HC Deb 10 December 1945 vol 417 cc88-92

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

CLAUSE I.—(Schemes for ensuring more regular employment and supply of workers.)

5.50 p.m.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Isaacs)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 6, leave out: (hereafter in this Act referred to as a ' scheme '). I would ask, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether for the convenience of the House I might, at the same time, deal with the second Amendment on the Paper in my name as it will make the position more clear, if I cover the two together. This is really a drafting Amendment and arises out of a discussion that took place in Committee when a little flaw was observed in the Bill. We propose therefore to leave out: (hereafter in this Act referred to as a ' scheme ') and my next Amendment proposes to add at the end of line 9, the words: '' In this Act, except in Section three thereof the expression ' scheme ' means a scheme made under this Act. As originally stated, it might cover schemes made under existing arrangements, but a purpose of this Bill is to restrict schemes to the extent provided for in Clause 3. It is not introducing any new principle, but is a drafting Amendment to make the purpose more clear.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 1, line 9, at end, insert: In this Act, except in Section three thereof, the expression ' scheme ' means a scheme made under this Act." [Mr. Isaacs.]

Mr. Isaacs

I beg to move, in page 1, line 13, at end, insert "the fulfilment of."

This is a drafting Amendment for the purpose of making clear the purpose of the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 22, leave out "and their allocation to employers."

It is true that this is a permissive Bill and that when it operates agreement will already have been reached between employers on the one side and the dock-workers on the other. If, the agreement having been made, one of the parties commits a breach of contract the necessary action will follow. When the Minister converts an agreement into an order it is a direction by the State and no longer bears a permissive character whatever the consequences that follow from it may be. There may be civil redress as before, but even then the power of the State is unaffected. There is no sanction following the inclusion of these words, and therefore, it makes no difference to the effective working of the scheme if these words are omitted.

Mr. Speaker

As there is no seconder, the Amendment falls.

Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 14, at end, insert: (h) for prescribing the manner in which the practices and customs whether of employers or clock workers can be examined with a view to their improvement, alteration or elimination in the interests of port efficiency. The object of this new Subsection is to ensure that at the moment when we are decasualising or seeking to decasualise dock labour, we should, at the same time, seek to get rid of those practices which have grown up owing to the casual nature of the labour. I want to make it perfectly plain to hon. Gentlemen opposite that, in moving this Amendment, I have not in mind to sneer at the practices of the trade unions, which have grown up during the course of the past history of this industry. These practices are inevitably the result of the casual nature of the employment of dock workers. In the past, men who were unemployed drifted into the industry, seeking to get a little casual work there, and the whole industry really depended upon a large supply of semi-redundant labour. When any industry depends for its existence on a large supply of semi-redundant labour, two things generally happen: One is that the industry tends to become inefficient, because it can get any amount of cheap labour, and men, in those circumstances, are often cheaper than machines. That is one of the main causes, I think, of the trouble that has arisen in the dock industry. Secondly, trade unions, who represent the men—and no one can blame them—in order to safeguard the interest of their members adopt all sorts of ingenious devices for spinning out the amount of work available, in order to prevent their men going back to unemployment. That is what has happened in the past.

6 p.m.

It seems to me and my hon. Friends on this side of the House that when there is a situation like that, with all these practices existing, one cannot simply bring along a Bill for decasualising dock labour, superimpose on that situation a financial guarantee to anybody who happens to find himself out of work for a little time, and call that decasualisation. That is merely a financial guarantee for an existing state of affairs. When we decasualise dock labour we want to see that the industry is made efficient at the same time. What we want to aim at in the administration of this Bill is to see that in dock work we have the minimum number of men working with the maximum efficiency under the best possible conditions, and getting the best wages that the industry can afford.

If we are to tackle these industrial conditions, let me say a word as to what they are. There are any number of things going on at the present time in the dock industry which make our ports inefficient, and we cannot afford to have them inefficient. If they are it means that our raw materials will cost us more, and the price at which we can export goods goes up. Let me give an illustration of the manning scales at Millwall Dock. There, when they discharge from ship to truck, eight dockers have to be employed where only four are necessary. That means there are four extra men being employed for whom no useful employment is available. Let me give an example of when goods are being landed by crane. The Stevedores' Union in the Port of London insist on 12 men being used when 10 men could do the job. [An Hon. Member: "How do you know? "] The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly capable of correcting me if I am inaccurate.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

The hon. Member is making a statement that 12 men are used when only 10 men are necessary. The statement that 12 men are used is capable of being checked. I dare say the hon. Member has checked his facts on that point. I am sure, too, that he has checked his facts, on the other point he made, that only 10 were necessary. I am inviting him to say what check he made. How does he know that?

Mr. Thorneycroft

All these statements can be checked. Most of them are well known to any Member who has made any inquiries into this industry. If the hon. Member wants to know where I have got my information, I will tell him. I was at the Ministry of War Transport for a short time, and I was particularly interested in this industry. I have seen people on both sides and have gone into the facts with extreme care before giving them.

Let me say, as I have said before, that I do not want any misunderstanding. I am not blaming the Union for the fact that these conditions have grown up. They were an inevitable result of the casual nature of the employment, but we had better face up to the fact that they exist at the present time, because unless we do, we shall not have a sensible decasualisation scheme. Let me give an example of the use of mechanical devices. In the old days one often used a hand truck on the shore, and when doing so 12 men were necessary, but electric scooters are now being used as one of the mechanical aids in port work and only seven men would be required, but still under the trade union practice 12 men have to go and do the job. That means that there are five men being uselessly employed at our docks, and all this cost is continually going on to the exports which are going out of this country. I will give one more example. When unloading ore a grab is used which goes down into the hold and pulls up the ore. That grab could often be worked by two men, but the Union practice is that six men have to be employed. These are some of the manning scales at the present time.

Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

Is the hon. Member aware that because of local conditions local arrangements are made? Local circumstances differ from port to port, and there are working arrangements in respect of determined rates for cargoes and numbers of men employed. Would it not be rather ridiculous to legislate nationally for something which has to be adjusted locally, when circumstances vary from port to port?

Mr. Thornycroft

I am coming to the question of these local arrangements in a moment. Let me, in answer to the hon. Member, say that just because employers and workers have come to an agreement about something in some port, that is not necessarily to say that that agreement is right; it may be wrong. We are not here to represent the workers side or the employers' side. We are here to try to represent the national interest.

Mr. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)

In view of what the hon. Member has just alleged, that a certain number of men are being employed on various jobs, whereas a smaller number could do that job, are we not entitled to have the facts on which he relies in support of his allegation?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I do not think I need deal with that here. I am giving facts, and the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply is capable of looking after himself. I know that some of these things are difficult. [Interruption.] I hope that I am not going to create a row. I am trying to be as non-controversial as possible.

Let me take further examples on the question of transfer. There are rules existing in the unions at the moment which prohibit the transfer of a gang either from one ship to another ship, that is to say, if they finish on one ship they cannot be transferred to the next ship until the next day or the next period they work. There are restrictions on them being transferred from ship to shore—

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