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Column 960driver's cabin would render remote microphones and remote loudspeakers ineffective ; taxis and certain emergency vehicles should be excluded for much the same reasons that they were excluded from the seat belt legislation.
During the past year I, like other hon. Members, have asked a series of parliamentary questions to draw attention to these problems. The answers which I received were not always illuminating. In reply to a question on 20 June last year about voice-activated dialling, my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic said : "Our advice is clear : anyone who can afford a car phone can afford a hands-free microphone."-- [Official Report, 20 June 1988 ; Vol. 135, c. 444. ]
That answer does him less than credit. It suggests that the problem has been treated less seriously than it deserves, which is an impression confirmed by the complete absence of any reference to the subject in the recent White Paper entitled "The Road User and the Law."
It may be argued that current legislation already gives the police adequate powers to prosecute a driver who uses a car phone dangerously. Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 covers driving without due care and attention, and driving without reasonable consideration for other road users. The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 make it an offence not to have proper control of a vehicle. However, that legislation provides the statutory basis for a prosecution once the danger has been caused. My Bill, apart from being much more specific, is preventative : it seeks to prevent what would be an offence under those provisions from taking place.
Does not the Highway Code already do that? It states :
"Do not use a hand held microphone or telephone handset while your vehicle is moving, except in an emergency. Do not stop on the hard shoulder of a motorway to answer a call, however urgent". That is sound advice. Unfortunately, too few people read the Highway Code, and, of those, even fewer take notice of it. Furthermore, it is only advisory and failure to observe its provisions is not an offence, even though such failure may be adduced in evidence in other proceedings. What is needed, which my Bill provides, is a clear and firm framework of law, with appropriate penalties. I envisage the penalties being incorporated into the points system.
Anyone who doubts the seriousness of the problem has only to consider that the number of car telephones in use has nearly doubled in the past 18 months. The number is now in excess of 400,000. By 1991, it is likely to top 1 million. That is a very large number of drivers who are in less than full control of their vehicles. Those figures apply only to fitted cellular car phones. The totals will be considerably more, and the danger much greater, as portable telephones become more powerful and capable of in-car use. Legislation may not look easy to enforce, but it need be no more difficult than it was for seat belts. Despite the claim that the seat belt rules would be unenforceable, the usage rate for belts rose from 30 per cent. before legislation to 90 per cent. after it. The emphasis of my Bill is on the design and fitting of the equipment. If that is right, the correct usage of it will follow.
I regard car telephones as an increasingly essential amenity of modern business life. I do not wish to restrict their freedom of use. However, I want them to be used in a way that is safe and sensible and does not spell danger to other road users. I believe that my Bill achieves that end.
Column 961Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Douglas French, Mr. Alan Amos, Mr. Jacques Arnold, Mr. Tim Boswell, Mr. John Bowis, Mr. James Cran, Mr. Roger Knapman, Mr. Keith Mans, Mr. David Nicholson, Mr. David Porter and Miss Ann Widdecombe.
Mr. Douglas French accordingly presented a Bill to enhance safety in the use of telephones in cars : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 7 July and to be printed. [Bill 148.]
That the Report [23rd May] from the Business Committee be now considered.-- [Mr. Fallon.]
Report considered accordingly.
Question, That this House doth agree with the Committee in their resolution, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 80 (Business Committee), and agreed to.
Following is the report of the Business Committee :
That on the allotted day which under the Order [8th May] is to be given to the proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading those proceedings shall, subject to the provisions of that Order, be brought to a conclusion as follows :
Proceedings Time for conclusion
New Clauses 6 p.m.
on Consideration 8 p.m.
Third Reading Midnight
Dock Work Bill
Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
(1) Any dock worker to whom the Scheme applied shall be entitled, on leaving employment as a dock worker, to a payment of £6,000 plus £3,000 for each complete year of employment under the Scheme. (2) Payments under subsection (1) shall be funded on an equal basis by the Secretary of State and former registered employers. (3) This section shall lapse ten years after the passing of this Act unless renewed by affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament.'.-- [Mr. Meacher].
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Meacher : New clause 1 is designed with a simple but important purpose : to offer to dock workers made redundant after the abolition of the dock labour scheme, a level of compensation which more closely matches that which is available in other industries. For dock workers made redundant in the first 18 months after abolition, the Government propose a lump sum of £5,000, plus £2,000 for every full year of work, up to a maximum of £35,000. Those made redundant in the following 18 months will receive £5,000, plus £1,000 for every full year of service, up to a maximum of £20,000.
We propose a lump sum of £6,000, plus £3,000 for each complete year of employment under the scheme.
Mr. Meacher : My hon. Friend says that that is not good enough. I take his point, but we shall be happy to settle for it if the Government concede it. It means that a dock worker who has served 15 years would receive £51,000 in compensation, and a dock worker who had worked 20 years would receive £66,000. Those may sound quite large figures, but they are in line with redundancy compensation currently being paid under other schemes.
The redundant mineworkers payment scheme is, in many respects, more generous than the Government's draft proposals for dock workers. Older mineworkers who are made redundant receive a lump sum based on age, length of service and pay, plus a weekly benefit. If those figures are added together, they amount to a substantial sum. I have a British Coal press release, dated 7 October 1986, which quotes an average--I emphasise "average"--figure of £74,600 redundancy payment for men made
Column 963redundant at the age of 50 to 54. Some will receive more than that. It is against that comparison that the Opposition have drawn up their proposals.
It is only fair to point out that the Government scheme for mineworkers has been replaced by British Coal's own scheme. Although it is not as generous as the Government's proposals for dock workers, under the British Coal scheme, redundant mineworkers with 15 or more years, service are paid an additional lump sum of £7,500, plus £500 a year for service aged between 16 to 34, and £750 a year for service aged 35 to 65. On top of that, statutory redundancy pay can be paid, so that the maximum total is nearly £40,600 for someone with maximum service who retires before his or her 60th birthday. That figure is considerably more than the one proposed in the Government scheme for redundant dock workers, especially those who lose their jobs in the second 18-month period after the abolition, when, as I have said, they will receive a maximum of only £20,000. In other words, they will receive only half as much as is payable under the British Coal scheme, which is itself less generous than the redundant mineworkers' payment scheme.
The level of compensation that we propose is not particularly out of line with the redundancy terms current in many parts of the private sector. I went to some trouble to obtain an Industrial Relations Service publication which reviews 22 redundancy pay agreements made in 1988. It quotes a good many examples in considerable detail. It tells us for example, that the Alliance and Leicester building society provides payments of up to £60,000 for some senior managers. It may be said that managers constitute a different layer of the work force, but another example given is Express Newspapers, which provides up to £50,000 for members of the National Graphical Association as part--not all--of the severance terms covering job losses caused by major reorganisation of the group. Those, too, are substantially more generous than what the Government proposed.
I am not sure whether the phrase "brass handshake" has been used before, but it seems appropriate. Such handshakes are now fairly common throughout industry. I have deliberately abstained from citing the growing number of golden handshakes of which we hear fairly regularly from board rooms. Only six weeks ago, however, amid all the fuss about Blue Arrow's £25 million loan to Peter de Savary--in which the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) was involved--we were told that Mr. John Sharkey has been paid off handsomely with a golden handshake of £225,000. All I can say is that he is lucky not to have been a docker ; if he had been, he would have received about one seventh of that sum.
Again, two months ago, amid all the rumpus over the sale of three cemeteries by Lady Porter, it emerged that the lips of Westminster council's chief executive had been sealed with a £1 million golden handshake. It is a pity that the dock workers are not privy to a few more secrets. As people always say, what counts is not what a person does or how long he has been doing it, but who he knows--or, perhaps even more important, what he knows.
The new clause proposes that dock workers who have given a lifetime's service to the ports should receive proper and just recompense for the compulsory termination of their livelihood when, if they are over 50, they have little
Column 964chance of obtaining an alternative job. Unemployment is significantly higher in the scheme port travel-to-work areas. I have checked the facts : male unemployment in those areas averages 11.5 per cent., which is well above the national average. I am not saying that that figure is absolutely correct--I believe it understates the position--but, whatever the correct figure, the difference in relative terms is substantial.
It has been calculated, moreover, that unemployed men in scheme port areas have less than a 40 per cent. chance of obtaining a job--and, of course, the older they are the smaller the chance will be. Those older men will be the most affected by the compulsory redundancies that are about to be handed out. The latest count of the ages of registered dock workers produced an average age of 46.7, largely because of the port employers' unwise decision to get rid of so many younger men. Now it is those above that age whom they are most anxious to displace. Already the average number of unemployed over-forties in scheme port areas is 24 per cent., and that number is undoubtedly set to increase significantly when the Bill is implemented.
We simply propose that older men who are deprived of their jobs by compulsory Government-instigated reorganisation schemes, and who in many cases will probably never be able to work again, should be compensated in accordance with best practice for the loss forced on them. "In accordance with the best practice" is the crucial phrase : I am not saying that the terms are mean, but they are not best practice and we believe that they should be. The Government's proposals do not meet our criterion, and we are seeking to improve them.
It is not as though either the National Association of Port Employers or the Government cannot meet those obligations. I need not remind the House that corporate profitability now stands at its highest for at least a decade, and the port employers in particular have not been doing too badly in recent years. The annual report of Associated British Ports, the largest employer, shows profits of £38 million in 1987, a 46 per cent. increase. In the first half of 1988, the company's profits rose by a further 59 per cent., and dividends per share by 25 per cent. Sir Keith Stuart, chairman of ABP, described it modestly as "a highly successful year"--as well he might, as he increased his own salary by 23 per cent. in 1987 to £97,000. Last year, deciding that he must keep the wolf from the door, he increased it by a further 23 per cent. to a modest £120,000. The Opposition say that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If ABP is making profits hand over fist, if its chairman can pay himself a six-figure salary and greedily award himself a 23 per cent. increase two years running, and, above all, if it is to make an extra £20 million in profits from the scheme's abolition as it claims, it can expect to pay a proper whack to those on whose backs it has made those growing profits, and whom it now intends to throw on the scrap heap so that it can increase those profits still further.
The money is there. One side--the company, its shareholders and its managers--is receiving enormous increases ; only the dock workers are not receiving that level of remuneration. It cannot be said that the Government are exactly pinched at present, with an unprecedented Budget surplus of over £15 billion. The redundancy proposals in the Bill have been costed by the
Column 965Government at about £25 million. Our alternative proposals would cost about £35 million, not a great deal more.
Mr. Meacher : As they have £15 billion or more to dispense with, an extra £10 million for making 2,000 people redundant is something that the Government could well afford. That was a very foolish interjection.
Our proposal constitutes a much fairer distribution of Government funds than general Exchequer Budget policy.
According to a parliamentary answer of 17 May, last year, 100,000 people in Britain with salaries of more than £70,000 per year have, over the past 10 years of Tory Budgets, received an average cut in their income tax worth no less than £37,550. If the richest people in this country who do not need a penny in extra assistance are given largesse by the Government of £37,550 each year, those whom the Government make redundant and who may never get another job deserve a good deal more than a one-off payment of less than £37,550. In Committee, the only argument made by the Minister for Public Transport--not the Minister of State, Department of Employment, who is on the Government Front Bench today, but it is said that Ministers take collective responsibility--for refusing a better level of compensation for redundant dock workers was that higher compensation payments previously paid to miners were "exceptional". He stated : "It is true that a few years ago some miners received much higher compensation payments than will be available under the Bill. However, I emphasise that the circumstances of the industry at that time and the miners who received such payments were exceptional."
As though the abolition of the dock labour scheme is not highly exceptional. In trying to justify his claim that nothing special is proposed in respect of the docks, the Minister added :
"I should not imagine that the rate of loss of men from the industry would be entirely out of scale"--
he meant, as a result of the scheme's abolition--
"with what has happened in recent years."
However, the Minister's own figures reveal that abolition will, not surprisingly, be both out of the ordinary and exceptional. In Committee, the Minister for Public Transport also stated : "The £25 million that we have included in the explanatory and financial memorandum would cover between 1,500 and 2,000 redundancies".--[ Official Report, Standing Committee A, 16 May 1989, c. 505-37.]
That number of redundancies represents between 16 and 21 per cent. of the entire work force under the scheme. To get rid of one fifth of the work force and claim that such action is in no way exceptional is either cynical or extremely disingenuous.
Those redundancies represent a far quicker rundown than has occurred in the past. In 1983, there were more than 14,500 registered dock workers but now there are only 9,400, which represents an average decline of 840 per year. Under the Bill, the Government intend to bring about between two and three times more redundancies than in the past decade. Why did they bring in the Bill otherwise? Of course its intention is to increase redundancies. Even the present Government, whose record of concern over unemployment does not place them
Column 966in the first ranks of compassion, must acknowledge that that is an exceptional level of redundancy and one which commands an exceptional level of compensation.
New clause 1 will go a long way to countering some of the most malign consequences of this miserable little Bill. Given that the port employers have amassed huge profits in recent years, and have stated openly that they will make an additional packet out of sacking one fifth of their work force under the Bill, it is only right and just that dock workers should enjoy redundancy terms at least as good as the current best practice in other industries. I stress that we are not asking for a bigger pay-off that they can take and run with, because dock workers will receive those redundancy payments only if their employers decide to sack them. Redundancy will not be a choice that they can make for themselves. In those circumstances, we say that decency and justice require a more reasonable and upbeat deal than the distinctly unexceptional offer provided for in the Bill. If the Government were as generous to dock workers and to trade unionists as they are to employers and to top-rate taxpayers, they would embrace the new clause with all the eagerness with which we press it.
The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. John Cope) : As the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) made clear, new clause 1 proposes a compensation scheme to replace that suggested by the Government. The Labour party scheme--although in fairness I should call it the Meacher scheme, because the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) has already made clear his view that his hon. Friend's scheme is not generous enough-- is considerably more generous, and in some cases would pay the sum of £130,000. The Opposition scheme operates on a basis different from that included in the Bill and in the draft regulations that back it up, which amendment No. 3 seeks to omit.
The generosity of the Opposition's proposals gives an interesting insight into their view of the scheme's value to a registered dock worker. It is not only that the amounts of money differ but the entire basis is different, even though the hon. Member for Oldham, West, in his closing remarks, suggested that the basis of new clause 1 is essentially similar to that of our scheme.
The Government's proposals in clause 5 and in the regulations provide for enhanced redundancy pay for registered dockers who lose their jobs in the changes following termination of the scheme. The proposals in new clause 1 involve paying every registered dock worker who leaves the industry, for whatever reason, just because he is a registered dock worker. Under both schemes, the Government will normally pay half the cost, with the employers paying the other half. However, if an employer goes out of business and cannot meet his obligations, the Government's scheme will pay the entire cost so that the former docker will receive the full amount even if his employer becomes insolvent.
As I understand Labour's scheme, the Government would only ever pay half the cost, so if the employer cannot meet his obligation to pay the balance the docker will receive only half the sum due to him. That arrangement has some interesting consequences, to which I shall refer shortly. Perhaps it is intended to reward employees of profitable firms, for that is its effect. That is an interesting if slightly odd example of profit sharing. I certainly support the principle of profit sharing, but the
Column 967Opposition's proposals are not a very sound application of it. I would rather see port companies negotiating more conventional profit-sharing schemes with their employees.
At first glance, the Opposition's improvements may seem modest, offering as they do basic compensation of £6,000 plus £3,000 per year of employment, compared with our proposal for initial compensation of £5,000 plus £2,000 per year of employment. Under the Government scheme, there is a maximum payable of £35,000, whereas the Opposition impose no limit, except the arithmetic maximum of £132,000. 4.30 pm
We are proposing that payments should be paid in full only in the first 18 months and at lesser rates, as the hon. Gentleman said, for a further 18 months. The Opposition have a theoretical time of 10 years--theoretical for a reason that I shall come to--but, crucially, the Government are proposing to pay dockers made redundant whereas the new clause proposes to pay any registered docker who stops dock work.
The Government's scheme has a taper as retirement approaches because, beyond the age of 62 , redundancy has a more short-term effect. That is one of the differences between a redundancy scheme and a scheme for paying former dockers whenever they leave dock work.
The last difference between the two schemes has a particularly interesting consequence for the older docker. Consider the case of two dock workers aged 64 approaching retirement. Suppose that both dockers had worked all their lives in the docks and been registered dock workers ever since the scheme started in 1946. One of them, whom I shall call Mr. Meacher in order to attract the Opposition's sympathy, was a little older than his colleague, whom I shall call Alf Garnett. My theoretical Mr. Meacher's 65th birthday falls just before Royal Assent, whereas that of my theoretical Alf Garnett falls just after. Both retire on the same pension, but Alf Garnett will receive an additional £132,000--£6,000 plus £3,000 for each of the 42 years of the scheme because his birthday was a week or a month after that of his colleague. That would be his bonus for being one of the last of the registered dock workers. I imagine that the theoretical Mr. Meacher would be furious about that, but, in contrast, the hon. Member for Oldham, West has recommended the scheme to the House and we shall presumably vote on it shortly.
That points up what I said about the different basis of the Opposition's scheme. The Opposition's scheme is a reward for having been a registered dock worker, but the Government's scheme is an enhanced redundancy scheme, which is what it sets out to be. We recognise that there may be some redundancies when the scheme ends. We cannot tell how many--nobody can. Overmanning is a consequence of the scheme. We realise that the relatively generous voluntary severance payments will stop and we aim to compensate at a suitable rate those who find themselves redundant as a consequence.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : May I ask a simple question? A number of my colleagues have been reliably informed that Sir Jeffrey Sterling, chairman of P and O, has been ringing the Department of Employment--perhaps even the Minister's private office--on matters relating to the Bill and the possibility of industrial action
Column 968in the docks. Will the Minister tell us exactly what those telephone calls were about? Were they about the proposals before the House today? It is in the interests of the general public and the industry to know about the special relationship that exists at times such as this between major business men and Ministers in Her Majesty's Government.
Mr. Cope : I know of no telephone calls of that sort to my private office or to the Department. For all I know, there may have been some to the Department, but certainly not to my private office, and I am not conscious of any having been received by the Department.
Mr. Ian Bruce : Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems of making the terms of redundancy too generous is that people will decide that they want to be made redundant and will do everything possible to achieve that? I should have thought that hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree that we should be trying to encourage more employment in the docks. Therefore, to make the Government's already generous terms even more generous would be self-defeating.
Under the new clause, any registered dock worker who leaves dock work will receive the money. Why he leaves does not matter. He may have been convicted of and sacked for stealing. Examples were given in Committee of registered dock workers convicted of stealing whose employers were, under the scheme, made to continue employing them. But that is another story. Under the new clause, a registered dock worker of 30 years' standing who was sacked for stealing would nevertheless be paid £96,000.
Similarly, a docker with 30 years' service, sacked for persistent absenteeism--he might have got into the habit of bobbing off and not got out of it quickly--would, under the new clause, be paid £96,000, not for stopping doing the job--after all, that is why he was sacked--but for having been a registered dock worker. That is an interesting commentary on the Labour party's view of the value of the scheme to a registered dock worker.
I wonder what other workers in the docks think about the Opposition's proposal--if they are aware of it. Registered dock workers are only one third of the employees of registered port employers. I wonder what the rest of them think about it. For that matter, I wonder what members of the Transport and General Workers Union think about the proposals. We know from something that the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) complained about in Committee that the TGWU has not been providing its supporters in Committee with much guidance, so it may not have seen the proposals. However, if it has not, it should look at them carefully. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce) said in an intervention, the Opposition's scheme will also provide registered dock workers with a
Column 969considerable incentive to leave dock work. The lump sum payable is calculable at the time of Royal Assent and does not thereafter increase. A registered dock worker aged 40 with 20 years' service would immediately be paid £66,000 if his employer was solvent. If he worked on in the docks for another nine years, he would be paid £66, 000 in nine years' time, again if his employer was still solvent. That demonstrates my hon. Friend's point.
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) : I am relatively new to these debates, but can my hon. Friend illuminate one point? Under the new clause, would a registered dock worker be able to take some other employment for a period and then return to the docks, perhaps to a non-scheme port, having claimed the full amount of the large redundancy payment to which he had become entitled?
Mr. Cope : As the new clause stands, yes. In addition, such a man would be able to return to employment in the same port where he had previously been employed. He would be able to return to employment with the same employer after an interval and still qualify. I used the period of nine years in my example, but, under the new clause, after 10 years the scheme may or may not come to an end. There is provision for it to be extended, but only by leave of the House. In practice, that would not matter, since I assume that most former registered dock workers would have taken their money long before and left, even if they were to return, as my hon. Friend has said. I am not sure whether all the employers would last that long. Any employer who had, say, 100 dockers with an average of 20 years' service would have to provide in his accounts at once on Royal Assent for a potential liability of £3.3 million. I strongly disagree with the hon. Gentleman's estimate of the cost of his scheme ; it would be far higher than he suggested. I have not worked out what effect it would have on each of the companies currently employing registered dock workers, but it would make life extremely difficult financially for some of them. I spoke of a potential liability
Mr. Meacher : The Minister appears to be having a great deal of fun. He is both frivolous and rather silly in his criticisms of the new clause. We are not drafting legislation-- [Interruption.] It is true, and it is always the case with Oppositions. The new clause does not mean that any dock worker could simply choose to take the money and run. The payments are quite clearly to be given only after a dock worker has been made redundant by his employer. The Minister's figures are figments of his imagination.
Mr. Cope : The hon. Gentleman's comments are very interesting because they mean that the new clause has been tabled on a false basis. The new clause, together with amendment No. 3, removes from the Bill all provisions relating to redundancy. The Opposition could have left them in, but they did not. Yet the hon. Gentleman says that he does not support the basis of the clause. In that case, will he assure the House that he will not vote for it? The House is being treated in a rather peculiar manner. It has been presented with a new clause with which the hon. Gentleman now says he does not agree.
Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes) : This is almost a contempt of the House. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) tabled a new clause that, presumably, he hopes to persuade the House to accept. My
Column 970right hon. Friend has devastatingly shown why it should not be accepted. The hon. Member for Oldham, West, obviously having been convinced by my right hon. Friend's argument, now says that he does not expect the House to agree to it. It is incredible that my right hon. Friend should be expected to respond in all seriousness, as he is doing, to the debate when the hon. Member for Oldham, West has admitted that his new clause is an absolute sham.
Mr. Cope : My hon. Friend is right and I find myself in some difficulty. The hon. Member for Oldham, West has given up his new clause before I have finished opposing it. I have more to say, but I do not know whether to proceed-- [Interruption.] It appears that the hon. Gentleman still intends to vote for his new clause and to recommend his hon. Friends to do so. That is rather peculiar. It is not right to reward men simply for having been registered dock workers.
Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston) : It is time that the Minister stopped all this frivolity and dealt with the serious question before us. His behaviour today is similar to his behaviour in Committee. The Government are treating the Bill as a joke. The Minister should deal seriously with the new clause, because men's livelihoods is a serious issue, and should be treated as such.
Mr. Cope : I agree that it is a serious issue, but it is not a serious new clause. It clearly provides that there should be compensation for all registered dock workers. The Labour party is not alone in proposing that idea ; others have suggested the same. I am glad that, apparently, the hon. Member for Oldham, West intends to withdraw it.
The Government's proposal provides for a maximum of £35,000, which is a fair and suitable sum in the circumstances. It compares reasonably with the voluntary severance payment now available, which is usually a maximum of £25,000, although under special arrangements some people have received as much as £35,000.
The Labour party's proposal--even if, as the hon. Gentleman now says, it applies only to redundancy--multiplies the present usual maximum by five. That is an enormous increase. The new clause is put forward on a false basis and does not deserve the support of even the hon. Gentleman. It tells us a great deal about the value that the Labour party places on registered dock work. It believes that maximum compensation should be increased fivefold. The new clause is fatally flawed, and should not be accepted by the House.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North) : I support the new clause because there are several hundred dock workers in my constituency and several of them are good friends of mine. Dock workers are usually sensible and sound members of the community. If they had been here today to witness the Minister's frivolous contributions they would have recognised that it was just a poor, sixth-form debating society speech and not a serious response to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher).
It was only today that I had the benefit of reading the new clause, and my understanding of it is rather different from that of the Minister. If the drafting is in any way defective so that the new clause does not achieve what we want--enhanced payments for dockers who will be made
Column 971redundant under the Bill--I am sure that my hon. Friend would readily agree to it being redrafted by the Government's draftsmen to ensure that our aims are achieved. The House has been treated to a 20-minute discourse of banal triviality that is unworthy of the Minister and does not help those whom we seek to represent. My hon. Friend referred to generous payments--I prefer to describe them as further payments--to those made redundant. I want to make two points that, as yet, have received little attention. The old image of a dock worker heaving about heavy cargoes went out of the window with the mechanisation of the ports. I do not profess to be an expert, but I know from my acquaintances that dock work is now a highly skilled job. Those skills are constantly being reviewed and updated and the dock workers have to attend training courses to keep up with advances in technology. That is not uncommon. An increasing number of technical skills are required in most industries. The kind of skills that registered dock workers have cannot easily and readily be transferred to another industry. That is an important point to bear in mind when we consider compensation.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : The hon. Gentleman is making exactly the point that was made on Second Reading and in Committee--that because the ports have become automated the old dockers' jobs have disappeared. Many of the registered dock workers do not have the new skills that they need to use technical equipment, so they sit around ghosting the people who do the work. They need to be retrained for the new skills, but they will not get the new skills by sitting around and doing nothing while other people do the work.
Mr. Howarth : I was not a member of the Standing Committee, but it is fairly well known that employers have not provided the amount of training that is necessary for dock workers to use the new equipment.