that the dock union chief in Southampton "slates leader Todd". The article reads :
"TGWU docks officer Dennis Harryman said the union's executive should have plumped for an immediate ballot for strike action rather than Mr. Todd's policy of deferring the ballot".
The article continues :
" Ron Todd has fragmented things by giving those ports who don't want to come out a legitimate way out of strike action' " When there is such discontent near the top of a large trade union, we must suspect that there will be trouble for the Trades Union Congress and for the Labour party. The Labour party has realised this and the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) has obviously been given instructions to play down what he has been saying and what has been read out on so many occasions today.
As a constituency man, I can go only from what I read in my local newspaper. It has printed a good but short letter by someone who obviously knows a great deal about the ports. He writes :
" The furore caused by the Opposition and the trades unions over the abolition of the docks labour scheme strikes me as being hypocritical.
Here we have organisations who are supposedly opposed to privilege and class distinction upholding working practices which, if applied to the workforce of the whole country, would be unworkable, resulting in bankruptcy and mass unemployment." '
I do not know whether I go along with that fully, but there is certainly a reason for abolishing the scheme. I am surprised it has lasted so long--and I am surprised that the Labour Government did not kill it--[ Hon. Members :-- "Why?"] Because it destroys jobs. It is as plain as that.
In the future, when the scheme has been abolished, there will be further work in the port of Southampton. The Bill does not mean the end of those 700 dockers' jobs--it is a beginning. We have heard that the more aged dockers can now receive a redundancy payment of £35,000, practically unheard of in any other industry--and, in any case, we need to bring fresh people into the dock work force.
The main thing that I like about the provisions is that in future workers in the port will be able to identify with an employer rather than be moved about at the whim of the dock labour board. There is a lot to be said for the Bill. I hope that it will have an easy passage through Committee and that it will be on the statute book by July. 7.30 pm