|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 1032Why has the scheme had such a devastating effect on ports such as Hull? [ Hon. Members :-- "It has not."] It has. It cannot be denied that Hull has declined from being the third port to not being even in the top 10 and that has happened principally because of the monopoly power of the trade unions. The Transport and General Workers Union has abused that power, and the effect on trade has been devastating. Let me give three examples.
Hull invested in a new container terminal, which is now lying idle because we could not reach an agreement with the dockers on reasonable levels of pay. There are three gantry cranes in the terminal. A similar gantry crane in Grimsby is manned by 12 dockers, but they man it only when there is a ship in. When there is not, they are put on to other work. I dare say that in Felixstowe or Rotterdam the manning would be much lower. But Hull, with three cranes, does not man them with 36 men ; the union insisted on 66. What is worse, it insisted on 66 men not only when there is shipping but when there is not. The horror story does not end there. Even more diabolical is the fact that the union demanded tea breaks, lunch breaks, and permanent overtime for those 66 men--up to 6.30 pm every night even when there is no shipping. Who has heard of an industry where the workers are paid overtime for doing no work whatsoever?
Opposition Members do not like listening to the facts. They do not like hearing what happens in the north of England and about why many of its industrial areas are being driven into the ground. I hope that when the Bill is passed, decent manning levels will be achieved and that Hull's container terminal will be reopened.
At Christmas, North Sea Ferries wanted to bring in its last ferry on Christmas eve, unload it, and leave it in port until after the Christmas holiday. The dockers demanded payment not only for Christmas eve but for Christmas day, Boxing day and the bank holiday.
The practice of welting is still prevalent in Hull, whereby one half to two thirds of a gang work and the rest disappear off to the golf course, to run little businesses, or to drive taxis. That proves that manning levels are ridiculously high, which is why trade has been driven away by exorbitant costs and why there is no discipline in the work place or in industry generally. What other industry would allow workers who are supposed to be on the job to disappear?
Not satisfied with its grip on the scheme ports over the years, the Transport and General Workers Union encouraged the last Labour Government to extend the scheme. Tonight, we heard that if Labour were by any chance re-elected they would extend it to inland ports, depots and containers. Thankfully, their re-election is most unlikely.
Column 1033One of the scheme's most despicable aspects is the power it gives registered dockers to steal other men's jobs by having tasks classified as registered dock work. In Hull, they succeeded in doing so in respect of the coopers and then tried to take over a local warehousing and groupage depot in Springfield way. Because the employers would not give way, the dockers forced the closure of that depot and many non-dockers lost their jobs. The same has been done in respect of riggers. North Sea Ferries was forced to allocate some riggers' jobs to dock workers. One rigging company in Hull that is not registered to employ registered dock workers, whose proprietor lives in my constituency, has for several years been prevented from recruiting more staff.
It is not only Hull but the whole country that suffers. Millions of pounds of investment has been wasted, and millions of pounds of additional investment has been put into non-scheme ports to bypass scheme ports. Before the scheme, British ports--particularly the London docks--served as the entrepreneur of the world. Goods came here from all over the globe and were transhipped to Europe. All that trade has been lost to Rotterdam because of the scheme ports' appalling reputation for overmanning and high costs. That has cost our balance of payments billions of pounds, and we cannot afford that to happen any longer.
The national dock labour scheme increases the cost both of importing and of exporting. It is a tax on every consumer in the country and a tax on British industrial exports.
Mr. Wareing : As the hon. Gentleman did not serve on the Committee, he would not have heard my point concerning Rotterdam. Does the hon. Gentleman realise that it has a dock labour scheme? Does he realise also that 15 per cent. of the dock workers there are idle at any one time? My evidence for that is the comments of the personnel director of the port employers of Rotterdam.
Mr. Townend : When I was in local government I went to Rotterdam to see what was done there and what I saw was amazing. There was no overmanning there. It did not have 66 men on three cranes when it should have had 12. It has a scheme, but it is nothing like ours. When I went there it had not had a strike for 15 years.
The scheme is a tax on exports and imports that we can no longer afford and the Government's decision to abolish it was right. My only criticism is that the Government have left the abolition of one of the last pieces of the Socialist corporate state far too long. However, there is an old saying, "Better late than never". If there is a dock strike it will do untold damage to the scheme ports, but it will do even greater damage to the dockers themselves. If they strike after the Bill has gone through they will be liable to be dismissed and they will lose the equivalent of £35,000 each. I have far more confidence in the common sense of the British docker, particularly the Yorkshire docker, than Opposition Members.
Mr. Ernie Ross : The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. We were not allowed many hours to discuss the Bill in Committee, but we spent a lot of the time that we were allowed trying to get the Government Back Benchers to speak. However, they were effectively silenced by the Secretary of State. He was so shocked by the performance of his Ministers that he was not going to let
Column 1034his Back Benchers speak. The hon. Gentleman has just said that it is the deliberate intention to get the abolition of the scheme on the statute book so that, if the dockers go on strike, they will be sacked and lose all their entitlements. Will the hon. Gentleman repeat that, because we have been anxiously asking the Secretary of State whether that was his intention.
Mr. Townend : I did not say that that was the purpose of the Bill. I said that, if the dockers went on strike, they should be careful because they would put themselves in that position, and that is a fact. It is a good job that I was not a member of the Committee which considered the Bill, because if I had been I could not have sat through its proceedings without refuting some of the rubbish that I have heard tonight.
No one can get away from the fact that the port of Hull has withered on the vine because of the national dock labour scheme. Not only dockers' jobs have been lost, but jobs in all the ancillary industries. That has been a major factor in the decline as an industrial centre of the area that I represent.
Once we are given the freedom to compete on equal terms with Felixstowe and the wharves, I am convinced that management and men in the docks will get together, win back the trade and rebuild the prosperity of our once great city and that vine will flourish once more.
Mr. Wareing : By some standards we have had a long debate on the Bill, but, as I have pointed out time and again, it was undoubtedly planned some time ago, not with any idea of improving the British economy but rather as one of the articles of faith that the Government decided that they had to keep with their crackpot friends in the Adam Smith Institute. That is the source of the Bill. It has been argued that the scheme ports have been inefficient in comparison with the non-scheme ports. Much has been made of the fact that over the past 30 or 40 years the pattern of trade with Britain has altered considerably, moving away from the Atlantic, which was the source of the prosperity of ports such as Liverpool and Glasgow, to Europe. There was bound to be a pull to ports in the south-east of Britain and that is the real factor behind the growth of Felixstowe. To some extent Felixstowe is to the Secretary of State for Employment what Luton Town is to the Minister for Sport ; it is held up as a symbol that we should all copy--
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Wareing : My speech is hardly under way. If Conservative Members restrain themselves I shall allow them to intervene later. The port employers are undoubtedly prejudiced against the trade union movement being allowed a voice in determining the conditions of work in the docks. As I told the Committee, Mr. Keith Beckton--the personnel director of Tees and Hartlepool port authority--said that the port had not recruited since 1977 and would not do so until the scheme was abolished. That is why the average age of a registered dock worker increased from 42 in 1973 to 47 in 1988. The port employers are the managers ; it is no use blaming the workers. The port employers organise the dock system, and on the whole this country has had rather poor management.
Column 1035The non-scheme ports have gained from location and, to some extent, from discrimination by Government and employers. The Government have no plans to restructure the port industry. They claim that the £4.6 million cost of the national dock labour scheme is a burden on the industry. If the Government were really interested in the burdens on our ports, they would be concerned about other matters such as the £28 million a year that the ports have to pay for lighthouse dues. Britain is the only country in the European Community that expects its port employers to pay lighthouse dues. It is also the only country that insists that port employers pay for the various navigational aids.
The House should refuse the Bill a Third Reading because the Government have not done their homework ; they have been concerned only with exercising their prejudice against the dock labour scheme and the trade union movement. They refer to the competitiveness of Rotterdam and Hamburg, but they should visit those ports, as I have visited Rotterdam, to find out why they are so successful. The Dutch ports, including Rotterdam, and many other European ports are municipally owned. The port of Rotterdam and its wharves are owned by Rotterdam city council. All the dredging is therefore the responsibility of that local authority. The navigational aids-- incidentally, Rotterdam is 30 miles inland--are under the control of the local authority with financial assistance from the Dutch Government.
That is the difference. The other EEC countries regard ports as part of the essential transport infrastructure and believe that there must be planning. However, planning is anathema to the Government. That is why they do not do their homework. If they did their homework, they might find that their ideological prejudices led to inconvenient answers. That is why we have been presented with a tinpot Bill instead of a measure that takes into account what is happening elsewhere in the EEC.
I have spoken to Mr. Jansen, the assistant director of the Rotterdam port employers' association. He told me that the port employed 9,634 dock workers in 1987--about the total number of registered dock workers in this country. Just over 7,000 of those dock workers were directly employed, but that number did not allow the port of Rotterdam to operate efficiently.
How, therefore, does the port manage to operate efficiently? It has what is called an employed labour pool, and 2,200, or 35 per cent., of Rotterdam dock workers are drawn from that pool. That assistant director of the Rotterdam port employers' association said to me, "You must realise, Mr. Wareing, that the trade of a port fluctuates, so there has to be a surplus of labour. Each Dutch port employer accepts that there needs to be a 7 per cent. surplus of labour." Therefore, 15 per cent. of the dock labour force in the port of Rotterdam is idle.
What happens to those workers? The port employers do not make them redundant. They say that they will need trained dock workers in the future. The Dutch Government finance the training of the employed labour pool to the tune of 55 per cent. of the cost ; the rest is met by the port employers. That does not happen only in Rotterdam. The Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), is not with us now, but he told
Column 1036us earlier that a training levy would be a burden. We disputed that statement. We said that we regarded training as an investment. The Minister, however, said that he regarded the levy as a burden. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) then pointed out that the levy is the means whereby training can be given. If the absent Minister were here, I would tell him that in Hamburg 15 per cent. of the dock workers are drawn from a labour pool that is similar to the one in Rotterdam. The port users have to pay a levy for those who remain idle. The levy is a contribution towards their training and retraining. That ensures an efficient and competitive work force in Hamburg.
Those two examples could be repeated many times over. The other members of the European Economic Community pay light dues and all the other levies. The Belgian Government have paid 70 per cent. of the cost of a new container terminal. They are not fussing. They do not have trivial prejudices. They are getting to the heart of the matter.
Mr. Janman : Instead of going round Europe talking to the management of foreign ports, may I suggest that the hon. Gentleman talks to the management of some of the British scheme ports, particularly Tilbury? If he does, he will learn that one of its biggest problems is the refusal of a number of people who work in that port to be retrained because they know that they have jobs for life. There is no incentive for them to accept retraining. Abolition of the scheme will lead to Tilbury improving its skill profile and its work force.
Mr. Wareing : I am interested not only in Tilbury but in all the ports in the United Kingdom. I am not satisfied that the Government are sufficiently interested to ensure that there will be proper training. It is no use saying that people in the non-scheme ports receive training. Felixstowe has been mentioned. There may not be cowboy employers now, but they may exist as a result of the Bill. What will the Government do about them?
The Secretary of State talked about casualisation. He believes the port employers who say that there will not be casualisation. There is 6 per cent. now, but he argues that it will not go much beyond 6 per cent. Perhaps he thinks that there is an inevitable minimum figure. Let us suppose that he is wrong, although I know that Ministers in the Thatcherite Government always go by the Alexander Solzhenitsyn maxim of, "We never make mistakes." Let us suppose that on this occasion they have made a mistake. Can the Secretary of State say what he will do if he is wrong?
If casualisation rises to 10, 12 or 20 per cent., what action will the Secretary of State take? I am willing to give way if he wants to answer. Obviously he has not got an answer. Either he does not care or he does not know. He has no answer to the question because no one knows the answer. We do not know what the percentage of casualisation will be. Certainly the Minister does not know. We do not know whether we can trust what the port employers have told us. The Secretary of State has the opportunity to tell the House precisely what he will do if our worst fears are realised.
If we allow chaos to develop in the docks because there is no planning, no scheme and no attempt to finance the expenditure that port employers are compelled to make, more and more of our trade will go to the continent. It is
Column 1037happening already. Ministers talk about Felixstowe but it is small beer in comparison with Rotterdam and Hamburg.
In 1986 over 3 million tonnes of British exports to places outside the European Community went not through Felixstowe, Liverpool, Southampton or Hull, but through Rotterdam. One would have expected that exports to the United States would go through the ports on the west coast of Britain, but 341,000 tonnes went through Rotterdam. Over 4 million tonnes of exports to far eastern countries from Iraq to Japan went through Rotterdam. When we find that 1,899,100 tonnes of imports from the United States came not through Liverpool, Southampton or Felixstowe but through Rotterdam we realise what is happening.
It is no use the Secretary of State nodding his head to show that he knows all this. His Bill is a mouse compared with the tremendous efforts and vision that are needed if our ports are to be competitive with those in the rest of the European Community.
Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock) : Throughout the Second Reading debate, in Committee and on Report we have heard a great deal of speculation about the consequences of abolishing the scheme and about the opportunities for job creation and employment in the port industries.
Initially, I wish to update the House on what has taken place in Tilbury between the Second Reading debate and the Third Reading debate tonight. I should like to introduce into the debate some facts and observations, in contrast to the theories that have been put forward by the Opposition. Already, at Tilbury one major operator has shown a great deal of interest in developing a 50-acre site roll-on/roll-off cargo handling facility at Tilbury for commercial vehicles. That operator identified his interest only after the abolition of the scheme had been announced.
On Second Reading, I related the problem of a fruit cold store that an operator wished to set up in Tilbury. That enterprise and initiative was scuppered because of the 19th-century, Luddite attitude of a small number of shop stewards who insisted that, while the potential employers' drivers were driving the fruit from the store out and around the United Kingdom, registered dockers would stand and watch them loading it. I am pleased to tell the House that, as a result of the scheme being abolished, the entrepreneur who wanted to initiate that cold fruit store development has returned to Tilbury and is once again interested in pursuing that venture. I shall repeat for emphasis my remarks to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) about a major timber importer who previously would not come to Tilbury or any other scheme port in the United Kingdom, but is now interested in moving from Rotterdam to Tilbury to import timber from the far east into Britain.
I have given three specific examples from the past few weeks that are a clear measure of the great opportunities for Tilbury as a result of the abolition. In addition, many other companies are eager to initiate discussions with the management of the port to consider new ventures that can be started there. A conservative estimate is that over the next 12 to 18 months, after the scheme has been abolished, between 200 and 300 new jobs will be created because companies are satisfying the needs of their customers.
Column 1038Inevitably, in the short term there will be a number of redundancies in the port of Tilbury, where there is a surplus of at least 100 registered dockers. However, in 12 to 18 months 100 non- jobs will be eliminated and 200 to 300 real jobs will be created as a result of people meeting customers' needs in a free enterprise environment. That is a huge gain in the number of real jobs being created and a net gain in total jobs in the next 12 to 18 months. Throughout my 18 months in the House, that is exactly what I have said would happen, if the Government bit the bullet and abolished this appalling impediment to employment and job creation. s I said, there will be a number of redundancies at Tilbury but their terms will be very generous. When the redundancies have been made, the port will be in a very strong position to take advantage of the opportunities that will descend upon it, and the management of the port will be able to improve the skill and age profile of its work force.
One of the biggest problems in improving the skills of the existing work force is that many of them--this is understandable particularly with the age profile that exists--are not interested in learning new tricks. There is no reason why they should put in the effort to learn them, because, irrespective of whether they volunteer or co-operate with management to learn new tricks, under the auspices of the scheme they have jobs for life. Hence, particularly among some of the more elderly employees in Tilbury, there is a resistance to retraining and, therefore, a resistance to enabling management to move with the times in terms of technology and so on. [ Hon. Members :-- "Order."] Do I gather that an Opposition Member wishes to intervene?
Mr. Roy Hughes : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) was making a legitimate point of order, in that the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) was speaking not from his place but in the aisle or alleyway between the Government Benches.
Column 1039I come to a more recent event appertaining to the Bill, and that is the ballot that has been held as a result of the Government deciding to abolish the scheme. In the ballot, 67 per cent. of those entitled to vote voted for strike action, but 33 per cent.--one third of those entitled to vote--said no to strike action, or certainly did not say yes ; they abstained on the question.
Why are Ron Todd and the Transport and General Workers Union refusing to give a breakdown of the figures port by port to the management of the individual ports? What do they have to hide? The answer is that, with a ratio such as I described, a number of ports did not vote to endorse strike action.
Even if the courts decide, or have decided--I am somewhat out of date on the recent legal decision--that the wording of the ballot paper gave a legal endorsement for a strike, for those individual ports without a majority vote for strike action within those ports, or within the employer organisations across them, there would be no legal criterion for strike action. [Interruption.] One cannot have a national ballot and say that one is in dispute with one's employer, or claim that a particular set of dockers are in dispute with their employer, if the majority of dockers working for that employer have voted against strike action.
Unless the TGWU is willing to give the figures, at least on an employer-by- employer, if not on a port-by-port, basis, one cannot with any certainty have a national strike and assume that in all instances there is majority support for strike action on an employer-by-employer basis. It is conceivable that those in many ports have said no to any suggestion that they are in dispute with their employer.
In fact, as we know, there is no dispute with any employer. The ballot, the charade through which the trade union movement is going, is totally political. Indeed, I quote a Mr. Kevin Hussey, a shop steward in the port of Tilbury :
"Of course you've got to defy the anti-trade union laws. This is a political strike. We've explained that to Todd. Todd knows that, but in fact whether we like it or not, they've as one paper put it, body swerved round it. But sooner or later we are going to be tied up with it."
In other words, there are individuals working in some of our ports who, come what may, will try to initiate politically motivated strike action which is destined to harm the interests of the ports, the economy and the dockers they are supposed to represent.
Why does the Labour party support strike action to keep a scheme that they would not bring back if, God forbid, it forms the next Government? Why does it support strike action that would impede job creation? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Oldham, West has said consistently that, if strike action were taken, his party would have no choice but to support it.
Why does the Labour party support strike action that will undermine the viability of 40 British ports? Why has it supported strike action to keep a scheme when, if anybody, with the exception of the hon. Member for Oldham, West, suggested applying it to any other major industry, they would be laughed out of court? People would not laugh the hon. Member for Oldham, West out of court, because they do not take his utterances seriously. It is interesting that in Committee he said :
Column 1040"I would expect a future Labour Government to extend those rights to other industries."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee A, 27 April 1989 ; c. 67.]
The hon. Gentleman says that at a time when even the Soviet Union is beginning to understand that a Stalinist and planned approach to the economy and to industries within it is not an intelligent, forward-looking or sensible way to approach the running of one's economy or to catalyse wealth or wealth creation.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West, even in the new revisionist period of the Labour party, is saying that we should take what everybody with an iota of common sense agrees has been bad for the docks and impose it upon other industries. He has not said which industries or how many, but he would like to impose it across the British economy. That is the implication of his remarks.
The futile posturing of the Opposition is not worthy of a party that is supposed to be preparing for government. It will only encourage dockers to strike which will harm prospects for our ports, the country and most importantly for the dockers themselves. My message to my dockers is to keep working and help the port of Tilbury grasp its new opportunities and go from strength to strength. In doing that, they will have my full backing and I am sure they will have the full support of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench.
Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead) : The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) spoke with the authentic voice of the Tory Back-Bench backwoods engine which is driving the Government to this extraordinary path. The carefully contrived early-day motions and the student japes over the years have been determined to pick a fight with Britain's dockers and finally to bring them down. The ideological cave dwellers, of whom the hon. Member for Thurrock is a splendid example, are doing this country a gross disservice. All the dissembling in the world from the Ministers about the reasons behind the legislation and the extraordinary way it has been introduced will not hide the truth from the country.
The Secretary of State affected to be greatly surprised that Opposition Members dwelt on the extraordinary and irregular way in which the issue has been brought before the House. I cannot believe that the Government are genuine in their puzzlement at that. The Bill was not mentioned in their manifesto or the Queen's Speech. A matter of months ago the Prime Minister said that the Government had no plans to introduce such a measure and only a few weeks before the White Paper was introduced, the Minister said that there were no plans to abolish the scheme. That was followed by a White Paper and, the next day, by the publication of the Bill. Either there was a lightning conversion by the Government to the Bill, or they were deceiving the House when they gave their answers on the previous occasions, solemn and otherwise, that I have mentioned. If the Government do not understand why that is important to parliamentary democracy and to those who care about it, they are not fit to be a Government.
The Bill has been brought before us with unseemly haste and there has been an unseemly performance by Back Bench Conservative Members in the hours that I have spent listening to the debate today. They have carried out giggling, sneaky, public schoolboy japes, they have run
Column 1041around on the Back Benches whispering points to each other and have raced off to the Library to photocopy pieces of literature to pass among themselves.
Conservative Back Bench Members have an unseemly and shabby desire to rubbish and eventually smash a section of the British work force that has served this country well. I represent many dockers because part of the port of Glasgow is in my constituency. In the past few weeks, I have spent much time in the company of dockers and their families. There are few less pleasant sights than to see well-upholstered, sleek and wealthy Conservative Members insulting a body of men who work hard for a living and who have done so for many centuries.
Mr. Riddick : It is a little rich for the hon. Gentleman to talk about the supposed misbehaviour of Conservative Members. Only 10 minutes ago, he and many of his hon. Friends were making a mountain out of a molehill about the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) was simply wandering along the aisle. Labour Members even raised a point of order about it.
There are few less pleasant or edifying sights than people who would not last a day working in Britain's docks maligning and sneering at the dockers of this country, describing them as dodgers, bobbers, welters, work shy, strike-happy, lazy, good-for-nothing men. How many Conservative Members could exchange their lounge suits for a docker's jacket? How many of them could exchange their briefcases for a docker's hook? I see that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) is giggling. He is one of the most unseemly examples of all, and his grandfather is turning in his grave at his performance. How many Conservative Members could live on a docker's wage? Some Conservative Members have said that dockers are well paid. That is rich coming from Members of Parliament who earn two, three or four times what a docker earns. It is little short of disgusting for Conservative Members with three, four, five or 10 directorships to malign dockers as they have tonight and on previous occasions. It is about time that those giggling public schoolboys got down from their ivory towers and went among dock workers and their families. There is a fear--perhaps the more civilised Conservative Members think it is an ill-founded fear--that the spectre of the old days is once again stalking the streets in our dock areas. Of course, Conservative Members may know nothing about those old days because that is not a part of our history that they care to study. In the old days, men underwent the indignity of queueing to catch the foreman's eye to get a day's work and a day's wages. I am talking about the old days when dockers fought each other outside the docks, so desperate were they for a day's work ; the old days when the gaffer could go into a hostelry near the docks and find the gantry lined with whiskies for him so that he never had to buy a
Column 1042drink. Those whiskies had been put there by dockers who were desperate to win the favour of the man who gave them their daily bread. I am talking about the old days when matchboxes containing half-crowns were passed to the gaffers by desperate dockers who were looking for a day's work.
The Minister says that the employers have given assurances that those old days will not recur, but it is not true that they have given such assurances. What is true is that they have press-released that they have no intention of returning to casualisation. If they really were intent on giving assurances, they would sit down with the dockers' trade union tomorrow and sign assurances to guarantee that there would be no return to casualisation or to those bad old days. I genuinely believe that the Government are seriously out of kilter with the developing public mood of the country. People understand that the Government are deliberately seeking a fight with the dockers. People understand that the Government have saved this up for a political rainy day and that this is that political rainy day. The summer of industrial discontent is already well under way. In all the by-elections, all the opinion polls and all the objective tests of public opinion, the Government can be seen to be losing their way rapidly. That is why they have decided that this is the time to pick a fight with the dockers.
Some Conservative Members think that the dockers are a pushover. In the past few weeks I have spent some time taking the pulse of the determination of the dock workers in this country. If there is a dock strike--heaven knows, the dockers do not want it and the Labour party does not want it, not the brand new, policy review Labour party, although the Government and their backwoodsmen clearly do want it--the Government had better not rely on any lack of firmness or resolve on the part of the dockers to defend the rights that they have won over many decades of struggle.
Neither should the Government underestimate the public sympathy that the dockers will be able to muster, contrary to what happened in industrial disputes in previous years. The dockers are a relatively small group of hard-working and patriotic men who have a strong sense of the dignity of labour--
Mr. Galloway : The hon. Gentleman refers to ghosting and bobbing, but he is particularly well-upholstered. I should like to see him on a quayside with a docker's hook in his hand because he would not last half a day, never mind a day.
Mr. Bennett rose--
The dockers are a group of hard-working, patriotic men with a strong sense of community, whose work the public will quickly come to value--especially if there is an industrial dispute--and which they will evaluate rather more highly than they do the mob of Conservative Back Benchers and Ministers who think that they are doing a wonderful thing in dishing the dockers this evening.
Column 10439.58 pm
Mr. Bellingham : We have heard some colourful language and perhaps even some impressive rhetoric, but when the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) talks about cave dwellers, his is forgetting that the neolithic tendency is on his Benches, from which we have not heard a single word about expansion, about growth or about the enhanced prospects of many dockers in many ports. We have not heard a single word about some of the east coast ports, which are now scheme ports, but which will go from strength to strength. The neolithic tendency and the cave dwellers are to be found on the Opposition side of the Chamber. If there was a Martian in the Gallery who had had the chance to look at the facts of the case and to hear the speeches made by Conservative and by Opposition Members, that Martian would be dumbfounded and thunderstruck by the attitude of Opposition Members. I agree with the hon. Member for Hillhead on one point, and that is that dockers are a noble band of people. I have the highest possible regard for the dockers in my constituency. However, many have said to me that, in their hearts, they knew that the scheme could not continue.
I will confine most of my remarks to my experiences in King's Lynn. King's Lynn was once one of the foremost ports in the land. In the 16th century, it was ranked No. 2 in the country. It has obviously gone well down the chart. In 1970, there were 130 registered dock workers in King's Lynn, and there are now only 52. Their average age is well over 50. I do not believe that there has been an appointment for nearly 25 years.
There is a tremendous amount of envy and resentment against registered dockers among other employees within the port community. Of course there is friendship, but their privileges are resented. When he came to my constituency, the Minister heard that management, middle management and many employees in the docks felt that the scheme had to go, and that, if King's Lynn is to compete against non-scheme ports in East Anglia and against Sutton Bridge, Fosdyke and a host of other non-scheme ports, it must have greater flexibility, move with the times, develop its hinterland, and go forwards rather than backwards.
Every time I have been to the docks, I have had it in the neck time and again about when the Government will do something about the scheme. In spite of the scheme and the fact that King's Lynn has not been able to retain its competitive edge in so many ways, it has continued to increase cargoes and tonnages. It has gone from strength to strength. I wonder what the future will hold for King's Lynn when the Bill is on the statute book.
During the past six months, there have been several beneficial announcements by the Government. The first was the electrification of the railway line from Cambridge to King's Lynn, with work commencing in August- -a major investment in railways.