Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Bermingham : Before the hon. Gentleman concludes his remarks about King's Lynn dockers, will he assure me on one small point? Many dockers are aged 50-plus. Can he guarantee that they will receive other work in the port facilities at King's Lynn? Does he think that £35,000 maximum compensation for somebody aged 55 who may never work again is fair or adequate?

Column 1044

Mr. Bellingham : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. The chances of any dockers in King's Lynn losing their jobs are slim. As the hon. Member for Hillhead pointed out, only two people in King's Lynn docks earn more than registered dockers. The average wages of those dockers are only a little less than what hon. Members earn. That is all very well, but the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) must understand ther resentment and envy that builds up. He must understand also that many dockers have savings. A docker came to me the other day and asked for assistance in a property development. He was developing three flats in King's Lynn. I wished him well. I noted that he had done well and saved money. Good luck to him. He also said that, in his heart of hearts, he knew that the scheme could not continue.

As I was saying, one of the beneficial points for King's Lynn was the Secretary of State for Transport's recent announcement of the electrificiation of the railway from Cambridge to King's Lynn. Only 10 days ago, there was an announcement of a massive boost to communications and building in East Anglia. For the first time, the Department of Transport has realised the need for two strategic dual carriageway links into Norfolk --the A47 and the A11. There will also be considerable dualling of the A17 and A10. If, at last, Norfolk is to be recognised as an expanding area that will retain its competitive edge and be able to compete after 1992, it must have good communications. It is a welcome feature that the docks and port in my constituency will benefit greatly from these improvements in communications.

The Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill is also welcome because, inter alia, it allows for £4 million to be spent on a new riverside berth in King's Lynn. One of the problems at King's Lynn at present is that it is an old dock and the main facilities are contained by sluice gates. It is restricted in the size and length of vessel that it can take. The new riverside berth will allow it to take much longer and bigger vessels, which obviously will allow it to compete more successfully. However, last night a number of Opposition Members--those on the payroll vote and in the pay of the National Union of Mineworkers--very sadly decided to do all they possibly could to sabotage that Bill, which will create a large number of jobs in Immingham, Port Talbot and King's Lynn.

Where are those same hon. Members tonight? We did not hear much last night about their consideration for or care about dockers and their jobs. All we heard was how they wanted to destroy a £40 million investment by Associated British Ports. Incidentally, ABP had to spend getting on for £500,000 in legal fees to surmount the archaic private Bill procedures in the House, and then, last night, 50-odd Opposition Members went out of their way to destroy that Bill. It was a shameful evening. It is especially shameful because those same Opposition Members are not here tonight when we are discussing a Bill and the tabled amendments, which perhaps would have assisted dockers and given them more money. Those Opposition Members are nowhere to be seen. That shows the sheer hyprocrisy of some Opposition Members. The hon. Member for Hillhead talked about cave dwellers. Those Opposition Members who came to the House to try to destroy a Bill, which means investment and more opportunities for dockers, and especially dockers in my constituency, are the real cave dwellers.

Column 1045

I strongly believe that there are fortunes facing my constituency, because of the four key pillars that I have mentioned : railway electrification ; improvements in roads, which give a massive boost to road communications, with millions of pounds being spent on roads to Norfolk ; the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill, which means a massive new investment in King's Lynn ; and, most crucially, this Bill, which will allow King's Lynn docks to move forward and to compete with the non-scheme ports. That is what people to whom I have been speaking have been asking for time and time again.

When Opposition Members talk in terms of bringing back some form of structure that will recreate a dock labour mark 2 scheme, all I can say is that, if they come to my constituency during the next election and peddle such views, they will be treated with complete contempt by all the people who will benefit from the Bill--those who will get jobs and increased prospects. If they come to my constituency to peddle such views, it will be a millstone around their necks that they will regret. That is why I support the Third Reading.

10.10 pm

Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South) : Earlier this evening the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) was telling us about the development at Tilbury. He told us that we should be concerned about the facts to do with Tilbury. He went on to tell us that, since the announcement of the Bill, a particular company had expressed an interest in investing.

Mr. Tony Banks : Arthur Daley Ltd.

Ms. Primarolo : Yes, Arthur Daley Ltd.

I have copies of the "Tilbury News", which is the port of Tilbury's official newsletter. They contain reports about Tilbury before the proposals for this legislation. Along with the employers, the Government have perpetuated many myths and misrepresentations about what was happening in our ports prior to the White Paper and this Bill. I want to add a few more facts about Tilbury to those which the hon. Member for Thurrock chose to give us.

The first Tilbury Port newsletter states that Tilbury's forest products facilities are being extended by an investment of £2.5 million for an expansion scheme which will bring the total investment in that port this year to £8 million. However, we have been told that scheme ports are starved of investment.

The newsletter refers to the growth in grain importation and refers to Tilbury's grain terminal. It states that Tilbury has improved its ranking in the 1987-88 marketing year for wheat exports from sixth to third position with an increased market share from 6.5 per cent. to 10.4 per cent. It managed that despite the decrease in tonnage due to the poor United Kingdom harvest. Immingham is also a market leader, with 24 per cent., followed closely by Southampton at 17.5 per cent. Those two ports have also increased their market share.

All three ports all are scheme ports. They are expanding and developing in investment and tonnage and they are improving their market positions in this country in competing with non-scheme ports. The newsletter also gives details of a new timber terminal at Newport in south Wales which is a multi -million-pound development. The operations manager at Tilbury has said :

Column 1046

"We have some super truck drivers, excellent supervisory staff, plenty of people who work above and beyond the call of duty and, geographically, we couldn't be better placed. The potential is tremendous."

He was talking about dockers in the dock labour scheme. That does not develop the argument or prove the facts referred to by the hon. Member for Thurrock.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms. Primarolo : No, I will not give way. Many hon. Members want to speak and I am trying to make a reasonably short contribution. If the hon. Gentleman wants to speak, he must take his turn.

Turning to the dock labour scheme--

Mr. Bennett : Who wrote the hon. Lady's speech?

Ms. Primarolo : Actually, I am literate and I can write my own speeches.

This Bill has been hallmarked by confrontation and by the Government's undemocratic behaviour. The White Paper was followed immediately by this Bill. It is clear that there has been collusion between the National Association of Port Employers, which has been clear and single-minded in its campaign to abolish the dock labour scheme, and the Government. They have combined to achieve that end. The employers' campaign has been pursued with the clear objective of provoking a national dock strike. It has done that by ending the scheme's severence pay to dock workers, through a series of provocative violations of the scheme and preparing secret plans for breaking a national strike. They are preparing to use the courts to declare the strike illegal. I do not believe that the Government's move to abolish the national dock labour scheme can be separated from the employers' campaign.

The national dock labour scheme has been massively misrepresented in the media, by employers and by the Government. The employers have sought to project themselves as helpless victims with their hands tied behind their backs. The White Paper said that the scheme was an unfair monopoly. In fact, the scheme is run by a board on which employers and unions are equally represented and was established to defend workers against the blue- eyed system of casual labour. That was an honourable objective for such a scheme.

The scheme is accused of making jobs for life and rendering the employers weak and powerless. It is truly incredible that the Government expect us to believe that the port employers are meek, shaking in their shoes, powerless and unable to run their business. Consideration of reports on the development and expansion of our ports shows that not to be the case.

Dockers can be sacked for misconduct and not doing their jobs properly. In 15 years, the national work force within the scheme has reduced by 47,000. Dockers have a guaranteed minimum daily wage. What is wrong with that? Doctors do not stop being paid if they have no patients to see one day. Jounalists do not stop getting paid if their story is not published one day. Hon. Members do not stop getting paid if they are not literally resident in this Chamber for the entire period of the debates.

Mr. Devlin rose--

Ms. Primarolo : No, as I have already explained, I shall not give way.

Most employees know that if they turn up for work they will get paid. Many hon. Members, particularly

Column 1047

Conservative Members, are retained as parliamentary advisers for perhaps giving advice, and it ill behoves people to declare that others are not entitled to receive a daily minimum wage.

Much has been made of the standby agreements. Employers preferred that arrangement to providing proper training and job security for dockers. Now they use the very mechanism which they put into place to blame the unions for what they call the costly, restrictive practices.

Employers say that the scheme has driven port investment elsewhere. In fact, major investments have been announced for scheme ports such as Southampton, Bristol and London.

Bristol is a scheme port. I can give details of the investment agreed while the dock labour scheme was still unthreatened because it was not listed in the Queen's Speech. There has been a £25 million commitment for investment--not a promise or indication of interest, but a legal commitment --by Redland Plaster Board. There has been a £6 million investment by Carrefour Cement and a £5 million investment committed by a scrap metal dealer. The city council is committed to a £47 million programme of investment. Like many other scheme ports, Bristol is hardly starved of investment.

The growth of non-scheme ports on the east coast reflects, among other things, the shift in trade to Europe. The need to become competitive and ready for the single market agreement in 1992 is another reason given for abolishing the scheme. However, as has already been stated, many European ports have job security arrangements which are similar to the dock labour scheme. In addition, they have the advantage of being regarded as part of the basic national infrastructure and are receiving heavy Government subsidies. According to the House of Commons reference sheet, the European ports receive approximately £200 million a year in subsidy. That is hardly a small figure.

Employers are promising not to reintroduce casual labour, but in an industry in which traffic constantly fluctuates their clear objective is to reduce the labour force to a core and employ the remainder on a casual basis. That is the reason for all the fears and

representations detailed by other speakers.

In an industry in which all the economic pressures are towards casualisation, the dock labour scheme is, quite properly, a guarantee of job security. It is portrayed as an anachronism from the 1940s, but it is a necessary defence for dock workers. Dock workers are highly skilled. Part of their job involves taking care not to get in the way of cargo as it is being moved around. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but--like others who have spoken--I would not like to work on a dock. Skilled workers are needed to work with massive machinery and cope with moving large quantities of cargo if fatalities are to be prevented.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : Artful dodgers.

Ms. Primarolo : It is not a question of artful dodgers ; I am talking about serious employment practices.

Mr. Tony Banks : The hon. Gentleman is out of order. He is outside the Bar of the House.

Ms. Primarolo : We want people to work in safe environments. Why has this legislation suddenly been

Column 1048

rushed through without consultation, making sweeping changes and challenging people's livelihoods and their very lives? I believe that it is a cynical attempt to divert public opinion from the Government's problems--the National Health Service review, the poll tax, the balance of payments crisis, ever-rising interest rates and the complex problems developing in the housing market. If the scheme needs amending, why has that not been negotiated between the employers and the unions? Why is it necessary to use such a sledgehammer to crack such a small nut?

The dock labour scheme is about employment rights, not about providing anachronistic protection for employers. It ill behoves any hon. Member to pass judgment and make hasty statements about circumstances of which they have no experience and no real knowledge. I ask them to look at what is going on in the scheme ports--to move away from the business interests that they seek to represent in the House, and to make a clear decision in favour of the dock industry's workers and its future.

10.23 pm

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury) : The special pleading by the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) was not very convincing. I have two interests in the debate. In the 1979 general election, I was the Conservative candidate for the Thurrock constituency, which I nursed for some three years, and during that time I got to know Tilbury docks and the Port of London Authority quite well ; I am delighted that that constituency is now represented by my hon. Friend the present Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman).

I must tell the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) that his sense of trends is somewhat awry. In 1974 the Labour party had a 19, 000 majority in Thurrock ; by 1979 it had fallen to 6,000, and the 1983 Labour majority of 1,000 was turned into a Conservative majority of 1,000 in the last general election. Contrary to the hon. Gentleman's view, the trends suggest not only that my hon. Friend will not be defeated, but that he will increase his majority substantially.

The other reason for my interest in the debate is that I represent part of the heartland of England. My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) and I both have a considerable interest in ensuring that companies in our constituencies can export their goods and get them to market without added costs being imposed as a result of restrictive practices such as the dock labour scheme. So while there are not many dockers in north Oxfordshire, many of the people in that area depend on the competitive viability of docks and dock schemes for their own economic success.

I listened with interest to the speeches of Opposition Members, who were all heavy on rhetoric, but few of them sought to defend the scheme. That is hardly surprising, because it is indefensible. It is riddled with anomalies and has no social justification in modern industrial relations. It has also destroyed jobs.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), who was so juvenile and derisory about the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock and who is no longer in the Chamber, could have taken the opportunity presented by the debate to explain why the fish handling company in Aberdeen recently lost 100 jobs because it was no longer able to function as a result of the restrictions and restraints that the scheme imposed on it. It is scandalous

Column 1049

and tragic that what was otherwise a viable company was forced into receivership by the straitjacket of the dock labour scheme. The scheme increases costs, hinders our country's competitive position, and distorts trading relations. It has not created more trade or additional jobs but has proved to be a monstrous system of restrictive practices that produced no benefits, no improvements in industrial relations and no enhancement of job security. The scheme led to substantial industrial unrest, with hundreds of days lost in strikes over its period of operation. The scheme fails by any criteria. I defy any Opposition Member to prove that it has encouraged employment. All the evidence is that it destroyed jobs. It has not increased the prosperity of scheme ports, and I defy any Opposition Member to pretend that it has.

Mr. Loyden : The hon. Gentleman makes rash statements that are not borne out by the facts. Although Conservative Members jibe at the port of Liverpool, it operates the best and most successful freeport in the country. It also provides for trading by small businesses and has brought about the transformation of the docks by attracting building investment. It is no use the hon. Gentleman arguing that the scheme is a disincentive. If he will visit that port, he will convince himself otherwise.

Mr. Baldry : It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman was not present at last night's debate on inner cities so that he could have given that glowing testimonial to the freeport status in Liverpool. However, that success has nothing to do with the dock labour scheme but owes much to the Government's initiatives in promoting inner cities.When we next discuss inner cities I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take that opportunity to congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends from the Department of Trade and Industry on their initiatives in promoting industry in Liverpool.

Contrary to the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Bristol, South all attempts to bring about changes to the dock labour scheme, or even to negotiate changes, have been frustrated by the Transport and General Workers Union and thwarted by individual dock labour boards, on which the trade unions effectively have a a veto. The scheme has led to some of the worst restrictive practices in British industry. There has been ghosting, bobbing and massive overmanning. I hope that every Conservative candidate in the European Parliamentary elections will read the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). The hon. Gentleman presented the scheme as an example of industrial democracy and worker participation. If industrial democracy and worker participation, a la Vredeling, the fourth directive and other measures of which we hear from time to time from the European Commission, are now to be synonymous with the scheme, it is little wonder that there are many who are concerned to ensure that the social charter is kept in perspective and under control.

The scheme and the attendant restrictive practices have led to substantially increased costs, which amount to about 20 per cent. They have led to a loss of business from scheme ports to non-scheme ports and from British ports to ports elsewhere in Europe. It is not surprising that the Bill is passing through the House. It is surprising only that it has taken so long for a Bill of this sort to appear before the House. When I was

Column 1050

the parliamentary candidate for Thurrock, way back in 1979, I saw the constant haemorrhaging of work from the port of London to ports on the mainland of Europe.

The loss of business from the scheme ports is clearly evidenced by the rise of the non-scheme ports such as Felixstowe. I hope that every member of the Transport and General Workers Union and other unions in ports such as Felixstowe will have his attention drawn to the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West. Each Member must draw his own inference from it. I understood the hon. Gentleman to suggest that every worker who is not a docker in a scheme port is a blackleg worker. I hope that dockers in non- scheme ports will take that on board. It would seem that the Labour party is interested only in supporting an outdated scheme, whatever the cost.

The Labour party's only defence is that in taking that stance it is the only bulwark and defence against casualisation. It may not have noticed that the world has moved on considerably since the mid and late 1940s. Employers need a steady labour force. Has any Opposition Member suggested tonight that in non-scheme ports there is casualisation and that dockers are treated badly, or not well, by their employers? Of course not. Dock work is skilled work and employers need a skilled and steady labour force. They will wish to maintain that labour force and continue to train it after the end of the scheme. That is the attitude of employers in the present non -scheme ports.

The United Kingdom, along with every country in Europe, faces the challenge of 1992 and the single market. Over the past couple of weeks we have seen something of the supposedly new face of the Labour party. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) was rather more realistic about that when he seemed to suggest that that had rather more to do with packaging than with substance. The suggestion is that the Labour party now wishes Britain to take advantage of the opportunities that the single market of 1992 might present. How does it expect Britain to do so--our companies to prosper and our businesses to trade at a competitive advantage--if we continue to shackle ourselves by restrictive, outdated, anomalous and historic relics of a byegone age, such as the dock labour scheme? It will be an indictment of the Labour party that it has sought so resolutely to defend the indefensible.

The sooner the dock labour scheme is scrapped and all our ports are able to compete freely and properly, unshackled by the dock labour scheme, the better it will be for the heartland of England and for companies and firms in constituencies such as mine. We shall be able to maximise our competitive advantages and go forward. I hope that the Bill will become law as soon as possible.

10.34 pm

Mr. Tony Banks : The hon. Member for the well-known port of Banbury who has just spoken made a number of very inaccurate statements about the profitability of scheme ports. Like many other Conservative Members who have made similar statements--their only concern is to get rid of the dock labour scheme ; they know very little about it, but it smacks of regulation and of anything else that prevents employers from doing what they will with their work force--he got his facts very badly wrong.

Column 1051

I remind the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) that the largest employer in the scheme ports is Associated British Ports. It owns Ayr, Barrow, Barry, Cardiff, Fleetwood, Garston, Goole, Grimsby, Hull, Immingham, King's Lynn, Lowestoft, Newport, Plymouth, Port Talbot, Silloth, Southampton, Swansea, Troon and the non-scheme ports of Colchester and Teignmouth. Associated British Ports is a growing and profitable company. It was privatised through the sale of 51 per cent. of its shares in February 1983. It reported profits of no less than £38 million in 1987, with ports contributing £19 million to those profits compared with £26 million in 1986--a 46 per cent. increase. In the first half of 1988, the company's profits rose by a further 59 per cent., to £21 million, the ports contributing £11 million.

The scheme ports have been doing so well that the chairman of Associated British Ports, Sir Keith Stuart, earned £97,000 in 1987, an increase of 23 per cent. on 1986. When there is talk about dockers earning large amounts of money, I should like to know how many dockers got a 23 per cent. increase in 1987 compared with 1986. If the hon. Gentleman wants more evidence about the efficiency and profitability of the scheme ports, I suggest that he should listen not to me--he rarely does--but to what has been said by Ministers. An excellent reference paper, prepared by the Library, shows that, in the Consolidated Fund Bill debate on 10 March 1988, the Under-Secretary of State said :

"Despite the constraints, many scheme ports are profitable and, as I have already suggested, the industry has adjusted and responded successfully to enormous technological changes over the years, and that could not have been achieved without effective management."--[ Official Report, 10 March 1988 ; Vol. 129, c. 599.]

Where, therefore, is the argument about managers not being able to manage? The facts are all here. We argue from the facts. Conservative Members argue from the depths of their ignorance and prejudice against the scheme. The political decision to abolish the dock labour scheme was sudden and traumatic. It was certainly taken without consultation and it was outside the normal parliamentary procedure. If the scheme is so bad, why has it survived for 40 years? Conservative Members say that the Opposition are not prepared to defend it. We have defended it all the way through. We defended it in Committee where we made quite plain the benefits that it brought to the industry, employers and dockers in terms of standards of welfare, training and pay and conditions generally. That is why Conservative Members dislike the scheme so much. It does a lot of good for dockers and the industry generally, so they want all forms of regulation to be abolished. That is their political objective. Why are they not honest and straightforward about it? Why do they not say, "That's why we don't like the scheme"? Instead of that, they denigrate it all the time.

Not one word was said in Committee by any Minister about anything in the dock labour scheme being decent, despite the fact that it has survived for 40 years, including 10 years of Conservative Government since 1979. If the scheme was so bad, why did the Government do nothing about it before this? They had plenty of opportunities to do so. They did not say in their election manifestos of 1979, 1983 and 1987 that they intended to do away with

Column 1052

the scheme. Of course they did not. Now we have this unseemly rush to get the Bill through and get the scheme abolished. It is deliberate and provocative. That is all I can say about Government action.

I know what has been going on. I keep my eyes and ears open around this place. I have seen the lunchtime crowds standing by the Members' entrance, waiting for taxis. I have heard the exchanges--"Where are you going? I am going to such and such a place." I know that the employers have been laying on some very fancy, expensive lunches. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) is not here at the moment, but I said it to him enough times in Committee for him to know what I will say. He has been very much in the van, making sure that people were feted with good food and excellent wine by the employers. Mr. Bennett rose --

Mr. Banks : I will not give way because the Government have guillotined the Bill. Nothing that the hon. Gentleman says could frighten or intimidate me, as he knows. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that he wants to assist me, rather like the rope supporting a hanging man. I can do without that assistance.

Mr. Bennett : I have a list.

Mr. Banks : He has a list. No doubt he has a list of all the people who were going off for lunch--

Mr. Bennett : It is a list of Labour Members.

Mr. Banks : In Committee, the hon. Gentleman produced a letter allegedly written by Ron Todd, so I will not trust his list any more than I trusted some of the so-called facts that he put before the Committee.

Mr. Bennett : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) should be given an opportunity to defend himself, because he was one of the recipients of these lunches.

Mr. Banks : If that was a point or order, it can be dealt with by my hon. Friend when he speaks. [Interruption.] No. He is thinking deeply and hoping that, through a process of political osmosis, the information will seep through the Bench into his brain. No doubt he will be able to deal with the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) when he makes his contribution.

We know that the Government want a strike. We have said so all along. When this came up originally, we shouted out that the Government wanted a strike, that they needed a strike and that they were engineering a strike. We said that we did not want a strike. When my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) said during his contribution that we do not want a strike, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) shouted, "We do." We challenged him at that very moment but he did not withdraw the comment, and he has not done so since.

There has been a conspiracy between the employers and a conspiracy between the Government and the employers. Messenger boys have been sent backwards and forwards until the employers were able to put the steel into No. 10 by saying, "Yes, we are all ready to go, right hon. Lady." That is what happened. Conservative Members know that to be fact. They want a strike for a variety of economic and social reasons.

The economy is in tatters and it would be useful to the statistics- gathering of the Government if they could write

Column 1053

out the amount of imports that are flooding into the country, causing such an enormous balance of payments deficit on manufactured goods. It would take a while for that statistic to even itself out when the dispute ended. That is why they want a dispute. They want to use it in a Machiavellian way to divert the attention of the population. They desperately need a strike.

If the Government force the dockers into a strike, I can assure the Secretary of State that we will be standing with the dockers because we know that a strike is wanted not by the dockers or by the unions, but only by the Government. If the Government force a strike on the dockers, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with them.

At various times in Committee and during the latter stages of the Bill, Ministers have said that plenty of assurances have been given by employers that there will be no return to casualisation. Frankly, we do not believe that. I would rather accept a steak and kidney pie from Dr. Crippen than an assurance from the Secretary of State. If

Column 1054

the Secretary of State believes that he is telling the truth, let him sit down with the union and the employers and give the union those assurances in writing. That is a reasonable suggestion, because, as I have said, the Secretary of State needs to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the jobs that he promised will be generated when the scheme is abolished and that there will be no casualisation. Those assurances need to be translated into something which we can get hold of and to which we can hold the Secretary of State if they are not realised.

Having watched the way in which the conspiracy has worked and the way in which a cowboy charter for cowboy employers carried by a cowboy Government has rapidly moved towards the statute book, if there is a strike, I know that all my colleagues will stand proudly, shoulder to shoulder with the dockers in a strike which the dockers did not seek and do not want, and which the Government clearly want.

Column 1055

10.46 pm

Mr. David Davis : Having listened to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), I am reminded of the legend of the day before the battle of Waterloo when the Duke of Wellington had to deal with a trooper who had been caught looting, an offence which carried a capital punishment. When he spoke to the trooper, the trooper put up such a good defence that the Duke of Wellington said, "This man knows how to defend the indefensible", and he made him a sergeant. Today, the Labour party has been trying to defend the indefensible and the hon. Member for Newham, North- West might just aspire to becoming a lance-corporal.

Mr. Tony Banks : I should be so lucky, dearie.

Mr. Davis : The hon. Gentleman should be so lucky.

The issues raised on Second Reading, in Committee and today, on Report, are singular in the extent to which they have not been addressed by the Labour party ; we talk about disgraceful practices in the docks and we receive no response. We talk about bobbing and welting and all we get is bobbing and weaving from the Opposition ; we talk about ghosting and we get gobbledegook ; we talk about discipline and we get disingenuousness. The Opposition have not addressed the issues that we raised. They have put themselves in such a difficult position that they have contradicted themselves on the same day. Today they talked themselves into a corner on training. They talked about the dock labour scheme as a bastion of good training, yet not so long ago the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) was saying that lack of training had caused ghosting. There have been similar inconsistencies throughout their arguments. It is not quite true that the Opposition entirely ignored the argument. To some extent they tried to imply that bad practices in the docks were rare, yet they never seriously addressed that argument because in one afternoon I was able to find 27 examples of bad practice in seven ports. They have not addressed the impact of that bad practice on costs, reliability and the standard of service in the ports, and as a result they have never properly addressed the impact of those bad practices on jobs in the ports and in the hinterland around the ports.

I am not surprised that the Opposition do not accept the findings of an independent consultancy report that revealed that the abolition of the scheme would create 50,000 jobs. I understand that they would view that with some scepticism. I had an exchange with the hon. Member for Oldham, West on the matter on Second Reading. I, too viewed the report with some scepticism, and on closer examination of it discovered that the effects of 1992 had been left out completely, so it would be more accurate to forecast that not 50,000 but 100,000 jobs would be created by the abolition of the scheme.

Nor would I expect Opposition Members to listen to me. But I would expect the hon. Member for Newham, North-West to read Tribune, which wrote :

"It is common knowledge in the shipping industry and among many registered dock workers that the dock work scheme, as applied in many excellent ports, was hastening their decline to the benefit of non-scheme ports. This has not helped the registered dock workers. For example, Transport and General Workers' Union members in non-scheme ports around Humberside are able year after year to earn much

Column 1056

bigger wage packets than their local comrades in the scheme. Growing tonnages and growing incomes go to the smaller non-scheme ports."

It went on to refer to the lack of innovation in the Labour party on this issue. But perhaps Labour Members do not believe Tribune. Let them look with their own eyes at the evidence of what has happened to Aberdeen or Grimsby fishing ports. I note that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) is not here today, and I am not surprised.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett : He has bobbed off.

Mr. Davis : Bobbed off, exactly.

We have argued about geography and have been told that all the problems are due to changing patterns of trade, although Labour Members ignore the fact that Ipswich and Felixstowe are next door to one another and that the non- scheme tiny wharves on the tributaries of the Humber, in some of the most difficult places with all the disadvantages of geography, are now taking on more business than is the perfectly placed scheme port of Hull, representing a growth for those ports of from 15 to 21 per cent. of Humber traffic in five years.

Nor do we expect Labour Members to look at ports that have lost business, not just to non-scheme ports--because it could be argued that that was due to a redistribution in British employment--but to ports abroad. Ipswich, Grangemouth, Hull and others have lost business abroad, a subject to which I shall return.

Labour Members talk about themselves as coming from the party of the poor and the underprivileged. We do not expect them to worry about the fact that 100,000 jobs--not 9,000 privileges--hang on this decision. As the hon. Member for Newham, North-West said--and I agree with him--this scheme has been around for 40 years. When it was created, there was a good reason for it. It was designed to deal with the social injustices and economic inefficiencies of the casual system.

I accept all of that, and in Committee I was impressed, if not by the argument then by the passion and commitment of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden), who has a family tradition of knowing quite bitterly about these matters for many years. The scheme was created out of the fear of casualism, and that fear has been carried down through families. But it was not created with the intention of developing it into what it is today. It is interesting to look back to the speeches that were made at the time, for example, by Ernest Bevin ; and the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), who is in his place, will no doubt recall them.

I have a soft spot for Ernest Bevin, in view of what was said by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway), who is not in his place, about public schoolboys, because my school is named the Ernest Bevin comprehensive.

Next Section

  Home Page