Dissolution of National Dock Labour Board

Orders of the Day — Dock Work Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 24th May 1989.

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Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East 5:45 pm, 24th May 1989

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 10, at end insert `but no such order shall be made until a body has been established which will make provision for the training and welfare of dock workers (formerly within the Scheme) and port medical facilities'. The amendment seeks to establish a body which will take over the training and medical functions of the National Dock Labour Board when it is abolished under the Bill.

The Government have repeatedly refused to elaborate on the arrangements that will follow the abolition of the board. Indeed, it is the issue of what will follow the abolition of the board and the dock labour scheme that is at the heart of the dispute between the National Association of Port Employers and the Transport and General Workers Union. The union is concerned about the threat of casualisation and wishes to secure a collective agreement that covers job security. The union has also expressed its wish to secure arrangements—again involving the union—which would cover the training and the medical facilities provided by the board. Those were among the issues raised by the general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union at the union's meeting with the port employers on 18 April.

It is as well to understand that, under the agreement, we are not seeking to perpetuate the dock labour scheme. It is not a device to replace the scheme with a new scheme, because the kernel of the dock labour scheme is the monopoly employment aspect, which is the element of the scheme that requires that only registered employers can be responsible for dock work at our ports and that only registered dockers can carry out the work. That monopoly will go with the Bill and the amendment will not reinstate it. That is not to say that we do not share the union's concerns about the threat of casualisation—we certainly do. It must be said that the employers' record post-Devlin, when they gave certain undertakings in relation to casual work that were not sustained, fully justifies the suspicions of the union and of the individual registered dockers.

6.15 pm

In the amendment we are dealing with the provision of a body to provide for training after the abolition of the board and to maintain the medical centres which are already operated by the National Dock Labour Board. It is as well to acknowledge the value of the existing training arrangements. There are two training bases, one at Liverpool and one at Tilbury, each with a chief instructor and, I believe, about six training instructors. Those instructors must be mobile, because they cover a substantial area of the country. We have always argued that the quality of training provided by the NDLB is high and that that is a resource which should not be dissipated and lost.

We were not at all reassured by the Government's statements in Committee. The Under-Secretary, at about 11 o'clock at night, when dealing with the existing facilities, said: We must be clear about what training is available in the scheme ports. In 1987, there were 21 instructors and some £500,000 a year was spent on training; this year there are 14 mobile instructors, working within the scheme ports, and there are no longer training centres. How much training does that amount to? In 1987, a total of 1,498 training weeks were given, and that provided—on average—less than half a week per trainee. Of course, those training centres have long since ceased to exist.

The Under-Secretary at a later stage said: Employers will need to ensure that their employees are properly trained. If they are not, the work will not get done. The Under-Secretary further said: Employers will be unable to run their businesses as successfully by operating with untrained people.Therefore, I do not apologise for saying that after the scheme is repealed, it will be the employers' responsibility to ensure that proper training takes place."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 2 May 1989; c. 213.] That is the guts of the issue. The Government have repeatedly refused to give any indication of what arrangements will exist, if any, at national level following the abolition of the dock labour hoard. We believe that it would be very much against the interests of the industry if this national facility was dissipated, split up between the employers, or simply wiped out, no doubt through redundancy.

We ask the Minister to tell us precisely where the Government stand on the issue. Is it really their intention to destroy that national training facility? I am not suggesting that the body we are seeking to establish would have responsibility only for training in the scheme ports. Of course, the logic of the Bill is that the distinction between the scheme and non-scheme ports for all practical purposes will no longer exist. I should have thought that there would be a case for building on that national training facility and making it available to all the ports.

Some of the non-scheme ports, particularly the smaller ones, already make use of the NDLB training facilities. I admit that that accounts for only a very small proportion of the training provided by the NDLB. Nevertheless, it is significant that some of the non-scheme ports consider it to be an advantage to use the training facilities provided by the NDLB.

The amendment is a most constructive proposal. Instead of destroying a training facility and the experience of the training organisation—and that is what is really important—the Government should be prepared to accept the principle of a new national facility and organisation to take over the responsibility for training in scheme and also non-scheme ports.

Even this Government have accepted the principle that they have a role to play in training. It is common ground between the Labour party and the Government that this country's record on training falls a long way short of that of many of our competitors—and certainly short of that of many countries in the European Community. It should be a matter of concern for the Government, the Opposition, employers, trade unions and local authorities to try to improve the quality of training for the unemployed and, in this context, to improve the training for employed people to whom the vast bulk of the training to which I am referring is directed.

In the context of the Government's training policies as outlined in their document "Employment for the 1990s", the establishment of the Training Agency and arrangements for the training and enterprise councils, the Government should accept the principle that the public sector should play a part in trying to ensure that training takes place. The state should act as an enabler, or catalyst, in that respect.

It is indisputable that a national training scheme would benefit efficiency and health and safety in industry. We have had a great deal of discussion already in Committee about health and safety. We are all well aware that separate regulations apply to health and safety which cover scheme and non-scheme ports.

Undoubtedly docks are dangerous places. An important part of training is to ensure that dockers can operate the sophisticated and expensive equipment in the docks in a way which is safe for them and for their workmates.

It cannot be right to wipe out this training facility, which is such an asset to the industry. The same applies, although perhaps with less force, to the medical centres. I accept that there is scope for some rationalisation and for different provision. In some instances the medical facilities are some way from the ports and some of the centres have not been utilised of late to the extent that they were used in the past. However, the principle is still valid. The medical facilities should not be wiped out or handed over to the employers. They should be maintained and operated in a way that will benefit dockers and the industry generally.

It is remarkable that not even the staff in the training and medical facilities have any idea what is in store for them. Will the training facilities be wiped out? Will the staff be made compulsorily redundant? Is that the Government's intention? We have just had a debate about the compensation arrangements which might prevail for registered dockers. What about the compensation arrangements for training staff and all the other people involved with the national dock labour scheme?

The Government have said that we should not simply be concerned about compensation arrangements for registered dockers, but that we should also be concerned about compensation for other staff involved in the scheme. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Employment will tell us precisely what arrangements will apply for people involved in the training function of the NDLB. Many of those people have substantial commitments. We might argue that, because they must be mobile—some have moved from one part of the country to another and taken on large mortgages to act as training instructors—therefore they are as much in need of substantial compensation if they are to lose their jobs as any other group of workers.

We are not advocating redundancies. The talents of those people should be deployed within the framework of a new organisation for the benefit of the port industry. There is no disagreement between the Opposition and the Government with regard to efficiency, productivity and using new investment most effectively. Training is an essential element of all that. Against a background of the Government's intransigence since the publication of the White Paper, it would be sensible and an excellent development if the Government gave some sign that they were prepared to make some provision to follow the national dock labour scheme and maintain the training functions, medical and welfare facilities provided by the NDLB.

We have in mind a body which would involve the trade unions. We favour joint determination along the lines which exist in the NDLB, where the employers and the union are equally represented. We believe that the best can be obtained from training and from all the other functions if there is maximum representation from the work force working fully with employer representatives. That is the great strength of the present NDLB facilities. They have the support of the employers and the trade union, because the trade union is directly involved in the organisation which is ultimately responsible for the training facility, the NDLB.

We strongly advocate that there should be a national body to take over the training and medical functions and that that national body, whatever its details, should include equal participation of the employers and the union. It is in the interests of the docks that training should involve the maximum participation of the trade union.

There can be no dispute about the importance which trade unions attach to training. Most trade unions have separate training departments and are involved in providing training facilities to help their members obtain employment or, in other cases, to retrain and become more employable. The main responsibility lies with industry and with the Government. The trade unions have an excellent record on training and we want that to be encouraged. We should maintain the arrangements whereby there is co-determination and joint control of the training arrangements and medical facilities.

When we read about these issues in the British press, we might almost believe that the national dock labour scheme was unique to Britain and that it was an eccentric development. That is not the case. Many other advanced countries have found it necessary to have a scheme similar to the national dock labour scheme. France, Italy and Spain have schemes. They are not necessarily identical to our schemes, but it is amazing how many of those schemes include the principle of the register. They control employment in the docks with the aim of preventing casual labour and all that goes with it, including insecurity and exploitation.

We are not advocating something impractical or unreasonable, but simply seeking to make the best of the position that will exist post the enactment of the scheme. We, and the trade union, accept that the legislation will be enacted, and the debate is about the arrangements that will follow the national dock labour scheme. There must be national arrangements as well as local ones.

This evening, we want an end to stalling about what is to replace the national dock labour scheme. We want an end to the nonsense that is talked about everything being broken up and the issues being decided by individual ports. There is no way that some of the smaller ports, either within or without the scheme, will be able to run proper training schemes.

6.30 pm

The Government have an obligation to ensure that there is a national training scheme, which will be used not only by the major ports and employers, as at present, but will be available to the smaller ports and employers, which have no chance of operating their own training schemes. It would be unreasonable to leave their training facilities to the whim of the larger employers, with whom they are in competition.

Even under the terms of the Government's own approach to this matter and to maintaining and encouraging competition in the industry, there is an overwhelming need for a national training facility. The amendment is aimed to achieve that and I hope that the Government will see fit to accept the argument in principle.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

In the next few minutes I shall attempt to answer the substantial points made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang). With the leave of the House, I shall attempt to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, later in the debate to sum up and address hon. Members' contributions.

The purpose of the Bill is to bring employment arrangements in scheme ports within the general legal framework which has evolved under successive Governments since the scheme's inception. Those developments include the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which placed specific obligations on employers to make adequate provision for health, safety and welfare. The Act also provided for proper participation by trade unions, at national and local level, in ensuring adequate arrangements.

There are now also a range of training structures which industries may choose to participate in according to their own assessment of needs. Within that framework. It is clearly for employers and employees in the industry to decide what suits them best, as is the case in any other industry.

By contrast, the amendment would impose on former scheme ports a special national structure covering welfare, training and medical facilities. No case has been made for that structure, which does not exist in any other industry, either in Committee or today. The proposition which should be made is that what has to be done is special, not only to this industry, but to ports which were formerly within the scheme.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

I made it clear that we believe that it would make sense for that national body to provide a training facility for all ports. However, the nature of the Bill is such that we can table an amendment that covers only ports within the scheme. If any such body were established, it should be extended to have responsibility for training throughout the industry as a whole.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying that matter. He worked on the supposition, which I do not accept, that it is only within some sort of overall national framework that the considerations with which he is concerned could be properly addressed.

That type of structure is unnecessary and will inhibit port employers' acceptance of full responsibility for their own training, health and welfare provision. It would also extend, quite unnecessarily, the transitional period, during which the board is under a duty to wind up its affairs, and the cost of an extension would obviously have to be borne by the taxpayer.

I do not understand the reluctance of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East to accept the normal health, safety and welfare provisions that already apply to non scheme-ports, and their belief that they are inapplicable to scheme ports. The structures that already apply in non-scheme ports are particularly comprehensive. The abolition of the scheme will not change the basis of health and safety provision which applies to all ports.

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 places an obligation to make proper health, safety and welfare provision on individual employers generally, and not on the board—certainly not on any other body established to take its place.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

If what the Minister says about the provision of such regulations in non-scheme ports is true, will he assist me on the re-emergence of casual dock work in my constituency of Port Glasgow? Will he instuct his officials to inspect casual dock work in the port of Port Glasgow to protect my casually employed constituents vis-a-vis their rights and regulations? Will he intervene in that way?

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about casualism. A fear of casualism has run throughout this debate. It featured strongly in Committee. From what I have seen, I have no doubt that that almost inherited fear of the evils of casualism, as it existed at the turn of the century and thereafter, which runs through—

Mr. Robert Hughes:

It still exists.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

I shall deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East, and if the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) wants to make an intervention other than from the sedentary position, I shall oblige him.

It is clear that the fear of casualism gravely concerns many dockers who protest against the abolition of this scheme.

Often, Minister have to make forecasts about what will happen in the future if their views are correct. This case is different: we do not have to make some great leap into the dark because we do not know what will happen about casualism when the scheme is abolished because a port structure outside the scheme already exists in this country. The casualism rate there is no more than 6 per cent. Hon. Members may say that, even at 6 per cent., that is a bad business.

I am bound to say to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East—if I am incorrect I shall give way at once—that I know of no industrial action organised by the Transport and General Workers Union in non-scheme ports to protest at the casualism rate. Today's modern port industry has extremely valuable, expensive and sophisticated equipment that could not possibly be run on a casual basis, and well over 90 per cent. of employers who operate in scheme ports have made it clear that there will be no return to casual systems of work. Those factors mean that, for once, a Minister does not have to look into his crystal ball but can talk about what is actually happening in non-scheme ports. That should be a substantial reassurance, although I suspect that he will not think it is, to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way a second time. I asked for his assistance in a matter concerning casual dock work, which began again in Port Glasgow before Christmas. Young unemployed men are being paid £2·50 per hour to work as casual dockers. I do not ask much from this Government, especially for my country of Scotland, and all I ask of the Minister and his colleagues is to request his officials to inspect the practice to assure me that my constituents, who have taken up the work because they are unemployed, are protected by the regulations of which he spoke about five minutes ago.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

It may be that my memory is defective. The hon. Gentleman refers to practices that started before Christmas, and it is now summer. I cannot recall the hon. Gentleman writing to me about it. If he is telling me that scheme ports are now faced with the use of non-registered dockers, which, as the law presently stands, would be in breach of the criminal law, obviously such matters must be looked at.

However, perhaps the hon. Gentleman is making a different point: that events in his constituency show that casualism is about to take off. I accept that his is a genuine fear, but there is no evidence to support it. If it were realistic, it would be remarkable, to put it at its lowest, that the Transport and General Workers Union has not been protesting.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

The hon. Gentleman is taking up his own time and that of his hon. Friends. I said that I would give way to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North, but IL see that he is now shaking his head. It would probably be provocative of me to say that I had satisfied an Opposition Member, and I suspect that it would also be thoroughly untrue.

The Dock Regulations 1988, made under the 1974 Act, provide comprehensive, up-to-date and detailed provision specifically for dock work. Such detailed provision is unusual for a specific industry. It was proposed by the Health and Safety Commission, which, as I am sure the House does not need to be reminded, is a tripartite body including trade union representatives. The regulations cover welfare provision—for example, sanitary facilities and protective clothing—which the board currently supervises under the Docks and Harbours Act 1966. In some respects, notably in connection with protective clothing, they are more comprehensive than the earlier provisions.

The board's medical provision, which predates that of the National Health Service, makes special arrangements for registered dock workers which to a large extent now duplicate existing services. The present provision consists of 20 small medical centres serving 18 ports. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East has reminded us, they provide treatment both related and unrelated to the needs of the workplace. Since 1982, all employers have been under an obligation to make adequate provision for first aid, consistent with the risks and needs of the industry in which they operate and in accordance with first aid regulations made under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act.

Photo of Mr Eddie Loyden Mr Eddie Loyden , Liverpool, Garston

As the Minister will know—the point was raised a number times in Committee—the docks industry has particular problems connected with both safety and the provision of medical services: for instance, the distance from the dock of the nearest hospital. Past provision has taken into account the peculiar nature of the industry, and its virtual isolation from life in the city. Requirements have been established in response to real needs. I hope that the Minister is not forgetting that.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

I am not forgetting it at all, but, although I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's evident concern, he makes the mistake of thinking that such problems are unique. He ignores the fact that non-scheme ports often operate with the same coastal facilities as scheme ports. They have grown up because of the need for unrestricted ports. The hon. Gentleman assumes that there is no pattern from which we can learn, and that it might be in the interests of employers not to make appropriate arrangements with the work force when the scheme is finally abolished. Employers in non-scheme ports have had to make arrangements appropriate to individual ports and work forces, and there is no reason to believe that the same will not happen in former scheme ports.

Clause 2 gives the board the opportunity to dispose of its assets, including its medical centres, in such a way as to encourage continued provision to meet the future needs of the industry and its legal requirements. It provides for local needs to be matched with local medical provision for all dock workers.

It must not be assumed that the establishment of a single body is the best way in which to meet the industry's training needs. It is not up to me to pass judgment on what arrangements are appropriate for each port, but the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East seemed to think that a national structure would be the only option, and I do not think that that case has been made.

Training must respond to the needs of individual firms, and it is up to employers to make arrangements for it, whether they do so individually or collectively. The work being done in a modern, capital-intensive port requires a highly skilled work force, and employers therefore have every incentive to make proper training arrangements.

6.45 pm

The abolition of the scheme's restrictions on the deployment of dock workers means that investment in training will produce an even greater return. Non-scheme ports manage to train to meet their skill needs without the imposition of a national body. In 1988, Felixstowe, which has its own training school, spent about £775,000 on training—rather more than the National Dock Labour Board spent on behalf of all the scheme ports put together. Many other non-scheme ports, notably those run by Sealink, have full-time training officers. The board's training activities now amount to a mobile force of about 20 training instructors, without any training centres.

The provision in clause 2 for the disposal of the board's assets provides every opportunity for the industry to take over such useful provision as exists. There is no reason to believe, judging by the performance of non-scheme ports, that former scheme ports will not take training extremely seriously.

The amendment gives no suggestion of where the funding of a replacement body would come from. Is it to come from a levy on the industry, once again placing a burden on employers, who would then have no control over the necessary allocation of resources? Or are financial arrangements of the transitional period to continue so that the new body is funded by sums voted by Parliament and paid by the taxpayer? Whatever the answer, the proposal is clearly unnecessary and unreasonable.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

A point that the Minister seems to miss is that discipline is provided by the existence of the scheme ports. What worries us is that, with the removal of the national training scheme provided by the scheme ports, that discipline will go. The Minister does not appreciate the significance of training in the docks or in any other industry. He describes training costs as a burden on the employer, but they are not a burden; they are part of the investment that any respectable and self-seeking employer should be making. We want to ensure that the best employers follow the best practices.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

It is thoroughly in keeping with the demonology of the Labour party to assume, as the hon. Gentleman has in his usual sincere and witty manner, that the only way in which employers can be obliged to train is through the use of a bit of discipline—a word that trips off the hon. Gentleman's tongue. In less formal surroundings, he would probably say that what employers need is a touch of the lash. That is what I think he has in mind.

It is curious that the hon. Gentleman cannot accept for a moment that naked self-interest, if nothing else, would make employers train. The hon. Gentleman obviously prefers the idea of a touch of the lash in connection with naked self-interest. The idea that employers would be prepared to commit millions of pounds' worth of equipment to a casual worker—if I may refer to a point made by his hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman)—or to commit it to someone with no proper training is absolute nonsense. The hon. Gentleman need not take it from me; he can look at the record. I had to remind the House a few moments ago that more training is provided by one non-scheme port—Felixstowe—than by all the non-scheme ports. That is the best assurance that the hon. Gentleman could have that, in a modern port industry, employers desperately need trained staff.

The Bill provides for the board to wind itself up in a way that will give port employers and authorities every incentive to take over useful training and welfare facilities. The statutory requirements for health, safety and welfare which apply to all ports are comprehensive, but if there is a need for development it should be within the framework of general health and safety provisions. After abolition, scheme ports will have every incentive to make proper provision for their skill needs. There is no reason to assume that a national body would help the industry meet its training needs more effectively.

I refer finally to the point made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East about possible redundancies of board staff who are not registered dock workers and who cannot look forward to the generous compensation scheme outlined in the previous debate. It would be wholly inappropriate for either the hon. Gentleman or myself to speculate on the level of redundancies, if any. However, I take his point that, logically, there could be redundancies. I understand that the board is considering proposals to enhance the voluntary severance payments that otherwise will be made on a contractual basis. Discussions on that aspect will continue.

I cannot accept that there is a case for the type of national body that the Opposition seek. I ask Opposition Members to accept not only my words—though I am certain to do so on future occasions—but to look at the pattern of behaviour in non-scheme ports. That pattern, even more than my words and those of other Ministers, gives the lie to the Opposition's worst fears.

Photo of Mr Eddie Loyden Mr Eddie Loyden , Liverpool, Garston

The Government have failed to remove our doubts about how seriously they approach training matters. The point was made more than once in Committee that, in only two decades, the industry's practices and cargo handling techniques have been revolutionised, so that the modern docks industry bears no resemblance to that which existed before the war, shortly after the war, and even in the early 1960s. That transformation took place under the wing, and with the direct assistance, of the National Dock Labour Board. It was responsible for providing the training that transformed dockers from men who wore hooks in their belts and pushed hand bogeys on the dock estate to skilled workers who handle equipment having a customs value of between £250,000 and £750,000 per piece.

That training embraced the operation of everything from the forklift truck to the gantry crane, and all the other mechanical operations, which are different from those used in any other industry and probably unique. A tugmaster loading a ro-ro vessel, for example, is worth watching. It is a demanding task that dock workers have been trained to carry out to great effect, and it is to their credit that they have been able to adapt.

Conservative Members have referred to the number of dock labour disputes. I remind the House that the record number of 427 disputes, of which 410 were official, was set before the establishment of the national dock labour scheme. Unofficial strikes were caused by the conditions prevailing in the industry before the scheme came into existence. It brought order where chaos existed. There has been a move away from traditional cargo handling methods to hi-tech operations such as containerisation, palletisation, ro-ro and bulk cargo handling. They have all been mastered by dock workers as a consequence of the good training provided by the National Dock Labour Board.

I put to the Minister the example of the small firm—the sweetheart of the Tory party, which it views as a cherished friend—employing 60 registered dock workers. How will such a company provide adequate training? There will be no legislation, other than that of a general nature that the Minister outlined, requiring employers to provide proper training. We are concerned about the quality of training that will follow in the wake of the scheme's abolition.

My mind is open, but I remain to be convinced that we have nothing to fear and that when the transitional period ends, the void that follows will be immediately filled by training schemes of the quality that the industry previously enjoyed. Neither am I convinced that the services needed by the industry will be retained. It is a dangerous industry in which to work. In Committee, I reported the death only a few weeks previously of a registered dock worker in the port of Liverpool; his mate was taken to hospital seriously injured after an attempt to save his comrade after a load had broken from its swing and buried the docker under a weight of timber.

The dock industry presents many such hazards, which require specific medical provision. National Health Service facilities may be as far away as five miles. Before the present Government came to power, there was in existence almost on the dock road in Liverpool the Royal hospital, but that is now gone. The distance now between the docks and the nearest hospital is measured in miles rather than yards.

The Minister must accept that we are not weaving a fantasy about the docks industry. During debates on the national dock labour scheme, Conservative Members showed in the most naked way that they know little or nothing about the industry. That is the great danger. They are not prepared to move their minds away from the briefs that they are given and to listen to informed comment, take it on board, and act upon it. Certainly there is no evidence that the Minister has given proper thought and consideration to the points made both in Committee and on the Floor of the House.

I hope that even at this late stage the Minister will be able to persuade us that we are all doubting Thomases and that he has the best interests of dock workers in mind.

Photo of David Davis David Davis , Booth Ferry

The nub of the case made by my hon. Friend the Minister is that the evidence from non-scheme ports is that a special scheme of Government intervention in training would not be advantageous. Throughout the Committee stage and today, there have been either explicit or implicit claims of superiority for the training provided under the dock labour scheme. Ironically, there were claims also of a lack of training as a way of justifying ghosting, but I put that matter to one side.

The facts do not support either general or specific claims of superiority. The statistics show that in 1987, which is the last year for which comparative figures are available, about 33 per cent. of scheme employees underwent scheme training lasting an average of three days. In the nearest equivalent industry, transport and commercial, 40 per cent. of employees underwent 10 days of training per employee—roughly four times as much training.

7 pm

We have been accused of using the example of Felixstowe ad nauseam, but there was a good article on that port in the Sunday Times on 16 April this year from which I want to quote one extract. A young worker called Mark Green, who has just started work at Felixstowe, said: I may not seem to have much of a job now, but the training schemes at the port arc great…You can work your way up and win whatever responsibility you want. He went on to speak about how he wanted to become a driver of one of the major cranes.

We have been accused, with some substance, of using Felixstowe as an argument. However, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, there is more training going on there than in the rest of the scheme ports put together. Some members of the Committee—I am glad to say that this has not happened today—focused their attack on what they called cowboy operators. Nobody defined that term. We were left to guess whether it described a pioneering spirit of enterprise or something rather less flattering. I suspect that the latter is the case. They were put forward as an explanation of how some of the smaller ports obtained business at the expense of the larger scheme ports. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who unfortunately is not with us today, attributed the loss of trade from scheme ports to non-scheme ports to the cowboy operators—the low-cost operators—and he made specific allegations about training.

I felt that it was incumbent on me to check the facts. Some of the work was done for us in Committee by my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport. He checked one of the smaller port operators, a company called Trent Wharfage. He described how that private operator took on unskilled personnel and trained them to operate major pieces of port equipment, such as those described by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden), either by in-house training or through contract training outside.

That did not seem to be enough evidence, so I telephoned small port employers in the Humber area. The market share of Humber traffic of those smaller ports grew from 15 per cent. to 21 per cent. at the expense of scheme ports in just five years. They did that against the odds. Conditions were difficult. They had difficult rivers and locations on small, poor roads, so their success was the result of something other than geographic location.

I called two small ports at Selby and Howden to get an idea of what they did on training. I gave no warning that I intended to call but in one case a training manager was in the general manager's office when I rang. It says something that a small operation employing 30 to 40 people has a training manager.

I was told a number of things. First, the ports were trade unionised and had TGWU representation, with proper contract terms. I asked about safety and skill training and, specifically, about training in the use of cranes, vehicles, forklifts and so on. It became apparent that they had schemes, in-house and contract, with training boards outside in the construction and road transport industries for each of those areas.

Those ports managers were spontaneously aware of the new docks regulations. They knew that several years of training was required for the use of heavy cranes. They knew that the code of practice required forklift driver certification. That was not the response of cowboy operators, in the sense that that term was used by Opposition Members.

The point that came across clearly was more a matter of common sense, which the hon. Member for Garston will understand. It was not in the interests of such ports to allow untrained men to use highly expensive and heavy equipment of the type commonly bought today—the sort of equipment that the hon. Gentleman described.

I was told that a 90-tonne crane cost £500,000. For a man to use that crane he has to be sent away for two weeks' intensive training at a cost of £500, plus his salary. Damage can be done by the untrained use of such equipment. No one in his right mind would skimp £500 and risk £500,000. I am putting entirely on one side the sort of accidents that could occur from misuse, such as the hon. Gentleman described. No one with any sense of responsibility, or even self-interest, would not train such operators. I shall not waste time now, but I could give further examples, such as the £125,000 forklift truck.

There are three components of a training decision in the docks industry. The first, rightly, is safety. Any responsible manager would put that at the top of his priorities, but even if he did not, health and safety at work regulations and the specific docks regulations of 1988 which came into effect on 1 January this year would ensure safety. Therefore, there is already a safety net. On skills, the economic argument that I have just explained is ovrwhelming from the point of view of the individual employer, whether enormous like Felixstowe or tiny link Howden.

Finally, there is the need to have the money available. I agree with the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). People do not need to be forced to do something that is in their own interests, but they need money for investment.

Safety, skils and money are the three components of a training decision. The national dock labour scheme does nothing to add to the regulations on safety. It does nothing to enhance the importance of skills, because it reduces the productivity of the equipment and it positively undermines prosperity. Therefore, it is not tenable to say that the scheme in any way helps training in Britain.

Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Halton

My hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) and for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) were simply saying that we should not throw out the baby with the bath water. That is all that the amendment is about. It is not a wrecking amendment or one that tries to continue the dock labour scheme by some other means. It merely asks that the Government, in the hiatus that they have created by rushing the Bill through the House, tell the House what will happen with regard to training and medical care.

I am proud to say that I am sponsored by the TGWU, of which I have been a member for some 40 years. I do not have any docks of any significance in my constituency. I have a few dock workers in Runcorn and I may have a few who work in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Garston; but, like every other hon. Member, I live on an island and docks are important to us all because any difficulty with the docks or the dock workers can create a complete stranglehold on our economy.

We are going into 1992 and we are talking about training for dock workers. I was appalled to hear the Minister ask whether the burden of training should be on the employer or on the taxpayer. Other industries—for example, ICI—do not talk about the burden of training. Training is an important investment.

The hon. Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) talked about crane drivers and heavy equipment. He was right to say that no industry would let loose an unskilled hand on £500,000 worth of equipment, but I am not talking about that. I am talking about training for the ordinary, unskilled individual who needs to be trained just as much as the crane driver, because without it he could be involved in an accident or create infinite damage simply through ignorance.

I envisage an increase in casualisation, which currently stands at only 6 per cent. because there is a dock labour scheme. Without it, casualisation would increase considerably. Unskilled people will be glad to have a job and will be willing to do anything. They will abandon the safety conditions and all the rules because they desperately want a job. They will not press for safety rules or for adequate training. That has already happened with the YTS, especially in the building industry. We are an island nation wholly dependent upon the docks.

The Minister's complacent attitude amazes me because we are approaching 1992 and a Europe in which Germany, France, Italy, Spain and even Greece passionately believe in the importance of proper training—not just for highly skilled workers but for all workers. In Germany, someone cannot be even a shop assistant until he has received proper training. That is right, because such people do a skilled job. A docker does a dangerous job. When I take my car on a ferry when I am travelling abroad, I am amazed by the skilled jobs being carried out by dock workers. They put quarts into pint pots. No unskilled person could do that.

I fear that the Bill will mean a dilution of training standards. The National Dock Labour Board currently sets training standards. The Minister said that it does not do enough, which may be true, but the Government should insist that it does more. If Felixstowe is so much better without the dock labour scheme, I hope that the Government, in the hiatus that they are creating, will insist that all other ports are brought up to Felixstowe's standard. Instead, I fear that the position in most ports will become considerably worse under this Bill, which has been rushed through the House, at the insistence of the port employers, almost by sleight of hand. The amendment simply asks the Government to tell us what they intend to do with training in the interim period. We do not want them to throw out the baby with the bath water.

Clause 3 is being discussed with this proposed amendment to clause 2 under the guillotine procedure, although the connection between the two clauses is difficult to understand. Clause 3 is a gauleiter clause; it provides that, if there is any disagreement between the Secretary of State and the members of the board, the Secretary of State can sack them and appoint another person to carry out their duties. If that person then does not carry out those duties to his satisfaction, he can also be sacked. Why appoint that other person? Why does not the Secretary of State say that he will do the job, in accordance with his wishes and diktats? It is a gauleiter clause, because any person appointed under it will have to do precisely what the Secretary of State says or be sacked.

This country will be greatly affected in 1992 by its complete lack of interest in training and the attitude that training is a burden. Training is not a burden; it is an investment, and all good industries regard it as such. It chills me to hear the Minister refer to training as a burden, whether on the taxpayer or industry.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

I said that, if the National Dock Labour Board imposed a levy during a transitional period it would be a burden. That is one reason why we think our proposed scheme is right. The money spent by an employer on training is very much an investment, which is why I cited the example of Felixstowe. That might he a semantic point, but it is crucial. I said that a levy would be a burden, not that investment in training would be a burden.

Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Halton

The House needs to know exactly what will happen during the transitional period. We do not know what will happen and the Minister will not tell us.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow 7:15 pm, 24th May 1989

A system of levy is not unknown to other maritime industries—for example, every stone of fish landed at a British port by a United Kingdom registered fishing vessel is subject to levy. That levy is used towards the costs of running the industry and the costs of training fishermen.

Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Halton

I know nothing about the fishing industry, but I accept what my hon. Friend has said. Indeed, it seems an eminently sensible thing to do. It is unfortunate that many industries do not invest in training. Because other European countries invest in training, they will be in a better position than Britain in the mid-1990s.

Photo of Mr Eddie Loyden Mr Eddie Loyden , Liverpool, Garston

I am puzzled by the Minister's remark about a levy being a burden. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware, even if the Minister is not, that the levy pays for training. Therefore, it follows that if the levy is a burden, so is training.

Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Halton

My hon. Friend has hit on a crucial point. The Minister appears to think that spending money on training is wrong, yet the rest of Europe thinks it right. Europe is right and Britain is wrong. The Minister may say that many of our major industries show capitalism at work, but it is good sense to invest money to obtain the best safety record and the best efficiency from the work force. Even a kid of 17 or 18 should be trained, for his own safety, for that of his workmates and for the efficiency of the industry in which he works. The Bill creates a hiatus. The Government do not know what will happen about training.

This is not a wrecking amendment. It is a sensible amendment. I ask the Minister, please, at least to consider it so that in another place the idea of providing proper training in the docks industry can be invesigated further by means of a Government amendment.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack , Fylde

I listened carefully to what the right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) said about training but I do not know whether he listened to the Minister when he referred to training and prayed in aid the port of Felixstowe, where large sums are being spent on training. The right hon. Gentleman almost seemed to imply that the only ports that do any training are scheme ports, and that the non-scheme ports do no training whatsoever. That is not the case. The Minister said that Felixstowe spends a great deal of money on training.

The right hon. Gentleman asked us to consider what would happen in a port that recruited large numbers of so-called unskilled persons.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack , Fylde

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop this point because it is crucial to the argument of the right hon. Member for Halton.

The right hon. Gentleman told us to beware of those ports that might recruit unskilled labour. However. I pray in aid an article in the Financial Times of 28 March by Jimmy Burns. It is headed: Dockers fear tide turning against closed shop. I read the article with interest. It refers to Felixstowe, where the Transport and General Workers Union has a single union agreement. I shall say a word or two later about the training role of trade unions. The article says that Felixstowe's recruitment is predominantly local, among men with no experience in dock work. Felixstowe was the first port in the United Kingdom to handle more than 1 million TEUs, which are 20ft equivalent container units, in a single year. That port has built its success on the use of unskilled labour which had no previous experience of dock work.

I have visited Felixstowe and seen the port in action. It is a quite remarkable place to visit. Its rate of expansion is very rapid. When I visited Felixstowe, the port was expanding so rapidly that, as soon as the tarmac was laid, containers were put on to it. The right hon. Gentleman did not say that the growth of Felixstowe had led to an unacceptably high level of accidents or that all the progress there had been achieved without any form of training.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack , Fylde

Does the right hon. Gentleman wish to intervene?

Photo of Mr Gordon Oakes Mr Gordon Oakes , Halton

Yes. I am not attacking the port of Felixstowe. All I am asking the Government is, if the training at the port of Felixstowe is so good, why create a hiatus, which the Bill does in the Government's rush to get it through? Why do they not accept the amendment and bring every port up to the standard at Felixstowe?

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack , Fylde

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has clarified his position and said that the training procedures at Felixstowe are excellent. I do not think that under the new arrangements the port employers will say, "Now that we are non-scheme ports, we shall stop providing any training until some future date." It does not add up; it is impractical. Felixstowe shows how effective it is to devise training that suits local needs. Felixstowe is a general cargo and container port. Smaller vessels also call at Felixstowe, for which a specific type of training is required. Felixstowe has got round that problem.

I am now prepared to give way to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks).

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way. Will he go a little further than Felixstowe and say what standard of training is provided in some of the other non-scheme ports? We keep hearing about Felixstowe, but what about some of the others?

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack , Fylde

I have every reason to believe that the other non-scheme ports also provide a high level of training. Not too long ago I visited the port of Dover. I asked those who operate the ferries what new training requirements had been introduced after the Zeebrugge disaster. I was most impressed by the high levels of training and checking that had been introduced to counteract some of the previous discrepancies.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack , Fylde

The Opposition have not suggested that the levels of training that are available in the non-scheme ports are poor, that they do not meet the needs of those ports and that they engender bad practice. If the right hon. Gentleman wants the House to adopt the amendment, that is the kind of argument that I would have expected him to use, but he has not done so.

Training is not just about the mechanics of operating machines. Training is also about attitudes of mind. The amendment suggests that the scheme ports training scheme should be extended to the non-scheme ports, but it says nothing about the types of training that ought to be provided. The Opposition seem to believe that people are more concerned about which button to push, or which lever to pull, or which crane to operate and the correct safety procedures for doing so, but training involves far more than that. Training encompasses an attitude of mind.

The training at Felixstowe encompasses an attitude of mind and the ability to be flexible. The lack of demarcation practices at that port has helped to make it the success it is. Paragraph 1·6 of the White Paper says: Well-motivated and productive workers are a key element in the success of any business. I see no reference to that aspect of training in the amendment. Paragraph 1·7 says that the dock labour scheme sustains attitudes and practices in dock work which run counter to the needs of an efficient and successful ports industry, strong enough to face growing competitive pressures. If that is the result of the training that is provided in the scheme ports, I wonder how effective it would be in terms of the attitude of mind that it would export to the non-scheme ports. To command the respect of the House, the amendment ought to have fleshed out in more detail the kinds of training that would be appropriate to the new docks industry. All it suggests is that what we have now should be laid on top of what will be provided. It smacks of a typically Socialist solution.

The notion that the larger non-scheme ports could act as a training agency for the smaller ports surrounding them would be completely ruled out by the amendment. Liverpool could serve as a centre of excellence for training in other ports. The amendment, as drafted, does not enable us to discuss the training opportunities that might be possible under the new arrangements.

The right hon. Member for Halton said that this is not a wrecking amendment, but I have a nasty suspicion at the back of my mind that if the House approved the amendment—which I shall certainly not support—there would be no guarantee about the timetable that the new body would follow. I foresee prolonged discussions, endless meetings, committees being set up and training courses reviewed and rejected while the reform of the ports industry, which we hanker after, waits in the wings. The amendment says that we should not press on with training until the new training body is in place, but the amendment provides no timetable for the establishment of that body. It is wrong to ask us to agree to a totally open-ended commitment.

Photo of James Paice James Paice , South East Cambridgeshire

As my hon. Friend probably knows, I was born in Felixstowe and lived close to the docks for much of my life. Does he agree that Felixstowe has demonstrated that it does not need external help to provide trade? The second part of the amendment refers to the welfare of the work force. Does my hon. Friend agree that Felixstowe has shown clearly by the small number of industrial disputes and the tremendously high wages paid to the dockers that it can maintain a high level of welfare care for its employees, without any external influence? My hon. Friend may be aware that a substantial percentage of the workers at Felixstowe send their children to public schools. That may not be palatable to the Opposition Benches, but it shows the benefit of a prosperous port.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack , Fylde 7:30 pm, 24th May 1989

I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful intervention. I agree with all that he said. He reflects on paragraph 2·16 of the White Paper, which points to the benefits of a good health and safety policy. Before I became a Member, I was in the produce pre-packing industry.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack , Fylde

Some hon. Members may have heard of apples and lettuces; for the benefit of those who have not, we supplied supermarkets with fresh fruit and vegetables.

One aspect for which I was responsible was dealing with the trade unions on training and safety. I had great respect for the contribution that the trade unions made to our safety policies which were born out of the needs of our business. Produce pre-packing is not an industry with an overall training board. We were happy to work within the parameters set by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. We produced safety and training statements and we worked with the trade unions. We drew on their knowledge to create the right package for our business.

That arrangement appears to be mirrored in the port of Felixstowe. If it can work well in that port, could it not work equally well in other ports? Surely Opposition Members can see an enhanced role for the trade unions that they represent. Trade unions have an important role to play and it will not be taken away from them. It has been suggested that, if we do not agree to the amendment, training will cease as soon as the Bill becomes law. I do not think that anyone who has tried to run a modern, efficient ports industry will cease training. I do not see some of the drawbacks to which Opposition Members have referred. I think that people realise the enormous benefits that result from training.

The amendment is too open-ended. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said, it says nothing about funding. It does not go into any detail about the welfare schemes that we might expect. Perhaps we should explore that in more detail. As to the medical aspects, the amendment ignores the exciting and interesting opportunities whereby local health authorities offer employers various forms of occupational medicine and assessment of difficulties associated with particular jobs. If a national scheme was imposed on the industry, local initiatives might well be lost to ports and to dockers. A nationally imposed superstructure is not always the best way to meet the local needs of the ports industry that we all hope to see when the Bill becomes an Act.

Mr. Robert Hughes:

I shall be brief, because time is short. Much has been made of the fact that the Bill was produced suddenly and the way in which it is being bounced through the House. Undoubtedly it has been a long time in gestation. The decision to abolish the National Dock Labour Board must have been taken some time ago or the glossy White Paper and the Bill could not have been produced so quickly. It is clear that the Government were hypnotised by their obsession to do away with the dock labour scheme and that they did not think about what would happen after the scheme was abolished.

That is particularly galling in relation to training and medical and welfare facilities. I am astonished at the suggestion that everything should be done locally. Government supporters suggest that there is no room for an overall scheme. The docks industry is diverse. The same type of work is not done in each port, whether scheme or non-scheme port, but there is a broad overall pattern and all ports require the same level of competence and the same welfare and medical facilities.

ICI is a progressive, national employer, as is Marks and Spencer. If such companies, with businesses all over the country, were told that they should not have an overall training scheme but that they should leave training to local managers in Aberdeen, Felixstowe or wherever, they would think that that was ridiculous. Those companies use their size and capacity to develop training schemes and welfare facilities to benefit all their employees. All we are suggesting in the amendment is that there should be a scheme that takes the best and makes it available all over the country.

I have never before heard Ministers pay such plaudits to a Labour Government. Every Conservative Member quoted the Health and Safety at Work etc. 1974 Act. Its significance was that it imposed conditions on every employer; an employer does not have the right to opt out. The significant point about the date, 1974, is that it was a long time after the beginning of the industrial revolution. In 1974 it became necessary to compel employers to take proper account of health and safety at work. The problem is that the inspectorate has riot been kept up to strength to make sure that the Act is enforced.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) asked a specific question of the Minister about something in his constituency. What did the Minister say? He told him that he should have raised the matter earlier. My hon. Friend did; he has been raising it for some time. The Minister did not say, as I would have expected, "I am disappointed to hear that. Tell me straight away the name of the company, and where it operates, and I will ensure that my inspectors are there tomorrow. If it is not providing proper conditions, action will he taken against it under the Act." We did not hear that from the Minister. He just said that it was up to employers to do what they liked.

The Government do not want just to destroy the dock labour scheme; they want to make sure that the industry is fragmented. Every time that we debate the issue, we hear tales about the new jobs that will be created. The jobs that have been lost disappeared not because of the scheme but because of changes in conditions. The Minister does not seem to understand that the catalyst that he is producing will lead to a deterioration in conditions in the industry. If the ports are to compete and to produce more jobs, what advantages will there be in individual ports having day-to-day negotiations with their employees? Will the ports decide to cut wages? Presumably the Government will say that that is not the intention of the scheme, although some of us suspect that it may be. The only room to cut costs will be in matters such as training, health, welfare and safety. In the scandal that will follow, I fear that conditions will be driven down and that training will go out of the window.

The Government's ethos is that the market should decide. They have introduced all sorts of schemes such as enterprise zones and areas where planning considerations do not apply in order to attract jobs. The Government's attack on unemployment is not to create conditions and enthusiasm for investment, but to change the circumstances and drive down costs to ensure that the employees pay the price.

The amendment is significant. I certainly hope that the Government will think again and realise the advantage of an overall training scheme where new employees can learn from good employees and good employees can be used to change unsatisfactory conditions. The amendment is evidently worth supporting. I shall vote for it; I hope that the Government will change their mind and see some sense, even at this late stage.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

I shall speak briefly on amendments Nos. 1 and 2. I shall speak about amendment No. 2 first because my right hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) referred to clause 3 as the gauleiter clause. When we examined the Bill in Committee, we decided that it was the Al Capone clause because when it refers to dismissing the members of the board one at a time it means getting rid of them all at one go. We saw shades of the St. Valentine's day massacre as the Secretary of State, who obviously fitted Al Capone to a T, would wipe out everyone in one go. When we went down the gangway, we could see close similarities with many Chicago-type gangsters facing us on the Conservative Benches. One immediately recognised the Government Whip as Frank Nitty, the enforcer, and in view of the size of the Minister of State, Department of Employment, he is obviously Legs Diamond. Who else could the Minister for Public Transport be than Baby Face Nelson? That is the humorous side, but it is a serious matter.

It is quite clear that in the interim period, members of the board will be given instructions and offers that they can only refuse and then Al Capone—the Secretary of State—will move in and get rid of them all at once, no doubt consulting the list of the stooges and lickspittles in his Department to make sure that the nominee who replaces them is "one of ours", as that is the Prime Minister's intention.

Clause 3(4) states that the Secretary of State will decide The terms of service and remuneration of any such person".

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing amendment No. 1; he is talking to amendment No. 2, which we have not yet reached.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

I thought that we were to dismiss the amendments by 8 o'clock, so if I did not make my remarks now, I did not see where I could get them in, except perhaps on Third Reading. I listened carefully to what you said, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not withdraw my remarks, although they appear to have been wholly out of order.

This is a serious matter and appears to give inordinate power to the Secretary of State, which in Committee and in the House we find quite unacceptable.

I shall move on briefly to training. The Government are getting rid of the scheme, so it is up to the Government to prove beyond reasonable doubt that training will not suffer. The 1987 dock labour scheme report reveals the extent of training nationally. I said that the non-scheme ports needed the discipline of a national training scheme because, frankly, I feel that when the national scheme is abolished, not the best but the worst practices will emerge in the non-scheme ports.

My evidence is based on what is happening in industry throughout the country. Training standards and the amount of money that is spent on training in Britain are generally abysmal. The evidence is all there and the Minister is arguing against the facts. On behalf of those who work within scheme and non-scheme ports, we have an absolute right to ask what safeguards the Minister plans to introduce.

If we are wrong, no great damage will have been done, but if the Minister is wrong there will be enormous damage. That is why it is incumbent on the Minister to provide much firmer assurances than he has so far, because it is his responsibility. He is responsible for removing the national scheme, so he must say what will happen if he is wrong, and how he intends to avoid that.

7.45 pm

One reason why national training schemes are in order is that they make sure that the better employers—and there are many of them—do not find that the money they invest in training workers is acting as a subsidy to other employers who poach their employees. It becomes relatively easy for those other employers to say, "As we have saved on training, we can offer a little over the odds to attract the skilled workers that that employer has trained." That is why a national training scheme that exists for the scheme ports would be in the interests of the entire industry, especially the best employers. It would ensure that the practices of the best employers apply right across the board. As the Minister knows, if we had the opportunity, we should like a national scheme that also covered non-scheme ports. National training schemes seem to be the answer to the poor standards of training that exist in the ports and in British industry.

I refer the Minister to a recent MSC-NEDO report that concluded that British companies rarely consider training a main component of their corporate strategy and do not treat training as a boardroom issue. West German employers spend three times more than British firms on training. The Minister must realise that there is a correlation between the high levels of skill and training in competitive countries such as West Germany and their economic success which is far greater than we are currently enjoying. The Minister must realise that those comparisons exist in international comparable statistics and within the different practices between good and poor employers in Britain.

It is up to the Minister, since he is throwing something away, to tell us what he will do if it turns out that we are right and he is wrong. If we are wrong, no great damage will be caused, but if he is wrong, a great deal of damage will be inflicted on the ports industry.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East

I shall be brief so that the Minister can reply to the debate.

Earlier, a Conservative Member expressed concern about the timetabling which the amendment would apply and was concerned that it might create delays, as it would take some time to negotiate the body referred to in the amendment. I am surprised that any Conservative Member should dare to mention timetabling as, apart from wartime, it is difficult to recall any Bill being rushed through the House of Commons with the haste that the Dock Work Bill has been rushed through in the past few weeks. That haste is demonstrated by the lack of consideration in the Bill and by the Government to the implications of abolishing the National Dock Labour Board without making adequate provision for alternative training arrangements.

The hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) said that he was opposed to any national scheme. I assume that his opposition is based on the fact that national schemes set down minimum requirements from which employers cannot escape. He would much prefer local arrangements to be in place because they allow employers to get away with as much as they can without living up to the national standards which would be applied by a national training body.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack , Fylde

The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that kind of criticism. We have been talking about some of the most effective, efficient and profitable ports in the United Kingdom, such as Felixstowe, that have done extremely well by generating their own training programmes. They are not trying to get away with anything. Training has been an integral part of their business.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East

It seems that Conservative members rest their entire case on the example of Felixstowe. That is not the only port in Britain. Many other ports, and particularly small ones, will quickly get away from national minimum requirements.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East

I will not give way again because I am anxious to give the Minister a few minutes in which to reply. The Government have imposed the guillotine. If, in addition, Conservative Members try to intervene, so giving us even less time in which to make the points that we must make, we shall be doubly penalised.

The hon. Member for Fylde said that training was an attitude of mind. He must accept that the trust placed in employers to deliver that training is also an attitude of mind. Unfortunately, we have experience of employers in many areas of the economy not delivering on training, health and safety and, as a result, making the lives of workers a misery. That is why we oppose the Bill and are trying to amend it so as to make it slightly more progressive and considerate of workers.

In his earlier remarks, the Minister claimed that he did not say that training was a burden; or that, if he said it, he meant to refer only to the levy. I remind him that the Government have abolished industrial training boards and closed down skill centres and are selling them off for huge profits. That suggests that it is not only the levy that concerns them. Having abolished industrial training boards and closed down skill centres, we question their whole approach to national training requirements. That is why my hon. Friends and I are anxious to amend the Bill.

The Minister tried to paint a picture which would ease the consciences of those who would rather look the other way while the Government attacked the existing protection of workers in the docks industry. He said, for example, that dock work was too sophisticated for employers even to risk neglecting training or the health and safety conditions of their employees. That was so, he said, because money spent in those areas represented essential investment if we were to be successful in European markets after 1992.

I think the Minister was trying to say that the efficient utilisation of new methods—containerisation, ro-ro, new grain-handling procedures and so on—required employers, in their own self-interest, to protect their work forces. We must judge the validity of that argument as best we can. If employers are so concerned about training and health and safety in the ports, why should it be intolerable to expect them to contribute to a levy for a national body to secure acceptable arrangements for training and health and safety standards?

The Minister suggested that that would inhibit the acceptance by employers of their responsibilities in the matter. If this House had taken that attitude in the 19th century, we would not have had the factories legislation and we should still have 10-year-olds working an 18-hour day in the satanic mills. That would have been the case had we left it to employers and expected them to be responsible. It is the responsibility of Parliament to ensure that employers accept their responsibilities, and that is why the Bill should be amended in the way that we suggest.

The Minister then argued that there already existed general health and safety legislation and national training schemes which employers could use for their work forces. I do not know whether the Minister was referring to the youth training scheme or the employment training scheme, or both. If he had such schemes in mind, why should he consider them sufficient to meet the sophisticated requirements of the ports that, he said, were necessary at Felixstowe and elsewhere? I assure the hon. Gentleman that Felixstowe does not consider such national schemes to be sufficient. That is why, as we have been told time and again, Felixstowe has invested £570,000 in one year to implement its training requirements.

In other words, if what exists is not good enough for Felixstowe, why should it be good enough for all the other ports in this country? What is the Minister doing to ensure that all those other ports meet the standards set by Felixstowe and that they invest in the training schemes that are required?

The Minister said at one stage that the Government wanted arrangements that were appropriate to a particular port and work force. That must mean that there will be different arrangements in different ports. In huge ports which make large investments, there may be adequate training schemes, but in smaller ports which have only small sums to invest in training and in health and safety standards, different standards will apply. That will mean that the lives of the men who work in those smaller ports could be at risk, all because this measure is being forced through Parliament in such haste that we are unable to give all the issues sufficient attention.

The Minister said that it was not in the interest of port employers to use unskilled labour, although we then heard from Conservative Members that that had been done in Felixstowe for many years. If what the Minister said is true, why is there still 6 per cent. casualism in non-registered ports? What about the position of Port Glasgow, where, we have been told, unemployed workers are being paid £2·50 an hour to work in the docks? We must have answers to those questions.

Such developments have not spread more widely in the non-registered ports because of the existence of the national dock labour scheme, and the national agreements in the non-registered ports have been based on that scheme. In other words, take away the dock labour scheme and there can be an attack on the national agreements that the Transport and General Workers Union has negotiated in the other ports. The result will be differing conditions in the various ports throughout the country. Those working in small ports will find their lives at risk. That is what the Government have in mind, and that is why we must amend the Bill.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the few minutes available to me I will do my best to answer the more salient points that were made in the debate.

Although he will not thank me for saying so, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) summed up what the debate has been about and why the amendment cannot be accepted when he described in his opening remarks the transformation that there has been in training. He described his experience over the years, in the light of his time in the docks, and pointed out that there had been almost a revolution in the way in which the docks operate. He spoke of the skills that dockers now had and the equipment they were being called on to operate. He painted a picture of a modern industry in which it would be impossible for casualism to operate.

That theme has run through all the contributions that have been made by Opposition Members throughout the debate. It works on the supposition that one can turn one's face away from the developments that have taken place and say that the lessons of the 1920s, and perhaps even of the 1820s, show that if casualism and a lack of training existed before, the same could happen again today. The hon. Member for Garston knows better than most that that is not a sustainable attitude to take.

In a sense, the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) made the same mistake. He said that the scheme ports had in some way kept up standards in the non-scheme ports and that, in some way, if the scheme ports were swept away, standards would automatically sink. I appreciate the sincerity with which such a course may be advocated, but it is a manifest absurdity masquerading as a self-evident truth. A prosperous ports industry has grown up, not so much because of the changing patterns of technology, but because non-scheme ports have developed precisely because of the existence of scheme ports, often on the same estuaries and even on the same parts of the coast.

For every scheme port one will find a non-scheme port which was once insignificant, if not virtually non-existent. The presence of the scheme ports has produced those ports, and they throw the scheme ports into a certain light. The idea that in some way a declining sector of the industry has been able by its own inadequacies to bring on the non-scheme ports—the idea that in some way the practice of non-scheme ports is maintaining standards—is a complete absurdity. While I appreciate the sincerity with which the argument is adduced, I could not accept it.

The right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) said—this theme was echoed by several of his hon. Friends—that it was a question of throwing out the baby with the bath water. My hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), in an excellent speech, pointed out that that was a Socialist attitude to life. I accept that Labour Members have a number of crosses to bear, one of them being their addiction to Socialism, but is nonsense to assume that, if things were not laid down in some impossible, bureaucratic, 1950s-type collectivist framework, they would not work.

Although the right hon. Member for Halton spoke about the baby and the bath water, he should accept that the baby of which we are talking is a pattern of training in non-scheme ports which—I make no apology for repeating the point—in relation to just one port, Felixstowe, shows that more is being spent on training than in all the non-scheme ports put together. Therefore, the idea that all training will cease as soon as the Bill is passed is nonsense.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) helped me by remembering that I am a lawyer. He said that he wanted to be convinced beyond all reasonable doubt. For any judge summing up before a jury, that means not that one might think of fantastic reasons why something might be right or wrong but simply that one should be sure on the evidence that the decision one reaches is correct. Those are the words a judge would use in summing up before a jury. If the hon. Member for Newham, North-West looks at what really happens and at the pattern of training as well as the decline that there has been—

It being eight o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the order [8 May] and the resolution this day, to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 175, Noes 225.

Division No. 213][8.00 pm
AYES
Abbott, Ms DianeFraser, John
Allen, GrahamGalloway, George
Anderson, DonaldGarrett, John (Norwich South)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterGeorge, Bruce
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Godman, Dr Norman A.
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)Golding, Mrs Llin
Barron, KevinGordon, Mildred
Battle, JohnGould, Bryan
Beckett, MargaretGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bell, StuartGrocott, Bruce
Benn, Rt Hon TonyHardy, Peter
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Harman, Ms Harriet
Bermingham, GeraldHealey, Rt Hon Denis
Bidwell, SydneyHeffer, Eric S.
Blair, TonyHenderson, Doug
Blunkett, DavidHogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Boateng, PaulHome Robertson, John
Bradley, KeithHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Bray, Dr JeremyHowell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Howells, Geraint
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Buckley, George J.Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Caborn, RichardHughes, Roy (Newport E)
Callaghan, JimIllsley, Eric
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Ingram, Adam
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Canavan, DennisKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Kennedy, Charles
Cartwright, JohnKinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Lamond, James
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Leadbitter, Ted
Clay, BobLeighton, Ron
Clelland, DavidLestor, Joan (Eccles)
Clwyd, Mrs AnnLewis, Terry
Cohen, HarryLitherland, Robert
Coleman, DonaldLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Corbett, RobinLofthouse, Geoffrey
Corbyn, JeremyLoyden, Eddie
Cousins, JimMcAllion, John
Cummings, JohnMcAvoy, Thomas
Cunliffe, LawrenceMcCartney, Ian
Darling, AlistairMacdonald, Calum A.
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)McKelvey, William
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)McLeish, Henry
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I)McNamara, Kevin
Dixon, DonMcWilliam, John
Dobson, FrankMadden, Max
Doran, FrankMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Douglas, DickMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Duffy, A. E. P.Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs GwynethMartlew, Eric
Eadie, AlexanderMeacher, Michael
Eastham, KenMeale, Alan
Evans, John (St Helens N)Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Fatchett, DerekMorgan, Rhodri
Faulds, AndrewMorley, Elliott
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)Mowlam, Marjorie
Fisher, MarkMullin, Chris
Flynn, PaulMurphy, Paul
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelNellist, Dave
Foster, DerekOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
O'Brien, WilliamSoley, Clive
O'Neill, MartinSpearing, Nigel
Orme, Rt Hon StanleySteel, Rt Hon David
Parry, RobertStott, Roger
Pike, Peter L.Strang, Gavin
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)Straw, Jack
Prescott, JohnTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Primarolo, DawnVaz, Keith
Radice, GilesWalley, Joan
Randall, StuartWareing, Robert N.
Redmond, MartinWelsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Reid, Dr JohnWilliams, Rt Hon Alan
Richardson, JoWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Robertson, GeorgeWilson, Brian
Rogers, AllanWinnick, David
Rooker, JeffWise, Mrs Audrey
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Worthington, Tony
Rowlands, TedWray, Jimmy
Ruddock, JoanYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Sedgemore, Brian
Shore, Rt Hon PeterTellers for the Ayes:
Skinner, DennisMr. Frank Haynes and
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)Mr. Allen McKay.
Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
NOES
Aitken, JonathanColvin, Michael
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelCoombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Allason, RupertCoombs, Simon (Swindon)
Amess, DavidCope, Rt Hon John
Amos, AlanCormack, Patrick
Arbuthnot, JamesCouchman, James
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Cran, James
Ashby, DavidCurrie, Mrs Edwina
Aspinwall, JackDavies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Atkinson, DavidDavis, David (Boothferry)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Day, Stephen
Baldry, TonyDevlin, Tim
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Dicks, Terry
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyDorrell, Stephen
Beggs, RoyDouglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bellingham, HenryDover, Den
Bendall, VivianDurant, Tony
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Dykes, Hugh
Benyon, W.Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Sevan, David GilroyField, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnFinsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Blackburn, Dr John G.Fishburn, John Dudley
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterForman, Nigel
Body, Sir RichardForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Boswell, TimForth, Eric
Bottomley, PeterFowler, Rt Hon Norman
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaFox, Sir Marcus
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)Franks, Cecil
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)French, Douglas
Bowis, JohnGale, Roger
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir RhodesGardiner, George
Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardGill, Christopher
Brandon-Bravo, MartinGlyn, Dr Alan
Brazier, JulianGoodlad, Alastair
Bright, GrahamGoodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Gow, Ian
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon AlickGregory, Conal
Buck, Sir AntonyGriffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Budgen, NicholasGrist, Ian
Burns, SimonHamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Burt, AlistairHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Butcher, JohnHanley, Jeremy
Butler, ChrisHannam, John
Butterfill, JohnHargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Harris, David
Carrington, MatthewHayes, Jerry
Carttiss, MichaelHayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Chope, ChristopherHayward, Robert
Churchill, MrHeathcoat-Amory, David
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)Heddle, John
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Hind, KennethRiddick, Graham
Hordern, Sir PeterRidley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)Roe, Mrs Marion
Hunt, David (Wirral W)Rost, Peter
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Hunter, AndrewRyder, Richard
Irvine, MichaelSainsbury, Hon Tim
Jack, MichaelShaw, David (Dover)
Janman, TimShaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyShelton, Sir William
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Jones, Robert B (Herts W)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelSims, Roger
Kellett-Bowman, Dame ElaineSkeet, Sir Trevor
Key, RobertSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Kilfedder, JamesSmyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)Speller, Tony
Knight, Greg (Derby North)Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Lang, IanSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lawrence, IvanSquire, Robin
Lee, John (Pendle)Stanbrook, Ivor
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)Stern, Michael
Lightbown, DavidStevens, Lewis
McCrindle, RobertStewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Maclean, DavidStradling Thomas, Sir John
Maude, Hon FrancisSumberg, David
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinSummerson, Hugo
Miller, Sir HalTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Mills, IainTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Miscampbell, NormanTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Temple-Morris, Peter
Mitchell, Sir DavidThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Moate, RogerThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon JamesTownend, John (Bridlington)
Monro, Sir HectorTracey, Richard
Moore, Rt Hon JohnTredinnick, David
Morris, M (N'hampton S)Trippier, David
Morrison, Sir CharlesTrotter, Neville
Moss, MalcolmTwinn, Dr Ian
Moynihan, Hon ColinVaughan, Sir Gerard
Nelson, AnthonyWakeham, Rt Hon John
Neubert, MichaelWalker, Bill (T'side North)
Newton, Rt Hon TonyWaller, Gary
Nicholls, PatrickWard, John
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Norris, SteveWatts, John
Onslow, Rt Hon CranleyWells, Bowen
Oppenheim, PhillipWheeler, John
Page, RichardWiddecombe, Ann
Paice, JamesWiggin, Jerry
Patnick, IrvineWilshire, David
Patten, Chris (Bath)Wolfson, Mark
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyWood, Timothy
Pawsey, JamesYeo, Tim
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Porter, David (Waveney)
Powell, William (Corby)Tellers for the Noes:
Price, Sir DavidMr. Tom Sackville and
Redwood, JohnMr. Michael Fallon.
Rhodes James, Robert

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Southend East

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise sincerely to the Minister and the House for delaying this debate. I want to ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether it is consistent with the rules of the House on relevance to retain on the Order Paper the midnight debate on car emissions. In the debate, the Government are apparently seeking the advice of the House on what should be done about the directive, in view of the last-minute amendment by the European Parliament. Like many other hon. Members, I have studied the papers, and an amendment has been tabled. However, at 4 pm today, we learned that this morning, in Brussels, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment outlined in specific detail the position of Her Majesty's Government in advance of the meeting of the Council on 9 June. That opinion is now part of the formal procedures in Brussels and there is no way in which any opinion or any decision of the House at midnight tonight can have an effect.

How can it make sense for the House to sit for one and a half hours at midnight to discuss what should be done on an issue when action has already been taken this morning? Should not this anomaly at least be reported to the Select Committee on Procedure? I appreciate the problems, but it seems nonsense for the House to debate at midnight a decision that has already been made.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

It is a matter over which neither I nor Mr. Speaker has any control. Doubtless the hon. Gentleman will seek to make his point in the course of the debate, when the Minister may take account of it and respond accordingly.

Order for Third Reading read.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler Secretary of State for Employment 8:13 pm, 24th May 1989

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We have had a long debate in Committee on the details of the Bill. What became even clearer during that debate is that the dock labour scheme suffers from a range of fundamental defects. It is a complete anomaly in the labour conditions of today, it has added to the costs of the ports covered by the scheme and has hindered their competitive position, and it has led to undoubted and unquestioned restrictive practices. But what it has not achieved has been more trade for scheme ports and, above all, more employment in scheme ports.

The position remains that the dock labour scheme creates a statutory monopoly for dock work in 40 of the major ports of this country. That means that only employers and dockers who are registered with one of the local dock boards can carry out dock work in ports covered by the scheme. That monopoly is enforced by criminal penalties—a maximum penalty of up to three months' imprisonment. It is an entirely wrong use of the criminal law to limit employment opportunities in this country.

The country has suffered not only through lost employment opportunities, but through the costs the scheme has imposed. The results of the trans-shipment survey carried out by the Department of Transport, published earlier this month, show just how much the scheme places its ports at a competitive disadvantage, with ports such as Tilbury and Southampton charging almost 30 and 40 per cent. more respectively than non-scheme Felixstowe for handling similar container cargo.

The scheme has meant extra costs for the consumer, industry and the taxpayer, who has so far paid out over £770 million in financial subsidy and through the costs of the voluntary severance scheme because it has been the only way of reducing surpluses of dock workers. As the debate in Committee made clear, restrictive practices have remained widespread, while at each scheme port, there have been complex sets of rules about what is and what is not dock work. What has the scheme achieved? It has certainly not achieved a secure career for the registered dock workers themselves. Equally, it has not achieved good industrial relations in our ports.

Doubtless the authors of the dock labour scheme thought that in creating a statutory monopoly for dock work and ending the abuse of casual working they would bring about a significant improvement of industrial relations in the docks. By no measure has that been the case. There have been major strikes in every decade since the scheme began in 1947. The number of days lost as a result of strikes by registered dock workers in the scheme ports, according to the National Dock Labour Board's own figures, is still three times the national average. Between 1985 and 1987, the scheme ports lost something like 528 man days for every 1,000 employees compared with a total of 183 lost for every 1,000 in the rest of industry. In the 20 years between 1967 and 1987, there were over 3,500 strikes involving registered dock workers which resulted in 4 million working days being lost in scheme ports. That is a rate of over three disputes per week.

Photo of Mr Sydney Bidwell Mr Sydney Bidwell , Ealing, Southall

I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that the Government themselves acknowledge that in some of the scheme ports, there has been enormous efficiency and a successful drive for improvement. If the Government had intended to abolish the scheme all along, why did they not say so in their election manifesto? They have, in effect, led many dock workers up the garden path and have provoked a conflict in which we may well have a national dock strike, with all the perils to the economy that that could bring. Why was the abolition of the scheme not included in the manifesto?

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler Secretary of State for Employment

We have never made any secret of the fact that we have been looking at barriers to employment. If the hon. Gentleman wants to swap stories about what is or is not in an election manifesto, I must point out that he will find that the 1976 legislation, which was introduced by the last Labour Government, was not set out in their election manifesto. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is not true."] It is true.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Blaenau Gwent

The right hon. Gentleman had better check his facts before he misleads the House about our legislation. He misleads the House badly enough about his own legislation, so he should not mislead it about ours as well. Of course that legislation was set out in our manifesto. That is one of the reasons why it was introduced in the House.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler Secretary of State for Employment

I shall check what the right hon. Gentleman says.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler Secretary of State for Employment

I want to reply to the right hon. Gentleman first. Over the years, a number of offers have been made by employers and a suggestion was certainly put forward by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment when he was Secretary of State for Transport. On every occasion when it was suggested that negotiations on the national dock labour scheme should take place, the reply was the same from Mr. Connolly of the Transport and General Workers Union—that there was no point in having negotiations on either ending or amending the scheme because that would be met by immediate strike action. That is the position that we have had to face.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby

The Secretary of State has answered, to his own satisfaction, the question about the absence from the Conservative manifesto of any commitment to abolish the dock labour scheme. However, he will recall that on 19 January the Prime Minister said that she had no plans to abolish the national dock labour scheme. That was reiterated by the right hon. Gentleman himself when answering one of his hon. Friends on 20 March, 17 days before the publication of the White Paper on this subject. Can the Secretary of State say on precisely what date he gave instructions to his civil servants to draft a White Paper to abolish the scheme?

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler Secretary of State for Employment

No, we would not do that. I remember clearly the occasion that the hon. Gentleman refers to. One of my hon. Friends asked me a question. It was on a statement on another matter—[HON. MEMBERS: "Wriggle, wriggle."] I am not wriggling at all because my hon. Friend rightly made a contribution and I said at that time that I had nothing to add to any statements that had been made before. We then had a statement on the Floor of the House and brought out the White Paper. What the hon. Gentleman and the Opposition really object to is that there was no leaking of the proposals beforehand. They cannot get used to the fact that the proposals were not leaked in advance and that they did not have the opportunity of leaking them or of publishing the White Paper in advance of the debate on this subject as they did with the Health Service White Paper.

What has been typical of this debate and of everything that took place in Committee is that Opposition Members will use any argument that is extraneous to the detail of the dock labour scheme. As we sat through hour after hour in Committee, virtually no Opposition Member, with the exception of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden), rose to defend the detail of the dock labour scheme. That has been the most significant feature of the whole debate.

Doubtless the authors of the scheme thought that there would be not only an improvement in industrial relations but a better position in relation to jobs and employment in the docks for registered dock workers. However, when one considers the impact of the scheme, one realises that jobs have gone and that the new recruitment of young people has been severely limited. Thousands of registered dock workes have volunteered to leave the industry. Just after the war, there were 82,000 registered dock workers; today there are 9,400.

Clearly, there is an inevitability about some of the reductions, but I ask the House to compare that position with the position of those working in ports that are outside the scheme. By definition, the non-scheme ports were of no consequence in cargo handling in 1947 when the scheme was drawn up. That is why they were left out of the scheme. Yet in the intervening years, ports outside the scheme have come to account for half our trade in value and 30 per cent. of our trade in volume. Employment of dock workers has now risen to 4,000 and nearly one in three of all dockers now work in non-scheme ports. Investment in ports such as Felixstowe and Dover dwarfs any investment in scheme ports. The record of the non-scheme ports, gives the lie to some of the charges that have been made about the abolition of the present dock labour scheme.

In spite of all that, the only pledge made by the Opposition Front Bench in Committee was that they would reintroduce a new statutory dock scheme if they were elected and that they would extend it to new occupations such as warehousing. They intend to spread such a scheme to half a mile from the waterfront. That was the effect of one of the amendments that they tabled. In addition, they wish, want and are pledged to extend the scheme to every port in the country, including the ports that are not covered by the dock labour scheme now. If I can make a prediction, I believe that that will prove to be one of the biggest and most unpopular millstones that even the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) has placed around the neck of his party. Not content with reintroducing—

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Blaenau Gwent

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be enlarging his speech in this Third Reading debate to discuss matters that are not in the Bill. Will we all have a full chance to answer that part of the right hon. Gentleman's case, along with our answers to the rest of his case, when he gets round to defending the Bill itself?

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

I remind the House that the Third Reading of a Bill should be restricted to what is in the Bill, but I have heard nothing so far from the Secretary of State that goes outside that.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler Secretary of State for Employment

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That intervention shows the acute sensitivity of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). Indeed, no hon. Member should be more sensitive about the dock work than the right hon. Gentleman. His record is one of the most appalling of any Secretary of State in the 50 years of this scheme.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Blaenau Gwent

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, although I could, of course, raise this as a point of order. Whatever else may be said about what I have said in the past, such comments are certainly not in order on the Third Reading of this Bill. Will the right hon. Gentleman eventually come round to discussing his own Bill?

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler Secretary of State for Employment

Most certainly 1 will, but not before I have left this point. Again I point out to the House the acute sensitivity of the right hon. Gentleman. We look forward to a political debate outside the House on this matter—

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler Secretary of State for Employment

In fact, I suspect that we look forward to that debate rather more than the hon. Friends of the hon. Member for Oldham, West.

Throughout the debate, one point has come over. The defenders of the present dock labour scheme are fighting yesterday's battles; they are defending the scheme as if we had the conditions of the 1930s and 1940s. Although I very much respect the position of the hon. Member for Garston and his experience, I do not believe that he is correct in seeking to fight the Bill as if the conditions of today are those that applied straight after the second world war. We can all agree that the scheme was introduced to prevent casualism and that none of us wants to see the conditions of 50 years ago return in this country. But there is absolutely no reason to believe that there will be such a return. There is every reason to believe that there will be no return to casualism.

Let us consider the experience of non-scheme ports. The advance of the ports outside the scheme has not been achieved by either low pay or casualism. Dockers are well paid and the enormous changes in the way ships are unloaded—with new technology and containerisation—have transformed the nature of dock work and virtually eliminated the scope for casual work. Dock work is now highly skilled, specialist work which requires the use of sophisticated machinery. It requires a permanent and well-trained work force. The days when large numbers of unskilled labourers assembled waiting to see whether there was work for them have gone for good—and everyone is glad of that.

To underline that point, the employers in the present scheme ports have given an assurance that, after abolition, there will be no return to casual employment. That assurance is crucial. We have a dock labour scheme to prevent casualism. Port companies employing more than 90 per cent. of registered dock workers have given an undertaking that there will be no return to the casual system of working. It is not just a matter of the pledge or the assurance that they are giving, and practice in non-scheme ports already shows that that is a bogus argument. Several members of the Committee appreciated that point only too well.

Mr. Robert Hughes:

If the employers are so certain about their pledges, why will they not meet representatives of the Transport and General Workers Union and start negotiations on the conditions that will follow the scheme? Where they can reach a national agreement to have no casual labour, that would be the most constructive thing to do. I hope that the Minister will do his best to make employers get down to negotiations. That is the way to make progress.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler Secretary of State for Employment

Precisely that offer—not the offer that the hon. Gentleman wants, but the offer of talks—has most certainly been given by the employers. The employers are saying that negotiations and talks should take place at the local level, not at the national level. That is a sensible position to be in. The National Association of Port Employers does not run the ports. The port employers are the local ports. Of course, not all of them own only one port. For example, Associated British Ports owns several ports. Therefore, negotiations should take place at the local level. The Transport and General Workers Union should examine why it will not join in such negotiations and is instructing its members to boycott them.

I recognise that the debate takes place when there is the threat of industrial action on the abolition of the scheme. I believe such action would be entirely unjustified and totally against the interests of the dockers. The only result would be to drive more trade from the scheme ports, and therefore to put at risk jobs in the ports. It cannot be in anyone's interest for there to be a strike, particularly when clear assurances have been given that there will be no return to casual working; when clear offers have been made by port employers throughout the country to discuss future arrangements in individual ports; when generous compensation has been offered in the case of any docker —such dockers are very much the minority—who becomes redundant; and, above all, when the end of the scheme is a major step to achieving a modern ports industry—a ports industry with a future. That is in the interests of everyone working in the ports.

That goal has received wide support outside the House. It has certainly received support from the industry, which stands to gain from a more competitive ports industry. It has received support from organisations such as chambers of commerce, whose members in port areas know how the scheme's restrictions have blighted business and investment. It has received support from potential investors in port areas, in warehousing and in road haulage who, to date, have held back for fear of incurring the scheme's unique straitjacket of restrictions. Port users and port investors are persuaded of the need for the scheme's abolition simply because the case against it is so overwhelming. They have nothing to gain from strikes but everything to gain from the improved performance of our ports industry, which the ending of this scheme will bring about.

The reason we want to end this scheme is to create a better future for those living in and around dock areas. We want to ensure that investment in port areas is not discouraged and that new job-creating investment in storage, manufacturing and transport can take place. At present, the scheme damages not only the ports but the prospects of the communities around those ports. Above all, we want to achieve a better future for our ports. We want the present scheme ports to be able to compete better with ports outside the scheme and continental ports that have taken too much of our trade in the past. Our aim is that British ports can take tomorrow's opportunities in the new position created by the single European market.

We should be clear: unless ports succeed in competing, no dock labour scheme—past, present or future—will prevent the decline of those ports. That is the lesson of the scheme over the past 30 or 40 years. There is no reason why our ports should not succeed, but they will not succeed if they are held back by all the restrictions of the present dock labour scheme. For that reason, we want to see the scheme go. It has far outlived any purpose that it might have had.

The Bill is of fundamental importance for the future of our ports industry. More than that, it will remove a major barrier to the expansion of business and employment in this country. I ask the support of the House for the abolition of the dock labour scheme.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Perhaps it will assist the House if I amplify the point that I made in response to the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). I remind the House that the Bill abolishes a scheme, and, for that reason, it is in order to debate what is to be abolished, and why it is to be abolished.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 8:38 pm, 24th May 1989

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) pointedly said, we have just listened to a lot of bluster and a good deal of abuse, but rather little about the Bill and the arguments in Committee. As we have learnt, the Secretary of State prefers to operate in that manner. It is extraordinary that he can say that nobody has defended the scheme. I can only suppose that he so infrequently attended the Committee's proceedings that he is unaware that my hon. Friends and I, in exhaustive detail, rejected many of the Tory attacks on the scheme as incorrect, misplaced and downright wrong-headed. I shall certainly, yet again, rebut several Tory charges tonight.

We are coming to the end of the proceedings on the Bill. The most significant point that needs to be made at this stage is that the proceedings have been a farce. No other Bill in modern times has had such a history as this one. A White Paper was introduced on one day without consultation—the Secretary of State did not seem to understand the significance of that point—and the Bill was published the next day. The Second Reading was rushed through on the first permitted day thereafter. The Committee proceedings were started—unusually—only eight days later. After an indecently short interval of only 29 hours for an eight-clause Bill, the Committee proceedings were abruptly guillotined, and a 4 am sitting was needed even to reach 29 hours. The Report and Third Reading stages are now being dealt with a mere six days after the completion of the Committee proceedings.

It is clear, and it has never been denied by Ministers, that the main reason for this precipitate pell-mell rush is that Ministers want the Bill on the statute book on the first day possible so that the port employers, who are at present prevented by law from taking on non-registered dock workers, will at the first possible moment be able to bring in workers from outside as blackleg labour to break a strike, if that is what occurs.

Photo of David Davis David Davis , Booth Ferry

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I will give way in a moment, but I want to finish this point.

Frankly, the handling of the Bill has been a shameful abuse of the House. The Government have been far more concerned to secure the option of strike breaking, if it is needed, than they have ever been bothered seriously to debate the merits of the Bill.

Photo of David Davis David Davis , Booth Ferry

Are not the hon. Gentleman's complaints somewhat undermined by his own statement, I believe in the initial stages of the Committee, that this is a single-clause Bill with seven contingent clauses? We were discussing, in effect, one clause for all that time.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

If in the correct sense it is a single-clause Bill—it is a single issue Bill—and if we had very nearly completed the debate on that clause by the time that the guillotine was imposed, why did the Government impose the guillotine? If there were no other major issues left in the Bill, why did they impose the guillotine?

We know that the Government did that because they were determined from the very first day—months ago—that they would have the Bill passed by about the end of June or the first week of July so that, if industrial action took place, the Government could allow employers to bring in blackleg labour. The Government had no interest in any serious discussion of the Bill in Parliament.

Apart from the concertina-ed timetable, the Committee stage has been a farce, because the Government have clearly been determined from the outset not to accept a single amendment. I have never been involved in a Bill to which an amendment, however minor, was not seriously considered. Indeed, much of the time they have given the impression that they were not even listening. We have been largely engaging in a dialogue of the deaf. The Ministers have simply been going through the motions and paying no serious attention to the Opposition's arguments.

None of the central contentions that we made on Second Reading and in Committee has received an answer, convincing or otherwise, from the Government. We never had any response to our central argument. Everything that the Secretary of State has said tonight shows that he was not listening. We never had any answer to the central argument that most European countries, and indeed many non-European countries, operate dock labour schemes, which, through a variety of structures, all provide for the direct involvement of a trade union and dock workers in matters of recruitment, training, welfare, medical services and redundancy. We have never had an answer to the obvious question: if the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium can have successful and efficient dock systems, why cannot we? There is complete silence; we have never had an answer to that question. If those countries can run successful systems with dock labour schemes, why cannot we?

We made the essential point that competitor countries regard their ports as part of the basic national infrastructure. Their ports receive heavy Government subsidies. The Department of Transport estimates that port costs for conventional deep-sea freight are typically 60 to 100 per cent. higher in the United Kingdom than at continental ports. That is because, as the British port authorities have estimated, port subsidies in the rest of the EEC amount to about £200 million a year. That is why British ports are not as competitive as they could be. It has nothing to do with the dock labour scheme.

However, when we pointed that out to Ministers, all they would say was that they were seeking to get agreement through the EEC to reduce port subsidies. They ignored the effective point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) in Committee that, when the issue is nuclear weapons, this Thatcherite Government demand to negotiate from strength but, when it comes to port subsidies, they are content to negotiate from a position of weakness. Their real concern is not to cut port subsidies, but to hammer the British dock worker. If only we had a Government who valued and trained their work force in the docks instead of regarding them as the enemy within.

Photo of Mr Tim Janman Mr Tim Janman , Thurrock

If I hear the hon. Gentleman correctly, he is trying to make the point that the existence of the dock labour scheme and its abolition are completely irrelevant to international competitiveness, vis-a-vis the docks' competitors in Europe. If that is so, why is it that, in the short time since the Government announced their intention to abolish the scheme, one major timber importer, who is currently importing timber from the far east into Europe via Rotterdam, has already contacted the chief executive of the port of Tilbury to say that he will be interested, once the scheme has gone, in bringing those imports into Europe through Tilbury rather than through Rotterdam?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

After the results of the county council elections, it is clear that the hon. Gentleman will certainly be leaving us next time, so we are always glad to hear his valedictory. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could explain why Tilbury has done so exceedingly well while being a scheme port. Tilbury has been extremely successful. It is well managed, it has an excellent dock work force, its profits have substantially increased over previous years and its productivity has increased as fast as anywhere. I doubt whether ships are turned round faster anywhere in Europe than they are at Tilbury, and that is while there is still a dock labour scheme.

We never had an answer to our key contention: if the dock labour scheme so inhibits efficiency and modernisation, why is it that productivity in scheme ports has been every bit as high as that of any non-scheme port? In 1965, scheme ports handled 261 million tonnes, with 65,000 registered dock workers. In 1986, they handled 308 million tonnes, with 10,400 dock workers, that is a 730 per cent. increase in productivity in terms of volume per worker in 20 years. We would be glad if the Secretary of State could tell us of any other industry that could match an increase in productivity of 730 per cent. in 20 years.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler Secretary of State for Employment

The hon. Gentleman is simply taking credit for the job losses in the scheme ports. He has raised the question of productivity and Tilbury, but will he now explain to the House why the Department of Transport's survey, which was published only this month, shows that Tilbury and Southampton are charging nearly 30 and 40 per cent. more respectively than non-scheme Felixstowe for handling the same container cargo?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should ask the management, because, if that is a management policy, it is certainly consistent with a great deal of success at Tilbury. Tilbury has probably been the most successful port in our country, despite the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman), who represents either it or an adjoining constituency, running it down. If it is its management's decision to price at that level, it has not prevented that port's considerable success and rising profits.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler Secretary of State for Employment

The hon. Gentleman should remind us how much public money has gone to the Port of London Authority, and therefore to Tilbury, over the years. He is making a point about Tilbury, so will he remind us of that position?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The right hon. Gentleman was the Minister responsible for providing that money. I take it that he is not asking whether it can be justified. He did it, and we are perfectly well aware why he did it. London and Liverpool were in peculiarly difficult circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman, when he was a Minister responsible for transport in 1980, came to the House with a Bill significantly to increase subsidies, partly to take account of difficult trading conditions and partly to bring about redundancies with proper compensation. When this happens in the private sector, the right hon. Gentleman gives us a lesson about successive productivity. When it happens in the public sector, we are told that it is all a matter of redundancies. This must apply both ways. There have been considerable reductions in the number of dock workers as a result of voluntary severance, and there has been a huge increase in productivity.

Despite our exchanges across the Dispatch Box, the Secretary of State has not answered my central question: which other industry has matched the productivity of the scheme ports? He cannot answer that question.

Photo of Mr Norman Fowler Mr Norman Fowler Secretary of State for Employment

Of course I can. The non-scheme ports have far exceeded the productivity of scheme ports. That is a matter of fact.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

That is the point that I was coming to, and it is not true. That is precisely the kind of answer that we have received from Ministers throughout the Committee stage and it demonstrates my point. Ministers simply do not listen. They do not provide evidence or arguments. They simply make assertions and when we check the facts we discover that those assertions are not justified.

In 1987, the last year for which complete figures are available, each scheme-port docker moved on average 13,346 tonnes of cargo, while each non-scheme port docker moved on average 13,655 tonnes, almost exactly the same amount. That minuscule difference has occurred despite the fact that non-scheme ports enjoy the huge advantage of geographically strategic locations on the east coast so that they can benefit fully from the switch in Britain's trade over the past 15 years to trade with the EEC. The Minister's arguments, statements or flourishes are simply not true. They cannot be validated.

Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross , Dundee West

The Secretary of State is trying to claim that more valuable cargoes came through specific ports. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) will consider the fact that, historically, certain cargoes came through certain ports. For example, Dundee was a jute centre. Jute is not as valuable an import as advanced technological imports such as computers or video recorders. The Secretary of State's case does not stand up. He obviously does not accept that Tilbury has been a successful port.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend has provided a convincing answer to a point which the Secretary of State was trying to make from a sedentary position. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) will develop his point if he catches your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Secretary of State should accept that Tilbury has been one of the most successful ports. It is remarkable that, because it is a scheme port, the Secretary of State will not say that it has been such a profound success.

Photo of David Davis David Davis , Booth Ferry

Will the hon. Gentleman give way? Mr. Janman: Will the hon. Gentleman give way now?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

No, I will not give way. I have given way to both hon. Members and I will not give way to them again.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I think that the Secretary of State is abusing his position. He has already intervened three times.

We have not received an answer to our central contention that the abolition of the dock labour scheme will lead to the return of casualisation and a general worsening of the terms and conditions of dock workers. The Secretary of State repeated tonight what the Government have said endlessly throughout the Committee stage, that 90 per cent. of employers have issued a press release with a wonderful rhetorical flourish claiming that there would be no return to casual labour. That was about as convincing as Chamberlain waving a piece of paper and saying, "Peace in our time."

The Secretary of State must be deaf or obtuse. He is not responding to our arguments. In Devlin 2 in 1970, the employers made the same promise that they have made today. Within 18 months of that statement, after the collapse of two companies, the employers jerked back into life the temporary unattached register—in other words, they reintroduced casualisation.

The Government have not responded to the fact that we pointed out that Mr. Peter de Savary, who is one of the big port employers, has made public his intention to use casual labour for his new terminal on the Isle of Grain. The Secretary of State may screw up his face because this is a bit embarrassing. Mr. de Savary has said that, and if Mr. de Savary has said it, I for one believe him. We have had no ministerial reply or comment on that observation.

There has also been a deafening silence from Ministers on another point. In an industry in which traffic constantly fluctuates, the employers' obvious objective is to reduce to a core labour force and employ the remainder on a casual basis. It is absolutely manifest that that is what they intend to do. Ministers and the Secretary of State have simply said that casualisation hardly exists in non-scheme ports. Not even that is correct, because it exists at a level of about 6 per cent.

The Secretary of State argued again tonight that the same conditions will apply after the abolition of the scheme. However, that ignores the crucial point which we continue to make—that the dock labour scheme provides a marker for proper standards. Once the scheme has disappeared and as new cowboy operators enter the industry, commercial market pressures will drive down standards in the absence of a statutory framework. We have had no reply to that argument. The port industry will be the latest in a long line of industries in which Government deregulation of the labour market has led to a levelling down of standards, not a levelling up. There is already pertinent evidence that that will happen.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Bennett Mr Nicholas Bennett , Pembroke

What about the buses?

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The resident buffoon from the Committee, who I see has been let out for the day, has made a very unwise comparison with the buses. The experience with the buses illustrates well the kind of thing that is likely to happen in the dock industry. It has experienced a worsening of standards and labour conditions and a reduction in routes.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

No. The hon. Gentleman has made his point and I have replied to him.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Nicholas Finney, the director of the port employers, called for the integration and assimilation of registered dock workers into the rest of the port employers' work forces. What lies behind those weasel words is revealed by the port employers' current treatment of their workers who are not protected by the scheme. Therefore, proposals relating to non-registered workers at Swansea, recently put forward by the Associated British Ports, call for a reduction in engineering staff from 68 to 16, a cut of more than three quarters. Those staff are to be replaced by contractors. That is the latest in a long line of job cuts made by ABP since its privatisation six or seven years ago.

That shows that, with the dock labour scheme gone, registered dock workers will be, to use Mr. Finney's words, assimilated and integrated right out of their jobs, with casualisation no doubt disguised as contracting out. The port employers have refused to respond to any of those concerns. Indeed, they have taken the opportunity to scrap existing national negotiating machinery that has been in place since 1920—27 years before the introduction of the dock labour scheme. Nothing could make the employers' intentions clearer.

We do not need to make predictions. I have already drawn attention to a new contract of employment. Again, the Secretary of State has completely ignored the evidence. I shall be glad to pass the contract on to him. It is dated 27 April, three weeks after the abolition of this scheme was announced and two months before it could be abolished. It is a contract from one port employer, Mersey Container Terminals Ltd. Contrary to the smooth assurances that we have heard again tonight about the easy transition to local collective bargaining, the contract makes it clear that there will be no collective bargaining, national or local, and that any dock worker who does not sign an individualised contract of employment, drawn up by the employer on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, will simply be sacked.

That is the position facing dock workers. So much for the Government's assurances. Like the employers' assurances about casualisation, they are simply not worth the paper they are written on.

Photo of Mr Barry Field Mr Barry Field , Isle of Wight

The hon. Gentleman can either plead his case because of casualisation or tell the House, as he has just done, that those employees are being asked to sign a contract of employment. A contract of employment is designed so that an employee has a stated term of contract employment. Therefore, that cannot be casualisation.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman, who has just joined the debates today, seems to understand so little and totally misunderstands the point that I was making. I can give him only the arguments, not the ability to comprehend them. All I was saying was that there is a contract of employment which an employee can either sign or not sign, but if he did not he would be sacked. That is not exactly the local collective bargaining which the Secretary of State said would be the basis on which the ports industry would be run from now on.

The Bill is fundamentally about the essence of the Government's opposition to the scheme and their objection to joint decision making and their hostility to the 50:50 employer-trade union representation on the dock labour boards. They repudiate any limits to management's so-called rights to manage absolutely, and tell workers what they are to do. These themes run throughout their critique of the scheme. In that respect, the dock labour scheme is perhaps the nearest we have in this country to industrial democracy and worker participation. That is why the Government hate it so much. The Government call it blocking; we call it co-operation.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

No, I shall not give way.

It is an instance of workers taking responsibility, and that is why it is anathema to the Government.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

No, I shall not give way. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to make a speech later, but I am now drawing to a close.

For several years, in cahoots with the employers, the Government have planned and plotted the destruction of the scheme. It is becoming clearer by the day why they finally pulled the trigger six weeks ago. Ministers have never denied the scenario first made public by the Channel 4 programme "Dispatches" on 12 October last year. It was then stated that abolition would be saved for what was called a "political rainy day".

I am sure that the Secretary of State will not like this because it is the truth which he has been trying to conceal from the nation ever since the announcement was made. The programme presenter continued: Tory MPs and industry sources have suggested to Dispatches that should the Government get into serious difficulties, for example over the balance of payments, then they would use the repeal of the scheme to rally their supporters and public opinion against the unions. It was a cynical picture of industrial provocation for political ends, but that is exactly what has happened.

It is ironic that, on the very day set by the Government for the completion of the Bill's passage through the House, the bungling and mismanagement of the Government's economic policies have forced up intererst rates to 14 per cent., which will wrench up the retail prices index another notch, exacerbate the price-wage spiral and, eventually, worsen mortgage misery still further.

If there is a fitting epitaph for this despicable, politically motivated little Bill, surely that is it. The Bill is as contemptible as the Chancellor's arrogance in the face of his own manifest failing—but, thank God, it will not be long before we are called on to reverse the destructiveness of both.

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend , Bridlington 9:04 pm, 24th May 1989

I rise with great pleasure to support the Third Reading of the Bill, whose enactment will be an important milestone for the once great port of Hull. I am privileged to represent the hinterland in the eastern suburbs of that port, and I have been fighting for the abolition of the dock labour scheme for many years—as chairman of the finance committee of the county borough of Hull, as leader of Humberside county council and as Member of Parliament for part of the area.

When I was a boy, Hull was the third port of the greatest empire that the world has ever seen. Today it is not even in the top 10. Why? It is not because of lack of investment; there has been plenty of that. Nor is it because of lack of opportunity: as the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) has said, ports on the east coast have had their opportunities. There was enormous scope for expansion when we joined the Common Market, and it was inevitable that trade would move progressively from the Atlantic, the old Commonwealth and Liverpool to Hull and the Common Market. Hull was the gateway to the continent for the industrial heartland of Yorkshire and—with the opening of the M62—Lancashire. It should have had everything going for it: it should have become the Europort of Britain, but it did not.

Which ports benefited? Felixstowe benefited. When I was a boy Felixstowe was a creek with an old wharf, in the middle of nowhere and with no communications. Why did Felixstowe get the trade? Because it was not a national dock labour scheme port and had excellent industrial relations. As a result, by 1987 it was working no less than 2·5 times as much tonnage as Hull, and last year its tonnage increased by another 24 per cent.

It was not only Felixstowe that took Hull's trade. Hull has lost trade to dozens of private wharves that have sprung up along the Humber, the Ouse and the Trent. Today those private wharves work more tonnage than the once great port of Hull. It is a tragedy that from the pier in Hull the ships can be seen sailing past on their way to the private wharves. All that capital investment has gone to waste, and all those expensive facilities are unused.

Why has the scheme had such a devastating effect on ports such as Hull? [HON. MEMBERS: "It has not."] It has. It cannot be denied that Hull has declined from being the third port to not being even in the top 10 and that has happened principally because of the monopoly power of the trade unions. The Transport and General Workers Union has abused that power, and the effect on trade has been devastating. Let me give three examples.

Hull invested in a new container terminal, which is now lying idle because we could not reach an agreement with the dockers on reasonable levels of pay. There are three gantry cranes in the terminal. A similar gantry crane in Grimsby is manned by 12 dockers, but they man it only when there is a ship in. When there is not, they are put on to other work. I dare say that in Felixstowe or Rotterdam the manning would be much lower. But Hull, with three cranes, does not man them with 36 men; the union insisted on 66. What is worse, it insisted on 66 men not only when there is shipping but when there is not. The horror story does not end there. Even more diabolical is the fact that the union demanded tea breaks, lunch breaks, and permanent overtime for those 66 men—up to 6.30 pm every night even when there is no shipping. Who has heard of an industry where the workers are paid overtime for doing no work whatsoever?

Opposition Members do not like listening to the facts. They do not like hearing what happens in the north of England and about why many of its industrial areas are being driven into the ground. I hope that when the Bill is passed, decent manning levels will be achieved and that Hull's container terminal will be reopened.

At Christmas, North Sea Ferries wanted to bring in its last ferry on Christmas eve, unload it, and leave it in port until after the Christmas holiday. The dockers demanded payment not only for Christmas eve but for Christmas day, Boxing day and the bank holiday.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby

Just as the hon. Gentleman does.

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend , Bridlington

To put a little icing on the cake, the dockers also wanted a day off in lieu. The consequence was that that the ferry did not dock there at all.

The practice of welting is still prevalent in Hull, whereby one half to two thirds of a gang work and the rest disappear off to the golf course, to run little businesses, or to drive taxis. That proves that manning levels are ridiculously high, which is why trade has been driven away by exorbitant costs and why there is no discipline in the work place or in industry generally. What other industry would allow workers who are supposed to be on the job to disappear?

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

Yes, so that Conservative Members can moonlight in the City.

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend , Bridlington

Are the hon. Lady and the hon. Gentleman speaking for themselves or for their hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell)?

Not satisfied with its grip on the scheme ports over the years, the Transport and General Workers Union encouraged the last Labour Government to extend the scheme. Tonight, we heard that if Labour were by any chance re-elected they would extend it to inland ports, depots and containers. Thankfully, their re-election is most unlikely.

One of the scheme's most despicable aspects is the power it gives registered dockers to steal other men's jobs by having tasks classified as registered dock work. In Hull, they succeeded in doing so in respect of the coopers and then tried to take over a local warehousing and groupage depot in Springfield way. Because the employers would not give way, the dockers forced the closure of that depot and many non-dockers lost their jobs. The same has been done in respect of riggers. North Sea Ferries was forced to allocate some riggers' jobs to dock workers. One rigging company in Hull that is not registered to employ registered dock workers, whose proprietor lives in my constituency, has for several years been prevented from recruiting more staff.

It is not only Hull but the whole country that suffers. Millions of pounds of investment has been wasted, and millions of pounds of additional investment has been put into non-scheme ports to bypass scheme ports. Before the scheme, British ports—particularly the London docks—served as the entrepreneur of the world. Goods came here from all over the globe and were transhipped to Europe. All that trade has been lost to Rotterdam because of the scheme ports' appalling reputation for overmanning and high costs. That has cost our balance of payments billions of pounds, and we cannot afford that to happen any longer.

The national dock labour scheme increases the cost both of importing and of exporting. It is a tax on every consumer in the country and a tax on British industrial exports.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby

As the hon. Gentleman did not serve on the Committee, he would not have heard my point concerning Rotterdam. Does the hon. Gentleman realise that it has a dock labour scheme? Does he realise also that 15 per cent. of the dock workers there are idle at any one time? My evidence for that is the comments of the personnel director of the port employers of Rotterdam.

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend , Bridlington

When I was in local government I went to Rotterdam to see what was done there and what I saw was amazing. There was no overmanning there. It did not have 66 men on three cranes when it should have had 12. It has a scheme, but it is nothing like ours. When I went there it had not had a strike for 15 years.

The scheme is a tax on exports and imports that we can no longer afford and the Government's decision to abolish it was right. My only criticism is that the Government have left the abolition of one of the last pieces of the Socialist corporate state far too long. However, there is an old saying, "Better late than never".

If there is a dock strike it will do untold damage to the scheme ports, but it will do even greater damage to the dockers themselves. If they strike after the Bill has gone through they will be liable to be dismissed and they will lose the equivalent of £35,000 each. I have far more confidence in the common sense of the British docker, particularly the Yorkshire docker, than Opposition Members.

Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross , Dundee West

The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. We were not allowed many hours to discuss the Bill in Committee, but we spent a lot of the time that we were allowed trying to get the Government Back Benchers to speak. However, they were effectively silenced by the Secretary of State. He was so shocked by the performance of his Ministers that he was not going to let his Back Benchers speak. The hon. Gentleman has just said that it is the deliberate intention to get the abolition of the scheme on the statute book so that, if the dockers go on strike, they will be sacked and lose all their entitlements. Will the hon. Gentleman repeat that, because we have been anxiously asking the Secretary of State whether that was his intention.

Photo of Mr John Townend Mr John Townend , Bridlington

I did not say that that was the purpose of the Bill. I said that, if the dockers went on strike, they should be careful because they would put themselves in that position, and that is a fact. It is a good job that I was not a member of the Committee which considered the Bill, because if I had been I could not have sat through its proceedings without refuting some of the rubbish that: I have heard tonight.

No one can get away from the fact that the port of Hull has withered on the vine because of the national dock labour scheme. Not only dockers' jobs have been lost, but jobs in all the ancillary industries. That has been a major factor in the decline as an industrial centre of the area that I represent.

Once we are given the freedom to compete on equal terms with Felixstowe and the wharves, I am convinced that management and men in the docks will get together, win back the trade and rebuild the prosperity of our once great city and that vine will flourish once more.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby 9:17 pm, 24th May 1989

By some standards we have had a long debate on the Bill, but, as I have pointed out time and again, it was undoubtedly planned some time ago, not with any idea of improving the British economy but rather as one of the articles of faith that the Government decided that they had to keep with their crackpot friends in the Adam Smith Institute. That is the source of the Bill.

It has been argued that the scheme ports have been inefficient in comparison with the non-scheme ports. Much has been made of the fact that over the past 30 or 40 years the pattern of trade with Britain has altered considerably, moving away from the Atlantic, which was the source of the prosperity of ports such as Liverpool and Glasgow, to Europe. There was bound to be a pull to ports in the south-east of Britain and that is the real factor behind the growth of Felixstowe. To some extent Felixstowe is to the Secretary of State for Employment what Luton Town is to the Minister for Sport; it is held up as a symbol that we should all copy—

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby

My speech is hardly under way. If Conservative Members restrain themselves I shall allow them to intervene later.

The port employers are undoubtedly prejudiced against the trade union movement being allowed a voice in determining the conditions of work in the docks. As I told the Committee, Mr. Keith Beckton—the personnel director of Tees and Hartlepool port authority—said that the port had not recruited since 1977 and would not do so until the scheme was abolished. That is why the average age of a registered dock worker increased from 42 in 1973 to 47 in 1988. The port employers are the managers; it is no use blaming the workers. The port employers organise the dock system, and on the whole this country has had rather poor management.

The non-scheme ports have gained from location and, to some extent, from discrimination by Government and employers. The Government have no plans to restructure the port industry. They claim that the £4·6 million cost of the national dock labour scheme is a burden on the industry. If the Government were really interested in the burdens on our ports, they would be concerned about other matters such as the £28 million a year that the ports have to pay for lighthouse dues. Britain is the only country in the European Community that expects its port employers to pay lighthouse dues. It is also the only country that insists that port employers pay for the various navigational aids.

The House should refuse the Bill a Third Reading because the Government have not done their homework; they have been concerned only with exercising their prejudice against the dock labour scheme and the trade union movement. They refer to the competitiveness of Rotterdam and Hamburg, but they should visit those ports, as I have visited Rotterdam, to find out why they are so successful. The Dutch ports, including Rotterdam, and many other European ports are municipally owned. The port of Rotterdam and its wharves are owned by Rotterdam city council. All the dredging is therefore the responsibility of that local authority. The navigational aids—incidentally, Rotterdam is 30 miles inland—are under the control of the local authority with financial assistance from the Dutch Government.

That is the difference. The other EEC countries regard ports as part of the essential transport infrastructure and believe that there must be planning. However, planning is anathema to the Government. That is why they do not do their homework. If they did their homework, they might find that their ideological prejudices led to inconvenient answers. That is why we have been presented with a tinpot Bill instead of a measure that takes into account what is happening elsewhere in the EEC.

I have spoken to Mr. Jansen, the assistant director of the Rotterdam port employers' association. He told me that the port employed 9,634 dock workers in 1987—about the total number of registered dock workers in this country. Just over 7,000 of those dock workers were directly employed, but that number did not allow the port of Rotterdam to operate efficiently.

How, therefore, does the port manage to operate efficiently? It has what is called an employed labour pool, and 2,200, or 35 per cent., of Rotterdam dock workers are drawn from that pool. That assistant director of the Rotterdam port employers' association said to me, "You must realise, Mr. Wareing, that the trade of a port fluctuates, so there has to be a surplus of labour. Each Dutch port employer accepts that there needs to be a 7 per cent. surplus of labour." Therefore, 15 per cent. of the dock labour force in the port of Rotterdam is idle.

What happens to those workers? The port employers do not make them redundant. They say that they will need trained dock workers in the future. The Dutch Government finance the training of the employed labour pool to the tune of 55 per cent. of the cost; the rest is met by the port employers. That does not happen only in Rotterdam.

The Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), is not with us now, but he told us earlier that a training levy would be a burden. We disputed that statement. We said that we regarded training as an investment. The Minister, however, said that he regarded the levy as a burden. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) then pointed out that the levy is the means whereby training can be given. If the absent Minister were here, I would tell him that in Hamburg 15 per cent. of the dock workers are drawn from a labour pool that is similar to the one in Rotterdam. The port users have to pay a levy for those who remain idle. The levy is a contribution towards their training and retraining. That ensures an efficient and competitive work force in Hamburg.

Those two examples could be repeated many times over. The other members of the European Economic Community pay light dues and all the other levies. The Belgian Government have paid 70 per cent. of the cost of a new container terminal. They are not fussing. They do not have trivial prejudices. They are getting to the heart of the matter.

Photo of Mr Tim Janman Mr Tim Janman , Thurrock

Instead of going round Europe talking to the management of foreign ports, may I suggest that the hon. Gentleman talks to the management of some of the British scheme ports, particularly Tilbury? If he does, he will learn that one of its biggest problems is the refusal of a number of people who work in that port to be retrained because they know that they have jobs for life. There is no incentive for them to accept retraining. Abolition of the scheme will lead to Tilbury improving its skill profile and its work force.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing , Liverpool, West Derby

I am interested not only in Tilbury but in all the ports in the United Kingdom. I am not satisfied that the Government are sufficiently interested to ensure that there will be proper training. It is no use saying that people in the non-scheme ports receive training. Felixstowe has been mentioned. There may not be cowboy employers now, but they may exist as a result of the Bill. What will the Government do about them?

The Secretary of State talked about casualisation. He believes the port employers who say that there will not be casualisation. There is 6 per cent. now, but he argues that it will not go much beyond 6 per cent. Perhaps he thinks that there is an inevitable minimum figure. Let us suppose that he is wrong, although I know that Ministers in the Thatcherite Government always go by the Alexander Solzhenitsyn maxim of, "We never make mistakes." Let us suppose that on this occasion they have made a mistake. Can the Secretary of State say what he will do if he is wrong?

If casualisation rises to 10, 12 or 20 per cent., what action will the Secretary of State take? I am willing to give way if he wants to answer. Obviously he has not got an answer. Either he does not care or he does not know. He has no answer to the question because no one knows the answer. We do not know what the percentage of casualisation will be. Certainly the Minister does not know. We do not know whether we can trust what the port employers have told us. The Secretary of State has the opportunity to tell the House precisely what he will do if our worst fears are realised.

If we allow chaos to develop in the docks because there is no planning, no scheme and no attempt to finance the expenditure that port employers are compelled to make, more and more of our trade will go to the continent. It is happening already. Ministers talk about Felixstowe but it is small beer in comparison with Rotterdam and Hamburg.

In 1986 over 3 million tonnes of British exports to places outside the European Community went not through Felixstowe, Liverpool, Southampton or Hull, but through Rotterdam. One would have expected that exports to the United States would go through the ports on the west coast of Britain, but 341,000 tonnes went through Rotterdam. Over 4 million tonnes of exports to far eastern countries from Iraq to Japan went through Rotterdam. When we find that 1,899,100 tonnes of imports from the United States came not through Liverpool, Southampton or Felixstowe but through Rotterdam we realise what is happening.

It is no use the Secretary of State nodding his head to show that he knows all this. His Bill is a mouse compared with the tremendous efforts and vision that are needed if our ports are to be competitive with those in the rest of the European Community.

Photo of Mr Tim Janman Mr Tim Janman , Thurrock 9:34 pm, 24th May 1989

Throughout the Second Reading debate, in Committee and on Report we have heard a great deal of speculation about the consequences of abolishing the scheme and about the opportunities for job creation and employment in the port industries.

Initially, I wish to update the House on what has taken place in Tilbury between the Second Reading debate and the Third Reading debate tonight. I should like to introduce into the debate some facts and observations, in contrast to the theories that have been put forward by the Opposition. Already, at Tilbury one major operator has shown a great deal of interest in developing a 50-acre site roll-on/roll-off cargo handling facility at Tilbury for commercial vehicles. That operator identified his interest only after the abolition of the scheme had been announced.

On Second Reading, I related the problem of a fruit cold store that an operator wished to set up in Tilbury. That enterprise and initiative was scuppered because of the 19th-century, Luddite attitude of a small number of shop stewards who insisted that, while the potential employers' drivers were driving the fruit from the store out and around the United Kingdom, registered dockers would stand and watch them loading it. I am pleased to tell the House that, as a result of the scheme being abolished, the entrepreneur who wanted to initiate that cold fruit store development has returned to Tilbury and is once again interested in pursuing that venture.

I shall repeat for emphasis my remarks to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) about a major timber importer who previously would not come to Tilbury or any other scheme port in the United Kingdom, but is now interested in moving from Rotterdam to Tilbury to import timber from the far east into Britain.

I have given three specific examples from the past few weeks that are a clear measure of the great opportunities for Tilbury as a result of the abolition. In addition, many other companies are eager to initiate discussions with the management of the port to consider new ventures that can be started there. A conservative estimate is that over the next 12 to 18 months, after the scheme has been abolished, between 200 and 300 new jobs will be created because companies are satisfying the needs of their customers.

Inevitably, in the short term there will be a number of redundancies in the port of Tilbury, where there is a surplus of at least 100 registered dockers. However, in 12 to 18 months 100 non-jobs will be eliminated and 200 to 300 real jobs will be created as a result of people meeting customers' needs in a free enterprise environment. That is a huge gain in the number of real jobs being created and a net gain in total jobs in the next 12 to 18 months. Throughout my 18 months in the House, that is exactly what I have said would happen, if the Government bit the bullet and abolished this appalling impediment to employment and job creation.

s I said, there will be a number of redundancies at Tilbury but their terms will be very generous. When the redundancies have been made, the port will be in a very strong position to take advantage of the opportunities that will descend upon it, and the management of the port will be able to improve the skill and age profile of its work force.

One of the biggest problems in improving the skills of the existing work force is that many of them—this is understandable particularly with the age profile that exists—are not interested in learning new tricks. There is no reason why they should put in the effort to learn them, because, irrespective of whether they volunteer or co-operate with management to learn new tricks, under the auspices of the scheme they have jobs for life. Hence, particularly among some of the more elderly employees in Tilbury, there is a resistance to retraining and, therefore, a resistance to enabling management to move with the times in terms of technology and so on. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] Do I gather that an Opposition Member wishes to intervene?

Mr. Robert Hughes:

Order.

Photo of Mr Tim Janman Mr Tim Janman , Thurrock

What is the problem?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Has something gone wrong?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry , Banbury

On a point or order, Mr. Speaker. I understood that the Chair, not Opposition Members, kept order in the House. Labour Members become more clown-like as the days go by.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Will the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) please continue his speech?

Photo of Mr Tim Janman Mr Tim Janman , Thurrock

I move from the question of employment to the subject of—

Mr. Robert Hughes:

Order.

Photo of Mr Tim Janman Mr Tim Janman , Thurrock

Does the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) wish to intervene? If not, perhaps he will remain silent.

Photo of Mr Roy Hughes Mr Roy Hughes , Newport East

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) was making a legitimate point of order, in that the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) was speaking not from his place but in the aisle or alleyway between the Government Benches.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

It was not a point of order raised with me. Perhaps the hon. Member for Thurrock will now continue with his speech.

Photo of Mr Tim Janman Mr Tim Janman , Thurrock

It is clear that the Labour party has moved into the alleyway of politics.

I come to a more recent event appertaining to the Bill, and that is the ballot that has been held as a result of the Government deciding to abolish the scheme. In the ballot, 67 per cent. of those entitled to vote voted for strike action, but 33 per cent.—one third of those entitled to vote—said no to strike action, or certainly did not say yes; they abstained on the question.

Why are Ron Todd and the Transport and General Workers Union refusing to give a breakdown of the figures port by port to the management of the individual ports? What do they have to hide? The answer is that, with a ratio such as I described, a number of ports did not vote to endorse strike action.

Even if the courts decide, or have decided—I am somewhat out of date on the recent legal decision—that the wording of the ballot paper gave a legal endorsement for a strike, for those individual ports without a majority vote for strike action within those ports, or within the employer organisations across them, there would be no legal criterion for strike action. [Interruption.] One cannot have a national ballot and say that one is in dispute with one's employer, or claim that a particular set of dockers are in dispute with their employer, if the majority of dockers working for that employer have voted against strike action.

Unless the TGWU is willing to give the figures, at least on an employer-by-employer, if not on a port-by-port, basis, one cannot with any certainty have a national strike and assume that in all instances there is majority support for strike action on an employer-by-employer basis. It is conceivable that those in many ports have said no to any suggestion that they are in dispute with their employer.

In fact, as we know, there is no dispute with any employer. The ballot, the charade through which the trade union movement is going, is totally political. Indeed, I quote a Mr. Kevin Hussey, a shop steward in the port of Tilbury: Of course you've got to defy the anti-trade union laws. This is a political strike. We've explained that to Todd. Todd knows that, but in fact whether we like it or not, they've as one paper put it, body swerved round it. But sooner or later we are going to be tied up with it. In other words, there are individuals working in some of our ports who, come what may, will try to initiate politically motivated strike action which is destined to harm the interests of the ports, the economy and the dockers they are supposed to represent.

Why does the Labour party support strike action to keep a scheme that they would not bring back if, God forbid, it forms the next Government? Why does it support strike action that would impede job creation? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Oldham, West has said consistently that, if strike action were taken, his party would have no choice but to support it.

Why does the Labour party support strike action that will undermine the viability of 40 British ports? Why has it supported strike action to keep a scheme when, if anybody, with the exception of the hon. Member for Oldham, West, suggested applying it to any other major industry, they would be laughed out of court? People would not laugh the hon. Member for Oldham, West out of court, because they do not take his utterances seriously. It is interesting that in Committee he said: I would expect a future Labour Government to extend those rights to other industries."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 27 April 1989; c. 67.] The hon. Gentleman says that at a time when even the Soviet Union is beginning to understand that a Stalinist and planned approach to the economy and to industries within it is not an intelligent, forward-looking or sensible way to approach the running of one's economy or to catalyse wealth or wealth creation.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West, even in the new revisionist period of the Labour party, is saying that we should take what everybody with an iota of common sense agrees has been bad for the docks and impose it upon other industries. He has not said which industries or how many, but he would like to impose it across the British economy. That is the implication of his remarks.

The futile posturing of the Opposition is not worthy of a party that is supposed to be preparing for government. It will only encourage dockers to strike which will harm prospects for our ports, the country and most importantly for the dockers themselves. My message to my dockers is to keep working and help the port of Tilbury grasp its new opportunities and go from strength to strength. In doing that, they will have my full backing and I am sure they will have the full support of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway , Glasgow Hillhead 9:43 pm, 24th May 1989

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) spoke with the authentic voice of the Tory Back-Bench backwoods engine which is driving the Government to this extraordinary path. The carefully contrived early-day motions and the student japes over the years have been determined to pick a fight with Britain's dockers and finally to bring them down. The ideological cave dwellers, of whom the hon. Member for Thurrock is a splendid example, are doing this country a gross disservice. All the dissembling in the world from the Ministers about the reasons behind the legislation and the extraordinary way it has been introduced will not hide the truth from the country.

The Secretary of State affected to be greatly surprised that Opposition Members dwelt on the extraordinary and irregular way in which the issue has been brought before the House. I cannot believe that the Government are genuine in their puzzlement at that. The Bill was not mentioned in their manifesto or the Queen's Speech. A matter of months ago the Prime Minister said that the Government had no plans to introduce such a measure and only a few weeks before the White Paper was introduced, the Minister said that there were no plans to abolish the scheme. That was followed by a White Paper and, the next day, by the publication of the Bill. Either there was a lightning conversion by the Government to the Bill, or they were deceiving the House when they gave their answers on the previous occasions, solemn and otherwise, that I have mentioned. If the Government do not understand why that is important to parliamentary democracy and to those who care about it, they are not fit to be a Government.

The Bill has been brought before us with unseemly haste and there has been an unseemly performance by Back Bench Conservative Members in the hours that I have spent listening to the debate today. They have carried out giggling, sneaky, public schoolboy japes, they have run around on the Back Benches whispering points to each other and have raced off to the Library to photocopy pieces of literature to pass among themselves.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway , Glasgow Hillhead

I will give way in a moment.

Conservative Back Bench Members have an unseemly and shabby desire to rubbish and eventually smash a section of the British work force that has served this country well. I represent many dockers because part of the port of Glasgow is in my constituency. In the past few weeks, I have spent much time in the company of dockers and their families. There are few less pleasant sights than to see well-upholstered, sleek and wealthy Conservative Members insulting a body of men who work hard for a living and who have done so for many centuries.

Photo of Mr Graham Riddick Mr Graham Riddick , Colne Valley

It is a little rich for the hon. Gentleman to talk about the supposed misbehaviour of Conservative Members. Only 10 minutes ago, he and many of his hon. Friends were making a mountain out of a molehill about the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) was simply wandering along the aisle. Labour Members even raised a point of order about it.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway , Glasgow Hillhead

I shall not stoop to answer that intervention

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway , Glasgow Hillhead

It was, sadly, up to the hon. Gentleman's usual standard.

There are few less pleasant or edifying sights than people who would not last a day working in Britain's docks maligning and sneering at the dockers of this country, describing them as dodgers, bobbers, welters, work shy, strike-happy, lazy, good-for-nothing men. How many Conservative Members could exchange their lounge suits for a docker's jacket? How many of them could exchange their briefcases for a docker's hook? I see that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) is giggling. He is one of the most unseemly examples of all, and his grandfather is turning in his grave at his performance.

How many Conservative Members could live on a docker's wage? Some Conservative Members have said that dockers are well paid. That is rich coming from Members of Parliament who earn two, three or four times what a docker earns. It is little short of disgusting for Conservative Members with three, four, five or 10 directorships to malign dockers as they have tonight and on previous occasions.

It is about time that those giggling public schoolboys got down from their ivory towers and went among dock workers and their families. There is a fear—perhaps the more civilised Conservative Members think it is an ill-founded fear—that the spectre of the old days is once again stalking the streets in our dock areas. Of course, Conservative Members may know nothing about those old days because that is not a part of our history that they care to study.

In the old days, men underwent the indignity of queueing to catch the foreman's eye to get a day's work and a day's wages. I am talking about the old days when dockers fought each other outside the docks, so desperate were they for a day's work; the old days when the gaffer could go into a hostelry near the docks and find the gantry lined with whiskies for him so that he never had to buy a drink. Those whiskies had been put there by dockers who were desperate to win the favour of the man who gave them their daily bread. I am talking about the old days when matchboxes containing half-crowns were passed to the gaffers by desperate dockers who were looking for a day's work.

The Minister says that the employers have given assurances that those old days will not recur, but it is not true that they have given such assurances. What is true is that they have press-released that they have no intention of returning to casualisation. If they really were intent on giving assurances, they would sit down with the dockers' trade union tomorrow and sign assurances to guarantee that there would be no return to casualisation or to those bad old days.

I genuinely believe that the Government are seriously out of kilter with the developing public mood of the country. People understand that the Government are deliberately seeking a fight with the dockers. People understand that the Government have saved this up for a political rainy day and that this is that political rainy day. The summer of industrial discontent is already well under way. In all the by-elections, all the opinion polls and all the objective tests of public opinion, the Government can be seen to be losing their way rapidly. That is why they have decided that this is the time to pick a fight with the dockers.

Some Conservative Members think that the dockers are a pushover. In the past few weeks I have spent some time taking the pulse of the determination of the dock workers in this country. If there is a dock strike—heaven knows, the dockers do not want it and the Labour party does not want it, not the brand new, policy review Labour party, although the Government and their backwoodsmen clearly do want it—the Government had better not rely on any lack of firmness or resolve on the part of the dockers to defend the rights that they have won over many decades of struggle.

Neither should the Government underestimate the public sympathy that the dockers will be able to muster, contrary to what happened in industrial disputes in previous years. The dockers are a relatively small group of hard-working and patriotic men who have a strong sense of the dignity of labour—

Photo of Mr Nicholas Bennett Mr Nicholas Bennett , Pembroke

What about ghosting and bobbing?

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway , Glasgow Hillhead

The hon. Gentleman refers to ghosting and bobbing, but he is particularly well-upholstered. I should like to see him on a quayside with a docker's hook in his hand because he would not last half a day, never mind a day.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway , Glasgow Hillhead

I am finishing my speech now, so I shall not give way.

The dockers are a group of hard-working, patriotic men with a strong sense of community, whose work the public will quickly come to value—especially if there is an industrial dispute—and which they will evaluate rather more highly than they do the mob of Conservative Back Benchers and Ministers who think that they are doing a wonderful thing in dishing the dockers this evening.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham , North West Norfolk 9:58 pm, 24th May 1989

We have heard some colourful language and perhaps even some impressive rhetoric, but when the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) talks about cave dwellers, his is forgetting that the neolithic tendency is on his Benches, from which we have not heard a single word about expansion, about growth or about the enhanced prospects of many dockers in many ports. We have not heard a single word about some of the east coast ports, which are now scheme ports, but which will go from strength to strength. The neolithic tendency and the cave dwellers are to be found on the Opposition side of the Chamber. If there was a Martian in the Gallery who had had the chance to look at the facts of the case and to hear the speeches made by Conservative and by Opposition Members, that Martian would be dumbfounded and thunderstruck by the attitude of Opposition Members.

I agree with the hon. Member for Hillhead on one point, and that is that dockers are a noble band of people. I have the highest possible regard for the dockers in my constituency. However, many have said to me that, in their hearts, they knew that the scheme could not continue.

I will confine most of my remarks to my experiences in King's Lynn. King's Lynn was once one of the foremost ports in the land. In the 16th century, it was ranked No. 2 in the country. It has obviously gone well down the chart. In 1970, there were 130 registered dock workers in King's Lynn, and there are now only 52. Their average age is well over 50. I do not believe that there has been an appointment for nearly 25 years.

There is a tremendous amount of envy and resentment against registered dockers among other employees within the port community. Of course there is friendship, but their privileges are resented. When he came to my constituency, the Minister heard that management, middle management and many employees in the docks felt that the scheme had to go, and that, if King's Lynn is to compete against non-scheme ports in East Anglia and against Sutton Bridge, Fosdyke and a host of other non-scheme ports, it must have greater flexibility, move with the times, develop its hinterland, and go forwards rather than backwards.

Every time I have been to the docks, I have had it in the neck time and again about when the Government will do something about the scheme. In spite of the scheme and the fact that King's Lynn has not been able to retain its competitive edge in so many ways, it has continued to increase cargoes and tonnages. It has gone from strength to strength. I wonder what the future will hold for King's Lynn when the Bill is on the statute book.

During the past six months, there have been several beneficial announcements by the Government. The first was the electrification of the railway line from Cambridge to King's Lynn, with work commencing in August—a major investment in railways.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South

Before the hon. Gentleman concludes his remarks about King's Lynn dockers, will he assure me on one small point? Many dockers are aged 50-plus. Can he guarantee that they will receive other work in the port facilities at King's Lynn? Does he think that £35,000 maximum compensation for somebody aged 55 who may never work again is fair or adequate?

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham , North West Norfolk

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. The chances of any dockers in King's Lynn losing their jobs are slim. As the hon. Member for Hillhead pointed out, only two people in King's Lynn docks earn more than registered dockers. The average wages of those dockers are only a little less than what hon. Members earn. That is all very well, but the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) must understand ther resentment and envy that builds up. He must understand also that many dockers have savings. A docker came to me the other day and asked for assistance in a property development. He was developing three flats in King's Lynn. I wished him well. I noted that he had done well and saved money. Good luck to him. He also said that, in his heart of hearts, he knew that the scheme could not continue.

As I was saying, one of the beneficial points for King's Lynn was the Secretary of State for Transport's recent announcement of the electrificiation of the railway from Cambridge to King's Lynn. Only 10 days ago, there was an announcement of a massive boost to communications and building in East Anglia. For the first time, the Department of Transport has realised the need for two strategic dual carriageway links into Norfolk—the A47 and the A11. There will also be considerable dualling of the A17 and A10. If, at last, Norfolk is to be recognised as an expanding area that will retain its competitive edge and be able to compete after 1992, it must have good communications. It is a welcome feature that the docks and port in my constituency will benefit greatly from these improvements in communications.

The Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill is also welcome because, inter alia, it allows for £4 million to be spent on a new riverside berth in King's Lynn. One of the problems at King's Lynn at present is that it is an old dock and the main facilities are contained by sluice gates. It is restricted in the size and length of vessel that it can take. The new riverside berth will allow it to take much longer and bigger vessels, which obviously will allow it to compete more successfully. However, last night a number of Opposition Members—those on the payroll vote and in the pay of the National Union of Mineworkers—very sadly decided to do all they possibly could to sabotage that Bill, which will create a large number of jobs in Immingham, Port Talbot and King's Lynn.

Where are those same hon. Members tonight? We did not hear much last night about their consideration for or care about dockers and their jobs. All we heard was how they wanted to destroy a £40 million investment by Associated British Ports. Incidentally, ABP had to spend getting on for £500,000 in legal fees to surmount the archaic private Bill procedures in the House, and then, last night, 50-odd Opposition Members went out of their way to destroy that Bill. It was a shameful evening. It is especially shameful because those same Opposition Members are not here tonight when we are discussing a Bill and the tabled amendments, which perhaps would have assisted dockers and given them more money. Those Opposition Members are nowhere to be seen. That shows the sheer hyprocrisy of some Opposition Members. The hon. Member for Hillhead talked about cave dwellers. Those Opposition Members who came to the House to try to destroy a Bill, which means investment and more opportunities for dockers, and especially dockers in my constituency, are the real cave dwellers.

I strongly believe that there are fortunes facing my constituency, because of the four key pillars that I have mentioned: railway electrification; improvements in roads, which give a massive boost to road communications, with millions of pounds being spent on roads to Norfolk; the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill, which means a massive new investment in King's Lynn; and, most crucially, this Bill, which will allow King's Lynn docks to move forward and to compete with the non-scheme ports. That is what people to whom I have been speaking have been asking for time and time again.

When Opposition Members talk in terms of bringing back some form of structure that will recreate a dock labour mark 2 scheme, all I can say is that, if they come to my constituency during the next election and peddle such views, they will he treated with complete contempt by all the people who will benefit from the Bill—those who will get jobs and increased prospects. If they come to my constituency to peddle such views, it will be a millstone around their necks that they will regret. That is why I support the Third Reading.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo , Bristol South 10:10 pm, 24th May 1989

Earlier this evening the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) was telling us about the development at Tilbury. He told us that we should be concerned about the facts to do with Tilbury. He went on to tell us that, since the announcement of the Bill, a particular company had expressed an interest in investing.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo , Bristol South

Yes, Arthur Daley Ltd.

I have copies of the "Tilbury News", which is the port of Tilbury's official newsletter. They contain reports about Tilbury before the proposals for this legislation. Along with the employers, the Government have perpetuated many myths and misrepresentations about what was happening in our ports prior to the White Paper and this Bill. I want to add a few more facts about Tilbury to those which the hon. Member for Thurrock chose to give us.

The first Tilbury Port newsletter states that Tilbury's forest products facilities are being extended by an investment of £2·5 million for an expansion scheme which will bring the total investment in that port this year to £8 million. However, we have been told that scheme ports are starved of investment.

The newsletter refers to the growth in grain importation and refers to Tilbury's grain terminal. It states that Tilbury has improved its ranking in the 1987–88 marketing year for wheat exports from sixth to third position with an increased market share from 6·5 per cent. to 10·4 per cent. It managed that despite the decrease in tonnage due to the poor United Kingdom harvest. Immingham is also a market leader, with 24 per cent., followed closely by Southampton at 17·5 per cent. Those two ports have also increased their market share.

All three ports all are scheme ports. They are expanding and developing in investment and tonnage and they a re improving their market positions in this country in competing with non-scheme ports. The newsletter also gives details of a new timber terminal at Newport in south Wales which is a multi-million-pound development.

The operations manager at Tilbury has said: We have some super truck drivers, excellent supervisory staff, plenty of people who work above and beyond the call of duty and, geographically, we couldn't be better placed. The potential is tremendous. He was talking about dockers in the dock labour scheme. That does not develop the argument or prove the facts referred to by the hon. Member for Thurrock.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo , Bristol South

No, I will not give way. Many hon. Members want to speak and I am trying to make a reasonably short contribution. If the hon. Gentleman wants to speak, he must take his turn.

Turning to the dock labour scheme—

Photo of Mr Nicholas Bennett Mr Nicholas Bennett , Pembroke

Who wrote the hon. Lady's speech?

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo , Bristol South

Actually, I am literate and I can write my own speeches.

This Bill has been hallmarked by confrontation and by the Government's undemocratic behaviour. The White Paper was followed immediately by this Bill. It is clear that there has been collusion between the National Association of Port Employers, which has been clear and single-minded in its campaign to abolish the dock labour scheme, and the Government. They have combined to achieve that end. The employers' campaign has been pursued with the clear objective of provoking a national dock strike. It has done that by ending the scheme's severence pay to dock workers, through a series of provocative violations of the scheme and preparing secret plans for breaking a national strike. They are preparing to use the courts to declare the strike illegal. I do not believe that the Government's move to abolish the national dock labour scheme can be separated from the employers' campaign.

The national dock labour scheme has been massively misrepresented in the media, by employers and by the Government. The employers have sought to project themselves as helpless victims with their hands tied behind their backs. The White Paper said that the scheme was an unfair monopoly. In fact, the scheme is run by a board on which employers and unions are equally represented and was established to defend workers against the blue-eyed system of casual labour. That was an honourable objective for such a scheme.

The scheme is accused of making jobs for life and rendering the employers weak and powerless. It is truly incredible that the Government expect us to believe that the port employers are meek, shaking in their shoes, powerless and unable to run their business. Consideration of reports on the development and expansion of our ports shows that not to be the case.

Dockers can be sacked for misconduct and not doing their jobs properly. In 15 years, the national work force within the scheme has reduced by 47,000. Dockers have a guaranteed minimum daily wage. What is wrong with that? Doctors do not stop being paid if they have no patients to see one day. Jounalists do not stop getting paid if their story is not published one day. Hon. Members do not stop getting paid if they are not literally resident in this Chamber for the entire period of the debates.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo , Bristol South

No, as I have already explained, I shall not give way.

Most employees know that if they turn up for work they will get paid. Many hon. Members, particularly Conservative Members, are retained as parliamentary advisers for perhaps giving advice, and it ill behoves people to declare that others are not entitled to receive a daily minimum wage.

Much has been made of the standby agreements. Employers preferred that arrangement to providing proper training and job security for dockers. Now they use the very mechanism which they put into place to blame the unions for what they call the costly, restrictive practices.

Employers say that the scheme has driven port investment elsewhere. In fact, major investments have been announced for scheme ports such as Southampton, Bristol and London.

Bristol is a scheme port. I can give details of the investment agreed while the dock labour scheme was still unthreatened because it was not listed in the Queen's Speech. There has been a £25 million commitment for investment—not a promise or indication of interest, but a legal commitment—by Redland Plaster Board. There has been a £6 million investment by Carrefour Cement and a £5 million investment committed by a scrap metal dealer. The city council is committed to a £47 million programme of investment. Like many other scheme ports, Bristol is hardly starved of investment.

The growth of non-scheme ports on the east coast reflects, among other things, the shift in trade to Europe. The need to become competitive and ready for the single market agreement in 1992 is another reason given for abolishing the scheme. However, as has already been stated, many European ports have job security arrangements which are similar to the dock labour scheme. In addition, they have the advantage of being regarded as part of the basic national infrastructure and are receiving heavy Government subsidies. According to the House of Commons reference sheet, the European ports receive approximately £200 million a year in subsidy. That is hardly a small figure.

Employers are promising not to reintroduce casual labour, but in an industry in which traffic constantly fluctuates their clear objective is to reduce the labour force to a core and employ the remainder on a casual basis. That is the reason for all the fears and representations detailed by other speakers.

In an industry in which all the economic pressures are towards casualisation, the dock labour scheme is, quite properly, a guarantee of job security. It is portrayed as an anachronism from the 1940s, but it is a necessary defence for dock workers. Dock workers are highly skilled. Part of their job involves taking care not to get in the way of cargo as it is being moved around. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but—like others who have spoken—I would not like to work on a dock. Skilled workers are needed to work with massive machinery and cope with moving large quantities of cargo if fatalities are to be prevented.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford

Artful dodgers.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo , Bristol South

It is not a question of artful dodgers; I am talking about serious employment practices.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

The hon. Gentleman is out of order. He is outside the Bar of the House.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo , Bristol South

We want people to work in safe environments. Why has this legislation suddenly been rushed through without consultation, making sweeping changes and challenging people's livelihoods and their very lives? I believe that it is a cynical attempt to divert public opinion from the Government's problems—the National Health Service review, the poll tax, the balance of payments crisis, ever-rising interest rates and the complex problems developing in the housing market. If the scheme needs amending, why has that not been negotiated between the employers and the unions? Why is it necessary to use such a sledgehammer to crack such a small nut?

The dock labour scheme is about employment rights, not about providing anachronistic protection for employers. It ill behoves any hon. Member to pass judgment and make hasty statements about circumstances of which they have no experience and no real knowledge. I ask them to look at what is going on in the scheme ports—to move away from the business interests that they seek to represent in the House, and to make a clear decision in favour of the dock industry's workers and its future.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry , Banbury 10:23 pm, 24th May 1989

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.

Photo of Mr Eddie Loyden Mr Eddie Loyden , Liverpool, Garston

The hon. Gentleman makes rash statements that are not borne out by the facts. Although Conservative Members jibe at the port of Liverpool, it operates the best and most successful freeport in the country. It also provides for trading by small businesses and has brought about the transformation of the docks by attracting building investment. It is no use the hon. Gentleman arguing that the scheme is a disincentive. If he will visit that port, he will convince himself otherwise.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry , Banbury

It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman was not present at last night's debate on inner cities so that he could have given that glowing testimonial to the freeport status in Liverpool. However, that success has nothing to do with the dock labour scheme but owes much to the Government's initiatives in promoting inner cities.When we next discuss inner cities I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take that opportunity to congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends from the Department of Trade and Industry on their initiatives in promoting industry in Liverpool.

Contrary to the suggestion matte by the hon. Member for Bristol, South all attempts to bring about changes to the dock labour scheme, or even to negotiate changes, have been frustrated by the Transport and General Workers Union and thwarted by individual dock labour boards, on which the trade unions effectively have a a veto.

The scheme has led to some of the worst restrictive practices in British industry. There has been ghosting, bobbing and massive overmanning. I hope that every Conservative candidate in the European Parliamentary elections will read the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). The hon. Gentleman presented the scheme as an example of industrial democracy and worker participation. If industrial democracy and worker participation, a la Vredeling, the fourth directive and other measures of which we hear from time to time from the European Commission, are now to be synonymous with the scheme, it is little wonder that there are many who are concerned to ensure that the social charter is kept in perspective and under control.

The scheme and the attendant restrictive practices have led to substantially increased costs, which amount to about 20 per cent. They have led to a loss of business from scheme ports to non-scheme ports and from British ports to ports elsewhere in Europe.

It is not surprising that the Bill is passing through the House. It is surprising only that it has taken so long for a Bill of this sort to appear before the House. When I was the parliamentary candidate for Thurrock, way back in 1979, I saw the constant haemorrhaging of work from the port of London to ports on the mainland of Europe.

The loss of business from the scheme ports is clearly evidenced by the rise of the non-scheme ports such as Felixstowe. I hope that every member of the Transport and General Workers Union and other unions in ports such as Felixstowe will have his attention drawn to the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West. Each Member must draw his own inference from it. I understood the hon. Gentleman to suggest that every worker who is not a docker in a scheme port is a blackleg worker. I hope that dockers in non-scheme ports will take that on board. It would seem that the Labour party is interested only in supporting an outdated scheme, whatever the cost.

The Labour party's only defence is that in taking that stance it is the only bulwark and defence against casualisation. It may not have noticed that the world has moved on considerably since the mid and late 1940s. Employers need a steady labour force. Has any Opposition Member suggested tonight that in non-scheme ports there is casualisation and that dockers are treated badly, or not well, by their employers? Of course not. Dock work is skilled work and employers need a skilled and steady labour force. They will wish to maintain that labour Force and continue to train it after the end of the scheme. That is the attitude of employers in the present non-scheme ports.

The United Kingdom, along with every country in Europe, faces the challenge of 1992 and the single market. Over the past couple of weeks we have seen something of the supposedly new face of the Labour party. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) was rather more realistic about that when he seemed to suggest that that had rather more to do with packaging than with substance. The suggestion is that the Labour party now wishes Britain to take advantage of the opportunities that the single market of 1992 might present. How does it expect Britain to do so—our companies to prosper and our businesses to trade at a competitive advantage—if we continue to shackle ourselves by restrictive, outdated, anomalous and historic relics of a byegone age, such as the dock labour scheme? It will be an indictment of the Labour party that it has sought so resolutely to defend the indefensible.

The sooner the dock labour scheme is scrapped and all our ports are able to compete freely and properly, unshackled by the dock labour scheme, the better it will be for the heartland of England and for companies and firms in constituencies such as mine. We shall be able to maximise our competitive advantages and go forward. I hope that the Bill will become law as soon as possible.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West 10:34 pm, 24th May 1989

The hon. Member for the well-known port of Banbury who has just spoken made a number of very inaccurate statements about the profitability of scheme ports. Like many other Conservative Members who have made similar statements—their only concern is to get rid of the dock labour scheme; they know very little about it, but it smacks of regulation and of anything else that prevents employers from doing what they will with their work force—he got his facts very badly wrong.

I remind the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) that the largest employer in the scheme ports is Associated British Ports. It owns Ayr, Barrow, Barry, Cardiff, Fleetwood, Garston, Goole, Grimsby, Hull, Immingham, King's Lynn, Lowestoft, Newport, Plymouth, Port Talbot, Silloth, Southampton, Swansea, Troon and the non-scheme ports of Colchester and Teignmouth. Associated British Ports is a growing and profitable company. It was privatised through the sale of 51 per cent. of its shares in February 1983. It reported profits of no less than £38 million in 1987, with ports contributing £19 million to those profits compared with £26 million in 1986—a 46 per cent. increase. In the first half of 1988, the company's profits rose by a further 59 per cent., to £21 million, the ports contributing £11 million.

The scheme ports have been doing so well that the chairman of Associated British Ports, Sir Keith Stuart, earned £97,000 in 1987, an increase of 23 per cent. on 1986. When there is talk about dockers earning large amounts of money, I should like to know how many dockers got a 23 per cent. increase in 1987 compared with 1986.

If the hon. Gentleman wants more evidence about the efficiency and profitability of the scheme ports, I suggest that he should listen not to me—he rarely does—but to what has been said by Ministers. An excellent reference paper, prepared by the Library, shows that, in the Consolidated Fund Bill debate on 10 March 1988, the Under-Secretary of State said: Despite the constraints, many scheme ports are profitable and, as I have already suggested, the industry has adjusted and responded successfully to enormous technological changes over the years, and that could not have been achieved without effective management."—[Official Report, 10 March 1988; Vol. 129, c. 599.] Where, therefore, is the argument about managers not being able to manage? The facts are all here. We argue from the facts. Conservative Members argue from the depths of their ignorance and prejudice against the scheme. The political decision to abolish the dock labour scheme was sudden and traumatic. It was certainly taken without consultation and it was outside the normal parliamentary procedure.

If the scheme is so bad, why has it survived for 40 years? Conservative Members say that the Opposition are not prepared to defend it. We have defended it all the way through. We defended it in Committee where we made quite plain the benefits that it brought to the industry, employers and dockers in terms of standards of welfare, training and pay and conditions generally. That is why Conservative Members dislike the scheme so much. It does a lot of good for dockers and the industry generally, so they want all forms of regulation to be abolished. That is their political objective. Why are they not honest and straightforward about it? Why do they not say, "That's why we don't like the scheme"? Instead of that, they denigrate it all the time.

Not one word was said in Committee by any Minister about anything in the dock labour scheme being decent, despite the fact that it has survived for 40 years, including 10 years of Conservative Government since 1979. If the scheme was so bad, why did the Government do nothing about it before this? They had plenty of opportunities to do so. They did not say in their election manifestos of 1979, 1983 and 1987 that they intended to do away with the scheme. Of course they did not. Now we have this unseemly rush to get the Bill through and get the scheme abolished. It is deliberate and provocative. That is all I can say about Government action.

I know what has been going on. I keep my eyes and ears open around this place. I have seen the lunchtime crowds standing by the Members' entrance, waiting for taxis. I have heard the exchanges—"Where are you going? I am going to such and such a place." I know that the employers have been laying on some very fancy, expensive lunches. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) is not here at the moment, but I said it to him enough times in Committee for him to know what I will say. He has been very much in the van, making sure that people were feted with good food and excellent wine by the employers.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

I will not give way because the Government have guillotined the Bill. Nothing that the hon. Gentleman says could frighten or intimidate me, as he knows. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that he wants to assist me, rather like the rope supporting a hanging man. I can do without that assistance.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

He has a list. No doubt he has a list of all the people who were going off for lunch—

Photo of Mr Nicholas Bennett Mr Nicholas Bennett , Pembroke

It is a list of Labour Members.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

In Committee, the hon. Gentleman produced a letter allegedly written by Ron Todd, so I will not trust his list any more than I trusted some of the so-called facts that he put before the Committee.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Bennett Mr Nicholas Bennett , Pembroke

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) should be given an opportunity to defend himself, because he was one of the recipients of these lunches.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

If that was a point or order, it can be dealt with by my hon. Friend when he speaks. [Interruption.] No. He is thinking deeply and hoping that, through a process of political osmosis, the information will seep through the Bench into his brain. No doubt he will be able to deal with the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) when he makes his contribution.

We know that the Government want a strike. We have said so all along. When this came up originally, we shouted out that the Government wanted a strike, that they needed a strike and that they were engineering a strike. We said that we did not want a strike. When my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) said during his contribution that we do not want a strike, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) shouted, "We do." We challenged him at that very moment but he did not withdraw the comment, and he has not done so since.

There has been a conspiracy between the employers and a conspiracy between the Government and the employers. Messenger boys have been sent backwards and forwards until the employers were able to put the steel into No. 10 by saying, "Yes, we are all ready to go, right hon. Lady." That is what happened. Conservative Members know that to be fact. They want a strike for a variety of economic and social reasons.

The economy is in tatters and it would be useful to the statistics-gathering of the Government if they could write out the amount of imports that are flooding into the country, causing such an enormous balance of payments deficit on manufactured goods. It would take a while for that statistic to even itself out when the dispute ended. That is why they want a dispute. They want to use it in a Machiavellian way to divert the attention of the population. They desperately need a strike.

If the Government force the dockers into a strike, I can assure the Secretary of State that we will be standing with the dockers because we know that a strike is wanted not by the dockers or by the unions, but only by the Government. If the Government force a strike on the dockers, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with them.

At various times in Committee and during the latter stages of the Bill, Ministers have said that plenty of assurances have been given by employers that there will be no return to casualisation. Frankly, we do not believe that. I would rather accept a steak and kidney pie from Dr. Crippen than an assurance from the Secretary of State. If the Secretary of State believes that he is telling the truth, let him sit down with the union and the employers and give the union those assurances in writing. That is a reasonable suggestion, because, as I have said, the Secretary of State needs to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the jobs that he promised will be generated when the scheme is abolished and that there will be no casualisation. Those assurances need to be translated into something which we can get hold of and to which we can hold the Secretary of State if they are not realised.

Having watched the way in which the conspiracy has worked and the way in which a cowboy charter for cowboy employers carried by a cowboy Government has rapidly moved towards the statute book, if there is a strike, I know that all my colleagues will stand proudly, shoulder to shoulder with the dockers in a strike which the dockers did not seek and do not want, and which the Government clearly want.

Photo of David Davis David Davis , Booth Ferry 10:46 pm, 24th May 1989

Having listened to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), I am reminded of the legend of the day before the battle of Waterloo when the Duke of Wellington had to deal with a trooper who had been caught looting, an offence which carried a capital punishment. When he spoke to the trooper, the trooper put up such a good defence that the Duke of Wellington said, "This man knows how to defend the indefensible", and he made him a sergeant.

Today, the Labour party has been trying to defend the indefensible and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West might just aspire to becoming a lance-corporal.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

I should be so lucky, dearie.

Photo of David Davis David Davis , Booth Ferry

The hon. Gentleman should be so lucky.

The issues raised on Second Reading, in Committee and today, on Report, are singular in the extent to which they have not been addressed by the Labour party; we talk about disgraceful practices in the docks and we receive no response. We talk about bobbing and welting and all we get is bobbing and weaving from the Opposition; we talk about ghosting and we get gobbledegook; we talk about discipline and we get disingenuousness. The Opposition have not addressed the issues that we raised. They have put themselves in such a difficult position that they have contradicted themselves on the same day. Today they talked themselves into a corner on training. They talked about the dock labour scheme as a bastion of good training, yet not so long ago the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) was saying that lack of training had caused ghosting. There have been similar inconsistencies throughout their arguments.

It is not quite true that the Opposition entirely ignored the argument. To some extent they tried to imply that bad practices in the docks were rare, yet they never seriously addressed that argument because in one afternoon I was able to find 27 examples of bad practice in seven ports. They have not addressed the impact of that bad practice on costs, reliability and the standard of service in the ports, and as a result they have never properly addressed the impact of those bad practices on jobs in the ports and in the hinterland around the ports.

I am not surprised that the Opposition do not accept the findings of an independent consultancy report that revealed that the abolition of the scheme would create 50,000 jobs. I understand that they would view that with some scepticism. I had an exchange with the hon. Member for Oldham, West on the matter on Second Reading. I, too viewed the report with some scepticism, and on closer examination of it discovered that the effects of 1992 had been left out completely, so it would be more accurate to forecast that not 50,000 but 100,000 jobs would be created by the abolition of the scheme.

Nor would I expect Opposition Members to listen to me. But I would expect the hon. Member for Newham, North-West to read Tribune, which wrote: It is common knowledge in the shipping industry and among many registered dock workers that the dock work scheme, as applied in many excellent ports, was hastening their decline to the benefit of non-scheme ports. This has not helped the registered dock workers. For example, Transport and General Workers' Union members in non-scheme ports around Humberside are able year after year to earn much bigger wage packets than their local comrades in the scheme. Growing tonnages and growing incomes go to the smaller non-scheme ports. It went on to refer to the lack of innovation in the Labour party on this issue. But perhaps Labour Members do not believe Tribune. Let them look with their own eyes at the evidence of what has happened to Aberdeen or Grimsby fishing ports. I note that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) is not here today, and I am not surprised.

Photo of David Davis David Davis , Booth Ferry

Bobbed off, exactly.

We have argued about geography and have been told that all the problems are due to changing patterns of trade, although Labour Members ignore the fact that Ipswich and Felixstowe are next door to one another and that the non-scheme tiny wharves on the tributaries of the Humber, in some of the most difficult places with all the disadvantages of geography, are now taking on more business than is the perfectly placed scheme port of Hull, representing a growth for those ports of from 15 to 21 per cent. of Humber traffic in five years.

Nor do we expect Labour Members to look at ports that have lost business, not just to non-scheme ports—because it could be argued that that was due to a redistribution in British employment—but to ports abroad. Ipswich, Grangemouth, Hull and others have lost business abroad, a subject to which I shall return.

Labour Members talk about themselves as coming from the party of the poor and the underprivileged. We do not expect them to worry about the fact that 100,000 jobs—not 9,000 privileges—hang on this decision. As the hon. Member for Newham, North-West said—and I agree with him—this scheme has been around for 40 years. When it was created, there was a good reason for it. It was designed to deal with the social injustices and economic inefficiencies of the casual system.

I accept all of that, and in Committee I was impressed, if not by the argument then by the passion and commitment of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden), who has a family tradition of knowing quite bitterly about these matters for many years. The scheme was created out of the fear of casualism, and that fear has been carried down through families. But it was not created with the intention of developing it into what it is today. It is interesting to look back to the speeches that were made at the time, for example, by Ernest Bevin; and the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), who is in his place, will no doubt recall them.

I have a soft spot for Ernest Bevin, in view of what was said by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway), who is not in his place, about public schoolboys, because my school is named the Ernest Bevin comprehensive.

Photo of David Davis David Davis , Booth Ferry

It is indeed, as I hope I am demonstrating.

Ernest Bevin made some impassioned pleas, in the House and before royal commissions, about how the docks should be organised. He said much with which I would agree, especially when he said, in effect, replying to questions about what might happen, "I no more support the idea of people being paid for doing nothing if they are employees than I do if they are employers and capitalists." He would today look with concern at what we have created in the dock labour scheme.

The fear of casualism should disappear for two reasons. First, it should go because—the arguments have been deployed—of the capital intensity of the modern port and the type of work undertaken by the modern dock worker. The hon. Member for Garston made that point earlier today, and I thank him for doing so.

There is another reason. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West conjured up images, out of a book, of the old days of the casual system. We have talked about the acceptability or otherwise of 6 per cent. casualism, but the people in that 6 per cent. are not suffering the casualism that people think about when they talk about the history of the scheme. It is different from what people fear.

As hon. Members know, I have been antagonistic towards the scheme, but I accept that originally it was well intentioned. Therefore, how has it done so much damage? The answer is long and complex, but the key point is that it broke the link between the interests of the individual worker and the prosperity of the company for which he worked. It rendered that link unviable—

Photo of David Davis David Davis , Booth Ferry

That is a much better word. It sounds like something said by President Reagan or even President Nixon.

Photo of David Davis David Davis , Booth Ferry

Yes.

There is another aspect which Opposition Members talked about at some length and with a great deal of passion. In some ways, their argument was plausible. It is worth addressing the arguments about joint consultation because it sounds a good idea. I proposed to a Conservative party conference in 1973 that we should pass laws to enable worker participation, and I am still here.

Photo of David Davis David Davis , Booth Ferry

Yes, but perhaps that is a measure of something.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

It is not a job for life.

Photo of David Davis David Davis , Booth Ferry

That is certainly true.

It is worth examining how joint consultation has gone wrong in the docks. We have heard many arguments about an inordinately high proportion of people who have been dismissed for disciplinary reasons being subsequently reinstated by the local or national dock labour board. There was an argument that perhaps they were all innocent, but we dealt with that by pointing out that some of them had served time in prison for criminal offences which related directly to their work.

We must ask how that comes about in a reasonable system. The problem is kicked up to the National Dock Labour Board which consists essentially of half union and half management representation. That means that the union has the ability to block a decision but not to change it. What happens then? Anybody who has been dismissed for a disciplinary offence is put on the temporarily unattached register and will receive fall-back pay of up to £200 a week. He will stay on the TUR until a decision is reached or until somebody has to pay him £25,000 to leave. That is what is meant by a job for life in this context. That is not how I think joint consultation should work, but that is what happens in the dock labour scheme.

Another example is that of clock work definition. There have been many arguments about that issue as new business comes into the ports. I can cite examples in Ipswich, Grangemouth, Hull and so on. In the port of Ipswich there was some sea-dredged gravel to be handled. All that had to be done in the docks was for a button to be pressed on the bridge which led to automatic unloading. That was it. Yet the dockers of Ipswich insisted that that was their work. The matter went up to the National Dock Labour Board and stayed there. It was never solved. The result was that the person who was going to bring that work to Ipswich lost patience and went elsewhere. The same happened at Grangemouth and a number of other ports. That is how a perfectly plausible, perhaps Christian-sounding idea became a destroyer of jobs and a destroyer of discipline.

We cannot afford such a scheme in our ports today. We are an island, so our entire industry depends on our ports. It is right for my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) to speak in this debate because he has as much interest as we have in the matter. The issues are our ability to compete and jobs. Much has been made in this debate, and previously, about the fact that dock labour schemes exist in other countries. But international competitiveness has got to them too. Australia, New Zealand, Italy and Spain are all removing their dock labour schemes, and France is considering doing so at the moment and studying our experience. Those countries know that these schemes destroy jobs.

The Labour party's attitude—and I admit that there are many hon. Members who are impassioned and convinced of their case—has, in general, been irresponsible and dangerous. The Labour party has learnt nothing in the past 10 years. It is ever generous with other people's money, ever defensive of the vocal vested interest over the public interest and always supports the plausible over the practical. Labour's policy review this week demonstrates that its new maxim is that politics is the art of the plausible. I am afraid that Labour Members are not plausible enough tonight.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce , Gordon 11:01 pm, 24th May 1989

Several hon. Members have already asked questions about the status of the Bill, which the Government should answer in this debate. I believe that the Bill is necessary and that to phase the scheme out and to create a competitive system, in which all ports can operate on an equal footing, is desirable. However, I am puzzled about the way in which the change has happened.

The Government have, after all, been in office for 10 years. There have been suggestions tonight that there has been a sustained conspiracy between the Government and the port employers and that the abolition of the scheme was planned in advance. The way in which it happened does not square with that. John Turner, for example, the general manager of the Aberdeen harbour board, has been trying to persuade the Government to abolish the scheme for years and the Government told him to go away. It seems that the Government had no intention of removing the dock labour scheme, as has been claimed by those who are vigorously defending it up to the last minute, who suggest that the scheme should continue and who claim that it was no great obstacle to progress for the scheme ports.

Now we hear a variety of arguments being trotted out—many of which I agree with—and evidence has been drawn up to suggest why the scheme should be changed. Yet until three months ago the Government were denying that evidence and saying that it was unnecessary, untrue and irrelevant. They told harbour board managers to go away and cope with the situation as it was because the Government were not going to change it. What happened? Suddenly, after 10 years, the Secretary of State for Employment came to the House, published a White Paper that day and a Bill the following day and forced the Bill through rapidly, with a guillotine. He is now anxious to get it on to the statute book.

Unlike Labour Members, I will not speculate about the reason for that change. I want to hear from the Government the explanation about what happened and what were the factors involved because the British public are also entitled to know why there was such a dramatic change.

The timing was certainly interesting. One argument that I have heard was that until that point the Government had felt that the scheme could wither on the vine because the number of workers had reduced to fewer than 10,000 and many arrangements being made in individual ports that were moderating and modifying the effects of the scheme, and allowing new investment to go ahead and new agreements to be reached with employees who were outside the scheme, even in scheme ports, thus effectively enabling progress to be made. However, if that was the case, one might assume that, having got that far, the Government might allow the withering on the vine to continue to its logical conclusion.

I recall that the week of the announcement was the week in which the problems at Aberdeen came to a head and reached the national headlines. The Secretary of State knows that I wrote to him saying that the situation had reached such a pass that it was clear that if something did not happen quickly Aberdeen could lose for good the fish market that had operated in the city for 800 years. That was not an empty threat; it was clearly serious with devastating potential consequences for the whole economy of the city of Aberdeen.

I wrote to the Secretary of State on the Monday. On Wednesday his Parliamentary Private Secretary asked me for a copy of the letter and the press release that had gone with it, and on Thursday the statement was made. I noticed that the Secretary of State was ready with a quotation from me to try to embarrass my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) who basically welcomed the statement.

What I am saying is that things were happening, none of which by themselves could explain why the Government changed their mind and moved so quickly, although it is possible that the fact that those things accumulated was the determining factor.

The problem is that the differential between scheme and non-scheme ports has definitely—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. We can do without sub-committees being conducted while the hon. Gentleman is speaking.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce , Gordon

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

It could easily be observed that investment and business was being diverted to scheme ports. Just to make it absolutely clear that I am not speaking for the general manager of the Aberden harbour board, I should say that on a previous occasion he tried to ensure that the development of Peterhead harbour was blocked. That was something that I opposed and resisted because I believed that Aberdeen harbour should not be allowed to prevent the development of its neighbour, which could benefit the whole of the regional economy. Indeed, I supported the Peterhead Harbours (South Bay Developments) Order Confirmation Bill 1986.

If Aberdeen fish market had closed, that would have caused considerable problems for the entire north-east fishing economy because Peterhead was congested and would not have been able to accommodate the whole of the Aberdeen fleet.

Mr. Robert Hughes:

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not trying to give the impression that the problems in Aberdeen fish market in recent weeks have anything whatsoever to do with the dock work scheme. The problems arose because the fish landing company went bankrupt—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—The good, honest business people in the fishing industry were not prepared to pay any more money. Landings had dropped because of EEC quotas. The hon. Gentleman must not mix up the two issues.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce , Gordon

The hon. Gentleman must know that Aberdeen fish market's problems, which reached a peak in the past few weeks, date back several years. The circumstances that caused the development of Peterhead in the first place were the existence of the scheme and the restrictive practices operating in Aberdeen, which made the inshore fleet simply give up in disgust and move to a port where they were left with freedom to operate in a sensible and commercial way. The hon. Gentleman cannot deny that, when the boats arrived on a congested day and there were not enough porters to unload them, after negotiation the crews were allowed to unload the boats, but they had to pay for the dock porters who were unloading other boats and, therefore, were paid twice. In such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that boats choose to go to Peterhead where they are allowed to unload without having to pay for the privilege of so doing.

Those anomalies have existed. There is a restrictive practice. In the long run, particularly when relatively small numbers of people are involved in terms of employment, the Labour party should look to the wider interests of people working in a port and see whether defending one group ultimately undermines the job prospects of a larger number.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce , Gordon

I am being got at from two sides. The debate has been going on for a considerable time. Many hon. Members have had a chance to speak. I am the only representative of my party who is present, and I should be allowed to speak in the debate. It will help the House to develop the argument.

The argument in favour of abolishing the scheme is strong and justified, but it does not explain why things have changed and moved so quickly.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

In Weymouth, a registered dock port in my constituency, the fishermen have expanded their operations simply because, by tradition, they have not had to use registered dock workers. When the scheme was introduced for other types of cargoes in Weymouth, there were 130 dockers. When I was elected to represent the constituency, there were 24. We now have nine. Surely that shows that, if only we did not have such restrictions, we would see an expansion of employment such as that which occurred in the fishing industry in Weymouth. Jobs for life are clearly not correct.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce , Gordon

The hon. Gentleman's point reinforces my own. Allowing every port to operate on a free and equal basis is ultimately in the best interests of all those who use and are involved in our ports. I am concerned to try to ensure that that is done quickly and reasonably and to try to probe the reason why the Government did not produce their arguments until very recently, and did so in such a hurry.

It is interesting that, in a sense, being called late in the debate has given me the opportunity to watch the way in which the confrontation has developed. I was possibly privileged not to be on the Committee. To some extent, the hon. Members who were on the Committee have continued the debate. That tends to happen in the final stages of a Bill. It has become apparent that it is a rather old-fashioned confrontational issue in which the two main parties line up in their traditional ways to defend the relevant vested interests. Those who believe that Britain is about to revert to a two-party system in which we operate by confrontation between two power blocs would do well to examine the debate. In the past few years, people have forgotten how destructive that confrontation is.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Bennett Mr Nicholas Bennett , Pembroke

The two-party debate in Committee occurred because the Liberal spokesman attended only six of our meetings and did not speak. He could have contributed.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

I do not speak for my colleague in this context. However, my views on the issue are well known and were published before the Government made a statement of intention to publish the Bill. My colleagues and I have indicated support for the Bill, while supporting some attempts to amend it. That is perfectly reasonable, and I am explaining why it is important that people should carefully examine this litmus paper-type issue.

We do not want two-party confrontation re-established in this country. 1 question the Government rather than speculate. It has been said that there is likely to be a strike, yet both sides are saying that they do not wish a strike to occur and that they will not be responsible for one.

A strike in British ports over this issue would be an extremely unwise and foolish act. It would damage Britain's economic interest and influence abroad. It would be a strike that could not be won and one which—I believe that in its heart of hearts the Labour party knows this—would completely ruin the Labour party's attempts over the past two weeks to suggest that it has effectively been repackaged. It would remind the British people that it is a party that is the creature of the trade union movement and that, ultimately, when the trade unions get into a confrontation, the Labour party will always back them and give way. That is why the Labour party has been out of office for the past 10 years and why it will not find enough support to win office at the next general election.

The Labour party should have the courage to say, "Look, we accept that the scheme was valid and that the reasons for the scheme were justified, but 40 years on, with the trends that have occurred, it is no longer a scheme that can be defended. There are wider interests of working people that should be protected and advanced. We in the Labour party have the courage to say that." I feel that the Labour party, at the very first test, has shown that the repackaged or remodelled Labour party has not the guts to do it.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that on Third Reading we are required to address our remarks to the contents of the Bill. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will do that.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

The contents of the Bill relate to the clock labour scheme which the Labour party is defending and is threatening to reintroduce. It is pertinent to say that I believe that the scheme should be phased out. The idea that it is likely to be introduced by any future Labour Government is deeply damaging, and the people of this country should take that point on board.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

The hon. Gentleman will surely acknowledge that over the past 10 years the Scottish ports have suffered much more from the effects of the cross-subsidisation scheme, popularly known as the grid system, than they have from the workings of the National Dock Labour Board. Is it not the case that, whereas 10 years ago about 75 per cent. of manufactured goods produced for export by Scottish firms left Scottish scheme ports, the figure today is about 23 per cent.? Let us have a little fair-mindedness from the Liberal spokesman.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

That is a perfectly fair point, although it is rather wider than the scheme. I maintain that, first, Scotland in particular has suffered from the consequences of the grid scheme, the decline in manufacturing industry, which has weakened the Scottish economy generally, and the fact that our goods do not ship out direct from Scottish ports.

Secondly, our ports are expanding, but, regrettably, much of the investment is to increase the flow of imports into the country, because the supply side of the economy is not strong enough to ensure that we have enough exports to enable us to pay our way. That, of course, stands as a criticism of the Government's own policy, because we have created not a miracle at the end of 10 years, but a scenario whereby we find that what were once industrial sites are now retail stores, which sell goods that we do not make in this country, but which are sucked in through the port schemes.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

These are not matters related to the Bill.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

The point is that these goods are travelling through the scheme ports, and the Government's claim that the scheme will resolve the problems of the British ports and of British trade is not valid. Until we can ensure that the investment in the ports will ensure increased exports as well as increased imports, we shall not succeed in creating a strong and viable economy. I believe, therefore, that we need a much more fundamental strategy to use our ports more effectively to promote the supply side of our trade. The abolition of the scheme is a small and desirable step, but the Government would be wrong to assume that it will solve our trading problems.

Photo of Mr Eddie Loyden Mr Eddie Loyden , Liverpool, Garston 11:19 pm, 24th May 1989

In Committee Conservative Members tried to disguise the real effects of the Bill and they have tried to do that again tonight. In Committee, Conservative Members relied, as they have relied tonight, on producing slogans such as bobbing, welting and ghosting which they probably learned at the seminar organised by the central policies study group and the Tory party central committee. I understand that that seminar was called "I hate the dockers." To establish at least some credibility about the dock scheme, they have been taught not to discuss the scheme, but to rely on the slogans which date back, as far as I am aware, to a period long before the national dock labour scheme came into being.

For some odd reason, the dockers have always been the Government's and the employers' aunt Sallies. That position has never changed. There has been no attempt by the Government to argue the case. In reality, there is no logic for what the Government are doing to the docks industry in the Bill.

The docks industry in the pre-war period was, as everyone has recognised, chaotic. It had inhuman practices which brought dock workers down to the level of animals. I am surprised that we are being led to believe tonight that the ruthless employers who existed before the war, and the hyper-exploitation on the docks, have disappeared and no employer would try to act like that today.

Since the Government came to power in 1979, it has been their central task to weaken the power of the trade union movement and to wipe away—if they possibly could—every agreement and protective right that has been established in this and any other industry. The fact is that the Tory party and the employers do not change. They are committed to and are part of the system which requires them to maximise profit at the expense of the employees. To do that, they must challenge the rights and negotiated agreements which have been established over generations by dock workers and their forefathers.

At one time, 70 per cent. of dock workers in east London were in receipt of poor law relief. Some 40 per cent. of dockers in Liverpool were in the same position. Those two major ports brought massive profit and wealth to the nation. The ports of London and Liverpool were responsible for creating the wealth for the port transport industry at the time. The result of that wealth creation was that dockers and their families lived in poverty.

The hon. Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) referred to the role of Ernie Bevin. Ernie Bevin had to go to the Shaw inquiry with examples of the meals that dock workers and their families were living on to prove that dockers and their families were living below the poverty level and that the quantity and quality of their food were endangering their health and that of their wives and children. The court accepted what he had to say. That is the background to the capitalist system and those such as the Tory party who operate it.

A formidable trade union leader in the 1920s said that capitalism was like a tiger. He said that it was ruthless and pitiless to the weak, and where it sees weakness and disorganisation, it would exploit it to the maximum. The Government have exploited dock workers and their families for generations, year after year. It took the intervention of the state and, more importantly, the second world war, to change the minds, not of the employers, but of the Government, and to ensure that those practices ended as quickly as possible.

The fears at that time were that conditions in the docks were so bad that further trouble was expected during the war. It was to the dock workers' credit that they froze their agreements during that time to play their part during the war and keep the ports running, as indeed they did. Their reward from the Government is the abolition of the scheme that took them out of that position and into one, not of privilege, because the Conservative party is the party of privilege, but one in which they had won the rights for which they fought so hard over the generations. The dock industry became a human industry, and we saw the end of the hyper-exploitation by the employers in the port transport industry.

Conservative Members have clearly exposed their naked opposition to workers' rights. The Prime Minister has shown that in the past couple of weeks. When the statement was made about the possibility of harmonising social policy with Europe, she screamed out in her strident voice that any question of imposing workers' rights on this country would be opposed by her and the Government. That is—

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman but he must address his remarks to the contents of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Eddie Loyden Mr Eddie Loyden , Liverpool, Garston

The Conservative party has gone to such lengths when introducing this Bill. No argument or logic has come from Conservative Members. They did not even speak very much in Committee. The longest speech made was that of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), which was three and a half minutes. They made no attempt to argue the case and there is no doubt in my mind that, whether they liked it or not, they were acting on the say-so of the employer.

The reason why Ministers were not prepared to move away from their briefs in Committee was that they did not want to allow their minds to enter into the arguments being advanced by the Opposition. That showed that they had no real understanding of the industry and were acting on behalf of the employers. Knowing what employers are like, it was natural that they would not want the scheme in the first place. It was foisted on them by legislation and they have opposed it and tried to get rid of it ever since. It took this Government, with the employers' collaboration, to abolish the scheme.

The Conservatives have not taken one factor into account in the Bill: after abolition of the scheme there will be no scheme ports, but only non-scheme ports. Conservative Members will no longer be able to attempt to divide dock workers between scheme and non-scheme ports as they have done in the past. British ports will be united in their common industry.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) and others have said, the non-scheme dock workers, who are also members of the Transport and General Workers Union, have, to a large extent, been sheltered by the scheme. Their conditions are there because the scheme is there. Once the scheme goes, you can bet your bottom dollar that the employers will move in as quickly as possible to begin attacking the conditions in the non-scheme ports.

When there are no longer scheme and non-scheme ports, the dockers will have to unite to fight their employers and the Government if they are to retain their jobs and enjoy decent conditions. In a paradoxical way I almost welcome the opportunity that the Bill provides for that to happen. Conservative Members' speeches tonight and in Committee have been highlighted by their attempts to divide dock workers in scheme and non-scheme ports. The dock workers will readily see that if they are to establish a common framework they will have to rely on the strength of their trade union. That strength has prevailed for the past 47 years: the British trade union movement, which has survived even the attacks of Tory Governments, will be able to re-establish decent conditions in the ports under a future Labour Government who will understand how nonsensical it was for the present Government to introduce such legislation at such a time.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Bennett Mr Nicholas Bennett , Pembroke 11:31 pm, 24th May 1989

The speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) represents the class-war attitudes of the 1920s and 1930s, and to a large extent sums up the attitudes of the real Labour party activists—hidden as they are by the new Kinnock realism and the soft red Labour rose.

The truth is that Labour still believes in restriction, regulation and control. It does not believe in deregulation or in liberalism. In his speech the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) described employers in the free market as cowboys. Labour Members cannot bear for the hand of the state to be taken away and for people to be able to run their businesses honestly, in accordance with the customer's wishes and needs. I was interested to note that the hon. Gentleman would not give way when he was talking about buses. Since deregulation in 1985 there are 400 more bus operators in the country, and I suspect that the Bill will provide new opportunities for dock workers.

I was also interested by what was said by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway), who popped in, made his speech in order to get himself reselected—he is in danger of being deselected and replaced by the wife of the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman)—and then popped out again. He said that my great-grandfather would be turning in his grave. Yes, he may be; but Tom Mann, when he led the 1889 dock strike 100 years ago, was fighting in entirely different conditions from those of today's dockers. The trouble with the Labour party is that it does not come up to date; it fights the old battles. We are concerned with ensuring that the battles of 1992 and the single European market are won, and we must do that be getting rid of the scheme that is blighting so many of our inner cities.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Bennett Mr Nicholas Bennett , Pembroke

I am sorry, I will not give way. I have only nine minutes.

The scheme is full of defects. In Glasgow, seven registered plus two non-registered dock workers are in attendance for the bulk coal vessels, with no function whatever. The same is true in Middlesbrough, Cardiff, Newport and various other ports all over the country.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Bennett Mr Nicholas Bennett , Pembroke

I am sorry; I have only nine minutes.

There are plenty of examples of the abuses—ghosting, bobbing and welting—that have occurred under the dock labour scheme. We must lift the criminal law from employers so that no longer are 10 per cent. of dockers inactive—plus another 10 or 20 per cent. if the ghosters and bobbers are added.

The annual report and accounts of the National Dock Labour Board for 1986 comments: Definition of dock work issues continued to be a problem and 12 cases were dealt with during 1986. There is growing concern over the increasing number of non-Scheme projects which have been and are being developed, often in close proximity to existing Scheme ports. This has been particularly noticeable on the Ouse and Trent rivers, and in the vicinity of the Wash. In some cases, the National Board took the unusual step of expressing its concern to the local authorities which were involved in the planning applications. The board is in the business of stopping competition and of restriction. It even attempts to use planning laws to prevent legitimate competition. That is another reason why this rotten, lousy scheme must be abolished.

Opposition Members commented on pay and said how poor are dock workers and that we would not work for the same low salaries. Some dockers receive larger salaries than Members of Parliament. There is no shortage of money in the docks. The average wage under the dock labour scheme is £347·57 per week. In Barry it is £588·37. That is hardly peanuts. At the last Labour party conference, the Leader of the Opposition said: Ron Todd made the point with deadly accuracy just a couple of months ago when he asked: `What do you say to a docker who earns £400 per week, owns his home, a new car, a microwave and a video, as well as a small place near Marbella? You do not say,' said Ron, let me take you out of your misery, brother'. That is the reality in respect of dockers' earnings under the scheme. Let us hear no more nonsense about their poverty.

We heard also from those hon. Members sponsored by the Transport and General Workers Union, who spoke about those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who serve as consultants—but without declaring that they receive payments from the Transport and General Workers Union.

Photo of Mr Sydney Bidwell Mr Sydney Bidwell , Ealing, Southall

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman maligns those of my hon. Friends who are sponsored by the Transport and General Workers Union, as I am, and who do not receive any direct pay from their sponsor.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Bennett Mr Nicholas Bennett , Pembroke

I understand that the Transport and General Workers Union ballot of its members secured 70 per cent. support for strike action, although the union will not publish figures for the individual ports. The ballot paper is headed, "Trade Dispute with your Employer", which is palpably untrue. It is a trade dispute arising from a decision of this House, so it is an attempt to oppose 1 he will of Parliament. The union is so scared that it was not prepared to describe the nature of the trade dispute in the ballot paper for its members to read. That is not surprising, because the TGWU's record is of changing its position every two or three days.

The Bill is necessary because time and again the TGWU was asked to negotiate over the scheme but refused. On 16 April 1986, Mr. Nicholas Finney, director of the National Association of Port Employers, wrote to John Connolly, national secretary of the union's dock, waterways and fishing group, offering discussions. Mr. Connolly's reply of 21 April states: In reply to your letter of 16 April 1986, I can advise you that, having in mind our position that the Dock Labour Scheme is to remain, I see no point in having joint discussions to provide for arrangements which might follow its removal. The TGWU has consistently taken the attitude that its members will strike if any attempt is made to end the scheme.

During negotiations this year, the union issued a press statement on 18 April stating that we demand that the National Association of Port Employers should meet us urgently in order to establish national conditions that are no less favourable than the current provisions. So it appears that it wants part of the scheme to be retained. In discussions between the unions and NAPE the following day, the association made a number of offers, including continuation of the pension fund, holiday entitlement, sick pay, basic working hours, and individual contracts. On that same day the TGWU stated: We are not seeking to substitute for the statutory scheme another scheme no less favourable.

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are all listening with fascination to the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), but when he filibustered on the guillotine motion he read out all the correspondence that he is quoting this evening. Is it in order to read out the same letters a second time on Third Reading?

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) will realise that there are other hon. Members who have waited a long time to participate in the debate.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Bennett Mr Nicholas Bennett , Pembroke

I realise that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I merely say that the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) is wrong. I did not read out during the debate on the guillotine motion the material that I have quoted this evening. If he reads Hansard, he will recognise that that is so.

On 24 April, the TGWU were demanding of the port employers that they should have a scheme that would amount to a national scheme. How can the port employers, the Government or anyone else believe what the TGWU says when in five days it changes its position three times?

The strike record in the scheme ports has been about five or six times as bad as that of the rest of British industry over the past 20 years. That is another reason why the scheme has outlived its usefulness. It is time to free the docks and the inner-city areas so that they can prepare for 1992. That will ensure that Britain can make the most use of the economic prosperity that the Government are bringing it.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Aberdeen North 11:41 pm, 24th May 1989

The debate has demonstrated the absurdity of the guillotine motion. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have spoken with consummate ignorance of the problems of the Aberdeen fish market, which are extremely complex. It is ridiculous to suggest that the problems of a small part of a major port constitute a reason for introducing legislation that will affect thousands throughout the United Kingdom economy.

My constitutents—I hope that the Secretary of State will listen to me because I am speaking of real people—are in limbo, including some who are fish market porters. The employing company—the Aberdeen Fish Landing Company—went out of existence. Those who worked for it found that they had no employer. Some have accepted redundancy pay of £25,000. Others believed—that was until the Minister for Public Transport spoke in Committee—that under the Bill they would receive £37,500. It appears from what the hon. Gentleman said in Committee that that sum will not be paid. I am talking of people whose lives are at stake. Let the House realise that £10,000 is a hell of a lot of money for these people, and that some of them will not work again. The Minister has not had the courtesy to reply to a letter that I wrote some time ago, and he failed to respond to my contribution to the guillotine motion. It seems that the promise given earlier today that I would receive a reply will not be honoured.

When we are dealing with major issues of this sort we should not be proceeding under a guillotine, when the rights of hon. Members to represent their constituents are denied them in a draconian manner. Conservative Members who pretend that they speak for the rights of individuals should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for what has happened.

I am extremely angry about the way in which the Bill has been handled. It was introduced with deceit, duplicity and dishonour. It was not mentioned in the Conservative party manifesto. It did not even warrant a mention in the Queen's Speech. We are not dealing with a minor industry or a minor change. A generation of practice is being changed. We are not dealing merely with the technicalities of ending a scheme, for we must be concerned with the future of the industry. If the National Association of Port Employers happens to be listening, or if it happens to read the report of my speech in Hansard, I repeat what I put to it earlier. If it does not handle properly the changes that are set out in the Bill, it will be landing itself in a great deal of industrial relations trouble for many generations to come.

There are those who believe that it will be possible to abandon the scheme along with national negotiations, training schemes and medical facilities. We do not even know what will happen to pensions. It is thought that this can be done port by port or on the basis of worst practices. Employers have said in Aberdeen and elsewhere, "We shall not return to casualisation. Instead, we shall have a core of permanent employees. As and when we need more men, we shall take them on. When we do not have work for them, we shall fire them." Is that not casualisation? Is that the way to create good industrial relations? The way that the Government are behaving is atrocious.

There was a time when the Department of Employment was a Department of conciliation and good industrial relations practices. It sought to ensure that employers and employees worked together. There was a time when it tried to ensure that industrial relations were good enough to prevent industrial strife, not to provoke it. This Government are intent on provocation. It will do great damage to industry.

We are told that 50,000 jobs will be created—that there will be a gigantic leap forward because the number of jobs will be doubled to 100,000. The hon. Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) said that even more than 100,000 jobs might be created. Whenever the fish marketing scheme has been discussed in Aberdeen we have put it to the employers that if they want to introduce changes they ought at least to offer the prospect of more employment, but they have absolutely refused to consider it. It is nonsense to believe that a scheme to generate 50,000 jobs will be successful when the Bill provides for massive redundancy payments. We do not create jobs by sacking people.

The Government and the port employers will rue the day. I am sad about that and about the damage that it will do to the economy. I am even sadder about the damage that it will do to individuals. The greatest sadness of all is that the Secretary of State for Employment has disgraced the position that he holds. He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East 11:46 pm, 24th May 1989

During the seven weeks or so that have elapsed since the Government announced that they intended to abolish the dock labour scheme we have been waiting for an answer to the questions why the Government did not announce in the Queen's Speech their intention to abolish the scheme and why they have suddenly decided to introduce this Bill. No Labour Member relishes the prospect of a national dock strike.

It was misleading of the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) to suggest that the Transport and General Workers Union intends to vote against the abolition of the scheme. At the meeting with the employers on 18 April the general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union made it clear that the union would not seek to oppose the legislation currently going through Parliament. He said: We will be opposing the Dock Work Bill using the normal Parliamentary channels. He then went on to ask legitimate questions that we asked in Committee and which have been asked again today about what is to replace the scheme. For example, he asked: How will you ensure the job security of dock workers?What arrangements will there he for medical and welfare facilities and training?Will the provisions of the Aldington-Jones Agreement, which is of course not a statutory provision but a collective agreement between the unions and employers, be affected?What will be the role of the National Joint Council for the port transport industry? He received no answer to any of those questions. Neither the dockers nor the TGWU know what is in store for them. That is why we could be on the verge of a damaging trade dispute.

The union wants to negotiate a national collective agreement to replace the dock labour scheme. We reject many of the arguments that have been advanced tonight. We reject the idea that investment has not been taking place in the scheme ports. Example after example has been given of the millions of pounds that are being invested. We reject the idea that there is low productivity in the scheme ports. The evidence has been given to the House.

There has been a dramatic shift in Britain's trade. The enormous increase in the proportion of our trade with mainland Europe has increased the growth of trade in ports on the east coast of the country.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

No, because I want the Minister to have time to reply.

We have received no answer to these points. It is therefore hard to resist the conclusion that the Government are going into this with open eyes. They are creating the conditions for a national dock strike.

We hope that when the matter is resolved in the courts, as it will be shortly, the Government will intervene and at the last minute will invite the employers and the unions to the Department of Employment, sit down with them and discuss what progress can be made in negotiating arrangements to replace the scheme.

There is no need for a strike. No one suggests that a strike will stop the passage of the legislation. The ball is in the Government's court. They can accept the consequences of their action and see a damaging strike that is not in the interests of the country, the port employers or of the dockers. That will happen if they go hell bent down the road that leads to confrontation. There is no need for that approach, but it has been endemic in everything that the Government have said since they started to enact the measure. We appeal to them even at this stage to think again. They should recognise that there has to be life after the passage of the legislation and that there should be constructive discussions to arrange for the future of the scheme ports.

Photo of Sir John Cope Sir John Cope , Northavon 11:50 pm, 24th May 1989

We have had another long debate on the Bill. It is drawing to a close but we have heard little new except the deep knowledge of the damage to their local ports from my hon. Friends the Members for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), for Thurrock (Mr. Janman), for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham), for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) and others.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) asked a specific question about whether dockers in Aberdeen could get compensation in the particular circumstances of the fish dock in his constituency. Those who are registered dock workers when the scheme ends, and who become redundant, will get the full money to which they are entitled under the scheme—up to £35,000 for 15 years' service. If the employers cannot or do not pay them, the Government will stand behind the scheme to make sure that they are paid.

All the arguments from the Opposition today were familiar to those of us who were on the Standing Committee. The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) worked up wonderful indignation about the guillotine, as only he is capable of doing. Every hon. Member who was on the Committee knows that there was an almost audible sigh of relief from all sides when the guillotine came into effect. What is more, we never needed to sit late thereafter.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West said earlier in our debates, and repeated today, that this was essentially a one-clause Bill. That is not true. There are important provisions in the later clauses about what will happen after the scheme. The Bill implements a single clear idea. We believe that there should no longer be a special class of registered dock workers, with unique statutory provisions governing their employment. All workers in the docks, including those who were registered dock workers, should have the same rights and obligations as other employees of their companies and, for that matter, employees in other industries. We not only think that that is right for the sake of the dock companies and their other non-registered employees but we believe that it is in the interests of scheme ports and the areas around them. There is clear evidence that the scheme's unique statutory restrictions have held hack, and continue to hold back, the performance of scheme ports. There is no doubt that they are losing business and jobs to their competitors outside the scheme. That cannot be explained by the shift in the patterns of British trade.

Photo of Mr Timothy Devlin Mr Timothy Devlin , Stockton South

Does my right hon. Friend accept that a crucial problem of the dock labour scheme has been the way that it has put up charges to shippers and that the success of the east coast ports has been due to the fact that they charge £2 per tonne for unloading? They are small ports. Large carriers are going into places such as Rotterdam where they pay £2 per tonne for trans-shipment into small ships which bring the products in through small east coast ports, thus avoiding the large ports such as Teesside in my constituency and Liverpool where they would have to pay £6, £8 or even £17 per tonne for unloading.

Photo of Sir John Cope Sir John Cope , Northavon

My hon. Friend makes a shrewd point. It certainly cannot be said that the loss of business has anything to do with the shift of trade to the continent. The scheme ports on the south and east coasts managed a 26 per cent. increase in their trade since 1970, no doubt partly as a result of that shift in trade. The non-scheme ports on the south and east coasts increased their trade by 325 per cent. in the same period. It is also noticeable that Hull and Goole lost ground to the wharves on the Humber and the Trent and that the non-scheme ports on the west coast, Heysham and Holyhead, have grown, while Liverpool has continued to decline.

The scheme's restrictions have proved extremely damaging, but they have also become unnecessary to provide reasonable terms and conditions for dock workers in those ports. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, technology, not the scheme, has tranformed the port industry. In the 1940s, before technology was introduced, it was a labour-intensive, low-skilled industry, prone to widespread casual work which was an extremely unpleasant practice. Today it is a highly mechanised industry which is handling more tonnage with one sixth of the labour force.

Today's ports cannot operate without a well-trained permanent work force. Casual work has gone and the scheme is no longer required to prevent it. Those who have raised that spectre, along with other historical matters, do so only to frighten the dockers and other members of the unions. Ports outside the scheme demonstrate that the more modern and efficient they are, the more they rely on a modern, well-paid work force. That is a far better guarantee of good terms and conditions than the artificial, counter-productive controls of the scheme.

In Committee, the hon. Member for Oldham, West drew our attention to research by the centre for labour economics at the London School of Economics. I took the trouble to make inquiries and look it up. It showed why the scheme ports have lost ground. It revealed that the scheme's monopoly allowed the unions to resist the introduction of containerisation during the 1960s; to secure pay increase of about 35 per cent. in 1967 in exchange for the acceptance of new technology; and to refuse to accept lower manning levels, which were a natural consequence of new technology, until an alternative arrangement, heavily subsidised by the taxpayer, was introduced in 1972. That is why the scheme ports have lost half their container trade in little more than 20 years. That trade could have offset at least some of the job losses which the report rightly attributes to the technological revolution which the industry has undergone.

The scheme has defended indefensible working practices. It has produced the most extraordinary recruitment and disciplinary practices. It has led to inbuilt labour surpluses touching 18 per cent. in the past 10 years, which have damaged job creation and competitiveness immensely. All that has been underpinned by a statutory system of joint control which has functioned not to promote change in response to containerisation, for example, but first to block it and then to set an unacceptable price for it. The only way out is to abolish the scheme and to give the entire ports industry the same framework of employment law and free collective bargaining as everyone else.

The Opposition have not defended the details of the scheme. On the contrary, at various times they have offered to alter them, unlike the TGWU, which always refused to discuss change until the moment we said we would abolish the scheme.

But the Opposition have now said—or at least the hon. Member for Oldham, West has said—that they want to keep the scheme in place while the new controls are developed, with all the main restrictions of the present scheme, not only in the existing scheme ports but extended to all the other ports which have meanwhile flourished outside its grip. In particular, Labour Members also want to extend the statutory joint control which unions have used to block change in scheme ports, and they have even seen it as a model for other industries. That would be a recipe for disaster in British industry, and the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) correctly pointed out how old fashioned Labour party policy is—

It being Twelve o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the order [8 May] , to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, That the Bill be now read the Third time: —

The House divided: Ayes 234, Noes 163.

Division No. 214][12 midnight
AYES
Aitken, JonathanBiffen, Rt Hon John
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBlackburn, Dr John G.
Allason, RupertBlaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Amess, DavidBody, Sir Richard
Amos, AlanBoscawen, Hon Robert
Arbuthnot, JamesBoswell, Tim
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Bottomley, Peter
Ashby, DavidBottomley, Mrs Virginia
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyBowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Aspinwall, JackBowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Atkinson, DavidBowis, John
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Baldry, TonyBrandon-Bravo, Martin
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Brazier, Julian
Bellingham, HenryBright, Graham
Bendall, VivianBrown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Benyon, W.Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Bevan, David GilroyBuchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Budgen, NicholasHind, Kenneth
Burns, SimonHordern, Sir Peter
Burt, AlistairHoward, Michael
Butcher, JohnHowarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Butler, ChrisHughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Butterfill, JohnHunt, David (Wirral W)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Hunter, Andrew
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)Irvine, Michael
Carrington, MatthewJack, Michael
Carttiss, MichaelJanman, Tim
Chapman, SydneyJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Chope, ChristopherJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Churchill, MrJones, Robert B (Herts W)
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Key, Robert
Colvin, MichaelKing, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Lang, Ian
Cope, Rt Hon JohnLawrence, Ivan
Couchman, JamesLester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Cran, JamesLightbown, David
Currie, Mrs EdwinaMaclean, David
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Maude, Hon Francis
Davis, David (Boothferry)Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Day, StephenMiller, Sir Hal
Devlin, TimMills, Iain
Dicks, TerryMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Dorrell, StephenMitchell, Sir David
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesMoate, Roger
Dover, DenMonro, Sir Hector
Durant, TonyMorris, M (N'hampton S)
Dykes, HughMorrison, Sir Charles
Emery, Sir PeterMorrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Moss, Malcolm
Fallon, MichaelMoynihan, Hon Colin
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Neale, Gerrard
Finsberg, Sir GeoffreyNelson, Anthony
Fishburn, John DudleyNeubert, Michael
Forman, NigelNewton, Rt Hon Tony
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Nicholls, Patrick
Forth, EricNicholson, David (Taunton)
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanNorris, Steve
Fox, Sir MarcusOnslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Franks, CecilOppenheim, Phillip
Freeman, RogerPage, Richard
French, DouglasPaice, James
Fry, PeterParkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Gale, RogerPatnick, Irvine
Gardiner, GeorgePattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Garel-Jones, TristanPawsey, James
Gill, ChristopherPorter, David (Waveney)
Glyn, Dr AlanPowell, William (Corby)
Goodlad, AlastairPrice, Sir David
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesRedwood, John
Gow, IanRenton, Tim
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Rhodes James, Robert
Gregory, ConalRiddick, Graham
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Grist, IanRidsdale, Sir Julian
Gummer, Rt Hon John SelwynRoe, Mrs Marion
Hague, WilliamRossi, Sir Hugh
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)Rost, Peter
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Hampson, Dr KeithRyder, Richard
Hanley, JeremySainsbury, Hon Tim
Hannam, JohnShaw, David (Dover)
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Harris, DavidShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Hayes, JerryShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir BarneySkeet, Sir Trevor
Hayward, RobertSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidSoames, Hon Nicholas
Heddle, JohnSpeller, Tony
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelSpicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)Squire, Robin
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Stern, MichaelWalker, Bill (T'side North)
Stevens, LewisWaller, Gary
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)Ward, John
Stradling Thomas, Sir JohnWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Sumberg, DavidWarren, Kenneth
Summerson, HugoWatts, John
Taylor, Ian (Esher)Wells, Bowen
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)Wheeler, John
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)Widdecombe, Ann
Tebbit, Rt Hon NormanWiggin, Jerry
Temple-Morris, PeterWinterton, Mrs Ann
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)Winterton, Nicholas
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)Wolfson, Mark
Townend, John (Bridlington)Wood, Timothy
Tracey, RichardYeo, Tim
Trippier, DavidYounger, Rt Hon George
Twinn, Dr Ian
Vaughan, Sir GerardTellers for the Ayes:
Waddington, Rt Hon DavidMr. Kenneth Carlisle and
Wakeham, Rt Hon JohnMr. Tom Sackville.
NOES
Allen, GrahamFisher, Mark
Anderson, DonaldFlynn, Paul
Archer, Rt Hon PeterFoot, Rt Hon Michael
Armstrong, HilaryFoster, Derek
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Fraser, John
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Galloway, George
Barron, KevinGarrett, John (Norwich South)
Battle, JohnGeorge, Bruce
Beckett, MargaretGilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Bell, StuartGodman, Dr Norman A.
Benn, Rt Hon TonyGolding, Mrs Llin
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Gordon, Mildred
Bermingham, GeraldGould, Bryan
Bidwell, SydneyGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Blair, TonyGrocott, Bruce
Blunkett, DavidHardy, Peter
Boateng, PaulHarman, Ms Harriet
Boyes, RolandHealey, Rt Hon Denis
Bradley, KeithHenderson, Doug
Bray, Dr JeremyHogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Home Robertson, John
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Buckley, George J.Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Caborn, RichardHughes, John (Coventry NE)
Callaghan, JimHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Canavan, DennisIllsley, Eric
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Ingram, Adam
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Clay, BobJones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Clelland, DavidKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Clwyd, Mrs AnnKinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Cohen, HarryLamond, James
Coleman, DonaldLeadbitter, Ted
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Leighton, Ron
Corbett, RobinLestor, Joan (Eccles)
Corbyn, JeremyLewis, Terry
Cousins, JimLitherland, Robert
Cummings, JohnLloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cunliffe, LawrenceLofthouse, Geoffrey
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Loyden, Eddie
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)McAllion, John
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I)McAvoy, Thomas
Dixon, DonMcCartney, Ian
Dobson, FrankMacdonald, Calum A.
Doran, FrankMcKeivey, William
Douglas, DickMcNamara, Kevin
Duffy, A. E. P.McWilliam, John
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs GwynethMadden, Max
Eadie, AlexanderMarek, Dr John
Eastham, KenMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Evans, John (St Helens N)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Fatchett, DerekMartlew, Eric
Faulds, AndrewMeacher, Michael
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Meale, Alan
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)Michael, Alun
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Ruddock, Joan
Morgan, RhodriSedgemore, Brian
Morley, ElliottSheerman, Barry
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Mowlam, MarjorieSkinner, Dennis
Mullin, ChrisSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Murphy, PaulSmith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Nellist, DaveSmith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonSpearing, Nigel
O'Brien, WilliamStott, Roger
O'Neill, MartinStrang, Gavin
Orme, Rt Hon StanleyVaz, Keith
Parry, RobertWareing, Robert N.
Pike, Peter L.Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Prescott, JohnWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Primarolo, DawnWinnick, David
Radice, GilesWise, Mrs Audrey
Randall, StuartWorthington, Tony
Redmond, MartinWray, Jimmy
Richardson, JoYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Robertson, George
Rogers, AllanTellers for the Noes:
Rooker, JeffMr. Frank Haynes and
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Mr. Allen McKay.
Rowlands, Ted

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.