HC Deb 04 December 1952 vol 508 cc1757-63
Mr. Robens

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour whether he has completed his discussions with the National Dock Labour Board with regard to redundancy and, if so, whether he will make a statement.

The Minister of Labour (Sir Walter Monckton)

The Board have now informed me that, following their conversations with me, and after consultation with both sides of the National Joint Council for the Port Transport Industry, they have come to the conclusion that it is essential to take steps to bring the size of the register of dock workers more closely into line with future trade prospects.

They have accordingly prepared a scheme, the details of which I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT, to provide for temporary releases from the main register on a voluntary basis. I am also placing copies of the scheme in the Library.

Mr. Robens

May I ask three short questions? First, does consultation with the trade unions and the Dock Labour Board mean that the trade unions are in agreement with the new scheme? Secondly, have steps been taken, or will they be taken, in view of the fact that this will be a voluntary scheme, carefully to explain the scheme to the rank and file docker? Thirdly, what number does the right hon. and learned Gentleman estimate would be required to go on the dormant register, as I think it is described, to prevent the levy from being increased, or, indeed, to reduce it to more reasonable amounts?

Sir W. Monckton

I am informed by the National Dock Labour Board that the scheme is acceptable to the trade unions concerned. I will bring to the attention of the Board the suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman, with which I agree, that steps ought to be taken to see that the scheme is carefully explained to those whom it affects. The Board have not given me an estimate—as the right hon. Gentleman knows, it is a matter for them—of the number on the register which they think will be required or will be approved by them. I take the opportunity which the right hon. Gentleman has given me of pointing out that this is a voluntary scheme and that if it goes well it will be sufficient, no doubt, for the end the Board have in view.

Mr. Stokes

In view of the very serious statement the right hon. and learned Gentleman has made, may I ask whether it means that the Government do not contemplate any real recovery in the export trade?

Sir W. Monckton

No, Sir; my answer means that the National Dock Labour Board, whose task it is to see that the register is kept at a figure which they think correct, think that the register as it now stands is too high. No doubt, in reaching this conclusion, they have formed a view as to the prospects of trade in the immediately foreseeable future.

Sir J. Crowder

Can the Minister say when he thinks the National Dock Labour Board will be able to reduce the percentage of the levy, because he will appreciate that 22½ per cent. is a very heavy tax on the export of our goods, which has to be passed on to the consumer in the end?

Sir W. Monckton

I cannot give a date when the reduction will have an effect on the levy, but I understand that the Board are intending to put the scheme into effect at once and the more successful the scheme is the more will be the effect on the levy.

Mr. Mellish

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that trade unions have had a very difficult job in forming a scheme to the satisfaction of the men concerned and that the best thing in the scheme is that it is voluntary? Secondly, can he give us an idea of the prospects for the coming year as far as employment in the docks is concerned?

Sir W. Monckton

I appreciate that it is difficult to get a scheme which will satisfy those who have to look after the interests of the dock workers and I welcome the effort to make a voluntary scheme go. It is not my scheme, but the scheme of the Board. They are responsible. As to what is to happen in the future, that is a matter on which I cannot give an estimate.

Mr. Mellish

Why not?

Mr. Lee

Will the Minister's Department now increase facilities for training in order that the displaced dockers can become proficient in some other type of job?

Sir W. Monckton

That question gives me the opportunity to say that, if this scheme is to work, the more service the employment exchanges can give the better; and those who are to take advantage of it will do well, before taking their release, to consult the employment exchanges.

Mr. Jay

Are we to understand that not merely have imports and exports fallen since the Government came to power, but that the Government see no prospect of recovery?

Sir W. Monckton

That is certainly not what I was intending to convey. What I was saying was that the Dock Labour Board have formed the view that there are too many people here, who will not be required in the foreseeable future.

Mr. Collick

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say to what extent it is intended to reduce the dock labour force and give the House an assurance that the men who go out of the registered scheme will have first priority to re-enter?

Sir W. Monckton

I cannot give a figure. The House should appreciate that under the Dock Labour Scheme the question of getting the appropriate figure is confided to the Dock Labour Board. Let us not underestimate the difficulty. They have to think of the various ports of entry and exit, the type of commodity, and so forth; and they have to keep something to deal with the peak and make an estimate of what they will require. It is they who have made this voluntary scheme to deal with that. As for the people who will come off the register, when the hon. Member sees the scheme he will observe that opportunity is given to them to come back up to the beginning of 1955, if they wish to do so.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is it not the case that the National Dock Labour Board—

Mr. Keenan

On a point of order. Is it in order, Sir, to ignore those who are concerned in the industry and to call so many non-dockers, who do not know enough about the question?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for me. If right hon. Members of the Front Opposition Bench rise, I am bound, in general, to call them.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is it not the case that the Dock Labour Board consulted the Government as to what the future level of trade was likely to be? If so, will the Minister tell us what advice he gave the Dock Labour Board on that matter?

Sir W. Monckton

No, Sir. I am not prepared to do that. At the request of the Board, I saw them and we exchanged information on a confidential footing. The reason I do not want to start giving away any part of that is that once one starts doing so one is breaching a confidence. It is easier to have these discussions conducted perfectly properly, to use the language of the Press, "off the record."

Mr. Keenan

The reason I want to ask a question is that I have been concerned with this scheme since its inception in 1941. I want to ask the Minister whether he will be careful to see, in getting this proposal accepted without friction in the industry, that he ensures that there is opportunity for those who voluntarily leave to return to the industry? If that is not done, there will be difficulty.

Sir W. Monckton

I can assure the hon. Member that when he sees the scheme he will see that the National Dock Labour Board have been careful to ensure that.

Mr. Isaacs

If the men who accept this temporary withdrawal from the scheme apply to the Ministry for training in other occupations, will every facility be given to them for that training?

Sir W. Monckton

If there are facilities I can give to those who volunteer to accept this proposal, I will do my best to give them.

Mr. Lewis

Is the Minister aware that when I first put this question to him a couple of months ago, he gave figures showing that a fifth of the dockers were unemployed. He said he was hopeful that, as a result of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference that was due to take place, there would be an improvement in the terms of trade and thus an improvement in the employment position in the docks? May I ask him whether he has now given up all hopes of any good efforts resulting from the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference?

Sir W. Monckton

Certainly not. I entertain great hopes, but it is very difficult for me to tell the National Dock Labour Board exactly what result is likely to come.

Mr. Mellish

If this scheme is to be a success—I understand that it is a voluntary scheme whereby men will give up their registration cards on the understanding that they will get them back at some given time—should the Minister not, in fairness to the men concerned, give an indication very soon of the future prospects of industry, either good or bad?

Following are the details: The National Dock Labour Board has been increasingly concerned at the large numbers of registered dock workers who, since April,

Period 1951 1952
Average Register Proving Attendance Average Register Proving Attendance
Men Per cent. Men Per cent.
1st Quarter 77,140 3,413 4.4 81,768 9,038 11.1
2nd Quarter 79,379 5,587 7.0 80,751 11,548 14.3
3rd Quarter 81,473 3,683 4.5 79,370 12,854 16.2
4th Quarter 82,359 6,378 7.7 *77,867 16,153 20.7
YEAR 80,088 4,766 6.0 *80,159 11,999 15.0
* Up to 22nd November.

The fluctuations in dock work are so well known that the Board have not deemed it advisable to take any hasty measures to adjust the size of registers, although they imposed a standstill order on recruitment in April last.

A careful survey of the future trend of imports and exports makes it obvious that for some time to come no great improvement in the present level of dock work is to be expected.

After consultation with the National Joint Council for the Port Transport Industry and the Minister of Labour and National Service, the Board feel it essential to take steps to bring the size of the register of dock workers more closely into line with future trade prospects.

The Board have, accordingly, prepared a scheme (details of which follow) to provide for temporary releases from the main register on a voluntary basis. They hope that by this means, it will be possible to bring about

have been proving attendance in excess of requirements for dock work.

This situation may be attributed to two main causes:

  1. (a) During 1951, over 11,000 men had to be recruited to the port registers to handle the increased traffic and ensure the speedy turn round of shipping.
  2. (b) There has, in many important respects, been a substantial recession of the nation's import and export trade, and the level of dock employment in 1951, which was exceptionally high, has not, unfortunately, been generally maintained.

The present position is clearly unsatisfactory to both sides of the port transport industry; from the man's point of view, the smaller amount of work available has generally brought lower earnings; from the employer's point of view, the higher levy (22½ per cent.) brought into force at the beginning of November adds to the substantial burden of production costs at a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult to compete with overseas markets.

The following table, showing the average number of men proving attendance, will indicate the gravity of the situation.

adjustments in the labour force which seem to them essential in the changed circumstances.

By order of the Board,


General Manager and Secretary.

4th December, 1952.

9–10, Upper Brook Street,

London, W.1.

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