Dock Labour Scheme (Devlin Report)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th December 1957.

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The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

To ask the Minister of Labour what conclusions he has reached from his consideration of the Devlin Report on the Dock Labour Scheme.

Photo of Mr Iain Macleod Mr Iain Macleod , Enfield West

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to answer Question No. 89.

The Committee of which Mr. Justice Devlin was Chairman made two main recommendations: first, that the existing structure of the Dock Labour Scheme, involving joint control by employers and workers, should be preserved; and, secondly, that the National Dock Labour Board might be given the opportunity to exert a greater degree of leadership in dealing with the various problems of dock labour. The Committee also recommended a number of minor changes in the Scheme.

I have now considered the observations of all the bodies in the industry, and I have discussed the main recommendations with representatives of the National Joint Council for the Port Transport Industry and the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the National Dock Labour Board. I have decided to accept the recommendation that the structure of the Scheme should remain unchanged. I am happy to inform the House that all parties accept this decision and that both sides of the industry have given me an assurance of their whole hearted co-operation in operating the Scheme in the spirit which such a form of partnership demands.

As regards the second recommendation I have decided that, in the interests of the development of the work of the National Joint Council, the functions of the Board should not be extended, and the Board will continue as at present. This decision is in accordance with the views that have been expressed to me by the interests concerned.

My officials are proceeding to discuss the minor amendments recommended in the Report with representatives of the industry and any necessary amendments to the Scheme will be made under the procedure provided by the Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) Act, 1946.

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, and welcoming the acceptance of his decision by all concerned, and recognising the difficulties in the past history of this vital industry, may I ask whether he has reason to think, now that the life of this imaginative brain-child of Ernest Bevin is being renewed, the public can hope that a modern attitude on all sides will sweep through this industry, increasing efficiency and welfare and reducing costs and disputes?

Photo of Mr Iain Macleod Mr Iain Macleod , Enfield West

My answer reaffirms the existing character of the Dock Labour Scheme and the principle of dual control. I asked both sides of the industry to join in operating the scheme in the fullest sense of partnership and I have had the most warm response from them. I am grateful to both sides of the industry for that. As for disputes, touching all the wood that I can find, I can say that we have had as long a period of peace as people can remember in dockland, and I hope that it continues.

Photo of Mr George Isaacs Mr George Isaacs , Southwark

Before I ask the right hon. Gentleman one or two questions, I should like to preface them with the comment that the Measure which set up the Dock Labour Scheme was passed with good will on both sides of the House. It was one of those occasions when both parties worked in unison to secure the best they could out of legislation. The fact that the scheme has now suffered four inquiries since it was brought into operation and has come out on top on each occasion is a tribute to the wisdom and the co-operation which was then exercised.

Quite properly, the right hon. Gentleman has divided the recommendations into two sections. While I do not, in the slightest degree, want to find fault with what has happened, and while I agree with the response which the right hon. Gentleman has received, may I point out that he has said that there are two main recommendations, the first of which he accepts without any question? The right hon. Gentleman added that there was a second recommendation about the exercise of a greater degree of leadership. Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us now, or, since all hon. Members might not be interested, inform later those who are interested, how he analyses that part of his statement? The Devlin Report contains 11 recommendations. Some of them recommend that something should be done and others recommend that nothing should be done. It is rather difficult to understand which of these recommendations are not accepted. In view of the fact that the decision to leave the structure of the scheme unchanged has been accepted by both sides of the industry, I should like to have that further information.

The hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), in his supplementary question, referred to welfare. Anybody who has studied this scheme knows that in the last two or three years, under Lord Crook, as Chairman of the Board, a great deal of very useful welfare work has been brought about. May I suggest to the Minister that, from the fact that there has been this extension of welfare and closer co-operation between both sides, it may well be that welfare has brought about greater understanding in industrial relations and has led to the minimising of disputes?

Photo of Mr Iain Macleod Mr Iain Macleod , Enfield West

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said. It would be fair also to pay tribute to the part that he played when he held my office in the earlier years of the scheme.

As to the second main recommendation, as I have called it, which I am not accepting, the idea was that the National Dock Labour Board should extend some of its functions, which would inevitably have begun to entrench upon those of the National Joint Council. I have taken very careful advice from all the trade unions concerned, representatives of the employers, and the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the National Dock Labour Board. They say, and I agree with them, and this was my decision, that that would be a mistake, and that it would be right that the National Dock Labour Board should continue generally its present functions and allow ordinary matters of industrial relations to be dealt with in a normal way, in general, by the National Joint Council.

There will be opportunity to consider the other, minor recommendations. Any Order that I make amending the scheme—as the right hon. Gentleman knows, because I think that he was the Minister when the Act was introduced—has to be laid. Therefore, there will be opportunity later, if required, to comment upon or, indeed, to debate such alterations as are proposed.

Photo of Mr George Isaacs Mr George Isaacs , Southwark

May I say that I accept what the Minister has said and that I entirely agree with his attitude on that point? There were some recommendations for and against, and I had some doubts as to whether extending this scheme in the way which was suggested might not bring with it some dangers. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has been quite right in his decision.

Photo of Mr James Hutchison Mr James Hutchison , Glasgow Scotstoun

Now that the Devlin Committee has done such good work in this connection, would my right hon. Friend consider keeping it in operation to inquire into the methods of voting in the Electrical Trades Union?

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

That is asking for trouble.

Photo of Mr Stanley Awbery Mr Stanley Awbery , Bristol Central

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the introduction of this scheme in our ports wiped out one of the blackest spots in the country's industrial history? Is he aware that since the scheme has been in operation there has been better understanding between employers and workpeople and fewer cases of misunderstanding and fewer strikes than ever before in its history? Is he aware that we on this side of the House want to express our appreciation of the Report and that we hope to hear something more about it later?

Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Bermondsey

While associating myself with everything that my right hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) said, may I ask the Minister whether he is aware that one of the greatest problems still facing dockland is the continuing scourge of unemployment? We know that these men receive a guaranteed wage, but it is not all that large, especially in view of today's cost-of-living problems. Is the Minister aware that at the height of the Christmas season, when there ought to be work for everyone, there is a great deal of unemployment in my constituency and, I believe, elsewhere?

Photo of Mr Iain Macleod Mr Iain Macleod , Enfield West

The matter goes a little wider than my Answer this afternoon. I hope very much that, now that the basic principle of the scheme has been reaffirmed and has been settled and accepted most willingly and co-operatively by everyone concerned, it will be easier to discuss, in the spirit of partnership, all these problems which ought to be discussed among the matters that are bound to arise under the Scheme.