Businesses Liable to Vesting

Part of Clause 34 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th April 1970.

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Photo of Hon. Anthony Berry Hon. Anthony Berry , Southgate 12:00 am, 29th April 1970

I beg to move Amendment No. 67, in page 49, line 10, leave out from ' thereto ' to end of line 17 and insert: 'with the exceptions of—

  1. (i) the loading or unloading of cargo which is carried out by the owners of the trading vessels or their subsidiaries;
  2. (ii) the loading or unloading of cargo which consists of one commodity and the process of unloading which is a specialised or unusual activity '.
This Amendment is an attempt to alter the Clause with a view to defining more sensibly the port businesses which will be liable to nationalisation under this part of the Bill.

At present, the businesses which are covered by the Bill include not only stevedoring companies, but warehousing and other assorted activities which go on in the ports. Many of these are of a specialised nature and are carried on by small businesses.

During the passage of the Bill we have had a great deal of argument about having one employer in the docks. If the argument means that only one employer should carry out all the various activities which go to make up the business of unloading and moving cargo, then it cannot be considered an impressive argument. I do not see any more reason to have one employer in the ports in- dustry than to have only one employer in, for example, the road haulage industry.

It is sometimes argued that only in the ports does one find more than one employer in the same factory. " Factory " is not a good word to use in this context. I prefer to compare a port with an industrial estate. The absurdities resulting from the port employer situation is very much the result of too much State interference. We need only look at some of the troubles near here, in the Port of London, to see examples. According to their traditions, the docks operate in different ways. A private employer will provide his quayside labour, while the Port of London Authority will have shipboard labour. Or the situation might be vice versa. This is certainly not the sort of situation in which good industrial relations can be brought about.

The principle that there should be one employer for one activity is right and I believe that if this had been the case in London much of the jealousy, bitterness and trouble, with which hon. Members will be familiar, between dockers employed by the P.L.A. and private stevedors would have been obviated. There would not have been such a fertile ground for agitation and industrial unrest.

However, the Bill seeks to extend the one employer principle very much further. We seek by the Amendment to restrict the port activities which the N.P.A. will be able to take over. Warehousing and storage are obviously the most important aspects mentioned in the Bill. Whatever our views about the Measure and our approach to the subject, we all hope to see the ports develop.

It is difficult to see how any effort to nationalise the warehousing activities of the ports will succeed because under the present pattern of industrial development warehouses are moving further from the ports. The disabilities which have been imposed on employers by the National Docks Labour Board and the development of containerisation—this. in turn, has led to container depots being established over a much wider area—suggest that these parts of the industry are not within the ports industry labour set-up as we know it.

The Government are approaching this matter from the wrong angle. They are galloping after vanishing warehouses. They are determined to defy technology, even though they have a Department concerned specifically with technology. They are trying to stop employers protecting themselves from interference. The Bristol Committee has figured largely in our discussion as, in commenting on the new technique of warehouses moving away from trouble areas—indeed, from areas of chaos in some cases—hon. Members have pointed out that ports are being enlarged to enable warehouses to be brought back into port areas again. This seems to be an extraordinary approach to the matter.