Is the Secretary of State aware that the chief executive recently wrote to all employees of the PLA on 20 June warning them that some residual operations, even those that are currently making a profit, will have to close? Will he assure the House that that letter was not written in pursuance of any directive from him?
It was written in pursuance of the chief executive's own letter of 17 May, in which he pointed out that
The PLA is in financial crisis. The eight week strike by PLA dockers has had a disastrous effect … The PLA can never be the same again.
As the hon. Gentleman now represents Dagenham, he will know that when the chief executive wrote his letter of 20 June, after the dockers went back to work, the tallymen then came out on strike. I am extremely concerned about the situation at the PLA, because no undertaking in the land can survive that sort of industrial action and expect to remain in business.
My hon. Friend is aware that that is at present the subject of a planning application, and the recent demonstration was in the presence of an inspector. It would, therefore, be quite wrong for me to comment further at this stage.
I agree with the Secretary of State that the effects of industrial action, whatever its cause, justification or lack of justification, are very much to be deplored. However, will he now answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) about any directions that he may have given? Is it not extraordinary that operations that are currently profitable might have to be closed for fear of future loss?
The hon. Gentleman cannot pick out an odd item and say that it is currently profitable, because as the chief executive told all PLA employees:
The PLA is in financial crisis.
That is no understatement. That letter was written on 17 May, and the tragedy is that a third of the traffic that went to the Port of London and Tilbury has now gone elsewhere. The situation is extremely grave. We have given no fresh directions to the chief executive or the chairman. We are trying to see how this grave situation can be tackled sensibly.
Disregarding the problems of the PLA, and taking in all ports, does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the major difficulties for employers and ancillary workers is the incredible national dock labour scheme? Will there not be a review of that during the lifetime of this Parliament? Will not my right hon. Friend take action against dockers who have jobs for life, whether or not they work?
My hon. Friend will be aware that it is not just the dock labour scheme, but the interaction of the Jones-Aldington agreement on the dock labour scheme which introduces some of the problems of which employers have spoken. He will also know that the dock labour scheme is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, but I understand why he has raised this matter on this occasion.