The special pleading by the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) was not very convincing. I have two interests in the debate. In the 1979 general election, I was the Conservative candidate for the Thurrock constituency, which I nursed for some three years, and during that time I got to know Tilbury docks and the Port of London Authority quite well; I am delighted that that constituency is now represented by my hon. Friend the present Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman).
I must tell the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) that his sense of trends is somewhat awry. In 1974 the Labour party had a 19,000 majority in Thurrock; by 1979 it had fallen to 6,000, and the 1983 Labour majority of 1,000 was turned into a Conservative majority of 1,000 in the last general election. Contrary to the hon. Gentleman's view, the trends suggest not only that my hon. Friend will not be defeated, but that he will increase his majority substantially.
The other reason for my interest in the debate is that I represent part of the heartland of England. My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) and I both have a considerable interest in ensuring that companies in our constituencies can export their goods and get them to market without added costs being imposed as a result of restrictive practices such as the dock labour scheme. So while there are not many dockers in north Oxfordshire, many of the people in that area depend on the competitive viability of docks and dock schemes for their own economic success.
I listened with interest to the speeches of Opposition Members, who were all heavy on rhetoric, but few of them sought to defend the scheme. That is hardly surprising, because it is indefensible. It is riddled with anomalies and has no social justification in modern industrial relations. It has also destroyed jobs.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), who was so juvenile and derisory about the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock and who is no longer in the Chamber, could have taken the opportunity presented by the debate to explain why the fish handling company in Aberdeen recently lost 100 jobs because it was no longer able to function as a result of the restrictions and restraints that the scheme imposed on it. It is scandalous and tragic that what was otherwise a viable company was forced into receivership by the straitjacket of the dock labour scheme.
The scheme increases costs, hinders our country's competitive position, and distorts trading relations. It has not created more trade or additional jobs but has proved to be a monstrous system of restrictive practices that produced no benefits, no improvements in industrial relations and no enhancement of job security. The scheme led to substantial industrial unrest, with hundreds of days lost in strikes over its period of operation. The scheme fails by any criteria. I defy any Opposition Member to prove that it has encouraged employment. All the evidence is that it destroyed jobs. It has not increased the prosperity of scheme ports, and I defy any Opposition Member to pretend that it has.