Mr. Howarth : Let me finish this point and then I will give way. Many of the dock workers that I know, as well as many of the dock workers in Liverpool, are highly skilled. They use all kinds of complicated equipment to move cargoes from one place to another and to load it on to ships.
Mr. Bennett : It is quite extraordinary for the hon. Gentleman now to say-- [Interruption.] I do not know what the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) is shouting. He should try to intervene while the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) is speaking rather than while I am intervening during the hon. Gentleman's speech. That would be more helpful.
The hon. Member for Knowsley, North ought to be aware that in Committee his side moved amendments to replicate the training scheme that is provided under the national dock labour scheme in the non-scheme ports. He is now telling us that the employers in the scheme ports are
Column 972not providing training. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. Either they are providing training or they are not. Felixstowe, which is a non-scheme port, has an excellent training scheme. We want that to be replicated after the national dock labour scheme has gone into abeyance.
Mr. Howarth : I am not sure that that takes us any further. Our point is that there is not enough training. It is difficult to get the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) to understand even the simplest concept, but let me explain what we want. He should watch my lips. We want the best practices to be transferred to the dock workers training system. That is not necessarily a bad thing, so we can have it both ways. We can say that there is not enough training, and we can also say that where the best training is provided we want it to be replicated throughout the industry. It is as simple as that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West referred to the coal mining industry. It is a good comparison. It is not just a job that dock workers do. It is a way of life. A docker does not go to work for a certain number of hours a day where he carries out a certain job. A whole way of life is attached to dock work. As with the coalfields, there are whole communities of dock workers. There is a long tradition attached to dock work. A social network is based upon it. If we take away the employment of a registered dock worker, we take away not just a job for which he needs certain skills that cannot easily be transferred to another industry ; we also take away a way of life that may have been in existence for several generations.
Mr. David Davis (Boothferry) : I should like the hon. Gentleman to explain exactly what are those skills that cannot be transferred. He talks about the automation of the ports. That means heavy cranes, forklift trucks and mechanical shovels. Most of the training for using that equipment is done in the construction industry. That would be an alternative use of dockers' skills. Forklift trucks and the mechanical handling of goods can be found in every factory and warehouse in the country. What is non- transferable about those skills? What are the greater skills that dockers claim to have?
Mr. Howarth : First, they have a combination of skills. Secondly, I do not profess to be an expert upon it but I understand that most of the equipment-- [Interruption.] I can see that there is a lifetime of experience among Conservative Members of working with their hands in the ports. I doubt whether any of them have any knowledge of it whatsoever, yet they criticise the Opposition.
Most of the equipment is specifically designed and custom-built for work of that nature. It is not a question of dockers being able easily to transfer their skills to another industry. They have experience of using equipment for a specific purpose. That equipment is often not used in exactly the same way in other industries.
For all those reasons, the level of compensation for which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West has argued is appropriate and fair. Despite the juvenile behaviour of many of those who sit on the Conservative Benches, I hope that the Minister will take our point
Column 973seriously. Even at this late hour, and even after such frivolous responses to it, I hope that he will accept the new clause.
Mr. Michael Brown : The Labour party's support today for dock workers is touching. It is a pity that the Opposition did not support the dockers yesterday. I represent the port of Immingham. Many registered dockers work in the port. I guess that they would have much more respect for the Labour party and the new clause if the Opposition had given a little more support yesterday to the dockers and had thought a little more about their future.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), referred to Associated British Ports and its profitability and to the need to use some of its profits to compensate the dockers. The dockers of Immingham would like Associated British Ports to be able to spend its profits on investment in the port of Immingham, to the tune of £30.5 million, in order to enable the port to attract the largest vessels in the world.
The port of Immingham was built in 1912. Its lock gates, which were installed in 1912, do not now allow the largest ships in the world to enter the port. Those ships have to go to Rotterdam. The port of Immingham--a scheme port--is trying to become competitive. It is trying to ensure the livelihood of dockers by bringing new jobs to the port, by expanding the port and by ensuring that the port can go forward into the 21st century. But what does the Labour party do?
The Labour party had its chance last night to demonstrate its genuine support for the registered dock workers of Immingham, so I am not taking any lectures from the Opposition and I advise my hon. Friends not to take any lectures from them about their support for dockers. When it came to the test of whether the Opposition were prepared to support the expansion of the dock industry, we found that their support was not there last night. Whenever the Opposition have had an opportunity to show it, it has never been there. We should bear that point very much in mind before we consider accepting the new clause.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West) : My hon. Friend has made a very good point. Does he not agree that last night the Labour payroll vote, sponsored by the National Union of Mineworkers, was here to sabotage our Bill? Whenever the Opposition have a chance to help dockers, where are they? They are not here this afternoon.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. I realise that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) was still on his preamble, but he should come to today rather than deal with what happened last night.
Mr. Brown : My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham), who represents the port of King's Lynn, is doing his utmost, in a much more practical way than the new clause would ever do, to provide for the future of dockers. Conservative Members, by supporting
Column 974the Bill and resisting the new clause, want to ensure that there is freedom in the docks industry to employ more dockers.
The new clause is nonsense. We had the admission from the hon. Member for Oldham, West that it is a joke clause ; he more or less said that. He objected when my right hon. Friend the Minister went to great lengths to advise the House about why we should reject the new clause. If I had been minded to support the hon. Member for Oldham, West on the basis that it must be right to increase the amount of compensation for someone being made redundant, my right hon. Friend would have been negligent in his duty to the House if he had not drawn my attention and the attention of other hon. Members to what could happen if we voted for the new clause.
A docker in the registered docks of Immingham could cease to be a registered docker, not through redundancy but voluntarily, because he saw an advertisement in the Grimsby Evening Telegraph for work in the non- scheme port of New Holland, four miles down the road in my constituency, or perhaps in Gunness, 14 miles down the road in the constituency of the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley). Under the proposals in the new clause, that dock worker could leave Immingham with up to £132,000 in his back pocket, and walk or take his car down the road to Scunthorpe, New Holland, Barrow or Gunness wharf and take a new job. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State was correct to draw attention to the effects of the new clause.
Labour Members should not say, "We are the Opposition ; we do not have a constructive role to play in the House." Surely it is their duty to consider the consequences of new clauses that they table. It is just possible that some foolish Conservative Members, who did not listen with the care and attention that they should to Ministers at the Dispatch Box, might be tempted to vote for this extraordinary new clause. Thankfully, the hon. Member for Oldham, West more or less told the House that he did not expect the new clause to be taken seriously. My right hon. Friend the Minister takes his duties seriously. In his response to the Opposition he rightly drew the attention of the House to the consequences of the new clause. The hon. Member for Oldham, West made unfair comments about Sir Keith Stuart. Sir Keith has been chairman of Associated British Ports since it became a private company. Before that he was chairman of the old British Transport Docks Board, which was a great favourite of the Labour party. Sir Keith should be congratulated on securing the future of dockers and on creating profitability for Associated British Ports, which does not want to sack every docker. It wants opportunities to create more jobs in the docks industry. The dock labour scheme and restrictive new clauses such as that proposed by the Opposition would shackle prospects for dockers and for the profitability of Associated British Ports. They would also restrict opportunities for more new jobs in my constituency.
We must resist the new clause because it would lead to a scandalous waste of resources. The compensation proposed by the Government is fair. It strikes the right balance and ensures at the same time that dockers can look
Column 975to a future based not on the restrictive practices of the past but on their ability to seize the opportunities that exist in this great industry.
The dockers in my constituency know which political party stands up for their interests. They know what happened last night in the House, and they will be waiting to see what happens in the future. They will not be seduced by the new clause. That is not the way for the Labour party to buy the votes of dockers in my constituency. Those dockers know that only one political party will look after their interests. They know which political party safeguarded their long-term interests.
Mr. Roy Hughes : The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) has dealt with development proposals for the port of Immingham. My mind goes back some years to a time when similar proposals were put forward for the port of Bristol. Very wisely, as has been borne out by events, the Labour Government turned down those proposals. Subsequently, the Conservative party realised that there were marginal seats to be won in the city of Bristol. It stated that if it were returned to power at a subsequent election, it would give the go-ahead for development in Bristol. The dock was built as a result of authorisation by the Conservative Government, but it has been a disaster. Bristol could not give it away ; it has become a heavy load on the ratepayers of the city.
I support the new clause which sets out proposals to try to combat the worst provisions of this hasty Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) set out the case for the new clause. Throughout the proceedings in Committee, my hon. Friend was the voice of reason, as he was this afternoon. He gave glaring examples of people who have received huge amounts of compensation, but when we ask for a little more for dockers we are ridiculed. All we hear from the Conservative side is mirth and laughter.
Subsection (1) of the new clause says :
"Any dock workers 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." That is not really generous when one considers that the Bill was introduced so hastily and that the livelihood of people is at stake. In a press notice issued on 11 May, subsequently amplified in Committee by the Minister, the Government indicated that any dock worker made redundant within three years of the legislation receiving Royal Assent would be entitled to a special lump sum payment. For instance, if the dock worker was made redundant in the first 18 months, he would be eligible for a maximum of £35,000, based on 15 years' service. It is worth reminding the House of the provisions. The Government proposed that the payment would be made up of a lump sum of £5,000, plus £2,000 for every complete year of service. The mean side of the Government was revealed when they said that the amount of compensation will be tapered off for every registered dock worker over 62 years old. For every three months by which he exceeds 62 years when he is dismissed, his compensation will be reduced by 10 per cent.
In comparing new clause 1 with the Government's provisions, it is necessary to consider the age of registered dock workers. It tends to be an aged work force. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West said that that is due to the stupidity of employers in the past in getting rid of their younger employees. Only 19 per cent. of registered
Column 976dock workers are under 40 years of age ; 41 per cent. are between 40 and 50 and more than 40 per cent. are 50 and over.
In the past decade I have witnessed many thousands of redundancies in south Wales in the coal and steel industries. This afternoon we have heard a great deal about the redundancy scheme for coal miners. It is worth reminding the House that coal had to be mined where it was found, and it was often found in the most inaccessible valleys. When a pit closes, a whole community is put in jeopardy, and, as a result of those pit closures, thousands of miners will never work again. Considering the arduous and hazardous nature of that occupation, when a miner in an isolated community is made redundant, one might say that it is an ending for him. He cannot simply cope with his new life.
In the steel industry, there were thousands of redundancies in Newport and Cardiff. When East Moors closed in Cardiff, 5,000 jobs went at a stroke. The steel industry was wiped out in the capital city of Wales. There were 6,000 redundancies at Llanwern and jobs have been cut drastically at other steelworks.
A few years ago, a social survey of redundant steel workers revealed the dire distress felt by many of those people. They had not found work, they had probably spent their redundancy money and many of them were likely never to work again. In Committee we were told many times that our dockers have adapted to new equipment and new working practices in the industry. But when they leave the ports industry, they are unlikely to take up unemployment in finance houses or microchip enterprises which are the nature of new industries in south Wales and elsewhere. The most likely outcome is that older workers in the ports industry will tend to stagnate, and as a result could create all sorts of social problems, particularly when they have spent their redundancy money.
We should like far more generous provisions for dock workers who will be made redundant. The problem needs to be tackled now. Only 9, 400 registered dock workers remain in the ports industry. In 1983 there were 14,631, and since the inception of the scheme the number of registered dock workers has declined from more than 80,000. What a farce is that old parrot cry that dockers have jobs for life. The redundancy provisions that the Government have set out do not meet the dockers' real needs.
Dockers are justified in their belief that they are being badly treated. As late as 20 March this year, the Government suggested that they had no proposals to legislate in respect of the dock labour scheme. Shortly afterwards, like a bombshell, they pushed a Bill through Committee with all the finesse of an ancient steamroller. Throughout the Committee stage Labour Members tried to persuade the Government to pause and think again
Column 977about what should replace the dock labour scheme. We recognise that the scheme may be a little out of date and need amendment, but we feel that there is a need for a national framework. The Government were not prepared to see reason. I note that they appear to be doing so in respect of lawyers and I feel that they are on their way to doing so in respect of doctors.
In those circumstances, bearing in mind the redundancy provisions that we are discussing, is it any wonder that, when the dockers eventually held a ballot, they voted by no less than three to one for industrial action?
Even at this late stage I urge the Government to make more generous redundancy provisions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West pointed out, employers are doing very nicely, thank you. In any case, the Government are paying half the redundancy money. If the Government were prepared to be more generous and accept new clause 1, they might well avert a very damaging strike. We know the parlous nature of Britain's balance of payments at present. We know what happened today when interest rates rose by a major stroke. It is obvious that Britain is in serious economic difficulty and if there is a dock strike it will certainly be made much worse.
Mr. Boswell : I invite my hon. Friends to resist new clause 1. It is appropriate for me to speak in the debate precisely because I represent an inland midlands constituency which is almost as far away from the docks as it is possible to go. I hope to remind the House that it is very much in the interests of all parts of Britain and British industry that the Bill is passed substantially unamended. We all have an interest in an effective, efficient and low-cost docks industry. I refer to my own experience, as for many years I have lived in my constituency as a practising farmer. Many right hon. and hon. Members will not be aware that Britain has moved from a traditional grain-importing role to a major grain-exporting role. We are now the fifth largest grain-exporting power in the world. That represents an amazing change, and to some extent it has come about in spite of the existing structure of our docks industry. I have had experience of sending grain on lorries from the midlands to all the major scheme ports, and to non-scheme ports, and it is clear that what we are discussing affects us all, whether or not we represent dockland constituencies.
There is the somewhat endearing myth, that the Labour party still likes to peddle, that no Conservative Member has any experience, direct or indirect, in any of those matters over which Labour Members claim to exercise great moral concern. I do not make a great deal of it, but it is relevant to mention that my wife's grandfather was a docker in one of the scheme ports in South Wales-- [Interruption.] He worked hard in that job for 30 years and I have great respect for him. I have worked for most of my life among manual workers, although not in the docks.
I also have knowledge through my family--and in another context, to which I shall come--of the impact of redundancy on people, and I do not belittle the effect of that impact. It is sad, dramatic and shocking when a person is declared redundant. The issue is what we do about it--how we finance it and reach the right balance--and the proposals in the Bill represent the right balance.
There are several crushing objections to the proposed new clause, one of which has been rehearsed. I refer to the
Column 978situation when somebody takes the money-- compensation of up to £132, 000--walks out of the door, walks round the docks, comes back in through the door, takes fresh employment and starts again as if nothing has happened. As the Opposition proposal is drafted, it is totally unworkable and out of the question.
Next, we must consider the wider question of the equity of what we are trying to do in these matters. Is it equitable that somebody should be able to receive compensation of that magnitude and then return to dock work, working alongside someone who has carried on working without receiving any compensation?
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) : Is it not equally inequitable for the managing director of a company in the City of London to take £250,000 or £300,000 in compensation because his company has been taken over, and then for him the following day to go to work for perhaps a completely different company? If the hon. Gentleman says that that is inequitable, he must accept that a great many people in the City would be out of work tomorrow.
Mr. Boswell : Many people in the City have lost their jobs recently, and not all of them have found other jobs. At least the hon. Gentleman accepts the important point--I fear that many of his hon. Friends have failed to accept it--that there are considerations of equity in these issues and that we must relate them to the economic situation of the industry. We must have in mind the dock worker who leaves and returns to dock work compared with the man who carries on working and does not receive compensation.
Next, compare the case of somebody who leaves under Labour's proposals with somebody who took severance pay under the previous proposals. Is it fair that one should receive such a large additional amount, having carried on in employment for only a short time? There is also the wider question of equity in relation to other industries. Farming, for example, is not doing particularly well just now. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) will recall what happened to milk quotas and how many farmers left the industry. Nor should we overlook the issues affecting farm workers at that time. Many of us who have been active in agriculture would be pleased to take upwards of £100,000 to get out of the industry. We must therefore look right across the board when setting levels. After all, it is easy to be generous with someone else's money--particularly public money.
I referred to an interest that I had in redundancy issues. There is a proposal from the Plessey company affecting the town of Towcester in my constituency, which has a population of upwards of 6,000. The company has declared its intention to close some of its manufacturing facilities-- without prejudice to whatever might happen in any takeover bid--and has said that 375 jobs will go. Although there may be some redeployment, it seems that there are likely to be about 300 redundancies.
Those people--whether or not they return to work and irrespective of their situation--would look askance at the scale of the compensation payments which the hon. Member for Oldham, West has suggested. As with so many Socialists, he is being fair to his friends but is disregarding all those whom it does not suit him to consider at the time.
Column 979The hon. Member for Oldham, West and his friends, inside and outside Parliament, in the unions and elsewhere, have connived at and supported a situation by which the dock labour scheme has continued to work to the disadvantage of the nation, to increase the costs of British industry and to threaten the position of the scheme ports. The hon. Gentleman is cast in the role of Samson. Not having brought the structure down by the direct method, he now awaits the conclusion of the scheme so that he can bring the whole lot crashing down around him. Redundancy payments on the scale he proposes would be the best way of achieving the destruction of the scheme ports which he claims to support.
This debate, as it should be, is about redundancy, but it is possible to over-emphasise the redundancy issue--to strain it beyond equity and prudence--for we must remember that there is work to be done in the docks. That work should be done in scheme ports released from the present clamping and confining scheme--
Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool) rose --
They should be released from the confines of the scheme and be free to get on with their job of serving the nation's business.
Mr. Ernie Ross : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I appreciate that it is usual for the Chair to call to speak an hon. Member from one side of the House followed by an hon. Member from the other side. I am wondering whether you consider it fair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to call, following the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), who is a supporter of the Bill, the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), a member of the SLD, who also supports the Bill. Should not the hon. Member for Gordon be considered to be on the Government side from the point of view of debating the proposed new clause?
I support the Bill, although I find it extraordinary that it should have taken the Government 10 years to introduce it. Indeed, in the last few months they have still been actively defending the scheme. It is now a subject on which they have permitted their Back Benchers to let rip. The scheme must be phased out in such a way that it is quick and clean. As well as removing the restrictive practice, we must be fair to those who remain in the scheme at the end, and that is the nub of the debate on the new clause.
The points of equity that have been raised are important, and I assure Labour Members that I appreciate that many of them are sponsored by the Transport and General Workers Union and have dock workers, whom they wish to protect, in their constituencies. I do not
Column 980dispute their sincerity in doing that, but they must also remember that there are many working people in their constituencies who feel that the scheme has gone on for too long and that they have been disadvantaged as a result of it. In those circumstances, there is a danger that they will alienate their supporters.
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) : Will the hon. Gentleman tell me which of his constituents, apart from employers, have said that the dock labour scheme has gone on too long? Why are his constituents disadvantaged?
Mr. Bruce : In a sense, I am grateful for that intervention. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the conflict that arose within the scheme meant that we nearly lost our fish market for good. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that that would not have been a disaster for Aberdeen and its port as well as for his constituents and mine, I do not know what would be.
Mr. Hughes : The hon. Gentleman has not answered the question. He said that his constituents feel that the scheme has gone on for too long and that they are being disadvantaged by it. If I am fortunate enough to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall respond in detail on the issue of the fish market. Which of his constituents, apart from employers, have said that the scheme has gone on too long and that they are disadvantaged? None of them is covered by Aberdeen harbour board.
Mr. Bruce : Obviously, the hon. Gentleman does not regard employers as valid constituents. I do. Employers have told me that they think the scheme has gone on too long, and I think that those employers represent an important part of the constituency. They employ people, including some of my constituents. Their inability to expand employment in circumstances in which Aberdeen, as a scheme port, is disadvantaged adversely affects the interests of my constituents. I am not quarrelling with the right of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) to take a different view. I respect him for his view. However, as constituency Members of Parliament, we are elected to make our own judgments as to what we believe, in the light of local knowledge and local circumstances, is in the best interests of our constituents and our community. As I have said, the phasing out of the scheme is desirable for the port of Aberdeen and for ancillary employment in and around the area.
Obviously, I am speaking not only as a constituency Member. However, I have the greatest knowledge about the area I represent. We have seen the development of ports competing with Aberdeen. That is true in other parts of the country such as Montrose and Peterhead. I want the ports to expand. There is room for Aberdeen, Montrose and Peterhead to develop their business. I should like to see the day, soon, when they will be able to compete on a fair and equal footing. Having said that, and with due deference to the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), the point which is relevant to the debate on the new clause is that it is important to complete this process fairly, justly and honourably. I think that the Government have recognised the need to do that and have proposed a scheme which, at least on the face of it, seems to be reasonable. It provides
Column 981for a maximum of £35,000 and an estimated total of about £25 million. Obviously, that depends on how many people are made redundant and how many are redeployed.
An important and relevant point needs to be made and it supports the basic reasoning behind the new clause moved by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). Both sides of the House admit that the average age of the remaining registered dockers is relatively high. It may be true that some of the dockers who are paid compensation will be re-employed the next day, but it is also true that some may never work again. The House should ensure that the scheme provides justice for those people. After all, they have stayed in a scheme that has given them continuity and security over a considerable period of time.
The thrust of the new clause, which tots up redundancy payments according to length of service and, by implication, the age of the individual concerned, gets the balance right. The hon. Member for Oldham, West said that the new clause is not perfect. Indeed, it is flawed. However, the Government would do well, given that they have taken 10 years to introduce legislation to abolish the scheme, to say that the settlement of the matter should be done fairly. After all, they introduced the Bill on the same day as they introduced a White Paper, they forced the Bill into Committee and then guillotined it and they have tabled no amendments of their own. Therefore, it is not unreasonable for them to ensure that the process is carried out in a way that minimises bitterness and maximises equity to all concerned and ensures that the transition is achieved without an extremely damaging dock strike.
I believe--I hope that I am right--that whatever utterances are made in the House, nobody wants a dock strike and nobody believes that such a strike would be desirable for the British economy or good for the ports or the workers. It would be helpful if the Government would say that, in the light of that, given that this is a final settlement and that they have taken so long to bring it about, they would tilt the balance of the scheme to ensure that those who have worked in the industry for a long time and have little prospect of being re-employed have a more generous settlement than is proposed now. However, as I have said, the general thrust of the Government's proposals are not unreasonable.
In those circumstances, the Government could have responded with a little more grace to the principle behind the new clause. It would help to ensure that the Bill leaves the House with my support--I do not qualify that--and with the feeling that the Government have shown some sensitivity and have tried to ensure that confrontation is removed. It would also help to achieve fairness and justice while removing a debilitating and restrictive practice that has existed for too long in circumstances that compensate those affected and liberate the scheme ports to compete fairly with other ports in the country.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : The hon. Member for Gordon, (Mr. Bruce) suffers from the fact that he was not a member of the Committee. His hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) was a member of the Committee but he rarely paid a visit to it so he was not able to report what was going on. The hon. Member for Gordon may be interested to know that in Committee, the Labour party moved an amendment to increase the compensation to about £70,000. In the short time of two or three weeks since then, the Opposition have upped the
Column 982ante by another £60,000. At the rate we are going, if the Bill is not on the statute book quickly, the Labour party will be prepared to offer £1 million by the end of the summer. The hon. Member for Gordon should remember that the Government are making an offer to dock workers which is considerably in excess of what has been offered to them in the past. I shall come back to the figures of the severance opportunities available under the Labour Government.
It is important to place on record the fact that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) has admitted, during interventions in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, that the new clause does not make sense and does not bear out the Opposition's intention. The hon. Member for Oldham, West has been in the House since 1970 and it is no good for him to claim that he does not have the resources or that he did not understand. He has admitted that the drafting is defective, but is still going ahead with it and intending to vote for it. He cannot then complain when my right hon. Friend the Minister points out that the new clause is defective. It would ensure that everybody made redundant or who chooses to leave the dock labour scheme for any reason would be entitled to up to £130,000 in a pay-off. Clearly, that is nonsense. People leave their jobs every day of the week and they are not able to collect £130,000 from the taxpayer or their employer. That is the purpose of the new clause, and I am surprised at the hon. Member for Oldham, West, having discovered and admitted that it is stupid and that he has made a mistake, being willing to press on with the debate and to press the new clause to a Division.
If law making is about anything, it must be about making sensible laws. The Opposition have been caught out and have been slipshod in their drafting, but it surprises me that they insist on continuing. It is important to look at the issue of jobs for life. The hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) referred to that before leaving the Chamber. The simple fact is that the scheme did provide a job for life. It is no use pointing to the fact that the number of dockers in the scheme has diminished. It has diminished only as a result of voluntary redundancy. No docker who wishes to remain in the scheme has been forced to leave. That has been the problem. Those who like a cushy life and enjoy bobbing off to be a taxi driver or those who enjoy ghosting or want to sit in a portakabin at Grangemouth watching a colour television set to overcome the boredom that might result, have stayed within the scheme. That is why the average age of dockers in the scheme has increased over the years and that is why the scheme is described as giving jobs for life. Unless dockers choose to leave the scheme, they are in the scheme and on the gravy train for as long as they want.
Now Labour Members suggest that the amount of money that dockers receive should be increased considerably over the amount proposed by the Government. What is interesting is that when Labour Members had the power to determine those matters, they were not that generous. In 1975, the maximum severance payment was £5,250. Since January 1987, it has been £25,000, which is an increase of 376 per cent. in 12 years, mainly under a Conservative Government. In special circumstances, it may be necessary for employers to pay up to £35, 000. Already under this Government, severance payments have been increased considerably and the Bill proposes to raise the limit to £35,000. When the
Column 983Opposition had it in their power to decide the limit, they put it at £5,250, so how can they consider that the Government are being ungenerous in putting the figure up to £35,000?
It is interesting that the hon. Member for Gordon, in the usual Liberal tradition, split the difference and said we should give a bit more money. When the Lib-Lab pact was in existence for two years, there was no increase. The then Government kept the maximum severance payment at the same level. That contrasts with the Government's proposals in the Bill.
It ill behoves dockers in the scheme to complain about receiving £35,000 and to say that it is not a good pay-off when one considers the productivity and industrial relations record of the dock labour scheme. Since 1967, more than 4 million working days have been lost because of disputes in scheme ports. Since 1967, there have been 3, 569 disputes in scheme ports. The number of days lost per year by dockers in scheme ports in 1988 was 10,663, which is 1,105 days lost per 1,000 employees, compared with 164 for all industries and services. The strike record for registered dock workers is more than five times as bad as that for the rest of industry. Yet the Opposition are saying that, after the dockers have had a lifetime of bobbing off and ghosting, after an appalling strike and industrial relations record and after a time when the Labour Government themselves were prepared to pay only £5,000, compared with this Government's offer of £35,000, we should up the ante, first to £70, 000 and, three weeks later, to a suggested £130,000.
Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside) : I apologise for coming in late and hearing only the end of my hon. Friend's speech. The record is not bad everywhere. In Southampton, it has improved greatly over the past few years since the leaders of the dockers in Southampton took advantage of the very generous severance payments to which my hon. Friend referred, and ceased to be dockers in Southampton. They were therefore not eligible for re-employment as dockers anywhere else, so they took jobs on Merseyside, where they are now employed as industrial relations advisers. I can imagine nothing more guaranteed to ensure that Southampton has the edge over Liverpool when it comes to getting business henceforth.
Mr. Bennett : No. As a former dock worker, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) knows about the strike record in Liverpool better than anyone else does. He has been an agitator in Liverpool docks and the reason that Liverpool is such an appalling--
Mr. Bennett : I am surprised that the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) believes that the term "agitator" is an insult in the Labour party. I always thought that it was an accolade there and guaranteed the reselection of Labour Members. We all know about the industrial relations record of Liverpool and the reason why Speke has gone down the plughole. We know about the appalling strike record in the car industry and the docks. I do not want lectures from the hon. Member for Garston about that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) spoke about Southampton. In the past two or three weeks, negotiations have been taking place in Southampton while the ballot has been carried out. Mr. Harryman, the Transport and General Workers Union shop steward there, has been censured by his union for trying to come to a local agreement about what happens at Southampton after the scheme comes to an end. It is sensible for a trade union official to recognise that the scheme is coming to an end, by the will of Parliament, and to get round the table to talk with the employers about how the port's future can be assured.