§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Mr. A. SHORT
I beg to move to leave out the word "now" and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."
The original Bill which gave rise to the creation of the Port of London Authority was before the House in 1908. Its provisions gave rise to serious and severe criticism from all parts of the House. The Bill was justified on one ground, and one ground only, namely, that the time had arrived when if we were to maintain the prosperity of the port, and if its trade and commerce was to be properly developed, some authority should come into existence capable of co-ordinating and consolidating the resources of the port, which at that time were only partially utilised, and thus improve the economic and commercial position of the port. It was contended, and, I think, not without reason, that the trade and, indeed, the development of the port was being stifled, and, shall I say, strangled, because of the cut-throat competition of various dock companies then in existence and operating within the ports. The Act of 1908 brought into being the Authority, upon which were conferred extraordinary powers of monopoly, controlling all shipping interests within the port, and empowered to acquire and carry on existing works, and to construct and equip new undertakings, and, still further, to issue, as they thought fit, licences to the promoters of new undertakings. The only limitation, apparently, which I have been able to discover upon the powers of the Authority is that, in so far as issue of new capital is concerned, 2064 the Authority has to come to Parliament to secure authorisation through some power vested in the Board of Trade, and it can only increase its charges by resorting to the same method.
The Authority is composed of 28 persons, of whom 18 represent and are elected by the trade and commercial interests involved. Despite the great controlling power and influence that this authority has over great public services, I submit that through its general policy it has subordinated public interests to the advantage of the commercial and financial interests involved. When this Bill was before the House in 1908, Sir Hudson Kearley, the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, used these words, "We want an authority which will take broad views." Sir Hudson Kearley, now Lord Devonport, became chairman of this Authority. I venture to think there has never existed an authority which has pursued so reactionary a policy and which has been so conservative a body and which has so neglected its opportunities, and has failed to develop the port upon sound lines. In addition to failing to do so, it has declined to assist or to allow others—people with greater foresight—to develop the port. This failure, as I shall endeavour to demonstrate, has led to congestion and confusion inside of the port, which is a menace to our trade and prosperity and is driving trade from the port, and leads in no small measure to the increase in the cost of commodities needed by our people. The authority has consistently opposed the development of modern deep-water wharves. I know we shall hear a great deal regarding the extensions at the Royal Albert Dock, but we are told by exports who study the problem of transport that those extensions will not avoid the congestion that will arise in the future as our commercial prosperity and commerce increase. We are told also that these particular extensions will not increase the trade of the port. In addition, they have opposed the Gravasend Municipal Council erecting and equipping modern deep-water wharf. Further, they have blocked the proposals of the Thames Ocean and Railway Company, who desired to develop deep-sea wharves at Canvey Island with an extensive railway system and with great warehouses and cold and bonded stores. That company was also willing to provide suitable accommodation in the 2065 shape of a garden city for those they were going to employ.
I am not complaining that the authority have taken this power or used the power that the Act of 1908 gives them; I am not challenging the principle of co-ordination and consolidation; I am not challenging the necessity of some authority capable of co-ordinating the resources within the port, but if that power is given to them, it is desirable and essential that they should use that power aright, and if they prevent others, such as a great company, representing large amounts of capital, capable and willing to develop the great commercial interests of the port in a certain neighbourhood, then they must have a case and they must have some real business and commercial reason for so doing, apart from the one which I understand is offered by those who speak on behalf of the authorities. The development of the port below Tilbury is absolutely desirable and essential to ease the congestion. I admit that the congestion at the moment is not so great, but then the trade of the country is not so great owing to unemployment and a certain slump, but it would ease congestion and avoid it in the future, and it would attract trade and would also, I venture to think, retain trade which is being compelled to go elsewhere.
What is the opposition to the development of the port upon the lines that I have suggested—and I do not think my views regarding the necessity of easing the trade within the river can be challenged—what is the justification for the opposition? We are told by Sir Joseph Broodbank, who until recently was a member of the Port of London Authority, that the authority is responsible for the interest upon some 30,000,000 of money. That is something real, it is important, and it is something that must be considered, and I do not overlook it, but it is not the only consideration which should occupy the minds of those who have been elected or appointed to this Authority. Surely they must take into the consideration the needs of the public, the great vital services that they control and are responsible for, in so far as they affect not merely the commerce of London itself, but, indeed, the commerce of the United Kingdom. I venture to think, with all due respect, that there has been studied 2066 indifference to the real needs of the community. These vital services were handed over under the Act of 1908 to this great monopoly. The monopoly has done its work well as a monopoly, because, judging from its balance sheets, it has consolidated profoundly well the financial interests and the trade and commercial interests which it represents. I have no doubt that I shall hear to-night that great improvement has been made, and we shall be told about the millions that this Authority now control, and the great commercial and financial progress made by the Authority since 1908, but if I take the view of Lord Devonport, the chairman of the authority, who pointed out at the outset that the trade and commerce of the Port of London was in a parlous state; if it were in a parlous state in 1908, it would not require much to improve it or to justify the position which will be placed before us, so far as finance is concerned, to-night.
I may be allowed to turn from the question of the development of the port and the trade and commerce side to deal with the attitude of the Authority to Labour. Under this Act they were not only granted the powers which I have endeavoured to enumerate, but they were empowered to regularise casual labour, to provide houses in connection with their great developments, and to provide accommodation for the workmen. I wonder what the Authority have done, beyond discussing the question and having various meetings with other employers and shipowners, of their own accord, to de-casualise or to regularise casual labour. They have done very little. I think it was in 1911 or 1912 that they submitted at the request, if I remember aright, of the Board of Trade, something in the nature of a scheme providing for the creation of a number of labour exchanges throughout the port, the cost of which would be covered by the Authority and the State, and that is as far as it got. Any action that has been taken arises largely out of the action and the results of Mr. Justice Roche's Commission, which is, after all, the product largely of trade union action, and the demand of the dockers in particular, expressed through their trade unions. This great and vital problem, which was mentioned from that Bench by the present Premier when he was acting as the President of the Board of Trade, which was referred to by Mr. 2067 Kearley, and which was also referred to by the present Secretary of State for War when he at a later stage acted as President of the Board of Trade, this provision regarding casual labour was used, as my hon. Friend the Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) would say, as a little bit of sugar for the bird. Nothing has been done. What obtains now in the port regarding registration and the issuing of tallies is not the outcome of the conduct or the attitude of the Authority, but is largely due to the concerted efforts of the Labour movement through the trade union organisations in this country. As to housing, I must admit that at some place the Authority have provided a number of houses, but they only provided the houses in place of those which they knocked down, and, as far as I am aware, in connection with all their developments going on at the moment, or that have taken place in the past, or that are contemplated in the future, they have, up to the present, despite the great housing problem, failed to use their powers and resources as laid down within the provisions of the Act of 1908.
The attitude to Labour of this Authority, I regret to say—a great Authority controlling great commercial and other interests on which the prosperity of our people depends—has been antagonistic, and I would say on occasions provocative. With the aid of lawyers, it would appear to me, they have juggled with the rights of transferred persons in connection with their pensions. They have instituted a system of deductions which cannot be justified, and which is resented by those affected, and this Authority, about which I have no doubt we shall hear so much financially, only quite recently offered ex-service men employment at 36s. per week. As a result of trade union action, there was an increase to 40s. a week, and they are now being paid 43s. per week. They have to work a month on probation, and, owing to the traditional indifference—I will not say, in this case, of the Authority itself—but of officials, when the probationary period of a month has been finished, they have still been retained for three months and longer, receiving the same wages that I have enumerated. In these days, after the great War, after so much has been said regarding democracy and democratic sentiment, it may surprise 2068 the House to know that, before a clerk can find employment in one of their offices, not necessarily down at the docks, where there is any water, they must, in the first place, be vaccinated and, finally, be able to swim 60 yards, a regulation which is obnoxious, out-of-date, and an insult to the intelligence of men who are compelled to seek employment.
There would appear to me, judging from my knowledge of the Port, very little to encourage industry. The loyalty of the employés has not only been strained, but in a large measure destroyed, because of the indifferent attitude of the Authority. What is the attitude to labour? How is it explained and how is the failure to develop the Port on proper lines explained? The explanation is to be found in the undemocratic constitution of the Authority itself. We have had 12 years' experience. I am not denying the need for the creation of such a power in 1908 or saying that it does not exist to-day. I believe it docs. I believe in communal power. I believe that in these great vital public services we have got to destroy this cut-throat competition which is menacing commerce and jeopardising in 4many cases the existence of our people. But, having regard to our experiences of the past 12 years, having regard to the narrow and antiquated policy of the Authority, it is time that the constitution was revised, and I think it is time that labour was adequately and effectively represented upon this Authority. I believe that the great local authorities, the Borough Councils, in addition to the London County Council, should be represented upon this Authority. The Borough Councils have expressed their desire for this representation. A number of these Councils, including Poplar, Bermondsey, West Ham, East Ham, and Camberwell, have all made a demand for representation, and desire this Bill to be amended in some form or another to enable them to secure representation upon this Authority. At a meeting called, representing the Borough Councils, a resolution was passed in favour of such representation.
At present the activities of this Authority make serious inroads within the boundaries of the operations of borough councils. Their activities affect the condition of the roads, and bridges, unemployment, housing and sanitation, and there is little or no control of an 2069 effective character, which is absolutely essential in the interests of public health, and there is no voice, apart from the London County Council, which can be raised upon these vital matters affecting the public health of the community at large. Borough councils have no representatives at all. The London County Council are entitled to two only; that is, two from the elected members of the Council. They are responsible for the appointment of two others. Labour is entitled to no representation whatsoever, except by appointment through the London County Council on the one hand and the Board of Trade on the other. The demands of Labour are becoming more and more insistent for some share in the management and control and the shaping of the destinies in these great vital services, and these demands cannot go on much longer unsatisfied. It is labour's right, and whatever may be said regarding these great commercial interests, labour is entitled to be adequately and effectively represented upon an authority which is public in character, public in its functions, and which is controlling these great vital public services. We hear a great deal in these days about disputes. The world is full of tumult and turmoil. I will not say our industrial peace would be entirely maintained, but undoubtedly the relations between captains of industry on the one hand and labour on the other would be improved and consolidated if labour were given some adequate share in a form of representation upon boards of management or upon authorities of this kind. In this connection I venture to quote the opinions of one or two in support of my plea. Lord Devonport, the chairman of this Authority, asked his opinion at the Coal Commission in regard to Labour representation, said:I do not think Labour representation has been detrimental.Sir Joseph Broodbank, who has been associated with this authority for very long, in a recent address delivered at the Institute of Transport, said:He would say by all means let official labour have a voice in the management. There were men whose experience in port work not only as labourer, but as clerk and official, would entitle them to sit as colleagues in the Port Council Chamber and advise upon the working and management with the greatest benefit to the port, and he would like to see two or more such men by Statute added to the Board,2070 I know that this plea of mine for Labour representation will meet with the sympathy and support of many upon the opposite side of the House. But I come now to the dockers' inquiry, the great inquiry presided over by a very eminent and able man, Lord Shaw, an inquiry which was wide and sweeping in its character, and which took note of almost every phrase of industrial life within dock-land. What is the considered judgment of Lord Shaw's Committee? It is this:It appears to the Court manifest that the Labour situation might be ameliorated and the conditions of labour might undergo advantageous reform, and loss of output might be avoided if the direct representation bore recommended in principle were introduced.I have attempted in the course of my speech to demonstrate, first of all that the authority which fails to develop the port upon which I conceive, and what experts conceive, to be the right and proper line, and unless there is a departure from the present method of development, this port, the great shipping trade is likely to leave the port, as, indeed, it has done, and the prosperity of the port will suffer. With the prosperity of the port suffering the commerce and trade of our country suffer. I have tried to demonstrate, I think fairly, without using extravagant language or resorting to extravagant arguments, the unsympathetic attitude of the authority to labour, not only to the manual but also to the non-manual labourer. I have demonstrated still further that all this is duo largely to the fact that the constitution of the authority provides for the representation of trade and commercial interests to the tune of eighteen elected persons, whilst the remaining ten are more or less appointed. I think great improvement could be made. I hope that in the course of my speech? have convinced those, few though they may be who have listened to me, that there is a case to be made out for a reconstitution of this authority, and if the authority is reconstituted, there must be adequate provision made for labour, manual and non-manual to be represented there.
This is an opportunity, and a unique one, for this House and the Government to put into operation some of the sentiments they have expressed, and to give 2071 them tangibility. We talk a great deal about the necessity for increased output, and for better relations between employer and employed. Here is an opportunity to try to do something to give labour fair and square representation upon the authority governing not purely trade interests, for it is a great public service. Further, it gives the House the opportunity of also making provision for the representation on a wider and more generous basis of the great borough councils and authorities within the London area. I hope as a result of the Motion that we shall receive something tangible from the representative of the Government.
§ Mr. WIGNALL
I beg to second the Amendment.
The matter has been put before us admirably by the Mover of it. I am not going to attack the Port of London Authority on the aspect presented by the hon. Member as to their inability or unwillingness to develop the port in the best interests of the community. The probability is that with their expert advice and knowledge they possibly have acted in what they considered the best interests and the greatest advantage of the trading community. I do not pretend to be an expert as to the defects or otherwise of the Port of London Authority in carrying out the functions and duties devolving upon the Authority. I do want, however, to emphasis this, that it has not been sympathetic, so far as my knowledge goes—and it extends for a very large number of years—from the labour point of view; it has never shown that sympathetic attitude towards labour that you might have expected. I say that in the experience and knowledge I have gained in a period of over 30 years dealing with dock workers all over the country, I have never known a more brutal condition of affairs existing in any port of this country, or in any other country that I have had the opportunity and privilege of travelling in, as I have seen in and around and about the docks of London. I charge them here to-night, with all the emphasis I can put into it, with the brutal conditions of employment that have existed for the labourers and dock-workers in and round and about the London docks. They are a disgrace 2072 to civilisation. It is a serious charge that I am making against the Authority, that they have never in my experience and knowledge made a serious attempt to tackle the problem and to relieve and improve the conditions that have existed.
§ Mr. WIGNALL
If the hon. Member will allow me to develop my argument, I will try to prove that if he is responsible for this state of things in any way it is no credit to him. Since the docks inquiry, presided over by Lord Shaw, there has been an attempt to tackle the problem, not brought about by any action on the part of the Port of London Authority or through any desire on the part of those responsible, but simply because the revelations of that court of inquiry were of such a terrible character that they were bound to co-operate in conjunction with the labour organisations to improve and bring about a better condition of affairs. I want to give them credit for the latter day attempt which has not yet developed, because there has scarcely been sufficient time. The Port of London Authority did not go into this matter very readily. They had to do it in conjunction with others, and I sincerely trust that the outcome will be a better condition all round.
My charge against the Port of London Authority is since it has been in existence it has been absolutely indifferent to the welfare of the workers. The most abject thing that human eyes can look upon is to be seen outside some of the London Docks at taking-on time, where you see men struggling for half-a-day's work. I have stood in the crowds where thousands of them have been asking for a job, and when the tallies have been given out I have seen a brutal man, with about eight or nine tallies left, throw them among the crowd, and then I have seen the men fighting like mad dogs for a bone and struggling to get hold of one of those tallies to give him the right to a few hours' work. Is that a credit to our civilisation? If it was done in the ignorance of the powers that be they could not be blamed, but this matter has been brought continually to the notice of the Port Authority, and it suits them to have a big reservoir of unemployed to flock to 2073 the dock gates to be taken on once or twice a day. This condition of things is brutalising and dehumanising, and it ought not to continue for a single hour more. You cannot wonder at the drastic statements contained in Lord Shaw's Report, not only in regard to the Port of London, but more particularly that port because it is the worst of a bad lot. The attitude of this authority to labour organisations has always been oppressive and cruel. Time after time they have attempted to smash trade unions, and they have succeeded, but those unions have been revived and have become stronger. During all my experience, up to the time of Lord Shaw's Report, the Port Authority of London stands condemned for allowing the continuance of a system which is brutalising and dehumanising, as well as discreditable to everybody connected with it. That is my view of the conditions prevailing in and around our dock gates.
This casual labour element is a very serious problem and while there is considerable unemployment it must, of course, increase, because every failure in life, as a last resort, will flock to the dock gates. There you see all sorts and conditions of men, even politicians who have been failures find a resting place at the dock gates. The very system itself encourages it, and it is allowed to continue without the authorities making any attempt to alter it, and this is why they stand condemned. When the powers were first given to the Port Authority of London there was a great agitation for a fuller and better representation of labour and there was a great deal of opposition to it. The wharfingers had one representative, the Admiralty one, the Ministry of Transport two, the London County Council two, the City of London one, Trinity House one. The commercial interests have 18 representatives on the Authority, Government Departments four, the Local Government Authorities have six; and Labour has only two, and that is not direct representation because one of them is nominated, and subject to confirmation by the London County Council and the other is nominated after consultation with the various trade unions, and is subject now, I suppose, to confirmation by the Minister of Transport. These two Labour representatives are appointed in this way! So far as it has been possible 2074 for two men to render good service, these two representatives have done so, and my complaint is that there are not more of the same sort on the Authority. I believe if we had allocated to labour 10 out of the 28 representatives of various interests very much good would result from it. In that Report of Lord Shaw there is a very striking paragraph, and, lest it should have missed the notice of some hon. Members I propose to read ii, because it is very pregnant to the case we are putting forward. It is paragraph 27 which deals with the representation of labour on the Authority, and it is to this effect:There is, and it is a serious matter to a port authority where employers are engaged in daily contact with enormous bodies of men, a system to which they cannot be blind, under which the fringe of unemployment is great and under-employment is greater. In the opinion of the Court the organisation of all the ports in the Kingdom would be strengthened by the admission of or increase in the direct representation of labour on the governing body. It appears to the Court manifest that the labour situation might be ameliorated, that the conditions of labour might undergo advantageous reform, and loss of output might be avoided if the direct representation here recommended in principle were introduced. The extent and manner of such representation would be for the National Council to determine.That is the finding of a Court of Inquiry into dock conditions. It is a most emphatic declaration of the policy which we for years have advocated, and it will stand for ever in the history of the nation as a direct condemnation of the old order of things and desire bring in the workers. All interests are represented. Labour is not. What would the docks be without this human element? That is the mighty living machine that makes it possible for your docks to become remunerative and profitable to the undertakers. Yet all interests are fully represented with the exception of labour! The worker is the wealth producer, the mainspring of activity, and without him we can do nothing. This is, your opportunity to give fuller and better representation to the labour element in your constitution. What is being done even to-day? Lord Shaw's Report states that the claim of the men should be met. I have here a large number of letters to which I would like to draw attention. An order has been issued for the discharge of all men over 65 years of age.
I know the authority in doing that is acting strictly within its legal right. We 2075 have given them a superannuation allowance of 5s. per week. They could get that in 1914, but the authority has not taken into consideration the increased cost of living and the terrible expenses to which people are subjected to-day. No matter whether a man of 65 is fit, strong and healthy, no matter whether he is capable of performing his duty to the satisfaction of the manager of his department, he now has to go. There are hundreds of them who are being dismissed to-day. They are being thrown on the scrap-heap with a paltry allowance of 5s per week. It may be suggested that I have no right to introduce this question, because there is power vested in the authority to compulsorily retire men at 6.5, but my contention is that if they exercise that power they ought to make more adequate provision for the men so retired. The men who have made your docks a success, who have given you the wealth you possess are at least entitled to more than a paltry sum of. 5s. weekly. We cannot undo what has been done, but I can expose the brutal conditions that exist at the present time, and I hope the Port of London Authority, or rather the 26 members of it—there are, I know, 28 members, but two of them are prepared to do all they can in the interests of labour, although their votes are easily overwhelmed by those of the majority, however conclusive their arguments may be—I hope that the Port of London Authority, as constituted to-day, will realise that they have a duty to perform to the people they employ and we trust that the outcome of this Debate will be to bring about better conditions for labour inside and outside the dock gates, and especially for those who, having given 40 years of their lives to the service of the port authority, are now being compulsorily retired with a paltry allowance of 5s. weekly.
§ Mr. GILBERT
We have heard from the Mover and Seconder of this Amendment a good deal about the bad qualities of the Port of London Authority, and I hope the House will bear with mc for a few moments while I endeavour to explain some of their qualities which I think deserve to be recognised. The Mover of the Amendment made several statements regarding the Port Authority. He said, in the first place, that we had failed to develop the port. Surely, the hon. Member must know better than that. 2076 We have, since the Port Authority has been in existence, spent up to the present time, in works completed and under construction, more than £6,290,000. Without giving the House details, I think it is sufficient to state the amount which has been spent on the various docks and undertakings of the Authority to afford a complete answer to the Mover of the Resolution, who declared that we have taken no steps to develop the port. Then he went on to state that there was congestion inside the port, although it is true a few sentences later he admitted there was none at the present moment. It is quite correct that last year, immediately after the cessation of hostilities, there was a good deal of congestion, not only in London, but in other ports, owing to the goods which had been held up by the submarine menace being dumped into all the ports of the country immediately the War had ended. The hon. Member who moved this Amendment knows that to-day there is no congestion in the port. As far as the Port of London Authority is concerned, we have taken every possible step, and our organisation has proved, I think, that we have been successful by the speedy way in which we are able to deal with shipping. The hon. Member stated, further, that we were driving trade from the port, but I should like to point out to the House that he gave not a single instance of what trade was being driven from the port by the action of the Authority. He simply made this bald statement in order, I take it, to prejudice the Port of London Authority. He went on to make a point about deep-water wharves, and he said that we were opposed to them and had done nothing to develop that side of the River Thames. Anyone who is connected with the River Thames, and knows the details with regard to it, knows that the question of providing deep-water wharves is one which is open to a great deal of argument. The Thames is a very strong tidal river, and the question has been debated by experts whether a deep-water jetty is the proper method of dealing with cargo and ships. In order to test the case, we have constructed at Tilbury a two-storey deep-water jetty, which is now nearly ready for use. Its length in the river is 1,000 feet, and it is equipped with modern appliances for the rapid discharge of vessels into railway trucks, barges, or covered stores.
2077 The hon. Member went on to make a charge that the Port of London Authority had stopped the Gravesend deep-water wharf. If, however, he had followed the matter, he would know perfectly well that there was an appeal to the Board of Trade in that case, and that the Board of Trade refused the Gravesend people the power to go on with their scheme for a deep-water wharf. The hon. Member made a further attack in regard to what is called the Canvey Island scheme, but he should also know that in that case the Bill was turned down by the other House on the financial clauses. Any hon. Member who is interested, and who will read the financial evidence regarding the company that wished to put down deep-water wharves on Canvey Island, will, I think, be quite satisfied that the decision of the other House was right.
Statements were made that the Port of London Authority was simply trying to study and strengthen financial interests. From statements of that kind one would think that the Port of London Authority was a great capitalistic undertaking, working entirely for profit, and that this profit was to be as high as possible and was to be divided amongst the particular capitalists or trade interests connected with the port. The hon. Member knows that that is quite wrong. The Port of London Authority simply work for the interest on the dock stock which was handed over to them when the Authority was established. There is no question of their working for any financial or trade interests at all. The only profit that they make is out of their dues and charges, the first charge upon which is the interest on the dock stock. The rest of the money is devoted to improvements and further development of the port. Then we heard a great deal about the present constitution of the Port Authority. I am not an original member of the Port of London Authority, but I am a Londoner who took a very great deal of interest, as you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I think, know, in the formation of this Port Authority in London. A good many of us who were interested, and who agitated for a good many years for the establishment of a Port Authority in London, were not in favour of the constitution under which the Authority was set up in 1908. I am afraid, however, that the hon. Member 2078 who moved this Amendment does not know the difficulties with which those of us who wanted to improve the port had to contend before 1908. I am sure that the hon. Member for West Ham docs know the difficulties, and knows that it is quite fair to say that the Bill which established the Port of London Authority was a compromise, which tried to represent all the interests in the port.
I think that my hon. Friends on the other side who denounced the Port of London Authority do not realise that, although it was only established in 1908, it took over a great many old undertakings, and there was a great deal of difficulty owing to the geographical position of the docks in London. They are not together, and we have a great deal of difficulty in improving them and bringing them up to date. Anyone who is discussing the question of the Port of London must look at it from that point of view. If we had had a virgin river, and were going to establish docks and a port authority there to-day, it would be done on quite different lines from those of the existing Port of London Authority. We had to take things as we found them, and that has added very considerably to our difficulties in regard to many improvements.
On the labour question, may I quote to the House a few figures which, I think, will show that at any rate we have done something since we have been in existence in order to improve matters in the Port of London. In 1910, which was the Port of London Authority's first year, the rate of pay of dock labourers was 6d. per hour. In 1914 it was 7d,; to-day it is 2s. The average number of men employed by the Port of London Authority per day in 1910 was 15,043, and the wages paid per week to those men were £15,884. In 1914 we employed 18,148 men on the average per day, and the wages paid per week were £21,889. In the present year, 1920, the average number of men employed per day is 20,399, and the wages per week are £75,437. With regard to the trade of the port, I can give the House figures which will show that at any rate we have done something to keep trade in London. The imports and exports in the first year of the Port of London Authority, 1910, amounted to £360,390,903. In 1914 they were £396,190,333. Last year, 1919, they were £819,875,330.
2079 It was said that we had done nothing to deal with the question of casual labour, but that statement, again, is not correct. Since we have been established we have made a permanent weekly staff. Originally it consisted of 3,000 men, and that number has been gradually increased until, at the present time, there are 4,025 men on the permanent weekly list. In addition to that we provide to-day for a minimum wage, for overtime payment, six days' annual leave, and a retiring allowance after long and meritorious service. We have put up and maintained our own canteen at the docks, in order that the men working there may obtain cheap and well-cooked food; while, as was stated in the Report of Lord Shaw's Commission, a 44-hour week was granted during last year.
§ Mr. WIGNALL
Will the hon. Member tell us what is the number of casual men employed, as distinguished from the 4,000 of the A and B classes?
§ Mr. GILBERT
I gave you the average number per day as being employed at three periods—1910, 1914 and 1920. The average number to-day is 20,399. The statement was made that we had done nothing to deal with casual labour. My answer is that we have done something, and nobody knows better than the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean the extreme difficulty of dealing with the casual labour question not only in London but in any other port. In the Debate that has taken place a good deal has been mentioned about Lord Shaw's Commission. Listening to the statements by the mover and seconder of the Amendment one would have thought that the Port of London were opposed to Lord Shaw's Commission, that since the result that they had done nothing to carry out the findings, and that, in fact, they were trying to oppose it. We were parties to the Lord Shaw Commission. We have loyally carried out the findings of the Commission so far as we have been able to at the present time. Both the mover and seconder of the Amendment know that certain recommendations of the Commission are at present under the consideration of a joint Conference of employers and employees, 2080 and until that Conference comes to a decision it is quite impossible for the Port of London Authority to act, because Lord Shaw's Commission not only dealt with London but with the port and dock authorities all over the country.
Coming back to the Bill, my hon. Friend on the other side put up the case that there should be a different form of representation. My case respectfully is that this is a Consolidation Bill. It unifies and brings into consolidation forty-nine Acts of Parliament, which go back as far as 1777. I suggest to the House that it is not a type of Bill upon which the question of the representation of the Authority should be brought forward. When my hon. Friends denounced the present constitution of the Port Authority I did not hear either of them suggest any practical form that the new Authority should take. If they want to alter the form of the Authority they must necessarily give notice to all the interests and all the people at present represented on it, so that, after consideration, they may put up their case if the question of the alteration of the Authority is to be dealt with. In 1908 we took over the undertakings of several London dock companies. These people had various Acts of Parliament, and it has always been the complaints of the Law Courts and Parliamentary Committees that our Acts of Parliament were so scattered and difficult to find. The object of this Bill is to consolidate those Acts and put them into a simple and readable form for the Law Courts and the Parliamentary Committees. In view of this, I hope the House will see its way to give it a Second Beading. The other point which I understand hon. Members on the other side wish to object to, namely, the question of bridges in connection with the opening of lock gates at some of our docks is a Committee matter. The other House had cases from some of the petitioners in front of them, and they gave the Bermondsey Borough Council a clause which, I believe, is quite satisfactory, because that Council are not petitioning in this House. I hope I have been able to prove that the Port of London Authority is not nearly as bad as the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment have tried to make out. I hope the House will grant the Second Reading, and will allow the Bill to go upstairs to a Committee, where the 2081 petitioners against the Bill could be heard. I am quite certain, if they put up a reasonable case, as they did in the House of Lords Committee, they will not find the Port of London Authority at all unreasonable.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Sir P. Lloyd-Greame)
I hope the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill will pardon me if I do not follow them through the very eloquent and very general speeches which they delivered on this particular matter, because the issue before the House to-night lies in a very small compass. It is simply whether the House is now to give a Second Reading to what is, in fact, a purely Consolidation Bill which has come down from another place. Very strong reasons would be required for the House not to adopt that course. As the hon. Member for Southwark has said, this Bill is, in substance, a Consolidation Bill. It is a very useful, a very businesslike Bill. It contains an enormous number of Acts under which the Port of London Authority is being operated, and it collects them into a very serviceable document, in which everyone can find what he wants relating to that Authority. The only points in which it is not purely a Consolidation Bill are the proposed transfer from the Board of Trade to the Ministry of Transport of certain functions consequent on the passing of the Ministry of Transport Act. There is also a small point about the length of time for which certain bridges are to be kept open. The gravamen of the charge made by the hon. Members who proposed and seconded the rejection of the Bill was that the constitution of the Port of London Authority was wrong and that Labour ought to be more largely represented. I do not propose to go into that question at all, and I submit it is not a matter which, on this Bill, the House ought really to consider. What the promoters of the Bill have done is what they were perfectly right in doing. They have taken the constitution of the Port of London Authority as they find' it in the Port of London Authority Act of 1908, which is a general and not a private Act of Parliament; they have taken out that constitution and compiled it word for word, as they were bound to do, in the Consolidation Bill now before the House. I think the hon. Member for Southwark was 2082 perfectly right when he said that if there were any question challenging the constitution of that body, the proper method would be to challenge it in a Bill designed for that purpose, and to give notice to all the various interests now represented, which would then have an opportunity of answering. My hon. Friend has made a very eloquent speech. He told the Port of London Authority certain things which the two small Amendments that are being made on this Bill gave him a good opportunity of saying, but which possibly, under the Standing Orders, he would not otherwise have had the chance of saying. We have had some very interesting figures given us about the work of the Port of London Authority, and I hope the House will now proceed to give a Second Beading to what is simply and solely a Consolidation Bill. The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. A. Short), in a very eloquent speech, hoped for the prosperity of the Port of London. So do we all; but its prosperity will not in any way be affected by consolidating 49 existing Acts into one single Act. There may, of course, be differences of opinion as to whether the work ought to be undertaken at one time or another. There will always be differences on that, but really that is no reason for not passing a Consolidation Act, and I hope the House will give it a Second Heading.
Mr. J. JONES
My only reason for taking part in this discussion is that I represent one of the riverside constituencies to a large extent interested in the passing of measures of this character, and although I can agree to a largo extent as to the good work which has been done by the Port of London Authority, I am still compelled to associate myself with the Amendment on behalf of a constituency mainly composed of the class of men who come under the control of the Authority. One of the principal complaints we have to make against the Authority is that whilst efforts have been made to improve the river and dock accommodation, nothing has been done to improve the means of communication to and from the docks and that the roads and bridges in the immediate neighbourhood I represent are becoming more and more congested as the days go by, and the more you improve the accommodation of the docks and the river the more you are increasing the congestion on the roads and bridges in the immediate neighbourhood of the 2083 docks. Consequently we find ourselves in this position that although it is a recognised fact that this congestion is increasing, we have the Authority asking in this Bill for the right to increase the amount of time that they are allowed to keep the dock gates open and so add to the very congestion we complain of. Therefore, as a representative of one of the local authorities—I am a member of a local authority as well as of the House—we object to any extension of the time, which means that all the factories upon the riverside—and the manufacturers are as much interested in this as the workmen—strongly complain about the claim of the Authority to be allowed the opportunity of opening the swing bridges in the dock area and so adding to the congestion that is already so great. We, living in these poorer neighbouhoods, are not in a position to make any road improvements ourselves. Our rates are very high and our people are very poor. Consequently we are not in a position to make any great changes. We have not the same powers that a great authority has got and I hope when the proper time arrives we may get such an Amendment carried as will at least not add to the congestion, but will try to the largest possible extent to minimise it
§ Another question in which we are interested is the matter of direct representation of labour on the Port Authority. It is very good and interesting to have the figures given us by the hon. Member (Mr. Gilbert). They show a progressive rate of development which we are all pleased to be able to see. But the point we have tried to stress more than anything is the relationship of casual labour to that progressive development—the number of men who turn up at the docks day by day and are disappointed and for whom no provision is made. At least we might say the Port of London Authority has never demonstrated its capacity or desire to solve this pressing problem of casual labour in the dock districts. I might say more. An hon. Member has boasted of the fact that the Authority is paying more wages than it paid in 1910, but he did not tell us that the Authority was strongly opposed to paying those increases. I am not blaming him as a member of the Authority. I do not think he leans in that direction. He knows that the Minister of Transport or the 2084 Ministry of Munitions during the course of the War threatened to proclaim the Port and they did proclaim the Port because it refused to carry out the award of a Government Court appointed under the Munitions of War Act. So I hope he will never boast of the virtues of the Port of London Authority in the matter of paying wages. If the key to Paradise is the paying of a good rate of wages, the Port of London Authority will never have a front seat in Heaven.
§ In the matter of representation we do not in the East London district take a narrow view. When we ask for representation for the riverside constituencies, for the borough councils in various parts of London, the argument against us is that we are asking for it on parochial grounds and that we look at things from the standpoint of West Ham, Stepney, Poplar or any other of the localities along the riverside. The same would apply to the southern side of the river as well as the northern. We have no such idea. We claim that the lives of our people are more directly connected with the river than some of the people who sit upon the authority now. Their interests are purely impersonal and, to a large extent, financial. Ours means the very existence of our people. The lives of the people in West Ham, Poplar, Stepney and on the southern and northern sides of the river round the riverside are bound up with the success, the development and the prosperity of the trade of the river, and we are not going to take the parochial view of looking at it from the West Ham or Stepney point of view. We want to look at it from the standpoint of how much the development of the river is going to make for the prosperity of the whole community, of which we only form a part, and therefore we ask not for representation upon the narrow parochial ground of each in dividual borough council, but from the standpoint of the fact that the people's lives are directly connected with the prosperity of the river, and we want to see that prosperity and development from the standpoint of the people who have to live by the riverside.
§ As regards labour representation there are reputed to be about 75,000 men who depend upon the Port of London for their livelihood. These are men directly connected with transport. I am not going to belittle the interests which may be represented by wharfingers or dock 2085 shareholders, and by all the gentlemen end ladies who may be interested as personal shareholders in the property in and around the docks, but surely no one will suggest that the interest of ladies or gentlemen who may live at Brighton, Eastbourne, Folkestone, Worthing, Hastings or any of the other seaside towns, and have their money invested in the Port of London, is more vital and more direct than the 75,000 men whose wives and families and dependants have to depend upon the success of the transport trade of London.
§ I know technically we may be told, as we have already been told by the Government representatives, that this is a Consolidation Bill, and that if we want to do certain things we must do them in a certain way. You know as well as we do that a private Member's Bill stands a poor chance. But the Government representative ought to be able to tell us some-thing of what the Government think of the situation, and not about whether we ought to do certain things in a certain technical way. We know how we stand. We know what little power we have. A private Member's Bill is just like trying to shave a bald head. Consequently we can only raise our objections when we get the opportunity, and the opportunity is now presented, and we are doing our best, in our limited capacity, to put the case so far as we understand it. We are asking, seeing that labour is so important, that it should have a more direct representation. We have had Gentlemen who are Members of this House, but who do not belong to our section, and other gentlemen outside, who are not Members of this House, but who have great influence on industrial and social questions, pleading yesterday for what they called not merely co-partnership in industry so far as sharing profits are concerned, but also making a very strong plea for the sharing of control and a voice in the management and administration; interests which labour must necessarily take in connection with industry and its control and general development.
§ Even if we cannot under this Bill introduce Amendments which would be technically right, surely we have the right to ask the Government to recognise the change which has come over the industrial 2086 situation since 1908. We might ask them to recognise that we are dealing now with the most important maritime port in the world, and we have a Bill introduced dealing with a set of circumstances in the Port of London Act of 1908. In that, labour is not allowed representation of its own right. Labour has no right to representation on the Port of London Authority as a matter of right. The County Council and the Board of Trade have certain rights laid down under the Act. The County Council has the right to nominate two men, who may represent labour, but what labour is claiming and what the trade unions are claiming—and you cannot ignore trade unions to-day—is that they should have representation of their own right. We claim direct representation, and not that we should have indirect representation upon the Port of London Authority. The numbers may be a matter for argument, but the principle cannot be argued down. We assert our right in justice to direct representation. If the impersonal capital, the money which the individual may risk in the conduct of business, claims the right of representation and receives such, surely the personal capital, the capital of the man who goes to work in the dock and whose capital is his human labour power which he puts into industry, has just as much right to representation, because his capital is as important in the industrial development of the port as any form of impersonal capital which is represented by money. That being the case, we have a strong claim in the matter of representation. We have two men on the Port of London Authority who are there by consent. Those men are doing their best, and, I believe, have done good work on the authority. They have not proved themselves to be less efficient from the business point of view than others who may differ from them on various questions.
§ We also base our objections to this Bill from the standpoint of the local authority and from the fact that a good many members of the Port of London Authority are riverside men; that is, they may know a great deal about the docks and the river and the technical machinery in connection with transport so far as ships and railways are concerned, but they know very little of the actual circumstances of the people living on the dockside, or of the means of transport. 2087 It is no good improving your docks or the machinery of transport from the waterside if the roads to the docks and the means of communication by land to the docks are not what they ought to be. That is the foundation of one of the claims we are making for local representation, because we claim that we know our own districts better than anybody else who may happen not to live in them. My own constituency is one of the most important industrial parts of the East End of London, and it is to a large extent a bottle-neck district. The road transport is very congested and very inconvenient, and we want to bring about improvement; but we can only get those improvements when we have an understanding with those in authority, and we very regret that up to the present time there has been no such understanding. If there had been an understanding there would not have been in this Bill a Clause providing for an extension of time for the keeping open of bridges and lock-gates. If the Government can give us no hope in regard to this Bill in the matter of increased representation, we hope that they will reconsider the situation. Although we are proud of what has been done in London since the Port of London Authority Act was passed, and since consolidation took place, we want to see still greater developments; but that development can only come about when labour is treated as a partner in reality and not as a kind of poor relation. That is how we are treated to-day. I support the Amendment in the hope that we shall get the promoters of the Bill to do something more definite in the shape of giving labour greater consideration, and that they will be prepared to deal with the other points of objection which we have raised.
§ Sir OWEN PHILIPPS
I was a member of the Port of London Authority for eight or nine years, from the commencement. I am no longer connected with it, having resigned, but I have great pleasure in testifying to the fact that the two Labour members on that body during the years I was a member were very useful members, and I should be very pleased in another Bill to see the number of Labour members increased. When that is done I hope the opportunity will be taken to reconsider the original plan for the appointment of so many members I 2088 believe that the Port of London Authority has done magnificent work since it was formed, but the time has now probably arrived when the number of nominated members, which is very large, might be reduced. When that question is reconsidered, the number of elected members should be largely increased, and I hope that provision will then be made for increasing the number of Labour members and doing away with the nominated members. The Mover of the Amendment, in a very eloquent speech, made many statements against the Port of London Authority, and said it was reactionary. I have had a great deal to do with the port of London and other ports, and I claim that, notwithstanding the War, the record of work that has been done in London during the last 12 years will compare very favourably with what has been done in any other port in the world. The Port of London Authority have the same difficulty as every other public authority to-day, and that is the difficulty of raising money at a reasonable cost. If they can get over that difficulty, I hope that within the next few years we may see not only the present works that are under construction completed, but that they will get on with the other great new dock, which will be badly wanted long before it is completed. The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Short) accused the Authority of having driven away trade from the port. I think that he was speaking without accurate knowledge, because, whatever the faults of the Port Authority may be, they have certainly done their level best to increase the trade of London. One of the great difficulties of the Port of London Authority, and of every port authority throughout the country, is the question of casual labour. Some years ago, as the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton) knows so well, a great effort was made by the shipowners of Liverpool, in which I took part, to do away with casual labour in Liverpool. I regret to say that that bona fide effort which was made did not have the satisfactory results expected by some of those who advocated it, and I do not think that those efforts made eight years ago were so successful that they would be good to copy in the Port of London.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Sir O. PHILIPPS
I agree with hon. Members opposite that the present 2089 position of casual labour in London is a serious difficulty that ought to be faced, but after my personal experience of the Port of Liverpool it is useless to shut our eyes to the fact that it is a very difficult problem to solve. Personally, I should be only too pleased if a solution can be found. I was pleased to notice that the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) appreciates the good work that has been done by the Port of London Authority. I agree with him in his view that the roads to and from the docks leave much to be desired. The amount of time lost to trade and commerce, and to everybody connected with shipping, owing to the great majority of the roads to the docks being inadequate for the present traffic upon them, is also a very difficult problem. It might have been easy in pre-War days to widen many of these roads. To face widening at present would involve a cost which even the Chancellor of the Exchequer would hesitate to face, and the work can only be done by degrees. I hope that the House will give a Second Reading to this Bill, which is a Consolidation Bill. It has taken a very long time to prepare, and it will be of great use to everyone who has to do with the docks to know what the law is. If, later on, the whole question of the constitution and the form of election of the Port Authority comes up for consideration, as I hope will be the case in the next few years, I, for one, will be pleased if there are more Labour representatives.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I am not going to attempt to discount the good work done by the Port of London Authority. I am not directly connected with the London docks, but, being a representative of the same industry in another part of the Kingdom, I have been more or less associated with the conditions of casual labour ever since I was able to do any manual work. I look back to the position in the London docks previous to the existence of the Port of London Authority and the horrible, chaotic condition of the numerous dock owners and dock companies that then existed, and I want to pay my grateful tribute to the heroic work that the Port of London Authority has done from a commercial standpoint. But we want to look beyond a commercial standpoint, The hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gilbert) spoke of the 2090 enormous amount of money spent on improving the London docks. I recognise that and value it. He also spoke of the fact that this was a Consolidation Bill, and therefore this was not the time to deal with any other question but consolidation. A representative of the Government used the same argument. I respectfully ask, when is the time? The only time we can take is when these authorities come to this House, asking for power and privilege, and we use our position to make a bargain with them when they present a Bill to this House. That is what they are doing now.
We want to see the dock estate improved. We want to help thorn to improve the docks. We want to see a perfect system of docks in London, Liverpool and every part of the United Kingdom, but we say, "If you come here and ask this House to legislate on these docks, and we are shut out from participation in cither improvement or administration or arranging the conditions, this is the only time when, and this is the only place where, we can make our bargain, and we are going to do our best to do it." I would remind the hon. Member for Southwark that during the War I sat with him on the Port Transit Committee under the auspices and control of the Shipping Controller. I want to pay this tribute to him—that he was a very valuable member of that Committee, with his expert knowledge, but I would call his attention to this fact, that during the War the Labour representation on that Transit Committee in London was equal to that of the Port of London Authority and all the other representation on that Committee. In every other port in the country the representative of labour was equal to the employers. Will any hon. Member deny the value of the expert knowledge of the dockers' representative on those Committees? I think it will be admitted that our technical knowledge of the work of the docks was of great value to the Government. The representative of the Shipping Controller will admit that. The reason is that we have been through the system from the keelson to the topmast, and that we have no other work.
The objection to the docker being on an equality with the employer on port authorities in the past has been an objection based largely on ignorance, slightly tainted with prejudice. The 2091 docker has been looked upon as a person not fit to associate with the employers. I have had some experience. He has been looked upon more or less as a person without any intelligence and education. In regard to the latter charge, there is some truth, but the best university for any man is the university of the world, of the workshop and of the docks. The docker is not an ignorant man; he is not an unskilled man. He is a skilled man. As a matter of fact, an all-round docker requires to be a combination of a Cabinet Minister and a ring-tailed monkey for intelligence and ability. When he stands on the deck of a ship he has to know and average what weight a sling will carry, what gear to put up; he has to lift his piece of machinery off the quay, over the rail and down the hold, and keep his load floating until he lands his goods at the place where he wants them to go. In other words, he wants to be an engineer as well as a docker. A man capable of doing that is capable, surely, of helping in the administration of our great docks to-day. While the record of the Port of London Authority has improved, and I hope will continue to improve, it appeared in the past always as an opponent of any suggestion of improvement in the way of labour representation. Let me give one or two cases. In 1907 I and the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Wignall) and the hon. Member for Salford (who is not in the House now), instituted through the Homo Office a public inquiry into the cause and prevention of accidents at the docks. For Several months that inquiry went on in every port of the United Kingdom, and the greatest opponent we had was the Port of London Authority. No fewer than 19 King's Counsel opposed the regulations, but all the legal acumen and knowledge of the experts absolutely vanished into space in face of the evidence of the practical docker, who had probably left school when he was nine or ten years of age. That in itself is enough to show that we are quite able to help in administering the work of our great docks.
The Regulations are very generous Regulations and if carried out, would prevent at least 40 per cent. of the accidents at the docks, but to-day the Regulations are practically a dead letter because there is no labour representation 2092 on the Port of London Authority or any other authority in the united Kingdom. The Home Office cannot keep in touch with the matter; their staff is not largo enough, and even if it were the Regulations are evaded every day. Those Regulations are a dead letter because we have no supervision of the authority. If our men report a case we can prosecute, but the difficulty of getting a verdict in a Court of Law is so enormous that it is hardly worth while prosecuting. I look upon that as a very grave matter. What prompted me to urge the inquiry was that I myself was a victim of horrible conditions due to defective machinery. I am not a very good looking fellow, but the deformation of my face is due to the fact that at the time I met with an accident there was no inspection, no means of safeguarding life and limb. In those days the rottenest machinery was at work, the hospitals were filled with cripples and the houses with widows and orphans. This House lately passed, after many years of agitation, an Act known as the Check-Weighman's Act. As far back as 1907, the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean and myself sat on a Departmental Committee for the purpose of getting a cheek-weighman's Bill applied to the docks, and again the greatest opponent we had was the Port of London Authority. All we asked in that Bill was that the men who worked on piece rates and discharged coal, iron ore or minerals of any kind, should have some evidence that they were not being robbed of payment for the tonnage they handled. They were being robbed wholesale. We proved so in one case in London and half a dozen elsewhere. A gang of eleven men inside of four months were robbed of £220 on the tonnage they ought to have got. They had to take the word of the employer. In spite of the opposition of the Port of London Authority we got that Bill through. If we were members of these bodies we would have a better opportunity of getting the provisions of these Acts applied than we have to-day. Our men were capable of serving the nation during the War on port committees, and if it is admitted by the Shipping Controller, as I believe it is, that we gave valuable assistance, then why not continue the same principle to-day and extend it to the Port of London Authority and to every other port andd make it a permanent feature and allow practical men like ourselves to take part in the administration.
2093 With regard to Liverpool I can assure the hon. Member (Sir O. Philipps) that he is mistaken about the experiment there as to casual labour. I was one of those who advocated the Liver-pool scheme in strong opposition to my own people. So strong was the opposition that there was a strike for three weeks against the establishment of what we know as the clearing house system in Liverpool. The same men who did so would strike to-day if we took it away, because they know the enormous advantages of it. Let me give the hon. Member one or two examples to show him how it has succeeded there and could equally succeed in London. In Liverpool before the clearing house was established, a man would have to lose all day on Saturday going round collecting his wages from probably half-a-dozen employers. To-day, the Board of Trade or the Labour Ministry automatically collect the man's wages, and the men are paid at one table and can go on working on Saturday. Again, the National Health Insurance Act insisted that the man should carry a card and present it to the employer every time he was employed. The casual labourer might be employed by two different employers on the same day, and he had to take the card from one to the other. The Liverpool scheme has done away with all that. All the man does is to lodge his card in the clearing house, and it stays there for six months, and the man never sees it. The Labour Ministry, it used to be the Board of Trade, automatically stamp the card, gather up the man's wages, and deduct the insurance at the end of the week. It has done more than that. It has abolished the horrible, demoralising system of the ready-money job, where the men used to get paid for an hour, or two hours, or half a day, and where they would have to pass half a dozen public houses on the way home, and sometimes they did not pass them, and very often very little of the money they earned got to the mother and children. We have established in Liverpool, as you could in London if you had Labour representation on your port authority, a system of weekly payments, and no man gets paid, no matter how many employers he works for, but at the end of the week, when he takes all his wages home with him. I know it is possible that workmen in 2094 London, who have been reared in an atmosphere of ready-money payment, might themselves in the initial stages object to that kind of thing, but we have had all that to meet, and we have overcome it, simply because we have had sympathetic employers in Liverpool who are willing to help us to get rid of these horrible, depraved, and demoralising conditions.
I submit again that we have before us possibilities of decasualising the labour at the docks. I was the "junior counsel" in the Shaw Inquiry, and I had a very brilliant leader, an exceptionally brilliant man, and in that award there is a suggestion for a maintenance scheme, a scheme which, if adopted, will do more to regulate the conditions of labour at the docks than has ever been done in the existence of the docks. It is reported to me by my leading counsel that the Port of London Authority have turned down the maintenance scheme or, if they have not turned it down, have said that the time is not opportune to put it into operation. There is no difficulty in putting into operation a maintenance scheme, which, if it will not do away altogether with casual labour, will at least minimise it so much that there will be practically no casual labour, or very little, left to be dealt with. I think it is important that the House should know those things. Another very important question, in my opinion, is the necessity of absolutely doing away with the horrible, demoralising inhuman fights you see at the dock gates, and I have had to fight myself to get a tally. I have had to fight or starve in every dock in London; nay, at every ship in London in a dock, and the same in Liverpool. The employer has his own men and has no particular rendezvous for putting men on. In one dock, as an example, there may be seven ships. In docks like we have in Liverpool, from the east side to the west is three-quarters of a mile. The men are all going to be employed at the one hour in the morning, and naturally the men sleep as long as they can, and if they do not follow any particular firm, they make for the first crowd of men they see. The result is that the man at the east side of the dock wants 500 men, and he has got 5,000 to pick from; the man at the west side wants 5,000 and has only got 500 to pick from. Now if we had a 2095 central rendezvous at one dock, where all employers could go, and the whole of the men could congregate, there would be no employers looking for men and men looking for employers. All these things could be done, and easily done, if you had labour representation on your port authorities. Because we have not got it, these horrible conditions prevail to-day, and I want to appeal to the Ministry not to shelter themselves behind the plea that this is not the time. This is the time. Any time is the time to do away with the demoralisation of human beings and this treatment is demoralising. The sooner the Government see it the greater the output will be, and the better the success of the Ministry of Transport.
§ Sir WILLIAM PEARCE
It has been very truly said that this Bill is very largely a consolidation Bill, but there is one great change of great importance to which no speaker seems to have referred. I was in the House in 1908 when the original Bill was passed, and certain London Members—I was one of them—attached the greatest importance to getting the limitation in the Bill, beyond which dues could not be imposed. The original Act contained this proviso, that if the rates charged in the port were more than one-thousandth part of the value of oversea imports and exports at the docks, they had to come to Parliament before the dues could be increased. This Bill does away with that limitation, and leaves it to the Ministry of Transport to settle what dues and charges are right and proper. London is probably the greatest manufacturing city in the Empire, although it is very seldom realised, and its one great advantage is its water transport. Therefore, I look with great regret upon the removal of this limitation, although I agree it is inevitable, and I hope the Bill will be given a Second Reading, and I did not think the Debate ought to pass without calling the attention of the House to what is the one important change this Bill really proposes.
Many of the other points are Committee points. There is great force in what my hon. Friend has said, as I know full well, as to how inadequate are the approaches to the dock. It does seem to me that if this Bill goes to a Committee there might be a bargain made over the time the bridges are allowed to be up and with 2096 regard to the approaches to the docks. Therefore, I think, it would be a good thing for this country if the Bill went into Committee. I think we have all been impressed by the speech of the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton). He has given the House a good deal of striking and useful information, and if I read the sentiment of the House, then the time will soon come to make a difference in the constitution of the Port Authority, and when that time comes there is no doubt that there will be some increase in the numbers of labour representatives on the Committee. I want at the same time to pay a tribute to one labour representative in particular who has always been a member of the Port Authority—I mean Mr. Harry Gosling. If I had a case to argue or to get through I would rather have Mr. Harry Gosling than six others. I do not think that up to the present the dickers' case—although I have never been a member of the Port Authority—can fad to have been well represented. I think even our labour friends have almost been convinced that it is not wise to hold up this Bill to-night because they think the constitution of the Port Authority might be amended. I think they are almost persuaded that that would be a mistake. This discussion has been extremely useful. I hope the discussion having served its purpose, we shall no longer hesitate, and that the Port Authority will be able to get its new Act which I cannot help regarding and feeling is an absolute necessity in the interests of London.
§ Sir H. NIELD
The hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House is interested in the matter of dock dues, and one cannot help thinking that this is the proper place where those who have technical information should make use of it. I venture to think the objections urged against the Second Reading are not impelled with a desire that the Bill should be rejected; that a Bill of this magnitude which repeals and codifies something like sixty measures starting from the year 1828 should not pass. But that part of the Bill to which the hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House takes exception is that portion which gives the Minister of Transport certain powers. These powers, although they may override the provisions of the Act of 1908, are powers common to the docks and warehouses throughout the United Kingdom. Therefore, from the point of view of unity of 2097 jurisdiction it is a desirable Amendment to make in this Act. The only other point—that is the smaller point—referring to the opening of certain of the bridges, though the 99th part of it may refer to extended jurisdiction. The hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton) said that when these corporations and bodies came to the House of Commons to get extended powers that then was the only chance of being able to pin them down in such matters as labour representation. The Port of London Authority is a public authority constituted in a special way by members contributed from popularly elected bodies. The only way in which the speakers desire extended jurisdiction are in these two small matters, the one mentioned by the hon. Member for Limehouse (Sir W. Pearse) and the other which deals with the time certain bridges may be kept open, and so interrupt traffic. I am quite sure the House would not for a moment contemplate the rejection of an important Measure or defeat it on one or other of these two small points. Hon. Gentlemen who represent labour seem to forget that there are those who know something of the conditions under which casual labour is recruited in dock-land. I have known it for many many years. The hon. Member for Southwark for many years has been a member of the Port Authority and he completely dispelled in his speech the statement that the Port of London was indifferent in regard to the question of the stabilisation of labour and diminishing the casuals. It must be in a trade of this sort, a fluctuating trade depending upon the weather, the tide, the arrival of vessels and so on, it must of necessity be very largely worked by casual labour so far as regards the handling of goods. But there are stevedores who are in a totally different category to the persons to whom the hon. Member referred to as casual labour. [HON. MEMBERS: "No. no!"] These latter are the flotsam and jetsam.
§ Sir H. NIELD
I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman, whose moderation during his speech was very remarkable. I was going to congratulate him; but I think I do know something about the matter, and I probably knew something of the facts when he was a very young 2098 man. I am speaking from my own personal experience as one who has frequently gone backwards and forwards to and from the London Docks.
Mr. J. JONES
The hon. Member said it was only the flotsam and jetsam who were affected, but I assert that some of the most skilled men are perpetually found amongst the casual labourers.
§ Sir H. NIELD
If the hon. Member means men skilled in the handling of ships and the work in the docks, then it is very remarkable. Men who have special knowledge of unloading vessels and dealing with cargo ought never to be in that position. If skilled men of this description are to be found daily in the crowds clamouring for tallies, it is a remarkable thing that the dock companies are not more alive, and that the men's unions are not more alive, to seek out those men and have them registered. [Interruptions.] The mere fact that these interruptions are becoming so numerous makes mc feel that I am getting to the spot. With regard to the Dock Regulations of 1907, it has been stated that they are a dead letter. I know that if an accident happens which comes under the Workmen's Compensation Act an action is brought, and the very moment a regulation has been broken that is the whole of their case, and damages are obtained without any further proof. If the regulations are not carried out, why are not those responsible prosecuted before the magistrates? It is all very well for Labour Members to throw up their heads in pity for my ignorance, but I know the side of the case they present when they try to enforce their claims for compensation. If the labour provisions that were sanctioned by the Home Office after a prolonged inquiry to regulate the conditions of dockers' work, and the precautions for their safety are broken, and if that passes unchallenged, then it is the fault of the workmen and those who represent them. There is no reason why an employer should not be fined heavily by a stipendiary magistrate on complaint being made, or why, in the case of personal injury, he should not have a verdict against him for heavy damage. This is one of the cases in which the time of the House has been taken up unduly. It is unfortunate that the regulations of the House permit a Bill of 2099 this magnitude and importance, a consolidating measure affecting Acts passed during a space of a hundred years, to be held up on a small matter like this and the labours of the Port Authority and their advisers in preparing a colossal Bill like this to be jeopardised.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER RICHARDSON
I rather disagree with the last speaker's idea that there should not be a general Debate on a consolidating Bill. The Port of London is one of the largest statutory monopolies, and it is therefore important that every occasion should be utilised to consider the general policy of that body. It may be that the discussion has concerned itself with too much small detail, but still, details are of great importance in connection with the efficiency of the Port Authority of London. It is a matter of vital importance that the waterways of London should be utilised to the greatest possible extent, and when a dock scheme was brought forward by Gravesend the Port of London Authority put forward several objections to the construction of the proposed dock. All the objections were concerned with the navigation of the river, and not one of them was maintained by the Board of Trade. I can tell the hon. Member that the scheme was rejected because the Port of London Authority was a great monopoly. It was because Parliament in its wisdom had decided that that authority should be supreme on the Thames. That may or may not be right, but the Port of London Authority has chosen for itself the peculiar distinction of ignoring one side of the river and making all its docks on the other. In the whole county of Kent there is not a single public dock, although there is an immense population to the south of the river, not only in the metropolitan area to the south-west and south-east, but in the whole county of Kent; and the monopolists have decided that the county of Kent shall continue as it is. The Corporation of Gravesend has no desire to usurp the power of the Port of London Authority over the waterway of the river. They say: "Come and make your wharf here; make a wharf on this side of the river; take advantage of that great stretch of river front." But that has not been done, and that drives me to the conviction that the time has come when the local authorities on the river ought to 2100 have representation on the Port of London Authority. The more of a monopolist the Port of London Authority becomes, the more necessary it is that the rights of the citizens on the river front should be conserved. There is no difficulty in carrying this out. It is done on the Clyde, where the efficiency of the harbours and docks is as great as, if not greater than, in London. On the Clyde Navigation Trust there is representation from every municipal burgh and every county through which the navigable river runs. That being so, it seems to me that the time has come when the Port of London Authority should be similarly constituted.
I agree with much that was said by the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton), because there is no doubt that in any great engineering enterprise you will find wise judgment and suggestion coming from the workmen. No employer of labour—and the Port of London must be classed as such—can, in striving for efficiency, afford to reject the advice and experience of the workmen. I do not know how we are to secure representation on such a body as the Port of London Authority direct from trade unions: but there is no doubt that Labour should have representation, and I think that it could be easily managed through representation of the boroughs and counties along the waterway of the river.
While I hold these views, and hold them strongly, I do not think that it is desirable that this House should reject this Bill. I think, on the other hand, that we ought to have some assurance from the Port of London Authority, or on its behalf, or some assurance from the Board of Trade, that this question, upon which, I think, there is wide agreement, will be considered, and that an effort will be made to meet the very general desire that the constitution of the Port of London Authority—which is so very important a body in connection with the import and export trade of the country—should be modified. If we have that assurance, I am certain that no one would desire to vote against this Consolidation Bill.
§ Captain LOSEBY
I desire to associate myself with almost every word that was said by the hon. Member for St. Helens. Speaking on behalf of the party of which I am a member, I desire to say that the movement to which I belong is with the hon. Gentleman all the way, and we would 2101 co-operate with him in every way in our power in order to bring before the Government the point of view of Labour as expressed by him. I cannot help hoping that his admirably chosen words have not fallen upon deaf ears, and I, for one, feel that the Government should seize the opportunity which he has presented to them of securing the co-operation of Labour, which, as he said, had such admirable results during the War. It is so infrequently, unfortunately, that one can speak entirely without reserve on the same side as my hon. Friends opposite that I thought the House would allow me just these three minutes to say how whole-heartedly one would wish to support them on this occasion.
Captain Sir HAMILTON BENN
It should be made perfectly clear that no alteration with regard to the representation can be made in this Bill The measure is merely a Consolidation Bill. If there is any intention of altering the representation it will be necessary to introduce an entirely new Bill, which will allow of proper notice being given to all parties concerned. It is a question of either giving a Second Reading to this Bill, or of rejecting it altogether. I do not wish to add anything to the wide range of subjects which has been touched on to-night; I would only like to point out, with reference to what has been said by the hon. Member for Gravesend, that the rejection of the Gravesend petition for the right to build wharves on the Thames was not entirely based on the ground that the Port of London Authority had a monopoly. I think it was largely influenced by the fact that the navigating officers, the harbour masters, and other people charged with the safety of the craft in the river gave evidence against the proposal to build on the ground of navigation.
Sir H. BENN
That was not my reading of the evidence. With regard to what has been said about the roads and bridges, implying that the Port of London Authority were not anxious to improve the roads and bridges over the docks, quite the contrary is the case. Great efforts have been made by the Port of London Authority to get the borough 2102 councils and the county council to improve these roads and bridges. There have been offers of contributions in the way of money for the improvement of these roads and bridges, which it is the duty of the local authorities to carry out. With these few words, I trust the Bill will be read a Second time.
§ Mr. CLEMENT EDWARDS
The hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down has made the point that this must be either the Second Reading of this Bill or nothing. One would have hoped to have heard from him, as representing the Port of London Authority, something like a sympathetic response with regard to the question of the rearrangement of representation on the Authority. There have been many conflicts in the industrial world in recent days, and we have heard, not in a detached way, but in a comprehensive way, from different Members of the Government, expressions of belief that a great deal could be done to soften and to ease the acuteness of the conflict between capital and labour if labour were taken into consultation by the capitalists before the trouble arose. Here is a case well within the control of the Government. I know something of labour in the Port of London. I was one of those who were responsible for the great conflict in 1889, when the fight was for the dockers' tanner." I say this, with my intimate knowledge of labour in the Port of London, that if the Port of London Authority would really, instead of it being imposed upon them, instead of their being compelled, as they will be compelled if they do not move, within three or four years from now—if they would simply say, "We welcome the consultative voice of Labour in our counsels on this Authority," with all their experience they will do more than they dream of to secure a safe and certain industrial peace in the Port of London in the years that are to come, and with the development of Antwerp and the revival of Hamburg and other ports on that side—I am talking definitely in relation to a particular kind of trade that is transacted in the Port of London for the Continent of Europe, which if you can get peace in the Port of London under reasonable conditions we can maintain here indefinitely. The hon. Baronet (Sir I. Hamilton Benn) will realise from conversations we 2103 have had with members of the Port of London Authority how very keen I am in helping them in this matter. I suggest that they should come here and now with the suggestion that they are prepared to entertain sympathetically a revision of the present proportion of interests represented on the Port of London Authority so as to give a real voice to labour in that Authority.
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed.